Category: RPGs (General)

Barbarians of Lemuria… let the pulp adventures begin!

A few weeks ago my brother started up a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign focusing on the exploits of dwarven heroes and, from what little I’ve seen of the game and rules, I’m really digging it.

CHARACTER CREATION

Barbarians of Lemuria is elegantly simple.  Character creation involves dividing 4 points and assigning them to 4 attributes:  strength, agility, mind, and appeal.  Each has a starting values of 0-3, though one ability can start at -1 which grants an extra attribute point to be assigned elsewhere.  Your starting health, called Lifeblood, is equal to 10 + your character’s strength attribute.  You also start with your racial or cultural tongue, a common tongue (Lemurian is the default trade tongue in the game), and a number of additional languages equal to your mind attribute.  My dwarven explorer, Bragi Anvilsong, for example, started with the following attributes:

  • Strength: 2 (great)
  • Agility: 1 (superior)
  • Mind: 1 (superior)
  • Appeal: 0 (average)

The same method is used to assign 4 points to combat abilities:  initiative, melee, ranged, and defence (the author, Simon Washbourne, is British… so you get used to see British-English spellings).  Once again one of these abilities can be sub-par, with a rating of -1, granting an extra point that can be assigned to another combat ability.  Bragi started with the following combat abilities:

  • Initiative: 1 (superior)
  • Melee: 2 (great)
  • Ranged: 0 (average)
  • Defence: 1 (superior)

You then choose 4 career paths for your character.  Following the same method, your character divides and assigns 4 ranks to any 4 of the following career paths: alchemist, assassin, barbarian, beastmaster, beggar, blacksmith, dancer, executioner, farmer, gladiator, hunter, magician, merchant, mercenary, minstrel, noble, physician, priest, sailor, scribe, sky-pilot (a setting specific career path), slave, soldier, temptress, thief, and worker.

These careers can easily be altered to suit other backgrounds (town guard in place of soldier, explorer in place of hunter, and so on).  The ranks of starting careers would range from 0-3.  The beauty of this game is that each career represents your background and the skills that come with it.  You need not pick individual skills for your character… you pick the careers of your career path with a mind towards the types of skills that you’d like your character to have.  Bragi’s starting career paths are:

  • Blacksmith: 1
  • Guard (Soldier): 2
  • Healer (Physician): 0
  • Explorer (Hunter): 1

Next you choose Boons and Flaws for your character.  All characters start with 1 Boon.  They may choose additional Boons if they either take a Flaw to offset each Boon chosen OR reduce their starting Hero Points (5) by 1 point per Boon chosen.    Bragi’s starting Boons are:

  • Giant Strength:  +1 to his starting STR attribute and attribute cap (normally the cap is 5 but he can have up to a 6 STR)
  • Detect Deception:  He’s really good at knowing when he’s being lied to

Rather than reduce his starting Hero Points by 1, I chose to give Bragi the GM-created Flaw of Destitute.

Finally you choose you arms, armor, and equipment.  Wealth is abstract in this game, so you’re pretty much free to choose equipment that matches your character concept.  Armor absorbs damage rather than making you harder to hit, while shields make you slightly harder to hit.  Heavier armor types and large shields reduce your agility score, while helms reduce your initiative ability by 1.  Armor also makes spellcasting more difficult… and imposes penalties on social interaction checks in some circumstances.

Hero Points can be used to make minor changes to reality, avoid a wound or change a deadly wound into one that incapacitates your her, change a success into a critical success, shake off damage, re-roll dice, and so on.  These replenish after every adventure.  Most heroes have 5 Hero Points that can be used over the course of each adventure but, as noted above, buying additional Boons my reduce the character’s Hero Point pool.

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Mad Max Fury Road has got me thinking…

Not that I’ll get a game up and running (I get to run my D&D game all too rarely as it is), but I enjoyed Fury Road and it got me thinking about post-apocalyptic RPGs.  In thinking of which are best suited to a Mad Max theme, the top contenders (in no particular order) are:

Barbarians of the Aftermath which is a Barbarians of Lemuria expansion.  I’m about to start playing in a BoL game and, when I’ve played it in the past, I really dug its rules-lite approach and flexibility.

Atomic Highway is probably the best fit for a Road Warrior themed-game.  In fact I seems like the game was built with the Mad Max movies in mind.  A few years ago I toyed with starting up a AH game but, as things often do, the game didn’t come to fruition.  Even better, the PDF is free!

Gamma World is a little too gonzo for a Mad Max-themed game but I had to include it out of nostalgia.  Sadly my favorite version of Gamma World, the 1992 version penned by Bruce Nesmith and James Ward, is hard to come by for a reasonable price.  Mutant Future, on the other hand, is available for free… though it’s closer to earlier iterations of GW (which isn’t a terrible thing!).

Summer Gaming Lull

Now that summer is unofficially upon us, I’ll be glad to be getting in more time lounging poolside and enjoying the outdoors in general.  At the same time, summer is usually my worst season for gaming these days.  That’s in stark contrast to how things were when I was a kid, when summers meant we gamed a few times per week… and had overnight gaming sessions at least twice per month.

Between the various weekend plans my group’s members make and our collective vacation getaways, we typically wind up playing no more than a few times per month…  which puts a damper on any RPGs that we’re playing.  I, for one, feel like a game loses momentum if it isn’t played at least twice per month.

If only I could figure out a way to get my gaming groups to play while in the pool!

Tinkering with RPG Systems

I’ve been playing RPGs for the past 34 years or so and, in that time have played a ton of different games.  At the same time, I’ve only really ever played games that have lasted for more than 6 months at a stretch, in a handful of systems: D&D (every edition that’s been out since 1981, except for 4th edition), Deadlands, DC Heroes, Star Wars (the d6 version), and Pendragon… which is pitiful considering how long I’ve been playing!

Of those games, I’ve only run D&D (in all of its incarnations) and Pendragon with any regularity.  As an inveterate rules tinkerer I couldn’t resist messing with those systems, in an attempt to mold them to my needs and preferences, with mixed results:

  1. AD&D 2nd edition, for example, saw me adding both Perception and Endurance as derived statistics, as well as my adding Wound States and a few character classes:  The Scout, The Hedge Wizard, and The Adept (something of a cross between a monk and a psionicist).  The Skills and Powers book helped me develop needed classes and, overall, I felt that my additions improved the game without making it needlessly complicated.  Then again, the plethora of subsystems for skills, ability checks, listening checks, and class abilities meant that any new rules were being tacked onto an already complex game.  With the release of 3rd edition and its unified resolution system I ditch the cobbled together mess that was AD&D in a heartbeat.
  2. D&D 3.X saw me adding campaign specific prestige classes but leaving the solid core of the game alone.  Once 3.5 hit was released, I ignored its terrible weapon-size rules and continued to use 3.0’s cover and concealment rules.  Nothing too drastic.  In fact, my alterations of 3.X were pretty tame.  Eventually 3.X became a chore to play and prohibitively complex to DM, especially once player characters advanced beyond 7th level.
  3. Castles & Crusades, a retroclone that stripped down 3.X, added some new elements, and borrowed its some flavor from AD&D, allowed for a faster-paced and more flexible D&D-variant.  As soon as I tried the system I realized that I vastly preferred it to the ponderous rules of 3.X.  At the same time, the tinkerer in me felt that the game lacked many options (spells, class abilities, and a simple skill resolution system) that would allow it to easily be used with classic TSR adventures and campaign settings.  So began a 6 year overhaul project that resulted in my creation of AD&D3 Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide.  By the time I was started working on a Monstrous Manual, D&D Next playtests had begun and I realized that WotC was working on a game that would meet my gaming needs.  As such, I shelved the project.
  4. D&D 5th edition, so far, has inspired me to work on Greyhawk and update my homebrew campaign world to 5th edition.  Eventually I’d love to work on adding backgrounds, class archetypes, and clerical domains to the game.  For now, I’ve been content to add some houserules, like a spell-less ranger and the half-ogre as an added player race.  I’ll soon be adding more houserules to this blog, including slightly tweaked rules for lighting conditions, an alternate system for tracking wound levels, and new feats.
  5. Finally there’s Pendragon.  Of all of the RPGs that I messed with, I think I’ve had the least luck with Pendragon.  For those who haven’t played it, Pendragon is the RPG of Arthurian Britain.  In it you play British knights fighting against the tide of Saxon, Pictish, and Irish invaders that threaten to wash over the island as its various petty kings fight for supremacy.  Because all players are playing knights, the focus of the game becomes “what kind of knight are you.”  To drive that point home, Pendragon has an inspired system for personality traits and passions that allows them to guide or, sometimes, dictate player’s actions.  Another strength of the game is its focus on legacy-building.  Pendragon is lethal and it is inevitable that player knights will die in combat or due to the ravages of old age (yes, there is a system for dealing with yearly stat loss after you reach age 35).  As such, it is imperative that your character works towards the goal of marrying and begetting an heir (and a male heir at that).  My issues with the game have, largely, arisen out of players learning how to “game the system” and exploit it at the expense of telling a great story.  Certain skills, for example, clearly trump other skills (even though I tried to incorporate all skills into the game), as did certain cultural groups (you don’t EVER want to be a Pict because you are severely gimped at during character creation).  Also, the system’s use of reflexive modifiers (a mounted knight gains a +5 bonus vs a footsoldier who, in turn, would receive a-5 penalty) makes for easily unbalanced combats.  Admittedly, this has a lot to do with my GMing BUT I honestly think that the game needs to be dragged out of the 1980s.  As such, I’ll be posting some ideas on this blog over the coming months.   I hope to get some feedback on these ideas… even if it’s fans crying “heresy!”.

Too Many Games… Too Little Time

Looking at my shelves filled with RPGs, it’s abundantly clear that a good deal of my games will never see action in this lifetime… in spite of the fact that I’d love to play quite a few of those systems again.

In the interest of clearing space for stuff that I’ll likely play, I’ve been “weeding” the shelves and selling off games that I’ll probably never use (which differs from never playing) again.  Here’s my quick way of noting what games will stay and what won’t:

  1. Play List:  Games that I’m currently playing with one of my gaming groups.
  2. Reference List:  Games that I use (or may use) as a resource when running my D&D game.
  3. Wish List:  Games that I’d love to play but can’t find a group for (yet!).
  4. Dead List: Games that I’ve purchased but don’t have much interest in.

Play List:  D&D 5th edition and DC Heroes/Blood of Heroes.  At this point, these are the only games that I’m playing or running (3 D&D and 1, infrequent, DC Heroes game).  These games aren’t going anywhere… especially because they’re my favorite game within their respective genres.

Reference List:  AD&D (1st & 2nd edition), Basic/Expert D&D (Moldvay edition), and D&D 3.5.  AD&D is the game that got me into roleplaying and the game that most heavily influences how I run my game (episodic adventures and with a sandbox feel to the campaign).  Between the inspiring Gygaxian prose and tables of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, excellent adventure modules like The Village of Hommlet and The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, and amazing campaign settings like the original Greyhawk boxed set and Planescape, AD&D provided a great foundation for creating and running a fantasy game.  Back in the day I didn’t give Basic/Expert D&D credit (I thought it was a dumbed-down version of AD&D) but, looking back, I can see that it was a much tighter, leaner, and meaner system than AD&D.  It also was a great tool for teaching DMs how to run dungeons and, with Expert, wilderness adventures.    As for 3.5, it’s the version of D&D that I played the most and grew to loathe over time (too much math, too much reliance of skills and feats, too many stacking effects, etc).  Still, the d20 system serves as the basis for 5th edition and I’m sure that I can find bits to adapt (cleric domains for example).  Then again… maybe I should sell most of the books and only keep the PHB and awesome bits (Ptolus, the Forgotten Realms settings, Rappan Athuk, The City of Brass, The Wilderlands boxed set, etc).  The Thieve’s World RPG/boxed set is something that I’ll NEVER play but can’t chuck for some reason… probably because I dig the art and would love to run a game where the entire group plays a bunch of thieves.

Wish List:  Barbarians of Lemuria (it looks like the perfect system for a pulp fantasy game… I’d love to use it for a Lankhmar campaign), Pendragon (in spite of its needing an overhaul to move it out of the 1980s), The One Ring (I love this game but would much rather play in it than run it), Feng Shui (fun, cinematic game that encourages wacky stunts), Star Wars (WEG’s d6 system is the only one that does the movies justice), Irradiated Freaks (for a post-apocalyptic, gonzo kinda game), Yggdrasill (this looks like a brutal game but I’m intrigued by it!).

Dead List:   Atlantis, 2nd Edition (I’d rather use Barbarians of Lemuria),  Call of Cthulhu (I’m interested in the newest edition of the game but don’t own it), Warhammer FRP, 3rd edition (good game but it’ll never see use), Star Trek RPG (I’m not a big fan of scifi, other than space opera settings like Star Wars), Star Frontiers (I’ve owned this for years but never got a game off of the ground), Fantasy Hero (dated and too rules-heavy), Rolemaster and MERP (too complicated), Decipher’s Lord of the Rings (The One Ring blows this system away… though I should probably keep the sourcebooks),  Savage Worlds (I have a TON of stuff for this system, particularly for the Hellfrost setting, but it just doesn’t do it for me), Shadows of Esteren (beautiful books and a lot to love in terms of the thought and care put into this system… but too much for my addled brain to digest), BASH! (DC Heroes does “supers” much better), Runequest (meh… too dated), Traveller (I guess I’d play a game but don’t think it would really inspire me… unless the GM had a great idea for a campaign), James Bond 007 (an innovative system for the time but I’d rather use Feng Shui for a spy game), Marvel Superheroes (once again, DC Heroes does it better).

So… what games are on your Play, Reference, Wish, and Dead lists?