Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thoughts on using TFT for Modern/Sci Fi Settings

A Blog visitor named NaRong left an interesting comment in my post "TFT Products that Should Have Been: The World of the Silver Dragon", which was simply "Any other thoughts on modern or sci fi gaming with TFT would be great."

I originally started to tap out an answer, but it quickly mushroomed into a very lengthy dissertation, and realized it deserved its own blog post. So here ya go...

Up front it must be pointed out that there are a few articles in Interplay and Space Gamer that touch on this, and some variant rules posted online. Specifically:
  • There are at least two TFT variants for Traveller floating around - an older one by Ty Beard and a more recent "The Traveller Trip"
  • Ty Beard also created a "HiTek" rules variant that covered modern weapons
  • Both Space Gamer (No. 27) and Dragon (No. 41) magazines had articles with rules for Medieval and Early Modern firearms; not directly related to modern or sci-fi but worth knowing about.
  • Space Gamer No. 65 had an article "Superheroes in TFT" by Ronald Pehr that, in addition to the title subject, also included rules for modern weapons
  • Interplay No. 2 had an article by Fred Askew "TFT: Wild West" which has material for that period, to include firearms. Some technical errors but generally good.
  • Chad Brandt provided an article on Sci-Fi TFT in Interplay No. 4, "Martian Vanguard Class MRAV"
  • Finally, if you can find them, in the fanzine Fantasy Forum there were a few articles on TFT/Barsoom. I've never seen them, nor do I expect to - if you can get ahold of these articles I'd love to get copies!
The most important thing is to my mind is to make sure your combat system is somewhat accurate, so that the effects of modern weapons have a degree of verisimilitude. Not to the point of being an exact simulation, mind you, but at least capture to some extent why we don't see swords in modern combat, but did see such weapons in fairly regular (if secondary or tertiary) use up to the mid-19th century. One detail is modifying the weapons to have a "penetration stat" to reflect the degree that armor can be ignored by a bullet, similar to spider and scorpion bites in ITL. Another important detail is that the Dodge option probably is not going to be as effective against firearms (let alone beam weapons...) as it is against arrows, thrown spears, etc. since the latter travel slowly enough to be seen and, well, dodged. As a minimum I would suggest for the Dodge option to work against modern weapons the figure must be moving at minimum of 8 or even 10 MA - basically running - to be able to throw off an attacker's aim.

Another point is figuring out how magic (i.e. fantasy sorcery) and technology (i.e. "gadget sorcery") interact. I touched on this in my Mnoren post - a good example is how exactly does the Invisibility spell work? Does it only affect visible light, or does it affect all spectrums, to include say infra-red and thus defeating all NVA and FLIR type technology? Of course, seismic sensors would be able to detect an invisible figure. But what about the IQ 15 Unnoticeabilty spell? What are the limits of that? The spell makes sense as written versus figures in the immediate vicinity (i.e. that can directly see/hear) of a figure using the spell, but what about someone many yards (or even MILES) away in a remote security room, viewing a security camera feed? Are they affected by this spell, or would they have normal odds of spotting the spell user in the video? I would rule that such remote viewers would not be affected, but one could argue the other way. Though the spell wording leans somewhat towards my interpretation, it does not irrefutably prove my conclusion. Note that how one rules on this would impact remote viewing via Crystal Ball in exactly the same manner.

How about the IQ 9 Darkness spell. Can it turn off a flashlight? Probably, but what happens if you simply turn it back on? What about IQ 10 Shadow - will NVG/FLIR see into that, like Mage Sight? Probably, I expect.

What effect would a Lock/Knock spell have on modern key card entry doors? Probably depends on how many features are associated with it. If it is just a card swipe, then one Knock spell will do it. If there is a keycode in addition to the swipe, or retinal scan, or whatever, then add one Knock spell for each additional feature required to open.

What about the IQ 11 Reverse Missiles spell? In a normal quasi-Medieval environment posited by TFT, a single arrow or hurled weapon coming back at the one who shot/threw it is disconcerting and a bit dangerous, but not unbalancing. But what happens when an unsuspecting mook lets loose a burst from a Tommy Gun at a figure protected by this spell? To some extent it is only fair, given what the burst would do to the unprotected target, but still something to think about. And what are the limits of such a spell? Is there a mass or kinetic energy limit to the size or power of projectile that can be reversed? Could it stop an incoming RPG? How about incoming anti-tank or artillery fire? Trebuchet or ballista shots? Bombards? ICBMs? Shrapnel from a nearby shell burst? Hypervelocity projectiles? Could one cast the spell on a vehicle rather than a figure? Imagine a Sherman tank with this spell - Tiger tanks would be knocking themselves out trying to stop it...

Can Reverse Missiles work on a laser beam? Most likely not, but the spell DOES work on lightning bolts. Even if the spell does not reverse a beam, would wizards in a tech world that have to deal with lasers then develop a Reverse Beam spell to deal with this sort of thing?

What about Images/Illusions? To a modern person a truly fantastical image/illusion might be automatically disbelieved - dragons don't exist, after all. It would just be regarded as awesome special effects, rather than a real "thing" as such. On the flip side, a medieval/fantasy world denizen might not understand what, say, a tank is, and not really be able to process it, thus allowing it to be disbelieved as well.

Going further, can a figure from a non-magic world even disbelieve something that don't know is a "thing," assuming that said "thing" is non-fantastic? If I make an illusion of a street-thug with a knife, or a vicious dog, attacking a modern person, would they think that it was anything but real? Not knowing of magic, how could they even conceive of it as being illusionary? Maybe a 4/IQ roll to "accidentally" disbelieve? I don't know - I'm open to suggestions.

How do Reveal/Conceal spells work against FLIR, MRI, ground penetrating radar, etc.?

Will IQ 13 Sticky Floor slow down or stop a vehicle?

Will IQ 14 Glamor be penetrated by looking at subject through a video clip, a photo, FLIR, etc.? Note that the use of Mage Sight allows a 4/IQ check to see through the spell when first encountered.

Would a figure under an IQ 17 Insubstantiality spell be affected by, say, radiation?  Note that Thrown spells can affect such a figure.

What are the effects of lightning and fireball, in particular, against vehicles, especially armored ones? Probably minimal, though that depends on where it hits (igniting a fuel tank would be productive, or perhaps the intake of super heated air into an engine might stall or disable said component. But simply hitting armor plate would be completely useless, since the spells likely lack any meaningful penetrative ability).

Will Monster Summonings work in a modern world? Elemental and demon summonings? Probably, but something to think about.

Will a Cleansing spell cure cancer? Probably not, but one might be able to argue otherwise. Imagine how popular you could be if you could do that...

These are just a few things I've come up with off the top of my head. I know that similar topics have cropped up on the old TFT Forums talking about "industrial disease" in terms of how certain spells as written have some interesting "real world" implications if applied creatively.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Proposed Cover for Melee, 2nd Edition

A 2nd edition of Melee, done properly, could have been a real step forward for the system. In some respects it would have been based on the Advanced Melee rules, but following to some degree the minimalist approach taken by Dragons of Underearth, and included a few (non-magical) aspects of In the Labyrinth. The key features I would have added to the rules would be the following:

(1) As mentioned in my earlier post on a different approach to publishing TFT (HERE), having IQ introduced as a statistic along with all the combat related talents (non-combat talents would be part of ITL) would have been the best approach. While ITL can cover the stats in general in more detail, having the basic concept in place would make the system work that much better, and allow one to omit Wizard altogether if a historical or modern non-magical role playing environment is desired.

(2) Definitely would add the proposed Defensive Quickness talents from Interplay No. 8.

(3) Combat scenarios, based on those found in Dragons of Underearth, along with some based on historical ancient and medieval battles, would be presented.

(4) A small, truncated bestiary of real world (and perhaps a few prehistoric) creatures would be included, to allow for the kinds of fights seen in the Roman Collusiums, or any sort of "encounter with nature" from pre-history to the Renaissance. No fantasy creatures (or races) would be included - see Wizard and the Bestiary guide for that.

(5) Revised and accurized weapons lists, to include early firearms, would be a feature. Armor would be similarly modified, and probably expanded in its effectiveness. For example, I would have mail stop at least 4, and likely 5 hits per attack. This still understates its effectiveness, but the game still needs to be playable so some exaggeration of combat effectivity for the weapons is quite all right. I would also modify armor to have a "ST" rating and a basic DX and MA penalty for each armor type. The ST rating is based on that found in the benefits of very high ST as described in ITL, but inverted so that having too low a ST translates into penalties to DX and MA, rather than assuming that a high ST reduces the "base" penalty for a given type of armor.

(6) Addition of a "penetration" stat to reflect that some weapons can overcome armor better than others, though not necessarily be better at wounding a figure. By way of extreme, modern example there have been instances of people surviving multiple hits from 5.56mm rounds fired from M-16s and similar rifles. Were one to model the damage based solely on armor penetration ability, one would greatly exaggerate the damage caused, and create a situation where even a couple hits would be almost universally fatal, which is at odds with real accounts of people surviving in excess of a dozen hits. I would argue that a 5.56 SS-109 semi-armor piercing round should probably only do 1d-2 damage per hit, but can ignore or penetrate (in a fashion identical to giant spider bites and giant scorpion stings as described in ITL) a significant amount of armor (~5-6 hits, at least).

(7) Terrain effects on movement and melee would also be covered.

(8) The map would be larger, probably like the one for Dragons of Underearth. Perhaps even two sided, one being an arena, and the other more wide open to simply cover a larger space that can be customized with terrain features.

(9) Some sort of fast cavalry rules, based on those found in Advanced Melee and Space Gamer No. 18 would be incorporated.

So the idea is for a robust, standalone game that can be played by itself for many hours of enjoyment or combined readily with ITL for role-playing in any historical, pre-modern epoch, and with Wizard 2nd Edition for any fantasy type world. I would further envision a follow on supplement to cover modern and future weapons and technology, to make a "GURPS before it was GURPS" type game with a fraction of the rules overhead of the published GURPS.

For the cover art I chose Loubet's arena combat art that was used for the cover of GURPS Man to Man, reasoning that had Metagaming not folded this art may well have graced the cover of a 2nd Edition Melee or other TFT product. Indeed, Denis Loubet had provided the cover art for both Lords of Underearth and Dragons of Underearth, so this is not at all an unlikely outcome. Here are the final front and back covers, as might have been realized in a late 1983/early 1984 Metagaming product:



Friday, October 21, 2016

European Maces of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (With TFT/D&D Game Notes)

Here is a group of European maces from my collection, covering the 11th to 16th centuries A.D. All are modern reproductions, some of which I assembled or modified.




From right to left:
1. An early mace from the 11th-12th century with a bronze head
2. A somewhat later mace from the 14th century, based on an example found in the Thames River
3 & 4. Gothic maces based to varying degrees on A978 in the Wallace Collection, along with one in the Royal Scottish Museum.
5. A spiked mace from the Renaissance.

The head of the first mace was obtained from Tod's Stuff; I made the haft out of birch turning stock from Rocklers.

The No. 2 mace I was able to get second hand off of SwordForum, International. It is an older, long discontinued Arms & Armor piece. It came in pristine condition and I have not made any modifications to it, finding it perfect "out of the box" as it were. This is a great reproduction, and its sad that it is no longer available.

The remaining three maces are all Arms & Armor production, as well. The two Gothic maces are long discontinued, and represent fairly early A&A work. Indeed, mace No. 3 is the second item I ever bought from A&A back in 1987 (the first was a dagger). The only change made to this piece is to rewrap the grip; however, I am thinking of making further changes.

The fourth mace was more or less identical to the previously described one, though I believe a slightly earlier piece. It has been extensively reworked for greater historical accuracy as described in detail in this blogpost.

The last mace I got for a song off of eBay, along with a discontinued A&A warhammer and an odd sort of "one-off" A&A sword. This type of mace (an "M3" following the typology introduced by Ewert Oakeshott in European Weapons and Armor - From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution) is very rare in Western Europe, but fairly common in Persia and India. This particular example seems to be based upon one in the Musee d' l'Armee in Paris, though that is unconfirmed (I can't seem to find a photo anywhere, unfortunately). A line drawing of this example is found in Oakeshott's book, however. This particular mace would be dated to c. 1550 or so.

***

In game terms, whether TFT or D&D, an important point to note about maces (and also to some extent morning stars) is that they are very easy to use by even untrained people. Unlike most other weapons which require precise alignment of, say, the edge of a sword or axe, or the backspike of a war hammer or poll arm, etc., no such precision is demanded of a mace. Anyway it lands it causes great hurt. Further, the method of use, simply swinging the arm, comes most naturally to any hominid - indeed, chimpanzees in the wild have been known to swing clubs in an identical manner.

While for the most part the mace is simply a very fancy club, the concentration of mass at the end of the weapon significantly enhances its striking power, making it noticeably superior to a mere cudgel of wood. And the flanged maces of the later Middle Ages focus the striking power of the weapon onto a fairly small area on the target, greatly increasing the chances of transmitting the force of the blow through armour, breaking bones, etc. Thus, a mace is objectively superior to a simple club in melee combat; don't let any vapid "d6 only Old Schooler" try to tell you otherwise - it's simple irrefutable physics, folks.

Given the ease of use of the mace, the D&D restrictions that forbid Clerics from using most melee weapons apart from the mace have at least a little basis in fact - since the mace is a simple weapon to use it makes a bit of sense that figures who lack the specialized melee training of a Fighting Man might end up with a mace/morning star as a primary weapon. Of course, this theory does not account for why Magic Users cannot wield a mace (or a club, for that matter)... Still, it is food for thought. As an aside, I might allow Fighting Men to have a +1 to hit and/or damage with a mace, to give a bit more incentive to use this weapon. Or maybe not; it depends on the combat rules (official and homebrew) one is using. A good set of rules, however crafted, must take into account the enhanced striking power of a mace, and its ease of use.

For TFT the situation is more straightforward since that ruleset uses a skill system. As originally written the rules lump clubs, maces, and axes together under one talent (Axe/Mace). This does not really make sense, so I propose the following new IQ 6(!) talent:

IQ 6
CLUB (0). Ability to use any weapon on CLUBS table. Note that there is no IQ cost associated with this talent, thus everyone “knows” it, but it is listed here because at least a low human-like intelligence is required to use.
SPEAR (1). Ability to use any weapon listed on the SPEARS table (q.v.). Also allows figure to throw the weapon, if permitted.

Note that the CLUBS table will include the mace and morningstar. Also, I included the SPEAR talent as contrast to show a slightly less intuitive/instinctual (though still very simple) skill that does cost 1 IQ. These talents, by the by, are part of a more comprehensive rewrite I am doing of the TFT Talents - fodder for a future post.

Certainly very interesting weapons that pack quite a wallop! And I will leave off with this wonderful Filk Song, that I had first heard many years ago but only recently managed to find the lyrics for:

A GRAZING MACE

(verses 1-5 by Skald-Brandr Toralfsson
verse 6 is the original anonymous creation
verse 7 from the HOPSFA Hymnal 3rd Edition)

A grazing mace, how sweet the sound, that felled my foe for me
I bashed his head, he struck the ground, and thus came victory

My mace has taught my foes to fear, that mace my fear relieved
How precious did my mace appear, when I my mace received

Through many tourneys wars and fairs, I have already come
My mace has brought me safe thus far, my mace will bring me home

The King has promised good to me, his word my hope secures
I will his shield and weapon be, when he gives me my spurs

And when my mace my foeman nails, that mortal strife shall cease
And we'll possess within our pale, a life of joy and peace

A grazing mace, how sweet the sound that flattened a wretch like thee!
Whose head is flat, that once was round; done in by my mace....and me!

A grazing mace, how sweet the sound that smites a foe like thee
You're left there lying on the ground, you've left the field to me!

tune: "Amazing Grace"
@parody @SCA @filk

Gothic Mace Project

I apologise for the long delay in posts. I've been very busy over the last several months and just haven't had time. While I have in fact several draft posts that are 80% or even 90% ready, I just haven't been able to push one past the finish line for awhile, until now.

I actually completed this one awhile back, but am only just getting around to discussing it. Below are a pair of maces, the bottom one being in the "original" configuration (except the grip which was re-wrapped) and the top one heavily reworked to be more historically correct. The modified one was bought used off of e-Bay and was in need of significant TLC. These are both very early Arms & Armor examples of this type (c. 1986), and have since been replaced with a more accurate model based more closely off of A978 in the Wallace Collection.


Indeed, when I received it, I discovered that the weld bead that held the head (which was screwed on to the end of the shaft) had failed at some point, and been glued (!?) in place. I was stunned to see that! I have no real explanation as to how this happened - the previous owner professed no knowledge of it, and I tend to believe him. Weird. However, it made my rework much easier, since I was able to simply unscrew the head and get to business!

For the project I made several changes to the original mace. In outline, I reworked the head to make it look more like Wallace A978, grinding and filing decorative cutouts onto the flanges, and generally polishing and cleaning up the detail. The haft was rather crude and in rough shape; it was bent, had an uneven twist, and was marred with unsightly grind marks that had not been properly cleaned up. A fair amount of effort went into straightening and polishing it. Worst of all, the guard and pommel discs were simply tack welded to the hexagonal shaft, as opposed to forging/grinding down the grip area of the shaft to make a period correct tang for the weapon. I corrected all of these faults before reassembling and having the head professionally rewelded back onto the haft.

Step by step, the first work was on the head, which involved mostly grinding, but also a lot of hand filing to get all of the little "flourish" details put in, as seen in these pictures:




There was also a fair amount of clean up to remove unsightly grind marks and other work to crisp up some features that were not executed as well as they could have been. Then, I reworked the grip/hilt area, removing the guard disks and creating two copper alloy bits, one for the divider between the haft and the guard, and a peen block in the form of a thick six-petaled "flower." The grip area was ground down to make more of a tang as one would find on a sword - there is a battle axe shown in one of Oakeshott's books that features this method of construction, complete with a wheel pommel.

The grip was done in two halves, glued in place, bound with a leather thong, and then covered in thin leather dyed in an oxblood shade. The following pictures show the hilt both in progress and after completion:








So there you have it! A very ambitious project, that came out pretty well. Were I to do it over again I would make a few minor changes, the most significant being a slimming down and reshaping of the grip, with a goal of making it hexagonal in cross-section, a detail I noted in close up photos of A978 that I have seen subsequent to completing this project. Otherwise, this is an excellent example of the grim yet beautiful arms of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. One can certainly smite with great authority with this mace! Couple more pix of the finished weapon:




By the by, this mace is for sale - $450 shipped anywhere in the Continental U.S. (other locations we would need to discuss). Any interested parties feel free to contact me in the comments section.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Alternate Reality TFT Product: Up Harzburk!

Here is what the cover to Bili the Axe: Up Harzburk! might have looked like had it been done by Metagaming for TFT rather than GURPS, in a nicer timeline. Note that this would likely have been in a larger "MetaGame" box like Dragons of Underearth and probably the planned Conquerors of Underearth module. It is to be noted that CoU was intended to feature mass combat, which is also a focus of Up Harzburk.

Note that the original adventure as released was deeply flawed and unplayable due to some of the numbered paragraphs being incorrect, too many to be addressed by errata. I have given thought to trying to find and correct these errors, and turn it into a playable module, though that might be too difficult a job.

Anyway, here are the revised covers:



Friday, January 8, 2016

How Tollenkar's Lair might have been improved.

First, apologies for the long hiatus. Life has been getting in the way recently. But I will try and get caught up - my original goal was to publish at least one post a month - and I should be able to make good on at least a couple more posts after this one. So stay tuned!

I have written a review of this adventure supplement for The Fantasy Trip game system here. In that review I pointed out a number of subtle, but in my mind significant, flaws in the adventure. In this post I will suggest how that release could have been made much better. The criticisms are divided between problems with the physical design of the product, and issues concerning the design of the adventure itself.

In terms of the physical product itself, my main observations were (1) lack of counters, (2) unrelated artwork, and (3) the use of the saddle-stitched booklet format. Obviously, adding adventure relevant counters would have been a huge plus to the release (as indeed they would have added much to the whole Fantasy Trip system in general, but I digress). This lack was the most significant flaw from a physical design perspective. The random artwork, while of good quality, was marred by being for the most part not relevant to the adventure. If I could have designed TL, the art would fit the narrative or figures in the adventure, and there would have been rather more of it. While not strictly essential, I feel nevertheless that good, relevant art enhances an adventure supplement considerably. Certainly I assert that this was the case with D&D related modules, for example. Finally, the saddle-stitched booklet was more prone to wear and damage, and even if counters had been present, such a format would not have allowed any means to store said counters. Hence, I would have suggested releasing this supplement in a large "MetaGame" format, as was done with Dragons of Underearth, allowing for more and larger pages vs. a MicroGame, and a box to store the counters in.

One other change I would make that I did not mention previously was to improve the maps by providing one level per page, or part of a page, to avoid the mess of trying to view all the levels on a single page. Sure, it was an innovative space saving idea, but in the end it's difficult to decipher the map, and terribly easy to miss important details.

Going beyond this, I would personally redraw the maps to expand the size of the levels, and add more encounters, to include some that even the supposed "owners" of this Labyrinth (Little Kess and Tollenkar) have no inkling of. Not just monsters and traps, but perhaps more mysterious "otherworldly" things and perhaps background on the ancient "Landmaster Hall" to bring to this adventure a sense of mystery and wonder that was pretty much sucked right out of it at its inception. This would have been a good way to introduce a bit more background and detail on Cidri and Elyntia and their past - a great pity Steve Jackson failed to rise up to the challenge here.

I would also "beef up" the mercenaries on Level 5 with more magic and the like. The whole "stingy with magic" nonsense really doesn't hold any water, as I explained in my first post on this. I realize that, when written, there was probably a concern about folks using basic Melee and Wizard only, and not having the rules for, say, fine weapons, but if that was the case an appendix in the back could have provided a brief excerpt of these rules to allow, say, Jamie Littlejohn to have fine plate and a fine battle axe, along with a couple of magical items. A drawing or drawings of these figures would also be a good thing, if only as a basis for counters.

Tackling the problems with the conceptual design of the adventure is a bit trickier. I honestly don't know which way to go with it - multiple forays just don't make sense in the module as written for the reasons I outlined in my original review, but that is really the only way to tackle Tollenkar and his peeps. One could simply take the suggestion made in the module and cut out Tollenkar and the lower levels, and leave Little Kess and his merry band as the adventure, but that too seems unsatisfactory.

A slightly better approach would be to try a significant rewrite that got rid of either Little Kess or Tollenkar, and left the rest of the dungeon as "untamed", with various random creatures - which would require considerable effort to populate on the GM's part. In this case, if one were after Little Kess and his bandits, one would find the lower levels shunned by that band, and haunted by all sorts of fell creatures. The reverse would be true with just Tollenkar; in this case, the lower levels would be inhabited but the upper levels would be largely unexplored and monster haunted. Tollenkar and his mercs would simply travel by the gate to and from the outside world, and leave the rest of the Labyrinth a mystery to be avoided.

The most straightforward solution might be to do a slight rewrite and simply state that Tollenkar ignores Little Kess and the upper levels for the most part, being involved with various other plots/research/tasks/hobbies/whatever and doesn't really keep tabs on activities up there. Conversely, Little Kess is unaware that his patron Tollenkar literally lives right underneath him. This would be my preferred approach to the problem, as it minimizes the work but provides at least a modicum of logic for multiple expeditions to Landmaster Hall.

What the above suggestions accomplish is that they avoid having to slug through all the encounters and perhaps allow multiple forays, while still avoiding the illogical situation I outlined in my review.

Fixing the above would really make this module standout, and a much more interesting release then it was historically.



Saturday, August 29, 2015

On the Mnoren

One of the odder quirks of TFT, given that it is a Fantasy RPG, is that its gameworld of Cidri and related campaigns did not have much in the way of any religious aspects. While a couple pages in ITL discussed religion, and there are a couple of talents, there is nothing like the deities in Dungeons & Dragons, with various human, demi-human, and even thoroughly inhuman gods and godlike beings, nor is there much of anything in the way of rules for handling priests and the like.

As an aside, my suspicion is that Howard Thomas, who is a very staunch atheist, probably had a strong influence on this aspect of TFT. Also, too, the approach taken in D&D with deities and clerics perhaps motivated an "equal and opposite" sort of reaction.

The upshot is that the closest thing we have to gods in TFT is the subject of this post, the Mnoren (and, no, I am not certain how one is supposed to pronounce that…), or, to give their proper taxonomy, Homo Sapiens Mnorenensis. Here is what is said about them in ITL, pg. 4:

"The Mnoren were human - and a little bit more. They had the ability to move unaided between the many alternate worlds that co-exist with Earth in other time-streams. One ability - but it was enough. The first Mnoren used his talent only six times, and then stopped forever in fright and confusion. But those six trips made him a wealthy man. His power bred true. His children read his journals, and wondered, and experimented. They became the secret rulers of their home planet. Their children did not bother with secrets... they merely ruled.
The Mnoren multiplied and prospered. Three hundred years after Jen Mnoren's first jump, his descendants had found, mapped, and conquered three hundred seventy-one alternate Earths. Three had space travel; eleven had magic. All of them honored the Mnoren rulers.
The key to the Mnoren dominance, of course, was knowledge. Knowledge is power, and the knowledge of one world is power unimaginable in another. Jen Mnoren’s six trips yielded two simple devices and one book, and made him rich. His children imported inventions, techniques, and gold... And the Mnoren power grew. A Mnoren was effectively invulnerable, wherever he traveled. A dozen different protective devices, physical and magical... intelligent bodyguards from strange worlds... and, most formidable of all, a very long lifetime of experience. Anything that could extend his life was of interest to a Mnoren; the medical techniques of 371 worlds made old age merely a measure of experience.

In the "Flora and Fauna" section of ITL, on page 57, the Mnoren are described a little bit more:

"Technically, the Mnoren – the builders and one-time rulers of Cidri – are (were?) human, with one slight difference – the power to travel between alternate worlds. This power made them masters wherever they went.
The power and experience of a Mnoren make him effectively immortal. If a Mnoren is attacked, you may be sure that he will have been aware of hostile intentions as soon as they were formed – and he will certainly have magical, physical, and technological defenses…"

So though they are considered gods, and indeed wield great power, they are really just like us when stripped of their gadgets and magic items (and, perhaps, genetic modifications, nanotechnology, etc.). Except for that one detail about being able to traverse alternate realities…

Let's focus on this aspect first. Happily, there is an excellent, almost spot-on, science fiction reference to this sort of ability from the now ended TV series Fringe. This show was a bit like X-Files and followed the cases of a group under Homeland Security that investigates incidents and crimes perpetrated by means of "fringe" science, whether radical bio-tech, devices that can make it possible to alter a solid wall on a molecular level to allow a person to walk through it, and so forth.

Most relevant to this discussion, though, is the lead character Agent Olivia Dunham who, when enhanced with a drug called Cortexiphan, could actually "shift" into a parallel Earth which was similar in many respects, but radically different in others. I'll avoid going into much more detail, since I highly recommend this show to any who have not seen it (and you can get it off Netflix, hint, hint) but I will use some of the aspects of how the shift occurs to illustrate how the Mnoren's singular power might work.

In the series, there are two possible ways to shift to the parallel Earth. One is by using advanced technological devices and the other through enhanced mental ability. It also helped to be at certain locations where the barriers between the two realities were weakest.

The shift, itself, is sort of like teleportation, only you end up in the same location in the alternate Earth. Of course, this could end up being rather dangerous! Suppose the location you "shift" to is in the middle of an Ice Age and you end up buried under a mile of ice! It seems to me, then, that this Mnoren ability has to have some sort of an "emergency shift back" feature built in, or perhaps an ability to "peer ahead" to the intended destination, else I have a feeling very few Mnoren would have survived were they to accidentally shift to an Earth that was dangerously hostile to life (the Sun went nova, atmosphere never developed, alternate Earth hit by large asteroid and rendered lifeless, etc.).

In "Treasure of the Silver Dragon" the following statement is made:

The Mnoren of Cidri, the world of THE FANTASY TRIP game system, have access to many alternate universes. This access is reputedly the source of the strange variety of life inhabiting Cidri's huge expanse. The existence of alternate universes is a product of creation. Each universe represents a different set of physical laws. Some universes are very similar with minor apparent divergences. These universes may be accessed by Mnoren where the difference is not grotesque. Drastically differing universes aren't accessible.

Also, for the most part, you just end up shifting to an Alternate Earth. You cannot "shift" to, say, one of Jupiter's moons… at least not from Earth. Now, if you first shifted to one of the three Alternates that had space flight, in theory you could jump on a ship, fly to one of Jupiter's moons, and then explore "alternate" moons from there.

Another point raised in Fringe is that, while anyone can use a device to travel between alternate universes, only people with the innate ability can do so without suffering severe (and, given enough trips, lethal) side effects.

It is also worth noting that the shift is usually not instantaneous, nor automatic. Agent Dunham at one point required not only the Cortexiphan but also the use of a sensory deprivation tank to shift – and then the shift was only temporary before she passed back to her start reality. (However, some shifts were accomplished with less help.)

It is also likely that, while the ability to do this is at its heart innate, one has to train oneself to some degree, perhaps even significantly. Therefore, the following talent is proposed for any Mnoren who shift between alternate universes:

REALITY SHIFT (3). Prerequisite: To learn this talent you must be of Mnoren descent. In conjunction with the specific gene that permits travel between alternate realities, this talent reflects the intense mental discipline and training that is required to enable shifting between universes. A shift requires a successful 4/IQ roll and costs 5 ST of exhaustion hits. Success allows the Mnoren to peer ahead into the alternate reality, and can opt to either continue the shift or pull back. The figure can shift itself, along with up to double its weight in "cargo" – to include anything worn, carried or held (thus, a Mnoren could shift another individual, assuming they were small enough). A figure can attempt to shift additional multiples of mass, but must roll an additional die vs. IQ and incur 10 ST of exhaustion hits (so if a shifting figure wanted to move up to three times his mass, then he would roll 5/IQ, four times would be 6/IQ, etc., and the cost would be 10 ST and 15 ST, respectively). If the roll is failed the exhaustion hits are accrued but no shift occurs.

With that, one must ponder where the Mnoren came from and how they conquered the 371 worlds that made up their multi-universe empire. This requires a bit of sleuthing.

So where did the Mnoren come from? A clue can be found here, where it is revealed that Jen Mnoren's six trips yielded, "…two simple devices and one book " It stands to reason that if that was the source of his wealth, then he came from either a magical world or a world without developed magic, for if he had originated from a high tech world it is doubtful that a couple of simple gadgets would have been the source of any wealth at all… Going beyond that, one of the speculative explanations for the Mnoren disappearance was that they died out because, "…their eldritch strain [was] weakened by time and the weight of empire." The word "eldritch" means "unearthly, supernatural, eerie" which lends a lot of weight to the conclusion that they came from a "magical" world, without any high technology.

How, then, did they manage to conquer so many worlds? On the surface this seems easy, even trivial, for as stated previously, "Knowledge is power, and the knowledge of one world is power unimaginable in another." Wouldn't that always be true?

It depends. Magic in TFT is really quite limited. There is nothing in the TFT spell list that is remotely comparable to, say, a Tomahawk missile with even a conventional (let alone nuclear) payload. TFT spells are designed around one-on-one combat, and have little or no application on a larger scale, unlike the more battlefield focused magics found in Dungeons & Dragons. Further, it would be easier for a technological society to deal with hostile magic than the other way around.

For example, how effective would an Invisibility spell be in our world? Certainly useful, but not nearly as effective as one might hope. Assuming it only affects visible light, then certainly any figure using the spell would be spotted quite easily on thermal imaging equipment. Seismic sensors are another possible way of detecting an invisible figure, along with millimeter wave scanners, etc. Other methods may certainly be devised.

And how awed would we be by real magic that we saw? Wouldn't many assume it is just some high tech gadget or neat special effect? So there may not be any widespread "shock and awe", as it were.

Thus, it is less likely that technological worlds would be "conquered" in a traditional sense. Rather, it is more likely done through subterfuge and stealth, with the subjects not really realizing that they are ruled by the Mnoren. I could readily see using Invisibility and Unnoticeability spells to spy and gain sensitive information, which would then be used to blackmail people in positions of power or obtain useful technology to help with their schemes (or both). Assassinations could be done with simple Magic Fist spells, which could easily be undetectable and would fuddle any investigators ignorant of magic ("Strange! I've never seen anything like it in my 25 years as a CSI! The Senator's body was found in a secure zone surrounded by metal detectors and surveillance cameras and suffered massive blunt force trauma consistent with being hit by a sledge hammer, all in front of eye witnesses who could not explain how it happened…"). Money, perhaps in the form of gold brought in from other worlds, might be useful (depends on the society); certainly bringing in gadgets, magic, or even raw resources from other Earths might also raise funds to influence politics on a higher tech world, enabling the set-up of a shadow government a la the game "Illuminati" by Steve Jackson Games.

This supposition is supported by the statement in ITL that, "His children read his journals, and wondered, and experimented. They became the secret rulers of their home planet..." After this, Jen Mnoren's grandchildren simply ruled their planet, but one wonders if on higher tech planets (with or without spaceflight) they maintained their rule behind the scenes?

Indeed, this may explain a great deal about our Earth – who knows, perhaps the members of the infamous Council on Foreign Relations and other alleged "secret" societies are really Mnoren – or at least answer to them!

Then again, perhaps the Mnoren truly have left everyone else alone. This is hinted at in the Dragonodon universe of the Treasure of the Silver Dragon and Treasure of the Unicorn Gold, where it is stated that, "The humans of Dragonodonia know that their Earth has been used by the Mnoren in the past. Numerous life forms haven’t evolved on their Earth and they know it by magical perception. As far as they know there is no current Mnoren presence or influence, as with our Earth."

And perhaps there are other worlds with ultra-high tech that defied easy influence, let alone conquest – a star empire, for example, where Earth was simply a used up husk, as presented in the backstory to Joss Whedon's Firefly/Serenity universe, or maybe turned into an uninhabited "nature preserve" for study and research while the rest humanity has the galaxy as their playground. With no real way of connecting with the civilization (since they can only shift readily to the Earth itself, and likely cannot "shift" a starship with them) they might not really be able to "conquer" anything. Also, what of a world where dread Cthulhu has risen from corpse city of R'lyeh and the Earth overrun with various Eldritch horrors?

There is also a loosely related work of fiction by Robert Heinlein entitled "The Number of the Beast" which uses an invention called a "Continua" device to travel both through time and into fictional universes (in the book, the protagonists traveled to the Land of Oz and Barsoom. In addition to the obvious tie in about traveling to alternate realities, a contributor on the TFT Mailing List suggested that one of the reasons the Mnoren vanished was because they started to explore fictional universes, rather than limiting themselves to parallel Earths.[1] For purposes of this article, I will assume that Mnoren reality shifting only works on parallel Earths, but it is good to at least be aware of this other possible interpretation.

So what became of the Mnoren? In the Labyrinth says this:

Where did they go? Ahhhh... another good question! There are many theories. Perhaps they simply died out, their eldritch strain weakened by time and the weight of empire. Perhaps the assassin's game that their wilder types enjoyed (what prey was really worthy of a Mnoren but his deadly relatives?) drove them into hiding on other worlds. Perhaps they built a grander playground somewhere else. Perhaps they're still here, wise and immortal, watching but not taking part. That's what the villagers believe. They threaten bad children with demons, orcs, and Mnoren."

Probably all of the above. I can see the Mnoren gene becoming less prevalent with time, unless they closely intermarry, which creates a whole mess of problems in and of itself (though perhaps such problems can be cured by magical and high tech medical techniques). One can also speculate that perhaps being in charge isn't as much fun as one might imagine, and shifting to a parallel Earth that has no sentient life might be a nice alternative.

Which does bring up an interesting point, namely that while "only" 371 worlds were ruled by the Mnoren, there must have been many more that were either unusable, or perhaps were "virgin" planets, unexploited by other sentient forms. Can you imagine what it would be like to take yourself and perhaps select others, and colonize an Earth just like ours but without all the congestion, busybodies, etc.? Talk about the ultimate "Galt's Gulch," assuming you could get the necessities across worlds!

Finally, how should one use Mnoren in a TFT adventure? Obviously, one can have them as sort of "gods", but I'd like to make another suggestion: how about a group composed of characters of Mnoren heritage who discover their abilities some time long after the Abdication, and start their own explorations? They lack all of the magic items and gadgets of the "established" Mnoren who left long ago, being descendants of elicit affairs, etc. so they lack the temporal power but retain the ability to shift between worlds.

Another possible approach would be to explore Mnoren gates (no doubt set up to assist transfer of people and goods between worlds in a way that shifting could not accommodate) in a fashion similar to Stargate SG1; indeed, one could use the show's premise wholesale by starting your characters as modern Earth soldiers tasked with exploring these gates and the worlds connected to them! While it would probably be a headache for a GM to run, the concept does have a vast range of possibilities… "So, what Earth do we want to visit, today?"

If anyone does try such a campaign, do report back as to how it turns out!




[1] Subject: (TFT)What happend to the Mnoren? at tft.brainiac.com (see Archives at 27 Jul 2007 02:10:15 +0800)