My long time buddy, and All of the Above alumni, Dan (Smif) Smith did this character illustration of Thumper for me.
Dan is available for commissioned art and you can find his Deviant Art page here: Smifink.
My long time buddy, and All of the Above alumni, Dan (Smif) Smith did this character illustration of Thumper for me.
Dan is available for commissioned art and you can find his Deviant Art page here: Smifink.
Top Secret was, to the best of my knowledge, the first dedicated espionage RPG. Others, notably the licensed James Bond 007 RPG, soon followed. Alas, neither the original Top Secret, nor the followup Top Secret S.I. are available for purchase in PDF at this time. However, there is a new version with radically different rules, recently published called Top Secret/New World Order.
My memories are that it was a fairly crunchy game for its time, and that it was a better commando action game than it was an espionage game… that last part may be more due to our style of play than the game itself.
Character generation starts with your primary personal traits: Physical Strength, Charm, Willpower, Courage, Knowledge, and Coordination. Stats are generated with 1d100, but there is a modifier chart to skew the results higher for player characters.
I roll 20, 35, 79, 41, 33, and 45. This gives the adjusted stats of:
Physical Strength 45, Charm 50, Willpower 84, Courage 56, Knowledge 48, & Coordination 60.
You then calculate your secondary personal traits, which are calculated from your primary traits, and all fractions round up. There are a number of these…
Offense is an average of Coordination + Courage, so 58.
Deceptions is an average of Courage + Charm, so 53.
Evasion is an average of Charm + Coordination, so 55.
Deactivation (of traps, etc.) is Knowledge + Coordination, so 54.
Life Level is Physical Strength + Willpower / 10, so 12.9 which rounds to 13.
Movement Value is Physical Strength + Willpower + Coordination, so 189. This is compared to a chart, and my Movement Value is Average.
Then there are your tertiary personal traits, which are calculated from both primary and/or secondary traits. These are:
Hand to Hand Combat Value is Evasion + Physical Strength, so 100.
Wrestling Combat Value is Offense + Physical Strength, so 103.
Surprise Value is Deception + Evasion, so 108.
Like a lot of games for its time, it very much assumed that many if not most details, such as height, age, handedness and whether you needed corrective eyewear, should be randomly determined. I’ve decided that my character is male, so after rolling I determine that I am 5′ 11″ tall, I am 31 years old, and I have normal vision. No corrective eyewear is required.
Interestingly, in the main rulebook it was assumed that the player could choose their sex, and that there were no stat differences between men and women… but the Top Secret Companion seems to have changed this. They added a random chart for sex, and an unreadable modification for stats that is unclear as to whether it’s meant to apply to men, women, or both. There are also random rolls for blood type and a number of other things. I consider the Companion to be optional, and won’t be using much from it.
The number of languages you can speak is based on your knowledge level, and your proficiency in each is randomly determined. Your primary language is 3d10+70, and any additional languages are straight percentile rolls, but must be lower than your native language. I decide that my character’s native language is English, and I choose Nepali as my second language. My English proficiency is 92, and my Nepali is a 91. I figure my nationality is British.
Now we move on to Areas of Knowledge. These are mostly useful for establishing or maintaining a cover. You have one or more superior areas of knowledge based on your Knowledge score, divided by 10 and rounded up… so I have 5. I get Metallurgy, Medicine, Law, and two ‘Player’s Choice’, so I pick Political Science, and World History/Current Affairs. Honestly, the random rolls don’t make a lot of sense, but okay…
My score in each are determined by percentile roll and adjusted by a table. My final scores in each are: Metallurgy 68, Medicine 105, Law 104, Political Science 129, World History 87. From the Companion, I choose Political Science for my education, and have a Bachelor of Political, Economic, and Social Sciences. I choose a cover occupation as a Diplomatic aide, which leverages my knowledge and education well and gives plenty of opportunities for travel.
Also pulling from the Companion, I decide I was in the military, specifically the Royal Navy. With my degree I enter the service as a Midshipman, and with one six year tour, I exit the service as a Lieutenant.
You then choose your Bureau classification, which is basically a character class (I choose Investigation) and then you spend money on personal effects. My starting funds are $4400. Gear for your mission is handled separately, and I’m not going to bother with gear. I will note that based on his background, he would be qualified with the Glock 17, and the SA80/L85 service rifle.
Name: Joseph O. Fraser
Background: Mr. Fraser joined her Majesty’s Royal Navy as a Midshipman after graduation from university with honors. Assigned as liaison officer to the Queen’s Gurkha Signals due to strong language skills. Honorable discharge.
Sex: Male Age: 31 Nationality: Scottish (United Kingdom)
Height: 5′ 11 Weight: 170 lbs
Skin: White Hair: Brown Eyes: Brown
Military Service: Royal Navy, Lieutenant, ret. NROTC
Education: B.P.E.S.S., Cambridge University
Languages: English (92), Nepali (91)
Areas of Knowledge: Metallurgy (68), Medicine (105), Law (104), Political Science (129), World History/Current Affairs (87)
PS: 45, Charm: 50, Will: 84, Courage: 56, Know: 48, Coord: 60
Offense: 58, Deception: 53, Evasion: 55, Deactivation: 54
Life Level: 13
HtH CV: 100, Wrestling CV: 103, Surprise: 108
DragonQuest was one of the first non-D&D fantasy RPGs that we tried out in high school. It was well advertised, SPI was a well known company, and they were trying some things that weren’t exactly standard game design at the time.
It was a point buy system for stats, but there was a random roll to determine how many points you could spend and what your maximum score in a stat could be. The more points you started with, the lower your max score for a stat. It also was an action point economy based game, which was based off of your agility and determined how many actions you could perform.
You could always choose to be human, but if you wanted to play one of the other available fantasy races, you had to roll a percentile to see if you qualified (my least favorite rule in the game). Roll well and you could be a shapeshifter or even a giant. Roll poorly and you were stuck with human. You also determined your birth aspect (zodiac-ish), birth order, and social standing randomly.
Interestingly, you didn’t necessarily start unexperienced. Once you had your social standing and birth order you could determine both your starting wealth, and how much experience you started with. You could then spend (or choose not to spend) both before play even began.
Experience is spent on weapon skills, spells if you’re a practitioner of magic, or on professions… but don’t worry about professions at start, because Rank 0 in a profession costs more than you’ll start with.
The magic system in DragonQuest is definitely not “standard” Vancian magic ala D&D. You learn individual spells related to the Spell Collage you’ve chosen, and casting costs fatigue.
Overall, the books follow the wargaming model of numbered rules sections (2.0, 2.1, etc.) but is otherwise somewhat poorly organized. Character creation and combat rules are in book 1, but the sections for gear, skills, and how fatigue & experience work are in book 3. Magic is in book 2, but again, you’ll be jumping back to the fatigue rules at a minimum. It’s a bit of a mess, honestly. Second edition seemed to fix some of that, but also made changes to things that aren’t immediately obvious. My memory is that third edition was basically second edition, with the demons removed from the rules.
But hey, non-vancian magic, no classes, weapon skills that level up individually, and some semblance of social standing rules. It was, however, more focused on the tactical combat side of things, not unlike Metagaming’s Fantasy Trip (Melee & Wizard).
So I start out and roll a 16 on 4d5. Checking the chart, that gives 94 points and a max score of 21. The minimum score for any stat is a 5.
4d5 you ask? I’ll come back to this.
Primary stats are: Physical Strength (PS), Agility (AG), Manual Dexterity (MD), Endurance (ED), Magical Aptitude (MA or APA), Willpower (WP). Secondary stats (calculated) are: Fatigue (FT), and Perception (PC). If you want to add additional stats like physical beauty you can add them, but there’s little guidance beyond that they should be determined randomly.
Fatigue is based on Endurance, and regardless of what you play, you will want as high of a Fatigue score as you can manage… so I set my Endurance to 20 (there’s no difference between 20 & 21 for Fatigue)… The rest of the points I spend how I wish… and clearly I’m planning on playing a magical adept. I put one extra point in Agility, as that will give me 10 action points.
My final score array is: PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18. This gives me a Fatigue of 22. Perception starts at 5 (2nd ed says 8).
Sadly, DragonQuest came from the same mindset as Gygax’s AD&D in that “realism” requires that female characters take a -2 penalty to PS, but get an extra point of MD and Fatigue. Additionally, you can choose to play your own gender, but if you wish to play a different gender you need to roll 25% or less. And, of course, there are no provisions for anything other than binary gender. If I were running a DQ game of my own, I’d toss this right out the window… but the exercise is to create by the rules, so…
And even that gets complicated. There were three editions of DragonQuest, and there are subtle differences between each of them. As an example, first edition uses 4d5 to generate stats. Second edition uses 2d10. It’s the same numbers, but a four die curve is not nearly as steep… but I digress.
Back to character creation… my next step would be to determine if I will play a non-human. The only race that interested me with these stats was Elven, which is a 30% chance. I roll a 76, so I will remain human.
Next step would be my birth aspect, and then heritage. I roll a 27, so I am Vernal (Spring) aspected. This will occasionally effect percentile rolls when times are favorable (or not so much). For heritage, I roll a 61, and then a 07 and so I am the bastard child of a Craftsman or Adventurer.
Those results directly influence my starting experience and starting money. I roll a 87 for experience, and a 65 for starting money. Applying the modifiers for parentage and birth status, I begin with 250 XP (200 * 1.25 for bastard) and 138 sp (55sp * 5 for station / 2 for bastard).
At this point we would start spending experience and monies. Note that because my MA exceeds 15, I get a 5% deduction for every point above 15. Sweet, magic will cost me 20% less.
I buy rank 0 in Dagger and Quarterstaff. I start with Stealth and Horsemanship at rank 0 for free, and I decide to be an adept of the College of Sorceries of the Mind (Mind Mage). That means I start with all of that College’s general knowledge spells, and its general knowledge rituals at rank 0 as well. I decide to raise my ESP and Control Animal spells to rank 1. This leaves me with 15xp unspent, which I leave in the bank.
DragonQuest is not a game friendly to beginning characters… you’re not going to feel heroic, so much as you’re going to feel like a n00b. Chance of success is pretty low at first. Again, if I were running this game today, I would likely give all of the PCs more beginning XP. In the game’s defense, it does hand out XP reasonably quickly, and you can earn XP during downtime between adventures as well.
And finally, we spend money on gear… and the gear listing is sparse. A GM will need to flesh that out because I can guarantee you one of your players will want something they didn’t include a price for.
I opt for a Roman flare for naming, and our young apprentice mage is named Gaius.
PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18
Fatigue: 22, Perception: 8, Action Points: 10
Dagger 0, Quarterstaff 0, Stealth 0, Horsemanship 0
Magic: College of Sorceries of the Mind
Spells: ESP 1, Limited Precog 0, Mind Cloak 0, Empathy 0, Hypnotism 0, Control Animals 1, Control Person 0
Rituals: Bind Will 0
Dagger, Quarterstaff, Tunic, Pants, Boots, Backpack, Waterskin… and some writing materials at a minimum.
Finally, due to SPI being acquired by TSR and TSR wanting to focus on D&D, DQ eventually died as a product. As such, you can only purchase it used these days, and there is not a legal source for PDFs of the game.
How important are the actual character sheets? So far, the games I’ve done have been relatively simple and so actual character sheets haven’t been necessary. As I move on to more complicated game systems for character generation, I’m not sure that will remain true.
I have a couple of options:
Okay, running a bit late this week but I decided to go with Gamma World. Gamma World is an interesting subject, in that it’s very niche, and that to enjoy it you need to accept some of its odd, over-the-top nature. People generally “get” it, or they don’t.
At this point, there have been seven separate editions, the last of which was an odd combination of RPG and card game that didn’t really go anywhere.
At its heart, Gamma World is, effectively, post apocalyptic science fantasy. We’re talking a world with malfunctioning robots, ultra-tech weapons to be salvaged, mutated talking animals, and comic book radiation. Think Planet of the Apes, Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, The Herculoids, or Thundarr the Barbarian.
There was an edition for d20, published by White Wolf… that is the only edition I do not own. There was an editorial decision to make a game that was more realistic… radiation doesn’t work that way after all, and much of the gonzo craziness was left out. I’m sure it was a great game, but it was Gamma World in name only.
There are some other games that fall into the same space, the primary and most successful of which would be Palladium’s Rifts, which embraced the spirit of Gamma World more than any other, I think.
Character creation is fairly straightforward. I’ve gone with 2e primarily because character gen is actually organized and easy to follow.
There are six stats, Mental Strength (MS), Intelligence (IN), Dexterity (DX), Physical Strength (PS), Charisma (CH), and Constitution (CN). The order of those stats are from the character sheet… NOT the order the book lists them in. I will follow the character sheet order. All stats are generated with 4d6, generally drop lowest, but Pure Strain Humans have some special rules.
There are no character classes, but there are three ‘races;’ Pure Strain Human, Humanoid, and Mutated Animals. PSH are Humans that, somehow, have not been exposed to the various mutagenic dangers of the setting. Humanoids are mutated humans with strange powers, and Mutated Animals are anthropomorphic animals, possibly with strange powers as well.
You pick race first. I’m going to go with a Mutated Animal, and I choose Rabbit for my base animal. My stat array ends up:
MS 16, IN 13, DX 17, PS 13, CH 11, CN 11.
That’s actually a fairly impressive set of rolls, definitely above average. Hit point are generated with a number of d6 equal to your Constitution, or d8 for Pure Strain Humans. I end up with 35 hit points.
If you are not a PSH, you then roll a d4 twice to determine how many physical and mental mutations you have. This character will have one physical mutation, and two mental mutations. You then roll percentiles + either your CN for physical mutations, or your IN for mental mutations.
My physical mutation total ends up being 41, which means I have antlers… okay, I am apparently a anthro Jackalope. My mental mutations are Telepathy and ‘The Gamma Eye.’ Telepathy is fairly straightforward. Gamma Eye is a once a day attack where a black light shoots out of one of your eyes, rendering one opponent within 15 meters unconscious for one minute. I decide that my Jackalope wears a patch over it’s ‘evil eye.’
After that, you generate cash (Gold Pieces?) and I start with 100 and equip myself with an Axe, Shield, Leather armor, a backpack, bedroll, waterskin, rations, and some rope. I decide to name him ‘Thumper.’
And that’s about it… as I said before, there are no classes, nor are there levels. Instead you track your status within your tribe or the world as a whole.
Race: Mutated Animal (Rabbit)
Physical Mutations: Antlers (2d6 damage)
Mental Mutations: Telepathy 15m, Gamma Eye 15m
Hit Points: 35
MS 16, IN 13, DX 17, PS 13, CH 11, CN 11
Equipment: Leather Armor & Shield (6+), Axe, backpack, bedroll, 1 week rations, waterskin, 50′ rope
I have a couple of options for next week’s character. If I keep trying to do things somewhat chronological, there are a few options.
If you have an opinion, please comment.
Okay, it’s tough to talk about old school roleplaying games without touching on Classic Traveller at some point. I mean it was one of the first science fiction RPGs (Metamorphosis Alpha came out a year before Traveller, and Empire of the Petal Throne could also be considered SF).
Traveller initially did not have much of a background, but was aimed squarely at the sort of fiction that was being written by Poul Anderson, H. Beam Piper, and Keith Laumer.
While the setting had FTL travel, other examples of advanced technology were not as common and technology levels varied from world to world. Most weapons were still standard firearms, and swords and dueling were not uncommon. Suffice to say that this was not Star Trek, nor was it Star Wars. If I were to compare it to movie or TV show, I would have to say that it’s closest to Firefly/Serenity.
Character generation in Traveller was somewhat notorious for the possibility of characters dying during character generation. Traveller uses a lifepath style of character generation, and during each term of service, there is a survival roll. Later editions of the books added an optional rule that instead of dying, your character was injured and received a medical discharge.
The random stat rolls and the randomness of the lifepath could generate some strange characters, but like Basic D&D, that randomness could sometimes hand you a character that you would have never considered.
I’ve also been told that, originally, characters that died during generation were supposed to handed over to the GM for a ready supply of NPCs. Unfortunately, I have no way to confirm this as I have later printings of the books.
For this article I will only be using the Little Black Box books, Books 1 through 3, and I will not use the optional survival rule.
My first attempt at a character resulted in crappy stats: UPP 478644, so I enlisted them in the Scouts since they have the highest survival failure rate… and they ended up dying in their 4th tour of duty. IISV Aurora declared missing, presumed destroyed with all hands on board, year 1106 Imperial Calendar.
My second character attempt, on the other hand, gave me an interesting character I wouldn’t have initially considered.
Stats are generated in the following order: Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Standing, and you roll 2d6 for each stat. And they are written in hexadecimal, so a 10 is an A, for instance. I started with a Universal Personality Profile (UPP) of 67697B.
So I have a social standing of 11. That means she’s a noble with the title of Knight. Within the Third Imperium setting, the Navy is where the nobles tend to go, so I, of course, attempt to enlist in the Imperial Navy. I fail that roll, so instead my character is drafted. The draft is a d6 roll that determines what service you’ll be in. It is possible to get drafted into the same service that you failed to enlist in.
Such is not my luck, and I roll a 6. I am drafted into ‘Other’ at the age of 18. Other has some interesting skill options, but they tend more towards criminal pursuits.
At 34 years of age, and every 4 years after you are subject to potential aging effects. I get a little lucky here and only fail my aging roll for Endurance, so that goes down by 1 as well.
And now, mustering out benefits and retirement benefits. Apparently even the criminal underworld has a retirement plan. I did five tours, so I get five rolls for muster benefits, and I also get a +1 on any rolls on the cash table because I have the gambling skill.
For my five rolls I get: a high passage (1st class ticket to somewhere), a firearm (which will be an auto pistol because of skills), and three rolls on the cash table for a total of Cr 200,000. Finally, a retirement benefit of Cr 4,000 a month.
So here I am, with a talented gambler that used to be a noble, has knowledge of the criminal underworld, and quite a bit of cash. Not to mention that the last tour was mandatory. There’s definitely a story here.
And so, we have Jaelah Min, disowned noble scion…
Jaelah Min 67597A Human Female, Age 38
5 Terms Other Cr200,000
Skills: Gambling-2, Streetwise-1, Jack of all Trades-1, Auto Pistol-1
Attempted to enlist in Imperial Navy.
‘Drafted’ into Other.
Voluntarily reenlisted for second term.
Voluntarily reenlisted for third term.
Voluntarily reenlisted for fourth term.
Mandatory reenlistment for fifth term.
So, in conclusion, despite how much I prefer games that allow me to play the character concept I have coming in, whether it be point based, or just allowing the player to spend stats where they prefer… well, there’s a certain appeal to this random approach. Three of the more interesting Traveller character’s I’ve had were created this way.
I am now enrolled in the DriveThruRPG.com affiliates program. You’ll see two RSS feeds listing top sellers and new products. I’ll mostly be using this to link to PDFs of the games I’m posting characters for.
So, as mentioned in my last update, I am going to slowly work through my large collection of tabletop RPGs and make a character for each one. I’ll probably have some observations and snarky comments on occasion. And with that, D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic) is the first.
So, back in roughly 1978 or 1979, I used to deliver the local Sunday paper. One sunday, there was an article in the Parade magazine insert on this game called ‘Dungeons & Dragons.’ I’d just recently read every book by Tolkien I could get my hands on, and this D&D thing sounded incredible.
So, I went out in search of it and the Bon Ton department store had 1 single box… and there was totally not Smaug on its horde and in front of it was a warrior and a wizard that, lets be honest, were about to die. 🙂
I was instantly hooked, but didn’t know anyone else that played. That’s a story for another time.
So, Basic D&D was my first roleplaying game and it only seems fitting that it be where I start this project as well. I still have a Holmes box, which did not come with dice, but for our purposes, I will be using the Red Basic D&D book… the Moldvay edition.
We start by rolling our stats on 3d6… and end up with STR 9, INT 13, WIZ 10, DEX 16, CON 11, and CHA 13. Unlike later editions of D&D, Basic used 3d6 in order: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. There was no allowance for reordering stats, or alternative die rolling methods, although plenty of DMs had their own house rules. I was fond of 2d6+ 6, for instance.
With that Dex of 16, Thief and Halfling look good. However, I needed a Str of 13 to be a Halfling… so I’ll be a Human Thief. However there were some minor allowances for selling a stat down to raise another. And here’s my first choice…
As a Thief, I could lower my Int by two to raise my Dex by 1, but that gains me no bonuses, so I will pass. I should note that this is actually slightly above average for stats (60 – 66) being average.
I’ll note that the non-flexible stat order, and straight 3d6 rolls makes this particularly well suited for a simple stat generation program of the sort that every kid with a home computer wrote at some point. Knock out a couple of pages of that, and you can have a new character ready in a few minutes.
And at this point I am mildly annoyed by the organization of the book… lots of flipping back and forth to find things. As a beginner’s RPG, it should have been organized in the order it would be used, especially the character generation section. This said, maybe I’m spoiled now. I certainly didn’t notice back then. Also, it didn’t come with a blank character sheet, though you could buy them. We generally just used a sheet of notepaper.
Hit points for Thieves are the same as Wizards, a d4 per level. This is one of the things that I do not miss about old school gaming… how fragile a character was at start. Though I suppose this was somewhat balanced by how much easier it was to roll up a new character. And so, I roll my hit points at first level, and start with 3 hit points. I’ma gonna need a meat shield.
We then roll 3d6*10 for gold and get a 14, so 140 gold pieces. Clearly, I managed a big score recently.
So, equipment… My choices are somewhat limited. I can only wear Leather armor, but I can use any weapon. With that Dex (and hit points), missile weapons are going to be my first choice. So I start with Leather armor, a short box & 20 arrows, and 3 daggers. My adventuring equipment consists of a backpack, thieves tools, several sacks, 50′ of rope, a waterskin, and some torches. I have 38 gold remaining, perhaps one of my koleś will need a friendly loan…
Of course, a character needs a name… and I tend to be shite at names, so off I go off to Fantasy Name Generators and a few minutes later I emerge with Jacek (Polish) Greyheart (actually, was Blackheart, but I tend to play Neutral, so…). Yeah, it’s a bit generic but far worse has been done in print. I’ll use it.
So, here we have Jacek Greyheart, a clever, quite nimble, and somewhat charming apprentice thief with flexible morals. His remaining coin won’t keep him going for long, and so he’s looking for a paying job of sorts.
Name: Jacek Greyheart
Str: 9, Int: 13, Wiz:10, Dex: 16, Con: 11, Cha: 13
Hit Points: 3, Armor Class: 5, Alignment: Neutral
Level: 1, Experience: 0 of 1000, Money: 6pp, 8gp
Poison: 13, Wand: 14, Paralysis: 13, Breath: 16, Staves/Spells: 15
Leather Armor, Short Bow, 20 Arrows, 3 Daggers, Backpack, 1 large sack, 3 small sacks, 50′ rope, thieves tools, waterskin, 1 week standard rations