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Subject: An ephemeris for astrology is recommended rss

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Clark Timmins
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I bought this book back in about 1983 when it was more or less new in the USA. I picked up the "letter size" format and foolishly allowed some clown from our high school gaming club to borrow it. Never saw it again and I'd only started to read through it. So for decades it's been in the back of my head as something I wanted to check out again. Recently I picked up the "book club" edition in tradeback. With Ye Olde Readers I finally got to finish reading this. If I had to sum this book up in one word, I guess I'd go with: "NO".

The introduction explains the need for the book - in brief, "We all love playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition) but that game sucks". Well, if it sucks so bad then why is everybody playing it? This game offers an alternative system that falls back on the tried and true saw of "realism". Here is a game that is realistic. Inside you will not find a bunch of dungeons and random monsters. Instead you will find harsh reality. Well, let's get down to it.

SETTING


The first half of the book (Chapters 1-6) is a rather high-level review of what the medieval world was "really like". It's not really a horrible review but I very much doubt that anybody really wants to play a game mired in the actual strictures of the medieval world. That's why we've all enjoyed our pseudo-medieval worlds for so long. The tone is rather preachy and superior in an off-putting way. If I was going to read about the "dark ages" society I would rather do it using almost any other book (maybe even one written by, say, a historian - crazy, I know). There are no rules in this section of the book, just (I suppose) setting development. Part of that setting is that Jews are (and should be) outcast freaks, women should know their place (being pregnant and cooking food), and noble men should (and do) make all the decisions. Social class is rigid; failure to conform means mutilation or death (or both). How do you get to be a noble man? Why, you're born into it. There's obviously no other way. The Christian church is firmly in control of everything, as it should be, and only demons dare resist the absolute will of God. The only valid variation that floats lightly through this scenario is the Norse mythology carried into the land by the various raiders who can't be repulsed or eliminated and must therefore be begrudgingly tolerated. Even though we all know they are not real smart. Famine, pestilence, and war are the order of the day. Peasants exist to create a surplus so nobles don't have to do menial work. Period. That's the setting.

CHARACTER CREATION


The rules allow for character creation, combat, and magic use. There's not much consideration of anything else. Female characters "must unfortunately take the penalties of a patriarchal society: physique and endurance -3, charisma -2, social class -3, bravery -2, greed/selfishness/lust -3. They will be excluded from combat, from all parts of the Church save the nunnery, and expected in most cases to adopt a domestic position as wife, housekeeper and servant. These factors are invariable." That's not as bad as being Jewish, however.

Characters are defined by their Star Sign (what's you sign, babe?), then by Physical Attributes (Height, Weight, Physique, Ability, and Endurance), Mental Attributes (Intelligence, Faith, Literacy, Languages, Mana, and Piety), Personality Factors (Charisma, Social Class, Bravery, Greed, Selfishness, Lust, and Leadership), Social Background (Father's Social Position, Age, Family Rank, Occupation, and Social Position), and Skills (Riding, Tracking, Swimming, Stealing, Climbing, and Singing). Many of those attributes are generated with a random 3d6 but others have special methods. For example, all characters height is 4'7" + 1" per Physique point. If that's too simple, then Leadership is defined as [(3 x Charisma) + Physique + Intelligence + Bravery + (4 x Social Class)]/10. Curiously, the character with the highest Leadership score is defined by the rules as the leader of the party. Don't like it? There's a whole page of rules for "Challenging the leader". If you do that successfully you're not the new leader. You just get to make the one decision under scrutiny.

The whole Social Class and related attributes get really complicated really fast unless you end up as a something like a Man-at-Arms (not only the most likely, but probably the best for terms of game play).

Characters also roll on the Bogey table from 1-3 times. Along with Homosexuality, Homophobia, Bisexuality, Stammer, Limp, Asthma, and Alcoholism, you could also end up with Jewish, Heretic, or Atheist. The rules for Jewish are summed up thus: "You will be persecuted and shunned by all right-minded Christians".

Characters gains three types of experience. The concept of "Class" is very poorly defined in the game but essentially all characters are "triple classed". They gain experience in different areas for doing different things. Generally, gaining a "level" is poorly defined, quite difficult, and quite valuable. The three areas of experience are "Combat/Adventuring", "Religious", and "Magic". The subsequent rules do not use these terms consistently - for example, "Magic" level is often referred to as "Mage" level, etc.

COMBAT


After the miasma of character creation the rules move into Combat. I believe that the system is not actually usable, but lets cover the high points. The game offers two systems for combat - a "man to man" version, familiar to most roleplayers, and a "mass combat" version to handle actions involving more than about 20 opponents. This mass combat version is, in fact, an embedded miniatures wargaming system that has little to do with anything else in the book. But since the name of the game is Fantasy Wargaming, it's a good thing that we have at least a fantasy wargame included.

First, "man to man" - combat is run in a "pre-combat" phase that proceeds to a "combat" phase of rounds. Pre-combat consists of five steps: check morale, check berserk control, make note of intended action, missile weapon discharge, and "instantaneous" magical effects. We then proceed to repeating ten-second rounds of combat.

In each round, (1) characters with long weapons or high Agility, or characters attempting a "lunge", go first; (2) attacked characters gain counter-attacks; (3) everybody else goes simultaneously; (4) morale checks based on new status; and then repeat the next ten seconds.

All of these actions are fairly complicated, and nothing is "static". So checking morale is not a roll against a number, it's a calculation/roll/action table method. For every opponent. Likewise, the combat attack is not a modified roll versus an armor class. That stuff is in there, but so are conditional modifiers like damage sustained and morale results. The result is compared to an action table that determines hit success, hit location, and damage. This is (possibly) modified by the target's dodge, parry, or disengage actions. Surprisingly for such a complicated system, there are very few combat options available - basically you'll stand and trade blows until somebody runs away or dies.

The "mass combat" embedded wargame runs to almost twenty pages. I've read lots (and lots) of wargame systems. This one rates a solid "also-ran" rating. It will handle your basic formation vs. formation on various terrain. Not much else. It does it with the usual blend of "too much detail here" and "not enough detail here". But it's not a horrible system. It's for sure head-and-shoulders above the rest of the game. However it's not really linked back to the base system. You can have "your main guy" be represented by a single miniature but they'll act more like a buff dude than a significant champion (in other words, it's a good way to TPK really quick).

MAGIC SYSTEM


Now we come to the magic system. It's a doosey. First, it's accessed primarily via a character's Magic Level. The game appears to suggest that a Mage can have several Magic Levels, in various specific types of magic - this is very poorly defined, however. Given the Magic Level, however you decide to figure it, you then have a host of fixed modifiers and a host of variable modifiers. These all combine with a dice roll compared to an action table to determine whether or not the character has "linked" to the ethereal plane from whence all magic comes. It will depend on: Magic Level, Faith, Intelligence, Luck (randomly determined at casting time), Preparation, Enchanted Items, Protective Devices, System of Correspondences (see later*), most-recent prior result, Target Type, Caster's Sign, Target's Sign, Degree of Difficulty (something vaguely like Spell Level), Spell Mastery and Specialization, and a variety of Circumstantial modifiers. This all sums up with a roll, you check the action table, and you get a percentage. Roll that percentage or less and you've got your link. If you link, you proceed. If you don't link, you burn the Mana and the spell fizzles.

If the spell happens, the target then calculates their Saving Throw. This is a little more straightforward than Linking (above) and has a limited result - usually, a saving target is not affected but will experience a Mana burn in the process of saving.

Now we get to the actual spell itself. First, you cypher out your Basic Magic Calculation. This is another laundry list of modifiers including: Number of Targets, Magic Level of target, Degree of Difficulty, Faith, Charisma, Type of Spell, Spell "Echo" (e.g., multiple casters), and Pledges (e.g., multiple casters via a different method). You sum these up, add in your roll, compare an action table, and get a percentage. Roll the percentage or less and your spell finally goes off - figure and apply the effects. Roll over? You burn the Mana and nothing happens.

*Now, back to Ye Olde Physical Correspondences. This is a table that enumerates the caster's Star Sign down the side. Across the top are various correspondences: Planet, Date, Day of the Week, Hour of the Day, Element, Metal, Gem, Wood, Herb, Color, Number, Body Location, Beast, Type of Place, and Aspect of Human Life. At each intersection you have a specific. You use this table TWICE per consultation. The first time you use your actual Star Sign and anything involved that "corresponds" gives you a bonus. The second time you use your "Astral Sign" (six-places removed, or the opposite) and anything involved the "corresponds" gives you a penalty.

Let's just say I'm an Aquarius Mage casing a spell. If that spell corresponds to Uranus, Jan 20-Feb 18, Saturday, 2-3 AM/PM, Air, Tin, Opal, Elm, Fumitory/Mullein/Barley, Transparent, 4, Legs, Horses, Wetlands, or Magic/Treasure-Seeking/Friendship with Comrades then I get a bonus for each correspondence. If that spell corresponds to Sun, Jul 21-Aug 21, Sunday, 8-9 AM/PM, Fire, Gold, Topaz, Mistletoe, Bay/Rue/Saffron, Yellow, 12, Heart, Cats (any type), Plains, or Worldly Power/Justice/Leadership then I get a penalty for each correspondence. The actual bonus or penalty will depend on how many correspondences there are, my Mage class (poorly defined), and the type of spell I'm trying to cast. The final modifier from this system will range from -4 to 18, though anything beyond 0-4 is highly unlikely. How do you determine whether or not your spell involves "Tin" or "Saffron" or "12"? Well you adjudicate it. Note you can't really do that for a given spell and then use the results later, because the result relies on the Date, the Day of the Week, and the Time of Day just as much as anything else. What other system finds your mage declaring: "I will wait to cast that spell until 9 PM on the first Wednesday occurring on or after August 22"? That's realism!

Now on to other magical miscellany. There is an enumeration of spells, but they are not spells in the common sense. A "spell" in the system if what most other games would call a "type" of magic. You have a spell of Divination, one of Levitation, one of Transmutation, etc. To cast that spell you use the system noted above. The game suggests a Mage could specialize in a given spell but this is poorly defined. Also, if the target of the spell is an intelligent being then it will have a True Name; knowing the name gives you a bonus on getting the spell to work. There are a a half-dozen other "special" things like True Name that are not intrinsic to the system - sort of bolt-ons. One major aspect of magic use is summoning and controlling demons or angels. There's quite a bit of information about doing this, but not much on why you'd want to do this unless you just want to summon a demon to fight. Summoning a demon is a "Class 3" sin; summoning an angel is a "Class 1" sin. This sin aspect is a sort of bolt-on process for characters that use a lot of priestly type magic (either Black Magic or White Magic). The whole Church-sponsored magic aspect is yet another poorly defined area of the game.

Concluding comments on the magic system: If you've ever found Gygax's "Vancian" magic system quotidian, this system will convince you it's ingenuous. The rules assume that combat magic will involve only "instantaneous" spells; the actual nature of these is vague, at best, but the general idea is that you've cast about 99% of the spell previously. It's unclear how many of these you can have pending at any one time. Thus, magic is quite powerful but not really usable very quickly.

After the nearly 100 pages of magical system contortions, we come next to the bestiary.

BESTIARY


This is probably the strongest part of the whole game. Not that it's incredible - just that it enumerates a slew of historically accurate monsters derived from medieval myth. I suggest if you are just glancing through this game you start right at the end.

CONCLUSIONS


The game proposes to be a more-realistic replacement for Gygax's game. However, the major criticisms of Gygax's game are not the rules or the system or even any of the components. It's aimed at the "unrealistic" aspect of adventuring parties of characters and random dungeons. This game overcomes the "adventuring party" unrealism by having the adventuring party possess a designated "Leader" who issues orders that must be obeyed. The Leader will heavily rely on their Social Class to justify being the leader. So the party ends up being something like a minor noble leading about a bunch of men-at-arms. This does remove the question of "why is this party together" but replaces it with a degree of inter-party tension and, possibly, power struggle. The "random dungeon" aspect is not addressed; instead, the heavy reliance on "real" medieval customs and society is offered as an apparent substitute. Presumably there are no dungeons at all and adventuring means roaming the countryside and torturing peasants interspersed with your odd medieval beast encounter.

There are no gold pieces, either, because that's easy but totally unrealistic. Instead you get a bunch of coin types with these equivalencies:

∙ 1 Gold Sovereign (GS)
∙ 5 Silver Marks (SM)
∙ 10 Ducats (DT)
∙ 20 Florins (Fn)
∙ 40 Shillings (Sg)
∙ 200 Groats (Gt)
∙ 1,000 Pennies (Py)
∙ 5,000 Copper Farthings (CF)

For convenience, many prices are given in Florins. But a warhorse, for example, costs you 40 GS/2 Gt/7 Py. Of course, that's just your base cost. It must then be modified by your Social Class calculation - the higher your Social Class the less you pay. Much, much better than gold pieces.

And one last comment. The game lambastes Gygax's system for presenting such an inaccurate medieval system. Then it presents a medieval system that is "just like" the real world's culture actually was. But then it bolts on magic. So, yes, the High Priest can actually summon a major angel (Gabriel, for example) to come down and smite the Church's enemies. But strangely the Church still is often rebuffed by royals. And yes, a powerful Mage can actually summon up Baal to conquer a city. But strangely each little town still has a militia that works to keep the peace. So you have a world that's infused with magic but a world that strangely is just like the real world that doesn't have magic. I'm unclear how that's more "realistic" than Gygax's pseudo-medieval world. Which wasn't in the rules anyway. But not's let quibble about alternate facts.

As a final note - the cover (front/back) shows an alchemist in his lab doing alchemy. The rules note that alchemy doesn't play a significant role in gaming (?) so no rules for alchemy or alchemists are provided - by design. Odd.

tl;dr - another awful system from the early 1980s
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Darrell Pavitt
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Sounds like it was written by someone who thought Chivalry and Sorcery was too simplistic.
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CC
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Sounds like the person who originally stole the book from you did you a big favor.
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Sounds like it came from the same place as FATAL, if the designers of that game had some sense of shame.
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David Trimboli
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ctimmins wrote:
If I was going to read about the "dark ages" society I would rather do it using almost any other book (maybe even one written by, say, a historian - crazy, I know).


The book was written by historians, and medievalists.

Quote:
Part of that setting is that Jews are (and should be) outcast freaks, women should know their place (being pregnant and cooking food), and noble men should (and do) make all the decisions. Social class is rigid; failure to conform means mutilation or death (or both).


None of what you just said is in the book.

In medieval Europe, Jews were, in fact, shunned, though they were common and formed an indispensable part of society. The authors professed no preference to shun Jews; they're just pointing out their position in medieval society.

Women's social positions really were awful, but the female Fantasy Wargaming character isn't pregnant and in the kitchen. She's going on adventures, but in a social role that medieval European society would have allowed her. Also note that while female characters get penalties to their physical attributes, they get bonuses to their "temptation" attributes.

Noble men pretty much did make all the decisions; the game reflects that. If you have a high-born character with miserable personality attributes and a low-born character with tremendous personality attributes, the low-born character might actually lead.

Social class in medieval Europe was pretty rigid, but FW allows greater social mobility than in history. If you can pay a certain cost in money, you can elevate your status (though you can't become noble or join the clergy just by paying money). There is no talk in the book of "mutilation or death" if your character tries to go beyond his social station.

Quote:
How do you get to be a noble man? Why, you're born into it. There's obviously no other way. The Christian church is firmly in control of everything, as it should be,


You want a historically consistent setting for medieval Europe? You gotta have this.

Quote:
The only valid variation that floats lightly through this scenario is the Norse mythology carried into the land by the various raiders who can't be repulsed or eliminated and must therefore be begrudgingly tolerated. Even though we all know they are not real smart.


Actually, the Norse culture is presented so you can adventure in Norse lands, like those in Beowulf. You could also play Viking raiders, but all those rules for Norse religion wouldn't be there if the only kind of Norseman you could play was a Viking raider.

Quote:
Famine, pestilence, and war are the order of the day. Peasants exist to create a surplus so nobles don't have to do menial work. Period. That's the setting.


That's history.

Quote:
Characters gains three types of experience. The concept of "Class" is very poorly defined in the game but essentially all characters are "triple classed". They gain experience in different areas for doing different things. Generally, gaining a "level" is poorly defined, quite difficult, and quite valuable. The three areas of experience are "Combat/Adventuring", "Religious", and "Magic". The subsequent rules do not use these terms consistently - for example, "Magic" level is often referred to as "Mage" level, etc.


Actually, the game does have classes. There are three of them: warrior, cleric, mage. But you don't typically write "class" on your character sheet; you write your profession there, and the various professions are grouped into the classes. The professions are:

Mages: Wise Woman/Cunning Man, Witch, Wizard, High Sorcerer, Runic Sorcerer, Cabalist
Clerics: Secular Cleric, Monk, Friar, Religious Knight, Devil Worshipper
Warriors: All the types listed on the Warrior Table at the end of the combat section.

So whenever the rules call for a modifier based on being a mage, a cleric, or a warrior, you base that on which group your profession belongs to.

Gaining a level is not poorly defined. They give you formulas to calculate experience points for each of the three categories; you gain a level in a category at each 1,000 experience points. The process of gaining levels is explained quite extensively.

Quote:
The game appears to suggest that a Mage can have several Magic Levels, in various specific types of magic - this is very poorly defined, however.


This is not poorly defined. You have exactly one Magic Level. But different professions of mage are good at different types of magic. So for instance, Cabalists get +2 to spells of elemental matter, while Wizards get 0 and Cunning Men get -1. There's a table that gives all the modifiers.

Quote:
Presumably there are no dungeons at all and adventuring means roaming the countryside and torturing peasants interspersed with your odd medieval beast encounter.


If you'd read the source literature the way the book told you to, you'd know of all kinds of adventures that fantasy consistent with history would suggest.

Quote:
And one last comment. The game lambastes Gygax's system for presenting such an inaccurate medieval system. Then it presents a medieval system that is "just like" the real world's culture actually was. But then it bolts on magic. So, yes, the High Priest can actually summon a major angel (Gabriel, for example) to come down and smite the Church's enemies. But strangely the Church still is often rebuffed by royals. And yes, a powerful Mage can actually summon up Baal to conquer a city. But strangely each little town still has a militia that works to keep the peace. So you have a world that's infused with magic but a world that strangely is just like the real world that doesn't have magic. I'm unclear how that's more "realistic" than Gygax's pseudo-medieval world. Which wasn't in the rules anyway. But not's let quibble about alternate facts.


The book's goal, which is explained very clearly, is to present the medieval world as its inhabitants believed it to be, magic and all. Everything that appears in the book, they believed in. The book covers a wide range of history, so they didn't all believe all of it simultaneously, but the book is very clear about which bits go together.

The authors weren't trying to create a "realistic" game; they were trying to create a "self-consistent" game, where the things that exist and the things that happen have a logical reason to be. In the early days of D&D, most adventures included things like dungeons with dragons stuffed into twenty-foot rooms with no obviously means of life support. The moral of FW is supposed to be "give your adventures a logical context."
 
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Clark Timmins
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SuStel_DAT wrote:
None of what you just said is in the book.

Except for those portions which you then admit are in the book. Which, as it turns out, is all of what I said.

SuStel_DAT wrote:
She's going on adventures, but in a social role

Which her mandatory charisma -2, social class -3, and bravery -2, make her imminently suited to, no doubt. And assuming her social role adventures are not in the church unless at a nunnery. And assuming her social role adventures are amenable to her adopting a domestic position as wife, housekeeper, or servant. Remember that per the rules, "These factors are invariable." In fact what female characters in the game can expect are adventures in the social role of being pregnant housewives.

I'm actually wondering if we're talking about the same game?
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