Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Skyrim the RPG?

Like many people I suspect, I spent most of Thanksgiving playing the new Elder Scrolls computer game Skyrim. The Elder Scrolls has always had an interesting skill based system that I thought might make a good paper and pencil RPG. This time they have boiled the stats and skills down to the mere essentials. Only three stats Magicka, Health, and Stamina. Eighteen skills broken down into three categories
Combat: Smithing, Heavy Armor, Block, Two handed, One Handed, and Archery
Stealth: Light Armor, Sneak, Lock picking, Pickpocket, Speech, and Alchemy
Magic: Illusion, Conjuration, Destruction, Restoration, Alteration, and Enchanting

I think 5 schools of magic much more wieldy than D&D traditional eight, and most of them seem to be well balanced in power. I need to remap the spells into a more d20 format.

I like that each of the paths has its own route for making things. I think the alchemy part is the one system I enjoy most although its a lot of book keeping for a pen and paper game, perhaps I just need to pass out reagent points as treasure. Enchanting runs a close second, although I'd just give out charge soul gems as treasure rather than having to charge them. I have yet to put together the evil little axe I used in Morrowind to conquer the world, it gave the damage it did back as health for me, the Gaulador Black blade seems similar but it does only 10 health per hit, and is constantly running out of charges. Smithing is O.K. but maybe not as powerful as the other two (or perhaps I haven't got the knack yet). I do wonder who makes all the pots and pans, clothing, wooden bowls, cups ecetera since all you can make is armor, perhaps I'll go back to 3rd editions craft. I will NOT be using 4th edition's "yeah you can make that, just mark of the gold you would spend to buy it" system.

Rather than use a check every time you use a skill (due bad experiences with Runequest) I think I'll go with using experience to buy skill levels. Skill checks will be done by rolling a d20 and adding you skill to beat a difficulty (not sure how the computer does it). I have to reserve judgement on the skill perks system until I understand it better. Playing my traditional battle mage wearing heavy armor and swinging a one handed axe, while throwing spells with the other I ended up with my perks scattered all over the map, including a few throw into enchanting and smithing. A more optimal character would be focused in a few skills and just buy stuff from NPCs, but who'd make the Fortify two handed while having 13% weakness to frost, and 4% barter increase potions then (Strangely enough the NPC seem to pay extra for the extra properties, and I'm more than happy to sell it to them 'cause I sure as heck ain't drinking it). Well I think the big computer is done rebooting, so its back to the land of Nords for me again. Unfortunately, either the graphics card or the sound system is a bit unstable cranking out the horse power needed for Skyrim, so its save early, save often and reboot as necessary. Fortunately I have played many such games before and am patient, I figure its just the computer saying "O.K. its time for a break to do other things".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Every man a once and future King

Finally made it through King Arthur the truth behind the legend  by Rodney Castlon. I have had an interest in the real King Arthur since writing my high school research paper on it, using a different book by Geoffry Ashe for most of the facts. Chock full of interesting facts and tid-bits. Chapter one boils the hard evidence down to two mentions in the Easter Annals.  Chapter Two is a very thorough going over of the literature we do have, including stone markers, genealogies of Welsh and Irish Kings, and poetry,  as well as books. An 1120 manuscript is the source  for both The Easter Annals and Nennius's Historica Brittonum. Although Nennius wrote his part in 830 A.D it is proposed  that the Easter Annals were added later, about 960-970 A.D.  Nennius draws from several earlier documents and has been somewhat discredited in that he already including some of the more mythological elements in his descriptions of Arthurs life. Gildas's Book of Complaints written about 540 AD does mention the battle of Badon, Arthur's victory over the Saxons, but fails to mention Arthur. Even more troubling is that Arthur  may actually be a nickname (Welsh for bear = arth). Gildas does mention one of his contemporary kings as "the driver of the chariot of the bears stronghold". The Anglo-Saxon chronicle written by the other side is most notable for a lack of  much expansion during the 50 years of the supposed time of the battle of Badon. It of course fails to mention Arthur or even the battle of Badon itself. All of this may seem like skimpy evidence, but given my experiences with histories of this time period I am inclinded to give Arthur the benefit of the doubt (After reading an interesting book on the battle of Caane, you know the famous battle battle where Hannibal whipped the Romans, which points out the main record we have of it is a history written 80 years after fact by the grandson of one of the generals, I am inclined to examine ancient history with a lax view to the documentation). The rest of the book dispenses with trying to further verify the existence of Arthur and launches into a description of what we do know about Sixth century Briton. She-who-must-be-obeyed has promised a battle map of one of the hill forts proposed as a location for Camelot complete with hall (know from the post hole pattern). Unfortunately since Camel is Briton for windy, there are a lot of river Camels in Cornwall and Wales. There are also a great many kingdoms, apparently the Britons didn't have mayors, sheriffs, or village elders, just kings. Gildas points out that if the Briton kings had spent less time fighting each other, they might have done a better job of beating the Angles and Saxons. One of my favorite parts of the book is its description of Tintagel, part Castle, part Christian Church, and part pagan ritual site. I especially like the carved foot print in the rock, that book speculates was used by ancient Kings to swear allegiance to the land. There is also the tunnel carved in the rock leading nowhere, a grave that is purported to change size periodically, and numerous other oddities. All in all an interesting dive into the historic Arthur. The back has a bibliography of numerous other books on the historical Arthur,  apparently British scholars have been at this subject a while.
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