When you have insomnia you become accustomed to having strange ideas pop into your addled brain in the wee hours. Rereading one of Judges Guild's lesser products, Shield Maidens of Sea Rune, last night at 3 a.m. in a (failing) attempt to bore myself back into slumber, I had an odd thought--only reinforced by a thought-provoking conversation earlier yesterday.
Shield Maidens, like many of JG's products in its middle period, is statted out with the peculiar notations of the company's Universal System. As many readers (who devote entirely too much of their brain cells to such arcane trivia) these numbers were a thinly-veiled code for playing with the alpha dog of that period, first edition AD&D. Remember JG had lost its D&D license in 1982, but not its need to tailor many of its products to that big trough of a market.
The Universal System projected the dress of an in-house fantasy rpg, but we all knew it just to be a slightly-annoying, stand-in set of numbers to be reconverted back to the one proper game. The three-letter alignment system, for instance, would typically show something like “LGN” or “NEX” and your mind would just file off that last offending bit. As such, every time I looked at such numbers in their products I paid about zero-percent attention to the supposed system itself.
Last night like a made-over Ally Sheedy in “Breakfast Club”, I saw something in that ugly duckling born of necessity: the skeletal outline of an interesting D&D variant. (Or more likely, some interesting house rules to be played around with.)
Let's take a look there and see what we can find.
The system “rules” start with a list of what can be found in a stat block with a few sentences explaining each. The six-attribute usual suspects are there, but are given a three-digit number, the first two numbers being the ones you would readily decode as the familiar 3-18 range.
But lo and behold that third number actually meant something: “the third is the number of times per day that the characteristic can be tested without checking for stress damage.” Interesting, a nice and simple mechanism to model fatigue—and add another resource management question to the game. I'll take it.
But wait there are six more attributes listed here that my eyes used to just wander right over: Personal Social Level, Endurance, Agility, Leadership, Luck, and Psionic Ability. OK truthfully three of these are completely useless repetitions of the others, so chuck them out.
Now let's consider the other three.
Personal Social Level: “...an index of the social standing. The first two digits indicate the level in the area in which the character resides and the third number indicates the level of notoriety within a twenty mile radius.” I like the idea of modeling both social standing and geographic reputation. The dude you iced might be a pissant third-level fighter, but looks like he was well-regarded due to his well-connected family throughout the Satrapy. Time to put on my Evil DM hat. This one is in.
Psionic Ability, self-explanatory, if I had an easy, old-school way to model this, it would be in--otherwise out. Luck is out; sweet Crom, this is what you do with the dice.
How about back to alignment? Again a surprise: that third letter actually meant something. “The third letter indicates only a suppressed desire.” Only? Actually, that's a very interesting nuance to explore. The High Priest-Poobah is “LGN”? A cleric who outwardly trumpets the 319 tenets of the “lawful” and “good” doctrine of the Ever-Illuminous Path of Kom Wha Mai, while inside he's a self-serving hypocrite that sure loves his silk plushies, pomade, and powdered ivory balm. Check. (By the way, the “X” notation indicated “none” under-the-surface alignment.)
What about the three-digits noting character class?
Again all the usual AD&D classes are there, but a closer look teases about a veritable Arduin of yummy new classes. Ok admittedly, some are immediately chuckable--Child class, oh come on. Others would take some serious conceptual work to work: the Beggar, Buffoon, Demon, and Valkyrie can please stand up. Some of them would take some work not to be non-adventuring NPC types (and thus useless in my book): the Armorer, Alchemist, Animal Trainer, and Sage. But the Amazon, Berserker, Samurai, Viking, and Witch; now there are some straight shots. At any rate, a fun, quirky list to work with.
Enough for today, I think you get the drift behind my indulgent Saturday morning musings. Now back to writing reportbacks for the Domain Game.
Any thoughts from the peanut gallery?