Friday, January 7, 2011

Crimson Blades of Ara Part 2: Characters

This is part two of a five-part series in which I describe and discuss chapter by chapter some of the major features of Crimson Blades of Ara, the FRPG that I co-created with Dave Miller in the 1990s.  In this post I will discuss (and provide a link to) Chapter One, Characters.

As I have previously mentioned (see post #1 of the series), CBoA was a skill-based game without character classes.  I don't feel the need to go over the skill system (pp. 35-54) in detail -- you can download the pdf and check it out for yourself. Suffice to say that it was d% based, as most of the game mechanics in CBoA were.

There is, however, one skill I would like to briefly mention: Herb Lore (pp. 44-49). While not nearly as inventive or detailed as the kinds of herbalism ideas I've seen on my friend Carl's blog (e.g., this, this, and this), I am proud of CBoA's Herbalism rules for their simplicity and for their "region familiarity" mechanic. In CBoA, every herbalist knows the plants and materials that can be harvested from a specific biospherical region, and suffers penalties to his or her herbalist abilities in unfamiliar surroundings. As I say, our Herb Lore system was a bit basic, but immensely functional.

One of my favorite innovations in CBoA was Size Rating (pp. 9-12), a numerical gauge of each being's overall size. Standard humans could be sizes 10-12, rodians 8-10, ogres 14-18, etc. A higher Size Rating would grant a being bonuses to Hit Points (what CBoA called "Body Toughness") and advantages in causing fear in others.

CBoA featured five primary attributes -- Strength, Courage, Agility, Dexterity, and Craft (pp. 13-14) -- and a bunch of secondary ones derived from those, such as Melee Damage Bonus, Projectile Damage Bonus, Body Toughness, Life Force, and Willpower (pp. 28-35). PCs of each race rolled a slightly different number of d10s for starting primary attribute scores (p. 14), but were also given a standardized amount of Character Points with which to buy improvements to those scores as well as to buy skills (pp. 26-28). This allowed for a certain random factor (genetics?) in character creation, but (obviously) also allowed players to customize their characters to a great extent using the point-build system.

Each character also rolled for a certain amount of inborn Power (pp. 14-15), which would be (in most cases) distributed into attribute-related Power Pools to abet magic use, or, in some cases, funnelled directly into specific primary or secondary traits: e.g., ogres transfer all their inborn Power into their Strength Trait.

Read the Characters chapter for yourself if you want more of the juicy details concerning all these numbers.

To me, looking back now, the most interesting part of the CBoA Characters chapter is the list of available PC races in Ara (pp. 7-9) -- content that I have (for the most part) retained for use in my current Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign:

Humans are the most numerous and most dominant race in the Lands of Ara. In CBoA, we made a racial distinction between the "standard" Arandish human, descended from the ancient Noffellians, and the physically larger Southern Human strain, i.e., Mizarians. I don't retain this distinction in my current campaign, though I do offer some regional modifiers to Mizarians vis-a-vis handling horses, and I stress that Mizarians tend to be fighetrs / barbarians.

Dwarves are the next most numerous race in Ara, though they have a very different origin than "typical" dwarves (if there is such a thing). Whereas many settings posit dwarves as an ancient race that predates humans, CBoA flips that on its head, describing dwarves as creations of human sorcerers during the Old War between Telengard and Achelon. See my post on Arandish races and my description of Gannar for details.

The origin of Rodians, Ara's third most numerous race, is described in the CBoA Introduction, and is glossed in the Arandish PC races post and the latest update on Rodians.

Then there are ogres. In CBoA, ogres were a PC race, created (as the dwarves were) by Old War sorcerers. I plan to update those PC ogres for use in my current LL campaign -- stay tuned!

Lastly, elves, which were NOT a PC race in CBoA. As I look around the blogosphere, there seems to be a fair amount of anti-elf sentiment. . . were Dave and I ahead of our time in eliminating elves from the range of PC options?

As I have previously blogged, all players in CBoA were urged to choose both a race and an area of origin (pp. 19-23) for their PCs -- this requirement aligned with our aim to make the rules and setting integral to one another. While there could certainly be exceptions made for players who wanted to do something out of the ordinary, CBoA encouraged PCs of certain races to be from certain kingdoms and regions of Ara, and not from others. I am still generally in favor of this practice. The Lands of Ara are NOT a "granular" campaign setting or in any way "realistic," not by a long shot, but nonetheless I like for the campaign world to be more or less internally consistent, to help preserve the "flavor" of the place, region-by-region and as a whole. So in the Lands of Ara, be it in the context of Crimson Blades of Ara or Labyrinth Lord, there will be no Elves as PCs, no Noffellian Magic-Users, and very few Dwarves from Blint or Rodians from Telengard!

Next: the "Actions and Combat" chapter!