Rules of Law (Part II of II)

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A Basic Roleplaying Rules of Law Toolkit for Eternal Champion Roleplaying, Part II

by Nick Middleton

Rules of Law (Part I of II)

In the previous article, I presented an array of modifications that gamemasters could consider employing in order to streamline the existing Basic Role Playing rules when running Stormbringer and other Eternal Champion games. In this second half of that article, we look at new rules for major projects and firearms.

If I had a hammer…

While a GM could use a simple single roll to evaluate a character’s six-month project to build a new temple to Arkyn in the outskirts of Menii, it seems slightly counter intuitive that such a large, extended project should come down to a single dice roll; especially one that has, relatively speaking, such a high chance of making the project actually fail (a 1 in 100 chance of a fumble).

These rules are intended for when a character undertakes a large-scale project: something that will take either an extended period of time and or the effort of more than one person. For such a project the GM should work out a project period, project value, a list of essential and assisting skills, a set of key milestones and a list of requirements.

The project period is how often the character will get to roll. Building a ship probably takes days or weeks, so a project period of 1 day would have the character rolling once per day. In contrast a project period of 1 month would have the character rolling once per month. Typically, one would expect that most of a character’s attention would be absorbed by a project (taking 8-10 hours out of every day for example), meaning that the character is unlikely to be pursuing other activities whilst undertaking such a project. See below however.

The project value is the total effort required to complete the project. Each project period the character gets to roll against an appropriate skill and adds the amount they beat the skill by to a running total. When that total exceeds the project value, the project is complete. Of course rolling over the relevant skill means subtracting the amount they missed by from the total. So a character rolling against a skill of 60 who rolls 20 would add 40 to their total, whereas rolling a 75 would reduce their running total by 15. If a roll is a critical, double the amount added to the running total and if the roll is a fumble, double the amount subtracted from the running total. The GM should also tally up the total levels of success and failure achieved (see the suggestion in the previous article: an impale is 3 successes, critical is 2 and a success is 1, with a failure counting as 1 and a fumble as 2 failures) as well as a separate totals of the number of critical and fumbles rolled. Particularly cruel GM’s might even consider using the “ambiguous information” rules also mentioned in the previous article, and keep the actual totals achieved a secret from the player. Thus at the end of a project, the GM will have, in addition to a running total that has exceeded the project value, a total number of successes and failures rolled and a total number of criticals and fumbles rolled. GM’s might find it convenient to base the actual cost of the project in monetary terms on the project value, say perhaps 100LB per point of project value.

The essential skills are those that the characters involved MUST have. For a project to be undertaken, the people involved must have all the essential skills between them, although unless the GM rules otherwise, no one character is expected to have all of them. In general, the GM should pick one essential skill as the one against which the character rolls each project period. However, if they wish they could average several such skills, or allow two separate characters to roll against separate skills; in general, require that the character with the greatest number of essential skills rolls to roll against the worst of those skills that character possess to determine how the project progresses each period.

Assisting skills are those skills that would be helpful, but are not essential. As such, they do not add as much to the running total, but they are less disruptive as well. At best, GM’s should allow one roll against the best available score in an assisting skill, in each period, and such a roll should only add (or subtract) half the value from the projects running total that it would as an essential skill. A lone character cannot assist himself, and GM’s might want to consider upper (and possibly lower) limits of staffing, or possibly varying the amount contributed by assistance depending on the size of the workforce.

Key Milestones are steps that must happen in a particular order, or at a particular point in the project for it to proceed. At their most simple, they are fractions of the project value that the running total cannot pass without meeting some GM determined conditions. This could be a separate project, a separate specific skill roll by the project designer, or the provision of specific raw material. Once the condition of the milestone is met, the project can resume. If the running project total drops BELOW a milestone threshold value rework may be required such that the milestone must be passed again, possibly requiring additional raw materials or skill rolls. No milestone can be passed “mid-period” without GM agreement, so if a project has a milestone at 300 and this period’s additions would take it to 312, it hits 300 and stalls until the milestone conditions are met.

Requirements are physical things necessary to enable the project. This includes fairly mundane things like a space large enough to conduct the work (a simple workshop for building a three foot tall automaton, a large hangar for an aerial ship), the raw materials necessary and any exotic materials or knowledge required. Some of these may be tied to specific Key Milestones, so the project may commence without Melnibonean Crystal plates, but cannot complete without them. Alternatively, without the enchanted acherin-wood, the project may not be able to commence at all.

Once a Project is completed, the GM should look at the total levels of success and failure (and the numbers of criticals and fumbles) and use this information to assess the projects final outcome:

  • If total failure levels exceed total successes levels the project does not work (a device is faulty, a building is aesthetically unappealing, subject to drafts and dampness, cold in winter etc).
  • If total success levels exceed total failure levels the project is a success (a device basically functions as intended, a building is aesthetically pleasing, comfortable to worship in etc).
  • For each fumble in excess of the total number of criticals, the project has a hidden flaw that is potentially dangerous.
  • For each critical in excess of the total number of fumbles, the project has an unexpected and possibly concealed feature that is possibly beneficial.

In general use, a roll of 01 – (total number of successes levels) means the item will definitely work as intended (unless external factors intervene), a roll between (total number of successes + 1) – (100 – total failure levels) means the item will at least partly function but in a less than optimal fashion (if the project succeeded) or fail to function but not comprehensively (if the project failed). A roll of between (101 – total failure levels) and 100 indicates a comprehensive failure.

The net number of successes (total success levels – total failure levels) will be a positive number if the project succeeded, and a negative number if the project failed. Apply this value to all rolls involving the skill most appropriate to the object, doubling the benefit if the project “definitely works” and doubling the penalty if it comprehensively fails.

Example: Jacanth’s Ornthithopter project failed with 17 successes to 22 failures and three fumbles to one critical. A roll of 01-17 means that it will take off and fly, but a roll of 17 – 78 indicates that it loses altitude (allowing a controlled crash landing) if in the air, or fails to take off if on the ground and a roll of 79 – 00 indicates it refuses to even flap its wings. Also, if left powered up for more than a few minutes, either the power plant will explode (first hidden flaw) or the machine will activate of its own accord and fly/lurch randomly around the field until powered off (second hidden flaw). Even when working (01 – 17) the Ornithopter has a -5 to rolls relating to it and -10 if it definitely doesn’t work (79 - 00)…

Alternatively, Meltang’s Planar Orrery (12 success, 6 failures, 1 fumble and one critical) works perfectly on a roll of 01-12, and is at least partly accurate on a roll of 13 – 95. It only fails on a roll of 96 – 00 and is unlikely to spontaneously combust or do anything untoward unless deliberately sabotaged. Since this project had an equal number of criticals and fumbles, it has no unexpected features or hidden flaws and the Orrery grants a +6 on Million Spheres rolls when working even partially (13 – 95) and +12 if definitely works (01 – 12).

As a more detailed example, consider the following Project:

To Construct a Plane Shifting Vehicle

This project allows the construction of a vehicle capable of shifting its passengers (say 6 or less) between planes.

Project Value: 500 (total cash cost of mundane requirements ~50,000LB)

Project Period: 1 week (1 roll per week)

Applicable Skills: Millions Spheres, Repair/Devise

Essential Skills: Planar Mechanics

Workforce: up to 5 characters

Key Milestones: 200/Elohim Blood, 300/Sheets of Blessed Quartz, 400/Cast the Enchantment of Vilridian on the components so far assembled.

Essential Requirements: Whalebone for primary structure, Elohim Blood, Sheets of Blessed Quartz, the Ritual spell Enchantment of Vilridian, sufficient cuirbouilli to clad the entire structure.

Miskarvrian the Bold (Million Spheres 122, Planar Mechanics 93) and his three assistants (Million Spheres 51, 67 and 85, Planar Mechanics 43, 36 and 37) commence work. The GM rules that the assistance can roll against Millions Spheres each period to assist, and that Miskarvian’s Planar Mechanics skill will be the primary skill. Things begin well:

Week 1: Assistance roll 22, Miskarvrian rolls 12. Project total= 0 + 63 + 162 = 225 three success levels and one critical. The project s hits its first Milestone during the first week and work is briefly suspended whilst Miskarvrian chases up his alchemist contact in Menii. The GM rules that, subsequent to a passed LUCK roll from Miskarvian’s player the required Elohim Blood is available in time for work to recommence after only a slight delay and the first weekends with the Project Total at 225.

Week 2:  Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse almost immediately. Although Miskarvrian’s help are still working away quite industriously (Assistance roll 62), Miskarvrian alas rolls 00 and spends an entirely fruitless week chasing down a blind alley. Project Total= 225 + 23 + (-14) = 234 four success levels, three failures, one critical and one fumble.

Week 3: Fortunately, whilst the ‘hired help’ is rather dilatory this week (Assistance roll 92), Miskarvrian realises his mistake from last week and puts in some solid work (Miskarvrian rolls 45). Project Total= 234 + (-7) + 48 = 275 six success levels, four failures one fumble and one critical.

Week 4: This week is a bit frantic. The helpers get things disastrously wrong (Assistance roll 00) but thanks to Miskarvian’s personal efforts (His player rolls 24) the project stays on track and he’s reasonably confident that no harm has been done. Project Total= 275 + (-30) + 69 = 300 eight successes, seven failures two fumbles and one critical. The project has a hit another milestone and the GM rules that it inflicts a one week delay.

Week 5: No work can be done this week as the project is awaiting sheets of blessed quartz, which arrive at the end of the week.

Week 6: Work recommences at a steady pace with both the help (Assistance roll 45) and Miskarvian (rolls 64) cracking on now the panels are available. Project Total= 300 + 40 + 29 = 369, ten successes, seven failures, two fumbles and one critical.

Week 7: Work progresses this week, albeit slowly: the Assistance roll of 70 and Miskarvian’s roll of 85 edge them forward towards the next milestone. Project Total= 369 + 15 + 7 = 391 twelve successes, seven failures, two fumbles and one critical.

Week 8: Whilst the helpers don’t really contribute much this week (Assistance roll 92) Miskarvrian manages to get everything done ready for the next step (rolls 60), unfortunately it’s a tricky one. Project Total= 391 + (-7) + 32 = 400 thirteen successes, eight failures, two fumbles and one critical. The project hits another milestone, and a major block: the Enchantment of Vilridian is required and Miskarvian’s attempts to persuade Helnith of Old Hrolmar to loan him the Jacinth Grimoire which contains it have drawn a blank. He has no option but to either attempt to steal it, or locate the only other copy known, which is believed to be in a Melnibonean ruin on the edge of the Sighing Desert… 

Three months latter, and with two assistants fewer (the more skilled alas), Miskarvrian returns from the Sighing Desert with the grimoire.

Week 9: The GM rules that the Enchantment takes a week to perform and must be fully completed before any work can recommence.

Week 10: Work FINALLY recommences, with the reduced workforce, but they settle in quite well (Assistance roll 33) whilst Miskarvrian is a little distracted (he rolls 86) Project Total= 400 + 9 (18 halved for reduced workforce) + 7 =416 Fifteen successes, eight failures, two fumbles and one critical.

Week 11: sadly the strain shows this week on the reduced workforce (Assistance roll 99) and Miskarvian’s focus isn’t returning (he rolls 80) Project Total= 416 + (-24 [48 halved]) + 13 = 405 Sixteen successes, ten failures two fumbles and one critical.

Week 12: after a strong talking to, the hired help seems to get their act together (Assistance roll 29) this week but Miskarvrian doesn’t (rolls 00) Project total= 405 + 11(22 halved) + (- 14) = 402 Seventeen successes, thirteen failures, three fumbles and one critical.

Week 13: in the final week, the workforce mainly hinder (Assistance Roll 59) Miskarvian’s frenetic efforts to complete his creation (rolls 16) Project total=402 + (-4) + 152 = 552 with a final total of twenty successes, fourteen failures three fumbles and two criticals.

After thirteen weeks on the project itself, plus three further months delay for essential materials, Miskarvrian has his Plane Shifting Vehicle. The GM judges it a success, with a positive modifier of +6 and ratings of 01-20/21-85/86-00 (Definite success/working/failure). However, with a total of one more fumble than criticals rolled during its construction, it has one hidden flaw that is potentially dangerous; which the GM will no doubt reveal to Miskarvrian when it becomes relevant…

Of course a failed project could trigger a new project to fix the problem. Equally one could use this process for a project to fix a broken device, or even just understand an artefact recovered from ancient ruins, research a new spell or establishing a mercantile empire. The basic framework can be adapted to whatever the GM wishes. The intent is to provide a way of regularising and structuring activity over extended periods in a fashion which helps the GM hook them in to more conventional game situations without ignoring them or reduce them to a single roll – but if that is what the GM wants of course they should do so!

Dealing with Non-Young Kingdoms Technology

With a Million Spheres to play with, part of the inevitable appeal for Eternal Champion role-playing is to expose characters from a world with one set of technological assumptions to different worlds. When that happens, the GM will have to consider how she is going to adjudicate the addition of potentially quite jarring elements. Chaosium themselves only published two science fiction role playing games (Future World and Ringworld), but fire arms (one of the most obvious technological areas not covered by Stormbringer) are of course part of the settings typically used for Call of Cthulhu.

Whilst Arthur C Clarke’s dictum that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” would suggest that high technology may not necessarily be entirely alien to Young Kingdoms characters it is perhaps worth considering that, once the basic effect of say a Vickers .50 calibre machine gun has been established, characters are far more likely to simply dive for cover when they hear one, rather than worry about where it is shooting from. In general, people who have some degree of understanding of the danger posed by say fully automatic weapons will on balance over-react to their presence. Combat analysts’ talk about “Coolness under fire” – an individual’s ability to coolly and rationally assess a situation despite perceived personal risk. In Stormbringer games this could equally apply to standing on the walls of Kariss in full sight of the besieging archers as it could looking out from the walls of Mirenburg during the siege in 1916. In either case, a Luck roll (modified as the GM deems appropriate) would be required for a character not to react instinctively when they come under fire, whether from massed bowmen or machine guns. Similarly, NPC’s should dive for cover unless the GM can make a suitable Luck roll for them. Weapons can be fired to deliberately provoke this behaviour, see the notes on area fire below.

Conversely of course, a sufficiently incomprehensible device may not be perceived as a threat until it is too late. Several of Count Brass’s more formidable defences at the Siege of the Kamarg were probably more effective than they might have been because the Granbretanian soldiers had no real comprehension of what they faced. Again Luck rolls would seem the best way to allow for a character’s (or NPC’s) intuition to forewarn of their danger.

Smooth Running Gun…

There will come a point with plane-hopping campaigns when a GM will need to consider how to handle firearms. Chaosium addressed this on occasion, most notably in the adventure Rogue Mistress for Stormbringer 4th Edition. The key concept introduced is that of an Armour Piercing rating for weapons that indicates the number of armour points a given shot ignores: so Maria des Tres Pistola’s revolvers have AP 10, ignoring ten points of conventional armour. A more realistic system is to have both positive and negative AP ratings – a lead ball from a flintlock pistol whilst devastatingly effective against an un-armoured target will actually be less effective against an armoured target as the round is soft and easily deformed. So give archetypal black powder weapons a negative AP (say -4 for a pistol, -2 for a musket) and subtract this from the rolled armour value (and thus actually ADD them, as subtracting a negative number results in addition), but modern armour piercing rounds have a positive AP value that actually reduces the effectiveness of armour. If GM’s care about verisimilitude in the details of Black Powder weapons, they might even consider subtracting AP values from damage rolls against un-armoured targets, so a Musket gets – (-2) i.e. +2 damage but Maria’s pistols -10, representing the greater damage from large soft lead balls and the danger of “blow through” or over penetration from using AP rounds against soft targets. Some GM’s may legitimately think this is all too much fiddly detail however.

If the campaign is likely to feature firearms extensively an alternative is to look at having separate armour values for different types of weapons: Chaosium’s Future World distinguished between an armours ability to reduce damage from Projectiles, Lasers and Blasters. Nephilim in contrast simply distinguished between armour values against firearms and against all other weapons. GM’s should however consider very carefully how far they will allow things to hybridise: binding Demons in to Fire-arms should be thought through very carefully before it is allowed.

The thorniest problem with technological weapons more sophisticated than simple smoothbore matchlocks or flintlocks is rates (and modes) of firing… Call of Cthulhu handles things in a reasonable fashion, but its inadequacies (especially in relation to automatic weapons) can be quite frustrating and when applied to more high tech settings can be found a real barrier to suspension of disbelief. Consider the following alternative suggestions for you campaign, but only if technological weapons are to play a significant role. What follows assumes the weapon stats from Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu 5th or 6th edition are being used.

A character with a firearm (or firearm like technological weapon) should declare during statement of intent whether they are Controlled Firing, Snap Firing or Area Firing. Note that moving in a round precludes Controlled Firing and makes all Snap Firing shots one-step more difficult (if using the difficulty idea mentioned earlier). In general, technological weapons can shoot a number of times per round as quoted on the weapons table, assuming the character takes basic aim at each target. The shots are evenly spaced through the characters DEX ranks according to the minimum DEX ranks between actions rule (5 DEX), so a DEX 12 character with a .32 Revolver (3 shots per round) shoots at DEX 12, DEX 7, and DEX 2. If a Target has moved it will affect a characters chance to hit them, as might cover and other factors. This is Controlled Firing and is the default mode assumed unless otherwise stated.

Snap firing allows the character ONE extra shot, again evenly spaced through the round and in this case the spacing between does NOT have to comply with the minimum 5 DEX between actions. So the above character would get 4 shots per round at DEX 12, DEX 9, DEX 6 and DEX 3. However, each shot is one step more difficult: i.e. halve the characters skill. Moving whilst snap firing would halve that again, and the character would have to intersperse shots with moving, each quarter Move taking up a shot. For example, if our DEX 12 character moves half their movement allowance in the round (the maximum allowed, per the Stormbringer rules) and snap firing could MOV 2 at DEX12, shoot at DEX 9, MOV 2 at DEX 6 and shoot again at DEX 3: all shots would be at one quarter their normal skill (halved for moving, halved again for snap firing). The GM may wish to impose further penalties for the recoil from heavier weapons.

Automatic weapons (those capable of firing more than one shot per trigger pull) may Snap Fire or Controlled Fire bursts, rather than single shots, a number of times per round equal to the weapons “Attacks per round” rating. A burst consists of a small number of rounds fired either in a tight group (to increase the damage) or at an area (to boost the chance of hitting). Older fully automatic weapons can have a burst of any size (the character pulls the trigger and releases when they choose) although typically a few extra rounds will be “wasted”: in general limit such bursts to 10 rounds (which will actually expend 12 rounds from the magazine, including “wastage” that is not otherwise accounted for in these rules). Modern weapons have burst modes that automatically fire a fixed number of rounds (typically three) for a single trigger pull. A character burst firing may fire a narrow burst, which increases the difficulty by one step (i.e. halves their skill) but for an N round burst than hits, 1dN shots will strike the target, although only the first may be a special hit (a critical or an impale). Alternatively the character may fire a wide burst, “spraying” the target with rounds which for every 5 rounds in the burst or fraction there of makes the shot one step easier (i.e. doubles the characters skill), but regardless of burst size only gives one hit (which can be a critical or an impale). Targets immediately adjacent to the primary target or on a line between the target and the shooter of a wide burst should make LUCK rolls to avoid being hit by stray rounds (single hits if they fail, [1dN –rounds accounted for] hits on a fumbled LUCK roll) until all rounds are accounted for or no plausible targets remain.

Self-loading weapons (those that reload themselves after discharging, so all automatic weapons and revolvers) are capable of Area Fire. This has little to do with the firer’s skill per se as it involves simply filling a volume of space with shots, rather than aiming at specific targets. The intent is keep opponents behind cover and thus unable to shoot either at the firer or her comrades. Single shot weapons with at least 5 rounds in the magazine can be used by an expert character to perform area fire but doing so expends ten rounds (or empties the weapon if it contains less than ten rounds). Fully automatic weapons can be used by any character to perform Area Fire, expending as many rounds as the GM deems appropriate to the weapon within reason: for most weapons from WWI machine guns to modern assault weapons I’d suggest between 15 and 30 rounds, with up to another five deducted from the magazine as additional “wasted” shots for a typical combat rounds Area Fire. As with burst fire, wasted shots are lost from the magazine, but are not considered in factoring chances of hitting targets etc, they are simply an overhead on the rounds expended caused by the firing technique. Any character in the area fired upon must overcome the number of rounds fired (halve the number of shots if the firer is moving) with their POW or immediately (on the DEX rank the Area Fire occurred) duck behind cover and remain there for the rest of the round, losing their actions (PC’s may move behind cover at the GM’s discretion). GM’s should allow a small bonus to this LUCK roll for characters with firearms combat experience. Characters subjected to Area Fire can CHOOSE to duck behind cover, even if they win the resistance roll; either  way, such characters may still act normally in the round, but are penalised in DEX rank by -5 (possible 10, depending on the GM’s ruling on the circumstances e.g. how far/dramatically they have to dive to reach cover). Any character NOT behind hard cover must make a Luck roll for every group of five rounds or fraction thereof (per TEN rounds or fraction thereof if the firer has moved this round) fired: success indicates they have not been hit at all; a failure indicates a single hit and a fumble a hit by 1d5 rounds.

Further Firearms considerations including dealing with recoil: the fact that when a gun is discharged it recoils back, throwing off the firers aim for subsequent shots. The above rules can be regarded as dealing with typical recoil through the abstractions of shots per round, increased difficulty of Snap Fire etc. GM’s who wish to elaborate further are recommended to look at the RuneQest III Technical Expansion (available from Peter Keels website, see the appendices) and to consider awarding specific accumulative penalties for multiple rounds fired from high recoil weapons. Such GM’s might also want to consider allowing additional bonus for such things as assuming a correct firing stance, bracing (steadying oneself and / or the weapon against a rigid structure or on a bipod to provide additional stability) and sighting equipment. Each could be the equivalent to 5DEX ranks of Careful Aim (see the Stormbringer Spot Rules), adding 1/10 the characters skill as per the Careful Aim spot rule. So a braced shooter with Rifle 80% and DEX 16 in the correct stance with a basic optical sight shooting at long range (a hard shot) who aims for 10 DEX would have a 60% chance (Skill halved to 40% for the difficulty, then plus 1/10th each for sights, stance, bracing and two lots of Careful Aim) and a shot at DEX rank 6. GM’s and players adverse to the maths in this rule could perhaps use a flat 5 percentile, so the chance in this instance would be 65% (Skill halved as before to 40% and then adding five lots of 5 percentile bonuses).

The above rules should make it easy for a GM to include with a reasonable degree of plausibility firearms from WW1 Tommy Guns to present day FNP90’s. For further firearms information I recommend the excellent essay “Iron” in the second Call of Cthulhu Keepers Companion, and The Compendium of Modern Firearms. The long out of print Other Suns (by Niall Shapero and published originally by FGU) is an excellent resource if you can get it for more high tech weapons. Technology such as “Pulse blasters” like those portrayed in the TV series Farscape can easily be modelled as fire-arms, but the more exotic technological weapons become, the less closely they will follow the fire-arms paradigm. Acid globule projectors could be broadly modelled on crossbows but inflict 4d6 first round, and keeping damaging the target for 1 less d6 damage per round in subsequent rounds (so 3d6 the second round, 2d6 the third and 1d6 on the fourth), with perhaps a chance of splashing 2d6 worth of the same acid on all adjacent targets within say a 1.5m radius… The range of technologies one might encounter throughout the Million Spheres is hugely diverse. GM’s interested in such matters should track down Chaosium’s Rogue Mistress or Worlds of Wonder as a starting point, or hang on for Basic Role Playing; re-acquainting oneself with some of Count Brass’s defences for the Kamarg would also be wise.