Runequest 6th Edition

September 8, 2013

The sixth edition of Runequest is a comprehensive successor to previous editions, and for me, comes the closest to capturing the look and feel of the second edition that was one of my favourite roleplaying games.  As well as looking at this new edition, I will also present my thoughts about the supplements and supporting material released so far.  I have played and run games with the second and third editions, looked at the fourth edition drafts that never went anywhere, and had the Mongoose edition – but for some reason I just never liked the they way they put the game together so I did not run any games with it.

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Runequest VI is a hefty 456 page all-in-one tome.  Its available as a softcover & pdf bundle from http://www.glorantha.com/product/runequest-6th-edition/ or http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/products.php ($62), and in pdf format from http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?&manufacturers_id=4057 ($25).

A hardcover version has been funded through Indiegogo and should be out soon for backers and direct sales.  Runequest VI is primarily a set of rules, but provides examples of game mechanics through a backstory set in the bronze age city state of  Meeros and the aspiring female warrior Anathaym.  This is kept in the sidebars, and I found the story entertaining, like Rurik’s story in RQ II, but not too distracting from the main text.  Apart from the cover, which is a colourful homage to the RQ II cover, the interior art is black and white illustrations, and largely complements the overall mood and themes of the text.  More setting specific supplements are due for publication in the future, including:

  • Luther Arkwright (based on a time travelling secret agent character, apparently a big UK comic in the 1970s-80s)
  • Mythic Briton (after the Romans have left)
  • Shores of Korantia (based on Age of Treason, a fantasy setting that tries to capture the feel of a rising new Empire, where internal threats may outweigh external threats).

A number of free pdf downloads are available for Runequest VI at the Design Mechanism website, including:

  • A supplement for Firearms (and futuristic weapons)
  • A GM pack
  • Character sheets.

Two generic, setting free, game supplements are already available:

  • Monster Island (a “sandpit” jungle island)
  • Book of Quests (seven loosely connected scenarios).

Organisation and Layout

There are sixteen chapters, plus reference sheets and an index.  While the material is in a logical order, there will be a bit of page turning in character creation as people start with the process in chapter one, but may need to dive into the skills, equipment and magic chapters to figure out what they want their character to be like.  I had some confusion on first reading the rules, in that while skills are mostly explained in chapter four, some specific parts of skill use, such as haggling, are dealt with more thoroughly elsewhere in the text.  If I were running a game, I would want prepared material for the players with example combat styles, magic traditions, cults and brotherhoods for them to join.

  • Chapters 1-3, character creation, culture, community, careers and development
  • Chapters 4-7, skills, economics & equipment, game mechanics, combat
  • Chapters 8-13, magic systems
  • Chapter 14, cults and brotherhoods
  • Chapter 15, creatures
  • Chapter 16, games master.

Character Creation

Basic character creation involves the seven traditional characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma.  These can be rolled for randomly, or purchased with a point buy system.  Secondary attributes are calculated based on the characteristics: Action Points (number of actions per combat round), Damage Modifier, Experience Modifier (bonus improvement rolls, based on Charisma not intelligence, as you smile sweetly at your instructor…), Healing Rate, Height & Weight, Hit Points, Luck Points (one use per game session), Magic Points, Movement Rate and Strike Rank (initiative in combat).  There are some fairly significant break points in these attributes, for example your Action Points are determined by combining Intelligence and Dexterity, 12 or less is one action, 13-24 two actions, 25-36 three actions.  If using a point buy system, I suspect the temptation for players to have intelligence and dexterity summing to 25 will be strong.

Standard skills are available to all characters, most are self-explanatory (Dance, Perception) but Customs (of your community), Evade, Influence (persuasion) and Insight (into motives) will need a look at the rules to figure out what they are about. Evade is not quite the old Dodge skill, its more a throw yourself to the ground that leaves you prone to vulnerable to whatever happens next.

Combat styles represent a major design choice for the individual game master.  For a combat light campaign you could decide to just have two styles, one for melee weapons and one for ranged weapons.  For a detail rich gladiators in the arena campaign, you might have a dozen or more combat styles (spear and net, spear and shield, etc).  Deeper in the book (page 135) its explained how combat styles can have special traits, such as Formation Fighting, where a group of soldiers work together to reduce their opponents action points by one.  Quite nifty, and an obvious place for house rules for campaign specific chrome.

Four generic human cultures are presented: Barbarian, Civilised, Nomadic and Primitive.  Each culture comes with a set of standard skills, combat styles, and professional skills.  Of these, I think the primitives are the weakest, but I just don’t find the stone age all that interesting.

A 1d100 random background event table is included. If choosing an older character, its suggested that you roll more than once.  I quite like 13 “You believe yourself to be suffering a divine or magical curse. Moan, groan and whinge at every opportunity, or remain completely stoic at every misfortune that befalls you in the future.”

Social class is an option, with as usual, the lucky nobles getting wealth, land, horses, weapons and armour. Personally, I like the idea of starting a campaign where the nobles start with equipment and hideously huge piles of debt.  One can keep rolling randomly for family, but for contacts, allies and adversaries you’re expected to use your brain and think of something.  The rules do provide a major incentive for the players to come up with a reason for hanging out together – Group Luck Points (tucked away on page 124) a pool of shared luck points anyone in the group can use, and you get one per player who has a good reason for being in the party.

The last section of culture and community is the most important from a roleplaying perspective: passions.  Passions are cool! Passions represent:

  • loyalties and allegiances
  • strongly held beliefs or ideals
  • emotion felt towards someone or something.

Passions are rated 1-100, can change over time, and be created or discarded in play.  Passions are described by a verb such as: comfort, desire, despise, destroy, espouse, fear, flee, forswear, hate, love, loyalty, protect, repudiate, respect, seek, subvert, torment, or uphold.

Over 20 generic careers are provided, offering a package of standard and professional skills for the player to spend points on for their character.  The careers are fairly broad, the Agent for example, is intended to include Agitators, Assassins, Detectives, Informers, and Spies.

An older character gets more skill points, and can spend them to a higher starting level.  Age penalties don’t kick in until 40+, so I see players being strongly incentivised to choose middle aged (200 bonus points) over young (100 bonus points).

Game Mechanics

Its the old 1d100, roll against skill level system, but with some developments:

  • 01-05 always succeeds
  • 96-00 always fails
  • A roll of 1/10 of skill is a critical success
  • A roll of 99-00 is a fumble.

Rather than providing an exhaustive list of modifiers to skill checks, the approach taken in Runequest VI is to adjust the skill level by fractions, e.g. for an Easy task, add half again to the skill value, for a Formidable task, reduce the skill by half.  Characters can augment a skill with one other skill, e.g. using local area knowledge to improve drive skill checks, equal to twice the critical success value of the augmenting skill.

For contested rolls, critical beats normal beats failure, but if two people have the same result, e.g. critical perception versus critical stealth, the character with the highest roll on the dice wins (i.e. a 13 beats a 7). Pro tip: because of the need to compare rolls you need to train your players to leave their dice on the table, untouched, until the roll is fully resolved.

Equipment

After that mechanic introduction the rules take off on a tangent for equipment, before going back for more mechanics.  Mostly familiar stuff with the traditional kitchen sink lists of ancient to renaissance era armour and weaponry. What I noted here was the armour penalty to Strike Rank (the average of Dexterity & Intelligence), which is determined by total armour encumbrance value divided by 5.  For a full set of plate mail this works out to a hefty -9 penalty.  This is also applied to the the characters movement.  I grumble about this, a custom fit set of plate armour can be easier to run in than a maille hauberk, but I can put aside the stickler for accuracy and recognise it for a game balance device that ensures some niche protection for those leather clad (or skyclad) character concepts out there.

Weapons have a list of combat effects they can do, for example the Glaive can inflict Bleed and Sunder (smash armour) effects, while the Rapier can Impale.

More Game Mechanics

Specific rules are given to handle: Acid, Ageing, Asphyxiation, Blood loss, Character improvement, disease, poison, encumbrance, falling, fatigue, fires, healing, luck, passions, wilderness survival, traps, visibility and weather. Phew!

Skill increase is familar, roll 1d100 and add 2-5% if you roll equal or greater than the skill, or 1% if not.  As a freebie, if you fumble, you get to add 1% as well.  Increasing characteristics is not easy at all, essentially you sacrifice experience rolls, both now and in the future, to boost a characteristic.  Stop making the sacrifice, and your characteristic goes back down to its natural level.  I think this is fine with a point buy system, but if using 3d6 rolls in the old school style, its very hard on the unlucky player.  An optional rule is provided for people like me who prefer something a bit more like RQ II.  FOr those with time and money, training is an option, allowing skill increases of anywhere from 1-2% to 5-10% depending on how much better than you your trainer is.  You can’t stay at school forever though, you have to spend an experience roll on a skill before you can work with a trainer again.

Encumbrance remains the rule most likely to be ignored by both players and game masters.

Healing serious/major wounds takes a very long time unless you have magic.

Luck points can be used to:

  • reroll dice
  • gain an Action Point
  • downgrade a Major wound to a Serious Wound (this is how player characters survive the brutal, gritty, Runequest combat system).

Combat

This is comprehensive enough for my re-enactor background, and complex enough to be intimidating – there is even an Android App for helping sort out combat effects!

Actions can be spent on proactive actions or reactive actions.  When you run out of actions you just have to suck up whatever hurt the bad guys are throwing your way. You probably want some tokens/counters to track this around the game table (and that might help with luck points as well).

Proactive actions include:

  • attack
  • brace
  • cast magic
  • change range (moving in closer or further away)
  • delay
  • dither
  • hold magic
  • mount
  • move
  • outmaneuver (make an opposed Evade check against a group of foes, those who fail cannot attack you)
  • ready weapon
  • regain footing
  • struggle.

Reactive actions include:

  • counter spell
  • evade (dive or roll clear, ending up prone – this is not the dodge of RQ II)
  • interrupt
  • parry (combining parrying, blocking, leaning and footwork to avoid the blow)

The detail about evade/parry is included as that seems to be one of the most common misapprehensions about how the combat system is supposed to work.  How effective your parry is depends on the size of the weapons/shields involved.  Equal or greater size mitigates all damage, one size less mitigates half damage. Two sizes down mitigates nothing. So if the giant is swinging a tree trunk at you, throw the buckler shield away and evade!

In addition to damage, you get special effects, potentially as many as three, if one side fumbles when the other criticals.  There are a LOT of special effects, too many to sum up, but I think its likely that players will choose things like Select Target (head) and Maximise Damage (instead of rolling one of the damage dice its treated as being at full value, so a 2d6 weapon becomes 6+1d6).  For those who want it though, you can do a lot more to your opponents than “whack, and I whack it again” which is where RQ II was it in 1980.

Shields are a passive block, not an active block, so you need to pick the locations being warded. A bigger shield can ward more locations.  As in past editions, weapon damage minus armour = hit points lost to a body location.  Damage and wounds are pretty horrific:

  • minor wound: location has HP left
  • serious wound: location has zero or less HP (this will put most people out of the fight very quickly)
  • major wound: location reduced to negative starting HP (this will kill most people without first aid or healing magic).

Magic

It is a joy to see all of the magic traditions in one rule book.  Each of them is quite different, and a game world might not have all of them present.  We get a primer on the runes too, as this is Runequest. What I would really like is a set of the runequest runes on some small tokens I could draw randomly from a bag for oracle type stuff in game sessions.  A quick web search did not find anyone with something like this for sale.  Maybe I’ll track something down later on.

Folk Magic – this is what we called Battle Magic or Spirit Magic back in RQ II, its fairly low power community magic.

Animism – dealing with the spirit world and its monsters, Shamanistic traditions.

Mysticism – warrior monk/Jedi enlightenment aiming for transcendence.  Potentially the most overpowered of the magic traditions as a skilled mystic can be very hard to kill and very dangerous in combat, not at all the glass cannon of your traditional RPG mage. Beware of little old men with brooms!

Sorcery – a complex system, potentially powerful but often very narrow in focus and difficult to use (but good for villains who need long rituals to be interrupted)

Theism – religious cult based magic and power.

Off-hand, not too different from past editions, but the GM should decide for the campaign how common magic is, how long it takes to cast a magic spell or ritual, and how quickly magic points can be regenerated and by what means.  A world where you only regenerate magic on the night of the full moon is very different from one where you get new magic points every sunrise.

The Rest of the Sixth Edition

The creatures, cults and brotherhoods and game master sections are all fairly straightforward stuff for world and adventure building.  On a second reading of the GM advice, it was better than the first time, and gives some good tips for using the preceding material.

How does it play?

This is not a convention friendly game, its just too rich and complex for people unfamiliar with the rules to get a lot done with it on the three-four hours you get.  The combat and magic systems, while powerful tools, are likely to confuse people at first.  It is much more a game system for running a long campaign with, and for people who love detailed world building … because you can always write up one more cult!  I am very much looking forward to running a campaign with it when my Dragon Age game wraps up.

The GM Pack

This 78 page free supplement contains two scenarios and charts and reference sheets for use with Runequest games.  Meeros Falling is a “prove the hero is innocent” scenario, and involves finding the conspirators/evidence and bringing this back to the authorities, with a potential earthquake to complicate things.  Has a deceased NPC called Mysoginistes!  The Exodus Matrix involves more action, monsters and magic and the plot involves stopping the bad gal from activating the matrix to do bad things in a temple in some post-apocalyptic post elder god intervention Earth.

The Firearms Supplement

Short, to the point, and free.  A few notes on myths about firearms accuracy and lethality, it has the tables you need for primitive and mdoern firearms, as well as blasters, flamethrowers, laser weapons and other far future oddities.  Does the job well.

The Star Wars Supplement

This free 47 page supplement was only available online for a short period of time before it was pulled.  If you search carefully, you may find it online somewhere.  The skills, equipment, vehicle combat, and homeworlds sections would be useful for any science fiction setting.  I quite liked the rule whereby the number of “magic points” spent in a session by a Jedi was the chance of the Emperor detecting them and sending off some assassins to hunt them down.  A useful mechanic for any setting with a Dark Lord and player characters who have special secret powers that can get them killed.

The Book of Quests

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I found this a bit disappointing.  Its generic and flavourless, which is not like the epic RQ supplements of yore.  In particular the opening scenario Caravan is weak, in that at its conclusion the players may feel like they have failed, as the merchant they are escorting will most likely scarper for safety rather than see their caravan through to its intended destination.  I also think players would struggle with the monster, which prior to their arrival had essentially acted as brute force deliver of a massacre, but now the players are present becomes a sneaky skulduggery murder in the dark.  The Curse of the Contessa is the diamond that makes this book worthwhile, an excellent city intrigue game with multiple factions, including a well portrayed demon.  Most of the other scenarios just felt a bit too linear, but this is one you could have a lot of chaos and fun with as the outcome is very open.

Monster Island

Wow. After the Book of the Quests, this is the sandbox pack to make you want more from the Design Mechanism!

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The main supplement is 298 pages, plus another 17 pages of companion material and maps.  It details a huge volcanic/jungle island, with mountains, ocean, highlands and ancient ruins and tombs.  It has a strong pulp theme, with shades of Mu, Lemuria, Skull Island, E. R. Burroughs, R. E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft coming through.  The main protagonists on the island are the serpent folk, found in both degenerate lowland villages, and the vestigial remnants of the sorcerous priest-kings who once ruled the island.  Other foes can be found in the bestiary. The rationale for packing lots of apex predators into the island is that there are magic gates which drag them here from other dimensions.  So you can mix dinosaurs, werewolves and tentacled aliens in powered armour if you wish.  Humans have a colony struggling to establish itself on the island, with the natives preferring the obsidian weapons over the rusty iron the traders have.  Everything is detailed to the level you would expect from the great RQ adventure supplements of the past, a good bestiary, some magic and cults, ancient gods and lore, some nice tombs and traps and a world with shades of grey that leaves the players free to decide who they will ally with and who they will work against. While this is not something I will run out of the book anytime soon, I will be pillaging its pages for a lot of its ideas in a future campaign setting.

Summing Up

I am very happy to have these game books sitting on my shelf and in my hard drive. While there are some bits I disagree with here and there, on the whole the Runequest Sixth Edition rules are clear and comprehensive and I look forward to sharing them with a gaming group in the not too distant future.  I’m torn between some kind of Star Wars/Lovecraft mash up, or a Byzantium/Spider Oracle fantasy setting.  Its good when a set of game rules unlocks my imagination like this.

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Kapcon 2013 Reflections

January 20, 2013

TLDR: I had fun, but the gaming world is changing and its time for me to be a grumpy old man.

Some quick post-convention thoughts on the Kapcon gaming convention this weekend.

First is the way the games being run have changed over the years.  I see a strong move away from old school published games from big companies, towards Indie games.  I can see why, the old school games were designed for running long campaigns, and their simulationist mind set focuses on incremental rewards and character improvement.  Indie games are more like tvtropes on speed, and very much focus on grabbing immediate player engagement and permitting them to do a lot of swashbuckling Hollywood stuff.  Even the old niche humor/horror games of Paranoia and Call of Cthulhu are vanishing under the relentless tide of Indie games.

Second, is that LARP is eating the tabletop games.  Overall convention numbers are stable, but numbers taking part in LARP over tabletop are increasing.  As a friend commented, LARP attracts all the good immersive roleplayers. This leaves a lot of tabletop games to collapse from lack of numbers, or to be filled by passive players who just sit back and watch one guy talk for three hours.  I’m honestly not sure I should ever bother trying to run a tabletop game at Kapcon again – I’m simply not a good enough Rockstar GM to attract enough players for the game to be fun for me to run.

Third, convention organisation remains strong, improving every year.  Two first-timers I helped bring along were very impressed and had a good time.

I played three games and ran one, and spent a bit of time working on Pax Victoria.  I bailed for home rather than wait around for the prize-giving (pretty sure I was not going to get a mention for either GMing or playing, and sitting around through 45 minutes of talking and clapping when the brain is tired just doesn’t thrill me anymore).

(1) Too Big to Fail (GM Paul Wilson): after playing this I resolve to never ever play a game where you roleplay people playing roleplaying games gain.  It was so meta-meta I struggled to know what to do at any point in time, especially as I selected Jim Butcher who had a “Serious Roleplayer, don’t break character” character, so I might as well have not been playing Jim Butcher.  When the GM has to to tell you the Paladin’s horses name (Charlene) is an in-joke, the its not an in-joke anymore because only the GM is in on the in joke.  The final fight was over in two rounds, which felt too short for me.

(2) Too Many Draculas (GM Mike Sands): my first experience of the Monster of the Week system was good. Characters were easily generated, and the scenario meant that anytime it slowed the GM just added another Dracula.  We got through 11 Draculas, and my cantankerous granddad vampire hunter was fun to play, with my decisions meshing well with the other characters.  Slight look of shock on the other PCs at my willingness to use them as bait, but oh well such is life.  I liked this game so much I went and bought the PDF from DriveThruRPG.com.

(3) Price Slash (GM Dale Elvy): Again, a very strong focus on pretending you’re in a movie, with montages and flashbacks.  Character generation was more of a work in progress, and I failed to mesh well with the other characters, so ended up pretty much a loner. It was frustrating to feel a few times that the GM skipped past me (he often started with the player to my left, and by the time Dale got to me he seemed to have the next frame in mind and wanted to move onto it quickly), so the more active/enthusiastic players got a bit more character development in.  On the plus side, my laundry man/mafia assassin got a three year extension on his seven year deal with the Devil. The game was run with the EPOCH system, which worked, but had a lot of cards and counters on the table.

My own game, Last Stand at Salang was not a great success. It was old school, using Runequest VI, the latest version of a 1970s game, with three pages of character sheets, a colour map, and two pages of combat charts for each player.  It was possibly the only 1970s era game run at the con.  Because three of the four players were passive, it was mostly a military logistics game with one player dominating the talking and the die rolling, with the final battle taking the last 30 minutes. The player with the Dragonslaying sword failed to hit the Dragon three times, and then the Dragon did 13 HP (after armour) to the leg, biting it off, fade to black, a very scorched black.   It was also frustrating to turn up on Sunday morning and have zero sign ups for the second playing of it. Oh well, at least I got a cookie from Idiot/Savant.

Thanks to James for giving me rides to and from Kapcon.  Its a PITA to get there by Bus from Newlands (especially if you want to shower/eat before the con starts).


Can Elves be fat?

June 19, 2012

Thinking about the next tabletop RPG campaign I could run when my current Dragon Age game has run to a conclusion, and I find I am ruminating a lot of the standard fantasy races.  There are some definite clichés out there, and I know my own background of early and sustained reading of Tolkien means that for me Dwarves, Elves and Orcs will always look in my mind like how Tolkien described them.  Part of my ruminations are thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of hewing close to genre convention, and whether or not a wide array of fantasy races helps or hinders the campaign.

Interestingly, in my current campaign, only one player chose to be non-human.  He chose to be a Telchari – a hairless Dwarf with a reputation for poison and treachery.  No one was interested in Elf (three exciting flavours), Half-Elf (created in a way similar to Alexander the Great’s marriage of Persians and Macedonians), Goblin (a quirky underdog), or Vargr (Viking culture bipedal wolves imported from Traveller).  Everyone else is human, although two of the characters emphasise the two of the different human cultures I designed (and the other two don’t make much of their background).

Uses of Race for a GM

Fantasy races come pre-packaged with useful sterotypes in way that pet cultures do not.  An elf is an elf, in any world, although I might have to say, these are elves with the following twist that makes them not like everybody else’s elves.  But if I told you the main human cultures in my current campaign were Talian, Ostian, Musorian, Kamarian, and Mandanese … well there is no short cut to knowledge there, you would have to go do some background reading or pay attention to what I have the NPCs say in-game.

So in a sense, the cliché is a useful short cut for rapid world building, in much the same way as the corrupt republic, fanatic caliphate and the remnant empire are (those are terms I think from the Rough Guide to Fantasyland).

Uses of Race for Players

Lets pretend … races often have appealing attributes for lets pretend games, such as Charisma for Elves and Toughness for Dwarves.  People might also want to indulge in flavour of the month make believe – I mean, who wasn’t tempted by the wood elf ranger template after seeing Orlando Bloom as Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies?

Niche: when you’re the only pointy eared, scaly, whatsit in the party, its easier for the other players to remember who you are, or to at least make reference to you.  This suggests that there are diminishing returns from designing more races than players in your campaign, unless one or more of the races are intended as significant enemies.

Languages: different races often have access to a wider array of languages, which can be useful for investigation, research, diplomacy, bargaining and other communication related endeavours.

Friends: being the right race can mean access to exclusive areas (such as the Elf-Queen’s bath house), and might mean that accompanying heroes are not executed on sight.

Enemies: and the Elder races usually come with roleplaying hook baggage of a long list of other elder races they have pissed off over the millenia.  A little animosity can be a good hook for roleplaying interactions between characters (although too much can break the party).

Themepark Dungeons: Elven ruins are different from Dwarven Ruins.

Is Race Just a Stat Sticker?

Most tabletop RPGs happily modify characteristics based on race, a +1 bonus here, a -1 penalty there.  Definite emphasis on nature, not nature, in how characters start games.  Your parents are more likely to influence skills and initial wealth, and their ability to buy oranges during a famine has no effect on whether or not you reach your full height.  Gender differences also tend to be underplayed, and its rare for a lot of sexual dimorphism (the Drow come close, with the favouring of women over men, like their Spider Goddess Lolth) so you don’t get 7 feet tall male Ogres and 5 feet tall female Ogres with different CON and DEX modifiers.

Both Dragonquest and Empire of the Petal Throne were two early RPGs that established their worlds were sexist, but had a cultural out for women to behave like men.  Some RPGs also have lifepath systems for background, and these could take into account influences other than racial background to make characters more varied. Partly I just think the natural bell curve of differentiation within a race is more important than the difference between races.

The mechanics of racial modifiers, bonuses and penalties are important to me, because in order to be able to GM a gaming system, I have to be able to translate ideas and concepts into game mechanics. A major reason I could not run 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons was my inability to understand the mechanics they gave player characters in that ruleset.  I just could not fit all the options into my head.  Dragon Age on the other hand, was simple and old school, easy for me to develop campaign material for.

The Problem of Origins

In an evolutionary paradigm, how likely is the co-existence of multiple sentient species in close proximity to each other?  We don’t have a lot of evidence on Earth, although there is an overlap between early humans and Neanderthals.  An awful lot of fantasy backgrounds just handwave it by saying the Gods did it.  Empire of the Petal Throne did well by saying its a terraformed world that was a luxury resort, so the inimical aliens are the natives and everything else settled there before the world fell into apocket universe.

Interbreeding … just what exactly is a half-Elf?  Notice you hardly every see it referred to as half-Man?  Miscgenation is okay for Elves, but something about being less than 50% human makes people twitchy.  Somehow in RPGs, half-races only tend to appear when they have some kind of cool factor, like half-Dragons.  You don’t see half-Dwarves/Gnomes or even half-Halflings very often.  If such hybrids are a bit like mules, should they be sterile?

Some possible reasons for lots of different sentient species:

  • outsiders from the otherworld/fey realms
  • exiles from Heaven/Hell/the Moon
  • alien invaders from elsewhere (via ley line gates perhaps)
  • created in ye olde God wayes
  • first people (only works for the first race you design)
  • long-lost cousins, separated by vast distance and now reunited
  • not dead, just sleeping
  • occupied very different environments (water/land/poison vales/carnivorous forests/underground)
  • dying out/last of its kind, being replaced by upwardly mobile species.

So, How About Those Fat Elves?

Webcomic The Noob is one of the few places I have seen overweight elves depicted – in part because the portrayal of the avatar characters in the online game is made to resemble what I presume is the real world person.  Doing a quick google image I found exactly one non-Christmas elf image of a fat elf at: http://sleepless-katith.deviantart.com/art/Fat-Elven-Warrior-v-01-77252912.  So fat elves is not a common idea out there.

So why would elves be fat?

  • Perhaps its a comedy moment in an otherwise fairly straight fantasy (thin elf, thin elf, thin elf, fat elf, thin elf …. wait a moment…)
  • In a world wracked by famine, being overweight would be a sign of wealth and power, and could also be seen as a sign of beauty (as was I think the case in some late medieval/renaissance paintings)
  • It could be a sign of sin, such as gluttony, in which case the overweight elf is also a fallen elf
  • Magic curse “Cannot Resist Cupcakes” (probably the weakest idea here)
  • Lotuseaters, the elves eat food that makes them indolent
  • Perhaps the Elves simply appear fat due to good nutrition, unlike those poor malnourished humans.  This implies some degree of wealth for the Elves, so perhaps they are prosperous merchants
  • Habitat: maybe they live in a nice food rich swamp, unlike those wasteland forests where their poor thin cousins dwell
  • Supply and demand, not many Elves, and a whole lot of elf berries in the forest (“Yes, its tragic, last of our kind, fading out, but got to keep our strength up  – would you like another crumpet?”)
  • Body chemistry, if the elves are outsiders to the world, they may have trouble digesting its food properly (“If only we had an appendix like you cursed humans!”)
  • Oppression of the Elven Tyrants: they eat cake, while the serfs eat … nothing.

Kitset Package

I think I need to avoid woodland feral Elves, remnants of an ancient Empire, as I am seeing a bit too much of them lately in Witcher 2 or the Dragon Age computer games.  When I build a race I do like a couple of varieties, perhaps an 80/20 split between dominant culture and subversive culture, or some kind of triumvirate (good/bad/ugly or rich/poor/MIA).  So let’s have a few different types of Elves:

  • Fat Merchants: with their mastery of languages and natural charisma, aided by the odd strategic marriage, these elves survived the fall through trade, and with prosperity comes a degree of girth and belt expansion usually associated with Dwarves.
  • Feudal Fanatics: remnants of an age of chivalry fading in an age of gunpowder, devoted to their lost Queen, and at war with the Black Prince. Not as overweight as the other two types of elves presented here, but their prediliction to chivalric charges against overwhelming odds mitigates their toherwise healthy outdoor lifestyle.
  • Yakuza Clans: urban elves surviving in the underworld of the human hegemony, their diet is ruined by awful human junk food.  A fat urban elf is a very dangerous elf, because they will be the high elf in the local crime clan.  Notched ear initiation symbols and freaky tattoos optional.

A week without computer games

May 13, 2012

Day 6, my fingers twitch, but as much as I’d like to play some computer games I’m going to be good and follow my GPs advice on dealing with the tennis elbow in my left arm.  I did log into World of Tanks to take advantage of the VE day specials, and to take a look at how my Soviet heavy tanks had been rejigged, but I successfully resisted the x5 experience bonus and logged out of the game afterwards.  For a right hander, getting tennis elbow in the left hand is rare, I suspect its the dominance of WASD keys in modern gaming that has done it to me (that and playing computer games 4+ hours a night).

Grand Strategy

This does leave me with a lot of time for reading and thinking, so a good chunk of today was spent working on the Sun & Starship rules for Buckets of Dice 2012.  Most of this was spent trying to nail down control of tokens, so people will always know who controls what in the game, or how control changes between players.  I’m deliberately forcing players to keep ships concentrated in no more than three stacks, so as to encourage raiding tactics and to make it difficult to build solid defence lines.

The Senate Bills have also been fleshed out.  Each of the five committees gets one to four Bills each turn. The exact number is determined by the Treasury Committee, which can increase or reduce the Bills other committees get.  After the first draft I did a second pass for balance, prompted by realising that one committee had a power worth +/- 10 victory points, so I made sure the other committees had something comparable.  I then did a second pass to increase the horse trading options so that most bills gave out boosts to more than one player at a time.

Planning ahead for 2013 I would like to design a railway building game.  This would include options I wish were included in most published railway building games, to whit, the option to say “Screw this, mobilise the army” when someone else pips you to the next rail hub.

Roleplaying Games

I am following the development of the next edition of Dungeons & Dragons over at http://community.wizards.com/dndnext without a lot of enthusiasm.  While I purchased the core 4th edition books, I found that the game had gone too much towards a fully blown miniatures wargame and away from the narrative combat (“theatre of the mind”) that I use in resolving a lot of tabletop conflict.  As a GM I simply couldn’t fit the options available to the players into my own mind, making the game too complicated for me to design scenarios for.  That said, the actual written advice on running/designing campaigns was solid.

I am much more looking forward to The Design Mechanism’s sixth edition of Runequest, especially after the PDF preview was put up at: http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/resources/RQ%20Preview%201.pdf.  I like the clean, uncluttered layout, and the style of artwork.  I’m intrigued by the inclusion of cultural passions (e.g. loyalty, love, hate) and how they might influence the mechanics.  It’s also good to see that mysticism will be a valid magic system in the main rules.

In part because of the upcoming RQVI I took a look at the Stafford Library’s Arcane Lore, which is essentially a 129 pages of GM/design notes on hero questing. One of the big frustrations of RQ was that there never seemed to be enough information about the hero quests of Glorantha to actually run players through, unless you were willing to hunt through obscure mail order fanzines.  I suspect my next campaign game will use Runequest rules, although it may not be a Glorantha setting – there are hints that a new edition of roleplaying rules for the Artesia setting will be a D20/RQ ruelset.

Grabbing a few other PDF’s to read this week, I was disappointed by Monte Cook’s Ruins of Intrigue. While its only 98 pages long, I was hoping for a bit more in the way of interesting crumbled ruins and a lot less overland/wilderness terrain.  While the alternate secrets for major NPCs and foes was nice, with competing explorer factions for Casablanca intrigue, it would have been nice for a range of lost artefacts and other lootable stuff to have been detailed rather than leaving the GM to make up all the loot themselves.

In an old school kick again, I picked up the D&D 3.5 edition of Blackmoor, in part because I read that the map in the 4th edition version was less than helpful. That’s next on the reading list.

Gaming Recap

Skyrim – still have not resumed play of this.

World of Warcraft – 3/8 hard modes, expansion is definitely winding down, have BETA invite not using it yet as I have no interest in the levelling content (I do want to see how the Paladin heals 5 mans and raids).  Guild finished the Rogue legendary dagger two weeks back, so we may go back and finish the Firelands legendary staff next.  Have been trying to clear off some grindy achievements in the down time – still have not found a useful BOE in archeaology.

TERA MMORPG – not going to touch this one, can we please have real armour for females in games?

Secret World MMORPG – looks interesting, modern day occult horror, but dear god where would I find the time!

World of Tanks – upgraded to a premium account, changed play away from acquiring new tanks to focusing on the ones I have that are fun to play – trying to get crew skills to 100%. So while I have researched the SU-14 for example, I’m still happy playing the SU-8 as my artillery piece.  Patch 7.3 has rejigged the Soviet tree, so I’m going to have to relearn how to play the KVs – the 152mm “derp” howitzer has been shifted from the KV 1 to the KV2.

Guild Wars 2 – still looking forward to this after reading more beta info, as a non-subscription MMORPG its one that will be easy to play for just a few hours every now and then.

SWTOR – got bounty hunter healer to L40, enjoying healing much more than tanking, deep down I still prefer WoW.