Thursday, 29 October 2009

SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK



"Many of these role-playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, RuneQuest, Traveller and Warhammer, are quite complicated, and their manufacturers recommend them for twelve-year-olds and over."

For me, this was where it all started. Already a big fan of the Fighting Fantasy books I was excited beyond all measure when this turned up at my primary school's bookshop, promising to be a multi-player game like this mythical, mysterious Dungeons and Dragons that I kept hearing about from my Father, of all people, who had reported it being played at the Technical College at which he taught. I can clearly remember the day I bought it and reading it in the back of my Father's Austin Maxi while the family drove over to Kinver Edge for an sunset walk on a balmy September evening some 25 years or so ago. The imagination got fired (here was a game where I could write my own adventures and they could contain anything) and frankly I don't think I've ever been the same since.

Being somewhat settee-ridden the past couple of days (akin to being bed-ridden but slightly less serious) I dragged FF off the bookshelf and re-read it with an eye to a modern review. After all, it's the book that gave this blog it's title.

Fighting Fantasy (The Introductory Role-playing Game) was written by Steve Jackson in 1984 and published alongside the more regular FF gamebooks (Warlock, Citadel etc.). In it Jackson presents a version of the usual FF game system and a very good, concise account of how an RPG runs for an audience that probably have never heard of such a concept. He does this by cleverly re-running the start of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain but as if it were an RPG. This is an excellent section and it works - I'm proof of that - and if I wanted to tell somehow how an RPG works, I'd lend them this book - except that this copy is a bit fragile and of considerable sentimental value. Perhaps I'd get another via eBay first and lend that one.

Mechanics

Mechanics-wise the book pretty much copies everything that the early FF gamebooks did. Adventurers are represented by three attributes, the familiar SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK (nearly always capitalised).

SKILL is generated as d6+6. This is a general measurement of how competent an adventurer is - nearly every test is made against skill (2d6, score equal to or lower). It's essentially a generic measurement to describe swordsmanship, intelligence, strength and dexterity/reflexes.

STAMINA is generated as 2d6+12. It's hit points basically.

LUCK is generated as d6+6. This is mechanically interesting. Tests that would be blind luck are made against this with 2d6, but after every test, the Adventurer's LUCK is reduced by 1. This seems to represent some form of divine favour that slowly dribbles away as it is used. Literally, your LUCK can run out. Tunnels and Trolls likewise had a similar attribute (LK) but this didn't reduce from use. This is an interesting concept and not one I've seen used in other games.

Something that FF introduced me to has stayed with me in virtually every game I've ever run. Advocates of the Old School will be delighted to hear it's a fine example of ruling not rules. Any test where the Adventurer's manliness comes into play is a straight 2d6 versus SKILL. Anything that relies upon the Adventurer's luck is a Test Your Luck, another straight 2d6 but versus LUCK this time (with the obligatory burn of 1 point for testing). Everything else is a simple n-in-6 chance. Pick a number between 1 and 5 and throw a single d6. A 3-in-6 chance is a straight 50/50 with a positive result occuring on a 1,2 or 3. If you ran a game where the Adventurers never fought anybody (a game of political intrigue for example), a whole game could be run off this single "ruling not rules" mechanism.

There is absolutely no concept of character advancement, equipment lists or presumably re-using the same adventurer in a subsequent adventure. Chargen is performed before an adventure and Adventurer's are generic fighting men with pre-defined equipment - A sword, a lantern, a backpack, a number of provisions (each restoring 4 STAMINA) dependent upon the expected length of the scenario and a choice of one potion. If you are reusing a character from a previous adventure all you are really doing is reusing a name - the Adventurer gets rolled afresh and he carries no equipment or loot over from a previous session. This is implicit not explicit. The game seems designed around what we now call one-shots.

Adventurers have no access to magic, the effects of which seem to be entirely unavoidable. Some of the denizens in the scenarios have magic spells, if they cast them they happen. End of.

Combat in FF was very simple. 2d6 plus your SKILL, monster rolls 2d6 plus your SKILL. Lower score loses 2 STAMINA. Repeat until someone drops dead. There is a rule for Testing Your Luck to change a 2 to a 3, 4 or 1 but nobody ever did that because LUCK is too precious to squander upon making tiny changes to damage dealt or taken.

FF the RPG adjusts this slightly by adding ATTACKS. ATTACKS is basically the number of opponents that a Monster can attack in one round - leftover attacks are wasted. The Giant Octopus in the first scenario has 8 ATTACKS so can attack up to 8 Adventurers - he can't claim multiple attacks on a group of less than 8. Multiple ATTACKS creatures roll one attack roll and compare this to all their enemies. If three Adventurers fight two Orcs (1 ATTACK each) then one Adventurer will have the luxury of dealing damage to his target Orc if his ATTACK SCORE exceeds that of the Orc, and taking no damage at all if it doesn't.

Time

FF is played in realtime. If it takes 10 minutes to resolve an encounter, then 10 minutes in game have passed. The second scenario even offers the option of a teleport spell delayed by 2 hours to time the game to 2 hours and teleport Adventurers from the dungeon once the time has expired. The FF GM will therefore need a clock or stopwatch. I struggle to think offhand of another RPG that does this, and think for the game it is it's quite right and proper - look at who confusing OD&D's turns and rounds get with their need to record the passage of time for the expiration of spell effects and new Wandering Monsters roles.

Scenarios

FF comes with two dungeon-bashes, the 18 location scenario The Wishing Well and the larger, 39 location Shaggrad's Hives of Peril, possibly the strangest named scenario ever. Both are traditional late 70s arrangements of occupied rooms that exist totally in isolation of each other, with no rhyme, reason or logic. To be fair, and harking back to the opening quote, for Jackson's intended audience this was probably fine. Each encounter location has it's own full-page monochrome illo (in the same style of as the gamebooks) and each location text has a mini-map with the current room highlighted with an arrow to dispense with the need to keep turning back to consult the main map.

These scenarios differ from general practise in that the Adventurers are not expected to bring any other solutions or equipment in with them. As a result, The Wishing Well looks very similar to a Zork-clone text adventure game in that it's a closed system - everything needed to resolve a puzzle or obstacle can be found within. For Wishing Well the Adventurers will need to befriend the wizard Nandras who will offer them the Crystal Key to gain access to the Spider-King's quarters, but only if they defeat the Mummy for him which respawns twenty minutes after death (twenty real minutes remember) unless burnt - for which they will need the flaming torch from the trophy room of Marg the Slaymaster. Once in the quarters of the Spider-King, they will need the spell to open the Treasure Room, which can be found in the Spellbook in the chamber of respawning Zombies. It's very text adventure-like and should the same players go on to tackle Shaggrad's Hives of Peril (I hear you can get a cream for that...) they won't possess either the Crystal Key or the flaming torch.

Presumably you'd have to construct scenarios in this fashion. The party won't have a 10' pole with which to prematurely trigger a trap, so if that's needed, it will need to be left in the dungeon design somewhere.

In Play

As it happened, despite all the excitement and enthusiasm I never played FF when it was new. Before long, September turned to October and by November, encouraged by the firm grasp of this strange new gaming concept that I'd developed from re-readings of FF, I'd requested the good old Red Box for Christmas, and the baby steps of GM-ing were all undertaken with what I regarded as the "real" game. The FF scenarios got restatted to the "proper" thing. I ran Well but never did Hives.

And that was that until the early 1990s.

At that time I was gaming at a wargames club in Stourbridge and playing with a bunch of guys who went to a bunch of different schools and sixth form colleges. Pre-mobile phone and all the other communication tools, internal communication between this group wasn't very good and periodically the Friday session would be disrupted by no-shows and wargames where only one army had turned up or someone had been grounded or unhelpful parents were whisking their brat off to visit some Aunty somewhere and devil take the four or five other kids who'd expected him to be at the end of a bus ride in the rain and were sitting around wondering where he was.

That was there FF came into it's own. Since the rules could be committed to memory on first read-through and were essentially seared into everyone's mind from an early age it turned out to be no real hassle to quickly knock up an improvised dungeon bash and dive into that, playing without access to the book (not needed really) and feeding off player suggestions in the sort of fashion that much later got codified in the likes of Donjon.

Would I ever play this again? I'm not sure. Some of the simple decisions to allow the game to work with a pre-teen age group actually look quite modern these days and tightly focused (one-shot PCs, realtime clock, use of one attribute for a million things). Perhaps for this type of game I'd stick with the greater flexibility of OD&D but I'm loathe to rule out a return to the SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK and two wooden dice looted from the family Monopoly set.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Nurglemas

No sooner do I have a week off work to look forwards to a week of housework, painting figures, loafing and getting out and about then Grandfather Nurgle strikes me down with only the second bout of asthma I've had since childhood. Arse. Thanks for that. So Monday, my first day off for what seems like ages, is spent sitting bored on the settee wheezing away like a clapped-out Austin Metro. It also means that I haven't been able to get out and buy my copy of Chaos Marauders.

I did get a game of Wings of War in over the weekend though. A bunch of us were staying the weekend at a friend's house in Worcester and I'd taken Space Hulk down only to discover that I hadn't got the Missions Book with me. To keep the not-really-a-nephew-nephew quiet I set up a quick game of Wings of War with him.



Since he's only six years old I kept things simple by ignoring all the rules on "steep" moves, just letting him pick any three cards in any order. WoW has a card draw system for damage (which, by including lots of 0's, also works as a general firing mechanism - instead of determining if you hit and how much damage you do a single card draw shows whether you hit or not and how much you inflicted) this is normally kept secret by the recepient, but we played this "open". I fanned the Damage cards out and let the player firing the shots pick the correct number. This I feel is a little more tactile than the target player just drawing off the top. It feels less scripted somehow - which isn't a solid argument I accept but I just feel that picking a card scores over being dealt the top one even when mechanically the outcomes are identical since you can't influence the result you pick.

What struck me is that WoW is a bit drawn out with only two aircraft and firing opportunities aren't that common and a lot of 0s come out, in fact in six draws, Jake draw five zeroes and the other card was a 1 or something similar. Perhaps this game should be kept back for larger, multi-player games with more firing opportunities.

Elsewhere on the geeky front I picked up a Nintendo DS and, ahem, an R4 card for, ahem, back ups. I went and bought Broken Sword Director's Cut which was a rather nice nostalgia trip. As a huge fan of the 90's era point-and-clicks it's not clear why I hadn't bothered to get one before (with the genre getting something of a revival on the stylus-and-touchscreen format) but glad I did now. Especially with the television being out of commission and the clocks having changed I can see some adventuring going on on the little screen over the winter nights.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Zoggin' Zog Zog Zog!!

The Wayland's Forge mailshot turned up yesterday and while idly scanning through it to see what else I can't afford something leapt out and hit me LIKE THE FIST OF AN ANGRY GOD thusly...

BOARD & CARD GAMES
Chaos Marauders
FFGSL04 £19.99
Warhammer Boardgame. A vast Chaos army is marching north, when suddenly the sprawling mass of bored and surly Orcs grinds to a halt because of yet another petty feud. In Chaos Marauders, each player takes control of one of the Orc clans involved, ready to show all the other mangy little creeps who's boss of dis 'ere scabby battle mob. You'll stop at nothing to win. No amount of trickery will be low enough, no amount of thuggish brutality too vile. Who knows, you may even get the mysterious Chaos Marauders on your side. Only one tribe can come out on top - will it be yours? Chaos Marauders is a fast and frenzied game of Orcish mayhem for 2 to 4 players.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I mean to say !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

Jesus Christ on a tricycle, Space Hulk 2009 then Chaos Marauders 2009!

So I went off to BGG and it's true...




Chaos Fucking Marauders. I never owned a copy, but loved this with a passion. And now Fantasy Flight are re-releasing it and, just to keep in with the whole nostalgia trip, while it's been redrawn it is nothing more than modern copies of the original John Blanche illos. Spirit Games had an original copy of this for sale at Expo '09 just after I ran out of cash and discovered that, unlike last year, there was no temporary cashpoint at the show.

Now, I can almost forgive them for the abberation that is/will be WFRP 3. And for ruining my early retirement plan by slashing the value of my carefully hoarded copy of Fury of Dracula (with limited edition metal figures) by re-releasing it. Re-release Dungeonquest/Drak Borgen and we'll call it quits OK?

I haven't been this excited since Space Hulk about six weeks ago. Fuck me. I can see a frantic dash up Birmingham on Saturday morning to get hold of this in my sweaty mitts as soon as is humanly possible.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Space Hulk Mission #2



Saturday afternoon saw Stu and I sit down and have two stabs at Space Hulk's Mission II, "Exterminate". In this mission the Space Marines set up dispersed so that each Marine starts within a room and on his own. Genestealers enter at both ends of a board that is roughly L-shaped but unlike most missions they don't get infinite reinforcements. The 3-strong and 1-strong blips are used and once they are depleted, no further Genestealers arrive. Marines win by wiping out all Genestealers or by getting within 6 squares of all Genestealer entry points. That done means that no blips can enter the board at these points and if the Marines get all entrances blocked they will immediately win the game. While it sounds a big ask, we worked out post-game that only two squares at either end of the board need to be occupied for the Marines to achieve these victory conditions.

On both games, Marines basically ignored the last option and went for massing everyone around the centre in overlapping "Overwatch" fields-of-fire.

I won an easy victory with the Marines by killing all Genestealers but then for the second one we'd worked out, after some discussion over hot drinks, that Genestealers need to hole up out of sight of Marines and wait for others - then attacking the Marines in large numbers rather than attacking in penny packets as they arrive and being cut to ribbons. This was happening in the first three games we played.

Adopting the new "wait for numbers" approach I took out 4 Marines by outflanking Stu's central position. In the smaller early missions where the Marines get only 5 models, an early removal of a model can hamper them badly and so it proved here. However things were turned on their heads when the last survivor (Storm Bolter/Power Fist - the vanilla SH Terminator in other words) retreated to a handy dead-end corridor. I swarmed with the remaining 15 or 16 Genestealers but the odds are dramatically on his side now and his last man wiped out all xenos and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

While it seemed unlikely at the time, as turns went on the inevitability of this result became more apparent and was due to the Command Points rules. The Marine with 4 Action Points could (once static) fire twice (no risk of jam) and go to overwatch for a total of 4 AP. He then shoots at every Genestealer taking an action in his sight (up to 12 squares) after that Genestealer has taken his move. A double six on Overwatch fire means the gun is jammed but it only takes 1 AP to clear this. The Marines draw between 1 and 6 bound Command Points a turn and now Stu was reduced to one model that wasn't going to budge off his square he could easily keep a couple back to clear a couple of jams and use the rest for interrupt fire or as bonus firing in the Marine turn. With a draw of 6 Command Points, the Marine could effectively shoot 8 times, go on Overwatch and then shoot "for free" any movement in front of him. Nasty!

With unlimited Genestealer reinforcements, his defeat would be inevitable if potentially incredibly time-consuming to play out but with a limit on Genestealer numbers he was in with a really good shout and made it tell. I managed to get one Genestealer into the facing square but he was shot down before being able to melee.

The £1 electronic kitchen timer worked well but with only 5 Marines, and those being stationary a lot of the time, it never really affected the game. It was useful being able to pause the clock during the Marine turn when the wind blew a fence panel over in the garden and Fiona was the only one holding it up until we got outside. :)

Jamie turned up later on his way to a party, and looked at the game approvingly, he is going to try and sort out a weekend to come up and play a few games.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Throwing the 4E Players Handbook away


At a wargaming club with a large RPG group I literally could not give away my copy of the 4E Players handbook. I did try. None of the RPG group even knew of someone who was playing 4E and would find a good home for it. So I've decided to put in with the next lot of books I donate to the Charity shop and bookcross it for good measure - see where it turns up.

Last time I donated books to the charity shop I gave my copy of Dawkins' "The God Delusion" to Christian Aid. Tee Hee.

Formula Chav


Years of pedantically insisting that the name of this game was pronounced Formula Day (it has an acute accent - and is French for dice) have been blown out the water by the new version which has just decided to accept what all Anglophone gamers (except me) have been saying for years. So Formula Dee it is then. Actually I just took one look at the Need For Speed/Fast and Furious street racing nonsense on the back of the board and have renamed it Formula Chav.

In the pits at a Formula Chav event, yesterday.

You can download both the Basic and Advanced game from here. The Basic game looks nice, it's essentially a revised version of Formula Dé Mini (which uses a single pool of "wear" points rather than splitting it into tyres, gearbox, engine etc.) and it answers a question I've had for years - how many Wear Points to give for Mini races on full-size boards. It looks like the answer is 18 (Mini uses 20 for a 3 lap race) so I should be able to acquire some of the full size Dé/D tracks and race on those using Mini rules.

I'm loathe to purchase the full game because the Formula Chav side of things is just not attractive to me, quite the opposite in fact, but with the new rules available for free, I've got a renewed interest in Mini. I always wanted to love Mini but the dull boards (two tracks, both very similar and with only 1 stop corners) put me off.

Spotted on eBay this week - a big bag of Chinese knock-offs of Marklin Z-Gauge model railway cars. The bag (currently en route from Hong Kong) has a bunch of Porsche 996s in 1:220 scale which should paint up nicely and I believe will be a perfect size match for the Formula Dé cars. Carrera Cup/Supercup here we come!

Space Hulk Post-Game Thoughts


Space Hulk seemed to be a great game session despite doing lots of things wrong.

Firstly I misread the rulebook and Marines on Overwatch not only got given infinite range when shooting (it should be 12 squares on Overwatch, infinite when shooting normally) but we also made them fire first at any Genestealer action within sight - it should have been after that action. This rather biased things towards the Marines but this might have been offset by another rules SNAFU whereby the Genestealer "blips" were allowed to enter Marine L-O-S and continue moving. Done properly they shouldn't be allowed to enter L-O-S when still a blip and flipping blip (to convert to models) ends those Genestealers' move.

Further unbalancing towards the Marines was down to not using the egg-timer (gives a roughly three minute time limit for all Marine actions) to reflect the fact that we were looking up the rules during play but this turned out to be accidentally the only thing we could do - when we started using the timer just to see how long our untimed moves were taking it transpired that the egg-timer is faulty and keeps clogging up! Situation was resolved on Sunday with a small electronic kitchen timer from Poundland.

Marines won both games but I'm sure that with a timer ticking away the pressure will mount and the Genestealers will stand more of a chance.

Our only real concern is that the map for Scenario #1 just about fitted on a 4'x 3' dining table and some of the later maps look as though they won't fit on our 4'x4' combat patrol board.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Staffordshire Hoard/Space Hulk

Took the not-really-a-nephew-nephew to Birmingham on the train today to spend his pocket money at GW and Waylands Forge. He picked up a set of Chessex dice and a pair of MechWarrior single 'Mechs (this is a six year old that loves giant robots) and a box of plastic Space Marine Command and the current issue of White Dwarf from GW. I saw a T-Shirt that I absolutely had to have because it had the original Warhammer box illo on it. I had the following conversation with Stu;

Stu - "It's XL."
Me - "I always have XL for the length."
Stu (looks at shelf) - "They're all XL."
Me - "Well of course they're all XL. This is Games Workshop, they won't sell any shirts that aren't."

Happily, and after many years of grumbling, somebody has bought out card condoms to fit the tiny little cards in Wings of War. That somebody is Fantasy Flight Games so I picked up two packs (50 per pack) from Waylands and sleeved all the cards. Unfortunately they no longer fit in the vacuum-formed tray in the box. But this does mean I feel happy playing the game now, I've had it a few years and as an anal type who puts all his cards in sleeves I'd only got around to playing it once due to paranoia about damage to the cards.

We went to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the Staffordshire Hoard (Flickr photostream here - a must see) which is only on display for three weeks before it's future is decided (translation - fucks off to London and never returns to the provinces again). Queued for two hours but I'd say it was worth it. You really need to get close to the things and see them in the flesh to appreciate the exquisite artwork. It's staggering to think of people working without the benefit of modern magnification methods, dremels and even artificial light. The delicate and fine nature of the pieces defies belief when you think that people made these around 700AD under natural light.

Tom and Stu ran through the first scenario in Space Hulk this afternoon when we came back from Brum, did the usual SH thing of playing the same scenario twice swopping sides. As the only one who had read the rules I started sort of GM-ing it but the rules got picked up very quickly. A great game, it seems that the Marines can chew through hordes of Genestealers but have to quickly rethink their plans as soon as they lose someone. More on SH later.

Another game of SH is planned for next Saturday afternoon with an old gaming mate (he hasn't played anything for years and we are trying to tempt him back into the fold) and a newer friend who I didn't know was into GW stuff in his younger days.