Wednesday, May 30, 2012

[V&V]New Series: FBI Guide To Metahumans: Ice Queen

I love Villains & Vigilantes, because it is the one superhero game that is easiest to create a character, and is inspirational just by looking at the list of powers. The others require either too much effort (Champions, GURPS Supers, Supergame, Superworld), end up forcing particular powers on the characters (Superworld, Champions), are too closely tied to a particular background (Marvel Super Heroes), or are not to my taste in other ways (DC Heroes, just about any superhero game from the last 10 years except Godlike). It is possible to make a character in V&V almost as quickly as a character in original D&D, which is no small feat.

Anyway, I have a superhero (or, more accurately, metahuman) world in my head, where I've been coming up with metahumans off and on for years. In the world I envision, there are a couple of characters taken from my favorites in V&V's default background and from GURPS IST, but the majority are my own creations. Obviously, some are inspired by heroes and villains from the comics, but with the serial numbers filed off (though a few remain recognizable). In that world, things are not so simple as the V&V alignments of Good, Evil, and Neutral, but then neither is V&V as presented in the supplements. Instead, there are a number of "alignments" that can be chosen, which amount to factions. Some factions are allied, some are opposed, and some are indifferent to each other, which determine the equivalent to the basic Good/Evil sides. The major factions include: US Government, The Public (which is a catch-all for everyday people, and can't be chosen by heroes, villains, or mutants), Mutants, Mutant Supremacists, the State Governments, other national Governments, and so on.

Mutants (that is, any metahuman character or character with psionic powers) are treated by the "One in a Million" rule. That is, metahumans with significant powers exist in the world with a frequency of about one per million population. There are about 313 in the US in 2012, for example. There are other heroes, who have powers from devices, or magical powers, or extreme training. The FBI Guide that will be given in this series, though, covers only the one in a million and perhaps other mutants.

Things are not so simple in the world, of course, as just humans and metahuman powers. There are mutants who do not have significant powers - these are the completely disenfranchised. They are mutants and undergo the same prejudice and treatment, but have no compensating abilities or talents. They might look bizarre, but some are fortunate to look human. They simply carry mutated genes. Their children might have abilities, or look inhuman, or perhaps they will just be another generation of carriers. There are also a couple of mutant races, where particular mutant powers bred true. There will probably be a few entries in the FBI Guide dealing with those.

To kick it off, here's an entry for you:

Ice Queen

Identity: Lily Snowfield
Side: Protectors
Sex: Female
Experience: 5722
Level: 3
Age: 22
Training: Agility


1. Ice Powers: 6" range, 1d12 dmg, PR=5 per attack

2. Emotion Control (Love the Ice Queen): 12" range, PR=8 per successful hit

Weight: 125 lbs
Basic Hits: 3
Agility Mod: -

Strength: 15
Endurance: 11
Agility: 8
Intelligence: 12
Charisma: 14

Reactions from:
Allies: +1
Enemies: -1

Hit Mod: 1.078
Hit Points: 4
Damage Mod: 0
Heal Rate: 0.75
Accuracy: -2
Power: 46
Carrying Cap: 280 lbs.
Basic HTH: 1d6
Movement Rates: 34" ground
Det. Hidden: 10%
Det. Danger: 14%
Inventing Points: 3.6
Inventing: 36%

Origin & Background: In High School, Lily was thought of as the most attractive girl, and she developed a cold disposition to fend off her suitors. When her mutant powers manifested, they enhanced her icy disposition, even as they drew in everyone who saw her.

(As an aside, the following mutant characters from V&V's default background are part of this one: Skyhawk, Nomad, The Shrew, Evergreen, Dreamweaver, and Marionette. I may include others, such as Kali, who is not a metahuman.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Eight

The series began here.

It's always disheveled maidens
that dragons want, isn't it?
The final chapter of Fantasy Wargaming is the list of "monsters, magical beings, and general fauna". This chapter has been roundly criticized, and for once I agree with many of the criticisms. The monster listings lack many vital details (how much damage an Alphyn does with "tooth and claw" is never stated, for instance, nor is the damage of any other creature listed), the creatures chosen are strangely idiosyncratic to the point of near uselessness, important creatures for the period are ignored (where, for instance, is the schrat?) while obscurities are elevated in importance (the two-bodied lion? really?), etc. On the other hand, though, some of the creatures listed are evocative or at least amusing (this was the first place that I ever heard tell of the bonnacon). There's a surfeit of Celtic critters, which as I have noted previously is sort of odd given the lack of interest in the Celtic context that would make such monsters comprehensible.

One of the places I disagree most strongly with FW is in the matter of how to handle damage. Since a character in the game has "hit points" equal to his Endurance, but Endurance has other functions, we end up seeing such ridiculous things as dragons with a mere 25, in relation to a typical human with about 10 or so. I'd consider a change in which the size of a creature affects the final hit point total, rather than stringently relying on the Endurance rating.

And that's it. I could comment on each monster entry specifically, but I won't bother. Instead, I'll spend the rest of this entry discussing the game as a whole.

Obviously, I like it. Or, rather, I think that there is one of the greatest fantasy games around hiding underneath its rather rough presentation. The treatment of magic and religion was ahead of its time, and in my opinion has never been equaled. Mage: The Ascension, to choose one notable example, played with the same ideas, but clothed them in a game system that was, at best, difficult for the average Referee (or "Storyteller") to use effectively. It was one of the first roleplaying games to present mass combat rules in conjunction with the main rules (as I recall, only Chivalry & Sorcery preceded it in this, though one could make a case for D&D, if Chainmail is considered). It was arguably the first roleplaying game that took pains to lay out the reasoning behind most of the design decisions (much of the first half of the book could be seen as "designer's notes" explaining the game). It integrated fairly sophisticated personality mechanics before such now-classic games as Pendragon, and well before modern, well-received games like The Burning Wheel or The Riddle of Steel. It developed the "black box" table mechanic that would become fashionable in game design for a brief period, and which powers such classic games as Chill, James Bond 007, or, especially, Marvel Super Heroes. It is, as far as I know, the first game to treat gods and other spiritual powers as individuals with goals and personalities.

But. The game's design team was very inexperienced at writing rules, and they did not understand the value of playtest or development, and it shows. There are terrible mechanical ideas (such as the need to roll dice in order to find out on which column to roll more dice to determine success), cumbersome record-keeping (the Piety Point system being only the worst offence), inexplicable omissions (a character can learn to sing, but not to play an instrument, for example, there is no unarmed combat permitted, apparently, and as mentioned monsters and animals are not provided with a measure of appropriate damage), unnecessary sexism (while an attempt to portray women as the middle ages saw them is, perhaps, defensible, the mechanics used to do so are not - for instance, by the rules, there are fewer women born to high social status fathers, and in fact emperors can't have daughters at all! Go ahead and do the math; never mind that there are more Pisces slaves than any other sign, or that Aries nobles outnumber Scorpios*). The claim of historical accuracy has holes, as well, since there were occasional medieval Christians who studied Cabala, but the game artificially limits that study to Jews and Muslims. Weapon damage is odd in practice, as a dagger does more damage than a sword at high Physique levels. For that matter, as noted above, there are problems with the specific number of hit points allowed to various characters and creatures.

There are matters of presentation that could use fixing, as well. I've noted that the lists of factors should be listed by category rather than by factor and that major sections should be set off more noticeably. I'd, personally, revise the personality factors so that they represent virtues rather than vices ("Chastity" instead of "Lust", for instance), which would occasion only minor changes to the rules. A more clear order of play should be presented, so that the Referee has more guidance for how a roll once a day for minor complaints should function, or how to give the daily Piety Point bonus fairly.

Implied sections of the game are missing. Since there are rules for mass combat, it should be expected to see (as we do in Chivalry & Sorcery or Pendragon, for example) guidelines for running a manor or other political unit that would give a reason for using the mass combat rules. Since there are explicit discussions of how a character can rise in the Ethereal hierarchies after death, perhaps a brief overview of Afterlife adventures would be in order, even if not all Referees and groups of players would use the ideas presented. And so on.

There are times that the authors allow their opinionated natures to shine perhaps too brightly. There are arguments both for and against these moments. When the authors say, for instance, "Fantasy Wargaming awards no experience merely for gathering money or other valuables - picking up 100 'gold pieces' and carrying them for a day and a half is not physically different to picking up and transporting two medium-sized bricks; it is what you have to do to get the money that counts!", it gives some insight into what they intend "experience points" to represent in the game. On the other hand, the constant sniping at other games gets tiresome at times.

With a thorough rewrite and revision, this could have been one of the greatest fantasy roleplaying games of all time. As it stands, it is still one of the most valuable for (actual and would-be) game designers to examine for ideas. It is important for the history of gaming, as well. Its reputation among online gamers is largely undeserved, and the game should be sought out for examination, if nothing else.

*Yes, I realize that this is only for characters created as PCs. The point is that the system by which Social Class is influenced by Star Sign, or even Aspecting, is a silly one, and the system by which one's father's Social Class is determined was, perhaps, not well thought-out. These are issues that could have been fixed in playtest and development.

Life, Eh?

Life has gotten in the way. Will finish up the FW series later today or tonight, I hope.

Meanwhile, let me point out some other blogs of interest.

Over on Vaults of Nagoh, Chris Hogan has been analyzing Mythus, with a much less approving perspective than I bring to FW. So far, he's at 15 (actually 17, because there's a prelude before that entry and part two is in two posts) parts, and he's not quite through the end of Chapter 11 (of 17, plus Appendices), or page 200 of 400+. He makes some cogent observations on game design in the process, and has a larf. Other than one post in February and a few posts in March, it's the only thing he's done lately, so you can pretty much just forward through the posts.

James Maliszewski at Grognardia discusses my favorite H.P. Lovecraft story of all.

Roger the GS at Roles, Rules, and Rolls makes the only comment on DNDNext/5E so far that has interested me. I'm not going to playtest it, and I have no idea if I will pay money for it. We'll see. But this mechanic can be appropriated.

Guy Fullerton at Chaotic Henchmen Productions sets out some ideas about production design. I think that they are ideas to keep in mind, but like all design decisions they are just one tool in the toolbox.

Peter D at Dungeon Fantastic discusses why adventurers loot dungeons, but don't rob from the merchants who have the money to pay them for that loot. Discussions like this are generally useful for everyone who does D&D-style adventure gaming.

Alright, one more post about 5E. Dan of Earth at Goblinoid Games lays out the final argument about why this coming edition will ultimately not support old-school-style play. Without presenting a real option for consequences to a character's actions, the game moves firmly from challenging entertainment to mere ego-stroking time-waster. If I wanted that, I'd watch TV or play a MMORPG.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Seven

This series began here.

I couldn't find an appropriate image,
so I just went with the default.
Religion! The occupation of the finest medieval minds and the source of all intellectual thought in Europe for centuries, or even millennia. Fantasy Wargaming ties it tightly to the magic system, which only makes sense, as magic is the way the world works in the world simulated by the game. There are three religions that are covered in the rules, two of which are mirrors of each other (or, accurately, one of which is a mirror image of the first). In this sense, a "religion" is an Ethereal hierarchy, a temporal hierarchy, and a set of religious customs (ceremonies, rules of piety, and so forth).

The most obvious way in which religion manifests in fantasy adventure gaming is through miraculous events and divine intercession. These are, of course, covered in the game. A character determines his Divine Grace or Devil's Favor by adding his religious level, his Religious Rank, and his Piety or Impiety (called "(Piety)" in the game) level. It is not made clear whether one should subtract Impiety or Piety from its opposite Grace/Favor, treat it as zero, or deny characters in the wrong Piety category from Appealing to those powers at all. I incline toward treating it as zero, but other Referees might choose another option. After calculating this, there are other factors to apply in an Appeal to an Ethereal Power, which are then applied to a table. This gives four possible results, success or failure, either with or without a penalty to the number of Piety points the character possesses.

If successful, the Power to whom the Appeal is made will then either Intercede with another Power or execute the miracle directly. A "miracle" can refer to either a magical operation or certain other types of action, such as giving information, forgiveness (which affects Piety level), a personal appearance by the Power, or even the resurrection of the dead (which is not possible by magic). Really, anything can be attempted.

That matter of Divine Grace and Devil's Favor brings us to the character of the first two religions covered in the game: the Christian Church and Devil Worship. Each has a hierarchy, with Ranks ranging from 1 (unordained clergy, monastic novices, or the members of a witch coven) to 10 (the Pope or the Devil's Anti-Pope). There are rules for promotion within a hierarchy, which for the Christian Church are strongly affected by Social Class, but the Devil is apparently more egalitarian.

Piety and Impiety are calculated by tracking a number of Piety Points. 10 points is PB 1, 40 is PB 2, 80 makes the character PB 3, and so on, each Band increasing in width by 10 points from the last. Below zero, the character tracks Impiety, or (Piety) (rated as (PB)), though PB 0 is the same either way. Piety Points are lost by committing Sins, which are classed from 1 through 7, with Class 1 Sins being the worst (murder, acts of worship to other gods or the Devil, denying God), and the least being 7 (laziness, lying to strangers, gluttony, drunkenness). There is a table showing the amount of Piety Points that are lost by each category, with more Pious characters losing much more, as God expects more from them. For instance, a character with PB 2 will lose between 8 and 15 PP for a Class 3 Sin, while a character in PB 6 would lose between 22 and 28. To gain Piety Points, there are two ways: a free and automatic increase of 30 points per day (but only for days that are actually played out), to cover "all the times [that the character was presented] the opportunity to Sin but didn't"; and also by the commission of Virtues, also rated in Classes 1 through 7, gaining fewer PP for characters in a higher PB and more for those in low PBs or in (PB)s. I do dislike the abbreviations, but they may actually be the clearest way to present the information. Virtues range from Class 1 (defending God or His interest against His enemies) through Class 7 (moderation in food and drink, activity (i.e., not laziness)). Going back to the rules on Temptation, resisting Temptations can gain Piety Points.

There is a discussion of the dangers of Impiety, which mainly opens one to the depredations of Devils and the censure of the Church.

After a character dies, there is a calculation of the state of his soul. Whether he goes to Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory (and how long for that last) are discovered by the addition of factors. By this means, actually, a character may become a Saint or Demon, and so may be Appealed to by his former compatriots!

The clergy gain the ability to perform ceremonies, such as holding Mass or Ordaining a new priest. Confession can help with the state of a character's Piety, or Maledictions and Excommunications can be directed at a character's opponents. Each ceremony also transfers an amount of mana to the appropriate Power, at a rate of ¼ the amount gained through magical preparation (so, a preacher might gain mana for his God by the process of Incantation & ululation). Each ceremony also gives religious XP to the celebrants. Diabolical ceremonies are parodies of the Christian ones, but the Devil also retains some ceremonies from the Pagan forerunners of his anti-Church, such as the Feast or Sacrifice. A ceremony also creates a chance that the celebrants might become Inspired. Inspiration is a powerful state that increases the character's Piety Points and morale level, improves many of the character's characteristics temporarily, and gives bonuses to self-control in the face of Temptations and the anger of Berserk states. In addition, an Inspired character gets a bonus in Appeals. In addition to ceremonies, there are circumstances where a character may become spontaneously Inspired, or Inspiration can happen by Appeal to an Ethereal Power.

The next section is one of the most lampooned in other reviews. It is where the various Ethereal Powers are given statistics for use in the game. People claim that this table gives combat stats for Jesus, but this is not entirely true. While "God" (as the Trinity) is given a combat level (24, for those without access to the book), His other characteristics are pretty much infinite. As a result, there is no way to actually "kill" Jesus, and any strike by Him would be transcendentally effective. Of course, any Referee who used God in that capacity is probably not worthy of the office. The Ethereal Powers are not intended for use in that way, but are given appropriate characteristics because players are given authority to make decisions for their characters, which might include swinging a sword at a Saint, or more likely a Demon. The fact is, though, that most such entities are beyond the ability of most characters, and it is only the least of them (say, the Cherubim or Demon warriors) that might be interacted with in that way - or an Appeal for appearance might cause a clash of Demon and Saint! From a character's perspective, though, the most important characteristics of the Ethereal Powers are their Rank in Host, Resistance to Appeals, and Areas of Interest and Disfavor.

Religious XP are given for successful Appeals, ceremonies (as mentioned), resisting Temptations (to a certain limit), and Correct behavior (characters in good standing with their religion gain ⅓ of their total Piety Point gain for the day, rounded up, in XP).

Medieval Europe of the period had at least one other religion, though (and, yes, it is true that Devil Worship as presented never existed in reality), which was the Norse religion. This gets covered in some detail, showing the differences between the monotheism of the Church and the polytheism of the native religions. Many of these differences are subtle, but create significant differences when applied. For instance, there is no, strictly speaking, Impiety level for the Norse (however, it is noted that the Devil will take an interest in a Norseman whose Piety drops toward Impiety, and from then on his Sins in a Christian sense will affect his level of Impiety). The Virtues and Sins of a Norse (or Anglo-Saxon) pagan are different, and are enumerated in Classes from 1 to 7. The daily bonus of 30 PP applies, as well. Intercession in the Norse hierarchy is slightly different, involving factors covering the spouses, offspring, and siblings of various gods and goddesses, as well as their personal feelings toward one another. Do not ask Heimdall to intervene with Loki!

There is a calculation for the state of a Norseman's soul after death, as well, but it is affected strongly by the specific circumstances of death, with the drowned going to a particular place, for instance. It is possible to become a minor god or a Valkyrie, and even to rise in stature in the Afterlife. This implies a possible game of life after death for those involved, say, in a TPK, but this is not really explored deeply in the rules presented.

The hierarchies of Norse religious figures is quite different, as any man (or woman) may perform ceremonies. There are specialist religious, but any free man or woman has a Rank of 1 or more. Ceremonies and Inspiration are detailed in the ways they differ from those of Church or Coven. Finally, there is a listing of the Ethereal Powers in the Norse host, similar to the listing of Christian and Diabolic Powers.

Though the Celts (Irish, Scots, Manx, Welsh, Cornish, Breton, and so on) are referred to fairly extensively in the background material, there is no attempt to present their religion. It would not be too different than the Norse, however, and so could be easily modeled.

Next time comes the last entry discussing the rules, which will cover the monsters and magical beings, along with other animals, and sum up my thoughts on the game.


I started this blog a year ago today. In that time, I've made 93 posts. This is the 93rd. Some have been more substantial than others, of course, and this one is lightweight. I currently have 34 people following the blog directly, not counting people who might have it in their RSS feeds, blogrolls, or otherwise check in by other means.

Just taking a moment to celebrate an arbitrary milestone.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Another Day Off, And Some Thinky Talk

I didn't get anything written for the Obscure Games series today, so I'll just talk briefly about why I'm spending so many posts on Fantasy Wargaming, when I mostly just take one to cover other obscure games.

I really like the game, and it really felt strange to see the very negative reviews on the internet when I finally got around to joining in the gaming conversation here. It was the second fantasy roleplaying game I played (after AD&D), and perhaps the fourth or fifth RPG in general (after Traveller and Gamma World, and I don't recall if I'd played Metamorphosis Alpha before it, though I did own that last from very early in my gaming career). We had a lot of fun playing it, and the game made sense to me. Later in life, I would come to view some of the aspects of the game as negative (I have mentioned how I dislike the particular organization of the lists of factors involved in various resolution mechanics), and I do feel that there are a number of places that should have been better developed, but I still think that the game has potential. It was one of the first games to take the fantastic seriously, and attempt to build a coherent system of magic out of real theory.

I feel like the reviews to date have given the game an undeserved bad reputation. In part, I want to counter that reputation, but also the game was a pretty radical approach. It illuminates ideas of gaming in the early days that have gone by the wayside in the face of the narrative revolution that began, largely, with Dragonlance. Some of the writing in the book discussing the Leigh Cliffs game indicates that the authors were thinking in terms of a scenario very similar to the Braunstein games that originated this hobby. Looking at how they structured rules should give more insight into how such a game could be approached, and dismissing the game because someone on the internet wrote some snarky stuff about it is just plain dumb.

Anyway, I'll be getting to the section which includes stats for Jesus (sort of) next, so I'll be able to address the issues related to that. It's also the section that I would approach most carefully if/when I work on a revision of the game. There are many good ideas involved, but the execution is sometimes flawed. I may include some suggestions, but I may just present the material. We'll see.

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Six

Conjuration! And more penises!
This series begins here. The first part dealing with magic is here.

Continuing on about magic, we come to a significant portion of the rules, the means by which mana is accumulated. Unlike most other games with spell points, mana does not just regenerate naturally. The magician needs to actively acquire it. There are four primary means to do so: Incantation & ululation, Shamanistic dancing/frenzy, Deep meditation or arcane study, and Fasting (includes sexual abstinence). In addition to these, there's a brief discussion on gaining mana by sacrifice, which seems mostly aimed at the Dennis Wheatley crowd in that it refers exclusively to the killing and, generally, consumption of a living being (if I were writing the game, I can tell you that "sacrifice" would be handled somewhat, though not entirely, differently). I really like this because it tends to push magicians toward performing a stereotypical activity (arcane study, for example) that adds to the feel of the magician in the game world, and that stereotypical activity has a real in-game benefit. Each of the different means of gaining mana is paralleled by an equivalent religious rite, which will become important when we come to the religion rules. The four main methods gain mana at different rates, and all can be accelerated by magicians with high skill (magic level), various characteristics appropriate to the particular method (Faith is good for all, while meditation is improved by Intelligence, incantation by Charisma, and so on), and some other factors. In addition, such preparations give a positive modifier to creating a Link (see the previous post). This seems to indicate that the designers wanted magic to be centered on ritual activity, but the details of the rules don't really support that, because of the next rule, which is that magicians can concentrate mana up to 16 times their magic level. While the "normal operating level" is 8 times their level, that only affects how quickly mana is gained through ritual preparations (and that effect is very slight). Ethereal and Self-conjured beings double these limits. Basically, the game works that a magician will start an adventure full up on mana, then will regain it over a period of rest. Each day, a magician can gain about 10 points through 2 hours of arcane study, 12 points through an hour and a half of incantation, and 15 points from an hour of frenzied dancing (if necessary, he can get a further 2 points a day from fasting, but that can be hard on his body). He doesn't need to dance or fast in most cases, really. By the rules, the only people who need to perform ritual ceremonies to cast magic are people with a level of zero in magic. My inclination is to drop the allowed amount of stored mana dramatically (perhaps to a maximum of 4 times magic level, with a "normal operating level" of twice magic level, doubled for Ethereals and the Self-conjured).

To protect himself from magic or conjured beings, a magician can draw a Pentacle. This is a generic term for circles of protection, which range in value from -1 to -3. They are normally created by ceremony, in which the magician draws the circle slowly while reciting incantations. The length of time required is as per gaining mana by Incantation/ululation, at one mana point per point of protection. These affect the ability of hostile magicians to gain a Link. In addition, words of Absolute Command or the names of Ethereal powers can be inscribed in the circles. the former act as the type of spell (see below), while the latter act as an Appeal to the named power (God or a saint, for example) asking for a miracle in response to the incursion of an attacker. However, invoking higher powers for personal gain is a significant Sin, and affects the character's Piety (a measure of the favor in which the character is held by the Ethereal hierarchies, which we will be discussing when we get to Religion).

The game defines Conjuration as "the use of arcane forces to summon an Ethereal being on to the Earthly plane - and, by extension, to control, bind and compel such beings." It is that aspect of control that makes magic different than religion in the game. A holy man might call on the saints to perform miracles, while a magician would bind a demon to service - or try to bind a saint, if he were arrogant enough! Basically, Conjuration consists of forming a Link to the Ethereal being in question, then casting an Absolute Command to "Appear". Usually, a magician will have created a "circle of appearance", which is like a Pentacle in reverse, but limited to -1. Mainly, though, it just lets the summoner know when the entity is getting out of control, as only a being no longer under the magician's influence will step outside of the circle. After the being appears, the magician will give another Absolute Command, to "Obey". Though it is possible, normally, to make a Command permanent, this Command can only be temporary, lasting 10-60 minutes.

Self-conjuration is the process by which a person Conjures their own spirit and attempts to bind it to their own body. Similarly, a familiar can be created by
Conjuring the spirit of an animal and binding it to that animal. This makes the person or animal so affected into a sort of living Enchanted item. Dead people can be Conjured and bound to their mortal remains, as well. These can be made permanent, though the Command to "Obey" is still one that can only be temporary. Furthermore, a Demon can bind itself to a person, which is Possession. There are some implications of these ideas that aren't really explored in the game, such as the nature of spirit and soul, and what the animating force of the body is, exactly. It might, or might not, be worth exploring such ideas in a future development of the game.

The other kind of Active magic is the various kinds of Spells. This includes the aforementioned Absolute Commands, which are short, stereotyped commands that can be used to compel behavior from the target. Examples include: like/dislike, move/stop moving, grovel, kill, defend (me, etc), be furious (go berserk), be stunned (go into a coma state), and so on. In addition, Absolute Commands can be used to alter characteristics by ±3 points. Other categories of spells include Curing/Disease and Death, Illusion, Protection from Magic, Elemental Matters, Complex Matter, and Miscellaneous. Most of these allow creation of spells to fit the requirements of the magician. For instance, Elemental Matters spells may be used to create a fireball, a wall of stone, control weather, and so on. One of the problems with the system is that the authors never really considered the limits they should set, apparently trusting the Referee and players to stick within a certain, obvious to the authors, realm of plausibility. However, there is nothing in the rules that prevents a magician from creating a planet (using the size category "a mountain", which is defined as "anything bigger" than a 100 foot cube). Given time and mana, he could then proceed to populate it with creatures (their spirits Conjured and bound to their Complex Matter forms). I'd want to set firmer limits, myself, by making such enormous projects unfeasibly expensive in terms of mana, but I have had abusive players in the past (such as the one who wanted to take the equipment list in Fantasy Wargaming at face value and buy a "Guard god" for his character). Miscellaneous spells are the ones that don't really fit into the other categories, and include the likes of Lightning bolt, Flight, Animal speech, and so on.

Unlike the other types of spells, Miscellaneous spells are given a different DD depending on the type of magician the character is. Each magician character picks a type, depending on his Social Class and Background (Rural, Townsfolk, Clergy, or Landowning). The types are: Wise woman/Cunning man, Witch, Wizard, High Sorcerer (or Runic Sorcerer in Dark Ages settings), and Cabalist (only available to Jews and Muslims). Each type sets a limit on which preparations the magician can use for accumulating mana (a Wise woman/Cunning man can only use Incantation/ululation, a Wizard can add Deep meditation/arcane study when he gets to level 4, a Witch can also use Shamanistic dancing, and so on). Cabalists are the most proficient magicians in the game, though High/Runic sorcerers are close behind them. It is possible to change from one sort of magician to another when certain conditions are met, usually by rising to a certain magic level and having the appropriate Social Class. A magician who changes type can use the better factor of the types he has been, if there is a difference. In some cases, a Wise woman/Cunning man might be better at casting a particular type of spell than a High sorcerer, for instance, but if a magician started as the former and became the latter over time (possible, if difficult, by becoming a Wizard first), then he would retain those instances where it was better to be the village healer.

Passive magic mainly consists of Divination, which is performed by creating a Link and asking a Question. Questions include the likes of "Detect the whereabouts of the caster", "Detect presence of enemies", and so on. As the rules note, a question like "Will I be able to do what I want to do without getting VD?" would be at least partly answered by a "Detect disease" Question. The Referee is told, if no other way exists to answer the divinatory question, to roll 1D100, with a 1-60 indicating "yes". In addition, there is a brief system for prophetic dreams and visions, which I think should be made more important in the game.

The final part of the magic chapter is a list of actions that give XP for the magic level, including casting spells (and counter-spells), gaining mana points (no more than 6 XP per day from this, though), divination, and detecting ethereal influences.

Next time, we turn to the rules on religion.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Five

What does this have to do with Fantasy Wargaming?
I don't know, but it came up on a Google image
search for the words. Taylor Momsen has sure
grown up since she played Cindy Lou Who, hasn't
she? Plus, hey, we're talking about the magic system
now, which has demons and whatnot. So…
(The original picture that was here has vanished
from the internet, so I have replaced it with
this, very similar, image.)
This series begins here.

The magic system is, in many ways, the centerpiece of this game. Many of the otherwise mundane calculations are affected by the system of correspondencies, which indicates an intent that the "physics" underlying the game world are basically magical in nature. This is an interesting idea in itself, which was also explored, though not as strongly, in Lands of Adventure.

Magic in the game is divided into two broad categories: active magic and passive magic. Active magic is magic that creates an effect, while passive magic is sensory in nature. Both types start with creating a Link. This is a "path" of sorts through the "Ethereal Plane" (which is the game's usual term for the spirit world or Otherworld) from the magician to the target. The most important factors are the magician's magic level and his Faith characteristic, but other factors come into play, as well. One problem that I've found with the Link system is that it is affected by the "DD" ("Degree of Difficulty") of the spell being cast, but then the link lasts for up to three spells (or seven Absolute Commands, which are a specific type of spell that we'll discuss in a bit). There are provisions for ending the link after 30 minutes or if there is a "radical change in circumstances". I suppose that the latter could apply to spells of a greater DD, but that is one of the cases that should have been spelled out specifically. I also disagree with many of the exact factors listed, for instance the "Availability of target" factors. All told, the factors given make magic far too effective.

Anyway, when the Link is made, the target may feel a "touch" if they have a high enough Faith, magic level, or religious level. If they feel a touch, they may put up a quick Absolute Command to "desist" through the Link. The Link belongs to the original caster, though, so this Command is more difficult than if the Link belonged to the target. If this fails, or is not done, the final part of a spell is the spell itself. Again, I disagree with a number of the factors that affect the column on the success chart, but those are mere quibbles. There is a separate success table for the Link and for the spell itself. I'm not sure why. The caster gains XP equal to 100-success chance. We found that it's worthwhile to divide this by the magician's level, because a magician can cast an increasing number of spells as they go up in level, but that's not a part of the rules. Both the Link and a spell cost points of energy called "mana". I think that this game may have been the first, or at least one of the first, to use "mana" to mean "magical energy".

The System of Correspondencies is next. This is a chart which shows the symbolic connections between various aspects of the world and the twelve zodiac signs. Zodiac signs are connected to the character, of course, through the birth sign that is determined in character creation. Each sign is also associated with a planet, calendar dates (the dates during which the sun is in that sign), a day of the week, hours of the day, a classical element (earth, air, fire, or water), a metal, a type of gem, a type of wood, herbs, a color, a number, a part of the human body, a type of animal, a type of place, and particular aspects of human life. Each sign also has an opposite sign, which is the sign six places away from it (that is, the sign that is on the opposite side of the sky). There is a calculation for a magician to divine the amount of astrological influence on a situation. In play, my inclination has been to assume that most places have a level of influences that cancel each other out. Specific areas might be given more influence from one or another sign, for instance a grove of beech trees (which are the tree associated with Pisces) might have a little more Pisces influence, and even more if there are 10 beech trees in the grove, as 10 is the number associated with Pisces. What I'd do in creating the setting is note areas that have such influences, by noting the number of influences in an area - that way, I can simply add the number of influences that the characters are carrying to specifically affect the astrological correspondence of a situation and quickly come up with the factor to use. It requires more than just a couple of factors to affect calculations, though. The basic amount is that 3 factors associated with a single sign give ±1, 5 give ±2, 8 are ±3, and 12 or more factors result in a ±4. So, the beech grove wouldn't give any bonus, but if there were also a patch of rosehip (one of the herbs associated with Pisces), that would be 3 factors and give a ±1 to calculations affected by Pisces. Notice how particular such a situation would have to be, though. It's also noted that the modifier affecting mundane calculations should never exceed ±1.

Next in the rules is a section discussing enchanted items and magical devices. In the game, such a device is one which has been designed to concentrate astrological forces by creating an object out of materials associated with a sign, and fixing the forces of a particular time into it as well. So, a wand made of beech wood, set with bronze wire and pearls and painted blue (the metal, gem, and color associated with Pisces, giving four factors) might be enchanted on the open water on a Thursday from February 19th to March 20th, between the 3rd and 4th hours of the day in order to gain an extra 4 factors for place and time, giving a total of eight factors, making a wand that is rated at ±3 for Pisces-affected calculations - and it would retain that value even when it wasn't that time of year, day of the week, hour of the day, or in that location. Without that enchantment, the wand would still have 4 factors, giving a ±1 on its own.

An item can be enchanted with a practical purpose as well. This limits its use as a modifier in magical calculations to ±1, but its factor can affect other matters up to its value. So, a sword might be enchanted to give up to a +4 in combat calculations, a shield to give up to +4 points of protection (and reduce its encumbrance modifier to Agility by the same value), and so on. These are not specified in the rules, by design. The Referee would decide what effects are allowed, and use the modifier value as the numerical rating when necessary. Players with magician characters could certainly come up with effects to try to design into magical items, subject to Referee approval.

A magic item always retains a link to its creator. Anyone touching such an item is subject to spells by the enchanter, as he will have an automatic Link in magic. In addition, magic items will attempt to resist those who acquire them through dishonest means… or even legitimately if bought from a thief. There is also a warning to beware of items inscribed with words you don't understand, as these could be commands to the device requiring diligent service. I love this bit, as it makes the written word into a source of mystery and danger!

There is also a note that Enchanted items and Conjured creatures are similar, different only in that the item is not alive. We'll discuss that when we come to Conjuration.

This is getting long, so I'll continue tomorrow.

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Four

"Compleat" is an exaggeration, but still there's
a lot in there.
This series began here.

The Large scale combat rules in Fantasy Wargaming were the first time I saw miniatures rules in a roleplaying game. I knew that there was a connection, but this was the place that I saw the connection firsthand.

The system is designed to handle a variable scale. That is, the number of warriors per figure can be changed easily, and the ground scale recalculated to fit. That way, if the players are limited in the number of figures available, they can still manage battles of nearly any size. There are some problems with the system as presented, but they could probably be easily overcome with a little development. For instance, in the rules as written there is no provision for changing the time scale of a turn, so that if, say, a figure represents 300 warriors and the ground scale is therefore 1" = 150 paces, the movement of open order infantry remains 80 paces per turn, or about a half inch!

For convenience, the designers chose to use the basing conventions common at the time, specifically the ones set out in the WRG Ancients/Medieval rules (which I have mentioned before).

In each turn of the miniatures game, there are four phases. Movement comes first, and is pretty simple. Different types of troops are given a base move, and different types of terrain modify that movement. Next comes Distant combat, which is missile fire. There is a formula for determining the number of casualties from missile fire each Distant combat phase. The third phase is Close combat. This uses the smaller force as a base 100%, and the larger force as the percentage of the smaller force (so that if one force is 100 men, and the other 150, then the larger force counts as 150%). This is then modified by a number of factors and then applied to a base a tenth of the men involved in the combat. So, if a force has 320 men and a total percentage of 161, they would inflict 32 x 1.61 = 52 casualties (the number is rounded up). Whichever side inflicts fewer casualties then recoils. This leads to the fourth phase, Morale. This is figured by a quick calculation from a base level (90 to 110), modified by situation. The result is compared a table (another table!) giving a result from (at the low end) "Drop everything, scatter and run like hell away from enemy" through the best "Obey orders" on up to "Charge as a disorganized open order mob at nearest enemy". Morale is good to have, but too much can be as bad as none at all!

There's a short section regarding personality and leader type figures, which gives some basic guidelines, but nothing too constraining (or helpful). And that's it. There is no provision for incorporating the magic system, monsters, particular characters, and so on, that being left to the Referee. In general, the Large scale combat system is not well integrated into the roleplaying rules, and you get the impression that the designers just wanted to present their own miniatures rules.

I also see that I did forget one element of character creation. A warrior character should select a troop type appropriate to his or her culture and time. This gives the weapons and armor that the character uses best. Those troop types are also used to select troops for mass combat. So, even though a starting character has zero in all three levels, there should still be a "class" of sorts selected. We'll be looking at the ones for magicians and religious types soon enough, but warriors have their own set of options.

Next time, we'll start to look at the magic rules.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Three

This series starts here.

Layout in this game is pretty bad. Important sections are given little more than a line and a boldface title.

Like a lot of early games, combat is treated pretty abstractly in Fantasy Wargaming. The combat sequence works in several phases. First is a "pre-combat phase" that includes morale and berserk checks, declaration of intent, missile fire, and instant magic use. Next comes the combat phase, which includes three attack rounds: first, for characters who get the opportunity for a first blow, then a retaliatory blow, followed by a simultaneous flurry, or exchange, of blows (which can be replaced by an attempt to parry or dodge, or to disengage from melee). Each round is considered to be 10 seconds, so every character gets two attacks in each 10 second round. The final phase, the "post-combat phase", doesn't seem to be well thought-out, and includes a new morale check, followed by going back to the combat phase. This would mean that characters are only allowed to fire missiles or use magic once per combat. I'd replace that with simply returning to the "pre-combat phase", rather than bothering with the "post-combat phase".

Morale involves a modification of the basic mechanic, using a new table. It results in various levels of effect, from "Obey orders", which is the level at which a character will act as desired, through "Dither", which allows continuing difficult/dangerous actions, but not beginning new ones, "Act selfishly", which requires attempting to retreat, "Panic or surrender", which removes player control, to "Flee", which also loses player control. There are also notes on what happens on subsequent morale checks. Morale has always been contentious in roleplaying/adventure games, but I've long been in favor. Related to morale, there is also a "Control test", which is the chance that a character might go berserk. This is mainly for cultures that have a tradition of berserk (in the rules, Vikings), but also for characters with the combination of high Bravery plus low Intelligence.

An attack is either of missile or mêlée type, with different factors for each. As with most other checks in the game, this is done by adding together a number of factors to determine which column to use on a table. The table includes results ranging from a miss to various body parts. Characters can add 15 to the roll on the table by either charging or lunging, which then prevents them from choosing parry, dodge, or disengage options in the next flurry phase.

Now is as good a time as any to talk about one of the problems with the basic system. As presented, it is a clumsy system to use at the table, though not as clumsy as some. It takes time to look through the list and add up the relevant factors. This is mainly a problem with the way the list is organized, however. If the factors were divided into groups of similar factors (like listing the modifiers for each of the various characteristics together), rather than listing all of the factors of the same modifier together, that might work better by allowing a player to determine a value and modify it more easily on the fly as situations change.

The same chart is used to determine the success or failure of parry, dodge, and disengage actions. Various results are grouped into categories of "Failure", "Partial success", "Substantial success", and "Total success", which give various benefits ranging from no effect through reducing damage, shifting the opponent's attack column and reducing damage, all the way to taking damage on the weapon, completely dodging, or moving out of range. If the weapon is hit, damage is rolled as normal, then compared to a chart and the fragility of the weapon to determine if it breaks or is dropped. As an aside, the chart as printed includes one section that is not labeled. I think that this is supposed to be included in the "Total success" category.

Some locations, when hit, give special effects. These are effectively critical hits, and include double damage, stunning, temporarily blinding (from blood in the eyes), knocking down, causing weapon or shield to drop, or crippling or laming a leg. These could probably use some excessive results, too, like chopping off a limb or head and the like.

There are three pages of weapons tables, one of which is mistakenly left out of the large hardcover edition. All three pages can be found in the SFBC edition. The game includes no information on unarmed attacks. Weapons in the table are given weights that are very heavy in comparison to real-world weapons. A Short sword, for instance, is listed at "6lb-8lb". I personally own a short sword that is around 2 lbs, and that is fairly heavy, actually, for such a sword, so these weights are clearly far higher than they probably should be. Even stranger, the Long one-handed sword is listed as weighing "5lb-8lb", so the weights in the game are not even consistent with themselves.

There's a table of armor that takes up most of a page. Armor subtracts from damage on the areas it covers, but subtracts from Agility while worn. Shields are also rated with a "Defensive value", which corresponds to the rating weapons have to avoid being damaged when hit. I think that the values for Defensive values on the table are backward, but that's a matter for discussion, I guess.

Anyway, the next installment, we'll be talking about the Large scale combat rules.

Taking The Day Off

I haven't finished the third Fantasy Wargaming post. Life has been a little hectic the last couple of days. I should have it up tomorrow.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part Two

Last time, we looked at the introductory material briefly and the character creation in some more detail. Now, we're going to look at the action resolution systems.

First of all, you have to keep in mind that gaming was different back in the olden days. Most people who played "roleplaying games" were wargamers. They had very specific ideas on what gaming was for, and those agendas were at a variance to many modern ideas on gaming. Simulation was the order of the day, and game rules were intended as a means of making simulation possible. Surprisingly, some of those ideas have reemerged in the story gaming community for entirely different reasons.

For example, the first full resolution system in the game is for Leadership of the party. It is assumed that the the character who has the highest Leadership value will be leading the party, acting in the same function as the "Caller" of early D&D. That is, the party would discuss what actions they wanted to take, but it was up to the Leader (or Caller) to make the final decisions as to actions that the players' characters would take and present those decisions to the Referee. This was formalized in Fantasy Wargaming by means of the Leadership value. In any party, there would be three leaders. The primary leader was the character with the highest Leadership. The highest Leadership among characters from the other two classes (that is, those whose primary levels, from the choices of Combat/General Adventuring, Magic, and Religious, were other than those of the main Leader) were Deputy Leaders. If there was disagreement in the party, a Deputy Leader could Challenge the Leader directly, or characters with lower Leadership could Challenge by going through the intervening Leaders. Challenges would be resolved by calling out the Leader in the Leader's arena of expertise (combat for a Combat/General Adventuring Leader, magic for a Magic Leader, and so on) if the Challenger and the Leader shared primary class, or by appeal to the party for support if of a different class or if the Challenger wished to avoid overt conflict. Specific rules are given for how to resolve this (time limits for presenting the opposing cases), and the character who gains more Leadership value support from other party members wins the Challenge (requiring a clear, 10% superiority by the Challenger for successful Challenge). The losing character loses Charisma and Leadership points for the rest of the adventure, or until a successful counter-challenge. Similar resolution covers simply questioning the orders of a Leader.

Yeah, that's really very different from the way that gaming occurs today, isn't it? The assumption is that individual characters are a part of a group, not a group of individuals. This could definitely work to help give a sense of pre-modern social structures in a playing group that is amenable to it.

Another set of rules that may seem odd, compared to the way gaming is done in most cases today, is the section on Temptations. This is a method of resolving matters that are important to the character, but not necessarily to the player (such as the temptation of seduction, or the whispers of a demon attempting to drag a character into betraying his friends). If the Referee thinks that a player is not roleplaying his character in these circumstances, the Temptation rules serve as a semi-impartial court. Basically, the character compares his personality factors (Greed, Selfishness, and Lust, mainly, but also Bravery) against various degrees of temptation. This system is not perfect, but is at least serviceable for what the designers were attempting. It wouldn't be until Pendragon that a similar system would be designed that improved on the idea. However, the important thing is that the system shows off the main resolution mechanic of the game. Various factors are summed, a "Luck Die" rolled for variation (which can be modified by a character's special traits from the "Bogey table"), and the result compared to a D100 roll on a chart, giving results from "Accept with alacrity" to "Reject with indignation". This is the original of the "Black Box" systems that will become fashionable with the Pacesetter games (Chill, Timemaster, and Star Ace, mainly), as well as Marvel Super Heroes. Persuasion is the next factor covered in a similar way, using slightly different factors, but the same chart and general approach.

Despite the fairly heavy-handed approach of these rules, recent games like The Burning Wheel have returned to very similar systems, so they can't really be said to be bad or entirely alien to the methods of current gamers on the face of them. I'd like to see them made a little more subtle, if I were to revise the game, but that's not really what we're doing here, is it? As the rules stand, they're usable, and an interesting indication of how modern OSR concepts like player autonomy were not really regarded by everyone back then.

The rules continue on to discuss one of the neatest little "chrome" rules I've seen. Each game day, the Referee rolls 2D6 for each character. On a 12, the character suffers a minor complaint for the first 2-12 hours of the day, which reduces all Luck rolls by 1. Examples given include head cold, violent diarrhea, abject melancholy, hangover, feelings of rejection or inadequacy, or post-coital tristesse (so you don't have to look that one up, it's a type of sadness that sometimes follows sexual activity). The Referee selects what exact complaint is suffered, but I'd suggest that working with the player would be the best idea.

Standard rules for fatigue, starvation and fasting, and healing come next. Hit points, by the way, are Endurance points. When hit, Endurance is reduced. Points return at a variable rate based on the level of activity, from 0 to 1½ points per day.

Experience points for combat and general adventuring are defined similarly to D&D, with 100 points base per opponent's combat level, divided by the character's current combat level (I assume that a level of zero is treated as 1 in this calculation, however this is never specified! This oversight will also become a problem elsewhere, as we shall see), or the chance of success for a general adventuring action subtracted from 100, then divided by 2. That is, if there is a 50% chance of success for an action or saving throw, XP are (100-50=50/2) 25 points if successful.

This is followed by the section on performing various adventuring feats, from finding secret doors and compartments, opening locks, or negotiating an obstacle (which is a general process that can be applied to anything from climbing a wall to leaping a chasm) to picking a pocket or escaping a trap as it is sprung. This is basically the section on Thief skills and saving throws. These systems are all basically like the one for Temptations, where a value is determined to provide a column on a black box table. The table in this section can be considered the basic one for the game, as it is used for all of the activities listed and gives results of "Failure", "Partial success", and "Success". I assume that XP are given for the category of success, so that a character who rolls a Partial success will get experience as though the Partial success chance was the chance, while those who roll Success get the higher value from the lower success chance (e.g. column 1 gives a Partial success chance of 82 or less on 1D100, while Success is 54 or less; XP would then be (100-54=46/2) 23 points for Success or (100-82=18/2) 9 points for Partial success).

This does get a little unwieldy in play, but if the players are simply told to write down an amount, or if the Referee keeps a sheet sectioned off for each character that she updates as needed, it is, as I recall, not that onerous. Certainly less so than, for instance, keeping track of END loss and recovery in HERO system. The authors do take a swipe at XP for Gold systems, but as with all opinions in games, they mainly serve to identify the author's biases.

One idea I had was to import the Glory system from Pendragon as the XP system for Fantasy Wargaming Combat/General Adventuring levels. I think that this would work well, and keep the tone of the game, while making XP tracking a little less unwieldy. (I'm probably going to keep on making little notes like this, toward a hypothetical second edition of the game, as it were.)

Next time, we'll start discussing the combat system.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Obscure Games: Fantasy Wargaming, Part One

OK, I'm probably stretching "obscure" in talking about this one, as it has quite a reputation, at least in the online gamer community. Still, though, it's not D&D and it's not Monopoly, so it's pretty much obscure in a general sense. Whatever.

There's a lot to this game, and I really like it a lot, so I'm breaking this overview up into a series of posts. I don't know how many there will finally be, but I'll try to get through them quickly.

Hahaha! They got major book
chains (and the Science Fiction
Book Club) to stock a book
with a penis on the cover!
Let's start with some quick bits in response to actual reviews of the game that I've read online. It's not called The Highest Level of All Fantasy Wargaming. That's stupid, and takes a stupid reading of the cover to come to that conclusion. "The Highest Level of All" is marketing copy, not part of the title. The title, as is clear from the title page, is Fantasy Wargaming. There are some ticklish bits in the rules in regard to sexism and Antisemitism. However, these are marginally justifiable in that an explicit design goal of the game was to provide a closer simulation of the medieval European period than D&D or Tunnels & Trolls provided. I don't, however, intend to defend those design choices, and will simply note that they can be largely ignored (with one exception, which is more like exoticism than Antisemitism; problematic on its own, but less offensive at least).

OK, I'm going to mostly gloss over the first half of the book pretty quickly. The first six chapters lay out the vision of the designers, along with some useful notes on world design for a Dark Ages/Medieval setting. They provide some information on the fringes of Europe (especially Wales, Ireland, and Scotland) with enough to get a Referee looking in the right direction for further research, but the focus is on England, France, Germany, and Scandinavia, and maybe a little bit of the Slavic lands, Spain, Italy, and the Balkans, in the period from about 500CE to about 1500CE. It can be stretched to cover the Middle East and North Africa, but those are largely the limits of the game as written. With some more extensive modification, it could probably be made to cover other parts of the world as well. The advice given in the first six chapters also covers fantasy fiction, though it is clear that Melniboné and Hyboria are not intended as the focus of the game.

One chapter that is almost essential for understanding the design choices made is Chapter II "Myth, magic and religion", which goes into the rationale for magic and religion in the game. The ideas seem to parallel ideas that were current in the occult community in England at the time, but I don't know how much the authors were influenced by that, or how much was convergent thinking. There is one pair of sentences in that chapter which sets out the underlying magical theory of the game (all games with magic have an underlying magical theory, though it may not be explicit, or even coherent), and that sentence is spelled out in capital letters in order to emphasize it: "THEIR POWER COMES FROM YOUR BELIEF. THE GREATEST SOURCE OF MANA IS YOURSELF." I don't think that this game is the first to make use of the term "mana" to mean "magical power", but it is certainly the first place I encountered the term used in that sense. This is a precursor to the idea in Mage: The Ascension that reality is determined by belief paradigms, and as far as I can tell is the first place that such an idea appeared in gaming. Mage took the idea explicitly from Chaos Magicians, while Fantasy Wargaming was merely concurrent with them. Anyway, this sentence will become manifest in the rules in various ways, which we will examine as we come to them.

Skipping through all of that (interesting and useful as it may be, as both a directly valuable set of essays and as a document of how some gamers approached gaming at the time - some of the essays are very opinionated, and fun reading as a result), let us move on to the rules presented. First up, as in most games of the time, is the section on creating a character. It starts with a chart to determine the character's astrological sign. While labeled as "optional", astrology is pretty deeply woven into the game, and so should be recommended. This is done with a simple D12 roll, and results in a range of characteristic modifiers. The signs are not balanced, in the sense that there is a variation in the benefits provided, which can be quantified (I simply added up the modifiers, switching the signs on three of the characteristics which are negative qualities) as ranging from -5 (Gemini) to +4 (Sagittarius). There are 11 (!) rolled characteristics which can be modified by the astrological sign. They are: Physique, Agility, Endurance, Charisma, Greed, Selfishness, Lust, Bravery, Intelligence, Faith, and Social Class. Each of those characteristics is rolled on 3D6, modified by the astrological sign chart, and then the player rolls 2D6-7 for astrological aspecting, adding (or subtracting) those points to the characteristics within certain limits. In the rules, female characters are given significant penalties to reflect the patriarchal societies of Europe in the period covered. This can be easily ignored, or possibly altered if the Referee is ambitious and stupid enough to try to enforce penalties on female characters. Height is based on Physique, Weight on Endurance. Next comes the first figured characteristic, Leadership. This is by formula, adding three times Charisma, four times Social Class, Physique, Intelligence, and Bravery, and dividing the sum by 10. There's a bonus of half (round down) of the character's highest level, but all levels start at zero, so starting characters do not see it. All characters start at age 16 (unless given previous experience by the Referee).

Next comes the so-called "Bogey table". This is a chart which gives positive and negative attributes to a character. For instance, a character might have "Keen eyesight" or "Agoraphobia" from the chart. This is where some of the controversial aspects of the game reside. The chart includes "Jewish" (described as "You will be persecuted and shunned by all right-minded Christians", which description is also given to "Heretic" and "Atheist") and "Homosexuality". Homosexuality is listed in the negative side of things, but then so is "Homophobia". Meanwhile, "Bisexuality" is listed in the beneficial part of the table. The table is a hot mess, with largely pointless results (from a gaming standpoint, though perhaps not from a narrative one) like "Impotence" or "Green Fingers" ("Can make any plant grow") existing alongside "Clairvoyance", "Healing Hands", or various characteristic modifiers, with the exact same chance of each. Fun stuff!

After the "Bogey table", there's a section that might throw some gamers into a state of fear: Skills. The skill system here is very utilitarian, though, with only six skills listed (Riding, Swimming, Climbing, Tracking, Stealing, and Singing), and all of them rated as "yes", "no", or "well".

After skills, we learn about character levels. Every character has levels in all three areas of expertise: Combat/General Adventuring, Magic, and Religious. 1000XP in a category (XP are tracked separately for each, and go into the category appropriate to the source of the XP - so, winning a fight gives Combat/Adventuring XP, while casting a spell gives Magic XP) gives a level. At each level, the character gains a couple of points to apply to characteristics (and recall that level affects Leadership).

There's some complex discussion surrounding the Social Class characteristic, but I won't detail it here. Suffice it to say that it is an important characteristic, shaping the character in many ways, both overt and subtle. After that is an equipment list (the money system is complex, a synthesis of incompatible money systems from all over Europe, with Sovereigns, Marks, Ducats, Florins, Shillings, Groats, Pennies, and Farthings). And that's it for character creation. If you want to be a magician or holy person, you've got some more to do, but all of that is in the sections on Magic and Religion.

Next up: the action resolution mechanics, or "Role-playing rules".

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday Morning Randomness

1) I've been re-reading MegaTraveller. I'm surprised at how very simple the rules are, except for the vehicle design sequences. Most of the first two books are taken up with either those design sequences, the world generation sequences, or the character generation tables. Only a very small amount is taken up with resolution systems.

2) Work proceeds on the Top Secret clone. I'm keeping things pretty close to the basic book, but there are bits from the Top Secret Companion that I feel like I really want to include. I'm also making sure that some of the material from Dragon magazine would be usable by including the extra stats from, for instance, the space program articles and the wilderness survival article. I'll probably include highly simplified ways of using those.

3) Almost no one seems to be voting on the poll to the right. Please vote.

4) One of my projects for this year is to finish all of the Burroughs Barsoom books. I'm on the eighth, Swords of Mars, now.

5) I'm really looking forward to Prometheus. I may go see it in the theater, something I only rarely do - most recently, I've gone to see John Carter and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I can't even remember what movie I went out to previous to that (the first Iron Man, maybe?). Yeah, I don't go to the theater much.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Obscure Games - High Colonies

It's no Traveller cover, but it'll do.
In the late '80s, Star Frontiers and Traveller (well, MegaTraveller) were rather moribund, with Star Frontiers about to be turned into a completely different game because TSR were too much in love with the "black box" table system they'd been so successful with in Marvel Super Heroes, and not really finding a dedicated audience yet, and MegaTraveller being caught up in the metaplot crap that would ultimately kill it (and soon it would be replaced by Traveller: The New Era, which was neat, but pretty much destroyed the setting in order to move on). Other SF games existed, sure, like Space Opera or FTL: 2448, but none of them were very successful.

Into this situation, a few designers stepped up to try to make their mark. One of those designers was Eric Hotz, mostly known at the time for his excellent artwork illustrating the Hârn series of products. His entry took a little bit of a different direction than the previous SF games. Most such games had been designed as starfaring space operas, with FTL travel in almost every case. Eric Hotz decided that, with High Colonies, such interstellar action would not be necessary. After all, the Solar System is huge, and there's a lot that can be done within the bounds of the orbits of Pluto and Neptune (remember that Pluto hadn't yet been reclassified as a dwarf planet in 1988).

Background was important to the game, and takes up the first 48 of the 102 pages in the game book. Like many settings of the time, the fall of the Soviet Union was not an obvious event, and so we find entries discussing the USSR doing things in 2005. That's one of the potential pitfalls of near-future games, which I suppose is a characteristic of this one, even though the year of the setting is 2188. In the timeline, we learn that a group of aliens, the Chakon, have shown up in a generation ship (the setting does not have any FTL, as noted), and there is a hint that there might be other aliens hiding somewhere in the system. After the timeline (which includes an event that makes the Earth uninhabitable, leaving only the various colonies of the game title), there is a list of 165 colonies, including "every station mentioned in the text, and every colony with a population of 20,000 or more". There's a note that there are several hundred smaller stations scattered around the Solar System. Each listing includes the name (and the colonies are listed in alphabetical order, which is less useful than other arrangements might have been), location, general purpose of the colony, population capacity and actual population, and some short notes on features of interest, including the political factions (there are 9 main ones described, from the Band of Humanity and the Belt Miners' Association to the Solar Federation of Labour and the Pan-System Enterprise League) to which the colony subscribes, the type of government, and so on. A table at the beginning indicates the approximate size of orbital colonies designed for various levels of population (so that a colony designed for 2 million people might be around 1.3 miles in diameter and 6 miles long). The list of colonies runs from the last half of the second column of page 21 through all of page 39, including a few pieces of Hotz's excellent artwork. This is followed by more detailed descriptions of the political factions (called "Major Organizations") and some discussion of mercenaries in the setting, along with some sample mercenary companies.

Pages 93 through the end are taken up by a sample adventure ("Hard Times At Lyric 3"), while everything in between (the 44 pages from 49 to 92) are rules, equipment, and a page of Referee advice. Players can play human or Chakon characters. There are tables for generating a character's sex and birth place. Starting age is rolled on 1D6+19. Attributes are like D&D, but there is no Wisdom stat. Humans roll 2D6+6 for each of the five basic attributes, Chakon roll various dice and adds from 2D6+4 to 2D6+10, depending on the attribute. There are a couple of derived attributes, including Injury Points (the game's name for Hit Points), which are equal to Strength and Constitution added together (then location-based IPs are figured based on taking half of the total IP value and adding an amount from zero to 4, depending on the location). Skills are rated by skill levels, and a character starts with a number of skill points equal to all the stats added together, plus the age of the character, and multiplied by 6. The skill list is pretty much as you'd expect in a near-future SF game written in the late '80s. Referees then give the players whatever amount of money they think is appropriate, and the players choose equipment for their characters.

Combat is resolved using a dice pool system with a number of modifiers. Modifiers can be either to the number of dice in the pool, a single modifier, or a modifier to the number rolled on every die in the pool. Attacking totals are compared to defending totals, and a result determined. Hits are allocated on a hit location table, armor subtracts from damage in protected locations, and damage taken as expected. Melee combat is similar, but uses different modifiers and includes "Special Tactics", like aiming for a specific location or wrestling. Characters don't die until they lose 1.5 times their IPs. Then come the rules for healing and ship to ship combat.

Happily for old school gamers, there are a number of encounter tables in the game, for encounters in space (in deep space, on a trade route, rolled each day, or near a station, rolled each hour) or in/on a station (rolled every 10 minutes in an active station, or every hour in an abandoned station).

In addition to the Chakon, there are "Bio-Gens", who are genetically engineered humans of four varieties (Miners, Laborers, Soldiers, and Ram-Soldiers). Ram-Soldiers were designed by the Band of Humanity, a group of "racist Christian fundamentalists, extreme right-wingers, paranoid survivalists and the like", in 2164. The Soldiers were designed to fight the Ram-Soldiers in the Purge War. There is also a secret group of aliens, just as the timeline hinted, called the Selo-Esra. They are catlike and highly xenophobic, with advanced technology. Finally, there are rules for robotic characters, called Bots.

Weapons include a generic mix of conventional and energy weapons. There's a short list of generic SF equipment (including laptop computers, but no handhelds).

And that's it. Not a bad game, but nothing that really grabs you. The setting is interesting, but Solar System-only settings have been done better several times since, from GURPS Terradyne and Transhuman Space to Jovian Chronicles. The good news is that the rules are very lightweight, allowing a Referee and players to really grow them through rulings and house rules into something that is well-suited to the play style of the group. Still, chances are that there isn't a group out there that needs this, what with the availability of universal systems and better settings.

There's a poll over to the right. Vote! If you have any other suggestions, feel free to email me or comment.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Want To Believe

I really want to believe that the runaway success of the Ogre Kickstarter, various OSR projects such as the Dwimmermount Kickstarter, and such are an indication that gaming, as I came to know it in the period of the end of the '70s and the early 1980s, has returned. I'd like to think that it is more than a temporary nostalgia. But I always remember what John Shirley said in Eclipse, or something like what he said since I don't have the book anymore to examine for the exact quote: "You only get a year out of a retro act". I keep looking nervously for the signs that all of this is going to end.

Yeah, that's short and to the point. Good enough.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Got A Moth In The Mail Today

And There Was A Troglodyte
Underneath It
I looked in the mail, and there it was. A greeting card-sized envelope that indicates a zine, and on the envelope was a creepy moth stamp.

I'm pretty sure that he has more copies to order, and if he doesn't you can always wuss out and get a pdf version from RPGNow.

What are you waiting for? You need to know more, you say? OK…

There's some nifty art, from the Troglodyte cover by Jason Sholtis (which you can see there to the left in a smaller, fuzzier version) to the Umber Hulk inside by Johnathan Bingham.

There are six articles and an introduction. The first two are useful together (one is a mini-adventure, the other is a table that can be used at one point in the mini-adventure or elsewhere). One is an encounter/mini-adventure for a fantasy modern setting, set in rural PA. Next up is a short bit of gaming poetry. The fifth article is a set of 20 random encounters for a small forest. Finally is a description of an interesting NPC and his associates, along with some scenario seeds, sort of like the old Traveller Casual Encounters in the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society.

Tim uses a silver standard for his treasure and ascending AC (which latter, well, is one of the places I disagree with him, but he does it because too many retroclones use it these days), writes for people who aren't afraid of the word "shit", and includes guest contributors in each issue. That's all pretty cool.

The only typos I could find were on the contents page (seriously, Tim, "blogstop"?), but I might have missed something. I doubt it, though, because The Happy Whisk was one of the proofreaders, and the other one was Trey Gausey.

So, in short, you know you want it. What you didn't know was that you need it. Neeeeeeeeed it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Trait System

Several times in this blog, I've mentioned that I designed a fairly well-received roleplaying system that's gotten some use in the local gaming community (mostly among story gamers, as that's where my former gaming group decided to present it, and two of the members of that group were instrumental in developing the system). I called it the Trait System, but other names included the Two-Die System (because it uses 2d6 for most resolution checks) or the Bridge System (as it was seen by one of the developers as a bridge of sorts between "trad" and "story" games).

Briefly, character creation consists of selecting three traits (sometimes, one of the traits is considered the character's "core" trait, and largely defines the character, like "Gunslinger" or "Veteran Mercenary", though I don't know that I am overly fond of that). A trait might be "Strong", "Hard-headed", "Goth As Fuck", or whatever. The point is that the three traits selected define the character. I wanted to provide a list of automatically acceptable traits, with an "Other" category that would allow negotiation with the Referee for something else, but I never got around to creating that list, and it made the game easier to propagate without the need for any written rules set. Perhaps, after finishing the Top Secret clone, I'll get back to the Trait System.

Anyway, resolution is by determining what is attempted, and if any of the character's traits apply to it. Then, roll 2d6 and add 2 for each applicable trait (or add 1 - the developers thought that it was easier to remember that way) and hope for a 9 or better for success (I think that the version which adds 1 per trait looked for a 7+). If a character was on the receiving end of an attempt, he would gain a negative trait, such as "Wounded" or "Confused". We never got around to really working with those, but the general rule turned into "if you have 5 negative traits, you are out for the rest of the scene, or whatever is appropriate". We also didn't really define "scene", but just went with what felt right at the table.

There are, of course, other aspects of the game (like wealth or negative traits), but they aren't necessary for this brief overview.

Now, I've just learned about Technoir, and discovered that it uses a similar mechanic. They came up with an awesome way of handling injury traits and similar setbacks, too, in which if a character gains a "wound" type trait, they roll a die for each such trait they have. If a 6 comes up, they also gain "Dying". If a 6 comes up and they have the "Dying" trait, they also gain the "Dead" trait. (In Technoir, "traits" are called "adjectives" in this sense, to separate them from basic character definition traits, but that isn't necessary or desirable in the Trait System). I'm going to have to get that game to examine it for things I can use.

The games which originally inspired the Trait System were:

Tales of the Arabian Nights from West End Games - This was the original inspiration. I loved the game when I first played it, and wanted a way to use the ideas in a broader roleplaying context, with no limits based on the board or paragraph book. Basically, I was looking for a way that a Referee could extend the game.

Magic Realm from Avalon Hill - Another approach at a boardgame/roleplaying game hybrid. Not much survived the development process, largely because my developers had never played it. I hope to reintroduce aspects of it.

Car Wars - Uses 2d6 for resolution, and has characters that are described by their skills without any stats (though it still operates from the traditional paradigm of rating skills by numbers).

Where Fools Dare to Tread - In the early '90s, Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer magazine sometimes included entire roleplaying games. This one was a game of modern horror and conspiracy. It used singular traits to describe a character, though there were five central ones that pretty much made up the basis of a character.

To a lesser extent, I also looked at Mind's Eye Theater, the White Wolf LARP system. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some other games that had an influence on the basic design, too.

After looking at these, I wanted to get away from having numeric values on the character sheet. We don't describe someone as "14 Strength" in the real world, we just say "he's strong". I wanted to gain that feeling, and set a design goal of "no numbers on the character sheet". Because not everyone who is strong is the same strength, though, I added the idea of advanced versions of the traits, so that someone who had "Strong" twice might trade both in for "Very Strong" or whatever. Some of those ideas got lost in development, but I think I will return to them. I have some more ideas, too, so I'll hope to get a chance to work them out at the table, then write them up for publication in some manner.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Obscure Games - The Arcanum

I have the Second Edition, but
I first played the First. I love
the understated covers.
Bard Games started their roleplaying products with a series including The Compleat Alchemist, along with some other The Compleat… titles. Those were intended as optional expansions for use with Dungeons & Dragons, but eventually they were expanded into a full game. This is a really common situation, actually, in the late '70s and early '80s, where someone would publish what amounted to their own house rules for D&D. There are people now who complain about the glut of retroclones and such, but we've always had those, from The Palladium Roleplaying Game and Arduin to Thieves' Guild and The Arcanum, among many, many others. Even RuneQuest began as the Perrin Conventions for D&D combat and Empire of the Petal Throne is self-evidently based on D&D.

Like many of these D&D variants, The Arcanum is explicitly tied to a specific setting, in this case, the Atlantean world, where Atlantis has not yet sunk beneath the waves, and rules most of the known world with a velvet glove cast in iron. Most of the setting information is contained in the second and third books in the series (The Lexicon and The Bestiary, later published under one cover as Atlantis: The Lost World, including art by Bill Sienkiewicz), though, and I won't hash it out here.

The First Edition cover was also
pretty cool.
Character creation involves choosing a race from the usual suspects and a few unusual ones (Druas are a little like dark elves, but will be later found in Talislanta as the Ariane, so they aren't elves at all, nosiree; Aesir are half-giants; Andamen are animal-headed humanoids; Nethermen are a lot like half-orcs; Zephyr are winged humans; plus Elves and Dwarves), then dividing 100+2d6 points among the 8 characteristics, sticking to the limits set by the chosen race of the character. Next, select a "Profession" (aka character class) from among the 32 possibilities, 2 of which are found in the Second Edition but not the First. Each of these is described as either "single-classed" or "dual-classed", which determines which experience point chart the character will use for increasing in level, and as "untrained", "skilled", or "highly trained" in Combat Capabilities. Each profession gives a special ability or two, plus some free skills. As the character rises in level, it will gain more free skills, and can choose to spend experience points on other skills instead of increasing level. Combat ability is handled in this way, by giving the character who can become better at fighting an accumulating +1 to hit at various levels. Like Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role Playing, non-fighters don't generally get these bonuses. There are some other refinements, such as Background and Hit Points (start equal to Constitution, plus a bonus for the Combat Capability of the class of 2, 4, or 6 points and a possible additional bonus for 15+ Constitution), but this is basically all there is to it.

Characteristics give various benefits to the character when they are at high enough level (usually 15+), such as Perception allowing a Detect Invisibility percent check, Constitution giving even more Hit Points (and that bonus is given each level, like the Combat Capability bonus), and so forth. Then we come to the core of the system. Like D20/3.X and Original Edition Delta will later do, The Arcanum simplifies saving throws and combat "to hit" checks down to a d20. Success is achieved with a total of 11+ after modifiers are applied, so if there's a +4, a roll of 7+ will succeed.

Money is treated in the usual D&D manner of gold, silver, and copper pieces, with about 100 coins to the pound. Characters roll on a table to determine their starting economic situation ("Down and Out", giving 20+1d10 GP, to "Flourishing", with 10 times as much).

Characters get experience points for a number of reasons, starting with the traditional D&D pair of 100xp per level of a defeated monster and 1xp per GP acquired, but also "Avoiding or deactivating any trap, figuring out any riddle or puzzle, overcoming any obstacle or hazzardous [sic] situation, or making any discovery of note", "Saving, rescuing, or aiding any character or creature" (which nets the same xp as defeating a foe), successfully turning undead (again, as defeating a foe), converting an individual to one's own religion (a flat 100xp per individual, regardless of level), making a magical or alchemical item, binding a spirit into service, or "influencing any individual or creature by non-magical means" (as defeating a foe). In addition, during down time, the character can gain xp by study or practice, either solitary or under a teacher. There's also an optional 10% bonus for funny voices and such ("Game Judges who would like to improve the quality of role-playing in their campaigns can adopt a policy of awarding a + 10% X.P. bonus for players who make an effort to role-play their game personas. This simple rule can go a long way towards improving the game by giving players a real incentive to think and role-play, instead of just hacking away at everything they see.")

Before getting to skills, there are listed 8 abilities that are common to all characters: Climbing, Finding a Track or Trail (but not following it), Hiding, Keeping Afloat (not swimming), Moving Silently (though the Stealth skill makes this awesomer), Noticing Hidden Persons or Creatures, Leaping, and Brawling.

Skills include all the usual stuff you see in games, from Languages and Haggling (which is different than Barter for whatever reason) and the like to unusual options like Internal Alchemy (increased lifespan for Mystics) and Inventing. Some skills have two levels (like Acrobatics I and Acrobatics II), which give more advanced abilities when the second skill is acquired after the first one. For no apparent reason, skills do not use the "d20 for 11+" system, but instead use a percentage chance set by the skill and the levels the character has gained since acquiring the skill.

Combat, as noted above, relies on a base 11+ to hit, and targets get to make a defense roll. Hits do damage based on weapon type. Simple, basic, D&D stuff. Armor absorbs damage (1 to 6 points, depending on type, heavy cloth to plate), with an optional rule for armor damage (requiring two percent checks in various circumstances, from immersion in salt water or long-term exposure to wet weather, to taking a fall from 20' or more or taking 20+ points of damage from a single attack).

Spellcasters can cast spells from lists determined by their particular profession (so, a Priest gets to use Divine Magic, while a Magician uses Enchantment, and so on). The character can learn spells of a spell level no higher than half (rounded up) of the level in the profession. A character can cast (level+1) spells per day, chosen at the time of casting. There are fiddly bits, like learning spells from other professions and casting spells in combat, but most of it is common sense. The oddest, most metagame-y, restriction is that no character may carry more than 7 magic items.

Alchemy gets a full treatment in the game, with a long list of alchemical operations that can be attempted. There's also discussion of summoning spirits and demons, and making a pact with them. There's a section where a character with the Runes skill can inscribe runes and effectively make minor magic items (they count against the limit of magic items, plus they have an additional limit of no more than 3 for those classes not associated with Rune Magic).

Alchemical operations include making simple potions (taking a few hours and requiring some easily-acquired ingredients) and more complex potions (taking a day or so, and requiring some more expensive ingredients), special devices (secret compartment rings, prisms, lenses, puzzle locks, whatever), scrolls, and such, on up to major operations like making Alchahest (a universal solvent), essences like Variable Mercury (the Philosopher's Stone) or True Copper (provides defensive benefits), Golems and Machina, or even the secrets of Life. Itself!

There isn't a lot of material on the traditional endgame, but there are some "NPC Professions" listed, which basically tell how much it costs to hire various professionals.

OK, let me list and briefly describe the 32 Professions of the game:

Alchemist - Pretty self-explanatory, actually. Learns how to make magic stuff using the principles of Alchemy.

Assassin - Pretty much a ninja, but no funky ninja magic.

Astrologer - A magic-using type who specializes in the powers of the celestial bodies.

Beastmaster - YES! You can play Dar in The Arcanum! Gets the ability to communicate and bond with animals.

Bounty Hunter - Hunts people down for the reward.

Charlatan - Another awesome option, the Charlatan gets some minor magical ability (limited to first level spells), but mainly relies on being a con artist. Though limited to first level spells, can learn more spell lists as the character goes up in level.

Corsair - Another self-explanatory profession. These are pirates.

Druid - Pretty much the traditional RPG depiction. Nature-loving hippies who can shape shift. There are some good limits on the shape-shifting (no bigger than 2' in length or height per level of the character, no smaller than a sparrow or mouse).

Enchantress/Enchanter (found in Second Edition only) - A little bit like bards in some games, these are artist- or musician-magicians.

Gladiator - A particular type of fighter.

Harlequin - Actors, musicians, performers, whatever.

Hunter - Like Rangers, but without the magical abilities.

Mage - There are actually three different sorts of Mage. All use Astrology (see Astrologer, above), but the Magus also uses Divine Magic, the Cabalist also gets High Magic, and the Archimage gets Enchantment.

Magician - The basic magic-using profession. Uses the Enchantment list.

Martial Artist - Chop Sockey!

Monk - Martial Artists who also learn to cast Mysticism spells.

Mystic - The main Mysticism spell-users.

Necromancer - Use Black Magic to summon demons and create undead monstrosities.

Paladin - Champions of Goodness and Justice. You know. Use Divine Magic.

Priest - The main spell-user that gets Divine Magic, plus can turn undead and convert the heathen.

Rogue - The basic thief profession.

Savant - There are two types of these. Both learn obscure facts (like the Scholar, below), but one gets Divine Magic and the other learns Mysticism. The latter tend to be hermits.

Scholar - Ivory-tower intellectuals. They learn stuff.

Shaman - The primary spell-user of the Low Magic list, they get to bind spirits to their service and have a Power Animal.

Sorcerer - Not only do they get the Sorcery spell list (with lots of pseudo-science-y spells like Negate Gravity or Structural Analysis), they also choose either Enchantment or Black Magic as a back-up.

Spy - Ever wanted the disguise ability of the AD&D Assassin without the requirement to be Evil? This is what you wanted to be. Basically, this is the AD&D Assassin, though (the Assassin profession in The Arcanum is all ninja-y, with Martial Arts skillz).

Thaumaturge (the other class new to Second Edition) - This is like the alchemist, but uses a different way of going about it that is somehow more related to what other spell-using professions do. Instead of gaining the ability "Projection of Will" like Alchemists get, they cast a spell called "Thaumaturgic Enchantment". They have some limits in what they can do compared to Alchemists, but they can do it way more often.

Warrior - Your basic fighter.

Witch/Warlock - They get Elemental Magic, like Druids, plus either Black Magic (for Evil Witches) or Enchantment (for the rest).

Witchdoctor - Like Shamans, they use Low Magic, but they also use Black Magic. There are no Good Witchdoctors. Which is kinda racist, given that the person in the picture is one of only two black guys in the book (other than the Druas, who are not dark elves; the other black guy is the Gladiator).

Witch Hunter - Like a Bounty Hunter, but specializing in spell-users. They learn to use the Mysticism spell list.

Wizard - The main users of High Magic, they also learn either Enchantment or Black Magic.

Anyway, if you've gotten this far, let me just say that, if you're looking for a game that is like D&D, but not, then The Arcanum is an excellent choice.