Smoke, Mirrors & Faerie Dust #6

Copyright ©1998 By Joseph Teller

Email: fantasyrealms@mindspring.com Website: www.fantasyrealms.simplenet.com

Surface Mail: 266 Western Ave Cambridge Mass 02139


Personal Notes (JT):

Our gaming group is going thru some seasonal scheduling problems, after completing the third Night Watch scenario. Night Watch has gone into hiatus and I'll be doing design work for the next 6-8 weeks to get the Pulp Setting (Mysterious Earth) ready for playtesting. The major character in the Night Watch party, an Arson Investigator, has gone into crisis and is trying to get a transfer after the near-death of his partner on a 'mundane' case of hunting down a bomber. One of the other Gms will take over the control seat after the 3 weeks that we won't be gaming due to holidays and the Arisia convention. This should mean lots of writing time for me, if I'm lucky.

I've established a 'Club' area on www.yahoo.com for Shadow Bindings which includes a message base, online chat area, and links to Shadow Bindings related sites. I have hopes that this will expand our visibility on the net and to get more folks to take a look at our RPG and settings.


Review (JT): Forge Out of Chaos™

Published by Basement Games Unlimited, LLC

www.basementgames.com

ISBN 1-892294-001

Forge Out of Chaos™ is intended as the introductory book to a Fantasy Roleplaying World known as Juravia. It runs 214 pages, with black & white interior artwork produced by Borderline Personality Studios. My copy was sent to me gratis by the Basement Games to review.

The production qualities on the book are reasonable, though it does suffer from lack of a comprehensive index (but does have a good Table of Contents), and the artwork is used sparingly to illustrate specific content so there is a not the picture every other page problem found in some other game design works. The art quality is acceptable, but does emphasize the action-oriented genre with a bit too much violence.

Juravia, according to the book, was created by the 'supreme deity' called Enigwa, who made the world, its environs, flora and fauna as an intricate utopia of order. He then had offspring, the gods, and left them to explore and take care of things while he had a very very long nap. They quarreled, woke him, and he tried to end their fighting by having them help him create mankind. He told the gods to teach them everything but magic, and to guide their development, then went off to make some other worlds. The gods perverted their instructions and distorted mankind, making derivative races, and eventually pitting one against another as an all-out gods war broke out among the divine and the mortal. Some cheated and taught their mortal followers magic. Enigwa returned eventually, driving out most of the gods, save two (the gods of Justice and War), which were thrown into a Hell-like chasm beneath the world's surface called Mulkra.

So, we have a fantasy world where only two remaining gods have any influence, a sort of twisted Zoroastianism. Magic is either granted from the imprisoned gods, or created in mimicry of the departed gods. Evidently those gods influenced much in the way of side effects and material components before their departure (specific gems, bones, herbs, etc.).

With this we come to one of the weak points of the book, the setting itself. The authors may have it planned to add detail via additional books or their website support (which is mentioned in a few places but was quite limited when I visited the site), but the book contains little beyond the material for rudimentary character creation (racial info, dice mechanics, combat system, skill system, basic equipment lists, monsters, magic system and magic spell lists). No maps, country info, social structure info, (beyond those implied by the neo-medieval concept), personalities, etc. Most of the background that does exist concerns the history of the gods and their personalities, which is strange, since most of them aren't in play.

The first 40 pages of the book deal with character creation, the next 10 pages deal primarily with combat. This is followed by 12 pages of misc. notes for the Referee, 97 pages for the magic system and spell lists, and 38 pages for monster descriptions. There is a small appendix and blank character sheet in the back. Twelve unnumbered pages in the front of the book present the pre-history I described above in more detail, including quite a bit of detail on the various gods (both the remaining two and those banished).

Nine character attributes (called characteristics) are defined numerically and randomly rolled. Instead of using a standard whole-number value system, they use a whole number with a tenths place decimal to produce values ranged from 2.1 to 13.0 for six of the nine attributes. The remaining three attributes use odd dice combinations, but no decimals. Character race, which is chosen, modifies some of the attributes.

The intelligent races are: Berserkers, barbarbians of a Conan-like stature; Dunnar, pale humanoid nomads with an affinity for magic and nighttime environs; traditional Dwarves; traditional Elves; Ghantu, basically mountain dwelling giants; Higmoni, fast healing, super aggressive, anti-social Goblins; Jher-ems, 3' humanoid shrews with telepathy; Kithsara, humanoid lizard-cobras with innate magic; Merikii, humanoids related to a super-fast flightless bird, such as the ostrich; Sprites, 3' humanoids with empathy that bear some resemblance to Hobbits; and, of course, Humans.

Forge uses no 'Class' or 'Profession' system to define skills. However, selection is limited at start to between 4 and 26 'slots', depending on characteristics. Skills cost 1 to 3 slots to learn, and are broken down into 'Basic', 'Percentage' and 'Leveled' skills.

Basic skills, which cannot increase in play, include Read/Write, Languages, Running, and most artist and scholarly skills. The authors state that skills in this category "exist primarily for character development." Their tastes differ from mine, since they relegate skills like Sleight of Hand, Singing, History and Law into this category. Percentage skills are calculated from the character's stats, and can increase with successful use. However, starting percentages are limited to between 4% and 26%. These include skills like Climbing, Missile Evasion, Leadership, and many 'Thief' and Craft skills. Leadership was the only skill on this list that costs more than one slot. Leveled Skills are identical in nature to Percentage skills, except that the starting percentage of success is higher (8%-52%) and advancement is easier. Additionally, when the skill reaches 100% it goes up a 'Level' which recalculates it, giving some special advantages, but dropping the chance of success. Unfortunately the mechanics for this are clumsy, and just don't work well as far as I am concerned. Skills in the Leveled category include Assassination (melee or missile), Backstabbing, Brawling, Magic, Shield use, Throwing, and most Weapons.

Magic is treated somewhat differently from the other skills, and is more expensive. It comes in two forms, divine magic (from one of the two remaining gods) costing 10 slots, and four categories of "Pagan" magic (Beast, Elemental, Enchantment, and Necromancy) costing 10 to 20 slots. Skill advancement for magic, although listed as Leveled, is actually more complex and has a sub-system. This makes magic a bigger muddle than it really needs to be, as far as I can tell.

The authors include a Sample character to help with character creation. However, it is nearly useless, since it is a Ghantu with but three skills (1 of each type, and very simple ones).

The combat system shows that the authors have been exposed to AD&D or a very similar system, with lots of different kinds of dice rolled for damage results, and the use of 1d20 for the combat rolls to hit. The armor system is more complex, and its effect both increases the chance of not being hit (ala AD&D) and absorbs damage (ala Palladium RPG) while slowly being chopped apart. The damage system is a basic hit point system, with no real detail and no way of including non-lethal combat.

The magic section is about 90% lists of spell effects. The spell system is very simple and leveled based, with not a lot of ideas or concepts I would consider highly unusual or innovative, save for the fact that the basic elements (like range, duration etc) are randomly determined when the spell is first learned by the character (for no apparent reason except to add a chaotic nature to the magic so one can't predict exactly what an opponent is capable of in regards to the spells base factors like range or duration).

The catalog of monsters is pretty much stock types that again seem to have had a lot of influence from other games, especially AD&D and/or Palladium's RPG. I didn't see any surprises. Many things in the list seemed to not really fit the described background (Centaurs, Mermaids, Vampires, etc.) for the world setting.

Generally the book presents a game system that attempts to clear up a number of problems that can be found in many games that originated in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but lacks the flexibility of character construction by having only a random creation method. What little of the world is presented comes across as a rather flat, bland background, and in general the game comes across designed more for dungeons crawls than in-depth roleplaying. It could be a good system replacement for some of the older established systems, especially as a beginner entry point, but lacks many of the sorts of features that have become popular over the past decade in gaming. Its obvious the authors are enthusiastic about their game, but as far as I am concerned its just not my cup of tea or the sort of thing my gaming group would want to deal with.


Comments on A&E #280:

(If I fail to write a comment, please don't feel that your zine was not read and enjoyed, its just that I didn't have anything specific to add that I thought would be of value to the readers).

Lee Gold: I'm hoping that the change of genre, from Fantasy/Horror to Neo-Pulp will make the players who are being a problem fit in a bit better, since it is a lighter medium (even some of Doc Savage's assistants, Monk & Ham, would regularly have humorous banter and playful jabbing between them but could be trusted when the chips were down to come thru). This would be more in line for running a comic subplot as you suggested. Also one of the two is taking his turn at Gming something serious after the start of the new year (A sort of Psionic version of 'Quantum Leap') which may make him understand a bit better the frustrations I was having Gming for him.

Paul Mason: I've played under many a 'off the top of my head' GM over the years, and had very few such games be satisfying or pleasant (and the few that were was because the GM was running a game like TFOS or Toon, or actually had a large amount of prepared work that acted as the basis for activity but let the players create the plot as they went drawing from the background work that they had for setting and characters, and wasn't really running off the top of their head - I've done this myself a number of times.). Generally I give a GM the benefit of the doubt in running 'off the top of his head' and then when it becomes a disaster join the collection of players heading for the exits. Can a GM that prepares ahead of time fall flat on his face? Certainly, but in my experience the odds are better that the game will turn out to be a success by at least 10 to 1.

This also enhances my negative opinion of diceless games, since most have the appearance of being run 'off the top of my head' and pretty much following the whim of the GM. //As to the Lifestyle vs entertainment, understand that when I speak in those terms, it's the same as I would apply to the avid sports fan, science fiction fan, civil war recreationists, SCA member, etc. For many people it is a lifestyle, or at least part of one. // Bouncing players is something I avoid like the plague, as it is hard to keep a group together after bouncing a player, even if it was at the insistence of all the players involved, in my experience. Keeping a game running on a regular schedule with sufficient attendance is difficult enough without adding to the attrition factor. Gaming in this area has dropped in the past decade, as have the number of players, gms, groups, clubs and gaming stores. A certain amount of accommodations, flexibility, and adaptability is why I'm still Gming and almost none of the Gms I've played with or known locally in the past decade still have gaming groups or even games to play in. Maybe its different where you are in the world.

Lisa Padol: Shadis 19.5 ? Wasn't that a CCG issue (originally all the half-issues were just that, and thus weren't bought by us as we had no interest in most of the CCGs)? I don't have a copy of it in our gaming shelves because of this.

Eugene Reynolds: Thanks for the Pendragon info - the only copy of the game in the group was that owned by the GM (none of the local stores were carrying the line). Obviously he didn't take the time to do proper preparation to know the basics needed for a planned skirmish in the scenario. {The group was a mixture of Saxons, Irish and a misplaced roman).//A lot of the Pendragon copyright transfer stuff came out in the Chaoisum Email Newsletter in months past.

Spike Jones: Megan's Neighborhood hit the nail on the head in regards to the problems with these new laws and their potential future. We've had a number of disputes here in Massachusetts courts regarding that have made the news because of the bad wording of the laws that include all so-called sexual offenses (including things like public nudity, performing sexual acts in public, and soliciting). This is what happens when lawmakers get caught up in a mob mentality and push thru laws without fully reading or understanding the possibilities that such laws present as written.// Eric Hotz also did many of the illustrations on the recent new edition of Authentic Thaumatury by Isaac Bonewits published by Steve Jackson Games.// My original Shadis submission of review material was 3 or 4 editors ago, and as you said the policies have changed regularly, so the denials of the current editor has little to do with the actions of his/her predecessors. The magazine hasn't felt independent of the advertising dollars since Jolly Roger's departure, though its always managed to keep from becoming entirely a house organ until the 'Ronin' plans you spoke of. //As for the Steve Jackson/White Wolf non-suit, part of the influence here is that the term technomancer has been around before either of them used it, as I believe William Gibson used it in some of his books, and it was also used in the TV series Babylon Five. They don't own the term, and don't have it as a registered trademark (and would have real problems defending it if they tried to since there was prior common-use). Add to that the threat of a boycott that was made by several people on the Internet if it became a lawsuit and its easy to see why they decided not to make a fuss.

Simon Reeve: Your piece on Aphrodite was interesting and contained a number of references I hadn't encountered before in my studies. You might note that the very first reconstructive Neo-pagan organization in the United States was the Long Island Church of Aphrodite, established in West Hempstead, Long Island on May 6th, 1938. Its founder was Gleb Botkin, the son of the court physician to the last Russian Tsar. She is also connected with not just love and passion, but also with creativity, inspiration, poetry, and the arts (though I do not know the honorific titles associated with these aspects).