Monday, June 14, 2021

Science Phenomena to Pump Up Game Play


I am always a big fan of having realistic details of what is happening around my players to bring them into whatever world they are in. Each of these items is 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. 

Industrial 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 that 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 its a 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, as in a few seconds. 

Vacuum cementing is another phenomenon 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 the 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 a 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 counterintuitive. 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 be 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. 

Don't forget to put the "science" in science fiction. 

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 post of these books in the near future. 

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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 authors 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 audiotape 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. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. You can skip it and continue to read because there is better content below. #Ad 

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 versus 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.