Okay, get yourself a coffee or something. This is going to be a long one…
…No, seriously. Get something. You’ll be here a while. We’re talking Metal Gear Solid/Final Fantasy cutscene levels of length.
Fringeworthy, devised in 1997 – based off a series of unpublished books in the 70’s by game author/designer/math sadist, Richard Tucholka – tells the story of people possessed of a grand destiny who have the, um, genetic potential, one supposes, to traverse the Fringepaths that separate worlds and alternate dimensions by way of an alien gate. Um, to the stars.
If this is sounding at all familiar, take note of the date. Richard Tucholka passed up a fuckton of money so he could design random tables of occurences.
Anyway, none of us gave a crap about the story and were more focused on the Tri-Tac system, something that I heard spoken of with a quality one hears in stories of men with hooks for hands or giant crocodiles in sewers. Occasionally the legend would recount things such as 100 different body locations, or allergy tables, or other arbitrary tools for generating all manner of instances and outcomes. When Wierd Game Wednesday was made real, this was the game we knew we would play eventually.
I was not looking forward to this. Especially because I had abandoned the notion of rolling random values for attributes about roughly 10 years ago. Point assignation was what had been for dinner since I had stopped playing Palladium RPGs and while I missed the settings and stories, I’d never looked back as far as systems go. My dice karma does the job as far as combat and skill rolls go, but it sucks when it comes to rolling for strenth, dexterity, constitution and, unlike Palladium’s system, I’d be rolling double the normal amount of values for 15 attributes TOTAL!
Abilities included the usual mix of strength, dex and con, but added to that: Agility, Intelligence, Wisdom, Luck, Dealing with Aliens, Dealing with Alien Technology, Charisma and a whole host of others which seemed to an ill-designed attempt encapsulate every conceivable action a character could do, including which hand he used to wipe his bum!
What was worse is the paragraph that states that you don’t get rerolls, don’t get to assign values to attributes and don’t get, really, to decide just what type of character you get. Its roll 4D6 and subtract four and that’s the result.
You may want to play, for example, a scientist. In which case you better hope that you roll 10 or higher in your intelligence or other relevant attribute because if that 19 gets rolled on your strength, while your intelligence is listed as 5, then chances are you got your doctorate on a Football Scholarship. Which may not gel with your doctor who’s supposed to have the brilliance of Kildare, Cox and House but that’s tough! Creative control over your character is for wimps and you play the character fate dealt you. That’s ROLEPLAYING, son, the book explains (somewhat abridged).
…Being told by a book published in 1997 (Two years after I’d already been roleplaying quite well thankyouveddymuch) and being told I was doing it WRONG takes a special kind of arrogance…
What the book fails to mention is just what happens when you roll four 1’s and the shitstorm that results when you try to do anything in the Tri-Tac system with a zero value attribute.
So, hoping my that my dice karma had accrued positive luck for this endeavour over time, I rolled the bones and took my chances. And the highest value I got was an 11 in Constitution. I had though that I got a 14 in dealing with alien technology until I learnt that I had to put a % at the end of it. Woo-fucking-hoo. Meanwhile I had rolled a 3 for Dealing with Aliens and, ironically, 1 for Luck.
The train had already hopped the rails, but it’s worth mentioning the looming cliff on the horizon, in the sequence of character creation. Unknowing just what kind of hand you’re going to be dealt, the game insists you give your character his/her name and occupation first. Having sensed that this was going to about as south as shitting out one’s liver, I decided to set the lowest expectation I could. I would be Jason Steel, Eskimo! (or Inuit)
Ness decided to follow suit and became Sharon Stone (Shazza), Dole Bludger!
Rhys, not wholly willing to let go of the combat character safety rail, nevertheless chose Joe Schmoozy, Black Panther!
Ness actually did pretty well on the attribute roll, scoring a 19 in constitution and a 13 in accuracy. On the other hand, she did get a strength of 5. Rhys managed to get attributes that strongly favoured a combat character(and so the universe turns exactly as it should). Wednesday Adam then started to read the COPIOUS amounts of skills we could take. However, we could only take skills that our previously established occupation could, conceivably, have provided.
Rhys, thusly, had access to a skillset that could only occur if Rambo and Solid Snake punched each other so hard that they fused into one being. Ness only had access to self-taught skills but, with some pretty clever LA Law level justification and arguement, managed to score blade fighting, pistol use and air/space navigation. She rounded it out with Fashion Makeup and child care as she was wrangling the system with 8 children.
In my case I had to think about what kind of skills, available only through self-tutelage and work experience, an eskimo would have. I chose Archery, Archery Technology (how build and maintain a bow), Polar Survival, Boating, Swimming, Additional Language, Blade Combat, Musical Instrument and a whole host of other abilities that did exactly squat. Weird Game Wednesday typically centres around combat and I figured that so long as I could put max points into archery and blade combat, I might be able to salvage some fun out of this…
Fringworthy Skill Ratings are determined by rolling 1D4 (WHAT??!!). If it’s your one primary skill, you get to add 4 to the result (which was polar survival). If it’s either of your two secondary skills (archery and boating), you get to add 2 to the result. If it’s either of your two hobby skills (musical instrument and additional language) you get to add 1 to the value. Otherwise you eat the turd sandwich the dice has made for you and smile pretty.
Rolling a 1 on my archery skill and rolling a 1 on my blade combat, while my musical instrument enjoyed a value of 5 would keep me silent no longer. Hereon I would blame Ness for everything since it was her idea to try this out.
…It’s also worth pointing out that skills don’t count for crap as the tasks are pretty much entirely attribute-driven. You need at least a 3 rank in a skill for it to grant you +1 to a skill roll and every 3 ranks after that. “I BLAME YOU!” I cried at Ness, not for the last time during this adventure.
But the rollercoaster of character creation was not done yet. Now we needed to roll percentile dice and get under 4% to see if we were pyschic. Rhys and I scored an 8 and 7 respectively. Remembering something from previous discussions, both of us claimed that our parents were psychic, doubling our result chances, but nooooo. Wednesday Adam hadn’t read the rules for psychics and so we remained remarkably mundane.
Then came the allergy table and finally my dice didn’t let me down. A character with no allergies seemed pretty dull though and Ness and I were curious to see the road not travelled on this roll and, as such, tried again. This time both of us a mild uncommon allergy to animal fur. Well, that wouldn’t have been so bad. Let’s go onto armour and equipment. What did you choose for armour, Ben?
Me: Animal Hide.
It gives little comfort to know that an alternate version of me was in a worse situation than I was with this system, but what the heck. I’ll take the win.
Rhys’s character, who had taken time from his 80’s action movie lifestyle to explore alternate worlds, got guns, advanced armour and a machette. Ness chose her armour based on how pretty it looked and ended up getting some advanced ballistic protection. She’d already decided on the machette before any of us, owing to her character needing to know how to use a blade when job dodging. Keeping true to my eskimo roots and concept, I went for a bow and arrow. And a spear.
Once again, the hyper dense stats for anything possibly imaginable were read out for each weapon. 8 different stats governing rate of fire, ranges, damage, damage at various ranges and more. The fan page for the site boasts that you could take anything from Guns and Ammo magazine and translate it accurately into the system (which surprised me less than learning that there was an ACTUAL FAN PAGE for the system), but the fun times didn’t stop there. For bladed weapons there are five different ways you can wound someone, not including bludgeoning them with the pommel of the weapon. Extra modifiers to damage were derived from how sharp you kept your balde, determined by a 100 sided dice. We agreed that Rhys’s character would be obsessive enough to keep all our weapons sharpened and would ensure that none of would have to work out 75% of damage rolled on 4D6 or 4D10.
While Ness was playing with the random rolls table for determining what planet might land on, Adam points out that we could, according to the rules, reroll our entire character if weren’t happy with what we had. Bile welled up in my mouth as I spat “I BLAME YOU!” at Ness, roughly about the time when she had to roll as to whether we landed on a planet or a gas giant. Secretly I hoped for the latter as that would have to guarantee us rerolling characters, though the randomness of how easily we could die didn’t fail to upset my already fragile patience for this system.
FINALLY we were ready to commence the game: Our team, SG67 (the ‘special’ unsong exploratory/action group) had landed on a planet to hunt down some Fringe Pirates.
TO BE CONTINUED