Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Revised Elric of R’lyeh

5 years ago I made my first post here on Department V.

To celebrate 5 years of blogging I’ve revised, edited and expanded my Elric of R’lyeh setting. You can grab the pdf here.

Moving forward, I’m going to update the site over the next few weeks to simplify the pages and consolidate downloads. None of the content is going away.

And after that, something new. Watch this space!

EoR Inspiration

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Elric of R’lyeh: Appendix

  1. Appendix 1: Skills in excess of 100%
  2. Appendix 2: What About The Dharzi?

Use the various Chaosium and Mongoose texts as you see fit. But for the record this is what I would use:

  • any edition of Call of Cthulhu, with the monsters, modern weapons, spells and so forth.
  • Demon creation rules from the edition of Stormbringer you can get your hands on.
  • Optionally, spells from the Bronze Grimoire, though it’s more for colour than anything eles. Mix them in with the other CoC spells which, as previously noted, are forbidden.
  • CoC‘s Dreamlands. I like that there’s a Moorcockian treatment of dreams as well, but I confess to preferring the Lovecraftian one. It’s weirder.

Appendix 1: Skills Exceeding 100%

Originally in Runequest some skill percentages of were considered adequate at 30% or so (languages, for example). Unfortunately not all skills are created equal; a 30% skill for the most part does not indicate competence. Even if the GM says “hey, don’t bother rolling, your skill is good enough” it jarrs with the character’s perception of their PC — which should be of a capable individual the player can have confidence in (otherwise, why attempt anything, ever?).

For BRP-style systems I like to consider skills well in excess of 100%, and call that the base level of “expertise”. A pass for a skill is rolling equal to that number or less; a success, however, is rolling under half the skill. Now, the ideal range for percentiles in a challenging system is between 30 and 70%. Any less than 30% is really no chance, and any more than 70% is a walkover. With the pass/success granularity you can start making base skills above 50% for novices, which means the players can at least have some confidence in their character. Additionally equating a skill level of 100% to expertise seems right; experts will make routine tasks seem trivially easy.

Other levels can be added — this is what I like to use:

  • Roll under the skill % — Pass
  • Roll under 1/2 skill % — Success
  • Roll under 1/5 skill % — Extra Success
  • Roll under 1/20 skill % — Critical

…and so on. You could add another level of granularity at say 1/10 skill if you really wanted, but I wouldn’t bother — for someone with 100% skill the difference between Pass and Success is 50%, between Success and Extra Success is 30%, and between Extra and Critical is 15%.

If you want to get really creative you could consider “Super Crits” of 1/50 or even 1/100 of the skill — but those should only come into play when absurdly high percentages are reached (say 300%).

In combat splitting the percentage is an option, and this starts to be a tactical decision at high percentages. Should you split the % for multiple Passes, or should you roll fewer times to get Successes?

(for combat I’ve usually considered a Pass to function at half the effectiveness of a Success for parries, e.g. halving the AP of the parrying weapon).

Appendix 2: What About The Dharzi?

Of course, what did for the Melniboneans’ global Bright Empire was a big war with the Dharzi. Crucially this came long before Elric’s time, and is given as a reason for humans taking hold of the world as Melnibone retreated to the Dragon Isle to lick its wounds. This makes the Dharzi hardly relevant — certainly they have no role to play in the 1920s society. They do have a role as an ancient enemy of Melnibone, and could feature in myth as another component of the broader Mythos.

There is the option to make the Dharzi appear here and now. In doing so you’re lifting events from long before Elric’s time and inserting them well after the end of his life (after he blows the Horn of Fate), but it would work. Dharzi came from the “unknown East” which in this game could be Asia, with opportunities for tie-ins with the Plateau of Leng and other mysterious places in the Mythos.

This would lead your campaign in a couple of directions. Firstly you will probably diverge from Earth history, which is fine if that’s what you want. Second, your game may turn into a war game, which could also be fun but not the same as an investigation game.

A third consideration: if the Dharzi emerge now, does this change the relationship of people with natural forces and beasts? Dharzi were “beast worshippers”. On the other hand Melniboneans already had ancient relationships with the Beast Lords and Elemental Rulers, so the lack of Dharzi in the history of your game world probably won’t upset the metaphysic.

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Elric of R’lyeh: Games

  1. Types of Games
  2. Power Levels
  3. Sourcebooks and Adventures

This chapter is split into three areas. The first is what kind of games you might want to run in this hybrid setting. The second is about power levels and how they may (or may not) upset the usual power balance in vanilla CoC (if there is such a thing). The last part is using the resources already at your disposal.

Types of Games

My game was always intended to be CoC-style invesigation, just in a weirder sort of earth. As such it faces the question that all CoC games face: if the investigation is so dangerous, if the secrets come at such a high price, what drives the investigators on? The rewards within the system such as expanding your Cthulhu Mythos skill are a double-edged sword. In a lot of cases the investigators band together for metagame reasons, e.g. if they didn’t work together, there would be no game.

That’s OK; we’ve all had good times playing CoC which characters whose dedication to the investigation is completely implausible. However it’s better practice to give the players a real motivation for getting stuck in.

The Mabelode Commission

The Mabelode Commission are a peacekeeping force in Boston around 1923. They exist to keep the peace between the human population and the Melnibonean gated community, and (secretly) to investigate breaches of the Old Ones (“Old Chaos”) into civilisation. As the name hints they are answerable to Mabelode directly.

This is the classic “squad” organisation of play, where the characters have a common goal and are expected to work together as a team. Ron Edwards is critical of this style in his Annotated Sorcerer — certainly it doesn’t work for Sorcerer, but he also opines that it generally produces boring characters and that “imposed team identity isn’t what makes a superhero group”. This may be the case, but we have plenty of examples of an ensemble cast in fiction working together yet establishing their own identities. The main issue will be “why don’t the characters just quit?” which is the problem with all CoC games anyway. In this one you can assume that, as Agents of Mabelode, each character does not have the option of quitting, though this could be something they work towards (e.g. by accumulating enough points of Lawful allegiance that they can annul their ties to Chaos).

This game could be equally investigative and pulp-y; particularly if the characters are loaded up with Demons of Combat and other magical powers that help them do battle with Chaos. “Death by SAN loss” should be even more of an occupational hazard than in normal CoC, as the party are forced to interrogate tomes and face whatever SANity blasting monsters they encounter. The principle enemies will most likely be cultists waging a secret war against the Church and intending to bring about some kind of End when the stars align. No change there, then.

Dreaming Spires

Dreaming Spires is a campaign set in Oxford, whose ancient name is Imyrr. This is a little more traditional with the party made up of academics, professionals and local peacekeeping forces.

Oxford is a place literally half within a dream world; the Dreamlands (CoC) and also the Dream Realms (for Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone) may become useful sources. With the constant flow of both academics and nobles into the city there’s plenty of opportunity for the characters to interact with various strata of society. The longevity of the Melniboneans allows all sorts of historical characters into the campaign, and perhaps even act as the PCs’ patrons. In addition there are options for explorations into the various corners of the earth. Finally, a seat of learning is a nice setting where PCs can plumb depths of forbidden knowledge, getting themselves into all kinds of trouble with the Church and going insane into the bargain.

Power Levels

Assuming you’re using both Stormbringer and CoC rules “straight”, once demon weapons and armour become commonplace, dispatching Lovecraftian monsters becomes a distinct possibility. Demon melee weapons can easily exceed the damage of a shotgun at point-blank range. This has two effects:

  1. Characters are more likely to go mad than die

  2. Violence becomes an option.

To put things in perspective, a fairly low-level demon weapon may add 5d6 damage, so a single blow could do more than 20 points. That’s enough to do for a Hound of Tindalos with a lucky roll, and a few blows will start to annoy Shoggoths and Star Spawn.

The early Stormbringer does have a problem with balance between PCs (i.e. there was no balance), but this is mainly thanks to the lottery that is character generation. If the players are working for an Agency that bequeathes them magical (demonic) items, power levels should be easy to control. In any case Demons should be rare and demon weapons rarer still.

Sourcebooks and Adventures

The more complex campaigns may require some thought to weave the Moorcockian motifs into the setting, but a lot of printed CoC adventures are fairly neutral in their premise and should be easy to wind into the plot. There’s not much to say about this other than the printed adventures from Chaosium and in particular CoC are high quality with handouts galore.

A lot of the CoC adventures will assume a mixture of professions and will concentrate on technical skills like Psychology, Archaeology and Library Use. These skills, and the professions in CoC should still be relevant in the alternate 1920s. With the exception of various Allegiances and the chance to learn Sorcery, things shouldn’t be that different.

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