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RPGs, science fiction, fantasy, gadgets, and anything else that comes up.Daniel Stacknoreply@blogger.comBlogger417125
Updated: 8 hours 53 min ago

Back From Disney

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 00:52

There was a bit of a delay in my normal update cadence due to the family vacationing in Walt Disney World in Orlando. Alas, it is time to come back to the real world - especially as such vacations seem to directly attach themselves to one's finances...

I know a number of people aren't big fans of Disney World as it isn't "real". I can absolutely understand that criticism, though I suppose the escape from reality is much of the appeal we find in the trip. According to my handy Gear S3 watch we walked a few gazillion miles and despite eating rather well I seem to have dropped a few pounds (albeit with a number of pounds to go).

As a gamer, I find lots of shiny stuff when I go on vacations - visiting Colonial Williamsburg, for example, gives me all sorts of ideas for games set around the American Revolution. One thing that Disney World does is present illusions. Walking through Star Tours and one feels one is preparing to board a Star Wars spaceship. Daughter Jasmine and I waited to meet with Kylo Ren and Chewbacca - Kylo was surprisingly intimidating.

A visit to Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom provides the feel of a future as was seen in the earlier years of science fiction - EE Smith's Lensman characters would feel quite at home with the aesthetic found there.

The Frontierland and Adventureland areas of Magic Kingdom also provide inspirations - from Pirates of the Caribbean for the Golden Age of Piracy to the Old West feel of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Animal Kingdom has the feel of 1920s and 1930s pulp adventures -from the Everest Expedition roller coaster (where I think my youngest was trying to kill me...) with its yeti to the feel of adventures in the wild in Kilimanjaro Safaris to time traveling to meet dinosaurs...

Obviously we didn't make the trip for gaming inspirations - it was a great time away from the "real world" with family - a chance to be goofy - and a chance to meet with Goofy...

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fate Lessons #2 - Tossing Death Troopers off the Cliff

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 02:07

In this week's Star Wars adventure, our heroes were on a mission to extract a Rebel agent who had crashed on a planet and was being pursued by the Evil Galactic Empire. It's based on the old West End Games' Stat Wars adventure "Operation: Shadowstrike" contained within Instant Adventures.

My previous post on lessons I've learned in GM-ing Fate was rather popular and I found the exercise useful for myself as well so I'm continuing that idea here.

I've had some discussions on the use of sticky notes and marking up of the map. There's one reason I do that - if not I doubt we'd be doing much with Aspects. Most of us having been gaming for a long time and are got our start with more "traditional" games. As a result, it's likely we'd totally forget what Aspects were in play - it's something I ran into playing Atomic Robo a few years back.

One encounter in our adventure wound up having a nice combination of environmental Aspects as well as created Advantages. Walking through woods our heroes spotted some Imperial death troopers before they themselves were spotted. This saw a variety of Aspects getting created by the PCs - for example, the assassin droid did not hide but rather strolled down the canyon between two low cliffs, getting the attention of one of the troopers - and creating the Aspect "droid distraction" with a free invoke.

A former clone trooper, Doha, attacked from ambush, with the Aspect "never see it coming". A former Imperial officer, Stark, took advantage of the droid distraction to slug a death trooper with a baton from behind. Seeing that he was one point of damage short of totally taking the trooper out in one hit, he spent a Fate point to invoke the Aspect "steep drop" so that the attack knocked the trooper off the cliff, the combination of the blow and killing him. Stark had intended from the start to send the trooper off the cliff - spending the Fate point added the bonus damage that resulted from this maneuver.

We definitely got a bit more traction out of environmental Aspects this adventure, something I had been hoping for. Next adventure I want to focus a bit more on Aspects being used to compel actions. We also saw how while players do get a fair amount of narrative control, danger still exists, with R2-C4 being forced to take some consequences in the battle with the death troopers.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fiction Review: It

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 02:00

He touches his wife’s smooth back as she sleeps her warm sleep and dreams her own dreams; he thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood . . . its beliefs and desires.  - Stephen King, ItIt defeated me the first time I attempted to read it. I was introduced to Stephen King by a classmate in, if I recall correctly, in my junior year of high school. I borrowed a number of her copies and acquired my own from the local Waldenbooks. For whatever reason, I was never quite able to finish It. I made it through many of his books (The Gunslinger and The Stand were my favorites at the time) but It was a bit too much.

Fast forward to 2011 and I finally got around to completing It, reading it in audiobook form. What's really odd is what a gap was. My recollection is I tried reading It in 1989 or so, so it was about 22 years later. It itself takes place in two time periods, 1958 and 1985, with the 11-year olds of the 1958 period now 38-years old. Similarly the 17-year old I was when I first attempted the novel was then a 39-year old.

I reflect on this because so much of It is not about the horror that plagues the Maine town of Derry. Rather it is about growing up and what we lose - and what we gain in so doing. It is about the horror of falling out of touch with the friends who meant the world to you once upon a time. The girl or boy you were madly in love with. The bike you absolutely had to have. What terrified you as a child. What you dreamed of. It's hard for me to read It without thinking of the child I once was.

The protagonists of It are "the Losers' Club", a group of seven kids who come together in summer of 1958. Pretty much every childhood outcast is there in the group. You've got their leader Bill, who has a stutter that worsened after his brother was killed by It. Ben, the clever fat kid. Richie, the geeky wise-cracker. Beverly, the only girl in the group, poor and having a physically abusive father. Mike, the only black kid in the group - in a town where his family are the only African-Americans around. Stan, the Jewish kid of the group. And Eddie, whose mother inflicts upon him a variety of phantom illnesses. 
The monster of the story is simply "It" - a creature that can take the form of whatever one fears. It lives off of fear and prefers children. The Losers' Club defeats It in 1958 - this is no spoiler, as a large part of the plot is them reassembling in 1985 upon learning that It has survived and returned. However, all of them save Mike initially have no recollection of what happened back in 1958 - or even of each other for that matter. Though they were the best of friends, they had literally forgotten each other by adulthood. Mike remembered as he stayed in Darry - serving as the "lighthouse keeper". Those who left Derry all became fantastically successful. Some are happy - Bill for example is a successful fiction and movie writer, married to an actress. Others have repeated mistakes of their childhoods - Beverly married an abusive man and Eddie is married to a mirror image of his mother. 
As the Losers' Club comes back together, its members begin remembering what had happened to them back in 1958 - and they begin to realize that whatever magic they had back in 1958 as kids will need to be recaptured by these adults. Can they do that? 
For me, the conflict with It is an awesome part of the book but not the best part of it. Rather, I was totally taken by the examination of the magic of childhood, how we leave that behind as we grow up, and the need to keep some part of it alive. But adulthood isn't bad - for you can truly come to appreciate your childhood from the lens of adulthood. 
King has always had a talent at creating great characters and those of It are among those that I find myself wondering what they are now up to as senior citizens. I'm looking forward to the upcoming film adaptation, which is splitting it into two movies, covering the Losers' Club as kids and adults (and moving the past period to the 1980s so the contemporary period can be in the present day). One unfortunate effect of doing this will be making the story linear whereas a large part of the book is about the adults slowly piecing their childhood memories back together. It's an understandable decision, but likely one of unfortunate necessity.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Some Lessons From a Semi-Successful Fate GM

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 02:19

While I'm still quite a ways away from achieving Fate system mastery, I'm definitely getting the hang of it - so much so that it's making me resist the shiny call of trying some other games (though now that I think of it, I could do Dresden Files Accelerated).
Looking at the map from a recent game the first thing I'd say I've learned is it is vital that everyone know the Aspects that are currently in play. Even though I play using a virtual tabletop in Roll20, I've gotten into the habit of using sticky notes to list the aspects of all of the NPCs as well as writing down the environmental aspects. One thing that's been challenging for me mentally is including aspects that the characters do not know about - the players still know about them. Now, if they want their characters to be able to get a free usage out of them they'll need to have their characters perform an action to "discover" that aspect. 
I've also learned to be cautious about overpowering the opposition. Initially I'd tended to make an NPC have the same number of consequences and stress boxes as PCs. I've learned that that model works best if an NPC will appear in multiple scenes. If an NPC appears only in one scene and he or she is statted out as if the equivalent of a PC then the battle will take quite long with the NPC having a large reserve of consequences and stress to draw from - for just that scene. On the other hand, PCs consequences often appear in multiple scenes.
Just like any other game, it is easy to get caught into a cycle of attack-defend-attack-defend. A good model of avoiding this can be found in the Star Wars film Attack of the Clones -  when Jango Fett and Obi-Wan battled, it was an evenly matched fight despite Jango having no Force powers. He managed to disarm Obi-Wan early in the fight (creating a disarmed Aspect which prevented Obi-Wan from making lightsaber attacks until he could overcome it which Jango made difficult). The key here was Jango knew Obi-Wan's best attack modes and did everything he could to prevent Obi-Wan from being able to justify using them.
One area I still have a challenge in is in making use of environmental aspects such as rough terrain, fires, etc. I'll attempt to have NPCs leverage such aspects in our next adventure.

Map Credit: Miska Fredman. Go check out his Patreon - his maps are first rate and well worth supporting.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Old School Stuff That Bugged Me Back in the Day

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 01:48

DM: "Black Dougal, you find out that you missed a tiny discolored needle in the latch. Roll a saving throw vs. Poison, please!" Dougal (rolling): "Missed it!" DM: "Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead." Fredrik: "I'm grabbing his pack to carry treasure in." Rebecca: "I'm giving Black Dougal the last rites of my church."- D&D Basic Rules, 1981, p. B59.
As an older gamer, I tend to like a lot of aspects of the Old School Renaissance. As I began having children, discovered that spending a lot of time balancing encounters, making sure I gave out just the right amount of treasure, calculated stats properly, etc. was not how I wanted to spend my time. Indeed, I often didn't have the time. It really made me appreciate many of the tropes from the beginning of the RPG hobby. That's not to say I don't enjoy new-fangled stuff. I'm enjoying running a Fate Accelerated Star Wars game, I played an Urban Shadows one-shot last year that was great fun, and I'll likely be playing in a No Country For Old Kobolds adventure in the near future.

In this post, I'll be discussing some of the things about old school gaming that I didn't like - back when it wasn't old school but the current thing. Some of these things actually have been improved in newer incarnations of D&D - and are absolutely available for porting back. Not all of this is exclusive to D&D and related games mind you, though much of it is.

Probably the greatest sin in old school gaming products was in organization. In those old gaming books it was sometimes a nightmare to find a rule. To this day I'm a bit unclear on what a "freely improvable skill" in Aftermath! really means. Similarly it was years until I finally understood what the speed factor of a weapon was. This is something that retroclones often address - for example Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess are far better organized than older versions of D&D - though as a result it is easy to miss porting certain rules found in the original game.

Another peeve was starting characters that were ineffective. For example, the D&D thief has starting skills so low so as to be a likely death sentence - consider the fate of poor Black Dougal in the magenta D&D Basic Rules. He fails at his attempt to find a trap (10% at first level) and therefore suffers death. Similarly, magic-users wandered around with their one spell and otherwise uselessness. These are all things I've house-ruled - and aren't particularly difficult to house-rule. For example, one can make it reasonably easy for magic-users to produce spell scrolls and one can give some relief to the thief's all-or-nothing nature.
On the other end of the spectrum, there was the possibility of a character getting too competent. For example, upon reaching around 10th level, a cleric can destroy pretty much any undead he or she meet without making a single roll. Similarly, such a character's saving throws and attack rolls often get extremely good. Again, there are often reasonable solutions to these problems. For example, intelligent undead can always be granted a saving throw or a cleric can be denied the ability to automatically destroy undead, perhaps turning into a damaging smite. Lamentations of the Flame Princess made turning occupy a spell slot. Attack roll inflation is often reduced in modern clones, with their emphasis on "high level" being around 10th level.

None of this should be taken as an indictment on old school gaming. As I've discussed, often issues can be easily house-ruled - and house-ruling in older games is far easier than doing so in newer ones.

PS - The true tragedy of Black Dougal is they never actually make certain he's dead - no time to mourn, grab his pack and give him last rites. Poor guy!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thinking About Time Travel RPGs

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 02:09

It occurs to me that one of the genres I've not gamed in for years is that of time travel. I'm pretty certain I've had the occasional time travel adventure but I'm thinking more a game dedicated around time travel. I had a Star Trek game about a starship that bounced from one parallel universe to another that was rather fun, but that was in the late 1990s/early 2000s - nothing since then as far as I can recall.

That's a bit surprising, as I love both the time travel genre and history in general. I think one of the things that makes it challenging is how to handle such things as paradox. The game I'm most familiar with as far as handling situations like this is Pelgrane Press' Timewatch which makes paradox a gameable mechanic. It's in your best interests to avoid outright paradox while dancing around it. For example, if your characters were to be imprisoned, it would be quite the paradox to have your characters just vanish from their prison cell. On the other hand, if your characters were to happen to find a key that been hidden by your future selves... Well, still a paradox perhaps, but not as bad.

Doctor Who is a bit less concerned with complexities such as paradox, with the show itself less than consistent about what they involve. The modern show has been a bit more consistent than it had been in its original incarnation, embracing the idea of a "fixed point in time" - something even a Time Lord would be unable to change - though not for the Doctor's occasional attempts, such as seen in The Waters of Mars.

Timemaster from the 1980s is a clear ancestor of games like Timewatch, featuring PCs whose mission it is to preserve the timeline - as well as, if memory serves, parallel Earths' timelines as well. Though it has been ages since I read through it.

Were I to do a time travel game today I would probably discuss with my group what they were looking for - if they were more interested in the adventure aspect Doctor Who might be more appealing whereas a game which embaced things like paradox would steer me towards something like Timewatch...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: Gallisport Recruitment

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 01:49

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away....
Star Wars: Tales of Rebellion
Episode II: Gallisport Recruitment

Having captured the Clone Wars-era shipyard of Admiral Bayran, the Rebellion is searching for a worthy person to convert the Separatist yard to production of Rebel craft.

Reviewing intelligence data with their sponsor Bail Organa on Alderaan, our freedom fighters discover that the woman they want may be in the system they just departed - in the city of Gallisport on Shesharile 5. There, Rayne Toruna, an aging Twi'lek engineer, leads a swoop gang known as the Mynocks.

During the Clone Wars, Toruna was one of Kuat Drive Yards lead engineers, having created the Delta-7 and A-Wing fighters. She left KDY after seeing what the Empire was using her creations for. If Toruna could be persuaded to join the Rebellion, the Separatist Shipyard could soon be producing fighters for the Rebellion against the Evil Galactic Empire...

Cast of Characters:

  • R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droid
  • Gaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officer
  • Marcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars

Scene 1: Gallisport ArrivalOur heroes arrived on Gallisport in a modified Firespray-31 patrol ship, the Unseen Servant. Gallisport was not much of a port these days, with its population half of what it once was during the industrial boom years before the Clone Wars. It now had next to no Imperial presence, with the Imperial Star Destroyer Magistratus having recently been destroyed - but not before most Imperial personnel had been evacuated, in preparation for a brutal bombardment that hadn't happened. The population was nervous while waiting to see if another Star Destroyer would complete this mission.
Doha took his granddaughter with him, not wanting to leave her aboard their ship. This proved to not much safer, as their droid taxi was visited by members of one of the Mynock's rival swoop gangs, the Spiders, who attempted to collect a "toll". However, Doha recognized the poor upkeep of their swoops and convinced their leader, the cybog Zaran, they were too dangerous prey - and pointed out to them a relatively unprotected Imperial shipment that had landed shortly after they had.Scene 2: The Mynock BarOur heroes were able to find Rayne Toruna at the Mynock's Bar. She proved willing to strike a blow against the Empire, though she insisted they do something for her first. Her lieutenant, Mara Berus, had been captured trying to infiltrate the Imperial Communications and Records Tower on the outskirts of the city. The rest of the Imperial garrison had been abandoned but this tower still was occupied and she was being held at a detention block in its basement. Berus was trying to determine if the Magistratus' plans for bombardment had been ordered by the Empire or if they had been acting on their own initiative. Toruna needed that information and her lieutenant liberated.
Scene 3: The Comm TowerThough part of a garrison, the Communications and Records Tower was now largely isolated, with much of the garrison bombed and burned. Doha scaled it, climbing to the top level walkway while R2-C4 and Stark made use of jetpacks and similar accouterments. Doha was a bit more merciful in his taking out of Imperial troopers, though they did manage to retrieve the needed information - the captain of the Magistratus had been operating on his own initiative, trying to convince Governor Tarkin of how impressive he could be... 
C4 attempted to bring up the lift, an effort that did not go well, given much of its astromech circuitry had replaced by assassination protocols. With an alarm blaring, it sent a grenade down the lift shaft, destroying the stormtrooper team headed up to deal with them.
The detention block in the basement (reached by climbing down the smoking shaft) proved a dangerous destination - though they made it through a pair of bored guards who barely flinched at another explosion, beyond were well-organized stormtroopers commanded by Major Tallus, an Imperial officer who Stark had once had brought up on charges of accepting bribes - and in so doing, sabotaging his career.
R2-C4 filled the room with smoke, providing cover and the heroes made fairly short work of the stormtroopers. Tallus, a master with the force pike, proved a more difficult challenge. Though they were eventually victorious, they were quite bloodied, with Stark emerging with a shattered nose. Tallus being unconscious but not dead, they took him prisoner as they rescued Berus.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thoughts on Lankhmar as a Campaign Setting

Sat, 04/01/2017 - 01:39

I first encountered Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar in the 1980s in the pages of TSR's Deities & Demigods book for AD&D followed by their Lankhmar: City of Adventure sourcebook. I had a pretty difficult time finding collections of Leiber's stories - my recollection is they either were out of print or not at my local Waldenbooks, in these days before Amazon. It was shortly after I graduated college that White Wolf released a series of hardcovers compilations that I finally managed to read all of the stories - and it's been an awfully long time, it might be time for a reread.

Lankhmar has found its way into a number of RPG properties. TSR released a number of Lankhnar products - AD&D wasn't a horrible match for the setting but I feel it needed a bit more tweaking than they gave it. Mongoose Publishing did two versions of Lankhmar for RuneQuest but to be honest, I was less than impressed by those efforts, though I think RuneQuest is a very good match for the setting. Currently there is a Savage Worlds adaptation from Pinnacle Entertainment as well as a number of Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar adventures plus there is a Kickstarter for a full Lankhmar boxed set going on at the time of this writing (alas,with a delivery date some 16 months away).

I think Lankhmar makes for a fantastic setting for RPGs, whether as a straight adaptation or as an inspiration. Leiber himself was a gamer, creating, with his friend Harry Otto Fischer, a wargame set in Nehwon back in 1937. THis became the basis for the 1970s TSR game Lankhmar.

Our protagonists, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, seem a lot more real than many heroes of fantasy fiction. They are definitely of the "wine, women, and song" camp of adventurers. They come into riches only to lose them. They both possess a dry wit and a tendency to get themselves deep into trouble before just managing to get out of it. While they have their specialties - Fafhrd is more the warrior and Grey Mouser more the thief, both are broadly competent - as they need to be, with most tales centered around just the two of them.

While I'm greatly looking forward to the DCC realization of Lankhmar, I also think a game like Fate or Apocalypse World, could offer an interesting take on games set in Lankhmar. I can practically hear aspects and complications coming into play as the two go on adventures (and misadventures).  

While Lankhmar and its world make for an interesting setting, one could quite easily be inspired by these works and make one's own setting inspired by the tropes of Lankhmar, with various supernatural and heroic dials set according to taste.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventuring in Sunnydale, Derry, and Hawkins

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 03:05

I've been digesting the Dresden Files Accelerated RPG off and on over the past several weeks - an activity balanced by family, work, finishing my graduate class, and running my Fate Accelerated Star Wars game.

Reading through Dresden Files I've been giving a fair amount of thought to the type of campaign I'd run. I lean pretty heavily towards the urban jungle environment like the Chicago of the Butcher's Dresden Files series of novels - Chicago plus trips to Aztec pyramids, the Nevernever, and other places in our world and others. I've been eyeing re-purposing my homebrew superhero city Port Henry for that purpose.

With the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer upon us and trailers for It, based upon Stephen King's novel, I've also been thinking of adventures in a smaller town. Buffy was set in the fictional California town of Sunnydale while It is set in the likewise fictional town of Derry, Maine. You've also got Stranger Things taking place in Hawkins, Indiana. These towns all share a lot in common. None of them are tiny but none are so big so as to require more than a single high school. The protagonists in all these tales, at least at the start, are children. In Stranger Things and It they are in junior high/middle school whereas in Buffy they are in high school. It splits the novels into halves, with the characters in their late thirties returning to Derry and Buffy's characters staying in Sunnydale for college.

The towns all hold secrets. Derry has its periodically returning child-killing monster and townspeople who are good at ignoring it. It's a violent place even without the monster, with a murder rate six times what is normal for towns of its size. Sunnydale is on a Hellmouth attracting all sorts of supernatural attention, coupled with adults who also willingly ignore it. Hawkins is just getting used to its weirdness, with an energy research facility having opened a portal to another dimension, the Upside Down. The willing ignorance is played rather sinisterly in It whereas Buffy features a dark humor - in keeping with the moods of the two works.

I suspect Dresden Files Accelerated would work rather well for a Buffy-style setting- the characters are on the badass side, with even the non-supernatural ones able to survive encounters with vampires. On the other hand, It and Stranger Things deal more with people who are a bit over their heads - a bit more of a Call of Cthulhu vibe. Fate would work fine as an RPG, though there'd have to be a group consensus that the characters are more on the "normal" side of the fence. It and Stranger Things also deal with a much tighter plotline - Buffy features a "Big Bad" every season as well as monster-of-the-week episodes. Obviously, Eden Studio's Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG would work well for a higher powered game as would Urban Shadows, a Powered by the Apocalypse game. I've also been giving a bit of thought to games like Little Fears.

My own inclination is towards something more akin to Dresden Files but I can see the appeal of some small town gaming as well.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Entire Campaigns in a Single 24-Mile Hex Inspired by Regal Rome

Sun, 03/26/2017 - 15:46

I am currently working my way through Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. She covers Rome from its legendary founding to the point where all free people of the Empire were granted citizenship. She closely examines the legends of very early Rome such as the founding by Romulus and Remus, the Regal period, and the early Republic. For all of these periods we have no contemporary written history, being forced to rely on archaeological evidence - any written histories of those periods were written centuries later.

What I found striking was her description of warfare in the period around the end of the monarchy. She wrote:
Military activity is another good case in point. Here geography alone should give us pause. We need simply look at the location of these heroic battles: they were all fought within a radius of about 12 miles of the city of Rome. Despite the style in which they are recounted, as if they were mini-versions of Rome against Hannibal, they were probably something closer, in our terms, to cattle raids. They may not even have been ‘Roman’ engagements in the strict sense of the word at all. In most early communities, it took a long time before the various forms of private violence, from rough justice and vendetta to guerrilla warfare, came fully under public control. Conflict of all sorts was regularly in the hands of individuals with their own following, the ancient equivalents of what we might call private warlords; and there was a blurry distinction between what was conducted on behalf of the ‘state’ and what on behalf of some powerful leader. Almost certainly that was the case in early Rome. - Beard, Mary.  SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. Liveright Publishing Corporation. New York. 2015. Kindle Edition.
As I read that it struck me what a perfect sort of environment that would be for an RPG. It is difficult to get out of our modern mindset as far as nation go/ Here we see examples of independent warfare being conducted in a region the size of a single 24-mile hex in many fantasy role-playing games. I have visions of an extremely detailed regional map, detailed enough to show small hills, large buildings, et. A village is not represented by a dot in a hex but actually portrayed in a map - something like USGS maps. Not everything needs be totally known by the characters, even in such a "small" hex. My own commute to work is a 15 mile car ride and there is countless space along the sides of the highway that I've no idea what is there. For all I know there could be a cave complex to an orc lair along the ride. Seems unlikely, but one never knows.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fate Accelerated Star Wars Character Stats

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:03
I thought it might be interesting to post some stats for our Fate Accelerated Star Wars characters. The game is set in the time leading up to Rogue One and A New Hope, with our heroes working for Bail Organa.

These stats are before any milestones are accounted for.

Gaven StarkRefresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: The old ways are gone and it's up to me to bring them back.
Trouble: It may not earn me a medal but it will sure to get me noticed
Other Aspects: I know my way around a blaster
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Mediocre (+0)
Clever: Average (+1)
Flashy: Good (+3)
Forceful: Fair (+2)
Quick: Fair (+2)
Sneaky: Average (+1)

StuntsChest full of medals: +2 Flashy attack with a blaster

Two more available without reducing refresh

Growing up at the end of the Clone Wars, Stark had an idealized vision of the Old Republic and believed the Empire was a noble continuation of it. He served many years in the Imperial Army with distinction but came to realize that the Empire was a force for evil and corruption.

Marcus DohaRefresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: Senior Mercenary Captain
Trouble: Sole Caretaker of Rane Thanewulf
Other Aspects: Former Champion Swoop Racer
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Average (+1)
Clever: Fair (+2)
Flashy: Average (+1)
Forceful: Fair (+2)
Quick: Mediocre (+0)
Sneaky: Good (+3)

StuntsRecon Master: When performing reconnaissance use Sneaky to Create Advantage at +2

Two more available without reducing refresh

Marcus served with distinction during the Clone Wars. At the end of the Clone Wars he adopted an adolescent daughter who was orphaned in the fighting. After she grew up he took on a variety of roles in the galaxy from swoop racer to mercenary. After the death of his daughter he became the guardian of his granddaughter.

R2-C4 [AKA BT-C4]Refresh: 3
Fate Points: 3

High Concept: Assassin droid masquerading as an R2 unit
Trouble: Wanted by the Empire
Other Aspects: Still an astromech, though not the most reliable one
[two more aspects open]

ApproachesCareful: Fair (+2)
Clever: Good (+3)
Flashy: Fair (+2)
Forceful: Average (+1)
Quick: Average (+1)
Sneaky: Mediocre (+0)
StuntsFrag Grenades: Once per session, R2-C4 may attack using Force up to three zones away by tossing a fragmentation grenade. This attack targets everyone in a given zone, friend and foe alike, and deals a 1-shift hit at minimum to each target, even if the targets successfully defend against the attack

Two more available without reducing refresh

Part of the BT-1 series of assassin droids, R2-C4 was designed by the Empire as part of the Tarkin Initiative. The BT-1 series always had a streak for independence and while C4 remains quite dedicated towards the violence it was programmed for, it has redirected that violence against the Empire.

R2-C4 is heavily armed with a blaster projector, vibroblade, and grenade launcher. It has the normal series of R2-unit accessories though some compromises in quality have been made to make room for its weaponry.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Fate Accelerated - Thoughts After Two Star Wars Sessions

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 01:40

Owing to winter storms, sicknesses, and internet outages I've not gotten as much gaming as I'd like to have this calendar year. However, we've managed to generate some Fate Accelerated Star Wars characters and completed a single two-session adventure. Next game is in a few days, probably a one-session adventure.

I've not achieved perfection in running Fate Accelerated, but I'm definitely getting the hang of it. Unlike my earlier attempts with Fate, aspects are getting used frequently and there are frequent spends of Fate points. So far it has primarily been player character aspects that are getting used plus consequences so an item to work on is getting situational aspects in play as well. However, this is quite an improvement from my earliest attempts which saw minimal aspect use.

I was a bit worry that approaches would be a difficult mechanic for us to grok - mechanically it's straightforward enough, where the way you do something takes precedence over a skill list - but it's worked pretty well. All the characters are reasonably competent as a result - if there's something they want to do, I generally let them try it. A nice feature of this is when there is a challenge, the players don't all look at their sheets to see who has the highest rating in a given skill.

Right now my plan is for several more Star Wars adventures as we get greater familiarity with the system. I'm itching at some point to play some Dresden Files Accelerated or going back to Dungeon Crawl Classics at some point, but I want to get some more mileage out of Star Wars and work out any mental kinks I might have with this system. Plus we need to get to the destruction of Alderaan...
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

FAE Star Wars Actual Play: The Hunt for Admiral Bayran Part II

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 02:55

[Part 1]

Cast of Characters:

  • R2-C4 - Rogue Imperial assassin droid
  • Gaven Stark - Idealistic former Imperial army officer
  • Marcus Doha - Veteran Clone Trooper who has lived an active life since the Clone Wars
Scene 3: The "Rescue"

Admiral Bayran had a small treetop estate that was under assault from a small force from the Imperial Sentinel landing craft - an AT-ST, a small squad of stormtroopers, ISB Agent Kerrin Malloch, and Malloch's prisoner, the Twi'lek criminal Tel Akuna.

The three managed to distract the Imperials with a combination of explosions, fire, and blaster fire. R2-C4 used its rockets to fly up to the estate and "retrieve" Bayran - the aging Rodian was not enthusiastic to be rescued, but a blaster (set for stun) helped convinced him. There was a bit of chaos as Doha's granddaughter, bored with waiting in the ship, was checking out the battle and was nearly in the line of fire, but she was retrieved without injury. Most of the stormtroopers were slain, though Malloch and Akuna did get away.

Scene 4: The Hidden Shipyard

After a period of enhanced interrogations and negotiations, Bayran was persuaded to give the coordinates for his hidden shipyard - a large rogue planetoid in the Karterus Nebula in the Minos Cluster. Rather than report back to Senator Organa they flew on to the the shipyard - if they could reactivate a Separatist warship they might be able to destroy the Magistratus before it could devastate Shesharile 5 (Stark was a fan of bold actions that would get him noticed).

Bayran explained the problem was a droid had been left in command of the shipyard - IG-100-K3. It might be a bit finicky after over 15 years. As it turned out, it was on the homicidal side. They managed to trim the odds significantly when R2-C4 hacked into the the computer control and took over the basic battle droids. They did have to engage K3 but in the end were triumphant. With that accomplished, they reactivated and reprogrammed a Trade Federation Battleship in relatively good repair and went on to Shesharile 5 where it did indeed destroy the Magistratus. It was unclear if another Star Destroyer would return to complete its mission but at least they had bought the world some time. And they had a shipyard just waiting to produce warships for the Rebellion...

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Film Review: Hidden Figures

Sun, 03/12/2017 - 04:30

As a kid who obsessed about the space program back in the 1970s and 1980s, it's embarrassing (but not surprising) that I had no idea who Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were. I became familiar with Mrs. Johnson when President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. The three were African-American women who worked as computers at NASA and its original organization, NACA. This was the era when a computer was a person, not a machine.

Hidden Figures, based on the book of the same name (which I've not read but is now on my list), is the story of these three women. It's fictionalized, with some composite characters, some events reordered, but at its core it shows us three remarkable woman who were essential in getting the United States into space. Its primary focus is Katherine Johnson, who was a master of celestial navigation. We see the challenges they faced with the casual sexism and racism of the era. The film has a ton of heart - in just two hours we really get to feel the lives of these woman and their families.

I found the film loaded with amusing moments but also tragically sad moments. I think one sequence of dialogue really summed up the tragedy for me:
Karl Zielinski: Mary, a person with an engineer's mind should be an engineer. You can't be a computer the rest of your life. Mary Jackson: Mr. Zielinski, I'm a negro woman. I'm not gonna entertain the impossible. Karl Zielinski: And I'm a Polish Jew whose parents died in a Nazi prison camp. Now I'm standing beneath a spaceship that's going to carry an astronaut to the stars. I think we can say we are living the impossible. Let me ask you, if you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer? Mary Jackson: I wouldn't have to. I'd already be one.

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The Legacy of Ned Stark

Wed, 03/08/2017 - 03:30

As part of my Master's program in Strategic Analytics, I'm taking a management class on Organizational Leadership and Decision Making. I'm working on a research paper which has to include characteristics of leadership and a leader, either someone we know or someone famous, who exemplifies them. I'm writing about Abraham Lincoln but I have to confess I was sorely tempted to write about Eddard "Ned" Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire. (Spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire through A Dance with Dragons).

Ned gets a bit of a bad rap. He certainly made mistakes and wound up paying with his life for those mistakes. But his mistakes were mistakes of being an ethical man, a man who would do all he could to spare the lives of children, even the children of his enemies. And he was determined to do what he felt was right, such as supporting the claim of Stannis over that of his brother Renly even when it would have been to his advantage to have supported Renly.

Ned is removed from the game of thrones in the first novel of the series. But what I find fascinating is the legacy he left behind. The people of the North respected the Starks. Even the traitor Theon comes to see how well treated he was by Ned Stark. Perhaps the most powerful message is when the men of the North march on Winterfell in A Dance With Dragons in the hopes of rescuing who they believe to be Arya Stark. Hugo Wull put it best:

“Aye, men are dying. More will die before we see Winterfell. What of it? This is war. Men die in war. That is as it should be. As it has always been.”  Ser Corliss Penny gave the clan chief an incredulous look. “Do you want to die, Wull?”  That seemed to amuse the northman. “I want to live forever in a land where summer lasts a thousand years. I want a castle in the clouds where I can look down over the world. I want to be six-and-twenty again. When I was six-and-twenty I could fight all day and fuck all night. What men want does not matter.  “Winter is almost upon us, boy. And winter is death. I would sooner my men die fighting for the Ned’s little girl than alone and hungry in the snow, weeping tears that freeze upon their cheeks. No one sings songs of men who die like that. As for me, I am old. This will be my last winter. Let me bathe in Bolton blood before I die. I want to feel it spatter across my face when my axe bites deep into a Bolton skull. I want to lick it off my lips and die with the taste of it on my tongue.” Martin, George R. R.. A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) (pp. 561-562). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. To be honest, I'm not certain that Ned did lose at the game of thrones. Would Tywin's bannermen be loyal to him after his death? Would Balon Greyjoy's? They'd likely remain loyal to their houses if the house kept its power. But Ned inspired a loyalty that none could match - men are marching to their likely deaths to save their lord's young daughter. House Stark is no more so there is nothing in it for them - nothing but loyalty and vengeance. Ned Stark, executed falsely as a traitor in the first book continues to motivate men four books later. That is a leader.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Crew Accommodations on Star Wars Vessels

Mon, 03/06/2017 - 03:15

Back in January I wrote about how in the Star Wars universe, hyperspace travel seems more akin to an airplane trip than a trip by ship. You are typically not talking a journey of days - several hours most likely, with a worst-case trip being akin to a trip from say New York City to Tokyo. A direct flight would be around 14 hours, something with connecting flights would be perhaps a day and a half.

What does this mean for starships in a galaxy far, far away? If you look at deck plans of such starships you will often see a lot of crew accommodations. In many cases, I'd argue they are unnecessary or, at the very least. more than is required. If you are, for example, a light freighter captain, you are something akin to a truck driver. A bunk or two is reasonable - you might have an overnight trip or you might find yourself in a very crowded spaceport or you might just need to save a few credits. But a large portion of your ship dedicated to crew accommodations cuts into your cargo space. Now for a journey of days or weeks, as you might find in science fiction settings like Traveller, The Expanse, or Firefly, that's something you will likely need. You and your crew are going to practically live on your ship for long periods of time.

That's not to say that some ships wouldn't need good crew accommodations in the Star Wars universe. A naval vessel such a Star Destroyer spends a lot of its time on patrol in a given system; the crew of such a ship will be living on their ships for months at time. Similarly, a ship that spends a lot away from civilization needs good accommodations and a royal starship or yacht likely would as well.

I think, for example, that the blueprints of the Millennium Falcon do a good job portraying a ship that's primary focus is cargo carrying, albeit tricked out to be a bit of a combat monster and able to run blockades. Below is a set of plans that I believe originally appeared in Wizards of the Coast's Star Wars Gamer magazine and has been reused in various forms since:

As can be seen, there's not a lot of space dedicated solely for the crew - a bunkroom and a small lounge area within the main hold.
Variations of this have been published in various forms, with the assumption the Falcon is rather tricked out. There's one version with no crew accommodations at all aside from a pair of bunks in the main hold and a small bathroom attached. Another version replaces the bulk of the hold space with passenger bunkrooms. And a compromise, considered the "stock" version is rather similar to the Falcon, focused mainly on freight but having a single bunkroom (and a more sensible corridor arrangement):
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Improvement Through Study in RPGs and the Real World

Sat, 03/04/2017 - 03:57

Some RPGs, such as Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying, have a mechanism by which you can improve skills by a program of study, costing both time and money. Similarly, in some versions of D&D some training is required to move up a level.

As a kid I must admit I thought that was a pretty easy way to get improvements. The main caveat is such characters cannot be involved in other activities during that period. As I near the end of the fifth class in my Master of Science in Strategic Analytics, something I am doing while maintaining a full-time job, being a husband and dad, gaming, and blogging, I've got a real appreciation for just how difficult accomplishing that is. I've a side blog dedicated to politics that I've needed to put in stasis as I work on keeping up with all of this - not for lack of ideas, but for lack of time.

Now that I think of it, there are a few games or supplements that actually take place at a school. I remember Last Unicorn Games has a Starfleet Academy campaign setting for their Star Trek: The Next Generation game. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was often assumed to take place at a high school or college. There's often the idea of a "Hero High" in superhero RPGs. And though there's no RPG for it, Hogwarts of Harry Potter fame would make for a great campaign setting. And it has the funky time travel device that Hermione used to double up her classes. I could use that around now...
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Film Review: Rogue One

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 03:26
This post is loaded with spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars story. 

Having had some time to digest Rogue One I've discovered it ranks up there among the top tier of Star Wars films. I'd rank it up there with Empire Strikes Back and would say it simply a great movie. I have to confess my expectations weren't terribly high when I saw it - I thought it would be an enjoyable movie and I did take the whole family opening night (actually a 7 PM "midnight showing" the night before it opened).

What is it that worked so well?

First and foremost, it was a movie that told a story. It wasn't trying to build a cinematic universe or making certain it had hooks for sequels. I think, for example, that Amazing Spider-Man 2 was so focused on building a franchise it neglected its first priority in making a great movie. As a result, Rogue One was able to focus on delivering a great movie. It was able to be brave and let the characters sacrifice their lives for the Rebellion.

It also beautifully balanced avoiding continuity lockout while satisfying dedicated fans. You didn't need to have seen the prequels to appreciate the film. I suspect you could probably enjoy it without A New Hope but I think the main assumption of the audience is that they know A New Hope begins with Princess Leia, having the plans to the Death Star, is aboard a ship being pursued by Darth Vader's Star Destroyer.

But if you know more about the universe there is more for you to see. We get to see Darth Vader's castle on Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith. There are elements from The Clone Wars and Rebels. We get a satisfactory answer as to how such a big design flaw made it into the Death Star.

With an almost entirely new cast, I found myself rapidly coming to admire them. They weren't perfect - Jyn had lost faith in having a cause while Cassian was a dedicated Rebel - but one who had performed so many morally compromising acts in the name of a greater good. We saw true faith in the Force in Chirrut despite not having the Jedi's ability to use it. It's a lot easier to believe in something supernatural when you can move objects with your mind. It is another thing to put your faith in the Force while under blaster fire, hoping to stay alive long enough to enable the Rebels to beam the plans to a Rebel ship. We see Baze having lost faith in the Force but nevertheless staying with his friend and fellow Guardian of the Whills, Chirrut, and in the end he finds his faith again. We see Bodhi, a pilot who was "just doing his job", facing the moral consequences of the weapon he had a part in building. He's no warrior but he too gives everything he has in gaining redemption. Even our droid is filled with personality - for all his snark and sarcasm, K-2SO is so clearly dedicated to Cassian.

And every single one of them dies. Why? Because the film wants us to know the Empire is dangerous and evil. There's no Ewoks coming out of the trees to save them. These stormtroopers have deadly aim. All but Cassian and Jyn die at the hands of stormtroopers. And the men in charge of the Empire are evil, casually wiping out cities and even their own troops with the Death Star. When now we hear Princess Leia says "this is our most desperate hour" in A New Hope, we absolutely believe it. The Empire has built a weapon that at low power can destroy cities and at full power, entire planets.

Let's not forget Darth Vader. He is an unstoppable force against the Rebel soldiers in the close of Rogue One - the only victory they can get is getting a copy of the plans aboard the Tantive IV before he kills them all. Yet we also get a sense of the man he is - having his fortress at the place of his greatest defeat, engaging in a dark humor as he chokes Krennic and warns him not to "choke on your aspirations".

I've found even two and a half months after seeing Rogue One I'm still thinking about it. While I greatly enjoyed The Force Awakens I've come to the conclusion, much to my surprise, that Rogue One is a superior film. That's not to take away from the joy of seeing old friends again and making new ones in The Force Awakens but Rogue One had an intensity and desperation that made it stick in my mind.
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Thoughts on Fate Accelerated Superheroes

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 03:23

I certainly could be mistaken, but to the best of my knowledge there's not a Fate Accelerated Superhero RPGVenture City, a type of cyberpunk superhero setting, and Daring Comics RPG, a more traditional superhero RPG for Fate. Admittedly. Fate Accelerated is a variant of Fate Core, but I think there's a great opportunity for a Fate Accelerated Superhero game. Fainting Goat Games does have a Villains Accelerated supplement which is a listing of supervillains in Fate Accelerated, giving a good example of how one might realize such characters.
. Off the top of my head, I can think of two main Fate Core products -

Like most Fate campaigns, it would be important in a Fate Accelerated superhero game to get general agreement on the type of game you're looking for. One could have cosmic superheroes like the Green Lantern Corp down to street level superheroes such as Batman and Daredevil. Of course, comics like Justice League have put Batman and Green Lantern together, but that too is a campaign agreement that would need to be reached.

What I like about a Fate Accelerated superhero campaign is the ability to leverage aspects as permissions - aspects can be used for Green Lantern's power ring, Daredevil's super senses, etc.

The recent Dresden Files Accelerated gives an idea how one might add a bit of crunch to such a game. Where Dresden Files Accelerated has mantles to define various types of characters, a superhero game might have something like archetypes - bricks, speedsters, energy projectors, etc.

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Mr. Chekov, Plot a Course for Trappist-1

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 03:48

What an amazing age we live in with NASA reporting the discovery of seven terrestrial planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 with at least three and possibly all of the planets in its habitable zone.
Now that doesn't necessarily mean any of the planets have life. In our solar system there are three planets in the habitable zone - Venus, Earth, and Mars. Obviously Earth is a pretty good place to live and living on Mars is something that might be feasible some day. Not so much Venus however.
What is amazing is while the star is relatively close - 39.5 light years from Earth - it is well beyond our abilities at present to even come close to being able to make a trip. While at Warp 6 it's a little more than two months away the fastest spacecraft made by humanity thus far would take well over a hundred thousand years to get there. Bit of a bummer...
I've rather enjoyed a lot of science fiction which treats the laws of physics realistically and still manages to tell a great story. One of my earliest hard science fiction reads was Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. In it the Earth had been destroyed by the sun going nova. Knowing it was going to happen, humanity, unable to find a way to make interstellar travel feasible for live humans, sends seedships of embryos and later just DNA code and raw materials, in hopes of propagating humanity, with the newborns to be raised by robotic parents. At least one of the worlds has its experiment succeed, with Thalassa establishing contact with Earth, though it is lost after some 400 years. In the meantime, just a century before the destruction of the sun, the weight problems which prevented practical interstellar travel for live humans are solved. It is too late to get all of humanity off the Earth but a fleet of ships does escape. One of them, the Magellan, stops at Thalassa, bringing us the plot of the book.
Ursula Le Guin cheated a little bit, allowing for instantaneous communication but leaving the speed of light a limit on travel. Realistically, even getting close to the speed of light is a massive problem but we at least know it is physically possible. 
Looking at all the debates around abortion and stem cell research today, I wonder what we as a species would do if the only way to have a chance of insuring the survival of humanity would be to send such seedships into the universe, hoping for the best. What would it be like for a generation of humans to be born to no parents? Would religious books be sent with them? In Clarke's book, they were not. What would a colony with just one religion be like? Of course, many holy books make reference to other religions. As a gamer, I could imagine a fascinating RPG with characters being among the first generations of humans on a new world.
Image CreditCreative Commons Attribution InternationalThis artist’s impression shows an imagined view from the surface one of the three planets orbiting an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth that were discovered using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory. http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1615a/ESO/M. Kornmesser
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