Monday, July 30, 2012

RPG Week: Barbarians of Lemuria (Beyond Belief Games)

I have to tell you, I have tried hard to curb my role-playing game consumption over the years. I have stacks of books from games I have never and will never play. But, look at this cover? Seriously? A huge barbarian in a pit, a tentacled horror, a mostly naked sacrifice, and a gorilla in a witch-doctor mask. Let me repeat that: a gorilla in a witch-doctor mask. Obviously, this demands investigation.

I have yet to play Barbarians of Lemuria, but it seems a simple enough system to get started, and frankly has a lot of elements I like already. Characters are built on a point buy system, but it is a simple one. Everything comes in fours. You have four abilities (strength, agility, mind, appeal) and four points to spread around (a zero is considered average). You have four combat skills (brawling, melee, ranged, defense) and four points to spread around. You pick four occupations, and you guessed it, have four points to spread around. From this point, all resolutions (combat, skill challenges) are rolled on 2d6, adding either your appropriate combat skill score, ability score, or sometimes your occupation score. A twelve is a success, a two is a failure.

Character generation starts with back-story, which you use to then define your character. I gave it a try, creating one of your classic support characters:

Jara the Fair was a priestess of Lilandra with some training as a magician. During a pilgrimage her caravan was attacked by raiders and she was captured and made a slave. Fortune was with her, and she escaped to a nearby city. Penniless and alone she is unable to return to her home and makes a living as a dancer.

Simple, but effective story. The highlighted words represent Jara's occupations as defined by the game mechanics. This gives us someone with little in the way of combat skills, but a good mix of support skills, as well as a potential purpose for the party adventuring (always helpful to a Game Master). The rest went pretty easy. Low on strength, high on appeal, points to mind and agility. Her four occupations define what she is potentially capable of. There is no grand list of skills here. Should a magician be capable of reading the strange runes, or at least knowing something about them? Probably, so roll and find out. Could a dancer conceivably distract a guard while her friends sneaks past him? Extremely likely.

This gets us to a second thing I like. I have seen this before, and D&D Next players will recognize it. Players can receive "boons" or "flaws", which are essentially advantages and disadvantages. When you have either of these, instead of rolling 2d6 for success/failure your roll 3d6. If you have a boon take the two higher dice, if you have a flaw take the lower two. I like this style of mechanic for advantage/disadvantage, as in standard D&D you might get a +2 on a roll and still roll a 1. With an added die you can still roll all ones, but your chances of that are reduced.

Lastly, if there is anything I hate in a role-playing game it is having to be an accountant. This takes two forms in the guise of rewards; treasure and experience. As a game master, trying to balance how much is too much or too little in the way of experience is troublesome. A goblin is worth x experience points, a giant spider worth y experience points... You might want characters to level up so you can move on to more interesting adventures, but you have to keep grinding away trying to reach that next level. Barbarians of Lemuria does away with this in many ways. If the characters finish the adventure they get two advance points. If they did something particularly awesome, they get three. If it was particularly not awesome, they get one. These advance points start stacking up and characters get to use them to advance their ability scores, advance their occupation ratings, or buy new occupations. They buy process is a little much to define here, but not overly difficult, but just so you do not think characters will be gods in several sessions I'll explain the ability score advancement process.
Jara (described earlier) has an appeal of 3. After several adventures she decides to advance that score to 4. To do so she needs to spend advancement points equal to her current appeal and the appeal she is going to, so from 3 to 4 is 3+4=7. If she has 7 advancement points she can increase her appeal to four. If not, she could continue to gain points through adventuring or spend it on her combat skills or occupations instead.
The second part of rewards is money. I hate money in RPGs. It is too real-world for me. In Barbarians of Lemuria you start with standard gear appropriate to your character, and then things you plan to need you just get. According to the rulebook, Conan never goes shopping, why should you? Also, hordes of gold are not supposed to be kept, but rather you are to spend the earnings on drinking and wenching. This builds your reputation and status. The townsfolk were not present when you killed the tentacled horror, but will remember the party the survivors threw. Proper disbursement of treasure is key to earning advance points, particularly in the "awesome" factor. Before advancement points are awarded they players should describe how they blew all their money. The story is the ultimate determination of advancement point reward. There is not even a space on the character sheet for money. I approve.

In all, this looks like a solid game that could be easily adapted to most genres. Obviously it is set up for a fantasy setting, but they have done a modern warfare version called Dogs of W*A*R, and there is certainly the flexibility to make a pulp style, paranormal investigation, or space opera version. Since there is no need to create classes, just general occupation roles, the sky appears to be the limit.

Check out Beyond Belief Games at their website for more info.


Al Bruno III said...

Oh man. This makes me wish I still gamed!

Darius Whiteplume said...

There is always Skype gaming ;-) IIRC, they specifically suggest not using minis and a playmat.

Garnett Elliott said...

Hmmm, not sure about that last comment, but . . .

BoL is the hands-down best RPG I've ever played, and I've played a bunch of 'em. Simply put, the rules get out of the way. It's a dream system for ref's, and it emulates Swords and Sorcery right down to the skimpy loincloths. Conan-style adventures run perfect with this system.

I wrote a whole bunch of scenarios for use with BoL, available on this website (Strange Stones, run by the awesome Venomous Pao):
You've got to scroll all the way down to the bottom to see them.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Yeah, that guy seems to get through the SPAM filter somehow. No idea what his thing is, and his comment posts are never even contextually appropriate (beside being a cut/paste brand of lunacy -- always the same comment).

I will definitely check out your adventures. So far my biggest concern is in making villains that are challenging. I guess you just give them a pool of advance points to keep them balanced. I have been toying with some undead for the game in the meantime. You can't have sword & sorcery without skeletons, right? ;-) Though they are really just rabble and not much different than a town guard. I'll likely post what I came up with sometime.

Timothy Brannan said...

I picked this up based on your recommendation.

I am going to give it a try!

Darius Whiteplume said...

Cool! I hope you like it. Seems like an awesome system.

Narmer said...

And for the adventures G-Man, we thank you!

Darius Whiteplume said...


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