Character A Week: SPI’s DragonQuest

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.

Name: Gaius
Race: Human

PS 12, AG 13, MD 12, ED 20, MA 19, WP 18
Fatigue: 22,  Perception: 8, Action Points: 10

Skills:
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

Equipment:
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.

So, A Question…

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:

  • Hand fill out character sheet, and scan.
  • Scan character sheets, attempt to make them form fillable in Acrobat.
  • Get creative with a text editor and/or the WordPress editor.
  • Or, you know, just say fuck it and keep doing what I’m doing now.

Thoughts?

Character A Week: Gamma World (2e)

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.

The first edition was, mostly inspired by Planet of the Apes, and Sterling Lanier’s Hiero books. With second edition, it’s clear that someone had been reading the Robert Adams Horseclans books.

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.

Name: Thumper
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

Gamma World 1e, 4e, the d20 6e version, and the card based 7e are all available in PDF format through DriveThruRPG.

Upcoming…

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.

  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – I’d rather let that sit fallow for a bit.
  • SPI’s Dragonquest
  • FGU’s Villains & Vigilantes (1st or 2nd)
  • FGU’s Space Opera
  • Gamma World
  • Top Secret

If you have an opinion, please comment.

Character A Week: Classic Traveller

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.

  • First Tour: Drafted into Other; skills received Gambling +1, and surprise, Gambling +1
  • Second Tour: Successfully re-enlisted, make survival roll; Streetwise +1
  • Third Tour: Successfully re-enlisted, make survival roll; Jack of All Trades +1
  • Fourth Tour: Successfully re-enlisted, make survival roll; Gun Combat (Auto Pistol) +1
  • Fifth Tour: Chose not to re-enlist, but rolled a 12 on re-enlistment so my fifth tour is mandatory; and I roll Social -1. Somehow, I lost my noble title here.

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

Service History:
Attempted to enlist in Imperial Navy.
Enlistment declined.
‘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.

Minor edits…

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.

Character A Week: Basic Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay)

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.

Holmes Ed. Basic D&D

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
Class: Thief

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

Saving Throws
Poison: 13, Wand: 14, Paralysis: 13, Breath: 16, Staves/Spells: 15

Equipment
Leather Armor, Short Bow, 20 Arrows, 3 Daggers, Backpack, 1 large sack, 3 small sacks, 50′ rope, thieves tools, waterskin, 1 week standard rations

What’s been going on…

I had some life get in the way of things, including keeping this site updated. Suffice to say, it’s not necessarily finished yet, but we won’t know for sure until November at the earliest. So, in the meanwhile, I tossed an idea out that might keep me updating this thing more regularly both to my Facebook followers, and my tumblr and there seemed to be enough interest…

The idea, such as it is, is that I have a rather large RPG collection that I have amassed over my 40+ years of gaming… yeah, I don’t like thinking about it that way either, but the idea is take a game off the shelf each week and make a character for it, and then discuss  this process, pros & cons, ideas, etc.

Ultimately, I also want to collect these in a wiki for archival purposes, but that can wait until after I get started. I’ll aim for the first post by this weekend. First up will likely be Basic D&D, since that’s where I first got into tabletop RPGs to begin with.

If you have suggestions, AND I own that game, I’ll prioritize those first. Please make these suggestions in comments. Some games will prove more complicated than other… *cough* Powers & Perils *cough*.

Also, if I am able to find software tools to facilitate charatcer gen, I’ll break that out as well.

Triplanetary

So back in 1973, Game Designers Workshop published a science fiction wargame called Triplanetary. Designed by Marc Miller, it was a solid newtonian space combat game with a compact and functional set of rules, and you used an acetate sheet and grease pencils to track a ship’s vector.  It was reprinted again in 1981, but has been out of print since.

In 1989, Steve Jackson Games acquired the rights to Triplanetary with the intent of republishing this classic game. My understanding is that it reached a draft status, but never saw print at the time. That said, SJG did publish a much more focused vector space wargame called Star Fist. If you’ve ever played the classic coin-op arcade game Star Castle, well Star Fist was Star Castle, but with chits and grease pencils. If you can find a copy, I recommend it, as it’s a lot of fun.

Not too long ago, Steve Jackson Games did a Kickstarter for a new edition of Triplanetary, which was quite successful. And today my copy showed up on my doorstep. 🙂

Obviously, I have not had a chance to sit down and play this with anyone yet, but I did unbox and inspect the components. As a deluxe version of the game, it does quite well. The map of the solar system is a large, sturdy coated hex map. No need for the acetate sheets… and the grease pencils have been replaced with dry erase markers.

The box contains the map (in two folding sections), a sheet of die cut counters, the 16 page rulebook, a double sided sheet with advanced combat rules, an ad for the Ogre computer game (It’s fun, do it!), two dry erase markers, one six sided die, a tasty, tasty packet of “Dangerous DO NOT EAT” silicagel, and a piece of foam that I assume is meant to be used as an eraser for the dry erase markers.

Sadly, as you may be able to see in a couple of my photos, my box took a drop somewhere along the way and one corner of the box as well as the maps are mildly dinged. It’s not bad enough to officially complain… hell, this shit happens. But yeah, slightly annoying.