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OSSR: The Dying Earth RPG
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2016 7:02 pm    Post subject: OSSR: The Dying Earth RPG Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

DrPraetor recently mentioned he wanted to see this, and I have the book and nothing particular to do at the moment, so here goes.



A lot of text has been processed regarding the influence that Vance's Dying Earth stories have had on D&D and fantasy, and I'm not going to particularly try to add to that here. If you'd like to know more about the stories, this is a pretty good overview of them. This is about the 2001 Pelgrane Press RPG.


0: Cover through Credits

You can see the cover above. It's nice art, but I don't think it sets the proper tone.

Page 1 is an excerpt from Cugel's Saga, overlaid on a picturesque landscape presumably depicting the River Isk, mentioned in the excerpt. The text is one of Cugel's humorous misadventures, notable for omitting any sense of his competence. I mean, Cugel is mostly just an ordinary fuck-up, but this story is about him failing at a minimum-wage job so badly that an angry mob drives him out of town.

Page 2 is a picture of a couple of not-quite-cows in front of a ruined keep which has a giant telescope and also a satellite dish. That's a very nice visual to demonstrate the quiet strangeness and far-future-fantasy of the world. It's part of a spread with Page 3, which reiterates the title and main credits, and adds copyright info.

Page 4 has a grainy picture of a grumpy-looking Jack Vance on it, next to three paragraphs which are a jumble of biography, bibliography, flattery, and shilling for the game. That is either bad editing or the best editing, because its incoherence has a distinctly Vancian-roguish-blather flavor to it.

At the bottom of the page are the authorial credits. Robin Laws is principal designer, who calls out his work on Feng Shui, Glorantha: Hero Wars, and Pantheon. John Snead did the magic rules, and his other credits are on Trinity, Aberrant, and the ST:TNG RPG, so hopes are not high. Peter Freeman apparently contributed all of three sidebars and still gets his name on the cover, so I'll keep an eye out and see if they're any good.

Page 5 is contents and complete credits. Vance is listed as 'consultation and inspiration,' so apparently they at least talked to him. There's one name under 'editing' and two names under 'magic rules editing,' which compounds my concerns about Snead's contributions. Nine names under 'additional material,' presumably contributing less than three sidebars each and so not making the cover. Big pile of playtester credits, although I refuse to believe that 'David Burckle' and 'David Burckley' are distinct people.


1: Getting Started


Ostensibly 'a rules overview for novices and veterans alike. Essential for cogent discussion, yet perforce cursory and plagued by a rebarbative generality,' this chapter is, in reality, a mess. It attempts to introduce general RPG concepts to new players, and specific-to-this-game concepts to veteran players, and is not good at either.

The framing scenario for the rule examples starts first, like a weird start-of-chapter flash fiction, except that all the proper nouns are bolded like these are important names to know instead of meaningless test dummies. Then the meta-level scenario where your friend Alex is GMing you through the framing scenario is introduced, and that's completely backwards for an introduction to RPGs. First you meet the GM, then they explain some important game terms, then the intro scenario is narrated for you to engage with now that you have some goddamn idea what's going on.

You want an idea of how user-unfriendly this chapter is? Check this out. 'You will play this character, Kurnio.'
Quote:
Kurnio
Persuade (Eloquent) 8, Rebuff
(Contrary) 8, Attack (Finesse) 8,
Defense (Sure-Footedness) 8,
Health 6, Appraisal 2, Athletics 3,
Concealment 3, Etiquette 2,
Gambling 6, Living Rough 2,
Pedantry 2, Perception 4, Quick
Fingers 2, Scuttlebutt 1, Stealth 2
Possessions: Amulet of
Virtuous Shielding 4, feathered
tricorn hat 2, rapier 3, deck of
cards (marked) 1, loaded dice 1
Temptations: Indolence 3,
Rakishness 6, Gourmandism 2

That is far too much crap to drop on a newby before explaining what any of it might mean. Not to be unfair, the book does immediately pick up after that with a decent explanation, but the order that information is presented in matters. It's the difference between a novice feeling prepped and engaged, and feeling like they're playing catch-up in a baffling ordeal. One of those does not make you want to keep reading.

We also get an intro to the resolution mechanic, and hoo boy. You try a thing, and roll 1d6. 1 is a crit-fail, 2-3 are regular fail, 3-4 are regular success, 6 is a crit success. If you don't like your roll and have points in an appropriate ability, you can spend a point to re-roll, or 3 points if a critical was involved. Getting a crit success also adds 2 points to the relevant ability's point pool (not the permanent rating).

Opposed tests are a little more involved. A successful roll against you can be negated with a successful defense roll, but the attacker can spend ability points to re-roll, essentially starting the attack/defense procedure over again. This is going to turn any significant opposed action into a draggy pile of rerolls. I can see it maybe making combat go slightly faster because you're essentially doing a giant pile of attack/defense actions at once without putting any combat round accounting in the middle, but for any other situation it's needlessly slow.


Taglines are also apparently a thing in this game. The idea is that the GM hands you some prewritten Vance-style lines at the start of the session, and you get extra XP if you use them amusingly during the session. It's not the worst idea for injecting some of the more elaborate wordplay that's a signature of the series, although I'd have gone with a reward like an ability pool refresh instead, because XP awards are going to lead to disparate character power and/or players spending more brainpower on this minor aspect of the game than it merits.


Here's another thing that's half-assed and annoying. There's a list of four 'Important Matters to Forget,' things you may be expecting from other RPG experiences, but which aren't part of this game. It seems like a good thing to include, to set appropriate expectations. Except that the list is actually of things to remember, not to forget. Colin Beaver edited this, and he rolled 3 or lower.

The list, by the way, is this:
• Fighting is a mistake, run now, cowardly revenge later.
• Characters are all pretty much the same.
• Killing is discouraged.
• Try to enjoy your character's screw-ups.

There's a lot of implication that the game is about the kind of activities seen in the excerpt on page 1: disreputable people fucking up in humorous ways (which might explain the amount of TOON in the resolution system). So far, it's not explicit, which is a problem, because if that's the intended core experience, it really needed to be unambiguously communicated in the introductory chapter. It's definitely an experience a lot of people are interested in, but it's also an experience a lot of people are not going to be interested in.

On the other hand, if that isn't the intended core experience, there's no indication what might be instead. You can read the front, back, and first chapter of this book and not have any idea what you're supposed to do in the game except 'pratfall, maybe?'

Compare the very first sentences from the D&D 3e PHB:

Boom. Premise established.

This has not been a good start. Up next is Characters.
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DrPraetor
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PostPosted: Sun Dec 18, 2016 8:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Is there a way to embed youtube videos on posts to this forum?
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2016 7:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

2: Character



This chapter begins by telling the reader that sometimes the book uses obscure or overly-elaborate language, to emulate the source material, and they shouldn't be afraid to consult a dictionary. Vance was actually really good at using his style to be comprehensible despite convoluted and/or arcane wordage, and if Laws wasn't confident that he had that talent, it would have been better and more professional to prioritize communicating with the audience over amusing himself with wordplay. Especially since the book is peppered with quotes from the source material anyway, which serve as examples.

The chapter's tagline is: 'Now, with trifling effort, bring forth your adventurer!' I really hope that's intended to be ironic, because chargen is a fourteen-step point-allocation procedure, with a secret extra 'Step Last' at the end. Some of those steps are bullshit filler like 'get a character sheet,' but it's still not trifling by chargen standards.

The first important thing to note is that in Step 2 you find out how many points you have to spend, depending on the 'level' of the game. The power levels are Cugel, Turjan, and Rhialto, named for the protagonists they're intended to emulate. Each of those characters has distinctly different adventures, not just in power level, but also in tone. Spoiler: the higher power levels got a sourcebook each to actually implement them, because this core book apparently does a piss-poor job with them.

That actually explains the vagueness of the premise from the previous chapter. Either Laws wrote the Cugel-level game and then half-assedly cobbled the other levels together, or he tried for all three and only succeeded on one, but either way this book is really just the Cugel mode pretending to also be two other modes. So the book can't just say 'this is a game about the amusing failures of fantasy rogues,' because that would exclude the other modes it's pretending to support.

That lack of commitment also hits the chargen pretty hard. I mean, the actual complete game in this book is a low-comedy failfest where the characters are all supposed to be pretty similar. Why on Earth is chargen multi-stage point buy? This screams for a big pile of tables which procedurally generate Warhammer Fantasy-style undignified random flavor onto the samey mechanical skeleton that all PCs will be working with anyway. (I think Turjan-level play is the only one that might benefit from point-buy.)

It's especially obvious, because there actually is randomness in the point-buy system. There are about five times when you get points for letting a die roll decide a part of your character, or to put it another way, have to pay points to guarantee your preferred selection. It's a point-buy system where you are charged more for having a concept and trying to build towards it! Think about that.

A few last points:
• The game has individual weapon proficiencies for some reason, which is pretty bad to begin with, but one of them is 'a found object,' and I don't even how that's supposed to work, what if you find a rapier?
• Literally six of the abilities in this game are 'don't express X vice.' On the one hand I kind of approve that by default everyone is five of arrogant, greedy, gluttonous, lazy, nitpicking, and lecherous (you can roll to be immune to one). On the other hand, it's kind of a lot to keep track of and the Resist Rakishness ability has unclear interactions with the Seduction ability. I feel like it would be more empowering to incentivize players to pursue these vices (with pool refreshes or something) rather than go the 'spend character resources or be automatically compelled' route.
• The example of character creation tallies its points incorrectly.


3: Essential Rules



Great Googly Moogly, this chapter actually opens with a fucking tribute to rule zero, or as it's called here 'The Overarching Rule of Efficacious Blandishment,' although I'm going to call it 'The Omnipresent Inveigling Fellatio,' or OIF for short. The book even fucking tells you to use the OIF to make Oberoni defenses of this game on the internet. I think it's meant to be a joke, but I don't think it was supposed to be in such bad taste as it is.

Anyway, the tagline for this chapter is: 'Mastery of these concepts permits fundamental competence in all likely endeavors,' and the content of this chapter is increasing the complexity of the game system substantially. I'm certainly not opposed to a reasonable amount of elaboration on what was a very bare-bones resolution mechanic, so let's see how it do.

The first thing we learn is that each individual result on the d6 is actually its own specific level of success and failure. This is mostly flavor, but also an excuse for Laws to write 'Quotidian Failure' in most of the examples of play. I think the game would be better without this, but I don't care that much.

The rest actually seems pretty okay? There are a lot of ways to fiddle with the resolution mechanic, and although some of them are unclear (what circumstances justify die roll modifiers as opposed to which justify ability pool modifiers?) and some seem incoherent (time pressure can limit the number of re-rolls, but you can always buy more actions?) most are clear and also address real concerns of play, like ganging up and extended activity. In light of some of my previous reviews, I'm going to mention that the initiative mechanic seems particularly sane.

Chapter Three: not bad, except for the OIF bullshit. Up next is Abilities in Practice.
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"Now that we've determined that up to π angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine the specific number (or fraction) of angels dancing?"
"What if angels from another pin engage them in melee combat?"
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Blicero
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2016 10:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

So character creation is going to be a nontrivial time investment for the most part? Is the intended play style something like Warhammer Fantasy or LotFP, where your character dies if someone breathes too heavily on them, or is it more cartoonish where, even though you fuck up all the time, you never actually die? If it's the latter, I guess a lengthy chargen is not a major issue.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2016 11:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I haven't gotten to the injury stuff yet, but PCs are (mostly) moderately resilient, and the 'killing is discouraged' point from Ch1 applies to most NPCs as well. Death is not especially likely under ordinary circumstances.
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"Now that we've determined that up to π angels can dance on the head of a pin, how do we determine the specific number (or fraction) of angels dancing?"
"What if angels from another pin engage them in melee combat?"
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2016 9:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

4: Abilities in Practice



This chapter opens with one of the three 'sidebars' that got Peter Freeman's name on the cover, and I am disappoint. First, it's not actually a sidebar, it's the main text on the title page of chapter four. Second, it's a completely unmemorable and apropos-of-nothing flash fiction. It serves no purpose, and its use here is inconsistent with previous chapter opening text. At a guess, it's to add more Dying Earth flavor to the book, but why you'd give someone an author credit to fart out some DE-evoking text when you plainly have license to (and do) quote the actual source material at will is beyond me.

The chapter's tagline is: 'The vivid panoply of adventurous activity found here will exhaust the most active curiosity,' which might even be accurate, just not in a good way. What follows is some of the most exhausting reading I've ever done.

The bulk of the chapter is devoted to expounding on all the non-Magic abilities, and here is where the game sheds its pretense of simplicity. To begin with, every goddamn ability has its own method of refreshing its pool, except for the 'core four' (Persuade, Rebuff, Attack, Defense), each of which has six, one per style. The sample character Kurnio has sixteen abilities, and must therefore remember approximately sixteen refresh triggers. That's the kind of idea that only belongs in a first draft, and yet here we are.

The best that can be said is that at least most of the refreshes require significant amounts of rest and/or downtime, so you can safely mark most of them 'consult book when not adventuring.' This is really harsh when compared to the rate at which people are supposed to go through their pools. Best example: literally every Defense style basically requires you to take an entire day off to refresh. Not just the 'good night's sleep' that shows up in a number of refresh requirements; an entire day.

Furthermore, every style of the core four Abilities has two to four modifiers. I'm on the fence as regards distinguishing the styles mechanically, but firmly against an implementation that gives people at minimum eight situational modifiers out of the gate, especially when there is room for precisely none of them on the official character sheets.

As this is also the combat chapter, we get a list of various weapons, most of which also have overly complex procedures to distinguish them, for which there is no room on the character sheet. The procedures mostly aren't even good wargaming, just dickishness.
Quote:
Axe
Advantage: Your opponent’s Health rolls against axe hits suffer a levy of 1.
Disadvantages: You must have at least 4 Attack points to properly wield an axe. When you drop below that number, you cannot put the proper strength behind it. You suffer a levy of 1 on all Attack rolls, and no longer apply a levy to your opponent’s Health rolls on successful hits. If your Attack style is Strength, you can wield the axe properly until you sink below 2 Attack points.
An axe worn in public signifies that you are a killer or dangerous lunatic bent on destruction. You will treated as such. Ordinary folk will shun you; local authorities will attempt to apprehend you.

Ranged combat has specific size and range modifiers (and a range table for the weapons) that, again, seems badly out of place in the kind of game this looked like it was trying to be before this chapter. Also it, like many places in this chapter, implements a lot of treating one kind of success or failure as a different kind, as though dice modifiers weren't introduced in chapter 3. It's like the two chapters were written by people who didn't talk to each other much, except that they're just one person so I don't know what to say.

One bright spot is the Running Away procedure, which is surprisingly elegant and sane. As your action, you roll Defense, and your opponent can try to oppose it with their Attack. If you succeed, you break away clean, if you fail, you break away but take a hit, if you critfail you get hit and are still in combat. The chase is then a simple opposed Athletics test. Simple, clean, good.

The section on Health and Hazards starts good and gets very bad. The basic mechanic where when you get 'an injury' you roll Health to see if it's superficial (and ignored) or serious, that's okay. Getting seriously hurt once sucks, twice puts you out of action, third time is dying, also okay - I think it encourages an appropriate level of caution/cowardice while also making PCs pretty resilient.

Swimming is absurdly difficult for no reason. Fire has a '% of body exposed' table for no good reason; I get that it's a thing, but I have no idea why it's a thing you'd want to include in any mode of this game. Poisons and diseases have elaborate entries like this was GURPS. Worst of all, recovering from injuries is way too fucking slow. That second wound seriously sets your recovery time to weeks of bed rest, unless you have access to a really good doctor; even the first wound is going to make you mostly-useless for entire days. If PCs come out of a fight with different levels of injury, that's a game-buster.

Overall, this chapter turns what was a simple and elegant game engine into a pile of baffling hash for... no gain. I kind of like the core system as described in the previous chapter, and where this chapter is like that one, it's good. Unfortunately most of this chapter seems to be about injecting mechanics for their own sake until the patient bursts like a water balloon.

Up next is Magic. My expectations for Snead's work were pretty low, but Laws has proved unexpectedly terrible, so maybe it could be okay, at least by comparison?
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codeGlaze
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I had no idea they made a Jack Vance RPG.
Pelgrane seems to have put out a bunch of stuff for it, did it ever have legs?
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nockermensch wrote:
Advantage will lead to dicepools in D&D. Remember, you read this here first!
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 20, 2016 11:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I don't know what would count as legs, or how one would check to see if they were had. All I can tell you for certain is that my gaming store carried it and in 13 years I never sold a single book from the line.
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Blade
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 21, 2016 10:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If I remember correctly, the French edition of the book says that the ranged combat rules are overly complicated because they shouldn't be used (and vice-versa).

I think it's worth mentioning that the persuasion rule take at least as much space as the combat rules (and are very similar, minus the complicated weapon stuff).
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codeGlaze
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 22, 2016 1:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

angelfromanotherpin wrote:
All I can tell you for certain is that my gaming store carried it and in 13 years I never sold a single book from the line.
While, yes, that's anecdotal... but it pretty much tells me what I wanted to know. That's unfortunate. :/
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 22, 2016 2:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I have occasionally wondered what kept it from being that popular, or even known. While the rules may be bad, that couldn't have been the reason to drive away players - someone needs to know what the rules are to be able to know they're bad; and this thread is the first time I've ever seen someone know anything about the game. That, and it's not like bad rules have stopped fans from existing. It certainly should have some non-zero amount of traction at least among older players for using such iconic IP.
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angelfromanotherpin
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The demand supported a fair number of sourcebooks and published scenarios, and also a successor game in the Gaean Reach IP. Clearly there's a market. I guess it's just a relatively small market that's mostly aware of the game through Pelgrane's site and Laws' blog, and mostly buys it online.

Also guessing: what keeps it from being more popular is twofold. First, general lack of promotion, I've never seen ads or demo tables for this thing at cons. Second, Chapter Four. I'm not kidding.

I know a bunch of people who would be down for playing the low-comedy roguish misadventure thing, but the headspace for that clashes badly with large numbers of procedures to remember. It's doesn't go great with detailed point-buy either, but you could at least make pregens or something. But having 8-16 small situational modifiers to remember along with however many of your abilities you can actually refresh, along with whatever the fuck the effects of your weapons are, and so on is just deadly for the kind of beer-and-pretzels fun that a Cugel game is supposed to be.
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 22, 2016 4:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The rules weren't that bad. They had indeed one or two layers too many, but to me there were two bigger problems:
- There aren't many players looking for the kind of adventures offered by the game,
- Designing adventures for that game wasn't very easy. At Cugel-level after some time it's hard to find new ideas and not fall into something too obvious or too similar to a previous adventure, Turjan level isn't interesting at all, and designing an interesting Rhialto-level without limiting the PC is to me one of the greatest adventure design challenge.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2016 4:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

5: Magic



This chapter opens with a chunk of the foreword to Rhialto the Marvelous, talking about magic, spells, and sorcerous beings. This makes it the best and most appropriate chapter opening text so far, by kind of a lot.

I have to say, that this chapter is actually really well-organized. The subject is laid out in an appropriate and comprehensible order, and there's a very useful summary at the end. Full marks. Let's run this down.

Types of Magicians
There are three broad levels of magic-worker, each corresponding to one of the levels of play. Cugel-level characters can be Dabblers, Turjan-level characters can be Magicians, Rhialto-level characters can (and almost must) be Arch-Magicians. The distinctions between these categories is spread out over the chapter, but consolidated in the summary.

The Magic Ability
Magic is an ability with more special rules than most. First off, it costs twice as much as other abilities, and except in Rhialto-level games has a hard cap as well as the usual soft cap. Like Persuade/Rebuff/Attack/Defense, it has six styles, and each style has two special abilities and its own refresh method. Special mention goes to the styles that require using magic to refresh Magic, so if you're completely out, that's going to be a ridiculous effort.

Magical Laws
Three general limits of magic:
1) No magical action while experiencing unusual time effects. This seems like it's mostly meant to keep people from memorizing encompassing or casting while under a haste effect, but it also means that slowing a caster is a double debuff.
2) Magic can't refresh ability pools. I gave this some thought, and I think it's for the best given the bad circumstances. Refreshing pools is generally too hard, but if magic was the only easy way, that would be worse. It's an unfortunately disassociated mechanic, because ability pools are a strange abstraction to begin with.
3) Using magic to improve the general condition of the world will arbitrarily fail. This is pretty weird, it's a completely disassociated setting-maintenance thing, and it doesn't actually prevent you from turning a localized area into a utopia if you're getting your altruism on.

Types of Magic
Cantraps are very minor magics that anyone with a Magic score can perform, providing short-lived minor modifiers in the form of 'luck.' Magicians or better can use them for Prestidigitation-level physical effects.

Spells are the classic Vancian magic, where you have a spells known list, can prepare (encompass) a small number of them and release them later. These are substantial, problem-solving effects.

Enchanted Items are available to anyone who finds or pays points for them. Unless a Dabbler, a PC is assumed to have made any items they start with.

Sandestins are the province of Arch-magicians, magical creatures who can effectively produce unlimited spell-equivalent effects, making them up on the fly. Their section includes the baffling sentence: 'There are no rules for sandestins performing magic, just as there are no rules governing human breathing.' First, the previous chapter does in fact have suffocation rules, and second, the magic of djinn would seem to demand more mechanical rigor than an automatic bodily process. Their power is balanced mostly by their intransigence and Dicko the genie tendencies.

Resisting Magic
Most of the time, if a magic effect is used on you, you can only resist with your Magic pool, but if you get initiative on the magician you can try to dive for cover or KO the caster first. Certain magic items also provide some protection.

Making Things
There are rules for inventing new spells and improving old ones, creating enchanted items, but it can take days or weeks or months of downtime, which is probably outside the scope of most games, and since Dabblers can't do any of it, it's all outside the scope of the game supported by this book.

The item creation rules are highly abusable, which the game admits, and says you should balance on the fly by introducing extra downsides besides the ones the player selected. This is half-assed bullshit that offers player agency with one hand and snatches it away with the other.

Manses
You can spend points on a house, possibly a great many points. I don't know why you'd do that, very few adventures take place in your house.

Overall, the magic rules seem pretty well thought-out and systemized for the kind of things you'd do in a Cugel-level game, and increasingly vague and poor as you get into Turjan- and Rhialto-level areas. As with the rest of the game so far, only Cugel-level play is really supported, but a lot of words are spent half-assing the other levels.


6: Grimoire



This chapter lists a pile of specific spells and magic items, and starts with a rundown of the spell description layout, which is almost as good as chapter 5's opening.

Spells are divided into Straightforward and Complex. Complex spells are generally better, but are more expensive to learn and encompass, and more difficult to cast. As an example, a Straightforward transport spell has a winged demon carry up to eight people anywhere in the world within a day, while a Complex transport spell can instantly teleport the caster and up to a dozen other people (and their steeds) basically anywhere - even another planet or dimension.

Some spells are obviously going to be more useful than others, but there's a lot of incomparables. e.g. The Excellent Prismatic Spray is a good kill-spell, but its specifically not very good at destroying objects, so there's room for the Spell of Dissolution to fill in.

I'm not going to analyze these too closely, but there is one I'm going to mention as obviously problematic: Clambard's Rein of Long Nerves, a spell which lets you take over another being's body for a day. This is the kind of spell that raises a lot of questions, and very few of them are answered. In particular, the question of whose physical ability pools are to be used is completely glossed over. I can't fault Snead for not having a good answer to that question, but I can fault him for not even trying.

The magic item section includes items and their point costs. Bizarrely, the supposedly incredibly valuable and hard-to-acquire IOUN stones are among the cheapest items, although since they are only of value to Arch-Magicians it's kind of moot.

Also, what's the deal with charged items? Like in many systems, spending points on an item makes it a part of your character, with mechanical protection against losing it. How that's supposed to interact with an item whose power is balanced by limited uses is unaddressed.

There are a bunch of items that, while expensive, provide powerful but not infallible protection against magic. They're good for the game, giving low-grade PCs a way to not just fold against powerful magicians, and turning the magic duels into more of a battle of wits than magic pools.

Cugel-level characters can use almost all the material in this chapter, so it's actually very functional.

Up next is Equipment, and we're back to Laws' material.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 5:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

7: Equipment


The opening page of this chapter tells you what modifiers you can expect for not wearing boots or a fashionable hat. This enrages me out of all proportion. First, I have climbed a mountain by accident, not having adequate footwear does suck pretty bad. Second, this kind of petty nonsense does kind of fit a Cugel-style game.

I think it comes down to the other piece of gear they mention: a cloak. It references the exposure rules where having a cloak is mentioned as preventing the same sort of penalties for adverse conditions. That's a thing that's established earlier under the appropriate conditions. The boots and hat rules just show up here to fill space. Also they have different structures and aren't specific applications of some general 'lacking equipment' rule. It strongly suggests that the MC is encouraged to just make up penalties for any goddamn random item the PCs happen to not be carrying.

Which is what I think Laws was doing with this chapter, because the next page (also the last page, yes, this is a two-page 'chapter') tells you, among other things, that any climbing-related roll is at a penalty if you don't have a rope, which seems like something that could have been mentioned under Athletics. Also that without a sack, carrying more than two items is impossible, which (apart from being fucking stupid) could perhaps have been mentioned in the part of chargen when people were spending character points on items. Possibly more than two items.

When there are coherent and established rules, they drive play in an organic way. Walking over harsh ground without boots sucks, so the PCs do shenanigans in advance to get boots before walking over the Dire Scree. The example this book sets is that lack-of-equipment penalties are going to be dropped on you too late to do anything about it, and there's no way to know how bad they'll be because there's no pattern to any of it.

The special mention lazy bullshit award goes to shovels. They are awkward to carry in an unspecified way, and apparently have no effect at all on digging activity, so it's not clear why you'd bother carrying one in the first place.

Now, the last half of the last/second page of this chapter is actually useful. It's a price chart for various items, and another chart to tell you how much your haggling efforts change the price. It's enough material for a sidebar, but it's useful.


8: Player Tips


There are some actual tips in this chapter, and some of them are worthwhile, but I'm going to talk about the elephant in the chapter, because this is where they have put the advancement rules for some reason.

Remember how I mentioned earlier that you got xp for using GM-assigned lines of dialogue, which I thought was bad for the game because it would lead to inequality and disproportionate attention paid to dialogue? It turns out that is almost your only source of xp. I'm not kidding. The only other source is 1 point for showing up for a session.

I thought this was a game about Cugel-style amusing misadventures, faintly pretending to also be two other styles of game. It is not. It is a game about trying to find an amusing way to deliver your GM-assigned dialogue lines. Players respond powerfully to xp incentives, and 100% of your xp incentives are 'use taglines.'

There's no excuse for this. If you want PCs to behave like Cugel, you need to reward them for accumulating wealth, sleeping with sexy people, and indulging in disproportionate revenge. I would totally play that game. I have no interest in jumping though hoops to deliver someone else's one-liner.

Up next is GM tips, and I can't even imagine.
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Blade
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 9:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

For the equipment part, I don't think you've mentioned it but you have to invest creation points or XP in your gear (besides clothing) in order to make sure you won't lose it or get it stolen, or that if it happens you'll get it replaced with something as valuable.

For the tag-line related XP, it can cause players to try to divert the story in a way that will help them deliver their line, which is an interesting way to push players to derail the story. As for having the PC behave like Cugel, the game enforces this with the resistance mechanism, which feels more like a stick than a carrot.
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angelfromanotherpin
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9: GM Tips

Honestly, I was expecting an image from General Motors to be the first result in GIS.

Against all expectation, this chapter is pretty good. 'Advice for the Novice GM' includes such pearls as Spotlight Allocation and Pacing Management, and my favorite: that another term for GM could be 'Fun Coordinator,' because their first duty is to make sure everyone is having fun.

There's also a checklist of signature Dying Earth elements to include in your adventure design, with examples of each and advice on how to make them intriguing and engaging. Really solid.

The badness starts up when Laws tries to justify taglines with an extended ramble that's so incoherent I can barely parse it. Players, he asserts, are badly risk-averse, and so are Dying Earth characters, and so railroading is necessary to get them to do adventurous things, because they are motivated by greed and petty desires.

What.

We haven't even touched on taglines yet, but I can't let this shit pass unchallenged. First, I have not known RPG players to be particularly risk-averse; mostly the opposite, unless the system in question is more-than-usually punishing. Second, in my recollection, characters in the various Dying Earth stories take risks all the time, not just when coerced by circumstance. Third, the players presumably showed up to play an adventure, maybe don't just mandate that their characters aren't interested in doing that for no good fucking reason? Fourth, greed and petty desires usually motivate risky shenanigans pretty well on their own, so what the hell?

Laws follows up, writing that Taglines exist to 'reward the players for accepting the fact that their characters are being railroaded. They turn the stick of coercion into the carrot of improvement points. They give the players a reason to seek trouble for their characters.'

Precisely none of that is true. First, the kind of railroading that he's talking about is like Cugel's first adventure: a magician giving the PCs a mission and coercing them to complete it, which is completely fucking unrelated to the tagline mechanic. Second, the taglines do not incentivize the players to get their characters into trouble. They incentivize the players to deliver their lines in an amusing fashion and that is all.

Now, pay attention to this: Laws says that 'any halfway devious player - and all players are at least halfway devious - will probably scheme to have his character utter the assigned tagline in an appropriate manner that avoids the bad situation it implies.' No shit, way to undermine your own earlier point, guy. But you might be thinking something along the lines of: 'I don't remember taglines being mentioned as implying the speaker is in trouble,' and you'd be right. This is the first time that's even been hinted at, and it is in fact wildly at odds with many of the example taglines, which imply zero or indeed negative trouble. All previous mentions of the purpose of taglines were for making the game entertaining and evoking the source material's style.

I can't tell if Laws is just wildly flailing to find some justification for his pet mechanic, or if he should really have given the book another draft to make sure it was coherent, but either way it's not great.

Fortunately, he somehow manages to salvage the section by providing an alternate advancement scheme that is considerably better, where improvement points are granted both for how well the players succeeded in goals (that the players get to name), how badly they succumbed to temptations, and how well they produced their own Vancian-style dialogue. It's not the best, but it both empowers the players and encourages the desired behaviors, which puts it miles ahead of the bullshit tagline nonsense.

The last thing I want to talk about is the Rule of Underlying Justice, which is terrible. Short version: the GM is supposed to keep track of your character's particularly good and bad deeds (with a numeric system), and drop bad luck if you've become too unsympathetic. The idea is to mimic the sort of poetic justice that Cugel experiences, and guide the players to a kind of acceptable roguery without veering into villainy. The problem, of course, is that like a lot of up-and-down numeric morality systems, it doesn't recognize a moral event horizon. A lot of people lose all sympathy for Cugel as a result of his murders and rapes, in a way that no amount of beggar-feeding or cat-saving will undo. This is the sort of thing that needs to be handled with a gaming group discussion about tone and drawn lines, and not a quick cheap bad technical patch.


10: Places


This chapter is a waste of space. It is a list of places and geographical in the Dying Earth, listed in alphabetical order, instead of some sort of organization that would make more obvious the relation of one to the other. Each has at least one sentence of description, but most give no reason to care about or visit them, nor any but the most cursory idea of what adventures might be had there. As an example:
Quote:
Port Perdusz
This trading settlement on the River Chang (which flows out of the Ocean of Sighs) is best described as a scattering of decaying gray structures. One might find four to six ships docked on its extensive piers at any one time.
Feeling inspired?



11: Personages


This is a list of various characters from the books and their stats. This is helpful if you want to have a particular person as an ally or enemy, or if you just want a better idea of what a particular score in one of the abilities means. There's also a thing where some of them have ability ratings relative to the PCs, in a bizarre attempt at scaling the opposition. Why this applies to some people and/or abilities and not others is unaddressed.

To be concluded...
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"What if angels from another pin engage them in melee combat?"
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Blicero
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2017 6:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

How long is the "Places" chapter?

This seems like the sort of game where you would want to have tables that procedurally generate weird settlements, rather than including a list of static locations. I can't imagine that anyone cares about being able to visit Port Perdusz. But you do want to be able to come up with an odd village with its own customs and common foibles if the players show up at a session and abruptly decide to wander off in a new direction.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2017 7:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Blicero wrote:
How long is the "Places" chapter?

8 pages, including a content-free title page and another page that's a very rough map of the places Cugel's adventures took him.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 11, 2017 2:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

12: Creatures


The monster chapter is kind of interesting. It correctly notes that Vance does not describe most of his nonhuman creatures in any detail, and a great deal more is left to the imagination of the reader than in many settings. As a result, the creatures descriptions include what details the books do offer, some inferences that seem reasonable but are optional, and the rest is left to be filled in by the MC.

Specifically not making decisions about official versions of nebulous creatures is usually laziness, but this approach looks like they actually did a fair amount of work so as not to step on what you think a Deodand is. The stats of things are pretty simple, but present, even if there are very few special abilities.

The only problem I have with this chapter is that, like in the NPC writeups, they use a lot of stats computed from the PCs' stats. This rough scaling seems well-intentioned, but it does mean that you basically never outgrow fighting e.g. an Erb, so the D&D level-up effect (where you go from having an Ogre as a boss monster to having Ogres as swarm monsters) never happens. That just feels like part of the ongoing failure to realize the different levels of play.


13: Adventure


This is a sample adventure, and I mostly don't care, but through my apathy I see a pretty well-designed scenario where the players are poor and the most obvious source of money is the prize in a cooking/eating contest, so the players enter (or partner with an entrant) and then hook-or-crook shenanigans ensue to get the money, including a couple of weird magical effects to spice things up.

Just to annoy me, the NPCs here, who are entirely new and have no setting value, all have non-scaling stats. This would be a good opportunity to use that mechanic, and it's missed.


Overall

This game feels like an early draft that got published. Some of it is pretty solid, but a lot of it is less good or actively bad. If you are interested in the Cugel-level game, and if you use the actually sane advancement mechanics, and if you arrange to have as little to do with chapter four as possible, it might be passable. I would bet money that every single group that plays this game papers over large chunks of the book.
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Occluded Sun
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 14, 2017 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

It's been a while since I read this book, but IIRC the authors argue that there's little if any growth to Dying Earth characters, so XP has little role. In fairness, Cugel never gets any stronger, smarter, or better. And neither does anyone else, really. 'Improvement' isn't the point of the Dying Earth.
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angelfromanotherpin
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 14, 2017 7:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Cugel does in fact explicitly learn new skills during his adventures, and is noted as a quick study. I think that's to imply that he could lead a productive life if he wasn't committed to being a short-term con artist, but that's beside the point. A majority of viewpoint characters in the Dying Earth are actively trying to learn more magic, improvement is their in-character primary goal.
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hyzmarca
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 2:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I thought the Jack Vance Dying Earth RPG was called Greyhawk.
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Judging__Eagle
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 15, 2017 4:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Greyhawk's world, Oerth; is very much indicative that Greyhawk is Gary Gygax's fanfiction version of Jack Vance's Dying Earth.

As for Cudgel; or other characters; "never advancing". I'd argue otherwise. Cudgel has their limitations on their advancement; but it's not like they don't try to gain new skills, knowledge. Even going so far as to spend some time learning magic in the last leg of their return voyage home. Of course; Cudgel is still a low-end con artist, and the actually last action before they hand in the quest is to sabotage the quest item they've been liver-tortured by a parasite into returning to the quest-giver.
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Occluded Sun
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2017 7:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The magicians spend most of their time jockeying for status in endless arguments over minutiae, and indulging their basic desires. They're not actually working to recover lost magics or try to save the world.

In fairness, it's canonical that the world has already been saved as many times as it can be, and any potential solutions have either been tried and failed or been tried and were successful, postponing the end until now.
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