Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Wolf Packs and Winter Snow by Emmy Allen


(I haven't played this at all, let alone played it to the mid-range where we would expect most of the game to take place, so all of this is based on having read through the rules.)



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I forget which generation of clones we are on now or how exactly we are classifying these things, presumably Brendan has a spreadsheet or something. Anyway this is the latest gen.

Its Weird Pleistocene or Lamentations of the Cave Princess. A D&D-alike torn from LotFP and BX but with a host of additions and alterations, designed to simulate adventure in the Prehistoric era, specifically, what I think is the late Pleistocene or early whatever we are in now, when the ice packs retreat from Europe, opening up new lands to explore.

(Although I think you could run this as anywhere in the world from proto-china to the very-early fertile crescent and even as the first Americans beginning to explore that continent.)

I'll get one thing out of the way straight away, I'm pretty sure that early man generally didn't like living in caves most of the time, though we did hang out there for rituals and things.

Apart than mentioning it here I'm not going to go on about the caves and how realistic or unrealistic they are, I will talk about them only as a game artifact.

Other than that, setting and play is broadly naturalistic and the imagined world is essentially materialistic. Magic and the supernatural follows the LotFP path of shards of corrupting and alienating otherness jamming into the world from other dimensions, often to ill effect. Other than that, there is no magic and no religion, which is interesting.

There are rules for non-naturalistic monsters and rules at the back for some extra-weird classes. Some of the random tables used in world-generation have suggestive weird elements included but you could easily run the whole game without magic, without non-naturalistic monsters and without anything materially supernatural at all.

As-written, weird shit will creep in during play and, as Magic-users level up and larger, stranger monsters are encountered, along with potential-enemy cultures who may draw their power from close connection to the weird, then the end-game may be dominated by it.




WHAT INDIVIDUAL BITS AND PIECES ARE THERE


COSMOS

The standard world given is essentially the LotFP cosmos, just further back in time. Magic is still extra-planar and not sub-conscious or dreamlike, ghosts are extra-dimensional, there are assumed to be alien minds orbiting ancient stars that you could maybe get in contact with. This is magic and otherness pretty much as drawn from the post-lovecraftian world view of LotFP, rather than a primitivist, animist or 'divine-magic' kind of way. There is still no god and and 'gods' you do meet are going to be Twilight Zone fucktards.


HIT POINTS

WPaWS dual-tracks hit-points into 'grit' and 'flesh'. Grit is all the stuff hit points do that isn't chunks of flesh being taken out of you, Flesh is all the stuff that is chunks being taken out of you.

PC's start with a basic die in each of these. From that point on Grit grows by one die per level and Flesh grows by one point per level, this goes on up until the higher levels when  only small amounts of grit continue to be gained and Flesh is not gained at all.

This is something you find in 'Into the odd' (effectively) and I think I remember reading about it in Paolo's old interview about Italian RPG's. It creates some interesting effects, essentially, a new class of danger which can affect high & low level PC's equally. Anything that bypasses grit and goes straight to flesh is very dangerous, and an automatic equalizer between the strong and weak. Many successful stealth attacks do this, as does some magic.

Nice for PC's at the beginning of the game, when everything is stronger than them
sucks when they have a bunch of hit points and then get backstabbed by some dork.

This also allows 'grit' to pop back up relatively quickly after a fight without it being too annoying.

(EDIT - Just realized/was informed that Logan did this on Last Gasp Grimore. He does get a shout out in the introduction.)



CLASSES

Expert, Hunter, Magician and Neanderthal. Skills, Fighting, Magic and 'being tough'. Presumably you are the cool liberal Homo-Sapiens who will let a Neanderthal hang with you. The basic ideas behind these will be familiar to anyone who has played LotFP. Specialist, Fighter, Magic-User & Dwarf.

Hunters are pretty straight-forward. Magicians and Experts can change a *lot* depending on what magic they get (game recommends random-roll for spells) and what skills they specialist in.

(Also presumably at some point during the game you are going to have to bone a Neanderthal in order to get that Neanderthal DNA that most non-Africans still have knocking about in our Genome.)

The equipment list and weapon list are reeeeeaaall short. Not much has been invented yet.



FIGHTING

As per LotFP, only one class gains in attack bonus. There are some shifts to the kinds of attack & defense available but nothing too major. AC is 10 again instead of Raggi's 12. There are rules for called shots and assumed location-specific Armour.

Armour is all-natural. Helmets are described only as 'Beast-Skull' helmets, which is nice. The game doesn't outright tell you that you have to kill a giant creature and wear its skull before you can gain meaningful head protection, but it does encourage that.

This also feeds into the general pattern of play, more on that below.

Successful stealth attacks, as mentioned before, often go straight to Flesh, meaning ambush becomes both a very deadly tactic and also a deadly threat. Yes your Lvl 10 would-be God-King can get taken out by a stone to the back of the head. Or a least a few stones. (Would probably have a Beast-Skull helmet by that point anyway.)



SKILLS

Stat bonuses add to skill rolls and, in some cases, add to results. There are various complex sub-systems included for stuff like Herbalism etc. They are generally not that irritating and can be ignored by those not interested in them and used by those who are without it fucking up the game (I think)

Animalism - Dr Dolittle shit & Crocodile Dundee shit.

Art - There is no writing. Art is essential for magic and even being good at art without being a Magic-User means you gain access to certain kinds of knowledge and utility, if not direct effect.

A Magic-User with poor Art will be almost useless as they use it for recording & understanding spells. Therefore, all Magic-Users in WPaWS are effectively Artists, which is interesting.

Athletics, Charm, Foraging, Stealth, Tracking, you can guess these. You can max out in Tracking and Animalism and be Crocodile Dundee or max out in Foraging and Medicine and be Dr Quinn or whatever Sean Connery was doing in the film where he had a ponytail.

Medicine is actually more useful and less lethal than Medieval-style medicine, but what isn't?

Perception - You are advised to make minimal use of this, its mainly for avoiding ambushes. Some very OSR-style info is given about giving the player as much info as possible.

Crafting looks like its going to be very useful. In this world you either made everything you own, or a friend made it for you, or you killed a guy and took it. There are no other sources of made objects. If you want to you can focus on this and be stone-age  MacGyuver. Someone needs to take this as your weapons break and you will need repairs.

Vandalism - This is an interesting one. In a world where almost all technology is made by the people using it, this is a skill used only to destroy made things, which is actually a highly specific one in this setting.




SAVES

Weather, Poison, Hazards, Magic. No others.

Weather & Magic are self-exploratory. There are sub-systems for how the weather can kill you.

Dealing with weather, predicting, avoiding and resisting it, are all meaningful parts of the game. Weather tables are provided and shift a bit depending on season and wilderness type.

Poison is poison but also sickness & disease.

Hazards is everything else.




XP

This is very interesting. XP awards are for:

- Killing 'dangerous animals' AND for eating them AND for re-using bits of them with additions for the number of meals you get out of them AND also for the individual re-uses.

- Exploring and clearing cave complexes.

- Getting magical items.

and that's it

killing people gets you *no XP* so actively seeking out conflict with other humans is only useful if you think they will ultimately become a threat, or if you just want their stuff.

Most advancement is within the imagined world. You get status, contacts, resources and presumably ambitions, resentments and desires as you level up.

So far as I can see, the XP engine is to nudge you towards being the kind of people who seek out powerful animals to kill them and who clear caves for people to live in.

More on caves later, they play a very specific role in the game.

So you can play this like proto-Herakles/Gilgamesh monster-killing culture-shapers.

But.

If you just play it naturalisticaly, hang out, hunt Mammoth(s?), have a family and try to keep them alive, eventually you are going to level up. Enough things are threatening to you that you can level up from just eating & staying alive.

XP margins are very small but double every level much like LotFP limits, Lvl 2 is 15, then 30 then 60, 120 etc. So killing a Mammoth, feasting and then forming tools from its bones and tusks, might be enough to push a Lvl 1 party to level 2.

Which makes sense, in a world without gold there is no reason for the XP values to be high.



MAGIC

The Magician is interesting.

The Spell-list is a cut-down and re-written version of LotFP's with anything utterly inappropriate taken out  or changed. As a whole it works very well. This is all stuff you can imagine some weird Shaman pulling rather than a standard D&D mage.

The underlying cosmic logic of the spells has been re-iterated and re-enforced. As stated above, this is still very much the LotFP cosmos. Your cave-dude can get visions of martian War machines.

Fireball has been left in (I think Raggi maybe even took it out of LotFP?) and the Summon spell has not been included.

There is an interesting tension between the Spell list as a whole, which feels very 'pure', primitive and elemental, and some of the secondary effects and connecting logic, which feels more like cosmic weirdness.

The most interesting and radical change is that the Magic-Users spell book is now a place, or multiple places.

The Magic User can use their art skill, along with knowledge of a spell, to embody it in the environment as art. We would assume cave paintings but probably stone circles, mandalas, totems, wall masks, sculptures, even wind chimes could do it.

While they are in this sanctum they can cast any spell there over the course of a turn, or they can memorize it over the same time period and then walk about with it in their head, about to be triggered, jack Vance style.

So, this means the magic user *has* to have a base, they can have several bases, with different spells in each one. This strongly suggests that you need caves since rules for crafting buildings do not occur in the game.

This makes the Magic-User Geographically Curious. They want to defend their sanctum from any other magic-Users (if you get a look at someone else's sanctum, you can learn their spells, or maybe they melt your face off), they also want to get a look at other Magicians Sanctums. There is also the possibility that you could leave a spell embodied in a useful place, Water Breathing in a stone circle near the river, for instance, so that when you get there you can use it whenever. If course if someone else finds your sacred spot they can steal your knowledge or destroy it.

Effectively it puts the Magician into a kind of low-level Domain game right from level one.



CAVES

You are going to need a big cave to put your tribe in (see below), and to put your Wizard in (see above).

These are the closest thing in the book to dungeons. They are not much like dungeons though.

There is a partial generator for creating random cave complexes included with the book along with a bunch of potential threats. I think its assumed that you will be going into a cave to either fight another tribe, fight another Magician, fight a large natural predator or fight some weird fucking thing from beneath.

The 'loot' table is brief but charming. There is little meaning to 'treasure' in this setting. Fresh water is 'loot', workable flint is 'loot'.

Once you clear a cave complex, its yours, you get XP and you can move in the family.




YOUR TRIBE

Its also assumed (though not absolutely necessary to play) that as yo level up you will gain followers and essentially form a tribe around you, inspired and protected by your heroic actions.

There are extensive rules for gaining followers, this is something that can happen from Level 2 onward and there are extensive rules for attracting people, who you attract, what they do, where to put them (in a cave) exactly how much cave space they need, things they can do for you, trouble they can get into etc etc. It's pretty much an OSR version of the SIMS but in a cave.

(Rules for taming animals are included.)

Your tribe breeds too, so eventually they are going to outgrow whatever cave they are in and need a new cave.

The Tribe is  an aspect of leveling up. You don't need to use it but its pretty clear the game is meant to be played with the PC's as creators and defenders of a proto-culture.

In D&D there is civilization and ancientness and the PC's are on the margins of Civilization, pushing it back into the ancientness. Here there is nothing, just a handful of people, and the PC's are like an ink-blot, exploring, understanding and occupying the environment.



'THEIR' TRIBE(S)

And, of course, there is an extensive tribe-creation system for making the tribes you will run into as you expand, included with a fair bunch of interacting tables producing different kinds of micro-polities ranging from healthy hunters to creepy weirdo's.

The tribes have stuff which you may want, they probably have a cave, which you might want. They may have a crazy belief system which you may want, or want to destroy. They may be allies, they may be enemies. Whatever they are, remember you get no XP for killing them.




WILDERNESS

Since this is a world without walls (unless you both invent, and then build the walls), 'wilderness' plays a large part.

Really the phrase 'wilderness' has no meaning in this imagined world since there is nothing against which to counterpoint it and from which it can gain its identity as a 'wild' space. There is simply what is, and you go out into it. Or at least you are in it already, you don't really have much of a choice about that.

There are rules given for generating an area to be explored, Border Princes style. map creation rules are given, along with area-creation tables for plains, forests, wetland and mountains. These are broken into type, wildlife and 'weirdness'. Again, you don't have to roll on the weirdness part but it does make this Prehistory a particularly LotFPrehisory.

And there are wilderness-specific encounter tables for each type of area.



ANIMALS

There are more crazy Pleistocene animals than we get statted out here but all the major types are covered, everything from Jackals to Mammoths. The 'natural' creatures are segregated into one section and then we get a bit of weird fantasy shit, from giant spiders to shoggoths.



AT THE BACK

Rules for the undead, ghosts and golems in their LotFPrehistoric version. Some relatively sharp details on, how do you get rid of a ghost, what does it take to build and maintain a golem made from snow, from ceramic etc.

Then right at the back we get some creepy classes, Abberants, Morlocks, Mystics, Orphans and Wendigo's and yes obviously everyone is going to want to ignore the perfectly well set up game as intended and all play fucking Wendigo's so they can eat people.

(You can eat people as a standard character, it just might make you crazy.)



AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS ADD UP TO OR MEAN

It's an interesting game. The rule-changes and alterations add up to make something much more than the sum of its parts. The LotFp/BX skeleton is very obvious and the cold-and-random combat logic is there but this would be a very different-feeling game to play than LotFP.

There's no fucking money for one thing, and nothing to buy if you had any. The domain-game stuff and generators are necessary because they add, in real tangible terms, some of the things that are abstracted by money in LotFP and D&D.

You can never walk into a town or a fortress and be the famous wealthy adventureres, no society exists for the status bought by money to exist in. Instead you come home with your beast-helmet and a mammoth haunch and, because you got your people fed, your society gets a little bit bigger. Or maybe you walk into the meeting of another tribe with your amber necklace and stone arrowheads (stone weapons are assumed 'rare' at start of play) and the other tribes people will be like 'dang, here comes the Neolithic Revolution'.

The assumed cycle of play is (I think) explore, challenge, settle, then keep doing that, expand your tribe, uncover more and more of the map and find other tribes, ancient stuff and really big monsters.

The cave thing, though it does frustrate my sense of accuracy somewhat, is an elegant game artifact. It links proto-dungeon exploration, settlement, advancement and domain-play together in a relatively smooth flow. Find a cave, fight the thing in there, settle it, magician gets a new spell-hole, tribe grows, needs a new cave, attracts bigger more dangerous predators or rivals so now you need to go and beat those up, and so

The game is really a world as much as it is a game or add-on for LotFP, it needs to be to account for its differences and it does so well.

It's not perfect, but for what it is its very impressive.



BLAH DE BLAH - META DESIGN CRAP BLAH - THE 'OSR' BLAH BLAH

I can see the dual-hit-points becoming a thing. It makes PC's vulnerable in a bunch of interesting ways and creates a lot of opportunities quite simply.

Plus you can hack it a bunch of ways. What happens when a PC has high Flesh but low Grit? What about the other way around?

Into the Odd already did something kinda similar with Hit Points and STR damage.

The advice on perception and its minimal use sounds a lot like Into the Odd, though its also pretty close to OSR orthodoxy at this stage I think.

There is an 'OSR orthodoxy' and saying that doesn't sound crazy.

What does it mean that random weirdos are now creating perfectly interesting games in the OSR style, on their own, and apparently just dropping them on the internet?

I have no idea, its a kaleidoscope community and I've never seen more than a fragment at any one time? Is it getting bigger? I couldn't tell you. The core OSR-type personality is an odd combination of flinty and arty and there are relatively few people who are like that so I doubt it is growing at any speed.



SHOULD I GET THIS

Yeah.

It's free. It's not even pay-what-you-want (EDIT, it is now pay-what-you-want), which puts a kind of moral onus on you to decide exactly how much its fair to pay. The PDF costs nothing and has a bunch of potentially useful stuff in it. If you ever intend to run anything in a Prehistoric world, send your players back in time, 'Assassins Creed' them into their ancestors bodies or play the primal heroes of the culture they are currently in, then you may as well get it. If you have the space in your drive then there's no reason no to having it on your hard disk rather than hanging around on the internet.

There are a LOT of tables and anyone in the OSR could find a LOT of uses for them. If you wanted to you could just create a 'Savage Land' in the middle of you Campaign World.

Get it now if you like.

If you really want to run something with a LotFP feel that is *also* prehistoric, then yeah. The design 'sheen' isn't up to the LotFP standard, becasue its free and so far as I can see everything in there is the result of one person's work, but the amount of content and the level of work put in more than makes it worth the low price. The information packed into the tables alone is worth it, if you were thinking about prehistory that is. And there are a LOT of tables, maybe a third to a half of the book. This is a big thing for one person to produce, apparently on her own. It has enough stuff in it for it to be a proper 'official' LotFP supplement.

The rest of us, the Carrion Crows of game design, will probably be able to strip something out of it, depending on our preference.

I have no idea who she is but Raggi probably you should hire her? If you don't then this might be a situation where in 20 years, she hires you.

(Except we all know you will be either dead or in prison in 20 years time, and no-one would hire you for anything.)

6 comments:

  1. Grit and Flesh. Dear gods it's so elegant and adaptable. I like it too much.

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  2. I do rather like the Flesh/Grit division. I'd stolen it from Logan from Last Gasp Grumpier and played with it in my game for some time. Works great, though I never felt like I had the balance quite right.

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  3. Raggi should hire her

    Also there's a complicated economic system in prison so people would still be hiring Raggi to make rpgs just written on toilet paper with blood (I mean ink is available but he's still gonna be Raggi the publisher)

    OTHER THOUGHTS THAT ARE LESS SAYING THIS IS AN OVERSIGHT AND MORE ME SPITBALLING :

    -Nomadic and semi-nomadic cultures I think were way more common
    and they would need maybe some other mechanics for them. Especially co-sharing resources with other tribes and/or the use of a taboos to moderate resource use

    -Everyone forgets about the plants. Exp for discovering each use for a plant would encourage the level of technological sophistication and experimentation cultures have with their environment.
    So sure these berries are edible but the kernels are poisonous, but is it a poison that can be used as a fish poison? A poison rendered harmless if kernels are cooked in an earth oven and then thoroughly rinsed ? If crushed and used as a poultice is will it fight infections?

    Like basically the Rich and complicated pharmacy of nature= magic items.

    Each discovery is a fresh load of exp , plus any tribes population is increasing to the limits of its environment (give or take infanticide and warfare) so new food sources would be constantly scouted for.

    Also how much can you eat this , does any other tribe claim a right to it, do any dangerous animals periodically eat, if you use it all up will a food animal then get sparse?

    -Kinda wanna see more systems where the magic isn't a metaphysical anomaly to the culture but as part of the mythological ecosystem. And not in a fluffy hippy way; there's still bad magic and dangerous weirdos doing the spiritual equivalent of arms dealing.

    Though caveman vs the horrors from beyond is cool or how a culture would build its mythology around invaders.

    -Also Exp for giving things names. Assuming the tribe hasn't been in the area for 1000s of years, if a player comes up with a good name for a Titanis or Gylphadont and everyone naturally uses it, then that's exp right there.

    Also maybe for naming enemies or other tribes. That's a thing that shows up sometime in mythology , a dude who gives everyone names, or takes power from others by giving them another name.

    -Wendigo : How much is this specifically a Wendigo and how much it a fancier word for cannibal?
    Like I'm not trying make a cultural appropriation argument (or saying you could or couldn't) it's more that word means a bunch of stuff if you are not going to engage with it then why use that word? I have done this though.

    I perversely wanna just use the term samurai instead of fighter all the time now.

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    1. It's not exactly a normal Cannibal, since everyone can be one. Its more someone who has made Cannibalism work.

      As to whether is relates to the Native American legend/mythos/religion thing called 'Wendigo', probably not. Everything I've read about them leads deeper into native American knowledge systems, many of which are just not written down. The last time I saw someone actually Native American try to describe something *like* that was on a Reddit thread where they kept getting questions like, 'Is it _literally_true?' 'Is it spiritually/psychologically true?' 'Is it legend?' 'Is it religion?'

      Eventually they had to say that they couldn't describe it neatly with those concepts and that they really weren't supposed to be talking about it in the open anyway since a lot of elders in the tribe took it *very* seriously.

      So I would guess that probably *no* pop culture or gamification or even scholarly description of 'Wendigo' is the *real* Wendigo. There is probably stuff there that you can only get from direct experience of the culture and that just seems to dissolve or become incoherent when viewed from another culture.

      She probably used the word becasue she needed something that meant 'magically empowered semi-supernatural cannibal monster/man' and for a commonly available term its either 'Wendigo' or 'Ghoul' and Ghoul doesn't fit as well.

      Like how Vampire is a dirt-thing that crawls out of eastern european graveyards and a Dracula and a Wuxia guy that flies around & waves their fingers & gets stopped by magic script being pinned to them and also a fevered hysterian about perfect corpses that lead up state New Yorkers to disenterr and stake some actual real cropses in the 19th C. Eventually you are just gonna end up calling all of those a Vampire.

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    2. True. Anthony gave me a bunch of historical notes and essays about Wendigo and I'm still getting through it

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  4. The Grit/Flesh hack is a beautiful refinement from Logan's original.

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