This is the first in a series of many posts (hopefully) in which I will simply give basic overview of all the fun/cool/amazing/weird RPGs which have popped up over time, drawing upon my significant, um, investment in pen-and-paper RPG products over the years. I’ll be concentrating more on the lesser-known titles for a while, the ones many might not have heard of… maybe a review of what has come before can spark some new ideas?
Lands of Adventure (1983)
Publisher: Fantasy Games Unlimited
Copyright: (c) 1983 Lee Gold, cover and interior art (c) 1983 Bill Willingham
Advancement: Skills, %ile-based
Features: unique attributes (Craft, Talent, Prudence, Voice), 3 “vitality” scores (energy, body, life), Piety system, extremely detailed magic system
Lands of Adventure is a fantasy RPG printed by Fantasy Games Unlimited back in 1983. As with most games of those years, it was a boxed set, containing rulebook, an introductory adventure, dice, and sample character sheet. Lots of little twists in this one that make it an interesting little title.
The late 70s and early 80s were my favorite era in RPG history, because it was a very creative time. The most common feature of the titles that hit the shelves was that they were trying new ideas, implementing new mechanics and concepts… essentially, seeing what worked well (and what didn’t). This is less common today, with most publishers generally sticking to the tried and true, tying products to existing systems of mechanics like D20, White Wolf, GURPS, and the like. (Note: nothing wrong with it, and it makes good business sense… it’s just not quite as exciting to a design fanatic like me.)
In my experience, the easiest way to quickly get a feel for a pen-and-paper RPG is to review it’s character sheet. Lands of Adventure has the type of character sheet that always intrigues me, although (IMO) the general layout leaves something to be desired. It’s fairly obvious that there are is a significant amount of numeric detail to the system (and there is actually more to it than the character sheet hints at.) I’m just going to touch on a few of the highlights…
This is one of the sections that makes it obvious this game was published relatively early in RPG history. Lands of Adventure incorporates nineteen (19) attributes… a games with even 8 such scores today would probably get dissed for being too detailed.
Moving behind the scenes, there’s even more complexity. Dexterity is determined not by it’s own die roll, but rather by taking the Craft score (a d20 roll), and adding a d10 roll to it. Voice is 1/2 Talent+d10, Prudence 1/2 Intelligence+d10 (and Intelligence itself was determined from (Craft+Talent+d20)/3…)
Is it maybe a little more complex than a typical player might be interested in, especially today? Sure. But it shows a willingness to experiment, try new things, that you don’t see much of today… which is what makes it so appealing to me.
Hit Points? Not exactly…
Lands of Adventure is one of the earlier systems that I can remember that had multiple “types” of hit points, loosely termed Vitality scores. Energy points (EP) served a combined function as mana points and stamina, and could even optionally be used to absorb damage in a pinch. Body points (BP) were more like proto-typical hit points, measuring physical damage. Life points (LP) were hit points as well, only lost after all BP were gone, and with more serious consequences: reduction of BP to 0 left you unconscious, with no deleterious effects til then, while reduction of LP was -2% to combat actions per point, and death upon reaching 0.
Even the EP/BP/LP recovery was rather different than the norm: EP recovered automatically per hour of rest/4 hours of activity based on EP+LP (1-9 total=3 pts, 10-19 total=4 pts, and so on), and then half the character’s current EP would potentially be spent to recover BP (1 per 2 EP) or LP (1 per 5 EP), with the chance of this happening being based on 5% x remaining LP.
The skill system is a vaguely Palladium or Chaosium in style, but with some distinctive features. The system is percentile-based, success being achieved by rolling less than the current score on d100. There are also defined maximum “critical” success and fumble results, with max success achieved by rolling <1/10 current skill score, and fumble being a roll of 96-00, similar to some Chaosium rulesets.
Skills are divided into Categories, such as Communication, Knowledge, Magic, Manipulation, Movement, Observation, and so on. Each category has a section of it’s own in the rulebook, with different details as to initial scores, task resolution, and the like. Characters are also limited in the number of skills they can actively improve/pursue, based on the Prudence attribute. This selection of “Specialized Skills” can be changed at will over time, but such changes cause the dropped skills to immediately drop to 1/2 the current score or the original “base” score, whichever is higher.
The base score of a skill is established generally with some constant factor, plus an attribute score, reminiscent of many Palladium titles. An optional “prior experience” system is included as well, allowing some initial fine tuning beyond the mere selection of Specialized skills.
Improvement during play as a result of experience is calculated on a per session basis, via a somewhat unique bidding-like process. The player is granted a random number of points based on a formula (PRU/2+d10), which are then allocated by the player. The process then emulates the typical Chaosium mechanic of “roll higher than your current skill to improve it”. There are adjustments to all of that, and a defined “training” system as well.
Magic as an art
An entire post could go into just describing the magic system, which is all the more amazing because it only uses about 8 pages in the book. It is very much a “create your own spells” type system… the rules are written with an eye toward giving the GM and player guidelines for defining costs and effects based on attribute scores, weights and ranges, and the like. The priestly magic system is defined in much the same way. Someday I’ll have to write a follow-up post on just some of the “idea stubs” in here…
The combat system is actually fairly simple, at least, in comparison to other parts of the system. It is turn-based, of course. The attack/damage sequence is almost surprisingly abstract: for example, the base damage from a melee weapon, no matter what the design, is 1 point per 1/2 lb. of weight. Max success attacking with a weapon does double damage, plus an additional direct LP loss equal to 1/2 the BP lost after defenses, plus has a hit location determined for possible additional effects.
Armor and shields are an interesting sub-system. Armor, for example, reduces the character’s maximum EP score and in return, increases BP. Throwing on plate armor, for example, drops the character’s EP by 8, but increases BP to 5x normal. An example character with EP 45/BP 15/LP 10 would thus be EP 37/BP 75/LP 10 while wearing plate.
Shields and parrying weapons also reduce maximum EP, but apply penalties to the attacker’s skill ratings instead of affecting BP. All in all, a unique way of expressing the effects of basic protection.
There is, of course, much more that could written here, but I’m going end it here for now. More information on Lands of Adventure isn’t exceptionally easy to come by: a google search turned up a few synopsis and a couple of game shop sites that list it as available for sale, but details are logically pretty sparse given it’s vintage.
The intent of the posts in this series is to attempt to illustrate that the typical D+D/Diku model of mechanics is far from the only way to achieve a simulation of a fantasy/sci-fi/other setting. Pen-and-paper roleplaying has actually come up with some very interesting ideas over the 30+ years: if you are searching for inspiration, some of those dusty old tomes might be worth a look…