A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Riddle of Steel

So while in Atlanta, I picked up The Riddle of Steel, by Jacob Norwood and Rick McCann. [wiki link]

This is a game which is not so much based on as inspired by the world of Conan the Barbarian.

I can talk long about the game, but there are two things that stick out immediately.

Combat is incredibly deadly.

Sorcerery is incredibly powerful.

Here's how it works. (And here [pdf in .zip format] are quickstart rules, in case you want more.)

Character creation is priority based, like shadowrun. You have six categories and of course you assign them A through F in priority. There are (from memory) Race and Sorcerery, Social Class, Skills, Gifts, Attributes, Proficiencies & Vagaries. Race and Sorcerery decide if you are one of the Fey, or a human or a magic user, Social Class decides your starting money, income and, well, your social standing, Skills determine how skilled you are at the skills you have access to, Gifts give you access to basically positive and negative feats/edges, Attributes are things like toughness, will, etc, and Proficiencies are actual weapon and sorcerery related pools. To expand that a bit, when you take your Skill Level, your pick is I think, A: 6/6, B: 6/7, C: 7/7, D: 8/8, E: 9/9, F: 9. What this means is that if you assign anything except Priority F to Skill Levels, you get two Careers. These are things like Soldier, Laborer, Druid, etc. Each of these has a set of skills. If you take Priority A, and you pick Soldier and Laborer, you get all soldier and laborer skills at 6. The lower a skill rating, the better, as you're trying to roll over it. There are also Spiritual Attributes, which are calculated and used differently than your Temporal and Mental Attributes. Spiritual Attributes give you a mechanism to make your role play have a meaning within the game, er related to dice, that is. You can take some combination of the following: Passion, Drive, Faith, Destiny, Conscience, Luck. You use these in particular circumstances such as, if you had Drive: "The people of Dungeonville must be freed from the Dragonian oppressors", the dice that you put into this may be added to any roll that defends or furthers this cause. Or Passion: "Baron Spleen spared me from the executioner, I owe him my very life.", or Passion: "A Six fingered man killed my father. I will have my revenge." You can add dice from this pool to any roll that directly affects the object of Passion. Chargen takes a little while.

Skill tests and such in the game are pretty standard, you use pools of d10s which are based on your attributes, of which there are like 10. If you're doing a stealth check, in which you have a 6, and its based on your Agility, in which you have a 4, you're probably going to roll 4d10 and try to get 6 or higher.

Combat is bloody. The author claims that they studied medieval western combat and attempted to model that in their game. I'm not much of an authority on medieval combat so I cant offer an experienced opinion, but it seems to do a good job to me of modeling people trying to kill each other with heavy sharp bits of metal. A friend and I ran a pair of test combats. One character was quite proficient at combat while the other was not proficient at combat, so I suppose we could have done a better test, but one combat lasted exactly one round, the other lasted two rounds. In each case, the weaker combatant was killed in brutal fashion.

Mechanically speaking, combat is handled with Combat Pools, a derived attribute. There's really not initiative, at the beginning each participant opts to attack or defend. Two opponents defending end up circling each other until someone attacks. At its simplest, once someone attacks, they take some or all of their Combat Pool and roll it to attack. But the game provides maneuvers like Cut, Thrust, Block & Strike, just to name a few, and you can select which area of the body you are striking. Each maneuver has an activation cost that may be 0, or can be as high as 3 or so, depending on your weapon and how you spent your Proficiencies related to combat. The activation cost comes out of your combat pool. Each weapon has a target number you're looking for. You roll your combat pool and count up successes. Your opponent, if defending, can roll his or her combat pool to defend against you. Again, maneuvers can be selected depending on weapon and Proficiency choices. If both are attacking however, its going to be bloody. At its simplest, if one person attacks while another defends, both roll their combat pool. If the attacker scores more successes, a hit is scored and damage gets calculated. Damage is determined by your success margin, your strength and the weapon you're using, reduced by the opponents armor in the area that you've struck and their toughness. Then you take whatever is left (if greater than or equal to 1), and check the damage tables. You get results like "Hip mangled badly, broken bone fragments cause bleeding", or "Torn ligament or similar wound; instantly drop items in that hand." There are things like Shock, Pain and Blood Loss that can cause reductions in your Combat Pool if you're wounded and combat continues. Its safe to say that landing a good hit is a pretty sure fire way to victory.

Combat mechanics are rather complicated, but I think that combat among a small group of people, even as many as three vs three could be handled relatively quickly. There's really not much time consuming math involved during combat, any more than there is in D&D. Once you do the math and land a hit, its simply a matter of checking a table, and I'd venture that you wont be checking that table more than twice in most combats between two foes.

Sorcery I'll try to describe briefly. Like I said. its insanely powerful, and the author makes no apologies about it. And truth be told, I like it alot. This is not D&D. Sorcerers in Riddle of Steel are supposed to inspire images of Gandalf and Merlin, not Spanky the 3rd level Elf Wizard. And speaking of D&D, in terms of comparison, having a party with a sorcerer and a group of non-sorcerers would be akin to sitting down and rolling up some 1st level fighters and a 10th level wizard. There really seems to be that much disparity. One of the game's tag lines when it came out was "No fireballs." And that's true. A sorcerer spends points in Vagaries, which there are nine. Each is divided into three categories, and each Vagarie has three levels - Novice, Adept and Master. So you've got the Vagarie of Movement. Its broken down into Speed, Maneuverability and Animation. At character creation a sorcerer can spent three points in Movement, which would make that whole vagarie at Master level. Having done this, he can move things at the speed of light, acceleration/deceleration is instantaneous, can lift things up to 1 mile, can cause it to change direction instantly and reverse course, and can move it with skill and grace. And a starting sorcerer could fairly easily max out at Master in three different Vagaries. So.. I think you'd find it a rare group that could manage a mixed party, both sorcerers and non-sorcerers.

The book itself is pretty nice. Black and white inside. Nice color art on the hardback cover and back. Its about 260 pages. The layout is good, but leaves something to be desired - while trying to figure things out I found myself thumbing back and forth quite a bit.

I'd love to run a short series of games with this system, set in medieval scotland or scandinavia.

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