Rocky Jones, Space Ranger

Well, watching all the episodes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger and Space Angel took longer than I anticipated … in fact, I have three Space Angels left to go. Today, though, I can finally write a little report on the underrated, and probably forgotten if not for a couple episodes of MST3K, science fiction series Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

The Basics

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger consists of 39 episodes broadcast in syndication in 1954. Although not as popular as Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950-1955) or Space Patrol (1950-1955), it has the benefit of all of its episodes surviving to the modern day. All three series were aimed at children, but Rocky Jones didn’t play down to the kids, and it lacked some of spaceman elements that its rivals did. It seems to me as a bridge between Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers and Star Trek. Despite a lack of longevity, Rocky Jones did get some merchandise and a few comic book stories.

Rocky Jones had some pretty good special effects for the time period (and budget), some decent acting (I especially like Richard Crane’s calm and collected depiction of Rocky Jones – I’ve heard he was among the actors considered as captain of old NCC-1701) and a few decent stories. It also had pretty good continuity – when characters left, they were not forgotten. When a moon joins the United Worlds in one episode, a representative of that moon appears in a later episode at a conference.

Side Trek – One of those lost characters was Winky (presumably a nickname), Rocky Jones’ first assistant. Winky was played by Scotty Beckett, best known for being in the old Our Gang comedies. Winky made it through 26 seasons before Scotty was thrown in the clink on a concealed weapons charge.

The Setting

Rocky Jones is set almsot entirely within the Solar System. It is worth noting here that scientific realism is not a strong suit of Rocky Jones, or any other kids sci-fi series (or, frankly, any of the Star Treks if we’re honest). The Space Rangers are headquartered on Earth, under the direction of the Secretary for Space Affairs Drake. From there, they patrol the United Worlds of the Solar System. Some episodes send the crew beyond the Solar System to Una and Alpha Centauri.

In the early episodes, Rocky captains the XV-2 Orbit Jet. When it is destroyed in one episode, he is given command of the XV-3 Silver Moon. Both craft are identical. In one episode the XV-12 is mentioned, so there is presumably at least 12 vessels in the Space Rangers’ fleet.

These ships have the traditional rocket ship look, and can land directly on planets. They are perhaps 130 to 150 feet long/tall. The vessels are equipped with rocket launchers or missile launchers, a “cold light” mechanism which we would know as a cloaking device, and a primitive form of universal translator (you have to speak into it so others can understand you on a paired device). The ships are nominally crewed by two, a pilot and co-pilot, but Rocky also had Vena Ray in his crew as navigator and language specialist, and Bobby, presumably a cadet, and Professor Newton or Mayberry were usually along as well.

The space vessels had a cockpit, an adjoining room with chairs to facilitate blast-offs and equipment used by Vena for navigation, and an additional room that may have been for storage. These rooms always appear to be “upright”, whether the ship is vertically or horizontally oriented. Artificial gravity – a rotating capsule – lazy set design – we’ll never know.

Before one of these vessels was launched, it had to be charged. A Star Trek fan could imagine the vessel being “charged” with anti-matter to allow it to generate enough energy to warp space. The quick journey to Alpha Centauri suggests that the XV-2 and XV-3 could warp space.

A few space stations, all of the ring-and-spokes variety, appear in the series. They are not massive, and apparently have a single operator.

Space Station RV5

I really dig the uniforms worn by the Space Rangers. We see a field uniform in the series that consists of a white undershirt, jacket, trousers and cap, and a dress uniform that reminds me of Kirk’s fancy uniform in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Both are well-designed. Secretary drake wears a uniform unique to him. We see three rank insignia in the show, consisting of a low rank with one “stripe”, a high rank of three “stripes” and the wide bar worn by Secretary Drake. Presumably there is a middle rank with two “stripes”. The ranks could be something like lieutenant – commander – captain.

Rocky in dress uniform and Secretary Drake

Rocky and Winky in field uniforms without jackets

The Ophicians and Herculons have their own consistent uniforms. I meant to draw them all, but frankly did not have time. Look for a future addition to this post.

Characters

Rock Jones (Richard Crane), the principal character, is a level-headed, serious leader. He never came off as a parody to me – no grand speeches or easy victories, but a skilled, determined guy who sees things through to the end.

Rocky is first assisted by Winky (Scotty Beckett), who was a wise-cracker, but perfectly competent in his job. When Winky left the series, he was replaced by Biffin “Biff” Cardoza (Jimmy Lydon), an inhabitant of the friendly planetoid Herculon as part of an exchange system.

Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield) was a civilian whose brother was a member of the Space Rangers. Conern for her brother brought her onto the crew as navigator. Rocky wasn’t thrilled with this addition at first, but happily included her when he discovered how good she was at the job.

Bobby (Robert Lydon), presumably a cadet due to his young age, was often taken along as a valued team member. In early episodes, Professor Newton (Maurice Cass) served as the ship’s science advisor. When Cass passed away, Professor Mayberry (Reginald Shieffield) took over.

Ranger Clark (William Hudson) commanded space refueling station OW9. We also meet Ranger Griff and Ranger Marshall during the series.

Leading them all is Secretary Drake (Charles Meredith), head of the office of Space Affairs. Drake is a fatherly sort, who treats his underlings more like family than employees.

All is not peace and harmony in the Solar System. Opposing the United Worlds in the early episodes is the planet Ophicius, head of the Ophicius Group, under the reign of its Suzerain Cleolanta (Patsy Parsons). While Cleolanta had a yen for Rocky Jones, she was always plotting against the United Worlds. Assisting her were the likes of Atlasande (Harry Lauter), her chief aide.

Rocky later visits the twin gypsy moons of Negato and Posito, where he tangles with Bovarro (John Banner), the blowhard ruler of Posito until that moon crashes into Ophicius. And yes, it is the same John Banner would would play Sgt. Shultz on Hogan’s Heroes.

After Rocky and the Space Rangers evacuate Ophicius and Posito, the Positoans are apparently re-settled on the plantoid Herculon. Bovarro’s daughter, Juliandra (Ann Robinson), becomes Suzerain in place of her evil twin sister, Noviandra. Side note – I have to admit that I though Juliandra was smoking hot.

Perhaps the most fun villain was the egotistical coward Pinto Vortando (Ted Hecht). Pinto begins as a villain, becomes a bum on the moon Ankapor after his defeat, and ultimately becomes an ally of Rocky Jones and the Space Rangers. Pinto always refers to himself in the third person.

The Final Frontier

A Rocky Jones-inspired campaign would never have to leave the Solar System. The series mentions a few real places, many imaginary places that could be renamed moons or planetoids, and at least one completely made up moon of Mercury.

As mentioned above, scientific realism is not high on the series’ list of accomplishments, so places far from the Sun and much smaller than Earth manage to have habitable climates and normal gravity. I guess it can all be explained with the magic of future technology. A few of the more notable spots (and my guess for where they could be located) follow:

Let’s begin with real places.

Mars is mentioned in the series, though never visited. It has humanoid inhabitants, as well as mammoths. I imagine a world of cold, red grasslands, where primitive Martians once hunted their mammoths the way ancient Siberians did.

Saturn has two inhabited moons. Enceladus (Saturn-2) is mentioned to have a tropical climate. Titan (Saturn-6) is mentioned as the place where a criminal named Mickey Simpson was arrested. Since Mickey was held at Space Ranger’s HQ, we can presume Titan was a member of the United Worlds.

Venus is also inhabited, though never visited in the series. It appears that Venusians are not humans, though they are humanoid.

Jupiter has a few inhabited moons, though you won’t find them in any text books. Fornax is visited in “Bobby’s Comet”. The people dwell underground, and have a slightly Ancient Egyptian/Middle Eastern vibe to their clothing. Their planet has a crystal that can be used to power spaceships … dilithium, maybe? It is ruled by Zorovak. Another moon, Positta, is described as a great place to visit for 24 hours.

“Pyramid” on Fornax

Ankapor also has an underground civilization. Not a part of the United Worlds, it hosts many ne’er-do-wells. I could see it being the same as Ceres in the asteroid belt – a marketplace located between the inner and outer worlds.

Apollo Minor is a moon ruled by Pinto Vortando. After his overthrow, it joins the United Worlds. It is located on the fringes of the Solar System.

Cylenus is a planetoid or moon where the Ophicians captured Bobby and Prof. Newton.

Hermes is a planetoid on the fringes of the Solar System that is pulled out of orbit by the magnetic power of Regalio.

The planet Medina is ruled by the villainous Agar and his kindlier sister Yara.

Ophicius is called a planet, and has an Earth-like climate/atmosphere, but when Secretary Drake notes it on the map in his office it appears to be a moon of Jupiter. The location of New Ophicius, after its collision with the gypsy moon Posito, is anybody’s guess.

Ophician spaceship

Prah is a planetoid supposedly impossible to land upon. It hosts a gang of space pirates.

Torida is the uninhabited moon of Mercury.

Rocky also visits an unnamed moon on the fringes of the Solar System in “Blast Off” – maybe my favorite series of episodes in the series.

Three places outside the Solar System are mentioned in the series. The two most important are Regalio, a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri (and the furthest a Space Ranger has ever traveled), and Herculon. Regalio does not have atomic power, but rather has perfected magnetic power. It is ruled by a Nizam. Herculon orbits Una, a star located between Sol and Alpha Centauri, which if we’re picking a real place means Una is Proxima Centauri. It is ruled by Suzerain Juliandra, daughter of Bovarro.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this series. I started exploring it when I was prepping my personal Star Trek campaign. With a few small changes, it could serve as Star Trek’s past. You have to figure the kids who watched Rocky Jones were probably the young adults who watched Star Trek. Although aimed at children, the show managed a few interesting episodes. It was action-packed and fun, and I highly recommend watching a few episodes. If you think you’ll be bored with it, try one of the stories done on MST3K.

Actuaries in Outer Space

Holy smokes! Three months since the last post – not a record, but pretty bad. I now deploy some chaff in the form of excuses – tons of work to do around (inside and outside) the house, a one-year old puppy (we were just in the backyard – he was doing donuts around me like a maniac) and – and here’s more of a reason than an excuse – I was doing research for the blog. This is the first of three posts I was researching – and the first for which I finished my research – so stay tuned.

Who is Manning Draco?

I would have asked that question myself a couple months back. I was goofing off on the Internet Archive, doing some random searches for star names, and up popped a story about an outer space investigator for an insurance company. The first thing that struck me was a sense of deja vu – I knew I hadn’t read the story, but it was dang familiar. Turns out, I’d recently read another story by Kendell Foster Crossen which was written in a very similar manner to the Manning Draco tales.

After finishing the story, I went searching for more. The stories were humorous and creative – and the “world building” was wonderful. If you’re doing some light space opera or pulp sci-fi, you probably can’t do worse than read these stories for ideas. I knew I could get a fun blog our of the stories, so I started taking notes … and then it hit me. Some of the notes I was taking could really ruin the stories for first time readers. With that in mind, know that though I’ve tried to suppress spoilers, they probably have krept in just the same.

The Stories

Manning Draco was introduced by Crossen in “The Merakian Miracle” in Thrilling Wonder Stories Vol. 39 No. 1 published in 1951.This story was apparently popular, because it is followed by “The Regal Rigelian”, “The Polluxian Pretender” and the “Caphian Caper” in 1952, “Whistle Stop in Space”, “Mission to Mizar” in 1953 and “The Agile Algolian” in 1954.

The Setting

Manning Draco is a 35-year old man living in Nuyork on Earth in the 35th century. He is good-looking, quick-thinking, positively addicted to the ladies and makes a living as an insurance investigator for The Greater Solarian Insurance Company, Monopolated. Greater Solarian is run by J. Barnaby Cruikshank, age 41, who inherited a small insurance company from his father and turned it into a galactic monopoly. This isn’t too strange a thing – the Galactic Federation has more monopolies than competition.

All would be well for J. Barnaby (who is played by Lee J Cobb in my mind) if it weren’t for a galaxy full of people trying to cheat his company out of trillions of credits. The two worst offenders, early on, are two of his own insurance salesmen, the Rigelian Dzanku Dzanku, and his Terran sidekick Sam Warren. Rigelians come from a culture of corruption, and Sam is a perfect toady. The two give Manning plenty of trouble, but he has an ace in the hole. Manning Draco is the only human to have ever developed a secondary mind shield. In a universe of psionic species, it has saved his life more than once.

The Federation has 107 members. It is governed by a president and an assembly called the Assembly of the Stars. The Federation’s capital is Rigil Kentaurus. The dominant political party is the Republicrats (kind of like in the USA). The members of the Federation are not often on good terms – the Capellans hate the Polluxians, the Procyonese hate the Acturusians, the Vegans hate the Achernarians, etc.

The Federation Bureau of Investigation gets a mention, and appears to be as iffy as our own FBI. The Galactic Police wear black uniforms and are armed with large-barrelled guns from which fire force nets. The Federation Patrol wear yellow uniforms.

The first planetary union was founded at the end of the Seven Hundred Years War. The Festival of Planets, celebrating the foundation of the Federation, is held from the first Friday in May to the following Sunday.

The Technology

Spaceships run on magnidrive, which puts Starfleet’s warp drive to shame. Manning’s ship, the Alpha Actuary, can get from Earth to Rigil Kentaurus in about 10 minutes, and intergalactic travel is not unknown – Greater Solarian has some interests in Andromeda. Most of the trappings of pulp sci-fi are present – televisors, ray guns of various sorts, etc. The key thing to remember is that these stories are not hard sci-fi – the tech doesn’t really matter – it’s more window dressing.

Hypno-perfumes were banned in 2963.

Sub-atomic guns can bring down anything up to a Marfakian lair lizard, which weighs up to 70 tons.

A Guide to the Galaxy

If there are going to be spoilers in this post, this is where they’ll be.

Part of the fun of Manning Draco is the world-building (or more properly galaxy-building). When Manning gets an assignment, he listens to an encyclotape to learn a few things about the place he is visiting. The stories include footnotes to better explain off-hand references – it’s like the things were designed for gamers!

Achernar: The Achernarians are evolved from bees, and inherited their tempers. They are 2 feet long and have six appendages. The two front appendages have double-thumbed hands, while the others are used for walking upright. The drones are the politicians on Achernar. They have wings, but they are not strong enough to fly. Their eyes are weak, so most need glasses. Achernarians are very intelligent, but physically weak. They are always irritable. The Federation’s fiercest citizens, their soldiers wear atomic-powered armor and are nearly invincible in them. 

Acrux: Acrux and its satellites (the Acruxian Axis) have long opposed the Federation. Acruxians are related to the Rigelians. They stand 7 feet tall and are incredibly strong. They have cylindrical bodies on three sturdy legs, dark grey skin, red, round, knob-like heads perfectly smooth except for a mouth opening and inverted ears covered by fine, sensitive hairs. They have four tentacles, two at waist level and two at shoulder level, and two eye stalks. Acruxians have booming voices and difficulty pronouncing the letter ‘r’. Acruxians are expert lock-pickers. They attempt assassination at the smallest slight – failure means the gods do not wish them success, so they do not try again. They consider material goods more important than people, so harming their goods is the worst insult you can offer an Acruxian. Notable is the Acruxian leeba highball cocktail. Acruxian pets are basically living balloons – go read the stories to get the full picure.

Al Na’ir: This system produces a cool, green wine.

Al Suhail IV: The dominant race evolved from an animal similar to the Terran mouse. They have eight-fingered hands, and are, indeed, quite mousy in temperament.

Aldebaran III: The inhabitants are humanoid and very much like humans, but with silky blonde fur on their heads instead of hair. They have husky, sensual voices. Aldebaranians have natural telepathic shields. They are masters of seduction. Evolved from fruit bats, they are still exclusively fruit-eaters. They are often attracted to humans, and Terran-Aldebaranian marriages often work very well.

Aldebaran IV: The inhabitants of this planet are very similar to those of its sister planet … and I can say no more. 

Alnilam: Alnilam fire-ice is part Alnilam frozen rum, part pineapple-lime ice, and part pure explosion.

Alpha Centauri: The Alpha Centaurans are actual centaurs.

Alpha Cygni: A planet of this star has professional mind-probers.

Alphard VI: This is the only inhabited planet among ten in the system. It is a Class C planet, despite having a civilization which rates Class B because the Alphardians are incurably eccentric. The planet is almost a twin to Earth in terms of gravity, atmospheric pressure, size and shape. It has seven moons which are so close to be always visible, six of the seven revolve around the seventh so rapidly that they make people dizzy. Alphardians are evolved from the order scolopendromorpha, subclass epimorpha – i.e. centipedes. From the eaist down they are 6 foot long russet-brown centipedes. From the waist up they are extremely attractive humanoids. Their empire is in the 2000th year of the Ix Dynasty. The Emperor Romixon is the son of Dumixon. The City of Ix holds the Royal Alphardian Library.

Alpheratz: Populated by giants.

Andromeda Galaxy: At one point we meet Captain mmemmo of this galaxy, trying to recruit young men for the Pleasure Camps of Andromeda. Andromeda is a matriarchal galaxy, and they rely on slaves for their entertainment. mmemmo is humanoid, with metallic skin, a perfectly round head with a small, mouth-like opening (like a speaker on a robot) and above it a larger oval opening with an electric eye. 

Arcturus: Mention is made of the pleasure islands of Arcturus.

Algol: I can’t say much about the Algolians here – you need to read the stories. Under the Treaty of 3106, Terrans were forbidden from visiting Algol.

Atik: The dullest planet in the galaxy. They reproduce by fission, and thus their dullness is attributed by some to the fact that they have never discovered the joy of sex.

Canopus I: Mention is made of the City of Sentiment. Canopusia is their capital city. Canopusians have body and head as one piece, like an inverted gourd. They have two stubby legs, two tentacles placed midway on their body, a bud-like mouth, two eyes similar in shape to a human’s and a third eye on a thin, flexible 3-inch long stalk. There are two circular rows of stiff hairs on their heads – the outer row is hearing hairs, the inner row olfactory in nature. They stand 3 feet tall, and have lemon yellow skin.  

Caph: This system has two planets in the same orbit. They are Class G planets. Both planets exist in a time fracture. One year in the galaxy is 20 years on Caph II, while one year on Caph II is 5,200 years on Caph I. Caph II has a light side and dark side – the dark side is warmer than it should be due to volcanic activity, while the light side is uniformly 75-degrees F. The planet has no moon. Caph II has blue sands, towering purple trees and pink water that tastes faintly like champagne. The dominant species, evolved from bats, live in the dark side. They are humanoids with small faces, pointed noses, tiny eyes, huge ears, light brown hair on their faces and especially long webbed fingers. They stand about 5 feet tall. The main city is Optville, and I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, other than that the Caphians are non-telepaths with naturally impenetrable mind shields.

Castor: Castorian rummy is played with three decks of 95 cards each – seven suits of 13 cards and four super-jokers – orbit, comet, asteroid and nova. Each player gets 39 cards and plays three games simultaneously.

Deneb XIV: An outlaw planet. The Denebians are bird creatures, about three feet long, two feet tall, with wings evolved into arms with three-fingered hands. They have long beaks with double rows of teeth and brown and white feathers with a black stripe across the eyes. They are thieves and murderers.

Denebola: The dominant species is evolved from the ass (i.e. donkey).

Ganymede: Mention is made of a Ganymedian dancing girl.

Hamal: Hamal is home to Sin City, which has an area called the Twilight Zone.

Kholem: A planet in the Coma-Virgo Galaxy. The Kholemite met by Draco is roughly humanoid, with light purple skin. Its hands have five fingers and two thumbs. Its head is pyramidal, with slanted eyes, a v-shaped mouth and no apparent nose or ears. Kholemites can survive in the vacuum of space. They have no sexes or reproduction, but are actually the children of a species called the Dreaming Old Ones. These creatures project geometric shapes which turn into Kholemites – who are all geomatric in nature, but might be different shapes and colors. They have eidetic memories.

Kochab: Kochabian sex dervishes are mentioned. Kochabians have six arms.

Martians: The personal secretary of J. Barnaby Cruikshank is a Martian by the name of Lhano Xano. She has red head-fur, copper skin and three eyes. Most Martians are exceedingly thin, but Lhano has a bit of figure, and Manning spends a few stories trying to win her affection. Martians stand around 7 feet in height. They speak with a slight lisp. They are not known for their sense of humor, but they do have love poetry. Manning has a collection of tsigra art from the Zylka period. Martians are telepathic.

Merak II: This planet has recently been opened up to galactic trade. The natives call themselves Deetahs. They are not humanoid, but rather have globular bodies with no necks or heads. Their mouths, noses, eyes and ears appear as needed on the surface of their bodies. They usually have two arms and two legs, but they can change that as well, and they can stretch up to 20 feet. Deetahs can stand from 3 to 8 feet tall and live as long as 400 years. They have high-pitched voices. I’d say more, but I’d be giving too much away. They are culturally and socially Class D. The planet has a population of 75 million. Its capital city is Tor-Melpar. The architecture is all spherical lines. Charted 362 years ago by Galactic Commander Daniel Horlan, it has 0.9 Earth mass, 0.976 Earth volume, 0.97 Earth gravity, is 6900 miles in diameter and has a day that lasts 25 hours and 6 minutes.

Mizar I: A binary system. The only inhabited planet is Mizar I, but the other planets are rich in mineral wealth. The dominant species is Class B, but technologically behind the Federation. They dwell entirely underwater in cities protected by synthetic bubbles with fresh air extracted from the water. They coralscape their cities, and have extensive algae farms; whales are used as dairy livestock. The Mizarians evolved from the platypus, and it shows. They stand 6′ tall, lay eggs and have retained their poisonous heel spurs. They are cryptesthesists – they can predict a creature’s next action, but are not telepathic. Mizar is an empire ruled by His Royal Mostness Emperor Alis Volat. The planet has a small island holding a spaceport for visitors. 

Muphrid VIII: A Class A planet with a humanoid population, the Greater Solarian has only recently opened a branch office here. The Muphridians look almost completely human save for their head of feathers – steel gray and blue. Their minds cannot be read by telepaths. They evolved from parameciums, and thus reproduce by fission.

Pluto: This planet has a metal termite. It is a blind, subterranean insect, about 10 feet long and weighing 3,000 pounds. It devours ore and excretes pure metal, so it’s valuable to Terran mining companies.

Polaris: Produces spiced wines.

Pollux I: A Class D planet, and thus not a member of the Federation. There are only 25 families on the planet, each with one billion members. The planet’s environment is similar to Earth in the Jurassic period. The dominant species evolved from crocodiles, and look like bipedal crocodile with shorter snouts than their predecessors. They wear Earth-style clothing. Aatobi Uu, most beautiful Emperor of Pollux, wears a toga and crown. The first two letters of a name are silent, and denote only social position. Uuville, the capital, has a small spaceport. The Polluxians do not travel in space, and relatively few Federation ships come to call due to their troublesome laws. Pteradactyls are used as riding beasts. The local liquor, dtssea, tastes like fermented swamp water. Polluxians are oviparous; the females lay self-fertilizing eggs, and begin having children as soon as they mature. The planet has 1.2 Earth mass, 1.17 Earth volume, 1.02 Earth gravity, is 7200 miles in diameter and has a day that lasts 27 hours and 5 minutes.

Praesepe I: Manning tried a cocktail on this planet that caused him to lose his voice for two days.

Procyon: Procyon suede is mentioned.

Rasalague: These people are 4 feet tall and formed like perfect human women. They have light blue hair, golden tanned skin and bright orange eyes. They wear a long white scarf that hangs between their breasts to their waist, a jeweled thong around their waist, and from that another white scarf. The rest I’ll keep secret, other than that they are natural telekinetics.

Regulus II: A recent admission to the Federation, its joining was viciously opposed by the Achernatian planets. The planet’s surface appears to be uninhabited; the dominant species is evolved from the star-nosed mole, and thus lives entirely underground. Their spaceport features one above-ground building – the residence of the Terran ambassador, who seems to despise the Regulusians. Zeloha is the planet’s capital. Regulusians stand as tall as humans. They have long tails covered with silky hair. Their hands resemble paws. They have long noses tipped with 22 light pink tendrils; a Regulusian’s nose blushes when they are embarassed. They are psionically sensitive, but not telepathic, and have natural barriers to telepathic reading. Because they are insectivores, they are hated by the Achernarians, who are evolved from bees. There has never been a murder in the history of Regulus II.

Rigel IV: The Rigelians get a bit of attention due to the prominance of Dzanku Dzanku in the stories. Rigelians are as tall as humans, but weigh about 1 ton. They have square torsos, legs like tree trunks, six tentacles projecting from their upper bodies, and small, expressionless faces topped by three eyestalks. You can only trust a Rigelian if they swear on their gambler’s oath.

Rigil Kentaurus: This system has two inhabited planets. The natives were moved by the Federation, who completely took over the system. One planet is the seat of government, while the other produces all the energy and industrial needs of its sister. Rigil Kentaurus I is entirely covered with buildings and parks. There are elaborate defense installations on Rigil Kentaurus II.

Sabik II: The Sabikians are 4 feet tall. Their bodies are slender and round from top to bottom. The upper half of their bodies are covered with straight platinum hair – it grows from the top of the head and falls downward like a mop. A pair of tentacles pokes from under this hair, and their two feet are like flippers. Sabikians have loud, deep, bass voices and malevolent minds. They are sightless, and thus rely on echolocation. Their anti-social nature means that patrol ships always accompany Federation merchantmen that trade at Sabik II. The Sabikians produce prohna, an alcohol distilled from the wild proh. It is green, with amber streaks, pale smoke curling from the top of the tall glass in which it is usually served. It burns the throar terribly.

Sirius III: Sirians marry in threes.

Spica: Wild love fruit from Spica is mentioned, as are Spican termites.

Upper Seginus: The people here are not remotely humanoid.

Vega: Vegans have skin the color of old jade. They have chlorophyll in their systems. High caste Vegans wear woven plastic suits. The planet is notable for its pastry.

Venus: Mention is made of the Venusian tree dragon.

Lots of detail for a few short stories folks, and ripe for a fun sci-fi campaign. I especially like the mix of detail and ambiguity – the detail is great for a quick game, but the ambiguities leave tons of room for devising your own material.

I’ll be back soon with some thoughts on Space Angel and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

Memorial Day and G.I. Joe

Here we are at the end of May – Memorial Day – looking back on brave men and women who have fought for America and looking forward to future generations of soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, guardians (hey, I prefer spacemen, but I’ll go along with the official name of our Space Force volunteers), God bless them and help them.

My father served in the US Air Force at the tail end of the Vietnam War, and my grandfather took care of the survivors of Hiroshima in the U.S. Army. I would have loved them no less if they hadn’t, but I’m proud of their service.

Apparently, more than a few young men and women were inspired to serve in the military, police and as firefighters and paramedics by the antics of America’s highly trained special missions force, G.I. Joe. I remember the first time I saw those action figures in the basement toy department at Sears – they were a combination of my two favorite things at that age, Star Wars and “army stuff”. They were at the top of my list for my birthday that year, and Christmas as well.

About a month ago,  I was helping my father clear out his garage, preparatory to selling his house. This wasn’t the house I grew up in, but there were still lots of childhood things in it – my mother saved everything. Lo and behold, there was the box with toys, sitting where we’d stored it 30 years ago. Honestly, I didn’t know what I’d find in it, it had been so long. I won’t reveal all of that boxes treasures now, but today seemed like a good time to show off the old G.I. Joes that survived childhood, garage sales and 30 Las Vegas summers in a hot garage.

And here’s the crew … well, most of it.

There are a few figures not present, as I know I had Stalker and Rock n Roll. None of the equipment appears to have survived except Doc’s stretcher, but I still have the troop carrier/carrying case, the motorcycle (without the sidecar-gun), the artillery piece and the jetpack and its platform.

All of the Joes there had just one owner – me – and they’re in pretty good shape for their age. You’ll note the twin Cobra Commanders; I know I got one of them by sending in my flag points and ordering him through the mail. I think there are two Grunts, in different colored uniforms. There are also a couple figures who I think came from the Sgt. Rock line.

I’m pretty sure the data cards are stuffed away elsewhere. Those cards were an inspiration to me when I wrote GRIT & VIGOR. One could probably stat out the Joes for G&V pretty easily using these cards. You’d have to fudge the ability scores a bit, but you could use rank as level (i.e. E-5 is 5th level, O-3 is 3rd level), or maybe double if you want the Joes to be more “badass”. Their training can determine their feats and skills – for example …

Found at 3D Joes – awesome site!

COMMANDO, CODE NAME: SNAKEYES

10th level commando

Abilities: Str 16, Int 13, Wis 15, Dex 16, Con 13, Cha 11

Proficiencies: Auto Pistol, Dagger, Knife (large), Knife (small), Machine Gun (light), Military Rifle, Pistol, Submachine Gun, Sword (Katana)

Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Communicate, Demolitions, Endure, Hide in Shadows, Jump, Lift Gates, Move Silently, Ski, Sky Dive, Survive Outdoors, Treat Injury (knack)

Feats: Cleave, Expertise, Jujutsu Master, Karate Master, Power Attack, Pugilist, Trip

International House of Heroes

Hey true believers (he says in honor of Stan) – I caught a couple superhero flicks recently that I thought were worth a review and some Mystery Men! stats. The hook – neither of these epics came from the good old USA!

GUNDALA (2019)

So I recently installed the Roku TV channel on my Roku, and going through the channels on their live TV I came across Gundala. I think I’d read about the character some time in the past, but I didn’t know much about him and figured this was a great opportunity to learn more. Besides, I don’t think I’d ever watched an Indonesian-made film before.

First and foremost, the Gundala character was created in 1969 by Harya Suraminata. The movie features an updated version of the character – which, funny enough, means that if I’d grown up with the character I’d probably be annoyed at the movie. Fortunately, I didn’t, so it’s all new to me. The film is the first in a planned Bumilangit Cinematic Universe, and based on this movie, I hope they can follow through.

The film has a subdued, bleak aspect to it that didn’t bug me. It involves a hero coming to grips with his powers and responsibilities, as well as the corruption infecting Indonesian government, and, I suppose, society. I thought the acting was excellent, the special effects were fine for me – I’m not much into computer effects, and since they weren’t overused in this movie, I give them high marks. The main villain is a powerful gangster called Pengkor and his legion of orphan assassins. There’s plenty of martial arts action in the film, and I liked it. The movie ends with a more powerful villain coming to the fore, and the teaser after the credits introduces the next hero to be filmed – Sri Asih.

I really enjoyed this movie – honestly, I enjoyed more than many of the MCU films. It was fun seeing what Joko Anwar could do with the subject, which he clearly loves – and folks – he did it on a budget of just $2.1 million!

Here’s my MM! take on the film Gundala (with the triumphant return of my old stat format that I never should have abandoned) …

GUARDIANS (2017)

I remember seeing the trailer for this a few years ago, but never had the chance until recently to see the film. It showed up on Tubi (another streaming service) in the English-dubbed version, so I gave it a shot. Apparently, this film was panned by critics … and while I’ll admit it wasn’t a great film, it really wasn’t terrible. At worst, I’d say it didn’t meet its potential, and I’m sorry that it doesn’t sound as though they’ll get another shot at the movie.

The Guardians are a group of genetically-modified heroes from the old Soviet Union days, reassembled by a SHIELD-like organization called Patriot to meet a new threat – August Kuratov, an angry, traitorous scientist who is mutated when his laboratory is attacked. This gives him super strength to go with his genius. He’s back, he wants revenge on Russia, and the Guardians have to come together after years alone to fight them.

Let’s start with the bad – the plot isn’t ground breaking folks, though frankly, most superhero plots are not. I didn’t love the design on the villain. In fact, I hated it. Could have been much better. The ending was a bit forced, and the acting in the dubbed version was not always great.

The good – while the first half of the movie is a bit grey and bleak (very Russian, one might say), it brightens considerably in the second half and I liked the characters much more after this shift. The shift actually makes sense in the film, as the heroes go from hunted, hated misfits on their own to a family of sorts. I’ll also say that I enjoyed a bunch of Soviet-era superheroes that were not dressed in red with hammers and sickles all over them (which is coming from a guy who created a bunch exactly like that in a much older post …). I mean, yeah, they have a guy who turns into a bear … but he’s really pretty cool and he has a big machine gun and stuff … I won’t count that against them.

All in all, I’d give the movie a C, maybe C minus. I think it had potential, and I mostly enjoyed the second half of the film.

As for the Guardians …

Happy Anniversary to Nod

We have had a beautiful weekend here in Las Vegas. Perfect temperatures, sunny skies, singing birds – the works! We usually get a few weeks of this in Vegas until the Summer heat hits us full force.

Besides being a beautiful weekend, this weekend also marks – more or less – the 11th anniversary of the Land of Nod blog. Eleven years! I certainly didn’t forsee that when I started, and I guess I’ll have to aim at 20 years as the next milestone.

I’ve had a bunch of “looking back” going on over the last week, as I was recently going through some boxes from my dad’s garage that contain some artifacts of my past. I’ll share some of those soon enough. In the meantime, here are a few milestones of the blog, in case anyone is interested:

THE FIRST POST

The first post was actually made on the original Blogger blog, but it has been preserved here as well. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. If you go to that first post and start reading, you’ll find my initial forays into setting up the Nod campaign setting within the Swords & Wizardry rules, my decision to try collecting the blog posts into a downloadable magazine, and on to creating Pars Fortuna, Space Princess, Mystery Men! and so on.

THE FIRST BIG NUMBERS

So, what post got me my largest audience ever? I wish it was something insightful or creative that I wrote, but alas, it was not. You can find the post HERE. I’ll take it over recent fare in that series any day.

THE FIRST BIG DRAW

If that post got me lots of views, THIS POST used to be the champion for bringing people in from search engines. I used to do a weekly post showing off art from artists on DeviantArt – it was first called the Deviant Friday Five, and then just Deviant Friday. I’ve cleaned up many of those old posts to remove missing art, or in some cases removing posts when the artist is no longer on DeviantArt. Mahmud Asrar’s depiction of Dejah Thoris was a hit, so I always made sure to include a Dejah Thoris if an artist had done one. I’ll note that the images no longer come up properly in the post, but if you click on where they should be, they still link to the images at DeviantArt.

THE CURRENT FAVES

The two current favorite posts at the site are The World of Star Command, which I think got a link at Reddit, and an old favorite The Mother of All Size Charts.

And that’s it for the Land of Nod’s 11th birthday. I should have NOD 36 up for sale by the end of the day, and work continues on more goodies and more posts.

Have fun folks, enjoy your day, and please be kind to one another.

Weather Made Easy

If you’re running a wilderness campaign, you know that at some point you have to think about the weather. Weather can create interesting challenges for a party of explorers, or even just lend to the mood of a session. Referees can always just arbitrarily determine the weather based on their needs, but for long treks across the wilderness seem to call for randomized weather.

I’ve tried a few different schemes for randomly determining weather in my years of writing hexcrawls, but for the last couple of years have used a system that I think is relatively easy, and provides something usable, rather than trivial.

In each of my later hexcrawls, I begin my section on regional weather with this:

“You can use the following tables to determine the overall weather conditions during a hex crawl. The table is divided into the four seasons. Temperature is determined by rolling 1d6 and comparing the roll to the chances of temperature being freezing (below 30°), cold (31-60°), mild (61-85°), warm (86-95°) or hot (96° or higher). Freezing, cold and hot temperatures might require the adventurers to take steps to avoid negative consequences. Precipitation is a percentage chance. If the temperature is below freezing, the precipitation is snow (10% chance of hail). The TK can decide how much rain or snow falls during the day and its duration based on how much she wishes the weather to hinder the players.”

This is followed by a table like this:

Western Wood

Winter Spring Summer Fall
Freeze 1-2 1 1
Cold 3-5 2 1 2
Mild 6 3-5 2-3 3-5
Warm 6 4-5 6
Hot 6
Rain 55% 45% 45% 40%

The table provides a bare-bones account of the weather on any given day, which the TK can flesh out as much or as little as he likes.

The upper portion determines the general range of temperature based on the season, rolled on D6, while the last line is the percent chance of precipitation that day rolled on D%. If the weather is freezing, any precipitation that comes up is snow or maybe hail. Otherwise, precipitation is rain. How much rain? That’s up to the TK. If the TK wants the rain/snow to be a real problem for the PC’s, then it is heavy. Otherwise, it’s a moderate or light rain that provides mood and interest, without becoming a major pain in the butt.

Making the Tables

To make the tables, I could just make up the numbers willy-nilly. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but I usually like to keep things more realistic. To that end, I choose a city in an environment like the one I’m simulating, and look it up on Wikipedia.

If I’m lucky, the Wikipedia page has a table like this one for Rio de Janeiro:

To figure out the percent chance of precipitation, I just take the total of the average days of rain for the three months that make up a “season”, such as December, January and February for Summer (I almost wrote “winter” until I remembered I was working south of the equator), and divide by 90. In this example, Rio would have a 32% chance of rain during the summer season.

I then take the average high, daily mean and average low for each of those three months, and rate it using the scale mentioned above and repeated here: Freezing (below 30°), cold (31-60°), mild (61-85°), warm (86-95°) or hot (96° or higher).

That gives me 9 temperature readings for each season – I use those to determine the chance on a D6 of a day falling into one of those temperature ratings. Using Rio in the summer again, we get the following temperature ratings:

DEC JAN FEB
Average High Mild Warm Warm
Mean Mild Mild Mild
Average Low Mild Mild Mild

So, we have 7 milds and 2 warms. Seven divided by nine is 78%. Multiply that by 6 (i.e. D6) and you get 5. That means a 5 in 6 chance of mild weather. We don’t need to do the calculation for warm, in this case – it would be 1 in 6, but if we had more temperature ranges, we would use the same procedue for each. Naturally, the Referee can intervene a bit in these figures. Because Rio can get quite hot in the summer, I decide to go 1-4 = mild, 5 = warm and 6 = hot.

You do this same process for the other seasons, and you end up with a table like this:

Rio de Janeiro

Winter Spring Summer Fall
Freeze
Cold
Mild 1-6 1-5 1-4 1-5
Warm 6 5 6
Hot 6
Rain 17% 29% 32% 26%

So, if I’m running some adventurer in the region around Rio during the summer – maybe they’re searching for some ancient ruins or a satellite that crashed in the region – I roll 1d6 and d%, On the d6, I get a “6”, meaning it’s a hot day. On the % I get a 53, meaning no rain – just humidity.

Stunt Spectaculars

Wow, have I been busy the last couple weeks, at work and home – so I apologize for a lack of posting. Before I get to the meat of the post, a couple quick notes:

1. I jumped on MeWe about a month ago, and it hasn’t pissed me off yet, so you can find me over there if you look.

2. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the last week cleaning up and organizing this blog. I’ve worked on the categories and tags to make finding things easier, cleaned up some blog post titles, etc.

It’s a wonderful thing exploring the cinematic past. I think it is safe to say that, for most of us, there are far more movies that have been made that we haven’t heard of than we have heard of. More importantly, some of your favorite movies are ones you have never heard of. Not everything in the past was a gem, of course, but there are some goodies hiding out there.

Two movies I’ve seen in the past couple months qualify for me as “recent unknowns” that I ultimately enjoyed. Both of them are stunt heavy, and call to mind the days when non-CGI stunts dominated action movies. The crazy stunts started early in Hollywood, though they were far more often the purview of comedies than action films. One can draw a straight line from Buster Keaton’s astounding stunt-filled comedies of the 20’s and 30’s to Jackie Chan’s astounding stunt-filled comedies of the 80’s and 90’s (and beyond).

The Stunt Man (1980)

The Stunt Man is the story of a fugitive (Steve Railsback) who becomes a stunt man to escape the authorities. He becomes involved in a love triangle – well, sorta – involving the director he works with (Peter O’Toole) and his protege actress (Barbara Hershey, pre-lip expansion). The stunts are amazing, but the movie is really about the domineering director and the mystery of the man’s fugitive past. They do a good job of making you nervous about who this stunt man really is … aided considerably by the fact that Railsback had previously played Charlie Manson. His face is enough to make you think something terrible is lurking beneath the surface. No spoilers here – you’ll have to watch it to find out how it comes out.

The Junkman (1982)

This is a weird little movie that is extremely stunt heavy. It took H. B. Halicki two years to get it made, but boy did he get it made. There is a mega-car chase with explosions that is worth the ticket of admission. The Junkman is part of a trilogy with Gone in 60 Seconds and Deadline Auto Theft, two other b-movies worth watching if you dig car movies. The Junkman is not as complex as character study as The Stunt Man, and does not have the heavy hitter status of a Peter O’Toole, but it’s still a fun flick for a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Dragon by Dragon – June 1982 (62)

Today we move into the Summer of 1982, in which from sheer boredom nerds everywhere looked forward to the new Dragon magazine. After all, it’s not like there were any good movies or shows in ’82 …

Of course I’m joking – Airplane II was released in 1982. It was nice to see Shatner in a movie – he was otherwise pretty quiet that year.

Still – summer is a great time to nestle under the air conditioning and read – what did Dragon have to offer other than a famous and fantastic cover image?

First things first – I just found out something about this ad

Apparently, among those D&D players are Alan Ruck and Jami Gertz. Just found this out from Old School FRP on Tumblr. Gertz was super nerd-cute back in the day, if that makes any sense at all. And Ruck … hey, you know Cameron and Ferris played D&D at some point.

First cool article in this issue is on Faerie Dragons. I don’t know why, but I always loved faerie dragons in D&D – it may have been the illustration in Monster Manual II. I think I owned MM2 before I had the original Monster Manual, and I know I had it before I owned the Fiend Folio, so the monsters there loomed large in my estimation of the game. I also remember an exact copy of the MM2 faerie dragon appeared in a video game that a buddy and I used to play at 7-Eleven. It was a fantasy game, very anime in its feel, and I wish I knew the name of it. Maybe a reader knows?

Anyhow -the faerie dragon was created by Brian Jaeger, and until reading the article, I forgot about how they changed color as they aged. I think its a fantastic monster – well doen Mr. Jaeger.

The special dragons section in the mag also presents Steel Dragons by Pat Reinken (with a really cool illustration) and Grey Dragons with another cool illustration. I’m not sure about the artist – I feel like I should know that symbol, but it’s not coming to me.

Roger Moore then presents “Evil Dragon Armors” in the “Bazaar of the Bizarre”. Plate armor made from dragon scales is as D&D as heck, and one of the things the game should highlight more than it does – you know, those things that tap right into the imagination, things that every 12 year old knows is cool whether they’ve heard of D&D or not.

For fans of standardization, Gary Gygax presents some info on spellbooks – the types (standard and traveling, the traveling spellbook containing a fourth of the spells of a standard book), the cost (standard spellbooks cost 1000 gp for materials + 100 gp per spell level of spells contained within, traveling spellbooks are 500 gp + the same), the size (standard are 16″ tall, 12″ wide and 6″ thick, traveling 12″ tall, 6″ wide, 1″ thick) and so on. Great article for those who like the details, completely unnecessary for those who like to keep it light and imaginative.

This is followed up by four long-lost magical manuals in Ed Greenwood’s “Pages from the Mages”. I’ve mentioned this before, but while Forgotten Realms did nothing for me as a setting, Greenwood’s articles about the Realms were massively inspirational for me. They are all worth reading.

But wait – there’s more … the NPC class “The Scribe”, by Ed Greenwood. I was always hooked on NPC classes as a kid, and it killed me that I could see the names of classes in the Dragon indexes they would publish, but had no access to the classes that came along before I was a reader/subscriber. The scribe could actually be a pretty awesome companion to an adventuring party. They can wear any armor and use any weapon, but always attack as a first level fighter. So – not useless in a fight. On top of that, they have some neat special abilities involving writing, and can cast some spells from scrolls.

Roger Moore has another article in this, on the point of view of half-orcs and on the gods of the orcs. Again – great for their inspirational value even if you don’t want to use Moore’s concepts in your particular game. Here’s a neat bit from the article on the gods of the orcs:

“The division of orcs into separate tribes (Evil Eye, Death Moon, Broken Bone, etc.) is usually made along cult lines. The tribal symbol is the holy symbol of the orcish god the tribe holds as its patron. Each patron god seeks to make his followers more powerful than those of the others, since their own power derives from the relative power and might of their worshipers.”

Orc tribes are pawns of their gods, who care little for their followers beyond what they can do for the god. Why are the orcs causing trouble? Their god or goddess told them to – that’s all they need to know.

The magazine contains a full adventure for Top Secret set in Chinatown written by Jerry Epperson. I know little about the game, so I can’t really review it.

Gordon Linzner has a bit of fiction in the issue, “The Feline Phantom”. As is usual for this review series, I present the first paragraph:

“The river of school children flowed past her hips, occasionally rising to her ribs, but Evelyn Slade was exceptionally tall and stood firm against the current. The stream engulfed the monorail she’d just stepped from, then split into a score of individuals motivated by only one thought: Grab the best seat. All viewing locations were, by design, equally good; but try telling that to a nine-year-old New Yorker! Fortunately,
one ride above the Wild Asia exhibit — where Bronx Zoo visitors watched from mobile “cages” as animals roamed in comparative freedom — had proved sufficient.”

Lenard Lakofka presents magic for merchants in “Leomund’s Tiny Hut”. The idea is that members of merchant guilds can gain access to some simple spells, mostly cantrips, but also a few “mysteries” like alarm, appreciate, bell, drowsiness, glue, grab, hound, lapse, lock, pacify, panic and spin. Master guild members can get some 1st and 2nd level magic-user spells. There’s a part of me that likes the idea of lots of spellcasters floating around a campaign world, and another part of me that likes to keep magic more rare. For the former part of me, this is a groovy article.

Phil Meyers and Steve Bill present “Zadron’s Pouch of Wonders”. If you are familiar with AD&D, you’ll get the idea. Reach into the pouch and pull out a randomly determined something. I actually love that kind of stuff – spices up a game and creates wonderful surprises.

After the reviews, we get some Wormy – the cyclops and his cyclops dog are playing D&D …

… plus some ideas on strength by Phil and Dixie, and a few cartoons in Dragon Mirth.

But before we leave – check out this beauty …

Only $40 on Ebay for the Atari 400!

Take a Hard Ride

As I am currently in the middle of writing a GRIT & VIGOR supplement for adventures in the “Old West”, I’ve been reviewing some favorite westerns. Today, the subject of Take a Hard Ride came up, and it occurred to me that working up some character stats for the film’s three heroes and main villain would make for a good post.

Take a Hard Ride was released in 1975, and starred Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly and Lee Van Cleef. A “spaghetti western”, it was filmed on location in the Canary Islands, and had as its three heroes some names made well known in the “blaxploitation” films of the 70’s. The movie does not come off as a gimick to me, though – Jim Brown plays Pike, a classic western hero, Fred Williamson is awesome as a Maverick-esque anti-hero Tyree, and Jim Kelly brings something akin to Kung-Fu into the picture as Kashtok, a man raised by Native Americans.

The story involves Pike transporting $86,000 to his boss’ ranch – he made a promise on his boss’ deathbed to do it, and he aims to get it done. Hunting down Pike, his allies and the money is Lee Van Cleef as Keifer, a bounty hunter and Kane, a corrupt sheriff, played by Barry Sullivan.

It’s well worth a watch … and if you want to put those characters into action in a game of G&V, here’s my take on their stats:

(For those wondering how I determined levels – I just used the actor’s ages at the time the movie was made, minus 16 years as a guide)

Pike (Jim Brown)
Lawful Good Cowboy, 8th level

S 16 I 12 W 11 D 15 Cn 13 Ch 11
HP 40
AC 11
ATK +5
F8 R8 W11

Knacks: Handle Animal, Ride Mount

Skills: Appraise Value (Livestock), Endure, Gamble, Handle Animal*, Jump, Ride Mount*, Survive Outdoors, Track

Feats: Bum Rush, Exploit Weakness, Mounted Combat, Power Attack, Pugilist

Weapon Proficiency: Club, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, revolver, rifle, shotgun

Special: +2 save vs. fear and anxiety, temporarily increase two physical ability scores, delay damage (8 rd), rope and ride, choose exceptional horse, surprised (1 on 1d8, or normal while sleeping), no penalty grappling creatures one size larger than cowboy

Tyree (Fred Williamson)
Neutral Gunfighter, 7th level

S 13 I 10 W 11 D 16 Cn 12 Ch 13
HP 35
AC 11
ATK +6
F10 R10 W13

Knacks: Bend Bars, Gamble, Move Silently

Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Endure, Gamble*, Lift Gates, Sleight of Hand

Feats: Ace Shot, Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot

Weapon Proficiency: Brass knuckles, club, dagger, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, revolver, rifle, shotgun

Special: Extra attack, specialist firearm (revolver), +4 AC fighting defensively, +2 initiative with firearm

Kashtok (Jim Kelly)
Chaotic Good Boxer, 6th level

S 15 I 12 W 13 D 16 Cn 14 Ch 9
HP 42
ATK +5
AC 16
F9 R8 W12

Knacks: Survive Outdoors, Track

Skills: Acrobatics, Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Endure, Hide in Shadows, Jump, Lift Gates, Listen at Doors, Move Silently

Feats: Dodge, Elusive Target, Far Shot, Lightning Reflexes

Weapon Proficiency: Bo staff, club, compound bow, jo staff, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, spear, tomahawk

Special: Extra attack, unarmed damage 1d6+2, 70’ movement, stunning attack (5/fight), deflect arrows

Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef)
Neutral Evil Ranger, 9th level

S 11 I 12 W 13 D 16 Cn 14 Ch 10
HP 54
ATK +8
AC 12
F7 R11 W12

Knacks: Track

Skills: Bend Bars, Break Down Doors, Hide in Shadows, Lift Gates, Move Silently, Ride Mount, Survive Outdoors, Track*

Feats: Blind Fight, Brawler, Great Fortitude, Improvise, Intuition, Mounted Combat, Pugilist, Rough & Tumble

Weapon Proficiency: Club, dagger, knife (large), knife (small), lasso, revolver, rifle, shotgun +1

Special: Avoid surprise, specialist terrain (desert Southwest)

 

Looking Back – Space Princess

Do you know I’ve been doing this blogging / game writing nonsense for about 10 years? Wow. That was never the intent. In fact, there was no intent – just me goofing around. I certainly never intended to write and publish books when I started.

So here I am, all these years into whatever the heck I’m doing, and I figure maybe it would be fun to look back. Today, I decided to jot down a few thoughts about an early publication of mine, and probably a mostly forgotten one, called Tales of the Space Princess.

Space Princess started out as my response on a message board thread that asked why science-fiction rpg’s had not become as popular as fantasy rpg’s, specifically Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t remember the other responses to the thread, but they were all genre-specific. My theory was that it had nothing to do with sci-fi vs. fantasy. D&D worked because it was a game above all else. Players controlled characters who wandered around a maze in search of treasure. Monsters and traps hindered them. Simple. Anything could be grafted onto D&D, and with each fun thing you added to the mix, D&D became itself more popular. It just so happened that the game was born out of a fantasy supplement to a medieval wargame.

The problem with early sci-fi games, I figured, was that they set out to replicate sci-fi movies and stories. RPG’s aren’t very good at that. Stories have plots, with characters under the writer’s control. They have pre-determined outcomes, which is anathema to games. Checkers works because you don’t know who will win – black or red. Dungeons & Dragons, early on, was the same way. If the characters died delving for treasure, you made new characters. Their death didn’t disrupt a plot – the characters were not central to a story, they were just “avatars” of the players. As a game, this works beautifully. In a novel, it would suck.

I went on to surmise that a sci-fi D&D could have been as popular as the fantasy D&D with the same focus on being a game that borrowed the trappings of science fiction. I took Star Wars as an example. In Star Wars, Luke, Ben, Chewie, Threepio and Artoo venture into the Death Star to rescue Princess Leia from Darth Vader. If we make this more generic, we get a party of adventurers go into a space fortress to rescue the space princess from the dark lord.

Of course, this got my brain popping, so I decided to actually write the game I was describing. I had published a few NODs and Pars Fortuna (more on that in another post), so I figured why not try something else new. I didn’t exactly base the rules entirely on the SRD because I wanted to try some new things. The characters, for example, didn’t have levels. You could start them out as novices, veterans or old-timers – their skills improved with age, but they got fewer luck points to get you through scrapes. This was designed to deal with the fact that, in the source material, you had young Luke Skywalker, old Ben Kenobi and Han Solo somewhere in the middle. How do you make a game work so that different “levels” of characters could adventure together? I had a similar challenge in Mystery Men – the Superman/Batman conundrum. Did my idea work? I decided to use “luck” as a balancing mechanism. Did it work? Heck – that’s for others to decide.

Beyond the rules, I tried to pack the game with all sorts of sci-fi stuff just the way D&D packed in the fantasy tropes. The playable species included humans, of course … which included anything that was basically humanoid and didn’t have special powers … androids and gynoids and “aliens”. The alien species had rules to allow all sorts of alien species to be created, either in imitation of species from existing sci-fi properties – such as vulcan and wookies – or something completely invented by the player.

The classes in the game are psychic, scientist, scoundrel, space ranger and star warrior. Looking through the book for the first time in years, I realize that I had forgotten about my sample characters in the game – Athena Laserwolf, the human star warrior (and an obvious homage to Morgan Ironwolf), Scrimshaw McGurk, the human scoundrel, and Zazzix, the alien psychic. The original art in the project was done by Jason Sholtis, and it was fantastic. It’s fun to rediscover things you wrote long enough ago to have forgotten!

For monsters, I tried to hit the highlights of sci-fi. Space brothers from UFOlogy rub shoulders with the ro-man from Robot Monster and martians from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The olvugai from Pars Fortuna made it into the game – I love sticking things from one of my games into others, to keep them all in the same “universe” – as did H.G. Well’s martians as zarks, the vulcans and klingons as red and blue voltans and the vampire from TV’s Buck Rogers made it in as the space vampire. I stuck girallons in the game because they were inspired by the white apes of Burrough’s Mars, and flail snails because I love flail snails. The point was to mix and match all sorts of nonsense to build gonzo space fortresses (i.e. dungeons), and that was what I did. I also included a way to build random (or non-random) alien animals.

I kept the equipment pretty simple, with some basic gear like weapons and spaceships, and then super-science gear – essentially the same as magic items.

Gameplay was designed to be divided into two phases. The first was the exploration of the space fortress to find and rescue the “space princess”, which can be an actual captive princess or a captive prince, or super weapon, or space station plans, or whatever you want it to be. The second phase is where the adventurers escape in their spaceship. They need a few turns before they can jump into hyperspace, and in the meantime have to battle some enemy fighters, a la Star Wars. Just as old D&D didn’t really deal with life outside of dungeon delving and stronghold-building, Space Princess kept it simple.

Space Princess … it originated in a message board discussion, turned into a chance to try new things in a game, It was a fun little experiment for a new author. Looking through the game, I’m actually pretty impressed with how much stuff I packed into a 44 page game! I guess maybe I should pull Tales of the Space Princess back out and give it another go. My daughter had a blast testing it when she was 14, and I think we have the old character sheets tucked away somewhere …