Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kard és Mágia

The prolific and imaginative Melan (aka Gabor Lux), author of The Garden of al-Astorion and The House of Rogat Demazien, in addition to being a member of the design team responsible for Necromancer Games' Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set, has released his own old school RPG for your enjoyment. Entitled Kard és Mágia -- Sword and Magic, if my rudimentary skills in Hungarian are correct -- the game is, in Melan's words, "not a 'simulacrum game,' but rather a mixture of d20 light, old school concepts and weird fantasy." In addition to its rules, Kard és Mágia is already supported by five adventure modules, which, if his past work is any indication, ought to be terrific evocations of a style of fantasy rarely seen in RPGs.

I wish I could say more about the game, but my reading comprehension of Magyar is extremely limited. Perhaps one day we can look forward to a translation into a language I do understand. Even so, it's terrific to see yet another old school-inspired game appearing on the scene and I hope it is well received.


  1. Don't forget Melan's Systema Tartarobasis, which is one of his best, I think.

    Kard és Mágia make me wish I knew Hungarian.

  2. Here are some details about Kard és Mágia (whose title would indeed translate as “Sword and Magic”): the system is, at its heart, a stripped down and scaled back variant of d20. The core mechanics - combat rolls, ascending AC, the three saving throw types and similar elements - are, for example, derived straight from the SRD. However, this core is used to support old school gaming. The numbers, and therefore the power scale is significantly lower. On the other hand, a 6th level character is powerful in the implied setting, a plate mail +1 is a cherished piece of equipment (just ask Premier), and 1000 gold pieces is a lot of money (although not prohibitively so).

    There are more stringent limits on character selection. The available classes are Fighter (with subclasses that provide slight alterations: Archers, Amazons, Sailors and Barbarians), Cleric, Thief, Magic-User and Illusionist; multiclassing is d20-style. No feats are available, and skill modifiers are fixed at level+ability bonus, while Difficulty Classes - almost universally for skill checks and saving throws - are either Normal (DC 12) or Hard (DC 18). Some of the skills from the SRD, such as Search and all “social skills” are entirely omitted.

    Player characters are supposed to start at 3rd level (to reflect that they are not novices but adventurers with some ability and experience under their belt); level demographics are Bledsawian (i.e. lots of 1st to 4th level NPCs, fewer 5th to 8th level ones, and very-very few above that - but not zero-level characters either). Character races - which are human subgroups such as Amazon, Caveman, Horse-Nomadic (“Etunian”), Decadent (“Men of the Empire”) or Northmen, or optionally demi-human - may have level limits. These are, however, not as strict boundaries as in older systems, since they can be transgressed (at an XP penalty), or the player may elect to multiclass (which may result in an XP penalty if overdone).

    Some rules I am proud of:
    Combat manoeuvres: this aspect of combat was either handled clumsily or not at all in older systems; in d20, it adds ungodly complications. My solution is to allow opposed combat rolls; whoever gains an edge of +5 over his opponent succeeds (as you can see, this is not without risk...). This rule may be applied to non-combat situations - tests of skills, abilities or sheer willpower.
    XP for GP: this old concept (which a rather infamous writer friend of mine once dubbed “AD&D’s equation of shame”) is turned on its head; similar to Dave Arneson’s practice, you only gain XP for GP if you squander it on exotic drugs, feasts, whores, lavish displays and entirely foolish ventures (it is also stipulated, and I quote, that ”alms for widows and orphans, as well as other acts of altruism are worthy of an award, as these actions are ultimately just as ineffectual and useless as hedonistic excess”).
    Mass combat and skirmish guidelines: the very basics are based on M.A.R. Barker’s system in EPT, but morale, unit leaders, siege mechanics and a few other ideas are introduced to round it out. We have tried the system, and it works quite smoothly for strategic combat.
    (loosely translated) Bulls and Baronies: a set of guidelines for domain management, taxes, construction, mining, restrictive measures and similar stuff, including the Taxes&Death random events chart you can find on the Judges Guild site. Again; tried, worked.

    The game has much of the usual suspects from the “building blocks”; however, they are seen through a more sword&sorcery-ish lens than in Gygaxian (or even Bledsawian) fantasy. Some spells from Eldritch Weirdness and a few others of my own make have been included; creatures include monsters of weird fantasy and some technological horrors. The list of magic items (with a few technological artifacts) likewise offer additions and changes; random encounter tables for the wilderness (Cold, Temperate and Hot climates; Plains, Hills, Mts, Wastelands, Woods, Swamps, Ruins and Coastal terrain types), the high seas and cities are included.

    What I find an especially important piece of the project, and which may be considered a novelty in Hungary, is the Referee’s Guidelines. Writing this one gave me lots of headache and delayed the project by two years (to its advantage in many respects), since I had to produce a booklet that would be understandable for novices, introduce old school concepts and procedures to an audience who either does not know them, or has negative preconceptions based on very unfavourable journal articles and memes from the 1990s, and finally, to be useful and read well.

    In the end, it turned out pretty good - beyond setting up the Referee’s corpus of rules and giving advice on gaming, it has a long section on designing adventures (dungeons, wilderness adventures via three different methods, cities, as well as adventures in the Underworld or distant planes) and another one on creating and using fantastic worlds (with excursions into topics such as “running a sword&planet campaign”, “confrontations with the gods”, “non-standard deities” and “incorporating high technology”). In any case, no comprehensive and systematic guide to refereeing has been released in Hungary before mine, so even those who eventually use other systems may benefit from reading my take.

    The game comes with an example sword&sorcery/weird fantasy/planetary romance world, Fomalhaut. Some details have been available in English for a while on DF, but this is a more complete introduction - and coincidentally, its English translation will be available in issue #3 of Fight On!. Again, this setting is rather far from the Hungarian norms (where the focus tends to be on Renaissance-meets-Cyberpunk intrigue or historical simulation), so it will be interesting how people are going to react to it. In fact, I wonder why I haven’t been flamed for it yet. Guess the usual suspects just didn’t read the product. ;)

    On the adventure modules: The Garden of al-Astorion is already out in English, and The Temple of Pazuzu was also available one time (albeit in a simpler, rather unpolished form; this version is updated to be more sword&sorceryish and with some extra locations to explore). Black Blood, a creepy dungeon adventure (which was the opening piece of my Fomalhaut campaign), is planned for Fight On! #4. Sacrificial Lamb was written not by me, but a cool guy who has been running his own campaign for a few months now - it is a village+dungeon kind of affair, very brief but open and full of potential. Finally, Broken Wastes is a collection of wasteland-oriented adventure content which were in part originally planned for my never-realised follow-up to Zothay. Stone Gullet, a small fort/caravanserai can be a home base for adventurers, and there is a section for sample caravans and travelling NPCs you may encounter there or on the road. This looks like it will be my submission to Fight On! #4, or so I hope. Of the two included adventures, The Tower of Birds has been published in Fight On! #2, while I Thirst (which is two parts unconventional, two parts surreal and three parts nasty) is to be released later, either in F-O! or a future issue of Knockspell.

    So there you have it.

  3. Sounds really cool, Melan! Any plan to translate the core rules into English?


  4. I'd be interested to see an English language version of the rules too.

    Wasn't there some kind of precursor you had an English translation of, as I remember Shining Knight from the Necromancer boards had something like that.

  5. Please translate! I always admire your work.

  6. Max, Dave, Matthew -- that is unfortunately out of the question. This is a lot of material (about 190 pages of densely packed 9-point text), and I just do not have the time. If I still were a student... but maybe not even then.

    Plus there are so many old school systems out there that another would be redundant. Of course, none have the specific flavour of Kard és Mágia, but most are pretty good, and they need players.

    There was an early version where I translated the core rules to English. But there have been quite a lot of additions and alterations since then. The basics are still the same or similar, but the creature around the skeletal structure is just another sort of animal. :)

    Finally, I think people would rather have more modules and such than yet another ruleset, and so would I.

  7. I happen to be lucky and hungarian, so I have read most of the core books already. All I can say, that this is just as cool, if not more cooler, as expected... :-)

    About the translation. Maybe the main rules wouldn't be as much to summarize for people familiar with the different incarnations of d&d, as the readers of this blog. (They are "advanced" AD&D in my vocabulary, they are very modern, but still...) Your world Fomalhaut, and different gaming materials in that setting, I'm sure the english speaking community will be seeing them in the future, one way or another.

    Your scattered wisdom between the rules and the exceptional referee's guide... now, that's tough... You should write more on old school forums... ;-)

    Anyway, I'm looking forward some hungarian old school movement, this is really the first such material for hungarian roleplayers.

  8. What I find an especially important piece of the project, and which may be considered a novelty in Hungary, is the Referee’s Guidelines. [snip]

    In the end, it turned out pretty good - beyond setting up the Referee’s corpus of rules and giving advice on gaming, it has a long section on designing adventures (dungeons, wilderness adventures via three different methods, cities, as well as adventures in the Underworld or distant planes) and another one on creating and using fantastic worlds (with excursions into topics such as “running a sword&planet campaign”, “confrontations with the gods”, “non-standard deities” and “incorporating high technology”).

    Melan: this sounds particularly valuable. Any chance that you would translate just your DM guidelines? Would that be more manageable?

    If not, perhaps I'll see if I can find someone to do a translation, since they sound like they'd be a good addition to my Dungeon Design essays book we've previously discussed.


  9. grodog: probably not, or at least not any time soon. The section on designing adventures and the one on building fantastic worlds seems to be the part that is most immediately presentable as a compact "product"; I may have to look into that possibility. But not in 2008. So many ideas and so little time...

  10. Gotcha, thanks for considering it, Gabor :D ....allan.

  11. In case someone wanders by this post by accident: an abbreviated version of the rules is now available at

    It only took me two years! .)


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