Monday, October 17, 2022

Ships by Studio Bergstrom

I need to lay off the credit card. In just a few weeks or less, my OSE set will arrive. I can't wait... but I have some games that I can't play and review due to a lack of minis. Yes, I'm playing the "not enough minis, even though I have a ton of unpainted minis" card. 

I decided to try out Studio Bergstrom. They have a series of ships called "Galactic Patrol" that are not specific to any TV or movie I have seen. Honestly, I haven't seen them all even though I've tried. The 11 ships I selected set me back $55.00 before shipping, which makes the math nice. $5.00 each on average. 

With these first 11 ships, I want to practice painting. I figure I could come up with a nice paint scheme and vary the scheme by changing the base or detail colors. These 11 will be my base squad with one set of colors and the next order of 11 can have slight changes to create either a different squadron or an opposing fleet. 

(It occurs to me that I should buy a nice camera to take pictures of my models. Maybe if I stop buying models.)

Now, I didn't pick the largest ships available, I selected what I thought looked good for a matching squadron.  

1 Europa Cruiser
1 Scandinavia Destroyer
1 Indochine Cruiser
2 Africaino Destroyer
2 Oceana Destroyer  
3 Nipponese Corvette
1 Mongolian Cluster Frigate

Oceana Destroyer
Now that I have them, I was surprised, perhaps shocked, at the level of detail on these models. My poor photo skills do not do them justice. What had started as a lark to get back into painting brought a smile to my face when I realized that these models might be moderate to difficult to paint. At least for someone like me who has degraded skills. They aren't starter models, they are amazing ships. 

Many of the ships come in two parts, top and bottom hulls with additional turrets and details. 

The largest 4 ships came with silicone bases. These ingenious little things allow you to ram a pin through the base to mount the ship. I'm not sure if the pin's pointy end should pass through the base to the bottom of the ship or the other way around. Either seems like a fine idea. 

I should have taken a better picture of the whole group of ships. Anyway, I will take more pictures as I get some paint on them. And they will feature in some of my upcoming reviews. 



Friday, October 14, 2022

Perfect Pairings, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days

This post comes courtesy of a long-time reader and benefactor, Blackrazor who gifted me a great many books and treasures.  

You can find Alastair Reynolds at www.alastairreynolds.com and approachingpavonis.blogspot.com



Alistair Reynolds' Revelation Space is an excellent series of books however, Reynolds manages to zig-zag triumphant epics and eldrich horror in a way that does not make the reader envy the characters. There are too many Faustian endings. It is not the sort of series that makes excellent roleplaying, the players would feel cheated or screwed. 

Except for one game... called Golgotha. It was made for the Revelation Space. Specifically, it pairs with a pair of short stories called Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days. Sure, it's a hack but sometimes hacks make the most sense. 

In my last post, I wrote a great deal about the TV show The Rain. Enough to make the reader interested in watching it. This time, I would like to tell you about Golgotha more than Revelation Space because it appears to me that Golgotha is Revelation Space in RPG form. 


Golgotha is a hacked OSR game, where players generate their characters by special rules. Basically, if one stat is over a specific amount, the next stat must be 7. Once the 7 is assigned, you go back to random generation. It's good that the rules allow you to increase stats because sometimes the player will have some stinkers to start. That's pretty good. At least, better than D&D 3.x where everyone is racing to 18. 

This is a heavily modded OSR D&D-style game. Black Hack in particular. Rather than using tables, each stat is used as a target number for tasks and usually low rolls are better. The lack of tables makes this edition of ORS D&D very rules-light. Damage is based on class, abilities also on class. Oddly, characters have no Con bonus for hit points. This seems to be a scaling issue, where gobs of hit points would be detrimental to gameplay. 

At every other level, you get a talent that improves your character in specific Golgotha-themed tasks. And what an amazing list of tasks it has. Your goal as a character is to obtain materials for trade with an alien species for more power... or quirks. Rather than being trapped in the typical grind for experience, the completion of a task leads to more power. Not only do characters become more experienced and powerful, but they also get special powers based on what they collect for their alien overlords. Participation is equal to specialization because those other random skills make a character unique. It's D&D in Space plussed with fewer rules. That is a unique twist. 

Before I go, let me tell you a bit about the premise of Diamond Dogs which will totally explain why it's a great fit for Golgotha. In the 25th century, Roland and Richard discover something they call Blood Spire, clearly an alien artifact. Roland builds a team to crack the secrets of the Spire: a hacker, a gene-spliced and mind-altered mathematician, and a surgeon/body-modder, plus Richard. 

Each level of the Blood Spire has a specific mystery to be solved. Sometimes it is a difficult mental problem, other times it's a physical challenge. Failure results in ever-increasing peril. Level 1, get pricked in the finger. Level 10? Into the meat grinder, with no saving throw. Level 50, oh... you get the picture. 

It soon becomes obvious that there are several dark forces at work. Roland may be fixated on problem-solving in general or perhaps bewitched into delving deeper into the Spire. The hacker and the body-modder have their own goals. Richard and the mathematician have some history between them. What should be a linear story develops twists and curveballs. And the end has the biggest kicker. 
 
Go ahead and check out Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days : Tales from the Revelation Space Universe on AbeBooks. And don't forget to order Golgotha from Drivethru RPG. 

If you have a Netflix account, you can watch "Love, Death & Robots" for two adaptions of Reynolds stories called “Beyond the Aquila Rift” and “Zima Blue”. Not for children.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Recovery in or of Star Smuggler

In my last post, I hypothesized that the player could recover from the loss of their Antelope spaceship by pulling together a small team of pilots, medics, and engineers to scavenge in the Ruins found on so many planets. 

While this is basically true, it takes a very long time. I used Random.org's dice generator to rapidly roll hundreds of dice. The primary limiting factor is loading a hopper (25 CU) or using an orbital shuttle (50 cu) to move goods around. The problem with this method is it takes a lot of time and money to do so. You can cache items to speed the process but the scenario becomes a little ridiculous and tedious. 

If you are down with embracing the ridiculous you can reduce the tedium by purchasing items like repair units, fuel units, or GM bots right in the Spaceport. Once you have spent every penny on these items all you have to do is sit on them until you receive a good sales result. Picture Duke sitting on a pile of craters right in a hanger waiting for someone to happen by in need of item x, which he has cornered the market on. On Regari, a roll of 6 sales results in a 1.5 base price modifier. You are converting 1 secs. spent into 1.5 secs. per cycle. In a month or two, you should have enough to purchase a new Antelope. 

If only you get over the fact that Duke is sitting on a pile of thousands of repair units or fuel units...

The reason this isn't an obvious solution is you cache a tremendous amount of items inside the Spaceport for a very short period of time. Like thousands of CU worth of goods. The rules don't place a limit on the number of items you can have only a limit on items you can move.  

It is a very unsatisfying solution because it kills the game engine's balance. In fact, using this method breaks the economic restrictions that the game places on you. So long as you do not engage in any other activities such as RRR, there is zero risk due to a lack of opportunities to make contacts or otherwise experience negative effects. 

Now I have further expansion possibilities because there must be a mechanic to offset the easy solution of not engaging in play to win. In solo play, this is not as dangerous as the solo player is playing for exploration not cheating their way through the money problem. It's just easier to fudge the rolls or be a bad timekeeper. 

If you want to adapt Star Smuggler to an actual multiplayer game, then you need a solution to this possibility. 

I think that creating a table of random events that can occur when you do not move or engage in activities would work to resolve this unique issue. The Star Smuggler system has many different built-in: scenarios that range from flavoring to pushing events that can speed world-building while not obviously punishing a lack of activity. A party of characters will need some downtime to stay centered on tasks, but a random table of events can spark new plans and ideas. Think of it as exposure without railroading like a solo game has to do. 

Another cool idea for multiplayer options is to use randomly generated systems to express change. As time goes on a Spaceport could morph into a colony, city, or slum. This wouldn't happen overnight, but a referee could present the changes over the natural weeks and months which are hardcoded into the game system. The referee could even change the star charts as exploration opens new routes or even open up completely new systems. 

This solo game system is remarkably robust for such a simple thing. A necessary limit in the system is how scattered the rules are within the events. For example, there exist psionics, grenades, and combat droids however, if haven't read every event you wouldn't even know. Also, combat is super tight. There are relatively few ways you can make changes without upsetting the game balance. 

However, in using this as an actual RPG ruleset, the referee knows exactly what to expect. Change can come in other ways, such as the expansion of planetary systems, new events created by the players' choices, and the referee's goals for the game. 

Most of my amazement and fascination with this game is how tightly integrated and edited it is. I spent a few days going through every event and rule, mapping out where each went to find loops or mistakes. There are a few loops, but as near as I can tell no actual mistakes which is a testament to how well thought out it is. 

There are a few relics and oddities in the rules and events. For example, events are sequential from e001 to e199 but then hop to e400 before ending at e441. That leads me to believe that the game might have meant to have 200 more events. The rules do the same thing, flowing from r201 to r242 before hopping to r300+. Maybe there are 60 or so missing rules entries. Were that true, someone painstakingly edited them away without the benefit of a computer. 

There is another option. Two people could have been working on the set at the same time and divided the entries between them which explains the gap. One person finished before the other but in order to maintain the document refused to reference unnecessary numbers or renumber what they had. Not surprising if you are using pen and paper or worse, a typewriter.  

Personally, I believe this second option to be the more possible one. There is a subtle hint in e005. It is the only event that straight-up duplicates events: 

"If you disable the controller and capture it, the event takes 1 hour and roll 1d6: 1-e117, 2-e017, 3-e059, 4-e117, 5-e017, 6-no effect." 

This does not occur any place else in the rules. Omitting tension-building choices which hop through an intervening event before directing the reader/player back to make a different choice at the initial branch. This is a common trope in "choose your own adventure" books. It is different than duplication.  

I believe in this case one of the e117 and e017 events was supposed to lead elsewhere but do not because those events were either edited away or simply not written. 

A similar thing happens in the rules section for combat. The events and rules call out "sidearms" and "heavy sidearms" while a few areas mention "explosive weapons" and "armor piercing" weapons. I personally believe that this is the result of two authors being on the same page, but not the same word. Or perhaps they intended for there to be a couple of classes of weapons that were discovered to be unbalanced, like a machine gun or blaster rifle. Or maybe "too much like game, movie or TV show x." 

It is pretty clear that the author used their personal experience at the game table to create a solo game. I find it kind of satisfying to reverse the process and use the ruleset for a multiplayer game. 

What do you think? 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Perfect Pairings, Episode One The Rain

In this post series, I will be selecting TV shows and movies that pair nicely with different rulesets. I won’t be picking big-budget, well-known series that probably have dedicated rulesets, like Star Wars, Firefly/Serenity, Farscape, or anything in the MCU.

I wanted to start off with an easy one, a TV show is adaptable to many sets of rules.

The Rain is an amazing Danish TV series running 3 seasons. It is available on Netflix and it’s a very quick binge. The Rain’s story is covered in just 20 episodes, which is great for gaming. Once establishing the scenario, the tight episode schedule allows for a great amount of deviation for role play.

The main characters are Rasmus and Simone Andersen, two children who live through an apocalyptic plague carried by the titular Rain by escaping into a secret bunker. Cut off from the world, they live in isolation for 6 years. They are forced out of the bunker by an alarm and are taken captive by Martin, Patrick, Lea, Beatrice, and creepy Jean. Simone turns the tables on the raiders by revealing that there is a network of bunkers full of food and supplies the gang desperately needs.

It soon becomes clear that the raiders are atypical survivors who avoid as much trouble as they can. They live by their wits and their ability to hide. It is rather anticlimactic when the plot reveals a dangerous organization called Apollon that hunts survivors for unknown purposes, making Martin and Patrick’s gang far less dangerous than they seemed in the prior episode. Even Jean who starts off creepy is far, far less threatening than one would imagine.

The technology stays about 5-minutes in the future, with the highest tech items being either drones or one-off 3d printed affairs with little purpose other than to build suspense. The vast majority of the technology revolves around detecting various things and horror-style virology experiments gone wrong.

The series is weapons-lite, where the primary purpose is either defense or mayhem. This is kind of understandable given the possibility that the sky could open up and kill everyone. Marin has a semi-automatic rifle, but no one else bothers to pick up a piece. The scenario puts the rule of 3 in full effect: water, shelter, and food, in that order. Many of the other survivors have weapons but not the skill to use them effectively nor the ability to maintain them. Apollon is a paramilitary group that uses Humvees, body armor, and automatic weapons but is not terribly inclined to use them. The story is more of a cat and mouse game than a post-apocalyptic shoot ‘em up.

In adapting this universe for gameplay, the referee or gamemaster will be crossing off more items than they add to pretty much any ruleset. That makes for quick set-up and low maintenance.

I did notice some odd items that were missing in this series. Of course, cell phones are a thing of the past given that electrical power is not generally available. The same goes for private vehicles due to the total societal collapse. Some characters have bows and arrows. I found it odd that almost no one has a knife, axe, or hatchet. Nothing could be more useful in a survival situation.

This universe would be perfect for a low-tech introduction to any version of Traveller. Personally, I enjoy the Cepheus Light edition but literally, any edition will do. The lack of gunplay will increase the character’s survival rate because guns in Traveller are rather… ah, final. Traveller’s skill collection and mechanics are perfect for this sort of cat and mouse thriller but would require some careful choices in character generation. 

On the plus side, most of the characters in The Rain are under 30, so straight character generation might not be too off kilter. Simply replace certain items from the tables with more mundane goods. I would urge a referee to modify the tables in advance with goods and resources from the world of The Rain preloaded so players don’t feel cheated.

More than a few of Traveller’s skills are not made for a 5-minute in the future story but by performing the same preplanned swap for other skills is easy. Logistical and basic education skills are king in this sort of world. It is important to let the players know you aren’t taking things from them but substituting a skill that is more appropriate.

Another old ruleset that could work is Top Secret. That game has a good set of skills baked right at character generation. Going light on starting skills mirrors the feel of The Rain’s characters. Many of the main characters have no college education while a handful are “Super Asmodeus” types when it comes to knowledge. Depending on the player’s style and desired characters, you could make a “team level” pool of skill points where the party chooses who to dump points on. Top Secret isn’t set too far in the past, so it’s almost perfect for this TV show’s era. Again, the lack of weapons in the show will merely enhance character survival.   

My last pick of rule sets is After the Bomb by Palladium. The reason I place it last is The Megaversal system is so well integrated, it is easier to expand the possibilities than reduce them. Megaversal is a great system but the referee would need to cull a ton of bits to fit with The Rain. While After the Bomb seems a little off-beat for a bunch of plain Jane humans, I have not revealed details of the TV show which make this a sensible choice. 

The skill system is robust and sound. There is a total lack of MDC weapons used in The Rain but that doesn’t mean the heroes won’t encounter MDC tough items in the form of vehicles and bunkers and such. I like the hand-to-hand combat system for this sort of survival scenario. Lots of dodging and parrying and pushing, as opposed to city leveling MDC combat. 

What I haven’t mentioned in some mysterious events and people in The Rain, so as to avoid spoilers. After the Bomb and Traveller have the best rules to support these things while to my knowledge, Top Secret has none. A savvy referee could probably adapt these issues away while using the strengths of the Top Secret to keep things together. 

Now, you may wonder why I haven't suggested other rulesets. The reason for this is simple, three is reasonable AND this is a series where I'll make future pairings of movies and TV shows to game sets. Stay tuned, your favorite game may show up eventually. 

Friday, September 16, 2022

Changing the Scenario - Star Smuggler

One of the nice things about Star Smuggler is the designer thought to make the game extendable. If you have played the generic game too many times, you can add in r208 Random Star System Connections and r209 Random Star System Design. This totally changes the dynamics of the game by presenting opportunities you ordinarily wouldn't have in the vanilla version. 

In using these two systems, I rolled up a new version of the whole star chart.  

Regari, the starting system, now has two planets and asteroids with a space station. This is a total game changer because the second planet has twice the destinations. I also pulled out my cutting mat to use the grid to help mark out distances. 


This is so handy and I wish I had thought of it before. 

It also gave me a rule-busting start scenario. In Star Smuggler, there are multiple series of events that lead to Duke losing his ship. The rules don't indicate a loss, but the question is, can you survive long enough to get another ship? 

I suspect the answer is "yes" because, with the loss of the ship, you lose the weekly clock of payments and the associated money drain. If this happens late in the game, you have a nest egg to work from. You only need a few things to make stuff happen:

A Hopper, 
An Engineer, 
A Medic, 
Repair Units, Life Support Units, and Fuel Units. 

The total cost of these items, assuming you have none to start is between 940 and 1240 secs. Once you have these base items, your goal is to get to the Ruins. There you can pick up Bots, Skimmers, RU, and maybe another Hopper. The primary goal is to get that Hopper for free. 


Once you have a second Hopper, you need to hire another Pilot and a pair of Gunners at a base cost of 50 a week. Utilize the cache rules to preserve your finds in the Ruins. Don't forget about the Orbital Shuttle event that allows you to move 50 cu of goods in a single hour. It's a great way to clean out that cache. 

At this point, your crew cost is 65 a week. If you go whole hog, that is 65 per owned Hopper. That's a pilot, medic, engineer, and gunner per ship. You'll be making bank in no time, especially if you utilize the game-breaking scenario of multiple Hoppers with guns. You can actually become a pirate, using the Hoppers to strafe ground targets. Sure, you're wanted but the major drawback to being wanted is losing your ship at random... and you don't have one of those. It's entirely possible that your fleet of Hoppers could gun down even full size spaceships. 

In order to cut down on the rogue pirate theme, you could make orbital shuttles available. They are basically double-sized Hoppers. I have designed a small layout of one: 


The cargo area is a bit smaller than what the rules say, but I tacked on 10 cu for passengers, 6 cu for the crew in pilotage and tons of fuel. I would price this thing out at 3 times the cost of a Hopper, available when a Hopper is. This ends up being 2700 or 3600 secs., base price. An orbital shuttle is big enough to generate it's own life support like a full sized ship, but the trade off is there is no good place for guns or turrets. This gimmick is there to prevent that guns blazing trope. 

My final modification is to jump right to the shipless gameplay. For whatever reason, Duke doesn't start with a ship. Maybe the financial market tanked, or the ship he was offered looked nothing like the Serenity, or it was purple, or whatever you want. In this scenario, Duke never had a ship or the associated costs. So let's give him a Sidearm, the U-suit and 4d6x100+150 secs. Let us also change secs. into dollars, so I don't have to keep typing that annoying abbreviation. 

Duke starts out at the Spaceport with a maximum of $3650. He does not have a ship, Hopper or anything but the U-suit and Sidearm. Now, he needs to make 32 times what he has to buy an Antelope outright. This should be completely different. 

I haven't done a commercial in a while, so I figured I try something different. Over at Redbubble, I have a collection of Sci-Fi themed goodies. I have notebooks, pins, stickers, clocks, mugs and more. 



Check out my shop front there