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.

How to Referee a Murder

One of my favorite genres of movie is the mystery. I’m not talking about film noirs and gangster pictures – though I love them as well – but the films in which a wealthy man or woman is found dead in her mansion, and a detective has to weed through a bunch of suspects to find the real killer, all the while more victims are piling up.

This sort of plot can be a fun diversion for a game of Grit & Vigor, provided you have players interested in such things. A small group of players, from one to three, works very well with such a mystery. Usually, one player is the head detective and the others are his or her assistants. To get you started, here’s a handy list of potential suspects. Roll as many times on the table as you see fit, but the more suspects there are, the longer the mystery should take.

1 The man-child – always large, strong and dangerous
2 The devious woman – manipulative to the extreme, and after money
3 The wayward son – wealthy young man, usually with a drinking problem
4 The genius – a house guest, usually a scientist, psychologist or doctor … with a secret
5 The housekeeper – an older woman, cold in demeanor
6 The playgirl – female version of the wayward son, she loves “unwisely”
7 The maid – a young woman of common parentage, either stalwart or superstitious (or maybe a mix of both)
8 The caretaker – an older man who looks after the grounds, suspicious of everyone
9 The chauffeur – usually seems worried that he is suspected
10 The ingénue – young, pretty and destined to inherit a fortune
11 The butler – did he actually do it?
12 The ardent – a foolish young man in love with one (or more) woman in the cast of suspects

Each suspect should have two of three of the following – motive, means and opportunity. One suspect, the murderer, has all three. Each suspect should also have a piece of information useful for solving the crime. It is the job of the detectives to clear the suspects and gather the clues, all the while running against the clock as suspects (and their information) are eliminated by the murderer. The murderer will try to eliminate the most useful pieces of information first.

The action should all take place in a mansion, with nobody permitted to leave. In a pinch, use a Clue board for the first floor, with note cards to represent the cellar, the attic and the upstairs bedrooms and any other rooms you want to include. A few useful clues should be spread around the rooms, so detectives have a reason to search them. The least useful clues should be the easiest to find.

And don’t forget secret passages!

Mom

A couple years ago, I lost my mother to a brain tumor. It came out of nowhere, and it was shocking and horrible. I spent a couple months after she died knowing I had not fully dealt with the loss, but also not realizing that the knot in my stomach that barely allowed me to eat and sleep was caused by those emotions. It’s funny how one can overlook the obvious. I finally, one day, stopped at the cemetery where she is buried. I was alone, and was finally able to break down and cry. Boy – what a cry. And after the cry, the knot was gone and I was finally on the path to dealing with my loss. I wasn’t done – there have been other cries, and much thinking about my own mortality and how it may affect my loved ones – but I was at least dealing with it.

I know this is technically a day late, but …

Mom – I love you and miss you! You put much good in me with your love and teaching and joking and, yes, your punishing when I needed it. And by golly, when I was a bored and lonely teenage nerd, you even played D&D with me. What more love can any mother have for her son?

Thar She Blows

Here’s a little beastie that popped into my head today while I was walking the dog. Strangely enough, there was a cloud-filled sky …

Cloud Whale
Type: Elemental (Air)
Size: Huge
Hit Dice: 36
Armor Class: 16 [+1]
Attack: Bite (6d6 + 1d6 electricity), slam (3d6 + 1d6 electricity)
Move: Fly 100′
Save: 7
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1d4
XP/CL: 3,600/37

SA—Resistance to cold and electricity, immune to fire

SP—Gaseous form, gust of wind •••

Cloud whales look just as you might expect, as masses of clouds in the shape of whales. They swim through the sky, only rarely descending near the ground, feeding on incendiary vapors and smoke. These vapors are spouted from the cloud whale every so often as a gout of flame, and coagulate within them as “flambergris”, a waxy, reddish mass about the size of a human fist, that can be used by magic-users in fire-oriented magic. A ball of flambergris is worth 500 gp. A ball can be set ablaze and thrown in the manner of alchemist’s fire.

Faux Fiends

Illustration by
Arthur H Young

A while back I started a project of converting old monsters for B&T, but changing the names and descriptions so I could just make them open content. I’m not done yet, mostly because I’m planning to illustrate the monsters with nothing but public domain stuff to keep the project “cost effective”, or, as I would put it, cheap.

Since I’m always looking for ways to keep this blog alive, I figured posting a few of these monsters would be a good idea. To keep things interesting, I’ll also post a few old classics from the blog and NOD magazine updated to the new B&T.

Ampe
Type: Monster
Size: Medium
Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 16
Attack: Fists (1d4)
Move: 30′
Save: 14
Intelligence: Low
Alignment: Neutral (N)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 600/7

SD—Immune (electricity)

Ampes are annoying dungeon monsters that hook up with parties (whether they like it or not) and follow them around, getting in the way and making an inordinate amount of noise. They fight to defend themselves, but not the party they are following. They are shaggy humanoids with pointed faces. Ampes are always hungry and thirsty, and they have a terrible lust for treasure, being able to detect precious metals and gems up to 100′ away. If fed or given drink, it becomes wonderfully loyal to its benefactor, but this loyalty ends if the ampe is not given at least 30% of any coins and/or gems its benefactor finds.

Ampes store up great amounts of static electricity in their bodies, and can generate 50 points of electricity damage each day through their touch. It need not inflict all 50 points of damage with a single touch. If it drains all of this power, it immediately falls asleep for one hour, during which time is regenerates up to 25 points of static charge; recharging completely requires another 7 hours of sleep.

Ampes can weave their own hair into nets, which they carry around their waists like belts.

Cyborg
Type: Monster
Size: Medium
Hit Dice: 4
Armor Class: 16
Attack: Bite (1d8) and hook (1d6 + trip) or claw (1d6 + constrict) or ray gun (see below)
Move: 30′
Save: 15
Intelligence: Average
Alignment: Chaotic (CE)
No. Appearing: 1d4
XP/CL: 400/5

These cybernetic outlaws know no fear. They are equipped with metal jaws that can bite through nearly anything (+2 to sunder attacks) and mechanical arms with exchangeable attachments: Ray gun, hook or claw. Cyborgs can store unused weapons on their belts; it takes a full round to exchange one attachment for another.

Dune Devil
Type: Elemental (Earth)
Size: Large
Hit Dice: 6
Armor Class: 17 [+1]
Attack: Shriek (60′/2d6 sonic)
Move: 30′
Save: 14; MR 30%
Intelligence: High
Alignment: Chaotic (NE)
No. Appearing: 1
XP/CL: 1,800/8

Dune devils are gangling monsters who stalk blazing deserts at high sun, feasting on the good and letting the wicked alone. Although they are called “devils”, they are no relation to the actual devils of Hell. Dune devils are brought to the material plane by magical summons. They are peerless trackers (90%). The monster attacks with a shriek. By pressing its lips against a creature, it can kill them instantly (save to negate).

 

Thoughts on Designing a Game

A couple weeks ago I came across this little image:

Brought to you by Pluto Water … and if you don’t know what that is, click to find out

It belonged to some form of baseball game. You’d spin the arrow and find out if you got a single or strike, etc. I imagined some kids back in the “olden days” whiling away a Sunday afternoon with this game. and this inspired me to write Pen & Paper Baseball, a companion game, so to speak, to Pen & Paper Football (available now).

I’m in the process now of testing the game rules, and I’m pretty happy with them. I need to “adjust the mixture” a bit, but overall I have a working set of rules, I’ve designed a fantasy league to test them with and … and this is most important … I’m having fun doing it.

So – here are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re designing a new game or an add-on or adventure to an existing game.

ONE – Make a Rough Draft

You have to start somewhere. Conceptualize in your mind what you’re trying to simulate, come up with an easy way to do it, and then put it down on paper. It will change, but you have to get the rough draft down before you can make it better. Do not get bogged down in the minutia right off the bat – work on the overall concept and do it in broad brush strokes. The details will come later.

Once you have a rough draft, play it. This will show you where the obvious errors lie, and may point you in a completely new direction. With my baseball game, for example, I initially decided on a single dice roll to determine the broad spectrum from strike to ball to foul ball to grounder to fly ball, etc. This worked in general, but the details were wrong. I tinkered with that single roll quite a bit before I decided I’d have to do it in two rolls – one to see if the ball was struck by the bat, another to figure out how hard it was struck and a third to figure out the direction. I tried to pack too much into a single roll, and the game really demanded it be spread out a bit. Simplicity is always the goal, but you can also oversimplify.

TWO – Think About Player Agency

A good game should involve meaningful choices made by the players. Candy Land, as great as it is for spending time with little kids and helping them learn their colors, is not so great a game for adults because it involved no meaningful choices.

For my baseball game, there are fortunately some meaningful choices built into the game being simulated – should I try to steal a base, do I throw out the runner heading to second or the one heading to first, etc. At this point, my rules don’t have quite enough meaningful choices, so I’m now engineering an additional choice to make the game more interesting. I’m not sorry I waited to do it. My current set of rules has allowed me to get quite a few of the probabilities right – chances of throwing a strike vs. a ball vs. the ball getting in play, chances to catch a fly ball, etc. Now that the basic rules are working, I can play with modifying them.

THREE – Don’t Forget About Random Chance

Chess is a great game, but it’s all about choices. Awesome for strategy … but maybe not the best simulation of warfare, which is rife with random chance screwing up brilliant strategy and tactics. You want to achieve a balance between player choice and random nonsense – after all, every batter is planning on hitting a home run, but few actually manage it. In the game simulations I’ve run so far, I’ve had some wonderful random chances figure in to make the games exciting – unexpected home runs tying up games in the ninth inning and line drives that were certainly going to win the game for a team being surprisingly caught out.

FOUR – Do Your Research

Do your research. It can come after you have made your rough draft, but it does need to happen. I have a massive database of firearms, aircraft, automobiles and tanks that I built when I was designing Grit & Vigor because, frankly, I didn’t know nearly enough about those things to design a simulation that felt right. Most of that data remains unused … though it won’t forever … but all of it was vital to getting the game real enough – and I mean “enough” – that people could make informed decisions within the game about what to do. I did a tremendous amount of research into professional football games for Pen & Paper Football – from numerous eras – to get things like the likely yardage gained on different types of running plays pretty close to correct. Not exactly, mind you, but pretty close and accurate enough that somebody who understands football can make an informed in-game decision about whether they should run or pass in a 3rd down and 4 yards to go situation.

Even if the game you are working with is fantastic, many of the physical laws of the universe are going to apply, or at least are going to apply until magic enters the picture. If everyone has a good chance at jumping 20 feet forward, what’s even the point of having magic. Do your research – it’s important and will not be wasted.

FIVE – The Fun Factor

Some folks are genuinely happy with exacting, detailed simulations of things that take hours and hours to play. I’m not. I like games to be light, fast and fun. I like games that leave enough time in between rolling dice and making decisions for chatting and snacking. I like fun, and I try to make games that allow groups of people to have fun without too much investment of time and money – because we never seem to have quite enough of those things, do we?

My Trek – Part 5

Last week I introduced the first part of my spaceship battle rules, which set the scene and defined the terms, so to speak. Today, we finish them up with the actual combat rules.

Combat Rules

Combat is handled in turns. Each turn is divided into 12 phases. Each phase determines when a ship can move (based on the ship’s speed) and when it can attack.

All movement is handled on a grid. During a phase when a ship is permitted to move, it can be moved one space forward or turn 90 degrees.

Phase Zero: The Command Phase

Before the normal phases of a turn begin, there is a “Phase Zero”. During phase zero, captains give orders to their ship for the current turn, as follows:

  1. Power points are assigned to the ship’s three major systems (engines, force fields, weapons), and possibly to the ship’s tractor beams and invisibility device. You can do this by writing it on a paper. Ships start the game with 8 power points, and can put no more than 3 PP into each of their systems.
  2. Speed is determined. The amount of power directed to engines determines a ship’s maximum speed during a turn – the captain can choose to move at any speed up to and including this maximum speed.
  3. If a captain wants to self-destruct their ship, they must decide to do this now. The self-destruction occurs during Phase 12 of the turn. See below for more information on this last resort tactic.

Combat Phases

The table below indicates which phases a ship moves during the turn, based on the ship’s current speed. In the chart below, “H” stands for “half sub-light”, “F” for “full sub-light” and each number for a hyper speed.

“•” indicates a phase in which the ship can move.

Phase H F 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Ships can attack during phases 3, 6, 9 and 12. All ships move during a phase before any attacking takes place. Moves and attacks occur simultaneously. Thus a ship destroyed during an attack phase may still carry out its attacks for that phase.

Attacking

To attack, a captain designates a target, counts the range in spaces to the target and rolls their attack dice. The following deductions are made from the attack roll:

Condition Deduction
Range 4 to 7 spaces -1
Range 8 to 11 spaces -2
Range 12 spaces -3
Attacker Hyper4 or above -1
Attacker Hyper8 or above -3
Defender Hyper4 or above -1
Defender Hyper8 or above -3
Target is Size D -1
Target is Size E -2
Target is Size F -3
Targeting a specific system (see below) -3
Target is “blocked” by another ship or object -3
Target is invisible -6

If a weapon’s attack roll is higher than the force field’s value, it deals damage to the target’s hull equal to the modified dice roll minus the force field value. Thus, an attack roll of 16 against a force field with a value of 12 deals 4 points (16-12=4) to the target’s hull. The target’s hull points are reduced by 4 in this case.

Targeting Systems

A captain can either make a general attack against a vessel, or it can attack a specific system. Attacking a specific system carries a -3 deduction to the attack roll.

If the targeted attack roll would score at least 6 points of damage (i.e. the modified attack roll is at least 6 points higher than the target’s force field value), then the targeted system is damaged (see below).

Hull Damage

As a ship suffers hull damage, it loses key systems and personnel. This is depicted in the game by the loss of power points. You will remember that a ship begins the game with 8 power points. As it suffers damage, its total available power points drop, as follows.

Damage Level Hull Points PP
No damage 100% 8
Light damage 75% 7
Serious damage 50% 5
Critical damage 25% 2
Destroyed 0% 0

The following table helps one determine a ship’s damage level based on its size class and current hull points:

Size Class None Light Serious Critical
A 60-46 45-31 30-16 15-1
B 48-37 36-25 24-13 12-1
C 36-28 27-19 18-10 9-1
D 24-19 18-13 12-7 6-1
E 12-10 9-7 6-4 3-1
F 6-5 4 3 2-1

A ship reduced to 0 HP is destroyed and removed from the board during the next Phase Zero.

System Damage

When a system is damaged, its maximum factor is reduced by one step, i.e. from Factor III to Factor II, Factor II to Factor I or from Factor I to Off-Line.

Until a system is repaired, it cannot be energized above its current best factor. Thus, if weapons are at a best of Factor II, only 2 PP can be directed to them. Each turn during Phase Zero, a ship can attempt to repair a system by rolling 1d6. If the roll is a “6”, the system’s factor is increased by 1 step. Only one such system can be repaired at a time in Phase Zero.

Self-Destruct

When a ship self-destructs, it makes a final “attack” against all ships within 12 spaces. The total attack roll against each target (including friendly vessels) is 12d6. This is reduced by 1 dice per space between the self-destructing ship and the target.

Assembling a Fleet

To keep games fair, all ships are assigned a point value derived from its size and its other capabilities. To stage a game, decide on the point total for each fleet and then use those points to purchase ships.

PTS Size Max. Speed Force Fields Max. Damage
100 A Hyper 9-10 V 9d6
50 B Hyper 7-8 IV 5d6
25 C Hyper 5-6 III 4d6
10 D Hyper 3-4 II 3d6
5 E Hyper 1-2 I 2d6
0 F Sub-light 1d6

 

Special Weapons and Abilities PTS
Aft Weapons 25
Invisibility Device 25
Torpedoes 25
Missiles 10

Example: A Size A ship that can travel at Hyper10, has Type V Force Fields, Type III weapons, torpedoes and aft weapons, is worth 100+100+100+50+25+25=400 points.

My Trek – Part 4

When the Klingons and Romulans get squirrelly, it’s time to send in the USS Enterprise, phasers a-blazing to send those jokers back across their respective neutral zones. To handle a situation like this in my Star Trek campaign, I needed some spaceship battle rules, and I wanted a set of rules that would be quick and easy. Since I write lots of games these days, I figured I might as well write them myself, with a little inspiration from Starfleet Battles and the Star Trek RPG I’m using for the campaign.

I might spread these rules out over a couple posts. They’re pretty concise rules, but they’re not “blog concise”. I’ve made these rules neutral in terms of the jargon so CBS/Paramount doesn’t sue me, but I think you can figure out what’s what.


Spaceship Battles

Copyright 2019 John M Stater

Spaceship Battles is a spaceship combat simulation game using a simple gridded mat, counters or miniatures to represent spaceships, a full set of dice, pencils and paper. There is theoretically no limit to how many players ca play the game, although play by more than 6 players would likely be difficult.

Spaceship Specifications

Ships are ranked by their size and by three systems, engines, force fields and weapons. Systems have three factors to represent their potency – from I to III. A system’s current factor is determined by the power directed to it and system damage.

Each ship begins the game with 8 power points (PP). Power points are allocated to the ship’s systems to determine that system’s current factor. Factor I requires 1 PP, factor II requires 2 PP and factor III requires 3 PP.

Ship Size

A ship’s size determines how many hull points it has and how maneuverable it is. Hull points (HP) measure how much damage a vessel can take before being destroyed. Maneuverability (MVR) determines how many spaces a ship must move forward before it can rotate one quarter turn and then continue to move.

Note that Class F ships are assumed to operate in squadrons of three vessels.

Size Class HP MVR
A—Battleships, Carriers, Colony Ships 60 3
B—Battlecruisers, Heavy Cruisers 48 2
C—Cruisers 36 1
D— Destroyers, Frigates 24 1
E— Corvettes, Scouts, Transports 12 0
F—Shuttles, Fighters 6 0

Engines

Engines determine a spaceship’s maximum speed. The spaceship’s actual speed during a turn of combat is determined by its captain. Ships can move at two sub-light speeds – half and full, and ten different hyper speeds, from 1 to 10. A combat turn is divided into twelve phases, and a ship’s current speed determines during which phases it moves a space.

Force Fields

Force fields protect a ship from damage. The more power directed to force fields, the harder it is to damage a ship. See the Combat section for more information about how force fields work in the game.

Factor Type I Type II Type III Type IV Type V
I 1 2 3 4 5
II 2 4 6 8 10
III 3 6 9 12 15

Weapons

There are two main types of weapon, energy and projectile. Energy weapons rely on power, so the more power that is directed to them, the more damage they inflict. Projectiles are not as limited.

Most weapons are located on the fore section of a ship, and are given a 180-degree forward arc. Ships with aft weapons can fire in any direction.

Energy weapons can be used during each firing phase of a turn. Projectile weapons can be fired once per turn, unless the ship has rear weapons, in which case the projectile weapons can be fired twice per turn, but only once in each direction.

Energy Weapons

The primary weapons of a spaceship are energy weapons. The more power that is fed to these weapons, the more damage they can cause. The most common weapons are as follows:

Factor Type I Type II Type III Type IV
I 1d6 2d6 3d6 3d6
II 2d6 3d6 4d6 6d6
III 3d6 4d6 5d6 9d6
Range 9 9 12 9

The number indicates how many dice are rolled when the weapon attacks. See combat for more explanation.

Type IV weapons lose their potency at longer ranges. You can use the following table to determine the number of dice rolled on a Type IV attack based on range.

Range
Factor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
I 3 3 3 2 2 1
II 6 6 6 5 5 4 3 2 1
III 9 9 9 8 8 7 6 5 4

Projectile Weapons

Torpedoes and missiles are not powered like energy weapons. They can be used with just one power point directed towards weapon systems. Projectile weapons always have the same attack value. Ships have a limited number of projectile attacks, usually 6 for Class D/E/F ships, 9 for Class B/C ships and 12 for Class A ships.

Missiles Torpedoes
Attack Dice 4d6 6d6
Range 9 9

Tractor Beams

Most spaceships are equipped with a tractor beam. To use a tractor beam, one PP must be directed to it. The ship can then tow another willing ship no more than one space behind it, or can attempt to tow an unwilling ship.

An unwilling ship must first be caught in the tractor beam. A tractor beam has a range of 3 spaces and rolls 3d6 to attack. If this attack is successful, the tractor beam catches and holds the target. The target then has a chance in subsequent turns to break away. This chance is based on its current speed, as follows:

Speed Chance to Break Away
Sub-light Roll 6 on 1d6
Hyper 1-5 Roll 5-6 on 1d6
Hyper 6-10 Roll 4-6 on 1d6

A ship caught in a tractor beam cannot move on its own, but can be dragged (see above). A ship in a tractor beam can still fire its weapons.

Boarding Parties

A ship can transport a boarding party (about 6 people) to a target if the target has no force fields operational and both ships are moving at the same speed. The boarding party can be targeted at the enemy ship’s bridge, engines, force field generators or weapons.

A boarding party attacking a bridge must roll a 6 on 1d6 to succeed. If they succeed, they control the enemy ship. Against other systems, a boarding party must roll a 5 or 6 on 1d6 to succeed. If they succeed, they take that system offline until they are repelled.

A boarded ship has the same chances of success to repel as the boarders had to board.

Ramming

A ship itself can be used as a weapon by ramming into another vessel. To ram, one vessel must move into the space of another. To make contact, one must roll a “6” on 1d6. Modify the number needed to hit down by one for every two levels of speed faster the attacker is than the defender. Thus, a ship traveling at Hyper4 trying to ram a ship at half-SL is traveling at 4 levels higher and modifies the number needed to hit down two, from “6” to “4 to 6”. If the ramming ship is traveling at a slower speed than its target, it always fails to ram.

The ramming ship does damage equal to its normal hull point value (i.e. hull points without damage) to the rammed ship, and vice versa. The defender’s force fields reduce this damage as normal.

Example: A destroyer traveling at Hyper5 attempts to slam into a heavy cruiser traveling at Hyper3. It is traveling two speed levels faster than its target, so it needs to roll a 5-6 on 1d6 to hit. If it succeeds, it deals 36 points of damage. Assuming the cruiser has a force field value of 12, it would lose 24 hull points. The destroyer would lose 48 hull points minus its force field value.

Invisibility Device

An invisibility device allows a ship to hide from other vessels, though not perfectly. Attacking an invisible vessel is done at a penalty of 6 points from the attack roll. A ship must direct 3 PP to an invisibility device to use it. While a ship is invisible, it cannot attack. A ship can become visible and attack during an attack phase, but cannot become invisible again until the next attack phase. Power points no longer used when a ship is visible are not re-assigned until the next Phase Zero.


I’ll continue these rules next week, with an explanation of how combat works and how you assemble a fleet for a battle.

My Trek – Part 3

If I’m going to have a Star Trek campaign, I need some Star Trek rules. Fortunately for me, I discovered a pretty groovy set of rules a few months ago … in fact – the very first set of Star Trek RPG rules, Star Trek – Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier, by Grenadier in 1978. I reviewed these rules a few posts back (LINK here).

As I said in the review, it’s a very lean set of rules, and in my opinion pretty nifty. The rules are divided into basic rules, which permit you to play the game using the Star Trek characters we all know and love (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty, Chekov), and advanced rules that introduce character creation and other enhancements. For my campaign, the rules need just a little bit more.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Commodore Gray and Captain Kirk from Star Trek Continues

One interesting thing “missing” from the game is the idea of rank and command. You get a group of players together, they roll up characters … and so who is the captain. Who is an ensign versus a lieutenant commander?

Here’s my idea for solving this little issue:

First and foremost, each player can decide whether their character is going to be an officer or enlisted crewman, and which division they wish to be in – Command (green shirts*), Sciences (blue shirts) or Operations (red shirts).

At the start of campaign, starting rank is assigned based on the raw ability of the characters. Total each character’s ability scores. The character with the highest total score who is in the command division is given the rank of captain. The new captain is put in command of a scout-class starship of his or her choice.

Using the other character’s total scores, assign them their starting ranks in the following order. Note that whether players choose to be officers or enlisted, there is only one character at the highest rank (commander or chief petty officer), and so on.

  • 2nd highest: Commander / Chief Petty Officer
  • 3rd highest: Lieutenant Commander / Petty Officer
  • 4th highest: Lieutenant Commander / Petty Officer
  • 5th highest: Lieutenant / Crewman (1st grade)
  • 6th highest: Sub-Lieutenant / Crewman (2nd grade)
  • 7th highest, etc.: Ensign / Crewman (3rd grade)

Side Trek – Gold or Green?

According to the William Theiss, who designed those original Star Trek uniforms, the command shirts were indeed avocado green. Apparently, the texture of the fabric and the lighting on set made them look gold. Speaking as someone who is color blind, I honestly could never figure it out. Hell, I only just this year asked my daughter whether Spock had a green cast to his skin or not – when you’re red/green color blind, it’s a tough call. So – command wears avocado green in My Trek.

Advancing in Rank

The Star Trek rules I’m using mention the idea of character advancement, but offer no rules for it. Now that’s what I call old school.

Since a campaign is supposed to represent numerous games with the same characters, it makes sense to allow those characters the chance to advance in rank a bit. Of course, we see very little rank advancement for the characters in the original series – I think Spock goes from lieutenant commander to commander at some point in the series, but poor old Chekov remains an ensign until he got an off-screen promotion to lieutenant. This means, no rank advancement might actually be the way to go, but I know players and what keeps them interested … so here’s my take on the subject.

The simplest way I could have handled character advancement was to introduce levels and experience points of some sort. I decided to try something different. For accomplishments during a mission, a character is awarded a decoration:

For specific acts of heroism, the following commendations may be awarded:

In addition to the commendation to decorate your chest, the newly decorated character may roll once on the following table to receive an upgrade to his or her abilities.

D6 Bonus
1-3 +1 bonus to one skill (tricorder, medikit, psionics, etc)
4-5 +1 bonus to combat ability
6 increase one ability score by +1

After completing five missions, characters are eligible for an increase in rank. The chance of a promotion is 1 in 20, plus 1 per commendation earned since the last promotion. Thus, a character that has earned two commendations during those five missions has a (1+2) 3 in 20 chance to earn a promotion.

This scheme would mean quicker promotion than was seen in the TV series, but oh well – nothing’s perfect. I suppose, using the show as a guide, we had seven principal characters on 79 missions with one rank promotion … giving characters a 1 in 553 chance of promotion even when saving the universe multiple times. If we assume everyone got a promotion at the end of the series, then we’re down to a 1 in 69 chance.

I’m okay with that, though. I’d like to see the players earn higher rank and better starships as they explore the galaxy. I think it would be fun. I like fun.

A master chief that earns a promotion is offered a commission as a lieutenant commander.

Captains earn better starships instead of rank promotions. New captain command scout ships, and might then be promoted to better ships in the following order: destroyers, light cruisers and then heavy cruisers. Naturally, the captain can take their crew with them to their new ship.

A captain that has earned a heavy cruiser can be promoted to the rank of commodore. A commodore can choose any vessel as their flag ship, or can retire to commanding a starbase. A commodore promoted to admiral is retired from starship command (unless they’re Captain Kirk, of course).

Side Trek – The Medals

Viewers of Star Trek will recognize those medals up there, as I got the names and designs from old Star Trek episodes. Naturally, I just had to make up what name went with what emblem, and since my graphics skills are not super strong, I made the emblems the best I could. I’m sure there are better representations of them out there on the web. I thought it would be fun to have a square on each character sheet colored in with the uniform color of the character’s chosen division, with the sleeve stripes of their rank on the bottom and their collected medals above those stripes – thus I took a stab at drawing the medals.

The corollary to the “captains get better ships instead of higher rank” is that captains that violate Starfleet rules (especially that darn Prime Directive) or who royally screw up missions might be assigned lowlier ships. Using Franz Joseph’s deigns (plus one), the chain of ships would start with the Ptolemy-class transports (which I actually think look pretty cool) and then go through the Hermes-class scout, Saladin-class destroyer, Miranda-class light cruiser, Starship (i.e. Constitution)-class heavy cruiser and finally the Federation-class dreadnought. I would start my players in a Hermes-class scout, leaving the transport available as a punishment.

Next Week – Starship Battles!

My Trek – Part 2

I’m finally getting this post up on the cusp of a new year. In this post, I discuss the foundations of my non-existent Star Trek campaign.

First things first – My Trek is all about me. What I like, what I enjoy. It’s not a matter of opinion – of what is objectively good or bad or right or wrong. It’s just about what I like in my Star Trek. The point – you don’t need to argue with me here. Arguing with make what I’m writing way more important than it is or deserves to be.

So – what is My Trek – what elements shall make up my little campaign?

Star Trek (1966-1969)
If it is in Star Trek, it is in my campaign. Star Trek is the basis of the whole campaign, but it’s not the entirety of the campaign, and in fact, some of it is not technically in the campaign. My campaign would start in 2265, as Kirk and crew are blasting off for adventure. Heck, the PCs might even beat them to a few adventures in my campaign.

Star Trek (Animated; 1973-1974)
Since the animated adventures shared many key people with Star Trek – and since they’re fun and I love them (and wouldn’t think of running Trek without the Skorr and a 20-ft tall Spock), they’re in My Trek.

Star Trek Phase II (1977 … sort of)
Although there isn’t much material in the planned sequel series to Star Trek that one could use, especially since it would all take place 7 or so years after My Trek starts, the Klingon material from The Kitumba is all valid for my purposes.

Star Trek Continues
I just love this web series, so I treat it as mostly official in my campaign.

Side Trek I
I’ll put a few of these asides into the My Trek posts. The Klingons in My Trek are the Klingons in Star Trek – sans bumpy foreheads and maybe with a little more individual personality than the later honor-and-war-is-all-we-know Klingons (not including Kheylar from Next Generation, who was fabulous). The Klingons live in a military dictatorship, with ten subject planets under their control. In one of James Blish’s novelizations of Star Trek, he notes that the Klingons are descended from Asian peoples – maybe dropped on their home planet, Ultar, as the Native Americans were dropped on Epsilon Beta.

So that’s the stuff that is definitely in the campaign, but there are other sources as well. Two key sources are James Blish’s novelizations of Star Trek episodes, and Alan Dean Foster’s novelizations of animated Star Trek episodes. They often add in little details and bits of color that I like. I also like the Spaceflight Chronology – with some work done on the timespan it covers – some other early Trek books like the Federation Reference Series, Star Fleet Technical Manual and U.S.S. Enterprise Officer’s Manual, and even some of the FASA material. These are mostly used for gathering little details, like some names of Klingon D-7 battlecruisers, rather than as key pieces of the puzzle. Again – my campaign starts when Star Trek starts, so PCs could create their own legends alongside Kirk and crew.

Outside of these sources, not much enters into my campaign. Just as old school gamers explored the early days of Dungeons & Dragons before so much new material was added to it in the 1980s and afterward, I like the idea of getting to know Star Trek before the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager/etc. rewrote substantial parts of it. This isn’t about not liking the later series, but rather treating them like the pastiches of Conan written by folks other than Robert E. Howard. I want to get to know what the show’s original creators and fans saw in Star Trek.

Side Trek II
I thought Deep Space Nine was okay – didn’t love it, didn’t hate it – until they got into the Dominion War stuff. I just didn’t give a rip about grandiose story lines about fictional people and places. I was reading about the making of the show recently, and came across the idea that the main bad guys in the show were originally going to be the Romulans, rather than Cardassians. That got me thinking about a 60’s era Deep Space Nine, with the Romulans as the antagonists and the Orions replacing the Ferengi as the mercantilists. It might be a location to use in my campaign – Deep Space Station K-9, near the Romulan Neutral Zone.

The key thing about My Trek is the overall vibe and ambiance. The campaign is very 1960’s in terms of its design aesthetic and “New Frontier” exuberance. It’s about hope, promise, adventure and exploration, of an alliance of free worlds trying to find new friends in the cosmos while dealing not only with the aggressive Klingons and the xenophobic Romulans, but also their own tortured past – overcoming the unknown as well as the less attractive aspects of what it means to be human.

Side Trek III
Some of the FASA Star Trek material is really useful, in terms of the starships and what they can do. One thing that struck me, though, was the number of space ships they imagined being built by the different entities. Hundreds and thousands of the things! I prefer to make spaceships a little less numerous, for a couple reasons. First, there is some reason from Star Trek to believe that the Federation’s resources are not unlimited. According to Kirk, there are 12 Constitution-class (or Starship-class) vessels active. Franz Joseph’s lists of other vessels lean towards more limited runs of vessels as well. There’s also a dramatic reason to limit the number of ships. If there are only a few big bad starships defending the Federation, losing one really means something. I like that. When devising how many vessels these various space fleets include, I’ve actually used the size of Earth navies in 1965 as a guide. Works great!

With the “Star Trek feel” in mind, there are some non-Trek works that I think work within the overall scheme. The 1959 TV series Men Into Space, for example, has a very similar feel to Star Trek in terms of its emphasis on exploration, engineering and science. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to give it a shot.

So that’s My Trek. It’s about exploration and overcoming our own personal demons and it’s about having fun. It’s colorful and lively – no Beige Trek, no Lecture Trek.

Up next, I’ll talk a bit about the supplemental rules and guidelines I have devised for the My Trek campaign to cover promotions and spaceship battles.