Cover and Background

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Are you ready for dreams to become reality? To face adventures undreamt of? To face challenges that would make lesser men quail?

No? Good, because we're going to review Ballads of Eldoru instead.

Ballads of Eldoru (2nd edition) is an RPG conceived of, written, edited, and published by Oscar Merlyn Moffett in 2003. It is a melding of fantasy and sci-fi adventure, promising Waterdeep meets Star Wars, with fantastic monsters, strange technology and magic, and warriors bearing swords and ray guns. Or it would be, if Moffett hadn't been heartset on making it as boring and clunky as possible.

If you've never heard of Oscar Merlyn Moffett, he used to be semi-infamous in gaming circles. He wrote letters to Dragon under various pseudonyms before getting bits of work here and there on actual RPG products. He finally sank his parents' investment money to fund his own gaming empire, which lasted a total of seven books.

He was a bit of a crank. He believed strongly that there was a true, right way to play roleplaying games, and by god the rest of us were doing it wrong. Especially you. Stop doing that. You're having the wrong kind of fun, damn it!

Ahem. Anyway, after some forgettable "smells-like-D&D" supplements in the 90's, he started coming up with his own systems and settings, starting with Bloodstain (about vampire janitors), through Gadgets and Gargoyles, until finally making Ballads of Eldoru, which was what ultimately caused his company to implode and left him a forgotten relic of the old days of gaming.

As we'll see, there are a number of really clever ideas in the game, and they are all as poorly implemented as possible. At every possible juncture, Moffett dodges letting the players do anything remotely interesting in favor of his high-powered NPCs. Instead, players characters are chained (in some cases literally) in the most boring, uninteresting part of their setting where they can get up to such adventures as fighting low-level bandits, committing warcrimes, and getting in on the lucrative turnip trade.

Tune in next time as we learn what he thinks a roleplaying game is!

Chapter 1

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter 1

The book starts out with the standard "What is a roleplaying game?" Moffett meanders a bit while talking about other RPGs, starting with Dungeons and Dragons and RIFTS, then talking about his previous games, Bloodstain (a forgettable Vampire clone where everyone's a janitor) and Gadgets and Gargoyles (a gothic spy game).

Anyway, a roleplaying game is a game where you... You know what? I'm just going to let Moffett speak for himself.


In a role playing game, or a simulation exercise, you create a structural framework of skills, attributes, hindrances and philosophical facets that you can control in order to best interact with and overcome the formal axioms of the rules construct in order to simulate the workings of a fantasy universe. Your second-order attributes (wealth, level) increase over time giving you greater and greater ability to interact with those axioms in a meaningful way. There is no ultimate goal to this, though your structural framework (or character) may have goals associated with it that you can complete.

So yeah. That's an RPG, kids.

Then he introduces the setting for Eldoru. Eldoru is the "primary" arm of a spiral galaxy located fifty thousand light years from our own world (or well within the Milky Way; I don't think astronomy was Moffett's strong suit). There is a council of races that have formed the Union of Trade. Organized into competing corporations, these races look for now planets to trade with and exploit enter into mutually beneficial political ties.

The book tries to have it both ways with the space races. Some of them are described as scrappy, enlightened entrepreneuers who want to make deals that are best for everyone, while others are corrupt, exploitive, and about as well-intended as the Chiquita Banana Company.

One of these planets is Skynight, a planet where--gasp!--magic exists. All of the races are trying to find the best way to trade there. They naturally have the people's best interests in mind--haha, no, they're gonna exploit the fuck out of them.

Many of the natives don't trust these strangers from the stars, and these "backwards savages" have taken up armed resistance against the invaders--I'm sorry, the intrepid capitalists.

The players are expected to be natives of Skynight, helping to raise up the level of civilization on the planet and pacify the less enlightened races. That's very nearly a direct quote. There are a lot of references to bootstraps and savages in here. It's at least refreshing to hear not-Europe referred to as backwards savages, I guess. Though there's an implication that the rest of the planet is even worse.

He then describes the various regions. They're mostly your standard fantasy places. Your "savage wilderness full of barbarians," your "plains with horse people," your "oriental adventures." There are some cool ones, though. There's a cave that leads to an underground Prester John style land, a republic of wasp-men who live in a flying hive hiding in the clouds, and a clockwork city that's also a living creature. Then he focuses in on the Southern Plains, which is basically generic medieval Europe, only more boring.

This is where the bulk of the game will be played, if Moffett has anything to say about it. It's a patchwork of different kingdoms. And when I say kingdoms, I mean each and every one of them is ruled by a king. No warlords, no emperors, not even any queens. They're all using the same feudal system, they all have the same basic laws. The only things that really change are the names and how long the king's beard is. Literally; he has art for each king, but they're all the same picture with different facial hair drawn on.

Arguably the worst part of the area is that there's not much to do there. The kingdoms are all involved in peaceful trade, they've signed non-aggression pacts, and there's not much room for conflict. Even in the case of space dudes coming in, Moffett tells us that they would never sabotage each other for fear of looking back and losing that trade. It's all so jam-packed with enlightened self-interest I want to gag.

There are monsters in the region, but we're told the most dangerous are either far from the kingdom, or else are dealt with by the armies of the kingdoms.


It would be foolish to entrust defense of the kingdom to random vagabonds, therefore the contrivance of other simulation exercises of the adventuring party is not found here, out of respect for verisimilitude.

He then suggests the following for the kinds of adventure that players can expect to dive into:


The party has acquired a large supply of blood turnips, and must decide whether it will profit them better transport them to Noriskil or to Candleburg.

The town guard believe the players have been engaged in smuggling. They must clear their names or convince the king that the tariffs are unjust.

A fug troll has been spotted near a township. The players must reroute their journey to avoid it until the proper authorities can deal with it.

That's basically it for chapter one. Next we get to character creation.

Chapter 2

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter 2

Character creation starts off with a description of classes. There are two kinds: The ones you can play, and the ones that you need special GM dispensation for. In the former class, you have farmer, hedge mage, merchant, minstrel, priest, scholar, thief, tourist and footman. In the latter, you have barbarian, cosmic marine, nobleman, paladin, scout and wizard.

Each of the basic classes has a minimum set of ability scores you need to qualify for them, generally from 13 to 17. It is entirely possible to not qualify for any classes. In addition, the classes are restricted by race and origin. For example, hwarruks can only be footemen and thieves. Only humans and kæblar can be hedge mages. Characters from the Union of Trade can only be merchants and tourists, except for muktak who can be footmen. None of these are described until later in the chapter. It doesn't even say that these are racial restrictions, just tosses out the names.

Your class determines which skills you have access to. They also have class abilities. For example, the footman class gets an extra point of damage to its attacks starting at 7th level. Thieves can distract enemies if they succeed in an opposed Distraction skill check. Tourists can bribe officials (rules as written, no one else is able to even offer a bribe).

To be able to play one of the "advanced" classes, you have to petition your GM, who "should give weight to such factors as maturity, ability to role-play (as opposed to roll-play), tactical acumen, and contributions to the group (purchases of food for the GM, as well as supplements for Ballads of Eldoru, soon to be available from Elmstar Games)."

If the GM says yes, then you get a much upgraded skill package and more powerful abilities. Barbarians get a rage ability that adds +5 to their damage and +3 to their Coordination for the purpose of attacks. It's a straight upgrade from footman, and not even a small upgrade. Wizards get spells much faster than hedge mages, and nobles start with a hundred times the money other classes get. It's noted that they are forbidden from using their wealth to equip other players, but must "be aware of how noblesse oblige will impact his or her actions, giving them much greater responsibilities." Also, other players should defer to them in all decisions.

Then it skips to ability scores. Why he didn't lay them out before the classes I can only imagine.

There are nine total ability scores. To get them, you roll 2d20/2 in order for Strength, Toughness, Dexterity, Coordination, Appearance, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Wits (rounded up, in a shocking moment of clarity and kindness).

You will note that that makes eight ability scores. The ninth is called Kalah, the "Life stat." It doesn't actually determine your HP, but determines your "basic life force" and ability to learn and grow. It dictates how much XP you can earn in a session.

To get your Kalah, you have to subtract points from your other stats, starting with your highest. It cannot go above twenty, and you cannot take a stat below 14 this way. This means, of course, that you can end up with a character with 0 Kalah, and thus be unable to ever gain experience. As Moffett put it, "Some people never learn."

You determine by adding your Strength and twice your toughness, dividing the result by three to get an average, and then dividing that by two. You get that many hit points every level.

Next we jump to race. There are Skynight races and Union of Trade races. The skynight races are human, duwaren (dwarves), hwarruks (orcs), minimen (halflings), felinarens (catgirls), ghabnar (goblins) and kæblar (elves). The Union of Trade races are human (with the entire statblock copied and pasted from thirteen pages back), milgrons (klingons), trabnar (vulcans if vulcans were lizardmen), tygons (different catgirls), muktak (wookies, down to not speaking common), sybe (borg), and trikinians (green-skinned amazon women with three... assets).

Races each get a bonus and penalty to a stat, except for humans. As an example, hwarruks get a +3 to Strength and Toughness, but a -3 to Appearance, Intelligence, and Wits. They also get a bonus to damage with unarmed attacks. There are no rules for unarmed attacks, so don't expect it to come up very often.

Humans get two bonus skills to be trained in. However, you have to roll randomly to determine which they are. This can result in your level one dirt-farmer being trained in Firearms (Laser Pistols). They also get a +1 Kalah.

Next you take your skills. You get training in skills based on your class. You can only start with about fifteen skills. This is a problem, because there are over two hundred. More, you cannot attempt a skill unless you're trained in it.

Did I mention that spot, listen, jump, and climb are all skills? You cannot spot something if you aren't trained specifically in the art of spotting things. Marvelous.

Finally, you get to the Vital Details. First, you need to select a background. This is something like agricultural, mercantile, noble, etc. You are informed that you can only select skills "in line with your background (GM discretion)." It's a good thing he brought that up right after the section on picking skills.

Next you pick your eye color, hair color, and build. Eye color and hair color, we're told, correlate to star sign, but since he apparently forgot to add that section in, we don't know how. Being heavy gives you +1 to Toughness and -1 to Coordination, and the reverse if you're skinny. Being tall affects your combat reach, though we're never told exactly how much.

Geneology is randomly determined. Remember how it had you pick a background? And a class? And skills from that class? Well, get ready to do that all over again. You roll a d100 for your geneology against a chart and determine if your parents were slaves (5% chance), serfs (55% chance), freemen (30% chance), nobles (9% chance) or royalty (1% chance). This tells you what classes you qualify for and restricts certain skills and backgrounds. The son of the king is not a farmer, and the son of a slave is not a merchant. You also get a social status modifier that applies to "many social skills," from -3 for slave and +10 for royalty. It does not specify which social skills.

Finally, you're required to draw a picture of your character, with the GM encouraged to give bonus XP for "representative icons showing artistic merit."

That's character creation. Does anyone have a suggestion for a character to build?

Cromuk the Dirt Farmer

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Okay, we get a vote for farmer, and a vote for orc. Orc farmer it is.

Now, normally you couldn't make a hwarruk farmer, since they can only be footmen and thieves. But we'll say Cromuk got a special internship at the Dirt Farming Institute of Absonor.

We also need to roll his geneology. Even though it's last, it's part of what determines what classes are possible. We get a 70, which makes him a Freeman. Or Free Orc. Whatever. The important thing is that you can be a freeman farmer. Really, so long as he wasn't royalty, he could have been some sort of farmer.

Some quick rolling gives us the following stat line:

13 Strength
17 Toughness
8 Dexterity
15 Coordination
3 Appearance
13 Intelligence
9 Wisdom
12 Wits

Hwarruks get some bonuses and penalties, so that turns into:

16 Strength
20 Toughness
8 Dexterity
15 Coordination
0 Appearance
10 Intelligence
9 Wisdom
9 Wits

This leads to some interesting bits on the rules. For one thing, he cannot possibly fail a Toughness check that doesn't have any modifiers on it. The rules don't actually say what happens at 0 in a stat, other than the obvious fact that he can't pass any checks based on it. He's definitely not making friends and influencing people. But happily, he does meet the 13 Toughness and 15 Strength needed to be a farmer, so we're good there.

We'll take four points from his Toughness and one from Coordination to give him kalah of five.

Now, we take a look at his skills. Farmers get a modest list of skills to choose from, and he gets a total of... ten. We'll want at least one combat skill, and farmers have access to Combat (Staves) and Combat (Slings). His dexterity's not so great, so we'll go with Staves. We'll also grab Climbing (Natural Surfaces) and Swimming (Freshwater), since he's pretty good at strength. From Toughness, we'll also grab Resist Poison. We'll take Running and Balance from Coordination. Farmers don't get many Appearance skills, which is probably for the best. They don't get any Intelligence-based skills as "Farmers, concerned with simple repetitive tasks, are unsuited to the intellectual pursuits of their betters." They don't even get the Common Knowledge or Racial Knowledge skills, which means Cromuk doesn't know anything about the kingdom he lives in or anything about hwarruks. He does get Listen and Discern Motive from Wisdom. He has to take Profession (Farmer), and we'll round it out with Craft (Blacksmithing). He makes horseshoes on the side, say.

As a Farmer, he gets Salt of the Earth. This lets him make a common knowledge skill in place of a diplomacy check with other farmers. Except that farmers can't take common knowledge, so this is completely useless.

Finally, we can take flaws and blessings. We'll get to this later, but suffice it to say that it's not terribly worthwhile. Since he's not terribly easy on the eyes, we'll go ahead and pile a bit more misfortune on him. Pox gives him scars on his face for two points, flatulence for one, and we'll make him vindictive for three, for a total of six points. We'll go ahead and take Great Steed for four points and Loyal Hound for two. As a Freeman, his mount is a plowhorse and his dog cannot be a hunting hound. But hey, ugly as he is, at least his dog loves him. Dogs are good.

His final stats look something like this:

Cromuk, Farmer (Dirt)

Ability Scores
16 Strength
16 Toughness
8 Dexterity
14 Coordination
0 Appearance
10 Intelligence
9 Wisdom
9 Wits
5 Kalah

Combat (Staves)
Climbing (Natural Surfaces)
Swimming (Freshwater)
Resist Poison
Discern Motives
Profession (Farmer)
Craft (Blacksmithing)

Class Abilities
Salt of the Earth

Race Abilities
Strength of Hwar


Great Steed
Loyal Hound

Chapter 3

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter 3

Now we get to skills. Like I said, there's a bunch of them. They're all organized under one of the eight non-Kalah ability scores.

Like I said earlier, you can only attempt a skill if you're trained in it. A human noble can have as many as 15 skills. Given that there are over two hundred, there are going to be some notable gaps in your character's abilities. I stole this list from an old yahoo group for the game a few years ago. The actual book has them listed by things like "Healthfulness," "Sociability," and "Consideration," with the ability scores buried in the skill descriptions. I won't subject you to that because I care about your well-being and want you to be happy.

Bend Bars
Climbing (Constructed surfaces)
Climbing (Natural surfaces)
Combat (Axes [not including poleaxes])
Combat (Beaks, Claws, Talons and Jaws)
Combat (Clubs)
Combat (Exotic Swords)
Combat (Greatswords)
Combat (Knives)
Combat (Maces)
Combat (Polearms)
Combat (Rapiers)
Combat (Spears)
Combat (Staves)
Combat (Swords)
Combat (Whips)
Swimming (Freshwater)
Swimming (Saltwater)

Resist Acid
Resist Alcohol
Resist Disease
Resist Fire
Resist Frost
Resist Hangovers
Resist Lightning
Resist Necromancy
Resist Paralysis
Resist Physical Magic
Resist Poison
Resist Transmutation
Take Wounds
Use Shields

Climb Rope
Combat (Beam Weaponry)
Combat (Blowguns)
Combat (Crossbows)
Combat (Ion Blasters)
Combat (Lasers)
Combat (Lonbgows)
Combat (Rayguns)
Combat (Shortbows)
Combat (Slings)
Combat (Thrown Weapons)
Disarm Traps
Pick Lock

Contact Juggling

Disguise Other
Disguise Self
Perform (Brass Instruments)
Perform (Dance)
Perform (Drama)
Perform (Jokes)
Perform (Keyboard Instruments)
Perform (Oration)
Perform (Percussion Instruments)
Perform (Singing)
Perform (Stringed Instruments)
Perform (Woodwinds)
Public Speaking
Seduction (Opposite Sex)
Seduction (Same Sex)
Small Talk

Arcane Knowledge (Artifacts)
Arcane Knowledge (Dragons)
Arcane Knowledge (Godly Magic)
Arcane Knowledge (Hedge Magic)
Arcane Knowledge (Magic Armor)
Arcane Knowledge (Magic Blades)
Arcane Knowledge (Relics)
Arcane Knowledge (Staves)
Arcane Knowledge (Unnatural Beasts)
Arcane Knowledge (Wands)
Arcane Knowledge (Wizard Magic)
Common Knowledge (Aarilon)
Common Knowledge (Absonor)
Common Knolwedge (Auzuur)
(Skipping forty-eight other Common Knowledges...)
Common Knowledge (Xerphon Station)
Common Knowledge (Xul)
Common Knowledge (Zinder)
Racial Knowledge (Duwaren)
Racial Knowledge (Felinarens)
Racial Knowledge (Ghabnar)
Racial Knowledge (Humans)
Racial Knowledge (Hwarruks)
Racial Knowledge (Kæblar)
Racial Knowledge (Milgons)
Racial Knowledge (Minimen)
Racial Knowledge (Muktak)
Racial Knowledge (Sybe)
Racial Knowledge (Trabnar)
Racial Knowledge (Trikinians)
Racial Knowledge (Tygons)
Science (Anthropology)
Science (Astrology)
Science (Astrophysics)
Science (Biology)
Science (Ecology)
Science (Engineering)
Science (Geology)
Science (History)
Science (Paleontology)
Science (Physics)
Science (Quantum Mechanics)
Science (Volcanology)
Science (Xenobiology)

Discern Motives
Read Lips
Resist Mental Magic
Resist Seduction

Craft (Anti-gravity generators)
Craft (Blacksmithing)
Craft (Boat)
Craft (Bookmaking)
Craft (Bows)
Craft (Carpentry)
Craft (Circuitry)
Craft (Common Clothes)
Craft (Computers)
Craft (Coppersmithing)
Craft (Fine Art)
Craft (Finery)
Craft (Fletching)
Craft (Glasswork)
Craft (Goldsmithing)
Craft (Engines)
Craft (Iron Armor)
Craft (Ironmongering)
Craft (Iron Weapons)
Craft (Leather Armor)
Craft (Leatherworking)
Craft (Locksmithing)
Craft (Pottery)
Craft (Silversmithing)
Craft (Spacecraft)
Craft (Steel Weapons)
Craft (Stonework)
Craft (Land Vehicles)
Craft (Weaving)
Craft (Wiring)
Profession (Apothecary)
Profession (Architect)
Profession (Baker)
Profession (Butcher)
Profession (Clerk)
Profession (Cook)
Profession (Courtesan)
Profession (Driver)
Profession (Engineer)
Profession (Farmer)
Profession (Fisherman)
Profession (Gambler)
Profession (Gardener)
Profession (Lawyer)
Profession (Merchant)
Profession (Midwife)
Profession (Miller)
Profession (Miner)
Profession (Ne'er-do-well)
Profession (Publican)
Profession (Sailor)
Profession (Scribe)
Profession (Shepherd)
Profession (Soldier)
Profession (Stable Boy)
Profession (Tanner)
Profession (Woodsman)

Being trained in a skill gives a +2 to the roll (which is a problem, we'll see next chapter). You can increase this bonus by selecting the skill again as you level up, or you can pick more skills. You can pick one skill each level (and advancement goes up to twenty-five, with five tiers, making the maximum possible skills for a character forty).

Now, the first problem is that there are way too many goddamned skills. And keep in mind you only start with fifteen, maybe fewer. These are picked from your class list (except for the two random skills humans get), which have some... interesting gaps. No one, for example, has Spot as a skill. Merchants don't have access to Profession (Merchant), which is explicitly used for buying and selling goods. Only the Tourist has access to Small Talk.

There is no skill for stealth, though the sample adventure goes through a number of sections where the party is assumed to sneak around. Presumably, it would be under dexterity or coordination (though I don't think Moffett even understood the difference between the two), but how does it run? Opposed against spot or listen? Or both? It is a mystery.

There are a crap ton of craft skills, but there's no actual system for how they work. How long does it take to craft something? How much do you pay in materials? Who knows? But thank god we have craft (weaving) in case we need a basket.

Rolls for Seduction (Same Sex) subtract three from the roll. I'm pretty sure Moffett intended to make it harder than Seduction (Opposite Sex), but because it's a roll-under system, that means it's actually easier for gay people to pick up dates than straight people. He makes the same mistake pretty near constantly.

And like I mentioned earlier, if you don't have a skill, you can't attempt it. If you don't have the climb skill, you can't go up a ladder. If you don't have lying, you're incapable of telling a falsehood (technically, I guess you can, but you'll always get caught). Since no class has access to the spot skill, no one is able to see what's in front of them.

In summary, the skills are a goddamned mess. Next, we learn that being a jerk is worth pretty much all the points.

Chapter 4

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter 4

Flaws and Blessings

Flaws are, well, flaws. Blessings are feats. You take flaws and you get points you an spend to get blessings.

One-point flaws include things like flatulence, bigotry, and poor eyesight (giving a penalty to ranged attacks and read lips, but not spot, oddly).

You can get two points for taking an enemy, being wanted in a particular town, being slower than normal, or having an allergy.

The top tier three-point flaws are things like missing an arm or a leg, having a "mental illness" of any sort, or being vindictive. I'm not sure if the last was a misprint, but it's worth just as much as having a terminal illness. So if you really want to get in on the points, just be a dick to everyone.

There's no limit to the number of flaws you can take, and a lot of them you can take multiple times. You can be a one-armed, one-eyed schizophrenic asshole wanted in 12 systems farting up a storm if you like.

Blessings are generally very limited. You can just feel Moffett breaking out in a cold sweat at players abusing the toys he gives them.

Weapon Mastery (Prerequisite of Strength or Dexterity 17) is a two-point blessing that gives you a bonus to hit with a specific weapon. Not a specific kind of weapon, mind you. This isn't like Weapon Focus (Longsword). You are good with the longsword you have in your hand. If you lose it, you lose all use of that ability. You can't even take the blessing again with another weapon if you take another flaw later on.

Great Speed (which requires 15 Coordination) is a one-point blessing that lets you move an extra five feet in a turn... once per day.

Faction Favored lets you call in a favor from a specific faction (like Farmer's Guild of Henzig, or Free Stars Trading Company). The favor is limited to anything you could buy with two silver, and it can only be used once, at which point you no longer have the blessing.

Heroic Willpower (requiring 19 Wisdom) is a five-point blessing that lets you re-roll Resist Mental Magic, but only if you failed by one. And again, only useable once per day.

Unless you only load up on roleplaying flaws you can safely ignore, there's basically no blessing that's even remotely worth the cost.

Except, of course, for Alacrity, which every character who qualifies should take. It costs two points, and you can take it three times for a skill, so long as you have at least 13 dexterity. It reduces the number of turns that skill takes by one, to a minimum of one. We'll get into why that's good in the next chapter.

Chapter Five, Part One

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter Five, Part One

Now we dig into the core mechanics of the system.

To resolve actions, you roll 2d10 and try to get under the associated attribute. As a basic mechanic, this isn't too bad. It's got a bit of a bell curve and it's fairly simple to determine. However, there's a laundry list of penalties and bonuses that are applied, from skill modifiers, situational modifiers, star sign modifiers (not explained anywhere else in the book...). As well, Moffett wrote all beneficial modifiers as things to be added to the roll, and penalties as things to be subtracted. And each skill has its own specific benefits or penalties that are listed in the skill description.

Worse, it's only nominally 2d10. Sometimes you add dice. Sometimes you only roll a single d10. Sometimes you roll 3d10 and keep the best two.

For example, trapfinding. First you add your skill bonus. Then you add your star sign modifier (Mechanic Not-Appearing-in-this-Book). Then you add any bonuses for special tools (or penalties for poor tools). Then you subtract from the roll for the complexity of the trap. Then for any darkness penalties. Then any unluck penalties the thief is taking. If the thief is addled, he adds another die, but takes the worse two. If he comes up with a "particularly clever method of searching for traps" he substitutes a d6 for one of the d10s.

Leaving aside the bonuses/penalties going the wrong way, the whole thing is unintuitive and opaque. Each skill has its own little subsystem for how you add bonuses. Having excellent tools gives a +2 for trapfinding, but gives you 3d10 keep the best two for craft (steel weapons). Slick surfaces for climbing (constructed surfaces) gives a flat penalty, while they turn climbing (natural surfaces) into 3d10.

Initiative is determined by your Wits. You make a Dexterity check at the start of combat, and however well you succeeded determines when you go. So if your Dexterity is 16, and you roll a 12, your initiative is 4. Happily, you don't have to "succeed" at this check. So if you rolled a 19, you'd have an initiative of -3.

All actions happen in turns. A turn is one second. You start your action, and you're committed to that for the next X turns. For example, Combat (Swords) takes three turns, while Combat (Axes) takes five turns. Use Shield takes one turn. Profession (Scribe) takes 28,800 turns (eight hours of work).

You cannot combine actions. While you're committing one action, you can't do anything else. If you try, both actions fail. This has a number of... interesting results.

For one thing, if you're using that Profession (Scribe) skill, you can't take any breaks. You have to be working every single one of those 28,800 turns writing shit down or the entire period is wasted. Anything less than that, though, doesn't produce good enough work to earn any money. I hope you don't have to look for your inkwell (spot takes two turns)!

The Take Wounds skill requires a one-turn action. This isn't terrible for characters who can take Alacrity, since they can get their attack skill down to a single turn. Otherwise, though, you're probably not going to have a free action on the turn you take damage. You cross reference your result on a chart with different weapons and damage types.

Damage is determined by making a strength check, comparing to the result to the weapon's damage chart, subtracting the enemy's toughness bonus (equal to their toughness minus eleven), plus any results from Take Wounds.

You then look at the enemy's damage threshold, which is 1/4 their toughness. For every multiple of their damage threshold in damage taken, they lose a hit point. Per the examples, the damage threshold is not rounded.

When your hit points are reduced to zero, you are dead. Moffett helpfully notes that dead characters cannot take any actions.

We're not through with this chapter yet, though. Next post we'll get to movement and situational rules.

Chapter Five, Part Two

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter Five, Part Two

So let's talk about movement. This is one of the fun parts of the system. And by fun, I mean insane, obviously.

Divide your Coordination by five. If you're trained in Movement, you divide it by four. Add five to the result. You can move that many feet in a turn if you take no actions. However, reach and range for missile weapons and spells is determined by a grid system. Moffett explains that it should be "child's play" to determine when a character enters a new space on the grid. I haven't played many other systems that require you to pull out the pythagorean theorem, but here we are.

If you use the Run skill instead of the Move skill, you get to roll. If you succeed, you take the margin of your success and move that many more feet in a round. So if your movement is 17, and you roll a 13, you get four more feet of movement.

But then you get vertical movement. And hoo boy, this is gonna be fun.

You'll notice this is the 2nd edition of Ballads of Eldoru. The first, which as near as I can find out only ever existed on Moffatt's website as a word doc, made note that pulling oneself up by the strength of one's arms was "invalid fiction, the fodder for mindless action flicks." He determined this by trying for himself. Clearly, Hollywood had invented this "pull-up" thing.

But then he relented and made it a strength roll for vertical movement, albeit one that was so high that basically no character could pass it without strength-enhancing power armor. That's bad enough, but the way he wrote the rule, it applied even to vertical movement up stairs or ladders.

Instead of fixing the language like a sane man (or realizing that climbing things isn't that difficult), he decided the best solution was to give every sort of slope, ladder, or wall a Vertical Movement Bonus. If he were just a bit more Siembiedaish, there'd be a (tm) after that. Here's a typical example from the sample adventure in the book: "You see a gentle stream (bed slope VM+ of 17) running around a low hill (VM+ 10). You see a ladder (VM+ 22) leaning against the wall of a fortress (wall VM- of 5)."

Gorbash mentioned the property and holding rules. They're based on your tier (every five levels is a new tier). It's stupidly complicated, but the long-and-short of it is that if you invest a certain portion of your wealth, you can build up a business, a stronghold, a farm, whatever. An Arc is the Skynight equivalent to a season, which is when your holdings and property provide your dividends, which you can use for whatever. Gorbash mentioned the basic trick to it.

In theory, the nobleman class should be the best at this, but because of the training center bit, farmers have a much higher growth once they get going. It's kind of beautifully stupid.

So while Cromuk is the ugliest son-of-a-bitch in creation, with shitty skills, and not much brainpower to speak of, he has access to the greatest wealth-generaton system in the game. Also a loyal dog. Did I mention that? What a good dog he has.

There's just a crap ton of situational rules in this chapter, without a lot of organization. Some highlights:

Space craft don't have speed, they have accelleration. There's a chart, and there's theoretically no limit to how fast they can go so long as they keep pouring on the accelleration. However, because "there is, likewise, an equal, yet opposing principle" to every action, firing your weapons pushes you back. This is based on their weapon damage, so a laser cannon would push you back as much as a missile (which, according to the included chart, is more than any ship's engine).

When using two weapons, you take a 5 penalty to each attack. Not to the attack roll, but to the number of turns that it takes to make the attack. The only one-handed weapons that takes five turns are axes and whips, and none take more than that. This means that in the time it takes to attack with your two weapons, the guy who just has one has attacked at least twice, and maybe three or even five times. More with Alacrity.

Fire is extremely deadly ecause it goes straight to HP without having to touch the damage threshold. There is also no mechanical way of putting out the fire. No mention of what kind of check it is to extinguish someone. So apparently short of throwing them into a tank of water, there's no way to stop someone from burning to death. It makes encounters with Pit Dragons particularly terrifying.

Then there's disease.


Naturally, it should be assumed that medieval peasantry should have less resistance to the diseases that their starborn benefactors have encountered. When coming into contact (skin, breath, blood, or fluids) with a cosmic creature or character, a Skynight native must therefore make a Resist Disease roll at -2. Failure shall then indicates (sic) that they have become infected by a spaceborne pathogen. Consult the Diseases (Infectious) chart for the resulting malady.

Next up, we learn about the magic system! Yay! (Not yay. Not yay at all.)

Chapter Six

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter Six

So, magic. First of all, only hedge mages and wizards can cast spells. This isn't consistent across NPCs, but our the purposes of player characters, it is.

To cast spells, the hedge mage or the wizard has to read them out of their grimoire and then make the appropriate arcane knowledge roll. Each spell has a chart with margins of success and failure to determine how well they went. Let's look at Conjure Beast.

Conjure Beast lets you summon a creature to fight for you. A basic success gets "a vole, mouse, or other tiny vermin." Succeeding by three gets you a cat or a small dog. Succeeding by six gets you a large dog or a wolf, all the way up to an elephant if you succeed by eighteen.

Failure, on the other hand, goes the opposite way. You summon the creature, but it immediately attacks you. Which is, admittedly, hilarious. "Sic 'em, Francis! Wait, arrgh, my neck!" The worse the failure, the bigger and more pissed off the resultant summon.

Most of the spells work similarly. You succeed well, it has a bigger, better effect. You fail, it goes off in your face. Arcane Explosion detonates in your space, Quick Movements slows you down, Steal Vitality leaches your hit points to your enemy.

You start with five spells if you're a hedge mage, and ten if you're a wizard. Hedge Mages get a new spell every seven levels. Wizards get them every five. There are no spell levels, so you pretty much want to pick out what the most powerful spells are and take those right off the bat. That said, if you ever lose your grimoire, you can't make or find another one. A lot of area-of-effect attacks can destroy your book when you get hit, so good luck with that.

Some other example spells:

Speak to Beasts: This spell lets you speak the secret language of animals, hidden from humans. However, it's hidden from most animals too. There's a 10% chance for most animals to be able to speak back to you, a 5% chance for simple creatures like fish or reptiles, and a 15% for apes, parrots, and dolphins. That's on a success. Margins of success only affect how long you can keep up the conversation (starting at ten turns, and going up to sixty). Failure means you pissed them off, which could have them refuse to have anything to do with you, flee from you, or immediately attack you ("Oh god, Francis, not again!").

Nemryl's Great Warding: This lets you ward off a creature. You have to speak its true name and they have to make a Resist Mental Magic roll to approach you. Better success means it has to keep farther back. Failure actually attracts them, with a failure of 10 or worse actually summoning the named creature. Also, there are no rules for finding out an enemy's true name, except that it's "hidden and always different from their public name."

Curse/Bless Child: Your fairy godmother spell. You can give a blessing or a curse to a newborn. It gives a bonus to the child's Kalah. Success has the effect you want, failure means it does the opposite. If you hit a kid with curse, they could potentially end up with negative Kalah, which means they level up backwards. No word in the book if they'd end up with negative levels or if they'd hit the stack overflow and end up at max level like Ghandi's aggression. That said, unless your GM is planning to run some sort of succession game, I don't see anyone ever taking it.

Ignite Wood/Paper: You can set ablaze the ablazeable. Success lets you set the object on fire. On a basic success it takes six turns to actually catch fire, with better rolls making it faster. On a failure, you set yourself on fire. Idiot.

Straw To Mice: You can turn straw into mice. I think this is a reference to spontaneous generation? Anyway, better roll means more mice, worse rolls mean you turn existing mice into straw. I guess maybe you could use it if you had too much straw and not enough mice?

Jeandir's Autonomous Implenents: You make farming implements animate themselves and start tilling a field, or harvesting, or what have you. Failure actually means they keep doing it long after you'd want them to stop, which tends to destroy the field. Hilariously, a failure by 15 means they go to the nearest house and try to till/harvest/whatever it. Thanks to holding shenanigans, this is actually a fairly good spell to have if you've got a farmer in the party.

Illusionary Flock: Make it appear that there's a flock of sheep nearby. If you screw up, you get illusionary demon sheep with scary eyes and too many horns.

Mass Spoiling: You make large quantities of food go bad. Great if someone you don't like is holding a banquet. Failure turns it into the most delicious food you ever tasted. Sadly, you cannot voluntarily fail a roll.

Reverse Water Flow: You can reverse up to five cubic feet of flowing water... for ten turns. As usual, failure has the opposite effect, making it flow faster in the original direction.

Locate Primitive Technology: Lets you find the nearest "simple machine or clockwork assembly."

Locate Advanced Technology: Lets you find lasers, basically. If you have someone in the party with a laser pistol, this basically points you right at them.

Now, that's spells. But there are other kinds of magic. Priests and paladins get access to Godly Magic, which lets them try to get the gods to give them special favors. It is pure "GM-May-I" bullshit. You make your Arcane Knowledge (Godly Magic) roll and hope for a success. If you succeed, the GM may—MAY—decide that your god intercedes. Some suggestions for how this plays out:

While walking through a lightning storm, you get a -5% modifier to your odds of being struck by lightning.

Gain a +1 modifier to your next roll to influence a stranger.

Nemryl Taleweaver, greatest wizard of the land, shows up and rescues the party.

You find a copper piece in the road.

Those are actual examples from the book. Most of them are just the tinest shit possible, and the few that are actually useful enough to matter are "Big GMPC shows up and saves the day."

Finally, you can activate magic items like relics, artifacts, staves, and wands. Some of these replicate spells, some of these have specific powers. For example, the Relic of St. Thavershin is a shinbone that lets you fly once a day, since apparently that was one of Thavershin's miracles. But you have to have the specific skill, which means that only hedge mages, wizards, paladins, minstrels, scholars, and cosmic marines can use magic items. Or I guess humans who manage to roll the right random skill.

Next up, we get to equipment. Which is a long chapter, but a short section of this review, because fuck all those goddamned polearms and turnips.

Chapter Seven

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter Seven

This is the equipment chapter. You know how Gygax had all those goddamned polearms in D&D? Yeah, he has them. He also has the gladius, xiphos, falcata, zweihander, cutlass, rapier, espada, dueling sword, falchion, arming sword, falx, cudgel, mace, baton, pickaxe, cosh, blackjack, aklys, bola, chakram, dart, kestros, throwing knife, plumbata, swiss arrow, dirk, facon, kris, parrying dagger, poignard, rondel, stilleto, athame, yatagan, cinquedea, misericorde, ear dagger, battleaxe, dane axe, francisca, tomahawk, great axe, waraxe, hand axe...

It goes on. And on. And fucking on. With little notes on where the weapons came from in the real world, and bits that were copied out of the Encyclopia goddamned Britanica, because Wikipedia was only like two years old when this came out.

They do varying amounts of damage, some of them have situational modifiers, and there's usually a clear winner in each category. A dane axe does more damage than a battleaxe. A longsword has better reach than a shortsword and more damage. Claymores do fuck tons of damage, but add three turns to the attack and a penalty to the roll, which means a longsword will end up with more damage and let you use a shield. Or hell, just keep a hand free so you can flip off the enemy, and it's still a better use for your off-hand.

There are also cosmic weapons. Laser pistols, perterbium ion blasters, laser swords, repulsor rays. These are strictly better than any of the Skynight weapons, which means he makes it as hard as possible for characters to get them. Each one is gene-locked to a specific person, and no one else can ever use them. This can't be changed, and "no Union of Trade member would ever allow a primitive access to technological weapons for fear of contaminating their noble cultures." Tourists and merchants are authorized weapons to carry. The only way to get a cosmic weapon is to play a cosmic marine, so I hope you bought your GM pizza.

Then there are mundane goods. These are your blood turnips, fire apples, golden flax, carts, horses, all the fixings. Unlike weapons, these actually have listings for how much they cost in each area. Foods have notes about how quickly they spoil. This is where Moffett's love of mercantilism takes flight. He makes a note that players may wish to create a spreadsheet to determine optimal market conditions for their goods.

This is one of the longest chapters in the book, rivalling the skills chapter. If you ever have trouble going to sleep, I recommend this book. If the list of weapons and trade goods doesn't put you out, have a buddy club you over the head with it. It's guaranteed to knock you out.

The next and final chapter is the combined Bestiary and NPC chapter, Foes and Allies.

Chapter Eight

posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett

Chapter Eight

Foes and Allies is the catch-all NPCs and monsters section. And hoo boy does he have some NPCs.

First, we get the two big GMPCs of the setting.

Nemryl Taleweaver is a level 35 wizard. He has every spell in the game. His intelligence is 25, and he gets massive bonuses to his Arcane Knowledge rolls for being an Archmage. He has a bundle of magic items and a pet Star Dragon that he rides on. He is "extremely handsome" and is beloved by the fairest sorceresses and witches in the land. It recommends using Nemryl if your players are going off the rails of the plot, to "remind them of their responsibilities and to not deviate from the course plotted by the needs of the adventure." He's basically Elminster, but with a shorter beard. Also? He has the Spot skill. He is literally the only character in the game capable of spotting things.

Rosca Cometblaze is one of the most powerful members of the Union of Trade, and a level 25 human Cosmic Marine. She's got near-perfect stats and a special laser sword that can fire out lasers in a deadly arc around her. She's got "a fiery temperament but a heart of gold," and she's in love with Nemryl Taleweaver becasue of course she is. It's recommended that if your players are thinking about going off to slay a giant or a dragon, the GM should simply have her go and take care of it so they don't get distracted.

There are stats for all of the Southern Plains kings. It looks like he actually rolled for these, since they all have very different stats. They all have the nobleman class, but only seven of the twelve have the 14 appearance and 16 intelligence needed to qualify. They range from level 10 to level 15. Several of them have spellcasting, which they really shouldn't have.

There are a few villains. Chorsk Gorewallow, orc warlord who is opposed to "the principles of civilization and free trade" and raids the Southern Plains, but is always routed by their superior armies. Capsy "Iron-Eyes" Darkstar is a space pirate who wants to swoop and and steal the valuable resources of Skynight. Morgruun the Dark is an evil wizard with "sallow eyes and dusky skin" who raises the dead and drinks souls.

You also get some basic stat blocks for things like town guards, merchants, bandits, pickpockets, "trollops," and farmers. The stats seem to have been rolled up. Some of them don't have classes, and just have skills tossed on haphazardly. Which isn't a huge deal, except that he says elsewhere that NPCs should always be built in the same fashion as player characters.

Next we get to monsters. These are mostly rejects out of any fantasy RPG monster manual. You have fug trolls (which are more like D&D ogres, but with a stench attack), blade wolves (wolves with knives sticking out of their noses), primal rats (rats that are, like, big), and pit dragons (dragons that live in caves and pits). There are different kinds of giant, oozes, walking trees, giant insects, all sorts of elemental (including plasma, electric, and solar elementals), daemons, and various sorts of kobold and goblinoid (no relation to ghabnar).

Then you get a few more exotic creatures. Star dragons are actually alien crystalline creatures that live in deep space, but can visit planets when they want to. They look vaguely dragon-shaped, but with big crystal wings on their backs. They shoot plasma out of their mouths. Ch'k't'vr are insectile creatuers that burrow underground and attack creatures on the surface for their bones, which they use for building their nests. Striltor are little gremlin-looking things that eat glass and are considered a common nuisance.

Oh, and swarms! I have to share the swarm rules with you. If you have twenty rats, everytime you hit, each rat has a 1/20 chance of taking that damage (which you have to track for each rat. As written, this doesn't change when rats in the swarm die, so you're still rolling for the 1/20 chance when you get to the last rat. Insect swarms are written as having as many as a thousand individual insects (though, mercifully, they generally have a damage threshold of zero and 1 hit point each).

If you're in a swarm, then you take the damage of the swarm, multiply it by the number of creatures in the swarm, and then modify it by the percentage that are in same space as you (so if the swarm takes up for spaces, you take 25% of that), modified by your height. The taller you are, the more damage you take, because of course you have more surface area. It does not take weight into account, so a 6' beanpole takes more damage than a 5'1 dude who weighs 300 pounds.

Finally, you have some notes on building encounters. You should not "coddle" your players by trying to balance encounters around them, but instead think of what would be realistic for the situation. If it's too much for them, then they should show the wisdom to summon the town guard instead.

That's the last chapter. Next we'll get into a summary.


posted by JackMann Original SA post

Ballads of Eldoru, by Oscar Merlyn Moffett


As you can see, this is a very... interesting RPG. There are some interesting ideas and hints of a better system and setting, but Moffett veers away at every possible opportunity.

Publishing his own game gave him all the freedom he needed to make his vision come alive. Unfortunately, his vision was hamstrung by his inability to think his rules through, his insistence on controlling what players could do, and his weird obsession with trade and economics.

Really, I think the biggest take away is that you need to have other eyes on your work, and you have to be willing to listen to them. Moffett reacted poorly to criticism at every juncture, taking even the mildest criticism as a personal attack. As a result, his game bankrupted him and he's now barely remembered.

I'd love to see a game that tackles the basic premise of a sci-fi setting crashing into a D&D one. Something like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but a full campaign setting instead of an isolated adventure. I think you could have a lot of fun with it.

Lots of systems have both magic and technology, but I'd love to see one that actually looks at the tropes of Space Opera and Dungeon fantasy and works them together. You could get a lot of material out of the old pulps for something like that, back when sci-fi and fantasy were considered part of the same genre.

For the record, I think that the basic system could work okay. 2d10 roll under can work out okay if you control the math better. It's a compromise between the tighter bell curve of 3d6 and the much swingier d20. But you'd need to actually figure out how the math works and keep it simple.

Obviously, Moffett failed to do that. He just went with whatever notion popped into his head and called it good. I could almost forgive him, since he had to come up with mechanics for over two hundred skills, but then, he's the one who made it a system with way too many skills that all work differently.

Of course, most of us haven't come up with full game systems, and it's harder than it looks. But there's a reason most people don't. It takes work, and if you don't have a critical eye for what you're doing, it's going to turn out incoherent.

Leaving aside the failed system and the waste of a setting, Moffett clearly had a specific idea of what he wanted in a game, but couldn't get away from the basic framework of D&D. It's clear he wants the game to be about trade and agriculture, but the rule system is still clearly based around the old D&D model, despite his railing against the "contrivance" of adventuring parties. It leads to a frustrating situation where the system is built around adventurers, but then throws everything Moffett can think of to keep you from adventuring.

So, in summary, if you want to know the real take-away from Eldoru, read the first letter of each paragraph in this post.