Monday, August 26, 2013


It’s been a dog’s age since I last posted, but family & career deadlines hijacked my freetime this month. I’m still in the docket until Friday, but I thought I’d take a few minutes and review a Japanese D&D clone to blow off steam.

Without further ado, I present to you ロードス島RPGベーシックルール, Lodoss Island RPG Basic Book!

Most RPG fans know of or have seen Record of Lodoss War, a Japanese manga & anime set in a D&D style world. Lodoss was created in the mid 1980s, and the story goes that the creator, Ryo Mizuno of Japanese RPG powerhouse Group SNE, simply turned the session reports (or ‘replay’ as the Japanese call them) of his D&D game into the story of Lodoss and serialized them in a gaming magazine. I myself have seen Lodoss Replay books in used bookstores out here in Kyoto, some with the main characters statted out for Tunnels & Trolls. Regardless of the particulars, the original manga & anime bring fantasy roleplaying to life with beautiful art, so it is no wonder that Lodoss has inspired gamers for so long, and even a fan-made RPG using the Fuzion system of Cyberpunk & Mekton (available HERE).

Today, however, I will be reviewing the 1995 Lodoss Island RPG’s Basic Rulebook from Sneaker Bunko.

The Lodoss RPG book is in the typical Japanese RPG pocketbook format, making it much more portable than western RPGs. The layout is clear with a logical chapter progression – About This Book (including setting details), Characters, Skills, Combat, Items, Magic, Character Growth, Monsters, Other Rules, Gamemaster Section, a Sample Scenario, and finally copies of all the charts you’ll need to run the game thankfully reprinted from the main text. It also contains a foldout character sheet stapled into the front cover, a removable cover and highly readable text inside peppered with generous examples of manga-style art. Which brings me to my next point…

As you can see, the Lodoss RPG cover picture of elven main character Deedlit is GORGEOUS (excuse my somewhat dark cellphone camera and my computer for turning it sideways for some reason). The fantasy watercolour style fits the feel of Lodoss perfectly, although Deedlit’s features are arguably a bit too Japanese for the genre. Inside, there are three styles of art – hyperrealistic action manga style for the bestiary, a simpler line drawing style for equipment sections, and a cutesy bobble-head style for the examples of play. 

The grotty action style really makes the monsters come alive, while the simple line style presents items efficiently and allows players to imagine them on their own character. The bobble-head art, though irksome at first to me, has grown on me, and I feel it fits the ‘pathetic aesthetic’ (to quote Dr Bargle) of beginning characters in old school games. There’s even a dirty pun on the similarity of the words ‘donkey’ and ‘condom’ in Japanese (‘roba’ or old horse and ‘rubber’), which I think a fine tongue-in-cheek antidote to the melodramatic seriousness of modern fantasy game introductions.

The font is easy on the eye, while the text is eminently readable and understandable. In fact, Lodoss RPG was one of the texts I forced myself to read before taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, which I passed with some thanks to studying eclectic and interesting texts. If you’re a gamer and can read Japanese even a little, break out your dictionaries and use Lodoss RPG as a study text and you’ll be gaming in Japanese in no time.

The mechanics show old school roots but are cleaned up and straightforward, consisting of 7 attributes (Strength, Constitution, Agility, Dexterity, Intelligence, Luck & Charisma), with some derived bonuses. The chassis is a d100% system much like Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying, which as a diehard fan of Stormbringer and Cthulhu, I adore. The spell system is point-based and contains an eminently useful and wide variety of spells, while monster statblocks are very manageable.

Playable races include human, elf, dwarf and half-elf, and these are expanded with grassrunner (aka hobbit) and dark elf in the Expert Book. Classes include Warrior, Knight, Priest, Thief, Elementalist Shaman, and Mage. Magic is further subdivided into Sorcerer Magic (in Japanese ‘Ancient Tongue Magic’), Common Magic, Priest Magic, Shaman Magic and Demon Scream (‘’Dark Magic’ in Japanese).

It’s been a while since I read the Lodoss RPG, but scanning the book again confirms my good impressions. Chargen is straightforward and involves no intricate calculations like Swordworld RPG, just the addition of a bonus to skills based on attributes which is very reminiscent of the old Stormbringer RPG. Players choose race but randomly roll background like Stormbringer, which gives them different skill points to allocate. The skill list is generous and logical, as is the list of spells for each discipline. Level advancement gives bonuses to hit points, but also ‘Growth Points’ that can be used to improve skills & attributes, while XP advancement for all classes are on one table. XP is gained from defeating monsters and achieving mission objectives.

All in all, Lodoss RPG seems a near perfect blend of D&D and Chaosium system-wise, with some very efficient modern changes made to the chassis of these older systems. It is not without its flaws, however, and the two most glaring problems are the Dodge skill and weapon damage vs monster hit points. The Dodge skill is SUBTRACTED from the attacker’s weapon skill, which would seem to make the ‘whiff’ factor of combat rather high and make melee somewhat tedious. Perhaps this was done to make combat ‘one-roll’ like D&D, but is unnecessary and easily remedied by using Chaosium-style back & forth attacks and defenses.

Another odd rule is that weapon damages are all rolled on a d10 or d6 with arbitrary modifiers, plus Strength bonus if any. Again, this is not a deal-breaker, but makes for some odd choices with a dagger doing d6 + 3 and greatsword or bow doing d10 + 5. Monsters have similarly wonky hit points based on d10 + mods, with an Ogre having 5d10 + 30 and a Kobold having d10 + 5. Meanwhile armor is all static values that are subtracted from damage inflicted, with a robe being AV 2 and a suit of Mail AV 9. Perhaps this works in practice, and I would play RAW before making any changes, but it admittedly feels odd to someone used to dice tube progression in weapon damage and straight rolls for hit points.

The rulebooks are split somewhat like B/X D&D, with the Expert book giving details for levels past 5, more spells & skills, monsters, races, rules for figurine & mass battles, and ‘Advanced professions’ that function very much like prestige classes of latterday D&D and thus are very ahead of their time in this respect. I also own two fullsize (i.e. western softcover gamebook size) supplements, with adventures, more gorgeous art, reprints of Basic book content for player reference, replays (i.e. session reports), and designer advice. All in all, Lodoss materials are a beauty to behold and are a great addition to my RPG collection, especially since I got them all 2nd hand for a few dollars.

I should note that the few scenarios for Lodoss I have read seem somewhat…odd to me. For example, the Basic Book scenario, “An Adventurer’s Nature,” involves the characters joining an ‘Adventurer’s Guild’ right off the bat. They are sent on a ‘test’ by the guild to some caves, where they solve some riddles they find in a trail of letters, ‘fight’ some guild members dressed as goblins, then come upon a real robbery in progress. I would imagine this scenario would not be to the taste of most north American gamers (I could be wrong), both due to its railroadey nature and the concept of joining a guild to go on a fake dungeon crawl. I’d prefer to run B2 with it myself and see how it stands up to The Caves of Chaos.

I would certainly love to run or play the Lodoss RPG, and of the 3 Japanese RPGs I have reviewed, it is the most runnable straight out of the box, while also having the smoothest rules. Lodoss RPG shows both its western old school roots, the Japanese aesthetic sense of design, and the strangeness (from the north American standpoint) of Japanese culture.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Show of hands from those of you wasting copious amounts of time on Blog of Holding’s ‘Dungeon Robber’ game?


Thought so. It is putting my thesis writing in jeopardy, the game is that good.

It has its bugs (a kobold killed me with d20 damage – WTF??), but the gameplay makes you forget those quick enough.

Anyway, the game also has tons of inspiration for tabletop gaming as well. For me, the biggest thing I’d swipe is the retirement system.

Now, before I get into details, I’d have to admit I am not a true grognard. I haven’t memorized the differences between woodbox vs whitebox vs BE vs BECMI vs RC. I haven’t bought or kept up on the domain games of ACK or whatever else is out there, so if I am reinventing the wheel, bear with me. I write this to make things clearer for me, and if a reader can get something out of it as well, bonus.

Hell, I can barely remember the domain system from my old gaming days and the Rulescyclopedia on my shelf. And that tells me they are too complex. If you can’t remember how a rule goes, it is probably not a good rule in terms of usability.

Dungeon Robber’s retirement system IS excellent in terms of usability. It is simple, memorable, and adds so much flavour to the game world based on character actions.

Basically, a player can ‘retire’ a character at any level past 1 and make that character a functioning part of the town they come from.

The town starts as a small hamlet, with very little goods or services. However, anyone retiring at level 2 becomes a Yeoman, producing more food which can be dropped to distract monsters. Retiring at level 3 makes one a Tavernkeeper, so henchmen can be recruited at their establishment. At level 4, a retired character becomes a Merchant, offering more useful equipment for sale and also unlocking the Thief class. At level 5, a retiree becomes a Gentle(wo)man, selling leather armor and rapiers. Level 6 sees the emergence of a Mayor, drawing a Smithy that can make proper swords and chainmail. A level 7 retiree is a Knight, so the Fighter class is unlocked and the Smithy can now produce plate armor and bastard swords. At level 8, the retired character becomes a Bishop, starting a temple selling healing potions and unlocking the Cleric class. A level 9 retiree is a Count(ess), who opens a Wizard’s college unlocking the class and a magic shop. Level 10 sees a Duke or Duchess, who erect a coliseum where you can train monsters or fight them. A character who retires at level 11 is a Prince(ss) who unlocks magical arms & armor. Finally, a level 12 retiree bcomes Queen or King, unlocking a Treasurey with powerful items.

And that’s your domain game right there. Simple yet brilliant, portable into any old school game, be it original or retroclone like DCC or S&W. It could be extended and played with in so many ways, offering multiple roles for retirees, letting the setting grow with the players, and providing a reason to keep useful characters going and let others drop into the scenery.

Good job Paul! I don't know whether you stole it from a pre-existing game or cobbled it together yourself, but either way great presentation.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cracked Star Wars

I really like Who would have thought a failed 70's Mad knockoff would come to dominate intelligent internet comedy.

Anyway, there's a great discussion HERE about how Vader was taken out in A New Hope that has some interesting roleplaying implications.

Ultimately, Han Solo didn't take out Vader's Tie fighter, the Tie pilot who lost control did.
Although it is beyond the video discussion, if we consider that Vader would later deflect Solo's blaster shot WITH HIS HANDS, this implies a chink in the power of the Force gives us a great rule:

Jedi (and Sith) can only use their powers against INTENDED attacks. They sense the intent, the disturbance in the heart of the other, and respond to that. Vader couldn't respond to the crashing Tie pilot because it wasn't his intent to take Vader out.

In game terms, this means
1) Jedi can defend against a surprise attack, but can still be overwhelmed by multiple attackers
2) Jedi can be bushwhacked by unintended, unforeseen attacks (i.e. ricochets, falling debris, etc)

But wait, you say, Luke trained against inanimate probes (no HUMAN intent).

Sure, but he also got bushwhacked by the snowbeast on Hoth (intent too alien to sense?) and fell through the tubes  in Cloud City (inanimate = no sensible intent).

Anyway, just some nerdy Friday morning ramblings to keep my mind off work. Have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

OSR Backwaters & Hidden Byways

Ever notice that the OSR has some hard to find backways and forgotten byways? 

Usually OSR Planet is my gateway site to the OSR (since Eternal Keep went… strange), and after some link-wandering I find myself in uncharted territory. It’s like that old Sesame Street cartoon where the kid went for groceries and stumbled into progressively alien neighborhoods, then had trouble finding her way back home.


A loaf of bread, a stick of butter…

False Machine is one of those sites. Sometimes it shows up when I surf, sometimes it doesn’t. The content is good and has really wowed me. Ditto Elfmaids & Octopi, who now is in the fold of OSR Planet so to speak and more accessible.

This is another great thing about the OSR. Some of us sign up for sites like OSR Planet, some don’t; some publish for pay, some free, some not at all. Some would call themselves an OSRite, others not.

And that’s cool. It would be a drag if we all set up identical shops on the main drag and lost the joy of stumbling into hidden corridors and unused alleyways.

That’s what the games we play are all about.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Call of Cthulhu Advanced?

With the successful Call of Cthulhu 7th Kickstarter behind us, we can expect a huge paradigm shift in a game that has hardly changed over its long history. The inclusion of decks of cards for Phobias and Unfortunate Events, to me, reflects both a reaction to the success of Lovecraft-inspired boardgames such as Arkham Horror, as well as a nod towards to the success of Wizards’ Gamma World. Likewise, the plethora of customized products such as goatskin bound editions are probably reverberations in the wake of WotC’s reprints of D&D’s early editions.

With this upcoming change in Call of Cthulhu on the horizon, I thought I’d put out how I would revamp CoC if given the chance. Here then are my houserules for CoC, or as I like to call them, Advanced Call of Cthulhu.

One major beef I have BRP as with all RPGs old and new is that they introduce rule elements then fail to make the most of them. The most noticeable example of this to me is the underuse or misuse of attributes in older games. D&D and BRP are both guilty of this, but in different ways. Early editions of D&D started off on the right foot, slowly ramping up what attributes affected (see my post on Charisma), but quickly fell into the trap of rulesbloat, namely the escalation of Proficiencies and Feats that made attributes themselves a moot point. Chaosium went the other way, starting with skill bonuses based on attributes (see the original Stormbringer for a decent example) but quickly scrapping any relationship between attributes and skills in favor of lumpsum point buys.

Rolling attributes in BRP is basically an exercise in futility, as they are only ever used in the rare attribute check. Although at some point I hope to start setting out how I would use stats for my D&D heartbreaker, today I’d like to outline how I would houserule BRP to make attributes worth the work of rolling dice and writing them down. This would entail stealing a few subsystems from other games, but these are so intuitive and useful for roleplaying inspiration I think it worth the effort.

Each attribute should affect two things:
1) A Value useful in gameplay. For example, Con also determines Hit Points.
2) A Modifier to a roll determining something affecting the gameworld. For example, Str and Siz are added to get a physical damage modifier.

Of the attributes of BRP (Str, Con, Dex, Int, Pow, Siz and Cha, plus Edu in Call of Cthulhu), none have a dual effect.The following rules are an attempt to balance out attribute usefulness and give more mechanical support to roleplaying.

Value: Equals the number of Items that can be carried (see Encumbrance below for details of what constitutes an Item).
Modifier: Modifies physical damage as usual.
Value: Hit Points
Modifier: Modifies damage from Poisons, Acid or Disease. Weaker folk take more damage, stronger less…
Value: Base defense score (i.e. starting score for Dodge, Parry, etc)
Modifier: Modifies Inititative roll.
Value: Multiplied by 10 for Personal Interest Skills, as per usual.
Modifier: Added to SAN loss for studying spells. The smarter you are, the more you understand how horrible things are…
Value: Sanity as per usual.
Modifier: Modifies damage from purely magic or mental attacks. Weaker folk take more damage, stronger less…
Value: The number of Contacts a character can have. See Contacts below.
Modifier: Modifies Reaction Roll in informal or unofficial situations. See Reaction Roll below.
I never saw the use of this attribute. She’s gone!
Value: Multiplied by 20 for Occupational Skills, as usual.
Modifier: Modifies Reaction Roll in formal or official situations. See Reaction Roll below.

Here is my table for modifiers for all attributes:
Below 3
Below Average
Above Average
- 4 to 0
- 3
- 2
- 1
+ 1
+ 2
+ 3
+ 4 / 5 points

Although for most situations the Keeper will have an idea how NPCs will react, for when characters talk to minor NPCs, when the Keeper has run out of ideas, or just to add spice to a game, roll 3d6 to determine an NPC's reaction. In formal or official situations such as at scholarly meetings, talking to police or officials, use Edu modifier. In informal or unofficial situations such as at a speakeasy (bar), talking to townsfolk or rogues, use Cha modifier.
Below 3
Violent. NPC attacks character offhand. Roll for initiative!
Threatening. Unless the character backs off, there will be blood.
Unhelpful, dismissive. Not worth talking to this one.
Uninterested or busy. Might need a bribe or some flattery.
Neutral, polite. Will answer rudimentary questions, but not go out of his way to help.
Interested. Will give information they have, might need a bribe or flattery to go out of their way.
Helpful. Will give information, introduce to the right person, or show characters the way.
Friendly. Will go out of their way to help. Character may make a Contact with a gift or some other reciprocal token.
Above 19
Instant bond. NPC wants to become a Contact, will provide support to the best of her ability.

See my previous post on Charisma, switch the word Allies for Contacts.

To make attributes more relevant to skills and make skill default percentages themselves less arbitrary, skills are categorized as  either Natural or Learned.
Natural Skills – These skills come naturally to the character based on their character concept and setting. The default percentage is equal to the most relevant attribute, which means a character has a base chance equal to the relevant attribute, and if Skill Points are distributed to the Natural Skill, they are added on top of the attribute to get the final percentage. Man this is really hard to describe well…
Learned Skills – These skills are impossible to succeed at without training as indicated by character concept and setting. Default is zero, but if Skill Points are distributed they add on top of the relevant attribute for the final percentage. If Skill Points are distributed as Personal Interest, they are added to 0.

Note that the difference between Natural and Learned skills will also vary depending on the setting, and the character’s place in it. For example, in the 1930’s Drive Car would be a Natural skill for people from industrially or technologically developed countries (USA, UK, etc), but it would be Learned for characters from regions with less industrial development. Conversely, Climb would be Natural for people from a mountainous region but not for a scholarly city dweller. Keepers and Players should discuss which skills are Natural and Learned for characters during character creation.

(My first CoC was the above book, which is  1000 times clearer than the artsy 6e I now own)

Whew, almost done! Encumberance is measured in Items, as indicated on the chart below. A character can carry a number of ready to use Items equal to their Strength score. For every Item over the Strength score, reduce the character’s Move by 1 and Dexterity based skills (i.e. Dodge, Kick, Punch etc) by 5%.

Packing - If Items are packed away (i.e. not ready to use but requiring a minute to ready), they count as one Item, double if there are no holders (i.e. bags, backpacks, holsters, straps, bandoliers, etc). Item size is determined as follows.
Coins & Bullets – For tiny objects such as old coins or bullets, a number of objects equal to the character’s Strength equals one Item.
1 handed
1 handed
1 handed
2 handed
2 handed
Ancient weapon
Knife, brass knuckles
Short sword, machete, stick
Sword, club
Staff, greatsword
Damage or damage reduction
D8 or 2D4
D12 or 2D6
Modern weapon
Rocket launcher
Clothing example
Shirt or shoes
Greatcoat or suit of clothes
Diving suit or animal costume
Suit of armor
1 Item
2 Items
3 Items
4 Items
5 Items