Saturday, June 25, 2022

Champions of ZED [An Overview, NOT a Review]

When people find out I have a copy of Champions of ZED, they always want to know about the contents of the rule book.  I answer this question enough that I decided to make a post about it at The Ruins of Murkhill forums.  I'm a big fan of the work being done by D.H. Boggs and I look forward to seeing what's next.  I'm not a professional (or even amateur) game reviewer but just an old gamer with a few few thoughts and observations. I collected the slight edits and have reproduced the updated version below.

Champions of ZED: Zero Edition Dungeoneering is a hardbound 189-page rulebook written by Daniel Hugh Boggs and published by Southerwood Publishing in 2013.  The following is not necessarily a review but may share aspects with a review.  The information below contains my observations from reading through the various sections of the manual.  Off we go…

What’s Inside?
The manual contains an Introduction, nine chapters, four appendixes, and an index.  There is no character sheet example provided in the book, but it shouldn’t be too difficult for one to be designed; honestly, a piece of blank notebook paper like the old days will serve just fine in this regard.  Let’s look at each section in order.

The introduction is a three-page section that provides a description of the game, a quick example of play, and an explanation about the context of CoZ. The game is described as “characters engaged in the age-old war between the forces of Law and the forces of Chaos.”.  The context of CoZ explains the intentions of the game. First, a return of the worldbuilding approach dominant in the original edition but often neglected in later games. Second, to bring together the intentions of both authors of the original edition instead of focusing on just one. Third, the inclusion of an adaptation of the less used default combat method of the original 1974 rules.

Chapter 1: The Worlds of Adventure
This is a 13-page chapter.  Unlike most modern games that begin with the basics of character creation, Champions of ZED expects “the Referee and the players must have some idea of the kind of world they are going to game in.”.  The level of detail and the exact information on the game world is up to the group but the book has information and suggestions on topics including hex maps, physiographics, population centers, adventure opportunities, creature encounters, a home base, the campaign dungeon, and chance cards.  

Chapter 2: Characters
This is also a 13-page chapter.  The opening paragraph explains that “any species of intelligent being can be used by players when it is appropriate to the setting” but also provides the Dwarf, Elf, Hobbit, Human, Orc, and Balarauk as a list of standard races.  Alignment is presented on the traditional three-point axis.  The classes available are Fighter, Cleric, and Magic-user as well as specialists such as Alchemist, Monks of the Green Robes, and Paladin.  Characters have the six standard abilities (called Traits in CoZ) with two methods to determine their scores. The chapter ends with a section on making Trait checks and Languages.

Chapter 3: Character Growth
This is an 11-page chapter.  Similar to other games of this type, characters advance by earning experience points to rise in Life Energy Levels; with these levels split into 4 tiers – Veteran, Hero, Superhero, and Lord.  Each class reaps different benefits from advancing upward.  One distinct difference in CoZ is that the Prime Requisite adjusts the experience points needed to advance rather than the character getting a bonus or penalty to the amount of experience points collected.  This chapter also covers dual class characters, 0 level characters, and aging affects.

Chapter 4: Starting the Game
This is a 29-page chapter that basically serves as the meat and potatoes of the rules with with sections on scale, travel, time, movement, equipment, hirelings, and weather among other topics.  The most interesting part of this chapter for me was the idea of Chance Cards adding “random, major events to a given area.”.  The idea is simple.  The Referee prepares a stack of these chance cards to reflect the possibilities that may occur over a certain amount of time.  The possible events could be something simple like a carnival coming to town, orcs on the move, a dragon has been sighted in the nearby mountains, or whatever else the Referee may imagine.  The area affected could be as small as the local village, the greater kingdom around it, or even a continent or the world itself.  

Chapter 5: Conflict
This is a 24-page chapter covering fighting capability, combat, fatigue, morale, and other related topics. There are two combat systems presented in this chapter, Basic Combat and Strategic Combat.  In Basic Combat, you roll a D20 and make adjustments based on the attacker’s fighting capability and the defender’s armor class and any other appropriate modifiers.  To score a hit, your final result must be 20 or more.  Strategic Combat involves a few more factors and involves consulting a chart to indicate what must be rolled for a hit.  Examples are given for both systems of combat.

Chapter 6: Magic
This is a 35-page chapter all about magic.  The chapter opens up with a list of Cleric and Magic-User spells by level.  Both classes can acquire new spells through scrolls or spell books but while a Magic-User can research new spells a Cleric must rely on a knowledgeable teacher.  Other topics in this chapter include spell descriptions, magical research, and magic items.

Chapter 7: Luck and Skills
This short chapter is only 6 pages. The opening section covers Saving Throws and their use. Rather than having descriptive names, they are labelled Type I through VI.  Feats are handled in an old school manner and are more like tricks such as landing in a saddle after dropping from a balcony or other flashy maneuvers.  Skills are also covered in an old school fashion that is tied to the character’s background rather than picking from a long list of options.  There are also several sections covering various saving throws such as Undead against getting turned, Magic, and other situations.

Chapter 8: The Underworld
This is another short chapter at only 7 pages. The contents of this chapter include dungeon design, exploration, wandering monsters, and dungeon ecology among others.  The inclusion of some "Common Dungeon Tactics" may be the most useful part of this section.

Chapter 9: Prizes
This is a 14-page chapter.  As the name implies, this chapter details treasure, magical weapons, and magical items of all sorts.  The final 4 pages of this chapter, the Afterward, offers up a designer commentary on the thought process behind CoZ.  This is a fascinating look at what the author intended and how it developed.  I used to really enjoy similar sections in games in the past and I wish more game authors would include them today.
The Appendixes
The final 27 pages before the Index consists of the Appendix I through IV.  Appendix I is a listing of monster statistics, Appendix II outlines critical hits, Appendix III details construction costs, and Appendix IV lays out the “alternative combat method” presented in the original rules that rose to use among many groups. 

The Final Contents
The last 5 pages of the rulebook include the Index, a copy of the Open Game License, and the list of backers for the kickstarter campaign.