Monday, June 3, 2013

Man, Myth & Magic Cartoon Intermission

If you've been following my blog series on Man, Myth & Magic, you've seen that the Sage class is the perfect choice for the know-it-all rules lawyer in your game group.

Ben Sargent's Murphy's Rules cartoon from Space Gamer magazine #63 sums the Sage up nicely:
Art by Ben Sargent, published by Steve Jackson Games
SJG's series of Murphy's Rules cartoons from Space Gamer were compiled and republished in 1988 and again in 1998 with more cartoons from Pyramid magazine. You can order a PDF of the 1998 version direct from SJG:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Obscure RPG Appreciation: Man, Myth & Magic pt. III

This is a continuation of my Obscure RPG Appreciation Day overview of Yaquinto's Man, Myth & Magic game. Click here to read part I of the series.


Briton Druid
A major part of MM&M is the concept of Reincarnations. As the game states, "In MM&M, you reincarnate anew for each adventure, enabling you to experience a vast variety of viewpoints and abilities. And from incarnation to incarnation, you carry something of your past experience with you, building up a character type as far beyond your first (character) as a man is beyond an amoeba."

No pressure! Note that in MM&M, and "adventure" is more like what would be a "campaign" in D&D, spanning the equivalent of three to seven adventure modules.
Roman Gladiator

I mentioned in my last post that a character's Accumulated Power affects the Reincarnation Process in two ways:

First, when a character with 200 or more Power dies and the player "Incarnates" (rolls up) a new character and gets one of the same Class, he may ignore this result and reroll until he comes up with a different class. Once a player accumulates 200 Power in a Class, they are done with that Class if they so choose to be. This incarnation is a completely new character starting with zero Power.

Second, a character with 200 or more Power may voluntarily undergo a Reincarnatory Metamorphosis ("one of the most spectacular achievements in MM&M"). By act of will, the character is transformed into a new being, retaining all the character's original possessions and Characteristics (except Skill and Power). Think of it like one of Doctor Who's reincarnations. The player rolls for a new Nationality, Class and Skill level. All Power is lost, except that gained from gold possessed.
Hibernian Leprechaun

For every 25 points of Power the character has accumulated at the time of Reincarnatory Metamorphosis, the character has a 1% chance of retaining a Distant Memory. This allows the character to retain the skills and abilities of his previous Class in his new incarnation. Essentially, this is the way to multiclass in MM&M. A Greek Warrior may reincarnate as an Egyptian Sorcerer and retain his memories and skills as a warrior. The character would have two Skill levels, one for Combat and one for Sorcery. The Warrior/Sorcerer may reincarnate again as say, a Hibernian Leprechaun. He may retain both his previous memories and be a Warrior/Sorcerer/Leprechaun (as silly as that sounds).

Optional Characteristics

Visigoth Barbarian
In addition to the seven primary Characteristics, there are 24 additional Optional Characteristics that may be rolled up. These include Agility, Charm, Determination, Dexterity, Drinking (!!), Devotion, Hearing, Height, Language, Loyalty, Luck, Mental Stability, Read & Write, Senses, Sight, Stealth, Swimming, Throwing, Weight, City Knowledge, Desert Knowledge, Mountain Knowledge, Sea Knowledge and Woods Knowledge. The player rolls d100 to determine the starting levels for each Characteristic (except Luck), modified by Nationality and Class.

The Luck Characteristic is generated by rolling d10 divided by 3 (round up). These points may be used as "mulligans" to reroll failed rolls during the game. Luck points are regenerated at the end of an adventure (though, that should probably read the end of a scenario).

Drinking is used to stave off the effects of intoxicating beverages (this ability decreases by 5% for each drink consumed). Senses (unlike Sight or Hearing) is more like "Intuition," used to avoid stepping on a trap at the last moment. Determination is how many times a character will attempt a non-combat action, such as starting a fire, before giving up. Loyalty determines a character's loyalty to the party, Nationality or character class. However, Devotion also refers to the player's devotion to his party and I don't know which one takes precedence. Height and Weight are used with another table to determine height and weight. A Leprechaun character is never more than 4 feet tall.

As we saw in my last post, this game has a universal task resolution system called the MM&M Paradox. It seems this system is not used with Optional Characteristics. Instead, the rules specify a typical percentage-based system where d100 is thrown to score less than the Characteristic in question, such as rolling under Agility to climb a tree or under Throwing to throw something at a target. However, other examples of Optional Characteristics indicate that rolling low against the Characteristic indicates failure. Also, when a character gets drunk, their Characteristics are "either doubled or halved, whichever is worse for the player." What does that mean? When is having a high stat a bad thing? This chapter needs a good round of editing.

Weapon Skill and More Combat Details

Roman Centurian
The SPECIAL WEAPONS HANDLING ABILITIES rule allows characters to have different skills with different weapon types. The To Hit Number with a Sword is affected by Agility, Skill, Speed and Strength. The Archery THN is affected by Sight, Dexterity and Skill. Other weapon categories include Thrown, Bludgeon, Dagger/Knife and Axe. This reminds me of the Chaosium/Runequest RPG system where many abilities may affect hit chances, not just Strength or Dexterity.

When combat begins, initiative goes to the unit with the highest First Strike Capacity (Speed + Courage). The number of strikes a unit may make in combat before resting is equal to  ((Endurance/10[RU]) + (Courage/20[RD])). A unit's Combined Modifier Figure (Skill + Strength) is added to an opponent's THN when attempting to dodge an attack. I have no idea why it isn't called "Dodge Value" or something. Note that a character's Speed value is reduced by any armor worn.

Next up, we'll take a look at Magic!

Obscure RPG Appreciation: Man, Myth & Magic pt. II

This is a continuation of my Obscure RPG Appreciation Day overview of Yaquinto's Man, Myth & Magic game. Click here to read part I of the series.

Character Attributes and Power

MM&M uses seven attributes (here called Characteristics) for character generation: Strength, Speed, Skill, Endurance, Intelligence, Courage and Power. Most are common FRPG attributes that need no explanation. Each Characteristic (except Power) is rolled up on a d100 (confusingly called 2d20% in this game, using two 20-sided percentile dice). This gives a broad range of 1-100 with no weighting toward the middle of the range, though 50 is considered average. The abilities are modified depending on the character's Nationality and Class.

Skill is the character's aptitude with their class's Prime Ability (combat for warriors, magic for magicians, healing for healers, potion manufacture for apothecaries, wealth increase for merchants (?!), bribery for senators (!!), psychic abilities for other characters, etc.). 

A player adds together the first six Characteristics (all except Power) to calculate the starting character's Life Points, averaging about 300 LP. That's enough to take quite a few sword blows.
Egyptian Sorcerer
"In MM&M, the purpose of life is the pursuit of POWER."
Power always starts at zero for a new character and increases by accumulating wealth (every 1,000 gold libra you own increases Power by 1) and through experience (players usually add d100 Power at the end of a scenario). Magicians and Psychics temporarily tap into their Power reserves to use their supernatural abilities. Characters may permanently sacrifice 250 points of Power to raise another stat by 1 (this is not a good trade). For every 30 points of Power over 100, a character reduces their failure rate by 1% (see The MM&M Paradox, below). Accumulated Power also affects a character's Reincarnations (more on this later).

Note that since a starting magician or psychic has no Power, they cannot cast any spells until they survive their first adventure!

Action Resolution System (The MM&M Paradox)

Where most game systems work on a character's chance to succeed at a certain action (skill check, cast a magic spell, make an attack, etc.), MM&M instead focuses on the chance to fail at such actions. This ties into the game's sense of impending doom for your character and if things go bad, maybe your next reincarnation will be better. It boils down to this: a character has about a base 50% chance to fail at anything they attempt to do. I'll let the game speak for itself:
You are going to fail

That last paragraph is questionable: it would take an accumulated Power of 1600 to "cut the rate right down to nothing." That is a lot of adventure time.

Using failure percentages does have some advantages. To determine success, the player rolls d100 and attempts to roll high, over the failure rate for the skill tested. The desire to "roll high" feels intuitive and is not often seen in percentage-based games. The failure rate is modified by appropriate Characteristics, but not by much. For every 10 points over 50, the failure rate is reduced by 1%. Conversely, every 10 points under 50 increases the failure rate by 1%. This modification range of +5% to -4% is downright negligible statistically insignificant; I feel that 2% for every 5 points over/under 50 would make more sense.

All of this gets thrown out the window when using the rules for Optional Characteristics (more on this in another post).


Combat resolution uses the same MM&M Paradox action resolution rules with a base failure rate of 50%. Only warriors modify their "to hit" failure rate (a.k.a. "To Hit Number" or THN) by their Skill ratings (high Skill = lower failure, low Skill = higher failure). Strangely, this gives untrained philosophers higher to hit chances than low-Skill warriors.

Rolling the THN exactly means a hit is scored with no damage. Every point scored over the THN counts as damage from the strike (rolling 70 with a THN of 50 means a hit for 20 points of base damage). Melee hits are increased or decreased by 1 point of damage for every 10 points of Strength above/below 50. Damage is further increased by the type of weapon used (+20 for a club, +30 for a sword) and decreased by the armor on the hit location (-5 for a leather gauntlet, -25 for a metal breastplate). It is not clear if rolling the THN exactly counts only as a glancing blow or as a hit for a base of 0 damage that may be modified by the attacker's Strength and weapon type.

An unmodified attack roll of 100 results in an instant kill.

Attacks are presumed to target the torso and damage is depleted from the defender's Life Points. An attacker may optionally target a specific body part, such as head, arm, foot or finger. Each body part increases the attacker's failure rate to hit but only has a certain number of life points (75 for an arm or leg, 25 for a finger or toe, 100 for the head). Damage is taken from the defender's Life Point total and the body part's life points. When reduced to zero, the body part is destroyed. As the game suggests, it may be easier to lop off an opponent's leg rather than wear down his life point total. This works well with the game's piecemeal armor system.

The "subtract failure rate from roll to determine base damage" is simple and intuitive and reduces to hit and damage determination to only one roll. However, there is an extra step of subtracting the failure rate that could be eliminated with a standard percentage success system. Say, a player had a to hit rate of 55% and rolled d100 to score 55 or less (as opposed to a 45% failure rate as used in MM&M's system). As long as the hit succeeds, the roll is equal to the base damage. Rolling an 01 could count as an instant kill instead of 100. This gives almost exactly the same result with less math, plus the intuitiveness that high Characteristics give a plus to hit rates rather than a minus to failure rates.

Click here for part III of this review. We get to Optional Characteristics (and a whole new action resolution system!) and Reincarnations.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Obscure RPG Appreciation: Man, Myth & Magic pt. I

Short-lived wargame publisher Yaquinto first published Man, Myth & Magic in 1982, just one year before the company went defunct. Better known for wargames like The Sword and the Flame, Ironclads and "Album Games" like Swashbuckler, Role-Playing Games were new to Yaquinto. Following the tradition of Dungeons & Dragons, they chose the "Ampersands & Alliteration" method of game naming (much like Tunnels & Trolls, Powers & Perils, Chivalry & Sorcery and Yaquinto's own swashbuckling RPG Pirates & Plunder).

Character Backgrounds

MM&M's game world is ostensibly set in a mythical, yet historical version of Earth. The default campaign is the 1st century A.D. (C.E.) Roman Empire. Characters hail from an extremely cosmopolitan variety of backgrounds ranging from deepest Africa to Briton and Hibernia (a.k.a. Ireland) to the far east Orient.

MM&M Advanced Rulebook Cover
This diverse range of backgrounds is the first point where this game shows problems. Players determine a character's Nationality by rolling on a chart with ten different options: African, Briton, Egyptian, Gaul, Greek, Hebrew, Hibernian, Visigoth, Roman or Oriental. However, no nationality is more or less common than any others; you have the same chance of running into an Irishman in ancient Rome as you do encountering a Roman!? How do such different characters join together to have adventures in the first place? The referee (Lore Master) has his/her work cut out for them to piece together a coherent party.

Character Classes

Another random roll determines a character's Class. Different nationalities use different class charts. Some classes are common (such as Merchant or Warrior) while others are exclusive to specific nations (Druids to Britons, Centurions to Romans). Many classes are typical fantasy RPG tropes, but a few oddities stand out: Sibyl (female oracle), Leprechaun (!!) and Weirding Fighter (Kung Fu master). There are different abilities for each class and many may cast magic spells.

Two classes deserve special attention: ORATOR and SAGE. These are more like player roles and are taken in addition to the randomly determined character class.

To become an Orator, a player must "apply for examination by the Lore Master at a mutually convenient time." To pass the exam, the player must "speak fluently, amusingly and without a break for three minutes (real time) on any subject the Lore Master choses (sic)." Yes, prior preparation is permitted. What does the player get for entering the RPG version of a Toastmaster's club? The player may stop the game to give a two minute (real time) speech that will "so fascinate any number of opponents that the Orator's colleagues may always attack first." This is a sure-fire way to slow down the game before every combat encounter.

The other unusual class is the Sage, otherwise known as the Rules Lawyer. The game acknowledges players who "soak up the rules of Fantasy Role Play like a sponge" and memorize entire rulebooks. "Now this sort of talent is pretty sick-making to any decent upright player who wasn't born with a memory like some stupid computer, but once this sort of thing gets a grip, it is very difficult to control." (emphasis mine) This game allows such players to "capitalize on their knowledge by becoming a Sage." Once a player tells the Lore Master they wish to become a Sage, that player is "obliged to sell information to fellow players." This is not a choice. When a Sage correctly answers another player's question about the game rules, the player must pay the Sage 25 gold libra. An incorrect Sage is fined 50 gold libra which is split among the other players. This may be the most bizarre class I've ever seen in any RPG.

[UPDATE: Click here for a classic cartoon about MM&M's Sage Class]

The game explains the Sage system thusly: "Good Sages are very valuable to a party. Know-all Sages are a pain. Either way, the MM&M Sage system keeps them under control."

Click here for part II with attributes, the action resolution system, and combat.

Click here for part III with reincarnations, optional attributes and more details on combat

Thanks for joining Obscure RPG Appreciation Day!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Alien Conquest Game: Part II

I established the theme of my tactical miniatures game: Bug-eyed alien saucer-men at war against Earth's military might. That sounded like a fun, gonzo opportunity for some light-hearted wargaming. One goal I kept in mind was to keep the violence toned down. These are cartoony toys going to war, not hardened soldiers mired in a battlefield of blood.

Inspiration from Tex Avery

I decided that no character would ever get "killed," only knocked out when they are defeated. Much like in Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes cartoons, characters would be knocked to the ground with tweeting birds flitting around their heads, only to recover soon after. This is the concept behind the role-playing game Toon (created by game design legends Greg Costikyan and Warren Spector).

As a game mechanic, being "knocked out" is the same as "killed" unless there is a way for a character to recover. I allowed characters to revive knocked out allies by spending one game turn next to them. However, this could make the games run long as it takes longer to knock out each and every enemy unit. I needed a different game objective other than wiping out all enemy forces.

Capture to Win

The mechanic I needed came from the Alien Conquest storyline itself: Capture. The Alien forces are working to capture us Earthlings to use our big brains as power sources (most aliens have teeny-tiny brains). Earth's defenders, the ADU (Alien Defense Unit), wants to capture as many aliens as possible to study them and better understand their enemy. I decided that capturing enemy units and bringing them to a player's "home base" on one side of the table would be the game's main objective.

Aliens round up Earthlings
The Alien forces use mind-controlling Pluuvian Brain-Beasts (a.k.a. "Clingers") to capture both innocent Earthling citizens and ADU soldiers alike. Once a Clinger has attached itself to a character's head, the Alien player may move that figure at will on his/her turn. Additionally, Alien troops may escort citizens back to home base with the business end of  a ray gun. Captured Earthlings may be sealed in green capture pods and loaded onto some vehicles.

ADU Forces study captured aliens
The ADU may capture Alien troops by first knocking them out and then slapping a pair of handcuffs on them. Then, they are escorted back to base by ADU troops and may be placed in blue containment pods for study or loading onto vehicles.

Study for Advantage

As further incentive to capture Alien units, I plan to include mechanics allowing the Earth player to find weaknesses to exploit. This is partially inspired by the Alien Cyborg's defeat after someone illogically offered it a birthday cake. Tom Wham's fantastically fun The Awful Green Things from Outer Space is a game all about trying different weapons to fight an unknown, invading alien force with unexpected and hilarious results ("I tried the fire extinguisher on the creature but that just made it grow bigger. Then I threw a bottle of acid at it, causing it to burst into 5 smaller aliens!"). I plan to use something similar for using improvised weapons like oil cans, pizza, birthday cake, etc.

Please note: LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group of companies. This website is not affiliated, authorized, or sponsored by The LEGO Group. I do not claim to represent The LEGO Group and this game is completely my creation. While the project may use the LEGO® Alien Conquest world as a theme, any text about the game's mechanics are under my copyright.