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. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Veldt by Ray Bradbury - Review

Title: The Veldt
Author: Ray Bradbury
Year: 1950
Pages: 17 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here I am in the wayback machine. I love golden age sci-fi. Ray Bradbury was and still is one of the defining author's in this time period. 

I wouldn't normally review just one short story, but this short has appeared in dozens of collections. I first encountered it in audio tape form. One reader doing multiple voices. It was fascinating. 

This version is from the book, The Illustrated Man which is chocked full of golden age sci-fi, which is both amusing and terrifying. You can pick up a copy on Amazon. 

The Veldt is a precursor to all of those Star Trek stories about the holodeck. A husband and wife buy a "the Happylife Home", a product that does everything for the inhabitants. The most important part was the nursery that displayed images on the walls for the amusement of children. The parents, George and Lydia soon discover how this can go awry when the children permanently set it for the African Veldt. Roars of lions flood the home. 

All 17 pages are predicated on self-sufficiency verses automation. When George and Lydia attempt to turn off the house to act for themselves and the betterment of their children, the outcome is tragic. 

You can view this one on youtube. This performance is totally low-fi and is my favorite. 

The Tek - May 2021

In May, my DriveThruRPG downloads in line with April. Not bad. 

AD&D Character Sheet For Use with Unearthed Arcana: 4
Compass Rose Inn Minisetting: 2
Kobold's Folly: 2
Swashbuckler Character Class for D&D and AD&D: 4
These Old Games Presents: The Hex Pack: 3
Zero to Hero: Uncommon Commoners: 7



Webstats were also up. 

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

As a part of rethinking my series for this year, the run of models has fallen off my radar. I'm basically not going to do it as a series. I would like to get some images of figures and models, but that will come slowly. 

My reviews have slacked off, but at this point, I am still 3 weeks ahead. Good thing I built in that padding earlier this year. 

In July, I am probably going to end The Tek series, with a solid 3 years of data.