Thursday, December 30, 2010

Once more into the breach...MELEE!

As yesterdays post concerned Melee, I thought maybe there are readers who may never have played this classic.  Since Melee has been out of print since 1983, and copies are fetching prices of $50+ on ebay, it seems unlikely your average gamer is going to seek this classic out. Honestly if you paid $50+ for a copy would you cut out the counters and play? Nope, me either.

So save your ducats my friends as I found a redesigned copy of Melee for you!  

If you own any of the Heroscape stuff, you can build your own Melee board with those hex tiles and use D&D minis or Heroscape minis to represent your fighters!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Strange Fascination: Melee, Wizard, and TFT

This post will ramble, you have been forewarned.

I am fascinated, possibly obsessed a bit, with Metagamings Fantasy Trip system.  There is a core clarity and simplicity to it that I want to enjoy.  At the same time there are so many tweaks and changes I have to it that I can't say its much more than a muse of a game to me really.  Yet that muse for some reason sings like Billie Holiday to me.  Why am I fascinated?  Well let's look at it where it started:

 In 1977 Metagaming published Melee and it was a mini arena combat board game.  The core of the system could be used to replace your RPG's combat system to make it more gritty and tactical.  Characters were rated by Strength, Dexterity, and Movement.  The player was given a point pool to divide amongst Strength and Dexterity, while movement was governed by race of the character. You rolled 3d6 trying to roll lower than your own Dexterity score to hit your foe.  Strength regulated what weapons you could use and also acted as your hit point total.  Armor absorbed damage from weapons which struck your character at the expense of  lowering your own Dexterity score and movement speed.

The original rules were all contained in about 17 pages and eventually with revisions went to 24 pages. The rules were contained in a 4x8 game box which also came with a hex map and counters.  Complete out the door for about $3 in 1977 (or roughly $11 in 2010).

Melee was a simple game to pick up and play. Characters were really easy to create and you could manage a couple of them in a fight easily.  As a tactical board game it was great fun and we did use it in our D&D games.  There were a few problems though that bothered us:  Why did weapons have Strength attribute limitations, but armor did not?  With a low strength I could only use daggers or other low damage weapons, but I could wear plate mail and pack a shield? Secondly, anyone wearing Plate mail and carrying a shield or large shield would make some weapons completely useless!  They would absorb all the damage that could possibly be done by some weapons like: Dagger, rapier, club, hammer, javelin, spear, Longbow, Horse bow, small bow, and sling.

In 1978 Metagaming released Wizard which added magic rules to the Melee game.  This also added a new attribute, Intelligence, into character generation and rules.  Intelligence score determined which spells you could learn and cast as well as your resistance to spells like Illusion or control.  Spells were not automatically cast, instead 3d6 were rolled and compared to the Dexterity of the caster. Successful casting was paid for as damage to the Strength of the caster.   Yes Magic casting caused physical damage to the caster!  You never forgot your spells, but you paid dearly for casting them!

Just like Melee, the combat was stylized as a wizard arena duel.  For the same $3 ($11 now) as Melee you got a 17 page rule book, that with revisions went to 24 and then 32 pages.  The 4x8 box contained a hex map and more counters.  The system linked up perfectly with Melee and could be used as a substitute for magic rules in your other Role Playing Games you might be playing.

While Melee was easy to add into our regular D&D game, no spell caster wanted to adopt Wizard rules over D&D rules. Looking at it now I like the way Wizard checked the power of wizard characters.  For a Wizard all 3 attributes were very important: Strength was necessary for absorbing spell cost, Dexterity was important to cast spells, Intelligence for determining what spells you could cast and as well as resisting some spells.  You did not have a dump stat (same as Melee) they all mattered.

While I like not automatically forgetting spells and having to roll for casting, no one liked spells damaging your wizard character.  They weaken themselves to the point where any knucklehead with a sling can take them out with a rock! Since they can't wear armor that's not a far fetched idea in this system.  Secondly as laid out you needed to build a Conan the Librarian wizard in order for them to survive as Strength was incredibly important for casting! This always seemed goofy to us.

Lastly advancement in both Melee and Wizard was done by increasing your attributes.  At some point your attributes made your success nearly guaranteed in combat ruining the fun and danger. 

Eventually these two simple little games would provide the core for what would become known as The Fantasy Trip (TFT). The TFT system consisted of three 8.5x11 books released in 1980 and each had a $5 MSRP ($14 today). Advanced Melee was 32 pages, Advanced Wizard was 40 pages, and In the Labyrinth was 80 pages.  To play you also needed to own both Melee and Wizard as well as the three TFT books.  TFT added advanced combat, spell casting, and full Role Playing to the Melee/ Wizard core rules. In TFT a full system of Talents (skills) was introduced and experience could be used to raise a Talent score, or more expensively and Attribute

Originally TFT was conceived of as a complete boxed set with map, counters, and an adventure (Tolenkar's Lair).  Jackson believed in the box set, and all work had been done, but Metagaming owner Howard Thompson disagreed believing a $20 boxed set ($56 today) would be far too expensive and the TFT became too complex.  So TFT would compete with D&D by undercutting it by being cheaper as well as simpler to understand and play.  A big boxed set was also counter to Thompson's established and successful Microgame sales model, so instead all the books were released individually at $5 each. 

TFT would, and still does, have its share of adherents. I wanted to like it, and was excited to see these games become a full blown RPG system! Sadly the weaknesses I saw in the core games seemed to become more magnified in the full system.  Secondly TFT was a pain in the ass to purchase or to try an explain to someone what to purchase to play.  You had to buy and own: Melee, Wizard, Advanced Melee, Advanced Wizard, and In the Labyrinth to play the damn system!  Three of the books matched in size (8.5x11) and presentation (Adv. Melee, Adv. Wizard, ITL) but Wizard and Melee did not! They could not be merchandised together due to their variant sizes which further caused problems.  This awkwardness of presentation certainly seems like a strike against the game and trying to purchase 5 different books/ games to play seems to me needlessly complex for a game and system that strived to be a playable, inexpensive, and simple game.

Eventually Steve Jackson split off and formed his own company, and Thompson retained the rights to the TFT system.  Thompson felt TFT became too complex for its own good.  The simplicity established by Melee and Wizard became buried under TFT's advanced rules. To that end Thompson created a new TFT compatible boxed set entitled Dragons of Underearth in 1981. In 16 pages this game condensed Melee/ Wizard and a few bits of TFT (talents/skills) into one book. This was a digest sized box set/ book which came with a map and counters.  I am unsure of the original retail but I assume it was $5 ($14 today).  This stripped the TFT system back to a Melee/ Wizard level of simplicity and with that, stripped it back to more of a tactical board game with RPG flavor.  Reading it now, besides just trying to strip Jackson out of the system completely, it was a true TFT basic set.  Unfortunately in the drive to simplify, it also left out a lot of what I would consider necessary explanations. As written, the rules lead a prospective player into confusion and a sense of incompleteness.  Another 12 to 16 pages of explanation, details, and potential RPG application could have made this into a little gem of a basic set.  As is, the set feels like a half arsed attempt at overkill system simplification done with a mega dose of spite.  That's a bad brew.

Jackson went on to create GURPS, Metagaming crashed in April of 1983, and publishing/ production for the system died a swift death.  It is rumored Thompson was seeking $250k for the rights to TFT but no one ever paid, and Thompson (and TFT) disappeared.

Currently, Dark City Games is publishing programmed adventures compatible with the basics of the TFT system.  In addition their version of the rules are available as a free download.   Their adventures cover fantasy, wild west, and sci-fi-are taking TFT far beyond its original scope.   Full disclosure, I have an adventure published by DCG, but I make no revenue from its sales by choice.

For years I had hope they would flesh out and create a complete RPG game, but the fine folks at DCG seem content to focus on publishing adventures and leaving the rules as a free download to support module purchases.  I spoke with the owners actively for about a year regarding a full RPG while I worked on my module, but it became clear they were not going to do it.  Hopefully that will change someday.

So all of that to get to why do I like the system? As stated earlier, their are many things I do not like, but the core elements are very good. I like the simplicity of the 3d6 system and the bell curve averages inherent in the workings of the system.  I like the simplicity of a few core attributes and leaving things like "charisma" to game play and character/ NPC interactions in game.  I like wizards having to compete like warriors in combat with dice rolls to cast spells and not being sure if the spell will be successful or not rather than the automatic success/ target resistance model of D&D.  I like the combat always being perilous rather than the deadly to dismissive path of D&D.  I think the programmed adventure model is interesting but I'd rather create see a series of adventure opportunity/ battle scenes ala Orc Slayer for the GURPS pre-cursor Man to Man rather than the choose your adventure hooks of the original.

Note I recently (11/19/12) released an RPG that is a "basic set" inspired by Melee/Wizard/TFT. Check it out at Heroes & Other Worlds.

Hope you come along for the ride!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holidaze Salez

House full of folks since last Sunday and company here until next Monday so not much time for blogging.

I wanted to point out a quick sale I took full advantage of at Troll Lord Games.  In my mind they kind of kicked off the OSR with their White Box Castles and Crusades set.  Anyway their looooooooooooooong awaited Castle Keeper's Guide is due out soon and they are producing digest sized versions of all their core books!  You can get all 5 core C&C books in digest size for $50!!  That is a steal!

They have tons of great sales too on full multiple module series, boxed sets, and stacks of their Crusader magazine.  Load up my friends!

Thanks for riding along this year and taking time to read and comment on these random ideas and missives.  I sincerely wish you and yours the happiest of holiday seasons and I look forward to dumping even more random mental flotsam and jetsam onto your mental beaches soon!

God bless you and yours!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pocket Full of Peril #5

Pocket Full of Peril #5: Troll and Toads
Strange croaking in a chanting rhythm is heard by those walking the path around the Deadmarshes.  In ages past the toad god Roarabat was worshiped in caves under the swamp.  Perhaps the dark rites have begun anew? There is only one way to find out, venture forth!
Tip of the cap to Stoneworks for the great geomorph inspiration!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pocket Full of Peril #4

Pocket Full of Peril #4: The Ruins of Rabon Nov Dranbon
Rabon Nov Dranbon was an exceedingly twisted ruler.  He would fetch women from various realms and markets of exceeding beauty and have them fight to the death in the gladiator pits under his fortress.  Visiting dignitaries would seek out an invitation to the games and would pay handsomely for the fights or for a stolen night with a survivor.  Dranbon's power and wealth grew until suddenly his castle collapsed crushing all who were inside.  For ages many tried to loot his castle ruins finding instead death amongst the cold stones.  A wood cutter is said to have spied what could be an opening near the castle ruins amongst a dense outcropping of blood thorns. Do you dare Dranbon's wrath?
Tip of the cap to Dyson for these geomorphs!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Defeat the Kaiser and his Luftmarine on Mars!

Over the last couple weeks I have developed a new fascination with World War 1.  I read All Quiet on the Western Front in high school and it left quite an impression along with Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.  Later, Barbara Tuchman's books in college were required reads, and I devoured John Keegan's account of the War to end All Wars years ago.  Here and there I have collected numerous books on the development of sea power during WW1 and how the submarine and the aircraft carrier changed the way we fight.

In amongst these and a number of other books, I also played Space 1889 and a few years ago picked up and played Aeronef.  Aeronef is sort of a Sky Galleons of Mars, except with many, many, many, more models to choose from, and a cleaner and simpler rules set.  There are models to cover nearly every nations sky fleet from Austria, to Italy, Japan, to America, Turkey, to Prussia, and Mars pirates!  Very fun, but collecting dust now.

A few weeks ago I was listening to Iron Maiden's Dance of Death and then looked up a few fan made videos for the song Passchendaele.  My interest was suddenly renewed in this era.  I re-watched All Quiet on the Western Front, and The Lost Battalion.  Now I was picking up steam and such was my growing mania  I then purchased a small wargame Trenches of Valor and its expansion from Victory Point Games. The simple but intense man to man trench raid game sent my poor mind spinning.

What if WW1 raged not just here at home, but on the moon and on Mars.  What if the colonial expeditions of the Victorian era carried not just to the darkest Africa...but to the Darkside of the moon.  Looking at some of the art of the time on posters it is not altogether too far a reach to believe that the Kaiser emboldened by his Beastmen allies from Mars decided to evict other nations from these new worlds, and to try and subjugated the home world.  What if the Boer War was actually a Boar War against classic Orc like beasts armed by their Russian Allies? The secret of the darkside of the moon is the dead do not die in the dust...they rise again from the obsidian sands to take revenge on the living.

I am not sure there is a substantial Role Playing Game idea in here anywhere, but I can't shake the feeling that there is something here waiting to be written and I think Red Coats, Red Planet has a nifty ring to it.  Besides, I really dig my 10 minute toss together Microsoft Paint bootleg war poster for Colonial Marines!

Yet my mind's eye sees me probably more like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind playing with a heap of mashed potatoes and claiming, "...this means something..."
So there it is, post 100.  I have managed to randomly hit nearly every thing I dig in one post: history, literature, movies, tv, RPG's, sci-fi, miniatures, war gaming, zombies, and Iron Maiden.  Out of respect to my wife and baseball I have left them untouched by the ramblings of this post.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pocket Full of Peril #3

Pocket Full of Peril #3: The Spider Riders of Pren
You arrive in a small battle ravaged village. A few buildings are burned, and the wounded men and wailing women stumble amongst the wreckage.  Worse is to come as you survey the battle scene finding thick sticky webbing hanging from various buildings and a massive spider still smoldering in the remains of a smoking building.  In fear and despair a group of women cling to you pointing out towards a rock formation on the far horizon.  From the visible drag marks, their sob choked story, and the lack of children in the village, its clear a treasure more precious than gold was taken from them and they want it returned.

Tip of the Cap to Stonewerk's for the geomporphs  used in this weeks Pocket Full of Peril. Check out his blog for a lot more great maps and resources.

I will be posting PDF versions of each of the Pockets shortly, look for a link soon.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sorry for lack of updates/ responses

Quick note:

My wife's birthday was this week, my boss is in town this week at work, and we are buttoning up year end, and 2011 business plans.  Very busy and late nights on all fronts.  I will have an interesting post on my COLLAPSE blog for you to consider this weekend and a new Pocket Full of Peril as well this weekend. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Are you paranoid if you have proof they are watching you?

So I posted the beta manual v1.1 for my COLLAPSE RPG recently. While the RPG is in the motif of a government manual, clearly it is not in any way, shape, or form anything more than just a game.

Strangely enough though, my little blog was snooped by the FBI today.  Specifically by the FBI Criminal Justice Information Systems in Bridgeport, West Virgina.  So to my friends in the FBI a cheery hello, and I hope you enjoy the game! If you ever need some help setting up a game or running one, I guess you know how to get a hold of me!

I have great respect for the men and women who serve our great nation in many capacities in its defense.  Many of my own family have served our country.  Yet, I can't imagine a little nothing blog read by fewer than 50 people about role playing games and being a nerd would illicit any interest from our  Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Strange days...but maybe given what's currently being wargammed by our government it is not as strange as I had thought? Anyway, I need to go make a tinfoil hat real quick, mine will be the one with the Red Sox logo on it!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Complete COLLAPSE Beta v1.1

The full Beta edition of FSM 5-01c COLLAPSE v1.1 is now available as a download for a limited time.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pocket Full of Peril #2

Pocket Full of Peril#2: Tomb of Ice
High above the village along the Frostmarch trail, travel and trade has come to a stop.  While winter's icy grip normally chokes the pass from time to time, whole groups have gone missing recently and the abundance of massive sized tracks and blood in the snow signifies something besides old man winter is attacking travelers.  Are you brave enough to discover who or what it is?
Tip of the cap to Dyson for the geomporphs used in this Pocket Full of Peril

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We're off to outer space...

Over the past few years I've read any number of Sci-Fi themed postings on blogs. Whether its about Sci-Fi TV shows, movies, novels, comic books, or games, it seems like nearly every possible one I'd ever heard of has been covered...except for one.  There were three major sci-fi influences in my life growing up: Star Trek (Kirk/green slave girl style), Star Wars (Make mine midichlorian free please), and STAR BLAZERS.  Hands down one of the best theme songs ever.  I'd watch an episode while scarfing breakfast, then sing it running all the way to school, and I still find myself singing it now and then out of the blue.  In fact I am sure if call either of my brothers and say 'Our Star Blazers" they'd sing every damn line.  I can't think of a whole lot of things that stick with you through life or make such a huge impression on you, but Star Blazers is certainly one of them.  Here is the opening theme...get ready for greatness!

In my mind Star Blazers is kind of the best mash up of Star Trek (one crew, one ship) with Star Wars (save the world mission, young boy grows into manhood and leadership, old trusted Sensei passes on, lots of combat).  What also made it so intense was the time limit: One year to save the Earth! At the end of every episode it would say something like, "Only 214 days left for the crew of the Yamato to save the Earth!" Holy Cow-will they do it?  I COULD NOT miss an episode because I had to know IF Derek Wildstar, Mark Venture, and the rest of the crew of the Yamato would save the Earth! We'd gobble breakfast while watching the crew struggle to save the Earth battling the foppish and evil Gamilon Leader Desslok to reach Iscandar!  

If for some reason you are unfamiliar with the brave crew of the Space Battleship Yamato, the power of the wave motion cannon, and Star Blazers in general you have a fantastic new discovery!  A live action movie version of Star Blazers just opened in Japan!  I can't wait to see it, here is a clip below.
We're off to outer space
We're leaving Mother Earth
To save the human race
Our Star Blazers

Searching for a distant star
Heading off to Iscandar
Leaving all we love behind
Who knows what danger we'll find?

We must be strong and brave
Our home we've got to save
If we don't in just one year
Mother Earth will disappear

Fighting with the Gamilons
We won't stop until we've won
Then we'll return and when we arrive
The Earth will survive
With our Star Blazers