Saturday, July 24, 2021

Minor Miracles

Well. I'm not ready to talk about the fire, I am ready to start counting my blessings. My whole family made it out of the house with no major injuries. My in-laws have stepped up and taken us in for the short term. My oldest is in school with the Air Force. Of course, they take care of their own, too. So many people have stepped forward to help. 

To be honest, this level of support is completely overwhelming.  We are humbled by the response and more thankful than we can or could ever convey. Really, it's a lot to take in and process. 

Our home is nearly a total loss. The walls stand, but that is close to it. Amazinging, I found our Fracture and rescued it. This is a digital painting I did for my wife on our 19th anniversary. It's printed on glass. Somehow, it survived the 1000° C heat. Our windows blew out under the strain and the heat but this thing made it. 

If a piece of glass can survive, we can too. This is not a testament to Fracture or an ad, this one of those random things that happen. A thing that is meaningful because it beautiful or amazing or both. 

My wife got my daughter out in the nick of time. Luckily my boys and I were not home. I just thank God that the kids were old enough to act on their own. Thank God we were not asleep. If the children had been infants or if any us were asleep, not one of us would have made it out. 

Enough of that. Let me end with a whole hearted thank you, to God and his good people who didn't just come to offer help, but the people who are always there to help those in need. All of you didn't just decide that we were important, this is the way you are everyday. Thank you. Bless you. 

Just speaking to you, sitting with you, hearing from you is tremdously helpful. Thank you all. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Pitching Ideas - Return to the Inside Out

I just got a call from my friend Doug. He wanted some help with a project for his classroom and I did what I could do help. Then went for the important business, getting players for a new campaign. 

I did my elevator pitch, "A Druid, a Unicorn, and a Space Marine are going to save the world from technology so high, it's indistinguishable from magic, Rule set, AD&D." 

He's in. 

If that sounds a bit familiar, it was a one shot I did last year for the wife and kids. It went over like a lead fart because the setting was post-apocalyptic in the middle of a pandemic. Yeah, yeah, yeah. At least I didn't pour tons of money in the TV show based on The Stand by Stephen King. 

Every DM has ideas kicking around their brains to build a world. Most DM's I've played with will tinker with a variety of setting. I am not built like that. Every D&D campaign I run is in a post-apocalyptic. The one thing I am good at is dropping in anachronistic ideas in ways that don't disturb the players. 

My campaign settings diverge from reality in the mid-eighties with the development of fusion power. There was the Outreach, where every country in the world dumped resources into a multi-nation space program. This idea was based on "The Great Awakening(s)" that happened between the 18th and 20th centuries. Except instead of being based on spiritualism, it was based on exploration. 

There was a period of upheavals as fusion tech was deployed. This was followed by the Outreach, a world wide space program using Space Fountains to deploy probes, then ships and colonists around the solar system. This went on for a couple hundred years. It pretty much distorted all nations so they no longer existed as we know them. The goal as DM in this step was to completely divorce the setting reality by making the question "What happened in/to country x" invalid or at least unimportant.  

The next goal in the Outreach was to get to other stars. Back in the 80's, we didn't know and didn't assume most stars would have planets, so the effort to find them in this setting to centuries by sending out probes. This created a situation where the Space Fountains used to reach the solar system needed a massive upgrade. And this is where everything went wrong. 

Obviously, such a system needed to massive infrastructure built. And this was done. However, the second step was a computer based solution. They wrote a massively complex program to handle the upgrade from the first generation of Space Fountains to the truly titanic interstellar Space Fountains. It was a very rough AI. 

That AI had a glitch. It did things too efficiently. It reprogramed the Space Fountains to launch a few tentative research ships. Then instead of creating many, many waves of ships to the stars, it sacrificed everything for just one giant wave. The effort destroyed or impacted every high tech item on Earth, leaving the planet's technological systems to collapse. 

Centuries of high technological items didn't disappear in an instant, they slowly brokedown. As people tried to hold on, they used the technology to change themselves and the world around them. They were morphed into different species, elves, dwarves, goblins and so on. Some people unlocked technology so high it replicated magic. Others messed with probabilities, opening up gates to different universes where our rules didn't apply. 

The Inside Out is a defense against the AI which has collapsed to a single underground location. The locals have banded together to construct a veritable castle around the entrance. 

The creatures coming out of the facility are interpreted as undead, demons and devils who's vast technology appears as magic.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Book Review - This Time of Darkness by H. M. Hoover


Title: This Time of Darkness
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1980
Pages: 161 page booklets
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Born in 1935 between Canton and Alliance, Helen Mary Hoover was the daughter of teachers and naturalists. Her ventures took her from sea to shining sea, from LA to NYC before she settle down in Northern Virginia to write. 

This Time of Darkness is yet another book which sits in the middle YA fiction. It was published in 1980. Of all of Ms. Hoover's books, this one withstands time perhaps because it follows a simple formula of place and becoming. 

Meet Amy and Axel, two 10 year old citizens the City. Or maybe they're 11. Doesn't matter, no one in the City cares for these children. In one moment, they make a choice to escape the City, to go outside. In the rain. The City is like Corrasant turned literally on its head. Amy and Axel must use all of their resources to escape. As they climb the ramps and prowl the halls and corridors looking for the tunnels that lead outdoors, they discover the many secrets about the City and themselves. 

They are pursued by the Authority, Crazies and secretive Watchers on their quest to escape this dysphoria life and explore the great Outdoors. 

This Time of Darkness is a dark, but quick read. As you can tell from the description, this tale could be a sourcebook for 1984 or the Paranoia RPG.  


Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like This Time of Darkness, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Draft Review - Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set

I ordered this Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set to do a review. I noted a price drop on this from Amazon, so I am doing a draft review to share that link. 

Title: Dungeons and Dragons Essentials Boxed Set
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 2 64 page booklets
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my reasons for purchasing boxed sets of any kind is to get a condensed ruleset which allows me to sample the goods before making a larger investment. This box set comes with the rulebook and an adventure, Dragon of Icespire Peak. Additionally, it contains: 

  • 11 dice, 
  • 6 character sheets,
  • DM screen,
  • poster sized map, 
  • 81 cards, 
  • a organizer box for the cards 
  • and codes for digital content.  

These rules are neat and well organized. The adventure is good, a rock solid entry into the world of Fifth Edition. I will probably do a review of that on it's own. The DM screen is perfect, with the DM facing size containing all of the tables and information needed to run the game easily accessible.  

I'm not used to having cards included with a D&D set. This is not some weird Magic The Gather fusion set. Most are cheat sheets for the players, including combat review, magic items, spells effects, and NPC info. 

The game works with the idea that this boxed set will be opened right away and used. While labeled for 2-6 player, the sidekick and NPC rules will make playing with just two people a joy. These additions are well thought out. If you actually had 6 players, the sidekicks can be put away or added in to pump up the action. Meatshields, GO! 

The digital content is coupon for 50% of a digital version of the PHB, a digital version for Dragon of Icespire Peak adventure and supplementary content for the adventure. 

At $20 bucks, I felt it was a steal before I realized all of the digital content available. The price just dropped, making it an even better deal. 


Sunday, July 11, 2021

With a One-Two Punch

I'm working on revamping my offerings on DriverhruRPG. What I noticed is I don't list my house rules which changes a fair bit of how these products work . I also discovered I don't consistently apply my own house rules. 

One house rule I have is for unarmed attacks. A punch does 1-2 hp of damage. I hate the AD&D e1 unarmed combat system for grappling and simply don't' allow it. 

So here are my general rules for non-lethal combat for punching and kicking. Every character can throw a combo of punches, the classic one-two punch. Roll two d20 and each hit does a point of damage. If you roll at 20, your opponent makes a save vs. petrification to avoid going down for 1d4 rounds. 

If a punch downs a character by hit point damage, they get back up in 1d10 rounds. 

If a punch puts someone on the ground either by loss of hit points or a failed save, that damage is not recorded. It's a nod to not tracking too much stuff. When they get up, they simply have whatever hit points they had before being knocked down. 

Simple. 

When using B/X rules fighters, dwarves and elves can add strength bonuses to damage. No one less can. 

Thieves who meet the backstab requirements can throw a single sucker punch for 4 points of damage. There is no to hit bonus or damage bonuses. It is also a single attack roll making this all or nothing. 

When using AD&D e1 rules, not much changes. Rangers, Cavaliers, Barbarians and Paladins add their strength bonuses like fighters. Assassin's can sucker punch. Monks and Mystics can retroactive decide to use these rules AFTER the attack roll.

Kicks use the exact same rules but do 2 points of damage in a single roll and no one can perform more than one per round. 

Fighters, monks, mystics and assassins can make a coup de grace strike barehanded. No one else can. If someone attempts to finish off a downed creature or character barehanded, it will take 5 rounds. Generally, these types of finishers are chaotic, evil or both which the characters are aware of before they make the attempt. 

This will help me clean up some stuff for my character classes I am writing for DriveThruRPG. 

Friday, July 9, 2021

Looking at Updates - Wacky Character Types

For the past year I've been saying to myself, "Update my Swashbuckler Character Class" on DriveThruRPG. I'm working on that now. I have some refinements for that class, but I also want to convert this offering into a pack of wacky character classes. You've seen The Monomach, The Unicorn and The Hoodlum class here on These Old Games. I've play tested these characters plus two others The Veteran and The Space Marine. The Veteran is a 1970's era soldier, while The Space Marine is technological character. 


The Hoodlum, Space Marine and Veteran all have the exact same issue. They have firearms which are wildly different than anything else in B/X or AD&D. The original DMG features guns, but the rules are wildly unbalanced and totally wrong for a budding or growing characters. They also presuppose ownership of Boot Hill and a familiarity with those rules. 

They are rightly killing machines, but a good character that does not make. For B/X and it's "I go, you go" style of combat, one shot per combat round is for the most part fine. For AD&D where some characters get multiple attacks, guns get crazy. 

One way to address this is to control what the gun does. 

Of course, it should do damage. For B/X that's a flat 1d6. If you use variable damage or AD&D, then they do damage based on the weapon type. 1d6 for pistols and shotguns, and then 2d4 for rifles. I don't see a need to adjust anything for a laser pistol or rifle over a slug thrower. That's not much better than the melee weapons offered in each game and it shouldn't be better. 

When used as a pointy or blunt weapon, rifles and shotguns should do 1d6 points of damage and pistol whip should be like a punch with a +1 for having a chunk of steel in your hands. We are still right inline with standard melee weapons, except for the pistol which is about as useful as brick in melee.  

What I need to weigh is the fact that a select class of characters can fire more often than someone can swing a weapon. I would link that to level. A first level character is going to be more cautious about throwing away ammo when they can't get ammo. At higher levels, they will be freer with bullets because they have grown into someone who gained other skills. 

Tracking ammo is a beast so it really shouldn't be done. A soldier might be carrying up to 20 pounds of bullets, maybe more or less. That's like 150-300 shots. With prudence, a character should be able to wipe out a 75-150 Hit Dice worth of critters. That should land them in Class Title territory. 

To address ammo constraints, I would use the rule that if the player rolls a 1 they need to reload before they can shoot again. 

I would also provide a morale bonus to the player with the gun. The noise and fire may drive off monsters and men. I would impose a normal morale check the first time a gun is fired. This would occur for every combatant that has not seen a gun before, including friendlies. They might just want out. Other morale checks come at the normal triggers, first casualty then 1/2 of the force being lost. These should be done at a -1 and -2 respectively. They are going to bug out faster in the face of gunfire. This is an interesting dynamic because it robs the players of loot in some cases. 

Now, some people and creatures are not subject to this adjustment or even the first fire morale check. True fighters would be nonplussed by gunfire. Dragons and snakes, too. They are wary, but not threatened any more than any other type of attack. 

Magic users would need to make a saving throw vs petrification to continue casting with someone blasting around with a gun near them. They startle and need to control that reaction. If the spell was foiled by gunfire, the magic users doesn't lose it they just need to start over. 

What advantage does a gun give? They aren't better than melee weapons, but they do have some effect by forcing morale and shock. By removing the capabilities of a firearm from the device itself and moving those abilities to the character, you get a nice even approach. 

Check back for some of my next moves to get these characters published. 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Module Review - MCMLXXV by Bill Webb

Title: MCMLXXV (1975) 
Author: Bill Webb
Rule Set: D&D e5
Year: 2019
Pages: 21
Number of characters: 4-6 characters
Levels: 1-4
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second review of an Fifth Edition D&D product. I selected this as it was the first module I picked up with a Humble Bundle and it's says things I enjoy. This module attempts to fused old school D&D and the latest version. It also highlights what e5 is. This edition moves backwards, to a simpler version of the game where the dice are used to control the dynamic of play without overwhelming what is meant to be. Classic D&D. 

The module has a simply premise: Have map, find treasure. Basic, easy, old school. And deadly. 

One of the main issues with D&D or any role playing game is, once you grasp the reality of the situation, you might not want to be in that reality. For example, a huge rat could have 2 hit points. Easy enough to kill. Now multiply by a couple dozen, a couple hundred a couple of thousand... No character wins against that sort of thing. Reality and rats, bite. 

That's what makes old school old school and MCMLXXV gloms on to the idea. The monsters are both mundane and challenging, depending on the DM's point of view. Are the characters going to grab that hook or swing on it? It all depends on choices. 

This module is no slayfest like Tomb of Horror, but it could eat characters for breakfast if the DM plays the monsters to their smartest abilities. And if the players don't grasp the nature of the threat. Nothing in this module is railroaded or unavoidable, which is the perfect balance for the DM. If the character's refuse to act sensibly, they die. For example, if they take on a creature that doesn't seem to further the goal of finding the treasure, then there could be some consequences, which could be merely painful or completely deadly.

Much of the adventure or module is made of up of the Encounter chart. I generally make my own encounter charts and this one is excellent. I feel like I'm at Mr. Webb's table, playing a long with his players. This chart is remarkably detailed, running 3 pages and brings each event to life. The players will find these encounters run as a challenging obstacle for the players or to their benefit depending how the situation is played. The creatures play smart and are well linked by theming, which makes them embodies the wackiness that old school monsters could be. 

Then comes the Dungeon. The dungeon is rather small, but fitting of something on a treasure map. There are some good surprises and bad. The end battle can be tough or easily depending on the circumstances. Some players may live or die by happenstance. The treasure is all right there, at the end for the brave adventurers to find... or not. 

1975 contains great materials for running a quick side quest maybe taking a couple of nights to play out. 

While I have reviewed the e5 edition of the module, there is a second one that is for use with Swords and Wizardry available on DriveThruRPG

You don't have to take my word for it, go check out Ten Foot Pole's review by Bryce Lynch on the module. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Reading 'round the Web Wednesday...

I stumble across some cool stuff this week and wanted to share. 

First up, Ruins of Murkhill. This is a group of players with the mission statement: 

"Original Dungeons & Dragons the Old-School way. We are here to discuss ALL OLD SCHOOL table top role-playing games with a focus on OD&D; however, we also discuss Classic D&D and other TSR games and non-TSR games, Arduin, Gamma World, Metamorphosis Alpha, Retro Games; Clones, Retro Clones, Emulations and Old School inspired games, Classic Traveller and other Science Fiction games." 

They have 3 bases on the web: The Blog, The Forum and a page on Mewe

I've jumped right into the forum and have been loving it. 

You'd be hard pressed to find a better resource for all things old cool gaming. I purchased a book, The Castle Guide from an offering in the forum. This week, it was my leading review post

Speaking of excellent resources, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Campaign Wiki. Not only is a wiki, it's a massive RSS feed of old school blogs. You need to check this one out and if you're blog doesn't appear on the list, get it added

In other news, the users of DriveThruRPG went crazy and download many copies of my offerings, Kobold's Folly and the AD&D Character Sheet for Unearthed Arcana... at full retail price. I am extremely grateful to you guys. All of my titles are Pay What You Want, so this was amazing. 

To close it out with an off note, check out The Revolution's podcast. It's like someone doing read at you or to you. Mike Duncan has a new book, Lafayette, Hero of Two Worlds coming out. He's kindly taken the time to read Chapter 4 as a preview on his podcast. This is part where the story gets good, Lafayette is shipwrecked on arrival to American and makes some interestings choices on the way to Philadelphia. 

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Game Review - AD&D Second Edition - DMGR2 The Castle Guide

Title: The Castle Guide
Editor: William W. Connors
Year: 1990
Pages: 128 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a real love hate relationship with Second Edition AD&D. I had always played a mix of B/X smashed up with 1e AD&D. When I started picking up 2nd Edition books at Walden's Books, I found them mystifying. They didn't have the same rules as my AD&D. But some of them made perfect sense, like The Castle Guide book. 

This book published in 1990 could easily be used to upgrade or improve Keep on the Borderlands, guide high level characters into domain level play or simply be a guide for the DM to have consistent castles. 
Why does it work? Because it really doesn't include any new rules. Where it does include rules for Warfare!, those rules are framed in terms comparable with both the original DMG and the ship rules from B/X. It's not a bridge to far to mash em up. 

In retrospect, I know it was meant to tag team 2nd edition and Battle System, but since is it so non-specific, it does neither very well. TSR utterly failed to market this a vehicle to a new game system by missing those details. And that actually makes it a good guide book for any system.   

To this day, I am of the opinion that the second edition guides are perfect companions to any edition of D&D and maybe some other game systems. The ones with Connors' name as editor are particularly fine editions to own for any fantastic setting. Connors follow a great formula for editing dissimilar writer's work into a see less product. One author's voice is used to amplify and enhance other writer's ideas. The Guides edited by him are excellent. It could be his authors didn't have access to the newest, latest edition and were a bit circumspect, which is great for guide. 

This particular work introduces a Quick Resolution system that could easily be used for high level domain games today. I believe that it is a part of the Battle System, but in this form is pretty vague. Like the warfare section, it seems to call back 1e's DMG or perhaps the warfare rules in B/X. B/X had a fleeting love affair with ships as they appear in many titles. Those could be worked up into sieges and castles with very little effort.   

The artwork is good, but typical 90's fare. There are several color plates which could be paintings or digital art, it's hard to tell. Many of the interior pieces are thick lined with simple styling. 


Others are worked entirely into circular medallions, which I find interesting. 

It's a steal at $9.99 from DriveThruRPG

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Film Review - Thor (2011)

Title: Thor
Publisher: Marvel Studios
Year: 2011
Rating: 1 of 5 stars. 

Yeah, I review movies now. 

Thor is my all time favorite Avenger. A Thor comic book was the first I ever bought. My favorite superhero in general is Beta Ray Bill, who is just a different sort of Thor. So it is with great shame that I have to admit Thor is one of the worst films in the MCU. Not the bottom, but close to it. 

But because of this film, this is what I do on Wednesday. 

And here lies the rub. 

Everything wrong with Thor has nothing to do with the story, the production values, or the actors. The name is wrong. It should have been called Loki. For that one little change, I would give this exact same film, 4 or 5 stars. 

The title is the only problem. It's not about Thor at all. It's about Loki. Where titular hero should be the one who grows, he does not. He frozen throughout the film. In fact, not only Thor not the protagonist, he's not even Thor for most of the film. Thor is full of great things and of himself. Which does not make a good film or character. 

A character needs to be brought to life by more than the light of the projector. In this movie, who's origin story do we get? 

Loki's, right from the first 10-15 minutes. 

When Odin is preparing his children to be king, who doesn't want to be a childish warlord and who wants to be a ruler? Loki. You can see even young Loki knows better than Thor how to deal with people. You don't go around picking fights, even when you have an excuse. 

Who had flaws to be corrected? Thor who stands before the assembled court of Odin or Loki who is in Thor's shadow? Well, Loki. Thor doesn't realize that his large ham behavior is not valued by Odin. 

But Loki's flaws are bigger. The disapproval that Odin has for Thor is interpreted by Loki to extend to himself. He is a bit of the definition of a narcissist, but had a few atypical traits such is self-reflection. Additionally, you can see that Loki knows his father is not entirely comfortable giving his own child, his first born the title of heir-apparent. Of course, Loki being Loki thinks he isn't even in the running. He is overwhelmed by Odin's disdain and worry. 

Loki evolves, Loki changes. Thor does not. Sure, Jane and Thor had a love story, which is as hamfisted as Thor is. There really seems to be no chemistry between the characters. He also takes a moment to assume a role of protector and guardian to the townspeople, but even that seems contrived. 

However, Loki's defense of his people is more nuanced. He becomes more like Thor, doing things that make him feel good in the moment as opposed to actually being good or wise. In the end, Loki was in it for the win, which by his own standard, he did. He crushed every obstacle in his path including Thor and Odin. Yes, it appears that he dies in the end, but that is exactly how a narcissist behaves. He suffered nothing and left everyone else wondering "what next?" And wham! Does he delivery.  

It's why Loki an anti-hero as opposed to villain and why Thor makes a lousy hero in this film.

You can pick up the DVD at Amazon, which funds this site. 



Or you can do the better thing and get a Disney Plus subscription, which is just free advice. Personally, I have the bundle with Hulu and ESPN which is about the same as buying a DVD a month. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Tek - June 2021

In June, my DriveThruRPG downloads suffered a slump. It's really time to make updates and changes or write another book, which I already knew. 

AD&D Character Sheet For Use with Unearthed Arcana: 1
Compass Rose Inn Minisetting: 0
Kobold's Folly: 0
Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D: 4
These Old Games Presents: The Hex Pack: 1
Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners: 0


Webstats were "blah!". I shrank a bit, but had a huge pickup mid-month. 

Google Analytics Pageviews - 1,222
Google Analytics Sessions - 720
Pageviews per Session - 1.69 

My reviews have slacked off, but at this point, I am still ahead of schedule. 

I am probably going to end The Tek series, with a solid 3 years of data. This is July 1, 2019 to current. 


Google Analytics Pageviews - 28,310 (25 reads a day, or 786 a month)
Google Analytics Sessions - 18,227
Pageviews per Session - 1.55 

To round it out, here are downloads numbers for the same period: 

AD&D Character Sheet For Use with Unearthed Arcana: 97
Compass Rose Inn Minisetting: 167
Kobold's Folly: 154
Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D: 120
These Old Games Presents: The Hex Pack: 151
Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners: 115


Friday, June 25, 2021

Game Review - En Garde!

Title: En Garde!
Design and development: Darryl Hany, Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren Wiseman
Editor: Paul Evans
Year: 1975, 2005
Pages: 88
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

We are from France! 17th or 18th century France. 

En Garde began is a fencing simulation and scaled up from there. It has more in common with Chainmails's Jousting rules and Star Smuggler or Barbarian Prince's time tables than D&D. This is rather refreshing. 

The rules are a detailed walk through this fantastic version of the 17th or 18th century. Your initial character build will require reading or skimming the entire book. While this may seem like a round about way of getting to character creation, the rules are so different than other games that the slog is totally worth it and completely understandable. The system requires no gamemaster, as it is result table based. It could support a gamemaster, if storytelling was desirable. 

I have also heard of people converting the system to an index card game for solo play. While not intended for this purpose, the results-ruling system lends itself to this. Where it falls down is the actual fencing rules. Random really isn't good enough for "reasonable" game play. However, I could see "building" a deck of index cards for certain NPC players so that they are semi-random in their actions, but still have believable drives and actions.  

Once your character or characters are built, it's time to plan. The time scale is a week of highjinx. You can duel, slum, or run off to war. Or find a mistress... Or two, if you're brave. 

The whole game revolves around picking tasks and attempting them with flair. Combat is deadly, unless your a yellow-bellied cad. Interestingly, since there is an honor system in place, you can avoid death by being a jerk. That's has ramifications for your character. 

You can get going with En Garde in about 2 hours. However, the game itself can go on forever. In fact, there really isn't a concept of party, its a social group. It's a great one shot system if at least one person knows the rules, which could turn into a session icebreaker for those who have flagging interesting the main "show". The system is quick with clear "break points" where the players can pause the action for another day. 

I found this game to be engrossing and engaging. 

I've been aware of this game since the 1980's, but only had a chance to pick it up during the pandemic. I am not aware of the rule changes that came between the original rules  and current 4th edition.  

One of the downsides of this game is the fact that there are clear gender roles which are asymmetrical. Personally, I play a rather "gonzo" style of play where I would simply ignore the fact that women aren't meant to be playable character and just roll with it. 



En Garde! is from UK based group. You can find it here from the manufacturer or get it via Amazon in the US. 


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Minigame Tryout Compartments

This game is designed to be as simple as possible. There are limited number of systems and compartments on each ship. 

In the last post, I mentioned 6 different hit "locations" for criticals. Each type of ship has a list of six hit locations, all of which are different.  

You will notice that some ships are compromised by different types of criticals while others are not. A commercial ship doesn't have the same abilities as warships or auxiliaries, so they cannot lose these systems. Warships are hardened against many attacks, so they cannot lose particular abilities. 

A commercial vessel has the following critical hit locations: 

  1. Life Support,
  2. Communications, 
  3. Hyperdrive, 
  4. Sublight Drive, 
  5. Compartment breech,
  6. and Cargo Hold.  
The Auxiliary ship has a different list: 

  1. Life Support,
  2. Communications, 
  3. Hyperdrive, 
  4. Sublight Drive, 
  5. Compartment breech,
  6. and ECM. 
The Military Ship has the following: 
  1. Communications, 
  2. Hyperdrive, 
  3. Sublight Drive, 
  4. Auxiliary Drive,
  5. Compartment breech,
  6. ECCM. 
What effect do each of these things have on a ship? 

Life Support keeps the crew alive. If it is damaged, it must be repaired at the end of combat. If it isn't the ship must be abandoned at the end of combat. 

Communications are the ship's radio and other systems. If the ship loses it, it may not surrender, coordinate attacks with other ships, combine fire (and die rolls) of two or more weapons. It's not really critical, but more of a nuisance if it is damaged or destroyed. 

Hyperdrive, Sublight Drives and Auxiliary Drives are pretty explanatory. Without Sublight drives, you can't manuouver. Without a Hyperdrive, you can't flee combat. An Auxillary Drive is a backup system for both sublight or hyperdrives. It can either maneuver a ship or allow you to escape battle via a jump. Once the choice is made, the other is ceases to be an option. 

ECM is Electronic Counter Measures. It screws with an enemy's targeting of your ship. Losing it reduces the effectiveness of you defensive systems. If an Auxiliary loses this equipment, they are hit has often as a commercial ship would be, except criticals remain the same. Commercial ships don't have ECM, so can't lose it and it is deeply buried in a warship, it can't be lost. 

ECCM is Electronic Counter-Counter Measures or the ability to fine target another ship. Warships have them as an extra part in their design. Losing it reduces your effectiveness in combat. ECCM covers an array of combat situations. For example, ECCM allows a ship to target multiple ships with one weapon. Neither Auxiliaries or Commercial ships can have ECCM as a standard part. There are a few exceptions. 

Compartment breech and Hold hits damage specific areas on the ship. For the commercial ship, it represents a large area that is easy to hit on a Commercial ship. It appears twice on the critical tables, once at the top level and second time on the compartment table. Other types of ships have holds, they are relatively small and don't appear on the critical table until specific compartments are hit. 

If Compartment breech is rolled, you have lost the use of one item on your ship and any crewmen in that area are killed either by the impact or being spaced. They can be replaced from other sections of the ship. Some items can take more than one hit. 

Here are a list of all possible compartments, not every ship will have every type of compartment: 
  1. Bridge, 
  2. Shield Generator.
  3. Emergency Station. 
  4. Turrets
  5. Weapons Bay, 
  6. Engineering, 
  7. Cargo Hold, 
  8. Shuttle or Fighter Bay/Hanger, 
  9. Magazine, 
  10. Armory,
  11. Medical, 
  12. Vehicle Bay, 
  13. Vault, 
  14. Barracks
  15. Medical
  16. Quarters.  
Once a compartment is destroyed, the next item on this list is hit in subsequent rolls. The bridge is always item 1, shield generator and emergency station is always 2 and 3. Barracks, medical and crew quarters are always last. 

Players arrange their critical list as they see fit, using the rules above. Commercial ships and Auxiliaries are at a disadvantage as they typically don't have all 16 items available to them. 

An example layout of a ship could be: 
  1. Bridge,
  2. Weapons Bay, 
  3. Engineering, 
  4. Cargo Hold, 
  5. Shuttle Bay,
  6. Vehicle Bay,
    Vault,
    Medical
    Quarters.  
The first six items are subject to hits all the time, while the items with no numbers cannot be hit until something is crossed off the list. If the ship lost engineering, the vault would replace it on the list. After vault is destroyed, medical is next. If the fighting was intense, the ship could be destroyed before anything else moves up the list. In any case, quarters would be the last compartment destroyed.  

Some items that can take more than one hit are as follows: 
  1. Turrets,
  2. Weapons Bay, 
  3. Cargo Hold, 
  4. Shuttle or Fighter Bay/Hanger, 
  5. Magazine, 
  6. Armory,
  7. Vehicle Bay, 
  8. Vault. 
The weapons bay and turrets can take up to three hits each and hits may be distributed at the captain sees fit. The first hit degrades the weapon or turret dropping it a tech level. The second hit knocks it out and third blows it off the ship. A vault can take three hits. The first two damage it and the third destroys it and its contents. 

The magazine and armory can take two hits each, but are non-functional after the first and blown away on the second. The armory stores weapons for ground combat, it has no meaning in a fight unless boarding occurs. The magazine feeds some weapons. When it is damaged, those weapons can only shoot with the ammo they have at the ready. For commercial ships, this one one more shot, for auxiliaries it's two and for military ships it is three. 

The hanger or vehicle bays can take one hit for the space and one additional hit for each vehicle stored there. Once hit, they may not launch shuttles or deploy vehicles until repaired. 

In each of these cases, the ability to be hit multiple times does not increase the number of hits a ship can take. If a commercial ship takes 5 and 5 criticals, it is destroyed. Usually. 

Cargo holds are an exception to the rule. A unit of cargo destroyed DOES absorb a hit above and beyond what a ship can take. The last hit guts the cargo bay. A commercial ship with 10 units cargo could absorb 10 additional hits to the cargo bay on top of the 10 needed to destroy the ship. Hangers and shuttles do not have this property as the items stored there tend to explode, burn or become heavy projectiles when hit. 

I haven't explained what every item is for, which will be the next post and subsequent posts will cover fighters, shuttles, boats and combat modifiers. 

Minigame Tryout


There is something liberating about a blank piece of paper. I have better tools, but paper and pencil is the best for ideation. After looking long and hard at Star Smuggler, I decided to create a mini-game based off of it. This is probably very derivative of many sci-fi games. 

Combat rules are simple. Roll one six sided die for each tech level of your guns. If multiple guns are available, they are either fired singly or grouped together. This will impact the number of critical hits you can do. If the opposing ship is a commercial vessel, you hit on a 1-3. If the opposing ship is an auxiliary ship you need a 1 or 2. If the opposing ship is a military vessel, only a one hits.

A Commercial ship is anything that is not designed by the military. A critical will be scored on two 1's or two 2's sequentially. Two criticals will be score on sequential rolls a 1 and a 2. These must be sequential rolls. For example a roll of 1, 1, 2, 3, is just one critical and four hits, while a roll of 1, 2, 1, 2 is four hits and four criticals. 

An Auxillary is a commercial ship designed with military tech and refits in mind. It is not a war vessel, but has some defenses. It is hit on a score of 1 or 2. A critical will be scored on two 1's, sequentially. Two criticals will be score on sequential rolls 1 and a 2. For example a roll of 1, 1, 2, 3, is just one critical and three hits, while a roll of 1, 2, 1, 2 is four hits and four criticals. 

A warship or military ship is designed specifically for combat. A critical will be scored on a sequential rolls of 1 and 1. Military ships do not take double criticals. For example a roll of 1, 1, 2, 3, is just one critical and two hits while a roll of 1, 2, 1, 2 is only two hits and no criticals.

A ship can take a number of hits depending on type not size. A commercial ship can take 10 hits, a Auxiliary can take 15 and a warship can take 20. Warships are designed to shed fire. 

Critical hits score a point of damage and damage a specific part of the ship. Critical hits are scored against certain parts of the ship: Life Support, Communications, Engines, Warp Drives, Shields and specific compartments. While each of the first 5 can be damaged only once, specific compartments can be hit multiple times. Think of it as trying to destroy a garbage can with a sledgehammer. It just keeps taking ugly hit after hit. Enough hits and it stops being a garbage can or in this case, a ship.  

Next post, compartments, shuttles and fighters plus roll modifiers. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Stargate Universe Review


"What if you took Stargate and made it darker, sexier and edgier?", said no fan ever. This show swiped the best of BGS and mashed it up with some great music, in front of a gate. It probably wasn't very good material for Stargate fans. 

But it was a really good show. I'd give it 4 of 5 stars. 

The actors were top notch, the pacing slower, the sense of discover was put at the forefront. Probably too much at the forefront. They wiped their butts with whatever Stargate had established. 

But it was good TV and science fiction. They stole a couple of key concepts from the series that came before it and ran like hell with them. The communication stones from the original show were placed front and center in the plot. These devices popped up in Season 8 of Stargate. "Citizen Joe" was probably meant to be a "cheap, one off " episode to save on cast and film costs, but it was frakking brilliant.  SGU took that simple idea and made the speculative science fiction and flipped it towards contemplative. What does it mean to be "someone" if you can trade places? 

Like that one episode of Stargate, SGU tries to get into the head of the watcher by leaning on the contemplative. Some of the time, it worked. There were a lot of misses, but you could see the direction the show was taking. 

The show has many callbacks to some hard sci-fi, stuff so hard that it often isn't recognised as sci-fi at all. My personal favorite episode was "Trial and Error" which is a close crib of The Defence of Duffer's Drift. Capt Young experiences a series of dreams where the ship comes under attack. These dreams are the Destiny's attempts to communicate with the crew directly to determine their capabilities. It doesn't work well because as a program, the ship was expecting a commander to have all the answers, not to be the head of a team that creates answers on the fly. Young was exposed to his own failings and it became personal. Very personal. 

Another episode zig-zagged from high action romps back to the speculative. In Season One the episode "Time", the crew finds a Keno camera which recorded their deaths in an alternative universe which provides some answers to their current situation, again ask "who are you, if it's not really you?" 

Much of this show asks the question, "What does it mean to be x?". While Stargate was probably not the best vehicle for this contemplative study, it was very engrossing. 


Friday, June 18, 2021

D&D Start Set Review

Title: 
D&D Start Set
Design: Wizards of the Coast
Year: July 14th, 2014
Pages: 64 page adventure booklet, 32 rule book, and character sheets.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

You have to hand it to Wizards of the Coast; they know how to make a boxed set. As of yesterday, this set is 6 years old. And it's perfect to get started playing D&D. It contains a 64 page adventure booklet, a 32 rule book, pregenerated characters, a blank character sheet and dice. 

As a condensed game, it has some lacks. However with introductory sets presentation is everything. It's very nice for the retail price of $20.00. The rules are streamlined for quick play, the pregenerated sheets are good models for new characters if you wish and the 64 page adventure book is extremely nice. 

At 64 pages, The Lost Mine of Phandelver is someplace between guidebook and double size module. It is faced towards the DM with multiple maps and sidebars to keep the game moving. 

The maps are on par with Dyson Maps, which is to say, they are very good. Unfortunately, they are printed on the pages of the book which means you need a scan and print out stuff that didn't come in the set. The artist, Mike Schley has them available for purchase on his website. It wasn't that hard to find and it it's only ten bucks for perfect, ready to go "custom" maps. This is a far cry from the borrow and Xerox format of AD&D. 

I very much like Mike Schley's maps and the fact that Wizards of the Coast is deliberately asking you to make a purchase from a content creator rather than themselves. Mr. Schley's maps are wonderful. Beside the set of maps for this game set, new maps retail for $2-3. That's a great price for having stylish maps that all have the same design principles.  

The Lost Mines book is not only a module but a campaign setting. When combined with the driver sidebars and the second hints and suggestion on the back of the character sheets, it really is everything you need to become engrossed with this game. 

Unfortunately, it's an expansive one shot. The DM will have to get to work making this campaign come alive from their own work or "reset" to enter the main world of D&D with new characters and settings. At 64 pages, the Adventure booklet is a little overwhelming for a 13 year old to emulate, but for older players, it really does provide a model for creating a campaign. Those sidebars and hints are pure gold when it comes to asking probing questions and how they fit into this set of rules. 

After awhile, I am sure that the players and DM will want more which is exactly the reason for this set. To sell other products. As a primer and gateway to the game system, it is remarkably well done and suitable for all kinds of players. 

I am going to post my typical Amazon ads, but want to remind you to check out your local game shop and discount stores. Apparently, this is out of print but not all that hard to find for less than retail price. My son found his at Ollies discount for $8.00. 


Right Name, Wrong Game

I've written hundreds of posts about Star Smuggler. One thing I glossed over is the combat system for spaceships. I was hoping that you, the reader would download it and try it for yourself. It really is an ingenious system. 

And not entirely appropriate for this game. As the title of the posts says, right name, wrong game. There is a flaw in this system which could be a typo or perhaps something intentional. 

I have mentioned several times that this game seems to have some aspects of Traveller, a very simplified version of Traveller. In some respects that is true. The plots, the technology types, even the Antelope starship itself. But that is where the similarities end. 

In studying this game, I have come to the conclusion that it might have been a stand alone game used by the author for a science fiction setting. Some sort of super campaign. 

One of the hints at this possibility is the combat system. It is really designed well for ship to ship combat where smuggling and piracy are critical.   

The game system has tech levels, from 1 to 6. For spaceship combat, you are able to roll one die for each tech level of the ship's guns. For tech level 6, you can roll a maximum of six dice. 

Roll a 1 or 2 and you have hit. 
Simple, eh? 

Well, yes. There there are the other modifiers and statistics that come into play. If you are shooting at a stationary target, you can roll up to 7 dice. Theoretically, that should allow you to hit at least twice, maybe three times. 

The vast majority of ships in the game absorb 10 hits of damage. With the stock Antelope with the tech level 1 guns, you need to go through 10 lucky combat rounds to destroy another ship. 

However with upgraded guns the modifiers come into play. If you roll two 1's or two 2's, you do a critical plus one hit for each pair 1's or 2's. A critical will damage the radios, the engines, shields, life support, ECM or breech a compartment killing everyone inside. There are six compartment areas. 

On a roll of a 1 and 2, you do two criticals plus hits. 
This random roll of seven dice from Random.org shows the problem. 

This is three hits tech level 6 guns against a stationary ship. But how many criticals? I don't know, which is why I suspect there is a flaw in the rules. 

My personal interpretation is that it is 3 hits plus 2 criticals. The first one and two are combined for the first two hits and the first two criticals. Then the second two is the next hit. If the order had been different, this would have been one critical and three hits. 

There is a third possibility. Perhaps the author intended the player to roll one die at a time so they get a sequence of numbers that can be evaluated in order. 

The upshot of this is, if you rolled a just the first 3 dice, that would be two hits and two criticals. Now when combined with the critical table, a ship can experience hull breaches which kill the crew and disable that area. 

This particular sequence of rolls, 3, 2, 1, 6, 6, 2 would result in 2 criticals, two hits and breach of the cargo hold and destroy the ECM system, if any. 

Repeat that a couple of times and you are on your way to disabling a ship. In the next sequence, I rolled 1, 3, 1, which is another two hits and critical. The critical took out the engines, which gives my next roll an extra die. 
Two more criticals. One took out life support and the other took out the crew quarters. The enemy can still shoot back, but they can't move and can only take two more hits. Anyone not in a suit is dead. 

It sounds like boarding time to me.

The problem with this is scenario is, this can give the player the opportunity to board and take a ship by wiping out the whole crew. That cannot be intentional, at least for Star Smuggler. Having two ships is very game breaking as I have proved a couple of times. 

The author seemed to realize this. Anytime there is a programed space combat event, the enemy ship will surrender at 8 hits and two to go. They rig the ship to explode if you try to take it. So you can plunder but not capture. However, there are random combat events that don't have this rule in play.  

As a homebrewed game about pirates and smugglers, it rocks! 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

Boxed sets are my gateway drug


I generally don't do 5th Edition reviews because I don't play 5th Edition much. There is a lot to like or dislike about 5th Edition. 

If you are just starting out, there are a ton of good reasons to jump into 5e. The main reason is rather simple. It's approachable and readily available to the new player. The artwork and mechanics are great and they are nice set of rules for this day and age. My son loves it and has started his gaming collection with new set of rules, which I purchased for him. 

One of my reasons for not using it is, I have collection of books going back to the Red Box set and beyond. My interest started with the Chainmail rules and expanded from there. I've filled bookshelves with games I will never play. I have an intuitive understanding of what all the major rules are in these sets. Yet another edition of games really doesn't add to what I have. 

E5, Labyrinth Lord and BECMI?
Your not kidding, eh.
The fact is, if you started at point x, you probably already an inkling of what rules x+1 would do to your gameplay. Way back in AD&D, I already had the concept of Feats and Skills as a house rule. I am not some sort of illuminary predicting the changes of the rules. Nearly everyone who played an older edition of D&D foresaw the power of the mechanics and started making changes to their gameplay as house rules. Many of these changes became standard features of the new editions. And many house rules didn't pass muster and were left behind. Here is a list of my house rules, most of which are dubious. 

As of this post, I am at 1030 post on fun and games. Lately, I've been exploring 5th Edition wondering which of any of these things will become the next generation's Red Box, Keep on the Borderlands or Isle of Dread. 

I have no idea, but I'd like to explore. And I hope you will join me. In the next series of posts, I'll be reviewing some of the 5th Edition rules. I figure this will run its course in less than 10 posts or less than 1% of everything else I've written. Because, I am that numbers guy.  

Monday, June 14, 2021

Science Phenomena to Pump Up Game Play


I am always a big fan of have realistic details of what is happening around my players to bring them into whatever world they are in. Each of these items are based on real world technologies and phenomena. 

Real lasers are silent unless they hit something. but the power supplies are not. They can sound like a hammer on a metal garbage can. This applies to medical lasers. Talk about making a trip to the auto-doc scary. 

Cutting and etching lasers are also loud, but more like a leaf blower because the beam is close to continuous. Again, it is the power supply and the drive required to move it around is making the sound. This also ties into fashion. Characters messing with realistic lasers should always have goggles. If the tech level is high enough protective contact lenses would work nicely, too. 

Sun Outages can drive plot points. When a satellite delivering information to a ground station passes in front of the sun the information gets garbled. The ground station loses it's connection because the sun is such a powerful source of radiation. In the real world this happens to cable TV satellites in the spring and fall. This is a consequence of their orbit's aligning Earth's tilt. For a week or so, the satellite's signal is garbled for about 10 minutes at a time. It can be described as sparkles, pixelated or fuzzy pictures, picture freezing, audio distortions, or even a total loss of the channel. 

Since these satellites are in high Earth orbit it only happens once a day. If the satellite was in a lower orbit, it would happen several times a day based on the period of the orbit. This is great for plots involving a bit of mystery on a semi-regular basis, say every 40 minutes but the duration would be much lower, like a few seconds. 

Vacuum cementing is another phenomena that can either stymie players or give them a power stunt. Two pieces of material will stick together in a hard vacuum as if welded or cemented together just by touching them together. This is a good way to force repairs using little used skills to free moving parts. Alternatively, it can be used to add protective surfaces to objects to prevent or repair damage with little or no skill and can use junk as a resource. Astronauts on the moon noticed this happened even to dust. 


By the way, lunar dust smells like spent gunpowder or cooked meat, which can be an interesting detail to freak out the players. Why this smell (and taste) occurs is mystery today. It is transient. Lunar dust doesn't smell like anything on Earth. It could be the release of charged particles or a quick, short term chemical reaction with water or oxygen. No one knows how or why it happens.  

I call another trick "Zinc-Clink". Zinc oxide sensors are used to measure the amount of oxygen around a sensor. If a sensor system gets some other material on it, say soot, it will believe there is no oxygen in the area and refuse to open the door. Again, players will have to resort to little used or differently used skills to fix the problem. Say Vacc-suit or electronics. It's a handy way to slow the action down or pump up the drama because a hatch or door is misbehaving. 

In space missions these zinc oxide sensors are used to detect damaging oxygen around the sensor, which is counter intuitive. Oxygen in space is bad for some equipment. 

I am also a fan of the idea of the Decadal Survey to land really sophisticated machinery in a small nook in the ship. In real life, the Decadal Survey is conducted once every 10 years and asks scientists to come up with very broad science questions to research. In ship terms, these research projects could place new sensors, small power supplies and/or radios which are separate from the ship's normal operations. Think of it as an emergency lifeline for strange happenings on the ship. The crew would be versed in maintenance functions, so the equipment which is somewhat a "black box" would understandable to the crew. 

One of the more interesting types of research could be atmospheric aerosol tracking, which could enable a ship to use an alternative method to track other ships. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) was a mission to look for gravitational anomalies (dense, heavy items) on the Earth's surface. In a sci-fi setting, it could locate shipwrecks, crashes and other hidden items under the surface of a planet while also creating great maps. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review - ORVIS by H. M. Hoover

Title: ORVIS
Author: H. M. Hoover
Year: 1987
Pages: 217
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Meet Tabitha and Thadeus, the proud owners of a lost robot named ORVIS. Except no one wants to own the poor little 'bot. Toby (Tabitha) and Thad decide to escape their parents and school to assist ORVIS find a home for himself. In the end, they discover the meaning of home and having care. 

While ORVIS is in the guise of a children's book, the topics covered are far more adult than Hoover's previous works. ORVIS is a former military robot repurposed many times. His final order is to destroy himself. 

ORVIS is not your standard combat droid. He's been to Venus and back. Think about that for a moment. The surface of Venus is hell, but the titanic atmosphere and relatively non-existent rotation would make launching from the surface more hell than hell. He is an indestructible machine with orders to end itself. 

Toby is a young woman with terrible parents who want upend her whole life by sending her offworld, alone. Thadeus is an orphaned spacer who will loses all of his friends if Toby leaves the school. The school is home, even though it is like "Hogwarts Community College".  

The obviousness of these three coming together for a common purpose is clear from the start. But their adventure leads them into scenarios beyond their own purposes. It forces them to consider the purpose of any man, woman or machine. 

Set entirely on Earth, these other-worlders explore what it means to have value and purpose with different eyes. 

I believe that this will end my series of H. M. Hoover reviews. I plan to write a retrospective of these books in the near future. 

Or you could get this book as a part of one the Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. Kindle Unlimited Memberships offer access to 1 million book titles like ORVIS, or current magazines and Audible Narration for your books. Best yet, it offers a 30 day trial so you can test it out before you buy.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

What's to Like About The Reign of the Empire, The New Republic and Beyond?

Disney's gots its hooks in Star Wars. That was a development that I never saw coming. So, what to like about this? 

Disney has a mix record on movies. With 5 in the can, only 2 are notable. 

Rogue One was excellent as it presented a very different take on the world. It nearly didn't make it judging by the refilming, but it was very good. It captured the ideas very well and threw a bunch of stuff at the audience that meshed clearly with the original film. I could have done without the bit at the end with Vader, but otherwise, it was a decent Star Wars story. Which was a good thing because "A Star Wars Story" was in the title. 

The next best film is also the most dogged. Solo. Again, this tried to diverge from the typical Star Wars setting it was very good in that respect. 99% of their battle was making people believe Alden Ehrenreich and Harrison Ford are the same person. That's a bad idea, but they did their best. It also suffers from the shoehorned villain ending. It was loaded with flaws, but was a passable story and fun romp. 

Ramming killer villains into the end of films seems to be the Disney Double Gainer. Usually Disney kills the villain in the end, but in these films they live. New ground, I guess. 

All the other live action movies wer dren. Yeah, I said dren. They were almost as bad as the prequels. 

But the prequels and sequels give a hint as what could be good about the Star Wars universe. There is a running concept in the newer Star Wars films and spin offs. The galaxy is strange. There are things you wouldn't believe out that. 

Now that's an idea right from the first film and occasionally Disney can nail it. 

Where Disney seems to get into trouble is Disney-fying things. Force Ghosts that act like people is a very bad one. Zero mystery anymore, they hang in the Force StarWarsBucks while waiting to drop knowledge on us. 

The other part is misunderstanding which movie the characters are in. Some of them are dead obvious like the need for fuel. More jarring is when they pull a classic sci-fi trope out and in dump it in the film, like Rey's Mirror Cave moment. It's good sci-fi, but bad movie making to assume that Star Wars is science fiction. It's more fantasy, but tightly defined fantasy. In introduces a lot of nonsense into films that don't have enough room for it. 

But what is good about these new creations? 

Before watching The Bad Batch, I went back to The Clone Wars series to see how they worked in that series. It wasn't a bad transition from one series to the other. The Bad Batch are introduced as anti-heroes to rescue Echo from the Separatists. In the end, they accept Echo into the misfit band. The entire ensemble are misfits, so Echo fits right in. They also diverge from pretty much everything else in Star Wars. 

Tech is a genius in a world that seems to be lacking them. Hunter is a low-fi tramp like character thrust into a high tech world. Wrecker is the team meat shield, apparently having survived many things that would normally kill people. He has a massive scar on the side of his head which is clearly going to haunt him. Crosshair is a stormtrooper who can actually handle a weapon. 

As divergent characters, they don't diverge much. Yes, they take off their helmets and armor, but in ways that make sense. They have mighty backpacks which seem to include a lot of the kit they need for missions. But aside from beefing up their profile, not much is made of them. They have interesting powers, but not that interesting. Tech is no more profound than Han Solo, but he has a better execution rate. Echo is basically a living R2-D2 which they already toyed with. Wrecker is a talking Chewie and Hunter is basically Luke without a lightsaber. The every dad.  

It remains to be seen what Omega and Crosshair will become. And that is actually the key to Star Wars. 

"What will you become?" 

Friday, June 4, 2021

Draft Review of Into the Wild (Kickstarter Complete!)

Updated 4/29/2021. I got my digital copy and ordered my print on demand. This update changes very little, except to add the excellent artists names, page count and to provide links to DriveThruRPG. This one has also been added to my 5 of 5 star listings. Once I get my POD, it might shift to five gold stars.  

June Update - I need to re-review this based on the hardcopy I have. 

As happenstance would have it, I have been granted a couple of great opportunities this week. I have yet to back to a kickstarter and at no time in my decade or so on the web have I been able to review a product that is still in production. On Thursday morning, I got the chance to do both. God, I hope I don't screw this up. 

Let's have some transparency. Every since I was a kid, I have collected books. Not just any books, but galleys. These are preproduct books sent out to authors and editors so they may do their final proof before printing. Sometimes, they have to do this several times. This is essentially What Todd Leback has sent to me. I feel really comfortable with this format even though it is never something that you would see on a store shelf. 

Second, I have tested, playtested and been a part of study groups on a lot of consumer products. A ridiculously amount of products, everything from flossers to cameras to wargames. There is a reason why I am the way I am. :) 

And item C: I dropped a $20 on the Kickstarter. During this review, I am receiving updates from Kickstarter. I am ignoring those and focusing entirely on the presented copy for information. This will cause this review to age poorly in the next 28 days or so. Please check out Kickstarter for updates. 

Title: Into the Wild
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Editor: Brian Johnson
Layout: BJ Hensley
Cartography: Todd Leback, Aaron Schmidt, Adrian Barber
Cover Art: Jen Drummond (jendart.com
Interior Art Adrian Barber, Dan Smith, Carlos Castilho
Artists: Is currently a stretch goal. TBA.
Year: 2021
Pages: 216
Rating: 5 of 5 stars. 

So, what am I reviewing: a Kickstarter or a book? Definitely, the book and only the book. Reviews, especially of unfinished products are best done by the numbers. Or the main questions: 

  • Who is the author of the book?
  • What is the idea of the book?
  • Was the idea delivered effectively?
  • What are the strengths?
  • What are weaknesses of the book?

You'll notice that none of those things have to do with stars or ratings, and unlike my other reviews I have not offered a star rating at the outset. And I might not do so by the end. I have only had 48-72 hours to review the material so I have spent most of my time digesting rather than playing or planning. 

Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building and authored a one page dungeon. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. This is his second Kickstarter and he runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. 

Previously, I reviewed Mr. Leback's Hexcrawl Basics

The premise of Into the Wild is to bring several other publications together in one book and link those concepts to kick an OSR style campaign up to the level of domain play. Into the Wild is a 200+ page book which marries hexcrawling to domain building. These ideas came from many of his previous works, but this is not simply a compilation of text. These separate works are merged together seamlessly and are amplified. While some parts of the text are recognisable as being from prior works, they have been edited in away that allows the reader to flow from one idea that was a single book to another, which is different from a compiled collection or an omnibus. 

The book is based on Old School Essentials, but that merely means a tiny bit of tweaking is needed to adapt it to other OSR rulesets. 

The intent is use hexcrawling to engage players into a more complex style of play by bringing domain building into the fold and expanding on it with additional features that would interest high level characters. Mr. Leback does this in 200+ pages with  maps created in Worldographer. While this document was offered to me "with no art", it contains over a dozen maps which are illustrative in nature. Additionally, he also includes many tables and charts to simply and clarify the ideas in each section. 

Like Mr. Leback's previous works, copious examples highlight the various details of hexcrawling, weather, domain management, wealth and character options. This is one of it's strengths. Another good point is the fact that it required a great amount of table time to develop these ideas. Into the Wild shows it's table time very well. It is the product of many years of work and playtime by both the author and his audience. He has merged player feedback with his writing style to produce tight product based on the idea of play. 

One weakness of this work is that it introduces new ways of using DM provided data, which is an inherent flaw of all hexcrawling activities. It's not something you can simply drop into a campaign mid-stream without some sort of introduction. That is not a terribly big deal because hexcrawling and domain building are now "things" that players will understand. 

You could use Into the Wild for low level characters to engage in all the guts and glory type things adventurers do while also running a domain level campaign where a handful of high level characters interact the lesser characters on a larger, more regal scope. This style of play puts the players very close to the DM when it comes to planning, while still maintaining the general mechanics of D&D. 

All and all, this is an excellent book that will only be improved by the stretching nature of a Kickstarter. I look forward to seeing the completed work.