Saturday, January 27, 2024

90% Finished - Star Smuggler

I post about Star Smuggler all the time. I had the boxed set when I was a kid and finally lost it in the fire. 

During the rebuilding and replacement year, I noticed that some products like Google Home and phones come in really heavy-duty boxes. I thought they would be perfect for some of my print-on-demand games. 

I started off by printing the rule and event booklets for the game on 20# paper. Then I did the tiles and mounted them on cardboard. Finally, I picked a box I thought was the right size. I use a Google Home box as that would probably never need to be packed up. 

Everything fit nicely. 

Of course, I wanted this to look like the original box, so I downloaded pictures of the box and went to town. The images needed to be scaled to the box as it was much bigger than the original. 

I printed on to photo paper, cut them down, and applied them with Tacky Glue from the Dollar Store. That worked pretty nicely. The one thing that didn't work was the edges. I will trim them down with a razor and use some tape to finish them off. 

Of course, a project isn't complete on one pass. I plan on reprinting the tiles on photo paper and maybe mounting them on thicker cardboard. I'd like to have the books with a heavy stock cover, maybe like a D&D module where the cover serves as a map or reference guide. That is super easy because I already have the booklets done and really don't need to reprint them. 

The counters are the very last item I need. I remember using random counters when I actually had the original set. I love the Star Frontiers counters and maps and I will probably repurpose them from the set I ordered off of DriveThruRPG. I love both the original counters from Alpha Dawn and the ones that come with the Knight Hawks set. 

The back of the box could serve as a map, but really I just loved the artwork enough to make it a part of the box. I recall the original box had a yellow back. I was pretty sure I couldn't reproduce plus the Google Home box is a flip-open box with the lid attached. 

The final image shows the poor job I did with the edges. Trimming will help, but I think I will use a bit of cloth tape to make sure the photo paper stays attached.  

Setting Unknown - The Rules

The other day, I posted about "Setting Unknown". I want this to be a spiritual successor to games like Star Smuggler. Very light rules and can be played as solo endeavor or as a small group. 

Clicking the Star Smuggler link will get you to the review of the game, which at the time was termed as "a programmed adventure". It has over 300 different events stitched together in a series of Choose Your Own Adventure style connectors. Replayability is very high but at this point, it's been nearly 40 years for me. I think I have played this to death. 

Over on the MeWe Sandbox page, John Salway asks what the minimum amount of information and details you need to have a sandbox adventure. 

Personally, I would define a game as a set of rules that describes a challenge to be overcome by a set of known rules by an agent or player.  I offer that the minimum information and detail needed for a sandbox game is a description of the scenario, a game space, and a means of resolution.

Scenario=Knowning the rules
and Challenge=Game space

Let's use the drawing of my ship as a starting point. It is both rules and game space. It presents a surprising amount of information to the player. You are on a spaceship. Unless there is some new information, this game will not involve ghosts, dinosaurs, magic, swimming, cooking, etc. 

I should address the elephant in the room: Doctor Who. I love that show because it changes its default settings with every episode and book. It took 60 years and a host of really creative people. I am not that... so I won't go there. 

I have labeled a few things, engines, lasers, radiators, rail guns, and cargo spaces. 

I guess I should use all of those points to create the challenge and the rules. There are many rules already implied. The ship has engines, so it moves. It has weapons, so there is combat. It has a radiator, so there must be heat. Then comes the storage spaces, something must go there. If you can obtain things to store, then there must be some sort of economy. 

All of those things relate to the challenges met by the players. I haven't worked it all of that out, but I do have some hopes. I would like to have ALL of the rules fit on two sides of a sheet of paper. Every scenario should be on one side of a sheet of paper. 

How many sheets of paper is debatable. Setting Unknown is definitely one of those back-burner tasks, but enjoyable nonetheless, especially as a reason to start drawing again. 

The Plug: I am now back on Facebook which is a big change. I am not using the whole "Link in the comments", so my only way to attract followers is word of mouth. You can also see me on Mastodon.Social and Dice.Camp in addition to MeWe. My last outlet, one that I am going to start working hard on this year is Ko-Fi

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Software Review - Escape Velocity

Title: Escape Velocity
Publisher: Ambrosia
Year: May 1996
OS: Mac OS 7.6 up to OS 9.2.2
Overall Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, good games don't die. Escape Velocity was a gem by a local WNY company called Ambrosia. They attempted to buck the trend by offering all of their software as shareware and this one was my favorite. 

Escape Velocity was unlike anything I had encountered. Some place between an exploration game, a trading game, and asteroids with some inventive challenges. You start off with a tiny shuttle reminiscent of a Star Fleet Shuttle and make your way from there. The game has a steep learning curve as you have very limited funds. Purchase some goods here, and try to sell them there. 

Simple, eh? 

No. You can run out of gas really quick. 

Hit the map key to learn what is in store for you. At first, your map is largely blank. You can fill it in one of two ways: A blind hop will show you that system and all of the jump-ways out or purchase a map. The map is super helpful as it will show you the services and features of each system without having to travel there.  

Once you have that down, you can set up an easy path to sell goods. At first, you will be able to earn enough to refuel and then more to refit your ship. The first thing you should buy is the escape pod. If you get blown out of the sky, it's the only way to ensure your survival. The second thing you need is the fuel scoop. This saves money on refueling. It makes you self-reliant. 

Once you have that sure trade route, grind away until you can purchase a new ship. 

Oh, the grind. It's the meat of this game because every time you think you have the best thing, you'll see something else that strikes your fancy. 

As you explore and trade, the galaxy opens up. There are missions, stories, and adventures everywhere. Sometimes, you need this or that to progress, so don't get too used to the ship you're in. 

It's not so bad. As you upgrade your gameplay, you'll also upgrade your ship to the max. Lasers, blasters, 3 types of armor, and other things will make every ship you own unique. It's a blast as not only can you upgrade your weapons and such, but you can also name your ships. 

That is such a simple thing, but it's great. Like Oregon Trail. 

Anyway, you'll work out the factions and the storylines as you go. Soon you might have a fleet of ships, escorting you around the galaxy. That will unlock new locations and stories while freeing you from a lot of the money chase you experienced in the first few hours of the game. 

Trust me, you will be spending hours on this one. 

This is an interesting game as it contains stories and missions while also being very sandboxy. I will leave you here with a few screenshots I took. You see, I knew which ship was my favorite. Then I remembered my other favorite and then a third favorite... 

Escape Velocity is amazing. If you have the means, give it a try. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

DriveThruRPG Bonus Points!

Look what arrived today, at the tail end of a blizzard! 

I can't wait to review this one. Thank you DriveThruRPG and the USPS for a timely delivery. 

Setting Unknown - A Solo Endeavor

Right now, I am in the planning stages of a new Star Frontiers campaign. I do this to myself every year. I want to play a game exactly at the point where the NFL and NHL heats up. I can ignore hockey for a bit, but this SF Campaign is going nowhere until Feb 12, after the Super Bowl.

I decided to do other things, such as ship design and planets. I mention Typhon, the planet where the PC will start. I'm in the brainstorming mode for the planets, which is handwavium for "the back burner". The fact is, I don't plan on having the players hang out there for very long. 

Ships are another story. The players will have a pair of gigantic shuttles, Hull Size 2. This is just a tad smaller than an assault scout. The shuttle is barely able to make a jump, the primary issue is it's just too small for supplies. For this reason, the two shuttles are paired with Hull Size 5 Electronic Warfare destroyer. 

This variant of Destroyer makes sense in game terms, it would have been helpful in the War but now that the war is over, something has to be done with all of these extra ship hulls and engines. Without the electronic warfare gear, the hulls are basically free. As they have also been stripped of their major weapons, the sale of these ships to civilians is fine. The characters won't be civilians for the most part, but why give them an inordinate amount of guns? 

What makes these ships very special is their double engines. They have both Atomic drives and Ion drives. The same for the Kon-Tiki shuttles. Why? The Ion engines allow each Destroyer and Shuttle to mask themselves or others. That would have been great during the war, but in the hands of the players, allows a quick ship that doesn't need an engine rebuild every time they jump. I want them to feel like they are on their own, even when they aren't.  

Anyway, back to "Setting Unknown". 

I was thinking of playing Star Smuggler again. I have been playing too much Endless Sky and Escape Velocity, for a theoretical review of each. I have played all three games a zillion times. I want to go beyond rule mods and stuff, hence a new setting. One that is currently unknown. 

I stole some images from Endless Sky and Wikipedia. This ship is a combo of the
nose of the Arrow and the tail of the Hawk from Endless Sky. The shuttle is a headhunter.
The Dreamlifter is for scale.

The main protagonists have a 20-meter ship, or 400+ tonnes*. This is basically on the order of the 747 Dreamliner. Like the characters for my SF campaign, they have a smaller shuttle. The Dreamlifter can carry about as much as its empty weight. (From reading Wikipedia. YMMV.) As you can see, the shuttle won't carry a lot, maybe 20 tonnes. 

(*The future might be metric.) 

I figure in the future, we can do better within limits. I will assume that the ship weighs 100 tonnes and can carry 300 tonnes of stuff. If you are empty, you can go faster. If you are loaded to the maximum weight, you move normally. If you are overloaded, you can't make an FTL jump. All extra equipment beyond what a spaceship comes with is subtracted from cargo space. 

The standard crew for a spaceship is the 5 man band - Pilot, Co-pilot, Navigator, Engineer, and Payload Specialist. If you have weapons, the pilot can fire forward cannons and missiles, and the Co-pilot and payload specialists handle everything else. To move, you must have at least a Pilot. 

FTL in this Setting Unknown is teleportation like Battlestar Galactica. Rule one, it takes a day to pump power into the capacitors to make that jump. Rule two, you can have a lot of extra capacitors. Generally, ships are ready to jump at all times, assuming they aren't doing anything special beforehand because they have more than one capacitor. 

Jumping into a system is generally not dangerous as long as you don't jump to a busy point. Jumping to the surface of a planet is bad because you will likely miss your target by a couple of meters in a random direction. BOOM! 

Jumping FROM the surface of a planet is easy as long as your target is empty space, except the authorities will hunt you down for causing a calamity on populated worlds. 

Bad, but fun.

I have no idea how combat, movement, economics, or anything else will work but I have some ideas I'll share in the coming posts. 

I don't know what to call this class of ship. Help me out in the comments below. 

I am now back on Facebook which is a big change. I am not using the whole "Link in the comments", so my only way to attract followers is word of mouth. You can also see me on Mastodon.Social and Dice.Camp in addition to MeWe. My last outlet, one that I am going to start working hard on this year is Ko-Fi

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Stupid Human Trick for DriveThruRPG

You know, I create a lot of problems for myself. My daily driver is a 1999 iBook and it doesn't like the internet. I had to devise a way around that issue to get my DriveThruRPG library onto it. It turns out it's easy with access to a fairly modern Chromebook, but guess it could also be done with an Android phone if you had to. 

Under Android (and Chromebook) the DriveThruRPG files are hidden. If you can get to them, it's a simple matter of copying and pasting or moving them to a USB drive. You just need to know where to find them on your Chromebook (or phone). 

What you need is a USB drive and an Android File Manager. 

Insert the USB drive and then open your file manager. As far as I can tell, virtually any file manager will do. Here is my main screen in the file manager: 

Tap manage storage. 

Then hit Android. 

Data is next. Tap it. 

In the data fold, you'll see an oddly named folder called: com.drivethrurpg. Click it.

Select files.

And here is your DriveThruRPG folder which contains all of your files. Tap it and Select either copy or move. 

Now navigate to the USB thumb drive and paste or finish the move. 

One thing about this process is, that you need to do this every time you order something new or there is an update of a file. 

I generally write on my iBook and transfer to another machine to post, and having my files available when I am "offline" is necessary. One other trick is I can dump the files to other machines for a consistent experience across several machines. 

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Where You Can Find Me

I have a couple of outlets I use all the time. I am now back on Facebook which is a big change. I am not using the whole "Link in the comments", so my only way to attract followers is word of mouth. You can also see me on Mastodon.Social and Dice.Camp in addition to MeWe. My last outlet, one that I am going to start working hard on this year is Ko-Fi

As always, you can find my products on DriveThruRPG. There is also my secondary store on Ko-Fi. Tomorrow, I will be posting about the differences between each shopping experience. 

Sometimes... I think of murder...

Like every DM, I devise some very deadly things to throw at players. And sometimes, the players come up with absolutely deadly scenarios to throw themselves into. My favorite story is about the characters who cut the bridge before they crossed. Usually, the players tell themselves a story that doesn't jib with reality or logic and then they die. 

I won't change a die roll, but if the players engineer a TPK sometimes I don't tell them. This is the source of the idea SES-001 The One with the Killer Hook, a post I made in 2020. 

The party was in a small town, in the shadow of a large castle. The castle fell into enemy hands and the party took it upon themselves to recon the castle for the King's Army. However, instead of communicating with the Good King's siege force, they began hit-and-run raids in and around the castle. They had a secret way into the castle and used it to incredible effect. They managed to take out the water supply, start fires, steal the royal seals from enemy hands, and even take a very powerful artifact before they goofed. 

The goof was one of their own making. The artifact was a ring of wishes that they hung onto "in case something bad happened", like a death. The second bit was taking out the water sources and setting fires. The castle was on the verge of surrender due to the water issue when the characters went after the last well. They got cornered by a pair of magic users and when the first fireball went off, they jumped into the well.

The empty well...  

This should have been a horrifying TPK, but I decided not to tell the party. The next session, they escaped the well and went on to be a very effective team, reaching 6th level before they finally had "something bad happen". 

They used the ring to wish a dead character back to life. Except, they were already all dead. 

They found themselves back in the well and later replaying the events of their first couple of sessions. It seemed poetic. And fun. 

Over the next couple of sessions, I used my notes from the campaign to create a montage of the party's greatest hits. We spent whole evenings throwing dice, reliving the events that led the party to such highs. 

It was a fun ride. 

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Star Frontiers - Example Characters and House Rules

For my upcoming Star Frontiers Campaign, I was going to produce my own custom, 2-sided character sheets with a tent. This would help some of my first-time players quickly produce a character. And to save time, I changed my mind and decided to use the one on Polyhedral Nonsense

I find this massively amusing. I was ready to invest a ridiculous amount of time making my own sheet and found an amazing sheet on website labeled "nonsense". Each area is neatly designed with large areas suitable for either computer text or handwriting. It corrects the one-side flaw of the original and ups the game with a useful tent. 

This is the opposite of nonsense, it's fabulous! I use a 1-5 star system for ratings, so this sheet gets 5 stars. 

Sorry, I didn't mean to do a review. But since Polyhedral Nonsense saved me so much time and effort, I had to do it. 

Back to your article, already in progress. 

The characters... 

I assume the characters have lived through the Crash on Volturnus modules. The group lives on the planet Typhon, a water world whose colony supports the post-war effort of decommissioning and preserving warships on the planet Dust. This endeavor requires nearly every skill in known space, of which the characters have a bit. The players will find it easy to fit in and have opportunities to improve their career skills, whatever they might be. They are learning to operate and maintain spaceships. 

I have a couple house rules that will be in effect. Spaceship skills are available from the get-go, but this is slightly modified as we are creating higher-level characters. The players will be granted 30 experience points to select any skill from the Alpha Dawn rules and 10 experience points to select spaceship skills from Knight Hawks. 

That isn't too unusual. That places the characters with a non-combat PSA plus a couple of Military skills, and one spaceship skill. 

What is unusual is the characters all have professions, meaning they draw a salary. At generation, the players can buy a monthly salary of 1000 credits for one experience point, 2000 for 3 experience points, and so on. In addition to this, they get their normal roll for credits plus one month's salary cash. Star Frontiers has a lot of cool gear but hobbles the players and the characters with a lack of credits. I hate that. Each character also has a place to stay, which means they have far more than the typical adventurer. 

The players also start with a standard equipment pack plus a laser pistol, coveralls, and a backpack, mementos of their time on Vulturnus. Each one has a professional tool kit. Anyone who has a Military skill will have one appropriate personal weapon assigned to them. If they want more, they need to spend their savings.  

The players will discover that Typhon and Dust isn't really a place for weapons, but the moment they get moving on their adventure, they will need them. I need to build a bestiary and make maps for both planets. Life is not especially dangerous, more of a point of interest for the curious player.