Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Farsiders unite against Xorkaelian tyranny!

So this is the map of the setting used in most Traveller products. Each white rectangle on that map is 24 parsecs wide by 32 parsecs tall (78.2775 light years by 104.37 light years, if you'd prefer). Those white rectangles are called sectors in the terminology of the game and each sector typically contains 3 or 4 hundred worlds you can visit, all of which have been sketched out using one of the greatest game mechanics in RPG history, the Universal World Profile. There's enough material on that The Imperial Fringe does just that. The PCs are hired to survey the Spinward Marches sector.)

Even with all those worlds and all that space, in the greater scheme of things that map doesn't really cover much of the galaxy. Check this out:

That little red blob labeled Charted Space? That's the map above shown in scale to the Milky Way. Thanks to Joshua Bell and his great resource travellermap.com for that view.

At 256 parsecs tall by 384 parsecs wide, the Charted Space map fits neatly into one hex on this map:

This is the board for Federation & Empire, the strategic board game for Star Fleet Battles. The round blue area is Federation space. The grey area down and to the left is Klingon territory and the grey to the right is the Romulan Star Empire. The little dark bit between the three at the bottom of the map is where the Tholians weave their webs.

Each hex on that map is 500 parsecs across. This is really convenient in that the galaxy is maybe that thick along the spiral arms, allowing a 2-d map to accurately describe a volume of 3-d space. However, I've always been slightly annoyed by this scale. Here's why.
This chart proves that I'm
right and the F&E designers
are wrong. Honest.

Star Fleet Battles
is a fork of the Star Trek universe, incorporating the Original Series, the Animated Series, and the Star Trek Star Fleet Technical Manual by Franz Joseph. The latter is one of the truly great examples if fandom lore. One of the things that Franz Joseph does is define what the heck a Warp Factor is. Turns out that if you cube the number of the Warp Factor, that gives you the speed in terms of units of C, e.g. Warp Factor 6 (the safe cruising speed of the original USS Enterprise) is 6 x 6 x 6 C, or 216 times the speed of light. That means, according to this source at least and my own limited arithmetical skill, it would take Captain Kirk's Funtime Pals over seven years to cross a single Federation & Empire hex. Seeing as how each turn is six months, my guess is that the F&E designers ignore Franz Joseph on this point.

Since Federation & Empire first came out in the 1980's, the lovely folks at Amarillo Design Bureau (who make SFB and F&E) have expanded their universe even more. There's now an adjacent area of space, the ominously titled Omega Sector, with 20+ new polities and hundreds of more spaceships you can blow up. They've also mapped out at least one Magellanic Cloud. But my favorite expansion to Amarillo Design Bureau's expansion of the Star Trek universe is this one:

Companion Games came out of the blue in 1993 or so with it's own chunk of the SFB universe, located on the opposite side of the galaxy. They called it the Far Side and had their own races and spaceships, completely compatible with Star Fleet Battles. As a non-canonical supplement to a non-canonical and super duper complicated* Star Trek game, the Companion Games material didn't exactly set the world on fire. But I'm a sucker for weird little corners of fandom like this. In full SFB tradition, each spot on that map has its own unique navy with its own special weapons. How different ships with different weird subsystems that only one species possess interact is half the fun of Star Fleet Battles.

Anyway, I recently learned that the Amarillo have started mapping out the whole dang galaxy, so I used my limited photoshoppery skills to add the Far Side to the official map:

The blue circle near the bottom is the Federation. What is labeled "Alpha Octant" is basically the Federation & Empire map projected onto a polar coordinate system. It looks like the Far Side overlaps several Xorkaelian Slave Sectors. I don't know who these Xorkaelian's are, but they obviously aren't nice people. Now I am imaging a war of conquest as the Far Siders, used to fighting among themselves for ages, must unite or be crushed by the Xorkaelian menace. I wouldn't use SFB to find out what happens next. My opinion of SFB is pretty much the opposite of Companion Games: I love the spaceships, but can't deal with the game mechanics. There are a dozen or more ship-to-ship games that are faster and more explodey than SFB. Starmada is one of my favorites, though I haven't played the last couple of editions.  
*Seriously, you may think modern D&D is complicated, but full-blown all-the-bells-and-whistles SFB blows it out of the ding dang water. The only comparable non-computerized game I know is Advanced Squad Leader.

Monday, October 26, 2020

I've been looking for this for a long time.

Click to embiggen.

That's the rules for the Waverider (i.e. surfer) class from Teddy C. Ryan III's Exotic Characters & Worlds (1983). Other classes represented include the Ninja, Ryan's version of the Techno from Arduin, and a Time Traveller class. Speaking of Arduin, page 32 of Exotic Characters & Worlds includes a crit chart derived from the glorious Arduin chart, but with a few tweaks, such as a "BODY/split in twain" result. In true Arduin style, this both kills you instantly and does 20-50 hit points of damage. Sadly, my two favorite results, buttocks torn off, and tripping over your own spilt entrails, have been removed from this version.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

stupid d6 tricks

 Some OD&D house rules make use of "roll 2d6, take the lower result" and "roll 2d6, take the higher result." Obviously that would skew the chances of each possible result away from the flat 16.66% chance of each number coming up with a typical roll. But I wanted to see how much that skew would be, so I did the math real quickfast.

Here's the same idea, but using 3d6 and only keeping the result of one die.

But the real interest possibility with throwing three dice is the possibility of keeping the middle result. If you define the middle result to include any roll of doubles (e.g. 3,5,5, is a 5 result) then that spread looks like this:

There's probably a lot of uses for a die mechanic like that. After all, it's not too different from the bell curves we get from throws where we add up multiple dice. I think I once suggested roll 3d6, keep the middle as a way of generating low-but-not-necessarily-first level PCs for a campaign that doesn't want to spend a lot of time on the rat-killing, copper-piece-grubbing world of 0xp. Of course, you could just say everyone starts at 3rd level, or everyone begins with 8,000xp or something like that. But why not roll dice if you can?

Friday, October 23, 2020

Spell Research as Freeform Magic System

One of the reasons I like to go back and re-read the old rulebooks is that I inevitably find something that I didn't notice on previous readings. Or that I forgot over the years,

Want to bend the universe in a way not covered by the rules? That's what spell research is for.

Quote from page X52 of the 1981 D&D Expert rulebook.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Down and Out in Adrianople

(I originally posted the following to the LotFP Facebook group, but I thought I'd save a copy here.)

A Thimble of Online Research, Inc. proudly presents: 

*Biggest Cities in the West(ish) circa 1500* 
Constantinople 550,000 
Paris 225,000 
Naples 200,000 
Antwerp 150,000 
Ghent 150,000 
Venice 135,000 
Adrianople (Edirne) 125,000 
Thessaloniki 125,000 
Brussels 100,000 
London 100,000 
Milan 100,000 
Moscow 100,000 

*Biggest Cities in the West(ish) circa 1600* 
Constantinople 700,000 
Naples 350,000 
Paris 325,000 
London 300,000 
Venice 200,000 
Moscow 200,000 
Seville 200,000 
Milan 180,000 
Adrianople (Edirne) 170,000 
Lisbon 130,000 
Brussels 100,000 
Prague 100,000 
Rome 100,000 
Amsterdam 100,000 
Messina 100,000 
Palermo 100,000 

(Population figures obviously include a lot of guesswork and estimation.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Fun times in the Ethel System

So I've been having some Traveller thoughts again. Good ol' Trav comes with a clearly defined method of insterstellar transport, the jump drive, and some pretty good parameters for whether or not you'd like to live on any given planet, the Universal World Profile.

Imperial Starfire dares ask the question,
"What if Dejah Thoris was
a birdwoman from Ophiuchi?
But what if these things, method of FTL travel and suitability of worlds for habitation, weren't fixed? There are examples of games where they are variables that impact play. If I recall correctly, Imperial Starfire (Task Force Games, 1993) assigns each player's starfaring race a number to represent their species' biology and you spend a good portion of a campaign look for worlds with a similar designation. My Class M world may not be the same as your Class M world, so to speak. So players may compete fiercely for some worlds but sometimes you may not care if a planet near your empire is poached. You were never going to colonize that methane-soaked dump anyway.

Imperial Starfire was the campagn system for Starfire, the spaceship combat game made by Task Force that wasn't Star Fleet Battles. I played both Star Fleet Battles and Starfire a bit back in the day. For my taste SFB was too cumbersome and Starfire too light. Call me the Goldilocks of spaceships blasting each other to pieces, I guess.

Web and Starship (West End Games, 1984) deals with a scenario where two alien empires vie for control of interstellar space around the Sol system. One player has an FTL drive that allows them to move across the board much as you do any other boardgame, zooming from one space to the next. The other player has a teleportation drive that allows them to bamf across the board, but only to spaces reached by their transit web. I've never played this one, but I assume much of the interest of the game hangs on the asymmetric nature of the movement rules. Web and Starship, by the way, was designed by Greg Costikyan, who deserves more credit for all the amazing game design work he has done. One of his many, many other designs is Bug-Eyed Monsters. To the best of my knowledge it is the only wargame where one of the scenarios involves aliens kidnapping Dwight D. Eisenhower. It also the only wargame I know that needs a bunch of counters that say this:
Nowadays no one should probably make a game where the monsters from outer space kidnap Earth women to take them back to their home planet. Back then, it seemed like a harmless homage to 1950's sci-fi movies where the monster would carry off the leading lady for reasons that never made much sense.

Anyhoo, the thing I've been thinking about is this: what if a Traveller universe had more than one method of FTL transport? We'll call the canonical jump drive method A and posit 5 other methods, B, C, D, and E. Maybe these are all jump drives but they are calibrated to a diver dimension of hyperspace, so that each of A-F can only go to worlds that intersect their respective dimension. Or maybe the six methods use different physics entirely, like Web and Starship mentioned above. Either way, out of any selected patch of the galaxy, some worlds can be reached by each FTL method and others cannot.

Add to this the complication that different starfaring societies crave different things. Call the default human set of priorities class 1 and assume the existence of class 2-6. Maybe the bigger the number the more members of that society differ from humans biologically or culturally. Class 2 entities could be silicon based lifeforms, class 4 could be machine intelligences, etc.

A humble beginning for a
galaxy-spanning empire.
Now you can have up to 36 different kinds of starspanning empires, each with a two digit alphanumeric code. Like this:

Remloth Combine, E3
7th Interregnum, F5
Nation of Joe F1
Ooblaxo Entities D5
The Metalliance, A6
Thorvacian Qualiocracy, C3

I rolled a couple of d6 to get the stats for each faction, then gave them a stupid name. The Remlothi and Thorvacians want the same kind of worlds, but use totally different methods to get there. Meanwhile, the same drive technology is used by both the Nation of Joe and the 7th Interregnum (whatever that is), but they are interested in wildly different planets.

Now, each solar system on your map needs to be assigned a code of one ot more numbers and one or more letters, to indicate which kinds of technology can reach the system and what kinds of desirable planets it possesses. You can then look at your map and easily figure out who wants to go where and if/how they can get there. Here's an example:

Each system is a box with a code in it. So the Eoh System, near the middle of the map, has code CE345. That means there's at least one world desirable to the Remlothi and one world enticing to the Metalliance. Fortunately for both of them, their drive technologies can get them there, so I drew more boxes around the system to mark settlement here (I'm assuming for this subsector that every system that can be settled has been settled). Here are the color codes:

Remloth Combine, brown
7th Interregnum, green
Nation of Joe, red
Ooblaxo Entities, blue
The Metalliance, black
Thorvacian Qualiocracy, yellow

I seeded numbers and letters randomly around the map. I also decided that F-type drives use naturally occuring wormholes and some were present in the subsector with no stars or worlds near them. Thus, although most factions have routes leading offmap to right edge, the Interregnum and Joe have settlement patterns emerging from the 'naked' wormholes Futhorc 01 through 03.

Here's what I learned about the Futhorc Subsector once I mapped out who settled where:

The Thorvacian Qualiocracy has settlements in four systems, Thorn, Eoh, Eolhx, and Ethel. Using Thorvacian technology, Thorn can not be reached from the other three without leaving the subsector and taking a circutous route through off-map Thorvacian systems. Although they don't like the world of the Beorc system, it is an important transit point between Eoh-Ethel and Eolhx-Ethel.

The Remloth Combine has colonies in the same four systems, but since they differ biologically, they probably inhabit different planets. They also have a colony on Rad.The Combine uses a different drive technology than the Qualiocracy, so you can travel from Thorn to Ethel (via multiple routes) on a Thorvacian vessel.

The 7th Interregnum uses the wormhole technology I mentioned. They have 3 settlements, two that reach the rest of the Interregnum via wormhole Futhorc 01 and one via Futhorc 02. I also drew a line from Futhorc 03 to Ing. I had this idea in my head that maybe the Interregnum wants to terraform the class 4 world at Ing to class 5, since no one else is paying attention to that world.

Similarly, I drew lines from Futhorc 02 and Futhorc 03 to indicate travel routes for the Nation of Joe. There are no worlds on Nyd or Ethel that are suitable for habitation, but I had it in my head that maybe the Nation uses the class 2 worlds there as penal colonies or for some other nefarious purpose.

The Ooblaxo Entities hold Peorth, Beorc (the corssroads of the subsector), Lagu, and Daeg. Clearly, keeping the Ooblaxo friendly is important to strategic subsector relations for both the Remlothi and Thorvacians.

The Metalliance have two systems settled, Ior and Ethel.

Speaking of Ethel, three factions have full settlements there, the Metalliance, the Thorvac Qualiocracy, and the Remloth Combine. Plus whatever sneakery the Nation of Joe is up to. Sounds like a place for some adventures!

One of the neat things about this experiment is that I didn't end up with a bunch of blobby nation-states like a typical Traveller map, but rather with a messy set of intersecting networks. I kinda like that.

Old Gameblog posts of meager relevance: two sci-fi fragments, fun with jumpspace

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

much ado about LotFP

As I type this there are about seven copies of my new short work, The Octo-Planetary Blade of Somnambulistic Beneficence, available through the Lamentations of the Flame Princess European storefront. However, you can't buy this crazy pamphlet anywhere. It's a bonus item you receive if and only if you order all four of the other new releases that came out on Monday: Adventure Anthology: Blood, Big Puppet, Fermentvm Nigrvm Dei Sepvlti, and Deck of Weird Things. Personally, I'm super intrigued by the premise of the adventure Big Puppet. And Fermentum yada yada seems to be using a premise I nearly pitched to Mr. Raggi several years ago, so I'm glad someone finally got around to it. And the Deck of Weird Things is exactly what you think it is: a Deck of Many Things analog for LotFP style weird fantasy play.

More details of this big sales event can be found here. Shipping from the dark lair of LotFP in the frozen realm of Finland is usually costly, but if you order the Deck of Weird Thing and use the promo code WEIRD (in all caps) shipping on your entire order is free. Admittedly, the Deck itself is the priciest of the new releases, but there's a lot of good stuff you could also get free shipping on. (Including one of the last copies of Broodmother Skyfortress in stock, for example. Or another copy of the excellent LotFP Rules & Magic book.)

By the way, I called my little book a 'crazy pamphlet' because the production on this item is super wild. Each individual leaf was printed front and back with a reflective silver ink, then the text and illos were printed on top of that. As far as I know, no other roleplaying book has ever been done that way. That's why it looks so weird in the photo.

Anyhoo, buy some Lamentations stuff. It's the only game company that I try to get every release from. The stuff is that good.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

per request

In a comment to a previous post, Scott Anderson asked for a new batch of Vyzor-style henchmen.

Here you go. I hope they serve you well!

I'm pretty sure I swiped this pic from Swords & Dorkery.

Friday, January 24, 2020

the opposite of walls

I haven't used dungeon tiles in years, but I sometimes like to relax by watching people make their own tiles. I'm talking about folks like DM Scotty, Wyloch, Black Magic Craft, The Tabletop Engineer, Professor Dungeon Master*, and DungeonMasterG. There's just something soothing about watching someone turn a bit of corrugated cardboard or some foamcore into a little piece of dungeon architecture. I especially like the painting, where often simple mixes of blacks and whites and greys become a sophisticated dungeony look.

But something has bugged me about dungeon tiles for a long time. They tend to encourage two-dimensional thinking. Sure, we have 3-D figures, and maybe furniture, too. But they all exist in what tends to be a flat plane. And I think the presence of walls on tiles, although aesthetically pleasing, doesn't do much to help in getting the DM and the players to think in three dimensions. Crooked Staff Terrain recently has done some work to alleviate this problem, but today I want to talk about the problem with walls specifically.

I'm going to start with a very simple argument: walls are so ubiquitous in dungeons that, in most circumstances, you don't need them on the playing board. For example, I tell you that the corridor you're going down ends in a T-intersection. I then put down this tile:

 You have a pretty clear idea of where the walls are and where they aren't, don't you? If there is ambiguity, like say the western leg of the T turn's north, then an additional 10'x10' tile should do the trick:

(I've gone to 3 squares for a 10' wide tile because I think that better fits. 2 square wide corridors always seemed super-cramped to me. And Gygax recommends 3 and a third foot squares on page 10 of the first edition DMG. As I recall, Empire of the Petal Throne allows 3 adventurers breast in 10' corridors as well. There's more variability there, though. In EPT you can fit 4 abreast if no one is wearing metal armor, while 2-handed weapon users can only fit 2 abreast. Except for 2-handed sword wielders, who need the entirety of the 10' corridor to operate properly.)

Below is a normal corridor. What if I want to represent that one side of it has no wall, but rather looks down on something below? Since dungeon delves involve piercing deeper and deeper underground, I think that would be a more common scenario than the stacking up that Crooked Staff does in the video I linked above.

Here's one idea how to represent that:

The black part represents the yawning void where the east wall should be. There's got to be other ways of depicting this sort of thing, so that adventurers can better interact with the 3-D dungeon environment. How do I show, for example, that there's more dungeon down there?

(BTW, these tile images were made with the Flagstones font. S. John Ross made it many years ago. It's a pretty great way to crank out a lot of paper tiles quickly. I don't see it currently listed at his store on drivethru, but he has lots of other cool stuff there for sale.)

*Special recognition for Professor Dungeon Master who, in addition to great crafting videos, has some really sound DM advice videos.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

look at these handsome lads

Sculpted by Whiff Waff
Painted by Mark Dixon
The fine fellows are GOB10 Orcs with Clubs from CP Models. I don't know CP Models from the dogcatcher, but I love the vibe I'm getting off their humanoids. Their orc captain looks like a sophisticated gentleorc, while the orcs with spears look like they're grumpy that they had to get up early on a Saturday for monthly reserve practice.

I especially like the guys in the pic above because Basic D&D orcs are noted as favoring "swords, spears, axes and clubs" (page B40), but I'm not sure I've seen an all-club unit of orc figures before.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

on tallking to monsters in BX

Very few canonical BX D&D monsters will automatically attack the PCs. Ghouls attack anything living. Zombies attack on sight. Goblins and NPC dwarves attack each without hesitation. Kobolds always attack gnomes. Tyrannosaurs will try to eat any creature man-sized or larger. But that's about it. (Displacer beasts always go after blink dogs. Frost and flame salamanders will go after each other. But those cases are rarely any of the party's business.)

Nearly every other kind of monster in the official BX rules is fully capable of exhibiting other behaviors at the beginning of an encounter besides attacking. Even berserkers don't mindlessly attack until they make an informed decision to mindlessly attack.

Additionally, unlike AD&D and its successors, the stat block in BX does not have a field for monster intelligence. Some entries specify the intelligence of a creature in the text, but many do not. There are a lot of monsters in the BX rules that I usually tend to assume are unintelligent only because I know their Monster Manual entry. The DM would be completely within the bounds of the rules as written to decide, for example, that an ochre jelly is smart enough to parley with. The text doesn't say anything either way. Even normal animals could talk in your campaign, if you wanted to give it a more fairy tale field.

Now, consider the existence of the Monster Reactions table (page B24).  Lots of monster encounters, especially wandering monsters, can be concluded without risking violence if the monster can be communicated with.  Furthermore, a roll of 12 on 2d6 gives the result of "Enthusiastic friendship", giving the party a big incentive for talking to a lot of monsters. If you are going to explore a hellish, trap-laden underworld, having some sort of big, scary monster as your friend sounds great to me.

A 12 on 2d6 occurs only 1 throw in 36, but high charisma modifies the die roll. A Charisma of 13-17 gives a +1 on the roll, upping the odds of friendship to 1 in 12. Furthermore, the worst result on the chart, "Immediate attack", is no longer possible. An 18 Charisma allows for new monster buddies 1 in 6 encounters.

So the next time you spot a carrion crawler, try asking it how its day is going.