The World of Star Command

There are many sci-fi properties one can use as a basis for a role-playing game campaign – Star Trek and Star Wars, of course, but also Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Alien . Filmation (who did a great a Flash Gordon cartoon back in the day) did two great Saturday morning live-action sci-fi shows in the 1970’s – Space Academy and Jason of Star Command that would make for a great campaign setting.

Let’s explore these overlooked shows …

[Note – when I started writing this post, it was a short piece about the shows and how they could be used for a campaign. It sorta grew way out of proportion to what I originally intended … ]

Space Academy

Space Academy was produced in 1977 and ran from September to December of that year. Sci-fi legend Jonathan Harris (“oh the pain, the pain”) portrayed Commander Isaac Gampu, the head of Space Academy. His students were divided into three exploration teams, Blue, Gold and Red, the blue team being the team that starred in the series.

Blue Team consists of Captain Chris Gentry (Ric Carrott), Cadet Laura Gentry (Pamelyn Ferdin), Cadet Adrian Pryce-Jones (Maggie Cooper), Lieutenant Paul Jerome (Ty Henderson) and Cadet Tee Gar Soom (Brian Tochi), as well as a younger boy named Loki, an alien raised by energy beings and possessing the ability to teleport and see beyond the visible spectrum.

We do know that the Red Team leader is Matt Prentiss, but we know nothing else about the red and yellow teams. This means that either of these teams could be made up of a party of PC’s, their low introductory levels reflecting the fact that they have not graduated from the academy yet.

Space Academy introduces some of the technology of the setting, such as the Seekers – space shuttles used for exploration – and the robot Peepo (technically a self-determining Type-A manu-droid). We also learn that Earth fought in three star wars, including the Vegan War. While Earth and Vega are no longer at war, the Denebians are a hostile species, who defend their space with hostile drones.

Jason of Star Command

In 1978, Filmation created Jason of Star Command using the same sets, props and costumes as were used on Space Academy. Jason of Star Command is set on the same mobile asteroid base as Space Academy – it is housed elsewhere in the complex – and uses Seekers as well as Starfires to explore space. Peepo the robot shows up on both series. During the first season, Star Command’s commander is Commander Carnavin (James Doohan), with blue-skinned Commander Stone (John Russell) taking over in season two when Doohan had to leave the show to appear in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Other members of Star Command include Captain Nicole Davidoff (Susan Pratt) and science officer Professor E. J. Parsafoot, who appears to be second-in-command of Star Command/Space Academy. Jason is a sort of Han Solo-esque freelancer for Star Command, rather than an officer. Commander Stone and Captain Davidoff might be the only actual officers of the organization that we see. This actually opens opportunities for introducing into the campaign new characters from outside the organization with different motives/goals than Star Command.

Since Jason of Star Command was more action-oriented than Space Academy, it needed a good antagonist for the heroes, and got one in the form of Dragos (Sid Haig), former Prime Minister of Klavu, and now would-be conqueror of space. Dragos is a cyborg who commands the Dragonship, another mobile asteroid. His minions appear to come from numerous alien species, most of them short and hairy.

What We Know (or Can Guess)

FYI – I do not have the cool boxed set of JoSC DVD’s that includes scripts and a booklet, so this is all guess work from watching the episodes. I probably have tons wrong, and some things I invented to make the campaign more complete.

Space Academy is set sometime after Star Year 3732, which is when the academy was founded. We have no idea how long ago this was, but I’m going to set the campaign in SY 3777, since the TV show was made in ’77. The events of Jason of Star Command are set at least a year later – Cadet Peepo is now part of Star Command, and Matt Prentiss, who we first see as a S.A. cadet is revealed to be a lieutenant in Star Command and to have been missing for almost a year. Since Jason was made in ’78 and ’79, we’ll place our campaign in 3780.

At one point, Commander Gampu uses his old spacesuit, which has a U.S. flag patch on the arm. Since Gampu is 300 years old, we can surmise that the U.S.A. still exists well into the future. There are also references made to the Fourth of July and the Boy Scouts.

Cadet Peepo

Earth and its colonies, and possibly other worlds, are members of a Federation. The Space Academy is funded by the Federation – and some of its leaders are worried that they are spending too much money!

Star Command appears to be the primary military arm of the Federation. Their large starships – and perhaps most large starships – are built on asteroids. These vessels are enormous, possibly carrying up to 10,000 people. These vessels have numerous biodomes for growing plants and towers armed with spin-lasers. They also possess tractor beams. One ship carries the Space Academy, where students from many worlds learn to cope with the unknown by embarking on missions. We meet one other ship during the Space Academy series, called Hope, that was constructed more than a millennia ago – I would guess approximately 1,550 years ago. Many Space Academy cadets go on to serve with Star Command.

Uniforms

The most common form of uniform in the series seem to be the ones worn by the cadets, crew and commanders – a sort of loose tunic with an undershirt. The undershirts are different colors. On Space Academy, they designate the team to which the cadets are assigned, and the cadets wear a SA patch on their right arm. I’m not sure what the shirt colors designate on Star Command, but at one point they mention a “yellow sector” on Space Academy.

Some crewmen wear jumpsuits instead of the common uniform. These are simple jumpsuits with SA patches.

Capt. Davidoff wears an orange and brown field uniform that looks like it is designed for ease of movement. Star Command operatives could wear this on missions.

Prof. Parsifoot wears what could be described as a utility jacket over a turtleneck sweater.

Commander Stone wears a different uniform than Commander’s Gampu and Carnavin, but Captain Kirk got two types of uniforms, so why can’t the commanders have some different options.

The only hint of rank insignia are the bars worn on Capt. Davidoff’s shoulders. They appear to be the same gold color as the emblem she wears, which might be the symbol of Star Command. The ranks we know from the show are lieutenant, captain and commander. If we use a semi-naval rank structure like Star Trek, we could fill in ensign before lieutenant and assume that there is an admiralty beyond the commander rank.

Spaceships

Seekers, also called “star seekers”, are space shuttles capable of faster-than-light travel (star speed). They are armed with spin-lasers and presser beams, and have force field shields. The front of the vessel was re-used from the Ark II (see below), which in my little mind links the two series. The interior is divided into the main cockpit, an engine room and an airlock.

Starfires are spaceships used by Star Command. The interior looks an awful lot like the interior of a Seeker. Starfires have a small module, called a mini-cat, attached to the front. The mini-cat is maneuverable and can hold up to two people. They are much faster than seekers. They are equipped with spin-lasers and stun rays.

Motherships (I needed a name, and I dig this one) are constructed on asteroids. They have massive engines and apparently can achieve light speed (apparently they can barely achieve “9275 light speed”, and only hold it for a short time), since they travel between stars. Space Academy is commanded first by Commander Isaac Gampu and later by Commander Carnavin. An earlier ship of similar design was called Hope, and was commanded by Commander Rampo.

Motherships have the following features:

  • Myotron lasers (located in towers)
  • Tractor beams
  • Energy screens
  • Biodomes, where food can be grown
  • Power stations (one is called Power Station Alpha)
  • Seekers (at least five), starfires (at least three) and fighter drones (at least six, maybe eight)

It is worth noting that the myotron lasers cannot fire through the energy screens when they are turned to maximum. Space Academy’s energy screens were able to withstand a laser barage from six red dragons for several minutes.

Dragos’ Dragonship is also constructed on an asteroid. All of the creatures on Dragos’ ship are energy creatures created by Dragos and commanded by him.

Dragos’ Emblem

The Dragonship has the following features:

  • Torpedo lasers (no, I don’t know what that means)
  • Neutron jammer, capable of disabling spaceships
  • Teleportation rays
  • Tractor rays
  • Dungeons
  • Energy creatures and energy clones – created by Dragos and controlled by the medallion he wears
  • Warp dragons can be released by the second Dragonship
  • Self-destruct capability (oops!)

The Dragonship can launch drone fighters called red dragons. Red dragons operate in squadrons of three; there are at least four or five red dragon squadrons.

Dragos’ second ship (used in the second season of the show) is called the Dragonstar, and though it looks different than the Dragonship, it seems to have the same capabilities and a very similar interior. The Dragonstar does have one bonus item – an anti-matter ray!

The Space Flyer makes one appearance, and gives one an idea about what private spaceships might look like. It’s a bit smaller than the Starfire, and probably seats more than one person, with room for a rather large piece of cargo – the stargate.

Equipment and Materials

Beam-rays are rifle-like weapons used by Dragos’ forces. They have a stun setting, and presumably more deadly effects.

Colinears are the personal communicators used by SA and SC.

Cryotron: An experimental freeze ray. It successfully froze things, but unfortunately those things later exploded.

Energy Rod: This device is used by the energy clone of Commander Carnavin created by Dragos and by the “rag mops” aboard the Dragonship. It is a 2.5-ft. long rod topped by a box. It can paralyze people and put them to sleep, and disrupt electronic devices.

Hand Laser: These devices are powerful lasers. Although they are not used for violence in the series, they surely could be.

Life Sensor: A handheld device that can detect the presence of life nearby.

Life-Support Bracelets generate a personal force field for exploring in hostile environments. This is clearly an adaptation of the life-support belts for the animated Star Trek series done by Filmation.

Mineral Extractor: A device approximately 3.5 feet tall and a foot in diameter that can extract and process minerals.

Technite is a form of explosive.

Thought-Converter: The experimental thought converter allows for communication between species. It has been tested between humans and chimpanzees.

W1K1 – or “Wiki” – is  small robot designed by Prof. Parsifoot and used by Jason that can produce all sort of effects. It can walk, fly and levitate, break orbit on a planetoid and fly through space, generate lasers and survive a laser attack from a spaceship. Whether W1K1 is standard equipment for Star Command operatives or just something special for Jason, I do not know, but it’s pretty impressive.

Zolium: An energy-producing mineral, and thus probably radioactive. In large quantities it disrupts electronics, such as the life-support bracelets, though in small quantities it powers them.

Species

We see several species and sub-species in the series that could be used for PCs.

Humans: As is often the case, humans are the most common species – maybe because human actors and extras are the easiest to use in a series?

Mutants: Some of the humans that appear in the series have what could be described as augmented powers. We can describe them as mutants. These augmented abilities range from psionic powers (telepathy, teleportation, E.S.P.) to super strength to longevity – Commander Gampu is 300 years old.

Arcturons: We dont’ know for sure the real name of the creatures, and since they were all revealed to be energy creatures, they may not even exist. But they may be Arcturons from Arcturus. On the plus side – they’re super cool – like evil wookies – and would make great brute opponents. They have long, stringy hair that looks reddish to me (but be warned – I’m color blind). They shamble when they walk, and they growl and grunt rather than speak.

Brotean: Although they do not mention the name of Commander Stone’s species, they do reveal that they are descended from the ancient Tantalusians. Since one of Tantalus’ sons was Broteus, I decided to call them Broteans. The Broteans were driven from their home planet by Dragos. They have blue skin and can put people to sleep for a short time (max. 5 minutes) by touching two fingers to their forehead and saying “rest”. Presumably, this is a psionic ability.

Capellos: Samantha (Tamara Dobson), who we meet in season 2 has no memory of who she is or where she comes from, but at one point claims to be a Capello. The Capellos are a people who live by the lakes of their planet. Whatever species she is, she is extremely strong and has some psionic ability – telepathy, though not as strong as that shown by the brother and sister in Space Academy, and the ability to communicate with animals. By the name, one might expect the Capellos to come from Capella.

Cyclopean Apes: These creatures guard a planetoid used as a weapon platform by Dragos to attack Space Academy with a giant freeze ray. The leader of the cyclopean apes is Tehor. Their planetoid contains mud mines. They also appear working for Queen Vanessa, and working on the Dragonstar.

Dalians: The Dalians come from the arid planet of Dalius. Many among them are wanderers and loners, eschewing the company of others. Given the character of their planet, it is likely that the Dalians primarily live as herders. Dramon is relatively unfamiliar with the high technology of Space Academy, so it is probable that Dalius is not an advanced planet.

Energy Vapors: These alien creature might not be sentient. They appear as clouds of vapor that give off a green light. They absorb energy, feeding on suns and spaceships.

Hornhead: The hornhead is a large quadroped that looks something like a long-legged reptilian rhinoceros.

Jotun: We don’t have a name for Loki’s species, so I figured I’d go with this. They are humanoid and possessed of impressive abilties, including clairvoyance and teleportation. A person called Kane claimed to be a member of the same species, and he was capable of becoming invisible and metamorphing into other creatures.

Keshians: The natives of cold, barren Kesh stand approximately 3 feet tall. They are usually wrapped in hooded robes to keep out the cold of their world. They appear to dwell mostly underground, and probably live off of lichens. Queen Vanessa (Julie Newmar) rules Kesh, but is clearly not a native of the planet – she was probably placed on the throne by Dragos.

Klavuan: The Klavuans come from a world once ruled by a royal family. The royals were deposed by their prime minister, Dragos, who went on to become a mad cyborg bent on cosmic conquest. I have a theory that his allies Queen Medusa and Queen Vanessa were Klavuan commoners he raised to power when he conquered Klavu.

Lightning Tongue: These large insect creatures have a lashing tongue that gives off an electric burst when it strikes objects.

Rocks of Janus: In Space Academy, the students encounter two sentient space rocks that look like comets. They control electro-magnetism, and use it electromagnetic pulses to move and communicate through robots and computers. They can fire bolts of electromagnetism to pull, push and damage objects. They can also generate force fields to protect themselves.

Star Monster: This monster appears on the planetoid of the cyclopean apes. It is larger than a human being, and has a mouth full of sharp teeth.

Vegans: Vegans are humanoid aliens with a technological level equal to the Federation. Their touch can temporarily paralyze other creatures.

Warp Dragons: Warp dragons can warp into our dimension from their home dimension. They are larger than seekers and starfires, can survive in space and feed on energy. Stun rays are useless against them.

 

Astrography

Like so many sci-fi shows from the past, there is some confusion in SA/JoSC between galaxies, solar systems, planets, etc. There are numerous ion storms, galactic typhoons and exploding planets, so the show is not what you would call “hard sci-fi”. That being said, we can suss out a bit of the setting’s astrography from the shows.

Sol: Characters in Space Academy seem to think that Lt. Jerome’s coming from an Earth colony is significant, which suggests that most of the human characters come from Earth rather than Earth’s colonies. We also learn that life on the colonies is more rugged than on Earth. Even with FTL travel, Earth’s colonies are probably in orbit of stars relatively near the Sun, like Alpha Centauri. Martian folk songs are mentioned, meaning that there are people on Mars, and have been there long enough to develop a distinct folk culture.

Alderan: A planet located near the Alderan Triangle, where numerous ships have been lost over the millennia. Alderan orbits HD 139664 (57 LY).

Alopek: Alopek is a planet with a new colony. It is supplied energy from asteroid BX-3. Alopek orbits Alrakis (89 LY).

Alturis: Alturis is an agricultural asteroid heated by a giant space mirror located on an asteroid called Specular. It is commanded by Professor Bolt. It orbits Xi Aquilae (51 LY).

Arcos: Arcos is a planet that orbits Kappa Ceti (30 LY). It is ruled by Queen Medusa.

Arcturon/Arcturus: Arcturon is a planet orbiting Arcturus (37 LY). It is known for its diamonds, and might be the home of the “rag mop” creatures who serve Dragos.

Capella: Capella (43 LY) is the home star of the Capellos, who live by lakes. Samantha could be a Capellos – she says so in one episode, but may have been lying.

Dalius: Dalius is an arid, warm planet. The natives are humanoids possessed of terrific strength. One native, Dramon, is a wanderer, though this doesn’t mean the rest are. Dalius orbits 14 Herculis (42 LY).

Denebola: The Denebians are not a friendly species – they consider incursions into their space an act of war, and defend their space with drones. It is 36 LY from Sol.

Kesh: Kesh is a cold, barren world with two moons. It is ruled by Queen Vanessa, who is likely not native to the planet. Queen Vanessa is an ally of Dragos. She can create energy creatures and has a beam weapon that can disrupt passing ships. Kesh orbits Pollux (34 LY).

Klavu: Klavu was a monarchy, presumably with a parliament, before it was conquered by Dragos, the former prime minister.  He captured Princess Allegra, keeping her locked in his dungeon transmogrified into a weird monster. Klavu orbits HD 87883 (59 LY).

Kryton: Kryton is a world of peace, and was the stage for a combined invasion of Dragos and the Denebians. It orbits Innes’ Star (41 LY).

Leonais III: An Earth colony world located near the Alderan Triangle. The colony was probably founded in the 2270’s. It orbits Beta Circini (97 LY).

Lyra: Lyra is mentioned as a place that Commander Gampu does not think is the origin of Loki. Lyra is a constellation, so presumably this planet is located in that general direction from Earth. It orbits Gliese 758 (51 LY).

Milicetus: Milicetus is mentioned as being a colony. It orbits Caph (55 LY).

Nebula IV: A planet to which a mission was launched from Space Academy. It orbits the star Mu2 Octantis (140 LY).

Proteus IX-B: This mining asteroid is all that is left of a planet, known as the Phantom Planet. The planet supported a long-lost civilization, whose only remaining artifacts were golden egg-shaped nodules. When the asteroid exploded, the last remnants of the civilization were rescued by Space Academy. It orbits HD 201636 (160 LY).

Sirius: Sirius is mentioned as a place that Commander Gampu does not think is the origin of Loki. It is 9 light years from Sol.

Stygion: Stygion is a barren world orbiting Fomalhaut (25 LY). It held a stash of power artifacts which Dragos’ planned to use to conquer the universe. Star Command destroyed the planet before he could carry out his plan.

Tantalusia: The Tantalusians were an ancient civilization that recorded their wisdom on star discs, which look like black disks approximately 1.5-feet in diameter covered in crushed diamonds. They come from another dimension, sometimes called Limbo. Commander Stone’s species is descended from the Tantalusians.

Tarazed: Tarazed is a planet near Denebian space orbiting the star Megrez (80 LY).

Tarquabeta: Tarquabeta is mentioned as a planet around which Dragos’ Dragonship may have been orbiting after pirate Matt Daringstar kidnapped Prof. Parsifoot for Dragos. It orbits Chi Eridani (58 LY).

Vega: Earth and Vega waged a star war against one another 200 years ago. Many lives were lost and many ships destroyed. Vega and Earth are now at peace. Vega is 25 LY away from Sol.

Voton: A “Voton sector” is mentioned at one point as the location of the galactic typhoon. I’ve decided Voton orbits Merak, which is 80 LY away.

Zalon: Zalon is a planet that exploded in the first episode of Space Academy. It was here that Loki was discovered. Zalon orbited Phecda (83 LY).

Zira: A planet “beyond Sagittarius”. Since this is not technically possible, it probably orbits a star in that constellation. I’ve decided on HD 165185 (57 LY).

An Ark II Connection?

Ark II was another Filmation sci-fi series, and it really has nothing to do with SA/JoSC. Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth in the 25th century, it is about a group of young people in a mobile laboratory/library called Ark II trying to rekindle the civilizations destroyed by an ecological disaster on Earth. The Ark II is an absolutely awesome sci-fi vehicle, and the little runabout used on the show is pretty great as well. The Ark II crew has great uniforms, Biblical names (codenames in reference to the Ark?), and the series would make a great basis for a post-apocalyptic – but hopeful – setting.

Because it is set 1200 years before Space Academy, the series could certainly be set in SA’s past. Perhaps the surviving scientists that created Ark II were successful in their mission of resurrecting civilization, and eventually that civilization made its way into the stars. In any event, the Ark and runabout designs would work well in Star Command campaigns as land vehicles.

If we used Ark II in the setting, we would have a timeline as follows:

2174 – Captain Rampo born (SA)

2220’s – Spaceship Hope launched under the command of Captain Rampo (SA)

2350’s – Earth’s civilizations are set back by pollution and lack of resources (it was the 70’s folks – this was a pretty common theme at the time). (A2)

2400’sArk II travels a devastated Earth trying to resurrect its civilization. We know that previous to Earth’s ecological catastrophe that there were scientists who created a weird Limbo dimension by doing experiments with time, and apparently they were building spaceships and colonizing other worlds. (A2)

???? – Earth’s civilizations are reborn due to the work of the Arks and their crews. This seems to occur sometime between the 2400’s and 3400’s, which gives plenty of time to rebuild civilization and begin exploring space.

3470’s – Commander Isaac Gampu is born, apparently on the resurrected Earth (SA)

3570’s – Earth-Vegan War occurs (SA)

3732 – Space Academy founded (SA)

3777 – Events of Space Academy (SA)

3778 – Events of Jason of Star Command’s first season (JoSC)

3779 – Events of Jason of Star Command’s second season (JoSC)

NTN TV Schedule – September 2020

The Nod Television Network proudly presents seven more shows to peruse this week.

Sunday | WILD KINGDOM

“Strangest of All”. A Sunday tradition for many of us, along with Wonderful World of Disney, was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. This was state-of-the-art nature programming back in the day, and Marlin Perkins and Jim loomed large in the popular conscious. Originally telecast in 1965.

Monday | CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?

“Boom, Boom, Boom”. As old as this show is, and as acquainted as I was with the theme song, I had never actually watched an episode until last year. I enjoyed them enough to keep watching, and when I hit this particular episode I fell in love. Hey folks – it’s Monday – I’m we can all use a good laugh. Originally telecast 1/14/62

Tuesday | MOTOROLA TELEVISION HOUR

“Atomic Attack”. There were many anthology series in the old days, though in this day and age The Twilight Zone is probably the best known. The Motorola Television Hour was such a series, and Rod Serling actually did some writing for it, though not this particular episode. This episode fits in with the inadverent theme of this post (see below). Originally telecast 5/18/54

Wednesday | BURKE’S LAW

“Who Killed Holly Howard”, series premiere. I’ve mentioned this one before on the blog. It’s like a combination of Love Boat and The Avengers (the show, not the comic/movies). Eccentric suspects and a police captain who shows up to crimes in his Rolls Royce. Originally telecast 9/20/63

Thursday | MOVIE – Drama

“The Day After” starring Jason Robards and JoBeth Williams. This has to be one of the most famous TV movies of the era, and a reminder of what the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers lived with – the fateful day when the world would burn. Thankfully, we avoided that day, but this was a scary show in its time. Original telecast 11/20/83

Friday | UFO

“Identified”, series premiere. If you haven’t seen this mind-bender from Gerry Anderson, you haven’t lived. Like every other show he produced, UFO has amazing visuals – sets, costumes, vehicles, props – you name it. The tone of the series is surprisingly dark. Space: 1999 was originally intended as a follow-up to this series. Originally telecast 9/16/70

Saturday | ARK II

“The Flies”, series premiere. Continuing our accidental theme, Ark II by Filmation posited one possible future after “The Day After”. Well, maybe it was a far-fetched future, but certainly useful for all those Gamma World buffs out there. The Ark II is one of the coolest vehicles that ever showed up on film, and the show also had a super-cool 4WD vehicle, a jet pack and a super-intelligent chimp. Pretty much everything I love in entertainment. Oh – and you get Jonathan Harris! Originally telecast 9/11/76

BONUS!

THE GREAT NBC SMILIN’ SATURDAY MORNING PARADE (1976)

Yeah, I suppose even the young whippersnappers in the audience know that Gen X grew up with Saturday morning cartoons. But did you know that the networks did preview shows on the Friday before the Saturday morning cartoons premiered? Well, now you do! And dig all that live action fun – from the groovy Monster Squad (more on that in a later post) to the trippy Land of the Lost.

Chainmailing It In

A couple weeks back, my daughter and I were chatting about games, and I realized that she hadn’t played a wargame yet. I thought at first about brushing up on the old Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules, but then decided it would be fun to use Gygax’s Chainmail rules. I’d never used them before, so it was an opportunity for my daughter and I to both learn something new.

First step – read the rules. Second step – try to reorganize the rules so I could understand them. What the founders of the hobby had in creativity they made up for with a lack of organization! In the process of learning the rules, I discovered some things about old school D&D while I also gained an appreciation for those rules. What follows are a few takeaways for those who dig the old school, and those who have never read Chainmail. FYI – I’m using the third edition rules, which I found online.

Figures in the game are divided into two sorts, each using a different combat table. The lowliest of the figurines are the regular troops. These fellows use one of two combat tables. If each figurine counts as 10 or 20 warriors, you use the mass combat table. On this table, you roll 1d6 (one dice is easier when rolling lots of dice for lots of figures), and have one of six ratings for attack and defense – light foot, heavy foot, armored foot, light horse, medium horse and heavy horse.

The closest thing in later editions of D&D to these figures is the men-at-arms, bandit (brigands), etc. In the first edition of D&D, though, these fellows show up on the character class combat tables – Men, or Men +1.

If each figure represent a single warrior, you use the man-to-man combat table. On this table you roll 2d6, with your chance of hitting based on the attacker’s weapon and the defender’s armor. This isn’t completely different than the mass combat table, but is more fleshed out – lots of weapon types, lots of armor types.

Beyond these normal warriors, you have the monsters, heroes, super heroes and wizards from the fantasy supplement. Wizards get five “levels” – seer, magician, warlock, sorcerer and wizard. Heroes fight as well as four men, and thus in D&D they are fourth level fighters. Super heroes are eighth level fighters, because they fight as well as eight men. Wizards fight as well as two men. There are special heroes called rangers – who are essentially heroes +1 (which is why AD&D rangers have two hit dice at first level).

The hero-types can attack using the mass combat table or man-to-man table against normal troops, or they can use the fantasy combat table to fight other fantasy figures. Against normal troops, heroes take 4 kills to kill, and super heroes 8.

With hero-types, you also see the origin of saving throws. Several monsters have special abilities that the hero-types can ignore if they roll above a number on 2d6.

On the fantasy table, the chances to kill are based on the type of attacker and type of defender. If a balrog is attacking a dragon, it needs to roll an 11+ on 2d6 to kill it. The dragon needs a 6+ to kill the balrog. Elves and fairies use this table (sort of) if they have a magic sword. This suggests that the inability of some monsters to be damaged by anything other than magic weapons or monsters with lots of Hit Dice originates here.

You better leave this one to me guys

OD&D Chainmail Style

If we were to carry these rules over to D&D, we would find some interesting changes. Combat between humanoids would pit weapon versus armor, not attack bonus vs. Armor Class. PC’s above first level would dominate lesser foes by the number of hits it takes to kill them, and by the number of enemies they can attack. This is an important point that often gets  lost in later editions. Melee rounds are one minute long. The number of attacks a figure gets are not a representation of how many times he can swing a sword during the round, but rather an abstraction of the number of potential chances he has to inflict damage on an opponent.

In mass combat, hero-types and monsters can attack multiple targets, but not necessarily make multiple “attacks” against a single target. This is reinforced by the fact that in fantasy combat, pitting heroes and monsters against one another, the entire combat is resolved with a single attack roll by each combatant, and no multiple hits are required to kill – it’s just one and done.

Bringing this concept into D&D could be interesting. A monster with two claw attacks and one bit attack can use them to attack three foes, but can only use any one of these attacks against a single figure.

Levels

The fantasy combat table does include the concept of improved attack ability, even though the mass combat table does not. For example:

Figure Wight Giant Dragon Balrog
Hero 6 11 12 11
Super Hero 4 9 10 9
Wizard 6 11 9 7

This table shows the target number (equal to beat) on 2d6 a figure needs to destroy the listed foes. Comparing the hero to the super hero, you see the super hero effectively gets a +2 bonus on his attacks. This translates into different percentage increases due to the nature of rolling 2d6, as opposed to 1d20. It averages out to a +25% bonus across the board (including monsters not on the table above), or a +5 bonus to hit on 1d20. Interestingly, the wizard attacks wights and giants as well as a hero, but is better than a super hero at defeating dragons and balrogs.

Improvement in “level” is more obvious for wizards in Chainmail than for heroes/super heroes. There are the five levels of magic-user, from seer to wizard. In D&D, seer is a title for 2nd level magic-users, magician for 6th level, warlock for 8th level, sorcerer for 9th and wizard for 10th.

With each level, you gain more spells, a greater range for your spells, and your chance to successfully cast spells increases. Yes – chance to cast spells. Spells come in six compexities, with a target number that must be rolled on 2d6 for the spell to happen immediately. Failure by 1 means the spell goes off in the next round. Failure by more than 1 means the spell casting fails completely.

When Chainmail became Dungeons & Dragons, they combined the idea of improved attack ability from the fantasy combat table with the multiple attacks/kills concept in the form of Hit Dice/hit points. The weapon vs. armor idea survived in AD&D as the weapons vs. Armor Class table that most of us ignored as kids, and as the combat system used in Gamma World.

In retrospect, the introduction of levels (and experience points) was a very cool idea, bringing a facet to the game absent in Chainmail. Rather than just being a “hero” wandering around a dungeon looking for treasure, you got to play out the building of a legend, from humble origins as a man-at-arms to eventual super hero status. That innovation is probably what helped build Dungeons & Dragons itself into a legend.

The Fruits of Evil

The idea of alignment – a mishmash of ethics, morality and game play – is probably familiar to most role playing gamers of the D&D persuasion – I’m not sure how (or if) the newer versions of the game use it. Whether its Law vs. Chaos (which was always really Good vs. Evil by another name) or the nine-alignment schmeer, alignment was much more integral to the earlier versions of the game than to the later.

Oft evil will shalt evil mar … and it doesn’t do good will any favors either!

In Chainmail, Law – Neutrality – Chaos was a fantasy version of the army lists you would see in many wargames. For those unfamiliar, an army based on the Normans would be chosen from a list of the kinds of soldiers common to a Norman army. For a fantasy game, lists based on Law and Chaos, with Neutrals serving in either army, made sense. This is the earliest version of alignment.

When the wargame became a role playing game, alignment was retained but became a bit more than just a cosmic allegiance, although it would still have had that role to play for characters who were building strongholds and armies for the endgame that was assumed/intended for older editions. Hey folks – that’s what all that dang treasure was for – building a stronghold and recruiting an army so you could play Chainmail!

Alignment now governed how your character behaved. This was just a simple description in Moldvay/Cook, but in AD&D it also governed access to certain tactics – i.e. evil can use poison, good cannot – and helped determined how expensive it was to gain a new level. Again, for those who do not know how AD&D worked, to reach a higher level you required training, and the cost of that training was more expensive if you had acted outside your alignment while earning your experience points.

Later editions took a path more like “good guys are supposed to be good, evil are supposed to be evil … but then what is evil really?” Sort of like “alignment relatavism”.

What if evil simply corrupts a character and ruins his or her plans? I don’t mean a supernatural corruption here – like the taint of Chaos in Warhammer. I mean, by committing an evil act, a character begins a chain of events that eventually overtakes and destroys them unless they find their way back to the path of good. Here, you don’t really even need a character to have an alignment, you just have to know what is good and what is evil, and no that by accomplishing goals with evil methods, that evil is going

He eventually made his point

to come back to haunt you eventually. We find this theme in many stories, especially the folktales, fables and fairy tales that form part of the foundation of D&D.

I just recently watched Majin: The Monster of Terror (or Daimajin in its original title), and its one representation of this concept. I won’t give it away for those who haven’t seen it – and I do heartily recommend it – but if you watch it you will see how the bad guy ultimately screws himself. You can create a tragic and powerful storyline as characters find success by employing evil tactics and then gradually find themselves corrupted, choosing evil over good to get out of bad situations they have precipitated, until all seems lost.

“So we used poison to kill the orc king – so what? The orcs are evil, so what’s the big deal?”

How might that act come back to haunt the adventurers?

Well, where did they get the poison – perhaps some evil organization or creature who will become a bigger threat than the orcs. Maybe the use of poison negates the protection provided by a good entity to a kingdom – the short cut in fighting evil then ushers in more sorrows for the kingdom, and gradually the king and his people find out who is responsible. Maybe the orcs had friends who would have accepted their defeat in combat as fair, but figure poisoning requires vengeance. You destroy 100 orcs only to raise the ire of 10,000 orcs living deeper underground. There’s also the issue of trust. Can the player characters trust one another when they’ll use any means to get what they want?

Can the adventurers find their way back to the path of good? Role playing of this variety can add another dimension to a game about adventuring, fighting and treasure hunting, and reveal the philosophies behind “alignment” in a way that arbitrary rules about who can use poison and how much gold it takes it get to 5th level do not.

Doctors and Spies

In the process of plotting out a post about TV and film spies, with stats for the old James Bond RPG, I got to thinking about the succession of actors who played James Bond, which in turn got me thinking about the succession of actors who played the Doctor. I wondered about the timing, so I put together a timeline of the two franchises and found that their classic periods match up almost perfectly.

Please enjoy this little retrospective of Bonds and Doctors, as they regenerated through the years … including a couple who snuck in from alternate timelines!

1962

The film journey of James Bond begins in 1962 … not counting the American Jimmy Bond of the C.I.A. that showed up in the mid-1950’s on American television. Rugged Sean Connery took the role of the super spy, who started life a little bit more grounded, but ended Connery’s reign with the crazy gadgets and super-cars (not to be confused with Super Car) firmly established in the Bond universe. Connery’s Bond is the ruthless assassin of the novels. He appreciates the material pleasures, and keeps an emotional distance from others, as one might expect from a person in his position. Fortunately for Bond, Connery had an undeniable charisma on the screen, so we like the secret agent more than we probably should.

1963

A year later, we get our first glimpse of the wonderful TARDIS and its pilot, the Doctor, played by William Hartnell. Hartnell had a career in crime movies, and so brings a little subtle menace with him to the role of the mysterious Doctor. I remember reading somewhere that the show was intended to teach children about history … and then I found out the Daleks showed up pretty early in the series and realized that any history education kids were going to get was probably incidental.

1965

It’s really early on our journey, but we’ve already reached a fork in the road. In 1965, a non-BBC movie version of the good doctor appeared in the form of Doctor Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor. Well, actually, starring Peter Cushing as Doctor Who, for that is how he was addressed. The movie is not in continuity with the TV series, despite the name and the presence of the Daleks, but it is kinda fun. The sequel was not as good. Still, I love the idea of Peter Cushing as an alternative First Doctor … maybe we should invent an alternative timeline of Doctors regenerating from Cushing?

1966

Hartnell’s time as the Doctor was to last only three years. Here’s where the creative team did something extraordinary. Instead of just replacing the lead actor, they regenerated him into somebody new and also the same. What a concept. Patrick Troughton steps into the roll of the Doctor, and brings with it an irrascible energy and vigor that I personally love. I really wish more of his series survived the BBC’s cost-cutting measures. My daughter and I call him the Angry Doctor (or sometimes Doctor Moe), and we both love him.

1967

In 1967 we make our second detour from “canon” with Casino Royale, a weird little parody of the series starring Peter Sellers, Woody Allen and, as the real James Bond (I think – it’s an odd film), David Niven. Had the Bond film franchise started in the 1950’s, Niven may well have played the roll. The movie didn’t do much for me, though I always appreciate Niven, and it had both an awesome movie poster by Robert McGinnis and a great theme song.

 

1969

The Doctor’s first regeneration is followed three years later by Bond’s first regeneration, with George Lazenby taking over for one film to very mixed reviews. Lazenby’s bond was a departure from the formula. Where Connery’s Bond was a more emotionally distant, Lazenby’s Bond gets married in the film to Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, played by Diana Rigg. This was faithful to the novel, but would not be repeated in the series for many years. Lazenby’s tenure was followed two years later by one more outing for Connery.

1970

The Third Doctor appears three years before the Third Bond, with Jon Pertwee beginning his celebrated tenure as the Doctor. Pertwee’s Doctor struck me as a bit less irrascible than Troughton’s, but still testy. This is also our first Doctor in color … big, bright, beautiful color. There’s so much right about this run. It was the first run of Who that I saw after I started watching the Tom Baker years, and I wasn’t sure at first that I was going to like it, but I really did.

1973

Just as many people associate the classic Doctor with the actor who had the longest tenure in the roll (just wait a minute, he’ll be along any time now), I think my generation probably associates Bond with Roger Moore. Yeah, when we got older, Gen X took the tack that Connery was cooler because he was more serious yadda yadda yadda … but in our hearts we loved Roger Moore. Moore would spend 13 years as James Bond, and though he started off the cold, dashing assassin you would expect, his own more jovial personality ultimately took over. I love camp, so I have no problem with thus, though I totally understand those who don’t like it.

1974

As the longest Bond tenure was gettig started, the longest Doctor tenure arrived a year later. Tom Baker‘s run was similar to Moore’s run as Bond, starting out with a beautiful alien menace and growing more campy as they years went on. Again – no problem for me. I adore Baker’s Doctor, and he is without a doubt my favorite. He also had my favorite companion in the form of Lela. No, not because of her outfit, but because while the Doctor was figuring out a virtuous solution to a problem she was pulling a knife and saying the obvious – let’s just kill the bad guy. That was a great counterpiece for the Doctor.

1981

Roger Moore would survive into the 80’s as Bond, but Baker would hand over the role of the Doctor to Peter Davison. I’ll state it up front – I dig Davison in the role. He had a daunting challenge ahead of him taking over for the beloved Baker. I’ll also state, frankly, that I don’t like most of the serials he played in. The writers didn’t give him as likeable companions (again, this is no slight directed towards the actors, who were great), and the stories didn’t always thrill me. Still, there was some good stuff there, and I think Davison should get more credit than he does. I do think, though, that the franchise at this point was losing steam … the assumptions on which it was built were shifting under its feet; and honestly, the Bond franchise was in the same boat.

1984

The Roger Moore Bond era would be rounded out in the Doctor Who franchise by Colin Baker. Baker’s doctor was a return to the earlier menace of the Doctor’s alien mind, and maybe more so than any other doctor he has a severity that is shocking when compared to the wise fool played by Tom Baker. They say that Colin Baker wanted a more updated look for his Doctor – something not unlike that of the ninth incarnation, but instead the designers tried to catch lightning in a bottle with something more reminiscent of the fourth Doctor.

1987

Roger Moore was 58 years old when he made A View to a Kill, and was ready to retire. The rumors started swirling that Remington Steele’s Pierce Brosnan was going to be Bond. Cool! Loved Remington Steele, and who better to take over for Moore than Brosnan. This is going to be so great, I can’t wait until … Timothy Dalton? Huh?

Well, when Remington Steele’s producers decided on one more season, Brosnan was out, Dalton was in, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Still, I was the right age for going to the movies with friends, and that poster for The Living Daylight was certainly enticing, so why not. Folks – I loved The Living Daylights, and was totally down with more Dalton as Bond movies. It wasn’t a complete departure from Moore, but a younger Bond was nice, the movie had some great action sequences and it was a nice return to a bit more realism in the films.

The Fourth Bond was going to be okay, but what about the Seventh Doctor? The first time I watched a Sylvester McCoy serial I was still high on watching Tom Baker, and I wasn’t so sure about this guy. When I got the chance to watch more of them on Retro TV, I found that I really liked McCoy in the role. The angry edge was gone, the tone was sometimes lighter and perhaps more manic, and I really looked forward to more. I think McCoy’s run reminds me the most of Tom Baker’s, so I guess it’s no surprise that I like it. But alas, after three years, the magic was fading and there would be no regeneration for the Doctor. He just faded away …

1995/1996

Or did he?

Are the Eighth Doctor and Fifth Bond part of the classic era, or a bridge to the reboots? Hard to say. There was a five year gap between License to Kill and GoldenEye, and a six year gap between McCoy’s final outing as the Doctor and the short-lived attempt to revive the franchise with Paul McGann. New creative teams, a new 90’s attitude (I was there, it sorta sucked – I think I prefered my tenure in the 80’s). Still, there was excitement and hope for the new series, and that’s always good.

Personally, I was super-hyped for Brosnan’s Bond. I’d been waiting for him to take over the roll for a long time, and was really looking forward for a good, old fashioned James Bond spectacular … but I really didn’t care for the movie. It was like they were trying to recreate by committee something that was born organically in the 1960s. The movies were certainly popular, but for me, Bond shifted into something I loved in the past from something I was going to watch in the present.

My experience with Doctor Who was different. As an American kid of the 70s, I’d never heard of the franchise (though I had an aunt who cosplayed at a convention as Lela! – didn’t find that out until just last year). I was too late for the showings of Tom Baker’s Doctor on PBS. I remember seeing pictures of him in Dragon Magazine ads, and being kinda meh about it. It wasn’t until the 2010’s that I finally got to see the series, starting with Tom Baker, and fell in love with it. I still haven’t seen McGann’s Doctor, so I can’t really say how it holds up with the past. Others will have to weigh in on the Eighth Doctor’s place in the classic vs. new debate.

So we reach the end of our journey – 1962 to 1996, more than thirty years for two solid and fun franchises. We all have our favorites – feel free to share yours in the comments … and no, we don’t need to hear about who you hate.

Wonderbook 2020, Part I

You know what I used to love? The annnual Christmas catalogs from Sears and Penneys. One fine day, the mailman would deliver these big books with thin pages, all color (well, mostly color) with just about everything those stores had to offer. And in the back was the toy section – the promised land of childhood. I’d lay down on the floor and go through page by page, putting circles around the stuff I wanted – the stuff I might find under the tree Christmas morning. So fun!

There’s a fantastic website – WishbookWeb – that has scans of many of these catalogs in their entirety. Well worth the time to check it out … but hey – this is 2020, and God knows we need some good times, so I’m bringing the wishbook concept back!

No, I’m not printing a catalog. But I am going to try something here where I collect cool products – some new, some old – from around the internet and present them to you as my Wonderbook 2020. Just so you know – I’m not making money off of this, and I’m not connected with the people and stores involved other than as a customer or fan.

Three provisos and a comment:

1) Each of these items will be available for sale when I post the wishbook – whether it still is for sale when you click on it – or whether the link still works – I cannot guarantee.

2) I’m not putting the prices down, but I am using the following code: $ = Less than 10 dollars; $$ = 11 to 30 dollars; $$$ = 30 to 50 dollars. These include shipping on Ebay items.

3) All of the pictures are the property of their respective owners – I’m just using them to illustrate the products to help sell them – if any of the image owners want them removed, I will be happy to do so.

4) Finally – I got the idea for this from the Plaid Stallions blog, which posts 5 Awesome Things on Ebay every Friday

So, without further ado … the inagural  Wishbook 2020!

Head-to-Head Sports Action …                   Without the Fresh Air

[A] Tabletop Air Hockey: Battery-operated and loads of fun in a small package. Every year I try to grab something like this to entertain Christmas guests, and this one did not disappoint … $$

[B] Tabletop Foosball: No batteries needed for this miniature foosball table, but assembly is required. This was another Christmas surprise at my house, and proved quite challenging … $$

[C] Tabletop Billiards: I know, you don’t get fresh air playing pool, but I needed a snappy title line for each section. I don’t have this one, but maybe this year! Those miniature pool cues are awesome … $$

 

 

 

You’ll Never be Bored with these Board Games

[A] Star Wars – Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Game: So help me God, I don’t remember this game. This is a reproduction, and comes with a little action figure – what a deal!  … $$$

[B] Star Wars – Escape from the Death Star: Another reproduction, I scored one of the originals at an antique shop recently for a song. It’s a simple game, but fun, and worth it for the box alone … $$$

[C] Silver Hawks: I always thought the Silver Hawks cartoon was cool, but was too old for any of the toys. Still, this box is gorgeous, the board is cool, and you get little standees of the characters … $$

[D] Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: This show was beautifully bizarre and tons of fun, and the design on the game is beautiful. This one is vintage … $$$

These Figurines Will Liven Up Your Game Table

These beauties are from the Dragonriders of Styx playset and I think they’d make a sweet addition to any fantasy RPG.

[A] Black Demon … $$

[B] Red Demon … $$

[C] Blue Knight with Shield … $$

[D] Blue Knight with Sword … $$

[E] Blue Knight with Halberd … $$

[F] Blue Knight with Pole Axe … $$

[G] Blue Archer … $$

[H] Blue Wizard … $$

[I] Green Viking … $$

[J] Dragonrider … $$

[K] Ogre … $$

Experts Agree – Iron-Ons are the Fashion of the Future!

Join the millions of happy people who have slapped the likes of Nick Nolte or Han Solo on a shirt with nothing buy a towel, a hot iron, and a smile!

[A] Dodge Van: Nothing speaks to the 70’s like sweet, sweet vans … $$

[B] Do Unto Others: Well, nothing speaks to the 70’s like sweet vans except dorky sayings like this one … $

[C] Star Wars Han Solo: I didn’t have this one as a kid, but boy would I have worn it with pride … $$

[D] Star Wars Jawas: A stunning statement … $$

[E] Nick Nolte: This one is so ridiculous I’m tempted to buy it myself, just to know it finds a good home … $$

Stay tuned for more folks – and try to have some fun if you can manage it.

 

Hit Points and Armor Class

As soon as I wrote that title, my brain went to “pork chops and applesauce”.

Brady Bunch-isms aside, I recently had an idea about hit points and armor class in D&D-esque games. In terms of combat, hit points and armor class combine to form a sliding scale for determining how long a character or creature can last in combat. Armor class determines how hard it is to “deal damage” to a target, so it is impacted by the form of armor worn (or natural armor) and by dexterity. Hit points represent how much “damage” a target can suffer before it dies, with damage in this context meaning not just physical injury, but also exhaustion and your skill in avoiding telling blows. In other words, there’s a whole lot wrapped up in the hit points concept.

This is all fine and dandy in the context of combat, but hit points are used outside of combat as well. Damage from traps, damage from falling – and that is where it gets a little goofy.

Fighters have more hit points than thieves, for example, because they are more skilled at combat than thieves and should therefore last longer in combat than thieves. But why should that help them survive falls better than thieves? Shouldn’t thieves be better at falling than fighters? And perhaps they are, depending on the system used, via the saving throw system, but even then – a character’s ability to withstand physical punishment outside of combat should have more to do with their constitution score than their fighting ability.

Some games introduce multiple kinds of hit points, or shifting non-combat damage directly to the constitution score, which is fine, but does create more book keeping. I thought of another way to go that is simple and doesn’t require any additional rules or statistics.

First, equalize hit points across classes. Everybody rolls d6 for hit points at each level, and still add their constitution bonus to hit points.

Second, un-equalize the character’s base Armor Class. Using the ascending version of AC, fighter types have a base AC of 12, cleric and thief-types of 10, and magic-user types of 8. Monks use the system they’ve always used. For barbarians, who usually roll even more hit points than fighters, go base AC of 14.

The base AC now represents fighting skill, while the hit points are a representation of one’s ability to survive injuries either through sheer physical endurance and toughness or luck (or both). Fighters can’t take more falling or trap damage than anyone else, but they can survive combat better than everyone else.