Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mekton II - review

Mekton II is an mecha/anime RPG dating back to 1987. This edition is large A4ish paperback and 94 pages long. Thin card cover, colour illustration on the front with black and white throughout.
Inside, the rules open with the title “Danger! Romance! Giant Robot Combat!” which gives you an idea of what the game is shooting for. The designers have crafted a relatively light game, but by “relative” I mean relative to games of its vintage.

The book jumps straight into character creation with you generating D10 based statistics for Intelligence, Reflexes, Cool, Tech Ability, Luck, Attractiveness, Education,  Body Type and Movement Allowance. There’s a nice table relating to statistics that details what each value for each stats means. For instance a Luck score of 2 indicates “The gods hate you”, and an Intelligence of 8 indicates “Gifted”. This really adds some flavor to the bare numbers.

The next step is to work through a “life path”. This generates details of your characters family and fiends. Are your parents alive? What’s your goal in life? Does your brother hate you, what about your boss? After you’ve worked through these tables you’ll have a whole relationship network set up.
The next step is to buy skills. These are linked to career with each having a set of associated skills. You spend a number of points based on your Education stat. Skills, like stats range from 1-10.
The skill system works by you adding your skill to a stat to a D10 die roll and trying to beat a difficulty level, with all the usual modifiers.

The book now moves into kit and equipment. There's a table of weapons followed by the descriptions  of all the high tech kit you would expect from a any sci fi game, including vehicles and mecha.

The next 17 pages of the book detail the man and mecha combat rules. It’s a tactical combat system based on hexes. Mecha combat works the same as man to man combat but with bigger hexes, which means you don’t have to learn two systems.

The next few pages details the medical rules, so they obviously expect your characters to get hurt!
The really juicy bit comes next. Building mecha oh delightful tech crunch. Pick a size (weight) of mecha, add armour weapons and other bits of kit. I love this stuff.

The final section presents an adventure and default world in less than 20 pages.

I love this game. The character creation is a delight, the skill system simple. Admittedly I don’t use the hex based system of combat as I always prefer the more narrative style. The book looks good with line art on almost every page, it exudes theme and the rules back up that theme without getting in the way of quick game play.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Spell Law (for Rolemaster reviewed)

Spell Law is the magic system that “bolts on” to the Rolemaster. Although it does come as part of Rolemaster, the only reason not to bolt-it-on would be because you don’t want magic in your game.

I’m confused by the layout of this book. It opens with Guidelines for using the book, followed by descriptions of the three magical realms and THEN has the Introduction.  Rather an odd way of doing things in opinion, however it’s no more bizarre than the layout choices in the other Rolemaster books.

Wait, whats this coming up next? Another description of the three magical realms! Odd. Anyway, the book goes on to describe the various types of magic using characters, fourteen of them! What other game covers fouteen magical magic user classes, none I can think of.

Next up are the actual rules for acquiring spells, casting spells, armour vs spells and surviving spell attacks.  Also covered are magical research, magical objects and and wole bunch of edge-case  optional rules. This all totals up to 24 pages of small two column layout. It’s some dense stuff. If your used to D+D simple spell mechanics, you’ll find this a quite overpowering amout of detail.

I absolutely have to quote from rule 8.3 it’s a classic.

[size=18]“8.3 Base Attack Spells.
Base attack spells include all spells which are non-attack spells”[/size]


Let’s move on before out brains explode.

Next up in the book are spells lists for the “Channeling” realm of magic.  Spells within Spell Law are organised into lists. Each list has up to 20 spells in it. Each list is themed for such things as Detection, Weather, Fire, Light etc, etc. Each spell on the list has a “Level” and this refers to the casters level. If a character has learnt a spell list they know all the spells on the list but can only cast the spells of their own level or lower.

As an example the “Detection Mastery” list has spells on it for every level 1-20 then has spells for levels 25,30 and 50. The spells generally get more powerful.

Not all lists have spells at all of the lower levels, for example, the “Barrier Law” list does not have level 1 or 3 spells.
Mostly the spells are laid out in three columns but this changes to four at one point and the font size drops from small to tiny!
Then the books breaks into a series of tables that refer to bonuses and penalties to various magic based rolls, and more for the attack based spells.  They’re written in a bizarre olde-world font that makes then darned difficult to read.

There are also some full page critical hit charts. These are brilliant, just like the ones in the “Arms Law” book.  These give some great results, like: “Blast burns both of foes arms and all of upper chest. Foe loses use of both arms and is stunned for nine rounds. +15 hits.”
That’s some pretty cool effect.

Then come the spells lists for the “Essence Realm” and those for the “Mentalism” realm.

There are a metric ton of spells in this book. Most of the spells on each list are variations on a theme and can start to feel a bit samey. Yes there are always those critical hit charts to look forward to.

The book, is an awful mess, and I couldn’t bring myself to read all of the lists, there are just too many. I think this is really for the seasoned gamer with time on their hands.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Arms law and Claw Law

Arms Law describes itself as the first "system" to be bolted onto the Rolemaster role playing game.
It gives you rules for combat and...well that it really. 72 pages of combat related rules and data, nothing else!

The text is laid out in a tiny font spread across two columns.

The book starts with some term definitions that will be used in the following rules, nothing too in depth here. What does "Defensive Bonus" or "Orientation Roll" mean, that sort of thing. Then it starts to get meaty. The 9 phase Battle Round Sequence is presented and explained quite clearly.

The thing about Arms Law is that it is a detailed system. It takes some time explaining all of the various things that would effect a characters defensive capabilities , including the 20 differing levels of armour your character can be wearing! Then it moves onto describe a much shorter list of various offensive capabilities, such as "Expertise", "Magic Items" and "Experience".

In the next section it describes how you resolve combat attacks follows that with how to manoeuvre characters within the combat scenario. I really do like the fact that under this system you can attempt to leap from the horse into melee, and a die result indicates you achieve 30% of your task. Interpretation can be fun!

The next two pages cover all of the various bonuses and penalties that can get applied during combat. Bonuses for flank, read attacks, penalties for being wounded, bonuses due to spells, and penalties for using to swords. It's all here.

Then starts the insane craziness (and the beautiful beating heart) of the arms law system. The Charts!

A chart for fumbling your weapon.
A chart for manoeuvring in combat.
Critical wound charts for each of the following: Slashing, Puncturing, Crushing, Large creatures,  Super Large creatures.
Separate attack charts for : Dagger, Falchion, Hand Axe, Main Gauche, Scimitar, Rapier, Broadsword, Short Sword, Bare Fist, Club, War Hammer, Mace, Morning star, Whip, Bola, Composite Bow, Heavy Cross Bow,  Light Crossbow, Long Bow, Short Bow, Sling, Battle Axe, Flail, War Mattock, Quarterstaff, Two-Hand Sword, Javelin, Lance, Pole Arm, Spear.

That's a lot of tables and it's only one per page. These tables are in the smallest printed font I have ever seen, and they need to be to fit on one page. 22 columns, and rows for all of the possible values between 28 and 150!

But we're not done yet.

We have tables for Beak/Pincher, Bite, Claw/Talon, Grapple/Grasp/Envelop, Swallow(!), Horn/Tusk, Ram/Butt/Bash, Stinger, Tiny Animals, Trample/Stomp.

So that covers the Claw-Law part of the title. Phew, I was getting worried. But wait!  There's more!

Tables for: Martial Arts striking, Martial Arts sweeps & throws and one more for Fall/Crush damage.

Strangely separated from the other critical charts we have a few more critical wound charts: Grappling, Martial Arts Strike, Martial Arts Throws, Tiny Animals, Unbalancing

Let me elaborate on all of the critical wound charts. These are where the real fun comes in when using this system.  The results of a critical wound range from "A" the lightest to "E" the most dire, and each has a range from 1-100. Thus a character might receive an "E" Slash critical. This means you turn to the Slash Critical table, roll a D100 and cross reference E and the die roll.  For example if you inflict an "E" Slash on your enemy and roll 66 for the critical, the table relates the following.

"Sever foes arm. +12 hits. Foe expires in 12 rounds, drops immediately, +10% to your next swing."

Everyone of these critical charts is stuffed full of these beauties. This is the bit that people remember fondly.

Following all of these charts are some additional rules, for adapting historical weapons, explanations of how to interpret animal attacks ( and a few more charts to help you out). A special section of rules for martial arts giving differences for the various major schools and techniques.

That's it. Frankly its enough. There is so much "data" in this book it truly boggles the mind. It's a worthy read. These rules are supposed to be independent of the Rolemaster system and adaptable to any fantasy role playing game. I'm not so sure that was true back in 1984, and it would be hard to mash this into modern systems. Having said that, I do think tacking those great critical wound charts onto a D20 system might well be fun!  But beware using the critical fumble charts..

Hand Arms Fumble result of 100: "Bad taste and poor execution. You attempt to maim yourself. Roll a "D" slash critical against yourself."

Character Law & Campaign Law (Rolemaster 2nd Edition)

Let me give a you a little background to this review. I played Rolemaster way way back in the day. I didn't own the books, I wasn't the GM, but I played it and had a great time. Since then played and GM'ed Rolemaster's little brother "MERP" and really enjoyed doing so.

I saw the three Rolemaster books on eBay and snagged them, thinking "this is a great system and going to be a great read".

So here I am to present you with a review of the first book of three "Character law and Campaign law".

This book is split into three sections, RoleMaster, Character Law, and Campaign Law.
The RoleMaster section is about 24 pages (including the contents list). The text is split into two column layout and uses a tiny font.  This first section is also printed on grey rather than white which can make bed-time reading difficult due to the lack of contrast.

The introduction covers the "what is rolemaster" and the "what is roleplaying" sections somewhat poorly.  There are many words but no real clear description and with no example play this wouldn't be a good introduction to a total newbie.

The book makes a strange choice next. We go straight from introduction into rules for healing and death. Stat loss, recovery rates, types of injury, loss of soul are all covered. It's a poor way to start, The reader has no idea what half of the terms mean at this point. Then come Disease charts, Poison Charts, again referring to terminology yet to be explained.

The introduction of rules relating to subjects you don't know about continues with Movement, Encumbrance, walking pace etc, with constant forward references to sections you haven't reached. The problem with these references, is that they are "forward" to things that have yet to be explained and not “backward” as reminders. Without reading the other sections first these rules are somewhat confusing.

Next up are equipment, coinage and magical item rules, again the newbie reader will most likely be totally lost here. The rules are very detailed and exacting.

Then come a series of charts. Charts are the strength of the Rolemaster system, and as reference these are without comparison.  Resale values charts, Purchasing prices, Armour charts, Magical Item costs, Food, Lodging, Transport, Weapons, Herbs, Intoxicants and Poisons.  Lots of detail in each chart and rules for each where applicable. Excellent reference material.

At this point we get to the Character Law section of the book.  This starts out with definitions of game terms such at experience, skill-ranks, action, defensive bonus etc etc etc. Once again someone new to this system is going to have trouble reading through this, there are so many new terms and each is defined outside any context. As an example, defining defensive bonus before even entering the combat section of the rules doesn’t help get it straight in your head.

Finally we get to Character gen. Sadly it’s as incomprehensible at the preceding sections., perhaps worse. 2 pages detailing stats, the differences between temporary and potential, development and non-development, primary stats, stats bonus’ calculating hits based on stats...only at no point in this section does it mention rolling dice to determine you statistics!  The next couple of pages give you statistic based tables for getting bonuses and penalties and utilising stats in contests.

Next we jump into Skills and Ranks. This section fortunately is better composed. The skill rank and development system of Rolemaster is complex, with skill groups, the player having to choose the advancement rates for each before even allocating points to them. Yet I think they’ve managed that pretty well.

The rules spend some pages on using these skills and presents some tables (rolemasters strength). For instance the Maneuver and Movement table is introduced here (one of my favourites) in relation to the movement skills.

The basic skills are covered and explained before dropping into magical skills, including descriptions of the various magical realms that a character may choose from. Sadly in another round of confusing layout choice we drop back into the descriptions of more mundane skills!

Next up are professions. Each is described along with the “magical realm” each belongs to (although fighting professions belong to a non-magical realm). Sadly the layout man has hiccuped again. Having described the professions but not supplied related character gen rules, the book jumps into Experience levels, advancing your character and spending xp.

Now come the various races and cultures that a character can belong to each is descibed and limits and bonuses described. The next section describes the softer bits of generating a character, the background, personality, alignment etc.

Only now do we come to section 10, creating a character. There are 13 steps to the process each of which refers back to the preceding 56 pages. I think the layout guys was trying to introduce you to the  concepts before introducing the process. A nobel ideal, yet a few paragraphs of introduction would have sufficed, followed by bringing in the 13 point process and the associated rules in order would have created a cohesive logical process. It is all back to front here.

The last 14 pages of character law are “optional rules”. This is a list of disparate rules that can be “injected” into the system across all aspects of play. Reading through this list I’m confused as to why they are introduced as optional, they all seems to fit the system and should have been presented in the appropriate place, not as a seperate section.

The final section, is Campaign law, once again printed on a grey background.  

I like this section a great deal. It’s designed for the GM to help through through the production of a game-world and a campaign. It gives you great list of things to consider when building your woulrd and campaign, and by responding to each bullet point you’ll cover most of what you need as a GM to make a complete world.

There are some charts here for such things as weather and animal distribution which can help you fill in the environmental “culture” of the world.  There is much more but it is all “offline” content, not to be used during play. Although there’s nothing outstanding or amazing here, it is a good reference section. The section on developing sentient “cultures” is very good.

The campaign advice is good too, and includes a few gems such as advice to avoid rail-roading although back in 1987 it was called “contrivance”.

So in summary, what do I think of the book?

It’s an awful mess. Disorganised beyond comprehension. Hard to read (small font, grey backgrounds). It would be a crime to give this to a new player. The system too, is very old school and complicated beyond need.