Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Vornheim: The Complete City Kit

Player: Fluffy the half-golem needs repairs! Where's the nearest alchemist?

GM: Err... [flips through three hundred pages of text] hang on, it's here somewhere...

Player: I'll put the kettle on.

A proper old-school GM cares not one jot for detailed maps of every street of every district of the City of Genericfantasyburg, because the old-school GM will just roll on a random table to discover what's round that corner or behind that door. I don't know him aside from his blog persona, but Zak S. -- it stands for Sabbath or Smith depending on which hat he's wearing that day -- seems to prefer this philosophy of generating random data and trying to sort it out at the table, but with Vornheim he suggests that even random tables aren't quite fun enough.

Vornheim also represents an explicit dissatisfaction with the rpg book as a format, that as game books, they're perhaps a bit too bookish and aren't nearly gamey enough. Zak wants them to be more than just containers for text -- this is reflected, consciously or not, within the city itself, where snakes are the medium of choice -- and as such Vornheim is a thing to be used, a bundle of mechanics and tools, a -- you knew it was coming -- kit that only takes the shape of a book, for lack of a better format.

Imagine I want to generate a city location, so in order to do so, I use the front cover of the book. I adore this. It's the author saying "I don't want the cover to just be the thing you stick the title and a pretty picture on, even if I am an artist; I want you to be able to get an actual use from the cover." The idea is to maximise game utility, because the prettiest painted cover image is of about as much use as a chocolate fire guard if your players want to know what's behind that green copper door.

So, I want to generate the location. I get a d4 and I roll it -- this only works with the pointy types; my fancy twelve-siders just roll right off the book, off the table and into the dark corners of the room, where the spiders dwell -- onto the cover of the book itself.

Vornheim is a city of towers, so let's generate one of those. The 14 to the right of -- and almost obscured by -- the die tells us that the tower has fourteen storeys, and the 2 below the die tells us that the tower has two bridges linking it to other towers. The number rolled, a 1, tells us how many entrances the tower has. This takes about a minute, start to finish, more if you faff about trying to find your dice bag.

It's not just cute and fun -- though it is that too -- as this kind of innovation is also there to make the generation of game data more useful and efficient; the exact same roll gives us a fighter with an Armour Class of 18 or 2 -- depending on D&D version -- of second level, and wielding a sword. The same chart can also generate an animal, monster, thief, wizard, group of city guards, inn, two types of internal room, two types of magical attack, and a poison. There's another very similar chart on the back cover, and the book contains a number of different pages that operate along similar lines.

Not all the material in the book follows the same format. There's some prose description, maps, a couple of keyed map adventures, and more than a few random tables, but these are all infused with the same sense of trying to do more with such tools, to not fall back on what is expected of a city-based rpg sourcebook. This informs and supports the general approach of describing Vornheim through examples, rather than present an encyclopaedia of every street, house and citizen.

That said, the GM is given the tools to generate such elements as and when they are needed, and more importantly perhaps, to make them interesting and dynamic when they do come up; Vornheim rejects the mundane, conventional and boring, and this attitude is apparent on every page. The stated goal of the book is not only to allow a GM to create a city on the fly, but to make it interesting, memorable and fun, and I would argue that it more than succeeds in that task.

It is rather D&D-centric and I don't run D&D, but that's not the fault of the book and it's not as if Zak's blog title doesn't make it very clear what his game of choice is. It's not a huge problem by any means, as the book uses so few actual statistics and rules that it's easy enough to convert to one's chosen system, and besides, my key interest was in how Zak pushed the boundaries of rpg sourcebook presentation, and that's something one can appreciate irrespective of the game system.

The book could have done with another editing pass perhaps, as there are some glitches here and there, such as missing table headers and a couple of cases of repeated and redundant information. In places, there's also some repeated and redundant information. Even so, these glitches are few and none of them have any negative effect on the utility of the book, and that's what counts at the end of the day.

To compare Vornheim to the perennial Best City Book Ever nominee Ptolus is perhaps not fair -- although I sort of just do that, oops -- as they're very different products with very different intentions, and to say that one is better than the other seems a bit pointless. Let it be said then that I prefer Vornheim, even as an infrequent fantasy GM, because it strives to be more useful than exhaustive, and because I admire and support the genuine attempts to do something different within the format of the rpg sourcebook.

Vornheim is a sixty-four page A5ish hardback book, more or less compatible with most versions of D&D -- even the Unmentionable -- and is available from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess shop for 12.50€. It's well worth every whatever-pennies-are-called-in-the-Euro-is-it-cents-I-don't-know.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Vornheim is Mine!


Written by this chap and published by this fellow, Vornheim: The Complete City Kit is, as the title might suggest, a toolkit for running urban adventures, and over the past few months I have been waiting with considerable and increasing excitement for its release. Not because of its content, although I expect that to be of a high standard, but because of the ways in which that content is conveyed, presented and displayed; this may be one of the most revolutionary rpg products published in years.

A full review will follow, once I've read it cover to cover.

Monday, 18 April 2011

One Issue Campaign, UK Edition: Part the Second

Right, so in the first post, I went through White Dwarf #67 and pulled out most of the material suitable for use in a game; now I'm going to try to hammer it into a campaignish sort of shape.

Right away I realise I have a problem: I have no map. Of the games I have to hand, Rogue Trader has a starmap, but one that's already well stocked with detail, and I'm not that fond of the sample map in Labyrinth Lord; it's a decent enough campaign map, but I'm not getting the right feel from it in this case. Instead I'm going to see what I can build from the material in the magazine, which also lets me off the hook in choosing a system for all this, as I'm still not ready to make that choice yet.

So, what have we got? There's some setting information in the adventure A Murder at Flaxton; aside from the titular village, we're told of the towns of Brecor to the north and Zerler to the south, as well as another nation across the sea, called Veridor. So that's the starting point, and I think I'll also use that advert for Games Workshop stores -- the one with the parachuting pygmy orcs -- and convert the seven shops into settlements in the game world. Quick and dirty campaign map below!

I've already identified hobgoblins and orcs as major humanoid races in the setting, and there are enough dwarves in the magazine to make them the third racial group. Humans are conspicuous by their absence -- although I suspect distant Veridor is a human nation -- but we've got a barbarian culture to put somewhere, so let's make them humans.

For some reason, D&D hobgoblins have this east Asian -- Mongolian usually -- aesthetic, so let's use that and combine it with the samurai and ninja miniatures we uncovered in the previous post. Our hobgoblins then are generic Oriental types, which ties in with the Peking Duck adventure; we'll set that in our capital of Ravenscourt, which is cosmopolitan enough to have a hobgoblin restaurant, and the Tongs in that scenario are now a hobgoblin criminal gang. Let's also turn the scenario's mafiosi into dwarves; we'll call them the "Iron Ring" and their chief enforcer is a dwarf nicknamed "The Juggernaut" for his special ability to smash through any obstacle with ease.

The head of the Iron Ring is a dwarf named Silenjax, who has made many an enemy in his time. What follows is an actual classified advert from this issue:

Rukin, hobbit extraordinaire, seeks vengeance on Silenjax, dwarven scum. May your beard grow lice and wither, you disgusting relation to Jock the American.

These in-character small ads were a much-loved part of the old Dwarf, and they reappeared in the mid-1990's with the gaming magazine Arcane. Did Dragon have something similar?

Ravenscourt is also abuzz with talk of the upcoming election. The current Lord of the Living Stone -- essentially the dwarven king -- is developing a reputation for being rather addled and absent-minded, with the Stone Parliament grumbling incessantly -- behind layer after convoluted layer of etiquette, of course, because it just wouldn't be seemly to openly criticise the Lord -- about this or that gaffe he's made. The Iron Ring have no wish to lose the freedom they've enjoyed under the incompetent rule of the current Lord, so they'll attempt to rig the election so he stays in power.

As an example of the government's impotence, a village not two days' ride from the capital has been the subject of raids by a mysterious warrior, and the populace has had to resort to hiring mercenaries such is the lack of decisive action from the government. We'll slot Thrud and Lymara in here.

To the north, Broadmarsh is the site of the Monster Colosseum, where all manner of exotic beasts are brought to fight in the arena for the entertainment of the crowds. People travel from all over the kingdom and beyond to watch and take part, but there have been grumblings -- again, not open criticism, for we are dwarves, not uncouth barbarians! -- of late that the prices for entry are too high; a number of interested parties, including both hobgoblin Tongs and the Iron Ring, are looking to get involved in a rival setup, and players could take advantage by capturing monsters out in the wilderness and selling them to the highest bidder. They might even get involved in setting up their own arena. The smugglers/slavers from A Murder at Flaxton are probably involved somewhere too, and the highest bounty of all has been offered for the legendary, possibly mythical, Jabberwock.

Recently, two adventurers named Critchlow and Harrison, one a warrior and one a wizard, went to capture a green dragon for the colosseum. The manager of the arena took it as a bit of a joke at first, but is now a bit worried about them, particularly as the wizard Harrison is an impulsive sort given to random and unpredictable behaviour; we'll work up some kind of random table for him.

The dwarf kingdom exists in an uneasy peace with the hobgoblin nation -- which we will call the Western Court, after the location of Games Workshop's Birmingham branch -- while the human barbarian tribes wander about in the southern regions, and orcs roam across the northlands; the orcs have of late been using unusual tactics -- such as parachutes -- in their raids, the result of one of their chieftains being possessed by an insane spirit that is trying to turn the greenskins into an army of conquest. I'm thinking that it's the spirit of some old crackpot inventor who was never taken seriously in life, and is now exacting vengeance through weird science and gonzo tactics. The orcs don't mind that old chief Jukka -- name pinched from the classified ads -- has gone a bit funny, because the raiding and pillaging is even more fun as a result.

That spirit is not the only one causing trouble across the land. A banshee plagues the town of Arndale, her cries causing a death each night, while across the mountains in Goodramgate, the people not only have to contend with parachuting orcs, but also a spectral black hound with fiery red eyes and a tendency towards PSYCHIC VIOLENCE. Further south, not even the famed soldiery of Broadmarsh can do anything about the malevolent Will-o-Wisps haunting the town's outskirts, driving away trade and leading travellers to their doom. Even the capital itself is suffering, as poltergeist activity is on the increase in Ravenscourt, yet another crisis for the Stone Parliament to watch unfold, powerless to intervene.

These baleful undead should be trapped on another plane, locked away by the magic of the Vivimancer Agaard -- name borrowed from Paul Agaard, Games Workshop's new (in 1985) events manager -- but the Vivimancer has grown bored of his lot and has let these beings go loose, in the hope that they will be tracked back to him in his lair on the plane of Elysium and he can be given a final death. Agaard's house servant is a centaur called Cowley. Cowley likes to wear a bowler hat as he attends to the Vivimancer's flower gardens, and I imagine him to be your typical snooty and superior Jeeves type, only a centaur.
As an aside, I discovered that The Gameskeeper is still there today, so well done to them!

As luck would have it, deep in the barbarian lands to the south is a portal to other planes and dimensions. It is in the control of a beautiful but excessively violent woman named Ashley who goes to battle sky clad and swinging twin broadswords; she has managed to get the portal to work in one direction, plucking warriors from across the multiverse -- here are our GURPS lot -- to fight at her side, but her true goal is to use it to escape this world.

The other barbarian tribes are either unaware of Ashley's plans or are busy with other concerns; the fifty-year-long autumn is due to come to a close, and the druids and shamans are turning their spiritual energies towards preparing for the Long Winter to come, as they cannot merely flee underground like the dwarves. They also have to deal with a beast they call Hiihtajantie -- name again stolen from the classified ads -- a vast purple gargoyle-like thing which has of late been stealing livestock and even the odd tribesman. Hiihtajantie is the size of a dragon, and the glowing lights which orbit its head are said to have a number of magical effects, including hypnosis. As the barbarians are an insular sort at the best of times, the arena owners up north haven't yet heard about Hiihtajantie the Disco Beast.

That's enough to be getting on with, I think. I've used almost everything from my initial list, and I've discovered some more bits and pieces while doing so. I'd start the campaign off with A Murder at Flaxton, then there are plenty of options for the players to explore. They could get involved with the organised crime element, engage with the politics of Ravenscourt, or spend their time monster hunting for the colosseum. At some point they might run into the ghost problem, which would then lead on to some planar travel and a big fight with an astral hippie. As for a system, I still haven't made that choice, although I'm leaning towards some kind of BRP variant, perhaps RuneQuest or maybe the core BRP book itself. That said, there's enough common ground between BRP and D&D that one could convert the Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest material over with relative ease.

So that's that. I have too much gaming on my plate as it is, so I don't think I'll be using this any time soon, and as such I release it to the community. Do with it what you will!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

One Issue Campaign, UK Edition

I've decided to have a go at Jeff's brilliant idea. First of all, here are the rules:

  1. Start with set of core rules, preferably one a small amount of setting material or a strongly implied setting. Too much setting info will spoil the soup I think, while none whatsoever will serve as an insufficient basis.
  2. Get a single issue of Dragon or some other gaming mag.
  3. Squeeze every possible of iota of usable information out of that magazine and nothing else to flesh out a campaign for your ruleset.
I don't think I've ever owned a single issue of Dragon, so I'm breaking the rules already. Delving in my rpg box, I have uncovered White Dwarf #67, from July 1985, somewhere in the middle of the magazine's Back When It Was Good period.

In this post, I'm going to go through the magazine and pull out the most useful material as it strikes me. In the next post, I'll try to meld it all together into a playable campaign.

Let's start with the cover, by Mark Bromley. We've got a warrior -- perhaps a proto-Warhammer Chaos Warrior -- bursting through a wooden door, only he's not. From his pose, we can see he's not moving forward with any great speed, and yet the door has been smashed to the ground, and one of the metal hinges has been bent out of shape. This suggests either that the warrior is moving through a gap someone else has already made, or he's of such great strength he doesn't have to take a run up to annihilate a wooden door. It's also not clear if he's human; there's an element of dwarfishness to him, but the door also seems to be scaled to his size.

Jeff's cover star became the main villain of his campaign, but I don't think this fellow is destined for that. Instead, let's say he is a dwarf, and let's also say that he's possessed of some kind of Juggernaut type ability with which he can deliver massive kinetic blows without a run up. Behold the Juggerdwarf!

Inside, we've got adverts for what appears to be a Games Workshop edition of Middle-Earth Roleplaying as well as Grenadier Miniatures' UK division. There's not much there to steal, although the Grenadier page has a photo of a samurai taking on two ninjas, and that's worth importing.

After that, there's a nomination form for the Games Day '85 awards, including an award for "Best Games Magazine"; given where the form is printed, and that Games Day is run by Games Workshop, I'd be surprised if the Dwarf did not go on to win this one. It does give me the idea of including some form of -- potentially rigged -- election or contest in the campaign.

After that there's the contents page and a superficial editorial from Ian Livingstone -- perhaps the above election is to install or depose a limp figurehead -- then a three page article on ghosts in Call of Cthulhu. Since this is actual game material we should use it, but it's also quite detailed, so ghosts will be a big part of the campaign and they'll have lots of special abilities as per the article. I am not turning down the chance to use a power called "Psychic Violence".

More adverts follow but there's little to swipe, aside from this delightful fellow from a strange graffiti-inspired advert for the UK series of D&D modules:

I'm not sure if this beast appears in any of the scenarios, but he's in the campaign, disco lights and all.

Reviews follow, for Star Ace, the second, third and fourth Dragonlance scenarios, and Monster Coliseum [sic] for RuneQuest. There's not much to borrow from most of the reviews, but the colosseum is in, so somewhere in the campaign setting will be a place where characters can fight captured monsters and perhaps gain employment; someone has to go out and capture the things in the first place, after all. Reviewer Oliver Dickinson has a moan about the price of the boxed set -- £16.96, or just over £40 in today's money -- so that'll be a feature of the campaign colosseum too; while it's a popular entertainment, it is considered expensive, but then it's the only game in town... until the players get involved.

Dave Langford's book reviews are next, and the most interesting thing here is the review of Brian Aldiss' Helliconia Summer, which makes me want to include great big century-long seasons in the setting. The next article is a piece on barbarian magic in RuneQuest, so we'll borrow that too, which means that we have to make room for a barbarian culture somewhere.

Thrud the Barbarian -- king of the aforementioned culture? -- follows, with Lymara the She Wildebeeste using her ample curves to distract some opponents before beheading them. That's all there is to the strip, but I'm sure we can find a space for Lymara and Thrud in our campaign. After that we have the first of the issue's scenarios, Peking Duck, a multi-faction brawl set in a Chinese restaurant in modern-day London, and with statistics for Champions and the mighty Golden Heroes, now known as Squadron UK. This may be difficult to include in a fantasy campaign without considerable modification.

Then we have an episode of The Travellers -- see a digitally remastered version here -- involving an NPC patron with arbitrary, dice-based reactions to the protagonists. Of course this is in. Facing this is a single page article on social customs in Traveller; it's basic stuff, but it prompts me to decide that social rules and customs will be a big part of this One Issue Campaign.

More adverts follow, then a mystery scenario for AD&D1, A Murder at Flaxton. Or rather, the first page of said scenario, then an early pull-out Citadel Miniatures catalogue. It features Citadel's The Lord of the Rings range -- I'm not sure if we can use that -- as well as some great hobgoblin and orc miniatures; as such, hobgoblins and orcs will be the major humanoid races in the campaign. As an aside, a set of three Citadel miniatures would have set you back between £1.50 and £1.95 in 1985, or about £5 in modern coinage. Hobgoblins are 60p each!

A Murder at Flaxton is an investigative scenario involving dwarf smugglers -- as in smugglers who are dwarves -- slavers and pirates. It's a low-level scenario, with the NPCs hovering around third level, but it might make for a good starting point. Aside from the maps, the main illustration is what looks like an early John Blanche piece showing dwarves drinking from bottles of Bugman's Best Rum, implying that the scenario is set in the Warhammer world. I don't think we'll go that far.

Even more adverts follow, including one with a picture of a nude woman with very 80's hair, make up and earrings, covered in blood and wielding two glittering swords. As a modern enlightened male, I of course deplore such horrible, exploitative cheesecake, but as a gamer I recognise that it's so over-the-top that I have to include it somewhere. After that there's the letters page, which like every other White Dwarf letters page in history is full of people moaning about how wrong White Dwarf is getting pretty much everything; the campaign will feature a bunch of grumpy old dwarves who can't stop going on about how rubbish everything is. They may be involved with the rigged election.

Following that, we have two pages on various different ways spiders in AD&D1 can kill a character. I doubt anyone has ever used this in the twenty-five years since it saw print, so let's be the first and make spiders a major hazard in this One Issue Campaign. Then we have more adverts, including one showcasing Games Workshop's seven -- yes, seven! -- shops, and featuring pygmy orcs with parachutes:

Holy Hecuba in a hairnet, these little chaps are definitely in.

The next article is the good old Fiend Factory but instead of the usual gonzo monsters, we're given the Vivimancer, an odd sort of prestige class for high level AD&D1 characters. It's not clear if this is intended for players, although since they are barred from the Prime Material Plane and only increase in level once every fifty years, I'd guess not. They seem to be a Neutral Good equivalent of the lich and use enchanted flowers to focus their magical abilities; even so, I think we have found our campaign villain.

More adverts follow -- and people say it became a glorified catalogue only after Games Workshop booted out all the rpg stuff -- but one has a picture of a centaur in a bowler hat, so he's in. Then there's Tabletop Heroes, which would eventually become the regular 'Eavy Metal modelling and painting pages, and is here hosted by Joe "Lone Wolf" Dever, although John "John Blanche" Blanche is hovering about in the shadows. There's little of interest here, although one of the figures covered is a Citadel Miniatures Jabberwock, and they're such great monsters that I have to include them in the campaign.

Then there's an article on magical backpacks, all of which have some kind of minor teleportation ability, and I can definitely see them getting some use. Then there's an advert for GURPS which is just pictures of a superhero, a Viking, a British "redcoat", a knight, two stetson-and-sixgun-toting Western characters, a Roman legionnaire and a couple of brutish monsters; this mismatched group will find their way into the campaign, I'm sure. After that, there's a news page, more adverts, the ever-popular small ads -- which could be a whole blog post in itself, although I will note for now that Jonathan Welfare of Tavistock Road is offering the all-new gladiator character class for the bargain price of £1 plus a stamped-addressed envelope -- then two colour adverts, one on the inside back cover for Citadel starter sets -- adventurers and monsters -- and one on the outside for Citadel's D&D miniature line; there are no examples of the latter, although the artwork looks like early Blanche again, and features a warrior and a wizard in mêlée with a green dragon. This pair of idiots may very well make it in.

So there you have it, White Dwarf #67 more or less cover-to-cover, with most of the playable material stripped out. Next up, I'll try to turn that lot into a campaign. I will also be choosing a ruleset, which I should have done at the beginning, but I'm a maverick, and if the pencil-pushers at City Hall don't like that, then they can shove it!

EDIT: The second part of the exercise can be found here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Straying From the Path

I have been surprised with how much I've been enjoying Pathfinder. As I may have mentioned before, I've never really been a D&D player -- because, you know, Call of Cthulhu is better -- and I'd parted ways with the gaming hobby during D&D3's lifespan, so all I had to go on was stories of how popular the third edition was, how annoyed people were by the seemingly-opportunistic move from D&D3 to D&D3.5, and how the whole thing got a bit unwieldy under the increasing pile of rules supplements.

So when our group made the decision to move from D&D4 -- hereafter referred to as The Unmentionable -- to Pathfinder, I was wary, but I thought it was only fair to give it a try and see what it was like for myself.

The Pathfinder core book is a massive thing -- bigger than Rogue Trader, which was intimidating enough -- and the rules have a lot of working parts, and yet it remains quite fun to play. I suspect that this is because I've been playing as a monk, a relatively simple class; the two players who chose spellcasters are often wrangling with specialist rules and long periods of spell list preparation, all of which would be beyond my feeble mind. It's also perhaps significant that we've been playing for a while now -- we must be coming up for a year -- and we're still getting rules wrong, so it's fair to say we haven't mastered the game. Even so it has been fun, and I have no complaints, whereas by now I was ready to mutiny in our The Unmentionable game.

Paizo have just begun publishing a new Pathfinder campaign -- sorry "Adventure Path" -- called Carrion Crown -- I feel there should be a definite article there -- which owes more than a little to the old TSR Ravenloft setting, and as a horror fan, it did pique my interest just a tad. It was suggested that once we finish the Kingmaker cam... Adventure Path, we move on to this new one, and furthermore that I run it. This seemed like a fair idea.

Then I ran Carrion Hill.

What I discovered was that while I enjoy playing the game, I do not like running it in the slightest, as there's far too much stuff in there. Now, one might say that you don't have to know or use all that stuff, and that's true to an extent, but there is an undeniable feeling of obligation when you know that the rules are there, just waiting; what you get as a result is a tendency -- despite the best of intentions -- to pore through the massive four-billion-page Pathfinder rulebook to discover the correct procedure for applying fire damage to pickled gherkins, and then the game falls over dead. In other words, you could concentrate on getting the core mechanics of fighting, skills and magic right and just handwave the rest, but you'd know you were doing something wrong.

As such, while I would like to run (The) Carrion Crown, I would rather run it with something simpler like Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord -- the difference between them and D&D3/Pathfinder is more one of detail than mechanics -- but alas I know my group would never go for it, not in a month of Sundays. Not that I would use S&W -- for example -- as is; I'm quite fond of the options Pathfinder characters have, so my ideal situation would be to use the simpler game as a frame for all the major mechanics -- gherkins burn on a d6 roll of 5+ -- but front-load the complexity into the characters, perhaps even use the Pathfinder classes as they are, with minor tweaks for compatibility. I've even entertained the possibility of completely bespoke characters, so while there's no dhampir race or rogue class in S&W, I could build a one-off dhampir rogue for the player who wants one.

This would be the best of both worlds for me: lots of options for the players to mess around with, but the minimum of fiddly bits for me to wrestle with as a GM, so I can get on with the plotting and the silly voices. At the end of the day though, it's all theory and wishful thinking, as I don't think it'll fly with my lot. On the plus side, it means I get to play in (The) Carrion Crown; I'm considering a wererat barbarian or -- if I can get away with it -- some sort of zombie.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Golfbag of Avalon

Here's a quick follow-up to the last post, with Guy providing some more data from his researches. He confirms that the first edition of RuneQuest has near-identical wording to the second edition regarding the experience system, but he has also been looking at the oft-forgotten stepchild of BRP, the wonderful and brilliant Pendragon:

Pendragon 1st edition (1985)
all skills: success + stress + referee discretion
- Requires success *and* gamemaster decision for adding a check mark: "There are times during play when the gamemaster tells the player to check one of his character's skills. This means that the character has used the skill in a time of crisis and may lean from the experience. This box is marked with a check-mark only when the skill is used successfully, and only when the gamemaster says the player may do so." (Experience Checks, Player's Book, page 39)

The second/third edition has almost identical wording, and my memory of the fourth edition is that it uses the same experience system, although I don't have a copy at hand.