Saturday, December 30, 2023

New Ko-Fi Store

My store on Ko-Fi has just opened. I am leading with items that will never change, like my AD&D Character Sheets for Unearthed Arcana and my Hex Pack. These items are pay-what-you-want and are IDENTICAL to those offered on DriveThruRPG. There is no need to duplicate your efforts if you already got them from DTRPG. This is simply a different shopping option.

Star Frontiers Campaign - Supporting Cast

For my campaign next year, I will need a supporting cast for the players. The characters will have access to a Kon-Tiki shuttle smaller than an Assult Scout. Since the players will be using this new type of ship, it needs to have a bit of history, as if it were a character. 

In the closing of the Sathar War, the Federation ran down a couple of paths of ship design. One of them was a type of electronic warfare destroyer called the Puff Adder. This destroyer was fitted with 3 atomic and three ion engines, packed with electronic warfare gear while giving up many of its weapons. It was also given two Kon-Tiki shuttles that could dock with it. Like its namesake, the Puff Adder could ambush enemy ships with its electronic warfare gear and light weapons while the Kon-Kiki shuttles provided support. The inherent abilities of the two types of engines allow these ships to dance in and out of danger. 

It would have been a vastly more expensive ship than your typical Destroyer. 16 hulls of this type were laid down before the war ended. At the end of the war, Puff Adders were fitted with engines recovered from damaged ships as a cheap solution. However, only 8 were fully outfitted with their electronic warfare gear and weapons creating a second varient on the destroyer. 

The Puff Adders had assault rocket launchers, a laser battery, and ICMs with electronic warfare gear. Those not fitted with all of the projected weapons were labeled as the "Heracles" variant. The Heracles class was suitable for research, search and rescue plus surface support operations. The pairing of the destroyers with the Kon-Tiki shuttles creates a means for the characters to explore single systems easily while also providing very limited system-to-system travel with a bit of danger. 

The characters in their Kon-Tiki class shuttle will be supported by both types of destroyers, depending on what system they arrive in. This will give the players the exciting experience of being able to travel from system to system in a small ship. 

As time permits, I will be sketching out the deck plans of all three types of ships, the shuttle and the two destoryers. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Star Frontiers Campaign - Ships for the Characters

I want the players to have access spaceships. They will be jetting around between the planet Dust and Typhon plus various systems across the Federation. 

Most of the time, the player characters will be landing on the surface of planets so they have a giant shuttle, smaller than an assault scout. It is size two. These shuttles are barely able to move from system to system, hence the name Kon-Tiki. However, for in system ships, the Kon-Tiki class shuttle is super roomy. 

Although I have shared a picture of a spaceship above, I really want this ship to be more like a real space shuttle and not a tail-lander. 

I will be sharing deck plans and such as time permits. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Star Frontiers Campaign 2024

This year, I would like to run a Star Frontiers Campaign. I have a couple of ideas of what I'd like to do. I'd like to have a mystery to investigate. 

Let's start with the characters. They are not newbies. They have survived the events of Volturnus modules. To that end, they are in advanced officer training and learning to crew a spaceship. 

In my campaigns, spaceship skills are selectable from the get-go. These characters have 20 experience points for anything they like from the Alpha Dawn set and 10 experience points to spend on one spaceship skills. The players have one special option at character generation - they can trade 1 exp point for 1,000 credits. This pairs nicely with the 20 exp for any AD skill. The characters will be nicely equipped with the expectation everyone has one or more guns. 

I don't believe in yanking the character's equipment at the start of the adventure. 

Next, the characters have a home base, a planet named Typhon. It's a water world with underwater living quarters. The population is small, but growing after the war. The planet features a chain of islands around the equator. There are many aquatic animals in the planetary ocean and more than a few amphibians inhabiting the island. Even the bird and rat-like creatures are amphibians. It is an interesting world without too much excitement. Typhon is one of those "best-kept secrets" planets, beautiful and safe, not well known yet and not completely explored.  

Also in the Typhon system is the planet Dust. This planet is barely habitable, but the low-oxygen atmosphere is great for storing and repairing spaceships. It is a base for training future astronauts. It isn't as dangerous as training in a vacuum. All species hate the environment, it requires suits for comfort but you can survive on the surface. Just barely. Typical stints on Dust last between a month and 3 months. The planet has one main base and dozens of smaller bases scattered here and there. 

If you weren't learning how to be an astronaut, you'd have no reason to visit and even less to stay. Everyone, including the general staff, tries to speed run any necessary tasks to get back to the comfort of Typhon. Failing that, a tiny ship and a hard vacuum would do. 

Now we are to the meat of the setting. There has been a rash of incidents where the visitors to Dust go missing. They vanish after leaving Dust for other destinations. This is bizarre because they spend some time at the destination getting settled, checking in with friends and family, and getting spotted on plenty of security cameras. Then they are gone. The one commonality is they disappear at night. No bodies have been found, no ransom remains, there is no pattern to the destinations, and no foul play is evidenced but is obviously suspected. 

Since the Sathar and their agents have been sent packing, it is an interplanetary locked room mystery for the players to solve.  

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
At DriveThruRPG
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn at DrivethruRPG

I picked up the print copy of AD from DriveThruRPG. The printing is excellent, the binding looks sharp and clean.  

Monday, December 4, 2023

Simple Improvements - Power to the Archer

I like archer characters. Over the weekend, I had a chance to binge-watch a couple of episodes of Hawkeye and a few of The Arrow. Both shows are obviously based on bow combat. 

In virtually all RPGs, archers are limited to how many arrows they have. Once the quiver is empty, they aren't an archer anymore. They lose the deadly ability to strike at a distance. 

I wrote about making fighting men and spell casters more powerful without adding die rolls or wildly different mechanics. Archers can be similarly empowered. 

Looking at the first Avengers movie, Hawkeye doesn't miss so much as not hit his target. 

Loki is a trickster and should have seen this coming. Now let's look at Hawkeye missing a target. 

This time Hawkeye misses because something got in his way. He didn't see it coming and lost an arrow because of it. His second shot is also a miss because Quicksilver threw him down and the arrow was knocked out of reach. Then there is a third attempt, the one I want to simulate. Quicksilver simply disappears, leaving Hawkeye with no target. Technically, that is his third miss. 

This last miss is easy to simulate. When a shooter ATTEMPTS a shot, sometimes the target moves in such a way that the archer can't follow. In this case, the miss means the archer never loosed an arrow. This is actually a very powerful thing for someone with a bow. In not loosing the arrow, they keep it for later. Since running out of arrows will put the archer out of action, not losing an arrow in every round of combat is powerful. 

(Good lord, my spell checker hates the difference between loosing and losing.) 

A DM could declare that on certain missed rolls the archer has released the arrow and on others, they retained the arrow and didn't shoot. Since 1 is odd, I would rule that every odd-number missed attack means the archer really did let the arrow fly and it's gone. On every even-numbered missed attack, they didn't let it go. They kept it. 

I have a simple rule for collecting arrows after combat. If the characters have fled the battle, they lost all of the arrows they shot. If they keep the battlefield, then they can look for them. Even better, if the enemy was shooting, they could possibly recover those, too. 

If a player shoots x number of arrows, I select a die with fewer sides than the arrows fired, hopefully within one. If an opponent was also using arrows, I have PC archer roll a second of the same die. They may end up with more arrows than they started. This is in addition to whatever is taken as treasure. 

You can also amuse yourself with the possibility that two archers keep missing each other until each has to resort to picking up the arrow just fired at them. This is more likely to happen with spears and javelins, which is why the Romans used pilums. Pilums have a soft tip that bends to prevent it from being thrown back. It seems to be a 400 BC solution to a much older problem.  

Let me know what you think in the comments. 

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Disappointment = Improvements, Star Frontiers Edition


Star Frontiers was one of my favorite non-D&D games. While my friends loved Traveller. I was all in on Star Frontiers. Traveller and SF are two completely different games in the sci-fi genre. In my opinion, Traveller is a pure RPG while Star Frontiers incorporates role-play into a board game. It is my personal belief, being a pure RPG, Traveller is unified and therefore more balanced. The setting also doesn't hurt. However, I rarely play it. 

Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks are both excellent games, but they are completely different games. Trying to integrate player characters into a fleet battle-type game is glitchy, to say the least. One of the biggest disappointments is summed up in this chart from Knight Hawks:

Holy hell, you need to max out an Alpha Dawn character to be able to fly a spaceship at minimum competency. A level 6 technician should be able to build a whole spaceship with little trouble, why would you need this level of skill to operate a spaceship? 

Han Solo's ability to fix stuff is putting a blaster shot into it. I can't picture Maverick fueling his plane, he can't even put on fireproof gloves. Ok, Data could assemble pretty much anything, but he is a robot made of McGuffin but I can't imagine Sulu doing the same.  

The second chart is even more annoying. 

It perpetuates military skills are the best way to advance quickly. If you look at the chart from Alpha Dawn, this at least continues the trope started in the first book. 

I had a strong desire to fix this back in the 80s in a simplistic fashion. Everyone got 3 skills to start, anyone could take spaceship skills from the get-go and I just accepted that spaceship skills were harder to level up in. 

I did preserve the first chart of requirements as a social aspect of being a spacer. These were the minimum skills necessary to get a professional job on a ship. Rather amusingly, my players figured out exactly what I getting at and would role-play padding their resume to land jobs. 

Recently, I decided to engage in a bit of confirmation bias and checked to see if anyone else saw this as a problem. A lot of people did see this as a problem at the time and today, and many of them even used this very technique to fix it. 

Since I was engaging in confirmation bias and not fact-finding, I totally discounted people who had other modifications to these tables as being a less common option. I reserve the right to be wrong.  

Let me know in the comments. 

Interestingly, I did see many people playing the game straight. While I absolutely hate this solution it is firmly based in reality. Historically, astronauts were (and still are) brilliant people and a vanishingly small portion of the general population. It does make sense in that respect. I just don't like it for space opera. There is a case for leaving it alone but I wanted to have spaceships as an option from the get-go. 

I blame this attitude of mine on some players' odd reactions to skills in a given era. Some players will opt to claim that their character can't swim, can't ride a horse, or drive a car in eras where most people can. They see that skill on a chart and not wanting to waste skill points don't select it. Then they assume that not ticking a box means zero ability. Most people who can't swim merely can't swim well. Most people who "can't" drive a car can totally explain the operation of a vehicle and merely lack the will to do so. This is just being wise to one's own limitations, not a lack of understanding or slight ability. 

I have a whole post on silly things I won't let players do. That is D&D-themed, but you can read it anyway. 

Speaking of posts, you can expect to see more posts about Star Frontiers soon. I want to have a campaign going shortly. 

Simple Improvements - Magic Spells

A lot of times magic use feels like a machine gun in a knife fight. And then there are days where it doesn't work out like that. 

I have one simple improvement for magic users of all stripes that doesn't involve dice throws. It is a clarification of my house rules. 

First - To loose and/or lose a spell it has to be prepared. This is usually part of the rules of the game. One word to improve this rule is "completely", as in "completely prepared". 

Adding this one word completely changes the dynamic of spellcasting. 

Let's say a wizard or cleric selected a complex spell. They start to prep it then they are hit in the face. "Completely prepared" switches the result from "I lost a spell" to "I have to start over". They weren't done prepping. That seems kind of fair as the player and the character pays a cost in terms of frustration but doesn't actually lose anything else. 

They need a better plan, but they can use that spell later. 

The next modification to spell casting for simplification is: to allow the character to pull back unused spells. I can't tell you how many times I have had a player prep a fireball in the last round of combat and simply lose it. It seems reasonable to me that a player should be able to undo that action if nothing else is happening. Perhaps it takes the same amount of time to put the spell away as it does to prep it. Seems reasonable to me.  

A third simplification is what I call "spell coast". On Monday, a cleric prays for three spells  - Light, Purify Food and Water, and Bless. He has only one opportunity to cast the Purify Food and Water spell on Monday. On Tuesday, decides to replace that one spell with Cure Light Wounds. Being a small-town adventure, nothing happens until Sunday night. If the cleric is happy with his spell choices, he doesn't have to study every day. He coasts along with the 2 spells he prayed for on Monday and third, he prayed for on Tuesday. 

The less time the players spend memorizing spells, the better. I had a diabolical DM that would take people's memorized spells away the moment they lost consciousness. 

All of these things together make spell casters more powerful while also providing more role-play opportunities.