Space Cowboy Diplomacy

Retief and the Aga Kagan by Jack Gaughan

When you’re a pop culture archaeologist – ignoring the new to dig through the old – you often have that moment when you discover something that’s been around for decades, and which many others probably already know about. Still, it’s new to you, and thus a fun revelation you want to share. And so I present my latest old discovery – Jame Retief.

I was thumbing through some old issues of Worlds of IF on Project Gutenberg, and came across a story titled “The Madman from Earth” by Keith Laumer and decided to give it a read. Boy, was it fun. Then I looked at Wikipedia, and thought, “Well, I guess I’m late to this party.”

Mr. Laumer was a former officer in the U.S. Air Force and a diplomat in the American foreign service. Both of these jobs contributed to his satirical take on the exploits of Jame Retief, a rebellious diplomat in the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne (CDT), an organizations of bureaucrats and lick-spittles doing everything in their power to sponge off the galactic taxpayer while doing as little work as possible. Puffed up, arrogant and duplicitous, one gets the idea that Laumer wasn’t a huge fan of the diplomats he worked with, and thus invented “regular fella” Jame Retief to settle the score in dozens of short stories and novellas written in the 1960s and 1970s.

Jame Retief is cut from the same cloth as many heroes from the period and from pulp literature. He’s got a powerful punch, an appreciation for the finer things in life (a stiff drink, cigar and beautiful woman topping his list) and a sense of right and wrong that often puts him at odds with the CDT, his bosses therein never quite understanding why he threatens his chances for promotion by constantly going off the diplomatic script.

I’ve had tremendous fun reading about the “new life and new civilizations” that Retief and the CDT interact with, from the insect-ish Groaci who serve as the CDT’s most common competitors in the galaxy (as the Russians were to the Americans in the Cold War) to the expansionist and lobster-like Soetti, the fabulous Yillians and the ray-like Jaq. All of them come combine elements of human culture and something wonderfully alien. Aliens and humans in these stories are not just carbon-copies of a mono-cultural ideal, but given some individuality. An individual alien might be a good Joe or a scum bag in a Retief story, and the hero takes them as he finds them.

His sketches of alien planets are full of inspiration for sci-fi game masters as well. From “Cultural Exchange” (1962), here’s a sketch of the farming planet Lovenbroy, which holds a Terrie (human) colony:

“We’ve got long seasons back home. Five of ’em. Our year’s about eighteen Terry months. Cold as hell in winter; eccentric orbit, you know. Blue-black sky, stars visible all day. We do mostly painting and sculpture in the winter. Then Spring; still plenty cold. Lots of skiing, bob-sledding, ice skating; and it’s the season for woodworkers. Our furniture—All local timbers too. Lots of metals in our soil and those sulphates give the woods some color, I’ll tell you. Then comes the Monsoon. Rain—it comes down in sheets. But the sun’s getting closer. Shines all the time. Ever seen it pouring rain in the sunshine? That’s the music-writing season. Then summer. Summer’s hot. We stay inside in the daytime and have beach parties all night. Lots of beach on Lovenbroy; we’re mostly islands. That’s the drama and symphony time. The theatres are set up on the sand, or anchored off-shore. You have the music and the surf and the bonfires and stars—we’re close to the center of a globular cluster, you know Autumn’s our harvest season. Most years we have just the ordinary crops. Fruit, grain, that kind of thing; getting it in doesn’t take long. We spend most of the time on architecture, getting new places ready for the winter or remodeling the older ones. We spend a lot of time in our houses. We like to have them comfortable. But this year’s different. This is Wine Year.”

 

Retief and a quornt by Gaughan

I like the way Laumer uses hints and glimmers to build his make-believe world. Things hang together just fine, but without much detail. Rather than spelling out the rules of his creation, you get glimpses. You’re never sure when it is set, but it follows a couple hundred years after a human government called the Concordiat that also featured in a series of stories he wrote about artificially intelligent war machines called Bolos. There is space travel, and it’s faster-than-light, but spaceships still have to follow real physical laws in terms of entering planetary orbit. There’s nothing like the Star Trek transporter, computers presumably exist, but humans and aliens take center stage, people still smoke (cigars, dope-sticks), drink and eat (lots of great descriptions of alien booze and food) and kill each other with power pistols and 2mm needlers.

Now, I like to put something gameable in these posts, and my first inclination was to do some Grit & Vigor stats for Retief and some of these gear in these stories, but then I changed my mind. Making up stats for somebody who is strong, tough, quick, smart, etc. is no big deal, after all. Instead, I got an idea for addressing a common problem in translating fantasy, sci-fi and adventure literature into gaming, namely – a lack of team work.

Some of the best loved characters in fiction are loners – James Bond and Conan come immediately to mind. They sometimes have assistants, and even team-ups, but these characters are often little more than NPC’s. The stories written for them work best with a single protagonist, so translating their adventures into RPG’s meant for a party of three to six characters can be difficult. Thus my latest notion, Group Solo Play.

Group Solo Play

“Well, now what do I do?”

In GSP, a party of players control the actions of one larger-than-life hero. Every player is given the same number of chips – say 10 to start. When the character is presented with a big decision – a plot point, one might say – those players who have an idea of what they want him to do put any number of chips down on the table. For each chip played, the player rolls one dice, totaling them, with the player with the highest total taking over the control of the character. Once a chip is put on the table, win or lose, it is lost. The player in control stays in control until a new “big decision” comes up, when a new bidding war begins. This leaves many players on the sidelines, watching the story unfold as an audience, but with the chance to take the reins when the current controlling player is messing everything up.

The use of the chips means that no one player gets to dominate forever. One person might win a few bidding wars early, but eventually they run low on chips and the other players are going to win control. Ultimately, everyone has to work together to get the character through the adventure successfully, and in doing so competitively maybe gets a chance to appreciate the different methods of their fellow players. When everyone has run out of chips, and if the adventure is still ongoing, just hand out another 10 chips to everyone and keep going until you achieve ultimate success or failure.

The key role here is played by the Game Master, who needs to decide when a bidding war is to take place – you don’t want too many, or too few – and who needs to create a story telling atmosphere to keep the non-controlling players interested in the game while they’re waiting for a chance to take control.

Of Beans and Baggins

Sad news lately, as another three folks I dig shuffled off this mortal coil. Of course, I’m speaking of Kirk Douglas, Orson Bean and Robert Conrad. This post, if you couldn’t tell from the title, is inspired by Mr. Bean (okay, that’s funny – didn’t occur to me until I just wrote that).

For those who like geeky pop culture, Orson Bean is best known as the voice of Bilbo Baggins in the Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit. That film has its detractors, but I’m not one of them – I love it. I love the voice work and the character design, and … well, maybe not all the singing, but that’s okay.

I discovered The Lord of the Rings when I was maybe 13 years old. I found a copy of The Two Towers at my grandma’s house – it was owned by my Aunt Karen, she of the Star Trek and Doctor Who fandom, who was only 16 when I was born, so she was the young, fun aunt in my life. I had just gotten into D&D in sixth grade, so Tolkien was a real revelation – I honestly had no idea that “fantasy” existed as a genre. It was all new and cool to me. After reading Two Towers, I went back and read Fellowship, and then Return, and it was all so adult and complicated and grown up and cool. Then I discovered the Hobbit, and well, obviously that was a kid’s book, and being a junior high school student, I was well past things like the Hobbit and fairy tales.

Of course, the reality is that I was past fairy tales, and also not yet ready for them.

In college, I was lurking around a used book sale at UNLV hosted by the library and the college radio station (KUNV). I picked up a cassette tape of the China Beach soundtrack (loved it), a vinyl record of Adam Ant’s Manners and Physique, and a really cheap hard-cover of Hobbit. I read it, and took a step towards wisdom. I mean the wisdom of simplicity, as in simple > complex.

It was after reading the book that I sought out the film. I was working at the Video Park (World’s Largest Video Store – no joke), so getting a copy was no problem. It knocked my socks off. The voice work, by such luminaries as Bean – just the perfect hobbit voice for my money – Otto Preminger (legendary director and my favorite Mr Freeze), Richard Boone (absolute legend from the days of radio, and as Paladin in Have Gun, Will Travel), John Huston (my favorite Gandalf voice), Hans Conried, Paul Frees, Thurl Ravenscroft, Don Messik and Brother Theodore. Just great voices. Voices like that are pretty much unknown in this day and age – I think it was the smoking that gave them that quality, so honestly, it’s better that we don’t have those voices anymore, but they’re really a beloved part of my childhood.

Then there’s the design. Great stuff all, but can I tell you how much I love the elves in that cartoon. So alien, so weird – much better than the pretty boys running around in most fantasy stories. So bloody cool.

Now for the game-able pay-off.

I was thinking about plotting out how many XP old 0-level halfling Bilbo Baggins managed to earn in the Hobbit. He manages to sort of defeat the trolls, so that’s worth a few XP, and he gets a magic ring off Gollum (ring of invisibility / major artifact), but what he mostly does is save the dopey dwarves from danger. How do you award XP for saving things? Something like that would be pretty useful for chivalric campaigns, too, since knights in shining armor are supposed to do lots of that work.

Let’s consider really old school D&D for a moment. I remember reading some interviews with the original players of D&D, and they made it clear that the point of the game, early on, was treasure. Treasure is where you earned the big XP. Monsters gave you XP, sure, but they also had a tendency to kill you. Smart player wanted to find a way to get the treasure without fighting the monsters – or without fighting them fairly.

Back to rescues. When you’re out rescuing dwarves or maidens or singing princes (NO – NO SINGING!), the rescued party is like the treasure you’re seeking. So what’s that treasure worth?

My first thought was to make rescuing a person worth as much XP as you’d get fighting them – which kind of works for a bunch of dwarven fighters, but not so much for innocent children and other 0-level types. What we need is an effective level (or HD) for rescued people without a bunch of class levels of their own. Here’s an idea:

We’ll start with 1 HD for everyone. We’ll add +1 HD for Lawful/Good creatures, +2 HD if they’re effectively helpless, like children, and +1 HD if they’re mostly helpess (i.e. no spells, no weapons training). If we’re doing chivalry, maybe we add something for the religious – like nuns, religious hermits, etc. – and maybe for being part of the noble classes. I guess folks can come up with other bonuses based on their own campaigns.

So, if a band of adventurers set out to rescue a Lawful princess who has given her life to God, she might be worth: 1 HD + 1 HD for Lawful + 1 HD for religious + 1 HD for noble + 1 HD for being mostly helpless (no spells, no fighting ability as such) = 5 HD.

So, RIP Orson Bean – God’s speed, sir.

Less Than Ideal

Here’s a little idea that just popped into my head that I thought folks might find useful when one needs to generate a NPC personality on the fly with very little to go on. It works on the idea of, for lack of a better term, stereotypes.

In D&D – heck, in so many things – there is a general conception of what an elf or dwarf or magic-user (etc.) should be. Maybe these ideas come from the game books or other pop culture, and maybe they change over time, but they do exist. Take elves, for example. Lots of RPG’ers have an idea in mind of how an elf behaves and what they look like. Consider this as, rather than a stereotype, an ideal. The ideal elf in old D&D was 5′ tall, Chaotic Good, came from the woodlands, etc.

How many elves, though, live up to this ideal? Perhaps, when an elven NPC shows up, we can roll a dice, perhaps a good old fashioned d6, to find out how close the NPC is to the ideal. Maybe a “6” means we have the perfect elf in front of us. But for every point lower than a “6”, we dial that elf one step from the ideal.

Here’s where we get free-form with this thing. The ways in which the NPC differs from the elven idea is up to the DM. Say we roll a “5”. We have an almost ideal elf, but he differs in one particular way. If we think of elves as having happy personalities, maybe our elf is morose. Maybe he doesn’t come from the woodlands, but instead the coasts. Maybe he’s a step away from Chaotic Good – Neutral Good or Chaotic Neutral. Maybe he’s stout instead of lean, dresses in scarlet instead of green – whatever your conception of an elf is, this guy doesn’t quite live up to it.

Roll a “3” for a dwarf, and he differs from he dwarven idea in 3 ways – he’s Lawful Neutral, lean instead of stout and is funny instead of dour … or he has auburn hair, prefers the woods to being underground and thinks elves are groovy.

A simple d6 roll, an idea of an ideal, and a little imagination to get a memorable NPC.

Dragon by Dragon – March 1982 (59)

Well, a day late and a dollar short, but late is better than not at all.

It was in March of 1982 that thousands of people all over the world were unwrapping Dragon #59, with that groovy cover by James Holloway.

So, here’s ten cool things about this issue:

1. The More Things Change …

In “Out on a Limb” we get two arguments/laments/complaints that will feature heavily in RPG discussions for … well, forever probably. First, on over powered PC’s

Ugh! And as if that weren’t enough, when I related this to a friend of mine, he merely sneered derisively and began telling me about what his 50th-level ranger (D:30, S:35) would do to such a wimp. I began to feel dizzy.

And

… I have found that evil characters not only have the most fun, but they add spice and intrigue to the campaign, which helps the other players enjoy it more.

Overpowered characters and evil characters. If you’re dealing with them in your own game, know that you’re not the first, won’t be the last and no, there’s no answer to your problem. Just roll with and try to have a good time.

2. Cantrips

Ah, the introduction of cantrips, or 0-level spells, to AD&D. Now, in 1982 they were something different than they would be later. The 0-level spells were really very simple and not powerful at all, unless somebody knew how to be creative with them. They let you add salt to food or shine up a shield. The bee cantrip was probably the closest you were going to get to an offensive spell, and it’s not detailed in this issue. Still, I remember as a wide-eyed kid thinking that cantrips, like everything else the brain trust at TSR did, were awesome.

3. Giants in the Earth

I always love this feature – stats for literary characters, which also served as a way of introducing little squirts like myself to fantasy literature. This issue has Poul Anderson’s Sir Roger De Tourneville (NG 10th level fighter), a 14th century English warrior who took over an alien spaceship that planned on conquering the Earth. I’ve never read The High Crusade, but I must say I’m intrigued.

It also has stats for L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s Harold Shea (CG 7th level fighter with special spell abilities). Depending on when you discovered fantasy literature, you might have heard that de Camp and Pratt were tantamount to devils for some of their pastiches of other authors’ works. Again, being an innocent at the time, I took such crimes for granted. Fortunately, I grew up, picked up some paper backs, and found I rather enjoyed some of their original works. Remember kids – don’t take anyone’s word for it when it comes to art – positive or negative – check it out and see what you think.

The article is rounded out with Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers (NG 10th level ranger, 7th level thief) and Clifford D. Simak’s Mark Cornwall (LG 4th level fighter with full sage abilities) and Snively (LG 3rd level gnome fighter with special spell abilities).

Dig also the way things were defined back in the day. “X level something with special sauce”. I think they would have been better off statting up these characters as monsters – use class levels when you need a handy thumbnail sketch. If you have to color too far outside the lines, use freeform monster stats.

4. Gypsies

Even though by 1982 the game had been around for a while, there were still some archetypes left to explore. Gypsies have their place in fantasy stories for sure, but also in old school horror. What would Larry Talbot have done without them?

This article is pretty in-depth, and includes a gypsy fortune-telling chart, and a couple cool new spells. For the chart – read the magic. For one of the spells, look below:

The first is Summon Equine Beings, a “‘druid” spell which may be cast by nobles of third level (bard) or better, or by any of the magic viols. The spell is similar to call woodland beings but brings to the aid of the gypsies one type of the following equine or quasi-equine beings:

4-16 ponies, burros, or donkeys
4-16 horses or mules
4-8 centaurs
1-4 hippogriffs/pegasi/hippocampi
1-2 unicorns

The likelihood of attracting hippocampi is extremely rare, but if the spell is cast on the seashore or in a boat, they have as good a chance of being affected as any other equine being. The number of beings summoned is doubled when the spell is cast by the Great Viol of Pharaoh. All wild equine beings save at -5; domestic horses, mules, ponies, etc., at -4; warhorses and other trained steeds (pegasi, etc.) at -1. A paladin’s warhorse saves normally. Gypsies are always on good terms with any creatures summoned, so no loyalty check applies.

5. Monsters

This issue has Ed Greenwood’s bleeder, which looks like a beholder but has blood-sucking tentacles instead of eye stalks, Michael Parkinson’s Stymphalian birds and Roger Moore’s spriggan. I love spriggans, and have used Stymphalian birds in NOD, though not the version presented here.

6. Traveller

Full admission – never played it, but was always aware of it. I did mess around with character creation once, but that’s it. God knows that TRAVELLER has a big fan base out there, and this issue has two items for the game. The first are stats for a group of characters that appear in a short story in the magazine, “Skitterbuggers”. The second is a full fleshed out spaceport/adventure – “Exonidas Spaceport”. Now, not being a TRAVELLER aficionado, I can’t really review these items – but check them out if you love the system or just need some brain fuel for a sci-fi game. Heck, with all the Star Trek stuff I’ve been playing with lately, I’m sure I could make use of the space port plans if nothing else. The art is quite groovy as well.

 

7. Halflings

Dragon had a neat series of “Point of View” articles, which examined the different races (and I think maybe some monsters) in depth. Roger Moore writes here about the halflings. Now, of course, none of this has to be taken as gospel, but it’s surely one take on the subject, and useful for folks who were knew to fantasy gaming. It also includes a bunch of halfling deities which found their way into Legends & Lore. I can definitely remember when, as a kid, I did take this stuff for gospel … and loved it!

8. Poisons

Well, if you’ve decided to spice up a game with an evil PC, you’ll surely want some poison to play with. This issue has more poisons than you’ll know what to do with, and it’s a neat reminder of how the old game worked – everything hand-made, nothing standardized and simplified. Personally, I miss it … and don’t miss it. Depends. Here’s a sample poison:

GHOUL SWEAT: A scummy green gel, used like Chayapa. Smells like rotten meat. Its effect is to paralyze for 5-10 (d6 + 4) rounds. It acts immediately. Save for no effect, made at +1.

9. What’s New with Phil & Dixie

I mentioned Phil Foglio’s contribution to Star Trek fanzines a post or two ago, and now here he is as I was introduced to him, in Dragon. I always like the strip, and appreciated the humor … and yeah, had a total crush on Dixie.

Unfortunately, I can’t leave you with Wormy this time, because it didn’t appear. Drat the luck. All in all, a groovy issue with lots of good ideas.

Have fun boys and girls, and be kind to one another!

 

An English Vampire in Africa

Hey folks – it’s a three day weekend in these parts, so I’m still on schedule with a post every weekend.

I was going to do a Dragon-by-Dragon today, but instead decided to write about a little B-movie I finished watching last night, the 1945 “classic” The Vampire’s Ghost. While the movie does not involve a vampire’s ghost, it is a better movie than it has a right to be, possibly because it was written by Leigh Brackett. If you don’t know who Leigh Brackett is, well go find out. She was a classic sci-fi author, and did some fine screenwriting on The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and The Long Goodbye. The film we’re talking about today was her first such effort, and in it she brings more talent to the picture than one would expect of a low-budget Republic film.

She’s joined in this by the the villain in the piece, John Abbott. Just to maintain the Star Trek theme I’ve been on for a while, he played the lead Organian in the episode “Errand of Mercy”. In this picture, he plays the vampire, and I think he’s one of my favorites. In classic Hollywood, the Vampire didn’t usually have much depth, and was often played for shock value. Bela Lugosi’s turn as Dracula is an exception, of course.

It also helps that the movie is based loosely on “The Vampyre” written by John William Polidori in 1816. Between Polidori, Brackett and Abbott, you get a hidden nugget from the studio days of Hollywood.

In The Vampire’s Ghost, Abbott plays Webb Fallon, an English vampire who has “lived” at least since the days of the Spanish Armada. He brings a really rate matter-of-factness to his vampire portrayal – he’s not happy about his condition, but he shows no remorse for his victims, and he mostly uses his ability to hypnotize and control people to get away with it. In the film, he is now running a drinking establishment in the African town of Bakunda. As in Dracula, the movie wastes little time in revealing that the mysterious killer around Bakunda is a vampire, and that Fallon is that vampire. The natives discover it first, and the “hero” of the picture, Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) is soon clued in, but is hypnotized by Fallon before he can do anything about it. Strange for many such movies, the supposed hero spends most of the movie unable to do anything against the villain. The vampire really is the protagonist in the film, making all the moves and committing his villainy unrestrained until … well, I won’t give everything away.

The main point here is that, in this largely forgotten B-movie, there’s a really cool vampire depiction thanks largely to two talented people, Leigh Brackett and John Abbott, and despite the low budget and relative apathy of Republic Pictures. To tie this in to roleplaying games, the Webb Fallon vampire should give a good game master some ideas about playing a vampire in a game in a way that might surprise the players.

Check it out, if you have a mind to …

Old School Energy

Over the past year, I’ve been doing an extended dive into the world of Star Trek, or “old school Star Trek” you might say. Boy, do I love the original show, and having discovered the first RPG for it, I started developing a Star Trek campaign that, frankly, nobody but me would ever see. Really, though, it was more than that. It was like my personal salute to the show, that groovy 60’s sci-fi, the look ad feel of the whole thing – all things I loved, but also things I had never really explored. Which brings me to fanzines ,,,

Initially, I discovered Geoffrey Mandel’s Star Fleet Handbook, much of which was reproduced as the U.S.S. Enterprise Officer’s Manual, which I owned. I say “much of which”, because there was plenty that didn’t see print in that compilation, and enthused with all things Old School Trek, I wanted to see what Mr. Mandel had created.

I managed to find a couple issues online and bought them and loved them. A fan filling in the details of something he loved, but not to the obsessive degree to which such things can be taken. None of the nonsense about “canon” and copyright and such – just creativity. In the process of finding the Star Fleet Handbooks, I also found the “Fanlore” website, and so the descent into madness began.

Folks, you might not know this about me, but when I start researching for a project, I go a bit nuts. I love research … heck, I do it for a living … and I tend to over-research things. With Grit & Vigor, for example, I needed to know more about guns and vehicles than I did so I could model them appropriately in the game. Before I was done, I’d built a database of thousands of firearms, cars, airplanes … heck, I even built a database of hundreds of animals to have something to which I could compare the vehicles. Overkill, yes, but once I start I just can’t stop.

My “Star Trek Databank” now includes over 1,500 stars (which I’ve mapped), since I wanted to tie all the planets to real world stars, over 2,600 named Starfleet vessels with their registry numbers, etc. You get the idea. And now I had dozens (hundreds?) of old fanzines to explore.

I was mostly looking for articles about the “Star Trek universe”, rather than short stories. I wanted to see what fans, with nothing more than the original show and the animated episodes to work with, could come up with about all that new life and new civilizations. Finding some articles about Tellarites and Andorians on Fanlore, I was soon the owner of all five issues of Sehlat’s Roar. Great articles, by the way – very creative and very useful for my purposes. I soon had a select collection of a few others, and naturally started reading some of the fan fiction that was in them. Heck, I even discovered some art by Vaughn Bode and Phil Foglio! From Star Trek fanzines to “Phil & Dixie” in Dragon Magazine. Cool stuff, and it hit me how similar all of this was to the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. The art, the presentation and, most importantly, the energy!

The energy is what I love about old school Trek, old school D&D – maybe old school everything. That brilliant, bubbly, awkward, crazy, wonderful energy released when somebody has birthed something new – something we’ve not quite seen before. It was there in the earliest animation, in early jazz, in early movies. In time, all of these things become more about money than ideas, but there’s usually a wonderful honeymoon that just thrills me to death. Now that I’m approaching 50, I’m discovering a real love for DIY – books, games, art, movies, music, restaurants, etc. Real people doing things – sometimes well, sometimes not so well – for the sheer love of it.

Folks – go find that energy. Bathe in it, participate in it, and love it for all you’re worth. Along with the human relationships – spouse, kids – that make your life worthwhile, the energy of frenzied fans doing something they love for almost nothing at all will keep you going.

Family Game Night Reviews

Because setting yourself up for failure is fun, I’m going to take a shot at getting a post up each weekend in 2020. They might not all be strictly gaming related … but what the heck – it’s my blog and I suppose I can do what I want with it!

To kick 2020 off, I’ll do some “timely” game reviews. I had some time off this Christmas season, so the family had time for a couple family game nights. We had a few games recently purchased and un-played, so we gave them a twirl.

First up is Charlie’s Angels, published in 1977 by Milton Bradley. I’m a total sucker for any board game involving a 1970’s or 1980’s TV property (well, almost all of them), so when we saw this baby priced $20 in an antique shop, it was a shoo-in.

I instantly called Sabrina when we got the game home, but we soon discovered that each player takes control of their own team of Angels for the game, so no fighting over the individual Angels is required. The game concept is kinda cool. You have a board that is a sort of a modified grid. Onto this grid you place the Villain. The Villain moves one space on each player’s turn, the direction of the move chosen by the player in question. The player then rolls two dice and can move one of his or her angels each with each dice. If you can’t move the entire number on the dice with an Angel, you give up your move.

The goal is to trap the Villain – sort of a Charlie’s Angels checkmate. Each Angel that is in on the trapping is worth one point for their player. You play three games, total the points, and determine the winner. There are some cards that can be helpful … or harmful … so you take a risk pulling one. You also have to think a bit about how you want to move the Villain – you don’t want to be left out of the capture, so sometimes you’re really on the Villain’s side in the game. We had a good time with Charlie’s Angels, with the game ending in a three-way tie – not a bad ending for a family game.

One issue – I noted that the rules did not specifically disallow moving back on your path on your turn. They probably should have, because this seemed to make the game too easy, and it just didn’t feel right.

Next up was a funny little dice game – really a packaged version of old dice rules – called Skunk. Simple concept – you have two dice to roll. The dice replace the “1” with a skunk. On their turn, a player takes the dice and can roll them as often as they like, totaling the points rolled. If they roll a skunk, they get no points for this turn and have to pay a penalty (1 chip, or 2 if you rolled a skunk and a “2”). If you roll two skunks, you lose all the points you’ve acquired and pay a 4 chip penalty. To win, a player must get his total above 100 – she can go as high above 100 as she dares. Once a player goes over 100, the other players have to try to beat them on their next turn. The chips in the pot do to the winner of each round.

The game is really all about risk – how daring are you, and how lucky?

In our first game, I managed to zero-out midway through. When my daughter went over 100, I needed something like 60 points to beat her. I started rolling, got hot, and actually won the game. On our third game, I decided to do exactly that each turn, figuring I might eventually get hot again … and wound up rolling a skunk every time on my first or second roll.

We had a fun time with Skunk, and since up to 8 people can play it would probably make a fun party game. To make it more “grown up” you could turn it into a drinking game, with a drink taken on every skunk or double skunk. I suppose you could also play Strip Skunk … but then again, maybe not.

Finally, we have Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, published in 2000, also by Milton Bradley. We bought this one for my daughter for Christmas, and she was raring to play it. It took a while to read the rules, but they weren’t too complicated and we had a good time playing it.

I took control of the bad guys, while my wife had to play Oz and Xander and my daughter got Buffy and Willow. The game is fun, pretty fast paced, and pretty easy to figure out. Evil sure looked like it was going to win this one – in short order, two of the goodies were out of the game and Evil had all the magic items. In the end, though, Buffy and Willow knocked off the evil minions and then teamed up on the Evil vampire and snuffed him out. Fortunately for them, the main villain doesn’t automatically get to move every turn. My guy spent three turns in a row not moving while they beat the crap out of him. C’est la vie.

So there you have it – three fun games for the family. All were purchased in antique stores for low prices and all were well worth it.

Expanding the Final Frontier

Some of my readers may remember my review a ways back of Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. It’s a nifty little RPG, the first with the Star Trek license, designed to accompany some metal miniatures produced by Heritage Models Inc. of Dallas, Texas. Frankly, I fell in love with it – rules lite, somewhat compatible with old school D&D, includes stuff from animated Trek – totally up my alley.

I’ve also talked a bit about my love of original Star Trek on this blog HERE and shared some basic spaceship battle rules I designed to go along with my Star Trek vapor-campaign (i.e. a campaign I’ve designed but know I’ll never actually play).

To keep the original Star Trek RPG alive, and to pass some time, I decided to produce some character stats for a few of the aliens introduced in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

A Quick Rules Primer

Before I present those character stats, and because most people do not own the Star Trek adventure game, here’s a quick primer on some of the rules:

Characters in Star Trek have ability scores … and they’ll be pretty familiar to old school gamers: Strength, Dexterity, Luck, Mentality, Charisma and Constitution. And yes – you generate them with 3d6 in turn, as God intended. There’s also a size attribute and movement attribute, and there is a 1% chance for most characters to have psionic powers; Vulcans are always psionic, and Kzinti are psionic on a roll of 1 on 1d8.

Combat is pretty standard for old gaming, but in Star Trek the attacker rolls 1d6 and adds his Hand-to-Hand combat class and modifies it by his Strength and Dexterity (-1 for each point below 9, +1 for each point above 12), while the defender rolls 1d6 modified by H-H class and Luck. If the attacker’s roll is higher than the defender’s, the defender takes the difference in damage.

For ranged combat, you have a “to hit” chance based on your Dexterity, and if you hit you then roll damage based on the weapon used, and the defender rolls 1d6 modified by Luck, taking the difference (if positive) as damage. Damage is deducted from Constitution in this game, rather than from hit points.

As an example of how species were presented in the game, here’s how they present Vulcans in the book: Pointed-eared humanoids of great emotional control and logic. Their blood is based on copper salts and they have protective nictitating membranes to protect their eyes from dirt and glare. They have limited powers of telepathy and empathy in that they usually have to be in contact with a subject for the powers to operate. Once every seven years they must mate or die. Basic size: 200cm, Basic move: 11m, ST +3, DX +2, MN +3, CT +4.

That’s enough info to give you an idea of how the game works.

The Aliens

For the aliens I chose, I did “excel-shopping” to put them in Starfleet uniforms.

Arcturian Security

Arcturians are humanoids from Arcturus IV, a very large and dense planet. All Arcturians are clones, and there are over 100 billion of them in their home system. Arcturus IV is best described as an anarcho-capitalist society, with no central government to speak of. Despite their lack of central authority, the Arcturians are militaristic, and provide the bulk of the UFP’s infantry forces. Many also work in Starfleet security and marines. They are also known to have a great appreciation for the works of Shakespeare. Arcturians are often contemptuous towards outsiders.

Basic Size: 180cm, Basic Move: 11m, ST +3, CT +3, CH -1, increase H-H Class by +1

Betelgeusian Command

Betelgeusians evolved from leopard-like birds – perhaps something akin to griffons. They have retained the talons and bone structures of predatory birds, but walk upright, and have two mouths. One mouth is used for speaking, the other for eating. Their home planet is Betelgeuse IV. Betelgeusians are known to be aggressive, but also calm and decisive. They have a strong hunting instinct.

Basic Size: 210cm, Basic Move: 10m, ST -1, DX +2, CT -1, add +1 to H-H rolls using their talons

Kazarite Biologist

Kazarites are known to be simple shepherds on their own planet, preferring the company of animals to most sentient humanoids. They possess the power of telekinesis, which they use to propel their simple spacecraft through space. Kazarites sometimes enter Starfleet as biologists. They are capable of communicating with animals.

Basic Size: 175cm, Basic Move: 10m, LK +1, MN +1, CH +3

 

Rhaandarite Communications

Rhaandarites are a child-like species, sometimes considered the “country bumpkins” of space. They have a lifespan of many centuries, and do not mature until they are 150 years old. They also continue to grow their entire lives, with the oldest topping 240cm. Rhaandarites are good at taking commands, not giving them, but they are very loyal and trustworthy. They originate on the planet Rhaandar orbiting Alpha Indi. Males and females can only be told apart by the style of jewelry they wear. The Rhaandarites are known for hiding their technology in jewelry.

Basic Size: 190cm, Basic Move: 10m, LK +1, MN -1

Rigellian Engineer

Rigellians evolved from saber-toothed turtles in ancient times (but no word on whether they are descended from a certain “friend of all children” we all know and love). They usually wear armored exoskeletons, which give them a sense of security. Their society is broken into two castes, the lords and attendants. Lords are taller (usually 200-210cm) and are capable of laying eggs. Attendants are shorter (165-175cm) and hold all real power in their society. It is the attendants who sometimes join Starfleet. They originate from Rigel III*.

Basic Size: 170cm, Basic Move: 9m, DX -1, CT +2, armored skin rating of 1, skilled swimmers, +2 to H-H combat rolls using their claws and bite

Saurian Doctor

Saurians are reptilian humanoids who come from Psi Serpentis IV, a volcanic planet of heavy gravity, dim light and poisonous gases. Saurians can breath many gases, and are generally resistant to poison. They have four hearts, and their large eyes are sensitive to bright light. They are especially known for their Saurian brandy, which even exported into the Romulan Empire.

Basic Size: 180cm, Basic Move: 11m, ST +1, DX +2, CT +4, CH -1, skilled swimmers, +1 to H-H rolls with their claws

Zaranite Navigator

Zaranites come from the harsh planet of Mu Capricornis II (or Zaran II). They have two hearts and are capable of stopping one in order to meditate on their choices in life and so one heart can repair itself. They breathe fluorine gas instead of oxygen, and so usually wear special breathing apparatus. The Zaranites have a love of logic, numerology and mathematics almost equal to the Vulcans, but they are not non-emotional, and in fact can be quite belligerent. They live past the age of 400.

Basic Size: 180cm, Basic Move: 10m, MN +1, CT +2, CH +1, 5% chance of psionics

* It’s a funny thing, but Star Trek used Rigel as the location of a whole lot of alien settlements/civilizations/etc., most likely because it was a star name that was familiar to people. Unfortunately, Rigel is really far away … as in far enough away to not make sense in the context of the show. As a result, I treat references to Rigel as being to the much nearer Alpha Centauri A in MyTrek, since it is also called Rigil Kentaurus.

Buzzkill

A while back, I was playing around with creating YouTube playlists based on Saturday morning TV shows from different years. The one’s I managed to create – not an easy thing, since most of those classic shows are not remotely public domain – are live on the site. If you search for “SaturdayMorning1968” – or other years – you’ll probably find them.

In the process of making these lists, I came across a Canadian sci-fi show called Starlost. Given the audience for this blog, many of you have probably heard of this show and maybe even seen it. The episodes are on YouTube, and I must say that the one I watched I quite enjoyed. I watched episode 15, thus starting near the end of the series, but it wasn’t hard to figure out what was going on.

The show could be good inspiration for folks who run Metamorphosis Alpha, as it has a similar setting. Episode 15 involved a creature that I thought would work well as a monster for fantasy, post-apocalypse or sci-fi games, but I must issue a SPOILER ALERT here, since the creature and its stats give away the plot of the episode.

Scroll down past the episode link if you don’t care about spoilers, or better yet, watch the episode first and then check out the monster stats …

 

 

 

 

The episode involved  giant mutant bees that I thought would make a pretty good monster. Their Blood & Treasure stats are below:

Giant Mutant Bee
Type: Monster
Size: Medium
Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 14
Attack: Sting (1d4 + Poison III)
Movement: 30′ (Fly 80′)
Save: 15
Intelligence: High
Alignment: Lawful Neutral (with evil tendencies)
No. Appearing: 2d4
XP/CL: 1,200/6

Giant mutant bees are highly intelligent bees that measure up from 3 to 4 feet in length. They are very aggressive, wishing to expand their territory and domination over “lesser” species by any means possible.

A giant mutant queen bee is capable of controlling one humanoid creature at a time, communicating through something akin to radio waves and issuing orders to it in a subtle-enough way that the controlled creature does not recognize that it is being controlled. This domination has a range of 1 mile, but can be extended through the queen’s drones – thus up to 2 miles.

A giant mutant queen bee can control normal bees within 1 mile, sending swarms of them to harass and attack her enemies. She can read the thoughts of humanoid creatures within 3 miles.

Giant mutant bees enjoy a +3 bonus to save vs. poison, while the queens are immune to poison. Cold damage acts as a slow spell on giant mutant bees.

A giant mutant beehive consists of one queen and 2d4 drones.

A Moment of Paternal Pride

Just a quick note today to show off something that made me very happy, for a few reasons …

This is a shot of the game table where my daughter ran a session of Blood & Treasure for a group of her friends.

Of course, it makes me happy to see my game being played, especially on a table instead of via the internet.

It also makes me happy to see that the little acorn didn’t fall too far from the tree. Gaming was never something I pushed on my daughter. She showed interest from an early age, mostly because we collected some of those D&D miniatures that WoTC put out. Out games were not very serious and used rules I made up as I went along – mostly me asking what she wanted to do, and then having her roll the dice and try to beat a number to do it. We had fun – her party consisted of Romeo the dwarf, Aladdin the cleric, Tinkerbell the thief … and a few others. I don’t remember them all, but I do remember that the wacky antics of Romeo the dwarf were our favorite.

Since those times, we’ve played some real D&D – recently using the Moldvay Basic set with some family friends, wherein she has a played a thief that was the only smart enough not to challenge a dragon while 3rd level … and thus was the one who survived the fight without a scratch. The others should have listened to her, but a couple of them were just learning the game, and the most experienced player had most recently played 3.5 edition … so you know how that works in terms of player survivability. Just a wee bit different than old Basic D&D.

But now the child has become the DM (or Treasure Keeper, in this case), and it was fun to listen to her introduce her friends to the concept of gaming. They wanted to try because of Stranger Things – who knows how good that show has been to table top gaming? Listening to people who have never played before start hatching crazy plans involving 10′ poles and finding a way to kill the witch without destroying her treasure brought a smile to my face – the game may be old now, but it has the same goofy effect on the players. And, most importantly, they had fun and wanted more – 3 sessions in all before one of them went off to college.

Folks, games are supposed to be about getting people together and having a good time. D&D and its many clones and descendants do just that – so raise a glass to the games, and all the people who designed, played and enjoyed them over the years.

And no – I’ve not disappeared from the hobby. I’m taking a sabbatical and planing to get back to work in earnest in 2020.