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Ysgarth (1st Edition)» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A look at the evolution of the game rss

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Clark Timmins
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Microbadge: Ysgarth RPG fansgarth 1st Edition has a lengthy development history. The earliest implementation of the game was as a series of "variant" rules for Dungeons & Dragons. This accumulation continued until the author began to replace entire systems (e.g., combat, spells, etc.), creating new ideas but also drawing on several then-contemporaneous games (D&D, Chivalry & Sorcery, RuneQuest, Arduin). By 1977 the author completed a house-rules game system called Warlord, which was played at a Lancaster, PA University game club. Warlord was continuously revised for two years while a regional gaming convention was organized - this convention was Tourney '79 RPG Convention (Lancaster, PA). The convention was focused on Dungeons & Dragons but also had other game sessions, including a system written especially for the convention. This system was referred to by various names - Tourney, Warlord I, and (possibly) Ysgarth. As late as September 1979 Nalle would explain "I say that I play D&D, but in fact I play a VD&D called YSGARTH", indicating the slow emergence of identity the game experienced.

Beginning in March of 1979, Nalle published a series of articles in Alarums & Excursions that presented the rules as a series of major systems. These rules were "adapted from WARLORD I, and the Tourney '79 official rules".

A&E Issue 43 (March 1979) presented the combat system, based on d20 with modifiers by attacker's level and bonuses and the defender's level and defense class. Right away, the crunch nature of the rules becomes apparent: Defense Class = (Agility / 3) + (Dexterity / 3) - Size Class. What's your Size Class? The square root of weight - 13. Minus 13? Yes, that's what it says. What's your Weight? Height in Inches x (Strength / 5.5)... but see (*), below. Height in inches is 60 + 2d12 for men. Pretty simple, eh? Missile weapon attacks use a separate mechanic based on Eyesight and Dexterity. The Attacker Level is compared to the Defender Level on a combat matrix to obtain an additional combat modifier. Add it all up, roll the die, and take your chances. So you hit? Next step is to determine hit location. This uses a percentile roll modified by target armor and the Location Class (in turn modified by species and Dexterity). So you know where you hit! Next step is to check for Penetration (a concept borrowed from RuneQuest) - you stick the bad guy but does it get through his armor? First calculate damage (done per D&D method). Then determine Armor Type(s) for the location; not easy, as multiple layers of armors are permissible with some types and at some locations! Then determine Weapon Type (Blade, Point, Club) and reference the Penetration matrix. Depending on several considerations, you'll then reduce damage by 0 to 6 points. If damage is still positive, then you have achieved Penetration and actually damaged your foe in a specific location.

A&E Issue 45 (May 1979) presented the "WARLORD MAGIC SYSTEM (WARLORD I, Copyright 1978)". The magic system begins "There are some eighteen classes of spell users" (reduced to 14 by Issue 48). These 18 classes are distributed among five groups (reduced to 4 by Issue 48). Clerics, Druids, Wizards, and all the rest are somewhere in those 18 classes and 5 groups. Each class has a guild and a level, which combine to yield Knowledge. To learn spells, magic users have to pay their guild a spell-level-based fee. Spell casting was accomplished in three "segments" (casting, effects, cost). Each caster has a Magic Index: ((Dexterity + Intelligence + Talent + Wisdom) / 5) + Level. Each spell requires a roll against the Magic Index, with fails yielding magic fumbles. Casting a spell decrements the caster's Spell Points or Fatigue Points (separate pools). Additionally, casters can put more Spell Points into a casting to make the Saving Throw more difficult. One curious aspect of magic - curative spells are only 50% effective on recipients over 60 years age; and only 25% effective on recipients over 90 years age. The formula for Spell Point calculation was revised in Issue 46.

A&E Issue 48 (August 1979) presents seven Classes and 28 "Divisions" (something like sub-class) in the game and distributes them into six experience points/per level tables. Also presented are concise guidelines on how to award experience. This issue also notes "I am currently working on a map of the major city of my new world whose current name is Ysgarth, although it has changed before...". This is possibly the first documented use of the name Ysgarth.

A&E Issue 49 (September 1979) announces the forthcoming introductory issue of Abyss, which would include support for Ysgarth. It also announces the author's efforts on "YSGARTH, Volume Two" (e.g., Ysgarth 2nd Edition). Issue 51 (November 1979) announces the publication of "My rule system, YSGARTH" (e.g., Ysgarth 2nd Edition) and the third issue of Abyss. Issues 45, 46, 48, and 49 presented a variety of spells, monsters, and magic items in typical "hardware zine" style.

So what, exactly, is Ysgarth, 1st Edition? That's a question with a thorny answer. Retrospectively, Nalle believed it to be the Tourney '79 rules. But within just a few months Nalle also serially had published a similar but slightly revised system in Alarums & Excursions - never directly referring to it as "Ysgarth", however. Indeed, it is not until Ysgarth, 2nd Edition, that we can point to a definitive publication of a "static" rules system unambiguously named Ysgarth.


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(*) Weight = Height in Inches x (Strength / 5.5) makes me smirk. The assumption is that weight is the variable, but what if we do a little math to get Strength = 5.5 (Weight / Height)? So a 6' guy weighing in at 350 pounds has a strength of 27! Nice! It's pure muscle, baby!
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Clark Timmins
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So stop your cheap comment, 'cause we know what we feel...
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Green to feel blue? Is your vision purely golden? Is your humour black or olden? Do you find you're getting yellow? 'Though you know you're in the red dread...
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Microbadge: It was for this that I was born.Microbadge: Golden CamelMicrobadge: Unobtanium RPG Uploader - This user has 10,000+ entries and is in the RPG Geek Hall of Fame!Microbadge: Ultimate VGG Uploader - This user has 1000+ entries and is in the VGG Hall of Fame!Microbadge: Golden Boardgame Uploader
Based on reading about it and swapping a few e-mails with the author, I believe that the "Tourney '79" (e.g., Ysgarth, 1st Edition) rules probably were produced in a quantity of under ten. They consisted of photocopied pages stapled together without any art. The author believes he still has a copy "somewhere in a box in the garage". The game did have a "title page", which was a mostly-blank sheet with a typewritten title (which most likely did not include "Ysgarth" but did include "Tourney '79").

Those interested in reviewing the game will therefore have to rely on reassembling it from old copies of Alarums & Excursions, knowing, however, that it probably is revised at least somewhat from the "original."

And since I've never seen it, feel free to regard all this as hearsay.

Edit: There appear to have been two separate versions of the system produced in 1979 ("The Tourney '79 Rules" and "The Tourney/Ysgarth Adaptation Rules '79") and one in 1980 ("The Tourney/Ysgarth Adaptation Rules '80").
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Clark Timmins
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So stop your cheap comment, 'cause we know what we feel...
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Green to feel blue? Is your vision purely golden? Is your humour black or olden? Do you find you're getting yellow? 'Though you know you're in the red dread...
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Microbadge: It was for this that I was born.Microbadge: Golden CamelMicrobadge: Unobtanium RPG Uploader - This user has 10,000+ entries and is in the RPG Geek Hall of Fame!Microbadge: Ultimate VGG Uploader - This user has 1000+ entries and is in the VGG Hall of Fame!Microbadge: Golden Boardgame Uploader
The The New Ysgarth Rules (3rd Edition) included an author's note that stated "This is the second edition of our rule system..." This statement was probably correct at the time, but by the fourth edition (the edition following The New Ysgarth Rules (3rd Edition)) it had become the third edition. I believe this reflects much more of the nature of the incremental and continuous refinement of the rules (with intermittent publication) than any definitive versioning. Consider the Credits of this same product note "Some of this material has appeared in different forms in the following periodicals and rule books. All are fine works and well worth buying" and then enumerates:

- Sorcerer's Apprentice (Flying Buffalo, Inc.)
- Different Worlds (The Chaosium)
- Alarums & Excursions (Lee Gold)
- Abyss Quarterly (Ragnarok Enterprises)
- The Ysgarth Rules; Volumes I, II, III (Ragnarok Enterprises)
- The Warlord Rules; Volumes I, II (Ragnarok Enterprises)
- The Tourney/Ysgarth Adaptation Rules '80 (Ragnarok Enterprises)
- The Tourney/Ysgarth Adaptation Rules '79 (Ragnarok Enterprises)
- The Tourney '79 Rules (Ragnarok Enterprises)

Based on considering The New Ysgarth Rules (3rd Edition) the "second" edition, all of the above enumerated items would constitute the "first" edition, though Nalle probably considered, in 1980, "The Ysgarth Rules (3 volumes)" as the "first" edition. By the 1990s, however, "The Ysgarth Rules (3 volumes)" was definitively the 2nd edition and the other items enumerated above would constitute, in a vague sort of way, the 1st edition.

Edit: the images of interest are here

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