Space Angel – Part Two

Well, two months have passed and I figured it had been about 4 or 5 weeks since my last post. Today, I’m going to review some of the spaceships that populate the Space Angel series.

I really dig these ships – they not only fit together pretty well, but most seem like they could exist. Most of these ships are designed for vertical launch and landing on planets, and some can also land (and even launch) horizontally. None of the vessels is remotely close in size to something like Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise … or even like Khan’s Botany Bay. The longest are +/- 125 feet in length. The space stations are much larger.

The “fighters” mostly seem to fire rockets from the nose area. One episode has the fighters of the Neptune squadron equipped with “megatomic” bombs – think planet busters. It’s worth remembering that Space Angel, like Star Trek, is primarily an analog for the world of the 1960’s. The United Planets is alternately like the United Nations or NATO, the Anthenians sometimes have a USSR feel to them, etc. If the 1960’s had atomic bombs that could destroy cities, then Space Angel has megatomic bombs that can destroy planets. You get the idea.

Starduster

First and foremost is Scott McLeod’s ship, the Starduster. It appears to be a singular vessel, and more powerful than just about everyhing else in space. It has lasers that can fire perpendicularly to the vessel, from above and below the cockpit and rocket launchers fore and aft (the aft launcher is atop the tail fin).

It is also equipped with:

Gyro gravity and equializer (i.e. artificial gravity)

Atomic engines (i.e. fusion or fission)

Radar and scanner beams (more precise than radar)

A magnetic boom for towing things (deployed from a hatch below the cockpit)

A cooling ray (called the BRB ray)

A small hangar bay for the Dart, a smaller, faster ship

A shielded room for avoiding radiation

A storage room two compartments away from the atomic engines

Landing legs that extend from the wings and tail

The ship later carries the Dart II, which is “a megatomic engine with a seat strapped to it). It has 10 million pounds of thrust – for comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has 3.4 million pounds of thrust.

Fighters

Each of the planetary squadrons appears to use a different type of spaceship.

Neptune Squadron has dart-shaped fighters. They show up the most often in the series, usually under the command of O’Hara, an old friend/rival of Taurus. These ships are also launched from the Space Force Complex 1 (a.k.a. Defense Complex 1).

Space Force Complex 1 is one of my favorite designs. It is a collection of spheres, situated mostly vertically, with four sphere’s jutting out from the forward central sphere and rear engine module. The spheres are large enough to hold several space fighters. It is located in solar orbit between Earth and Mars and is under the control of Commander Selkirk.

Pluto Squadron has some interesting, almost fish-like vessels. These patrol vessels are armed with rockets. They are based at Complex Core.

Jupiter Squadron has heavy launch vehicles that launch from ramps. It also operates some of the space fighters used by Neptune Squadron.

All of these vessels show up in the episode “Rescue Mission”. It’s one of the more realistic episodes (and believe me, a few are real doozies).

To challenge the United Planets, the Anthenians have fighters of their own, and they are alien looking enough to be easily told from the human ships.

Space Stations

The most commonly seen station is Evening Star, commanded by Professor Mace, Crystal’s father. Evening Star orbits Earth. It has tubes from which the Starduster and other ships can be serviced and launched, an astronomical observatory and various sensors. It is called Earth Weather Station in one episode.

Another similarly sized station, called Complex Core, orbits Pluto. There is also a refueling station orbiting Jupiter.

In “Cosmic Combat”, an alien space station at least 300 years old is discovered 10.5 astro-leagues from Earth. It is run entirely by computers, and launches six drone fighters to protect itself. It’s also protected by an electro-magnetic field. When McLeod manages to disable it, it self-destructs.

Other Ships

Survey 2 is seen in “Rescue Mission” orbiting and studying the planet Prometheus. The planet has 5.5 gravities on its surface and neglible oxygen, requiring some fancy work to rescue the crew when they are forced to land. The survey vessel’s forward section can separate from the engine section in case of emergency.

Super Mariner is launched into the new frontier of Vector Five. Part of Project New Frontier, the episode uses the term galaxy when it should use the term star system, so Super Mariner is designed to explore star sysems along a vector from Sol as yet unexplored. Super Mariner uses +X plasma fuel, which somehow involves magnetism. It is clearly FTL or can travel close to light speed. Its pods have enough fuel to destroy a planet.

One episode involves the testing of an ion engine that should get them faster than light. It was originally tested by Eddie Colfax 25 years ago, but he disappeared. When Scott gets the new test vehicle up to speed, he discovers Eddie and brings him back – and discovers that Eddie didn’t age.

EX-47 is an explorer ship used by Donavan and Vanilla. Donavan was expelled from the Space Council 10 years ago. He plans to make people more efficient by ruling them with computers. He has a base on one of the moons of Jupiter.

The space hijackers of Queen Zorra and the General have black ships nicknamd “Bat Ships”. They are equipped with force rays and magnetic force fields than can disable another ship’s instruments and drag them through space. Queen Zorra’s troopes are really cool looking – remind me of those hooded dudes from that one episode of Jonny Quest.

I love this space freighter – the cargo pod concept

X-45 is commanded by Commander Kelly. It has a mission to destroy meteors (using megatomic explosives) beween Venus and Mars that are a hazard to navigation. X-45 is equipped with space cannons. It gets from Earth to Mars in less than 10 minutes, which implies getting at least close to light speed.

The ships also shows up as a space freighter, also called Jupiter, carrying 6 tons of salt.

The Anthenians have “colonizer-class” ships that are 40 feet wide.

There are also ships called “meteor sweepers” that can survive solar flare storms.

Honestly – there are tons of great designs by Alex Toth in this series – you really should check them out. For a very cheap kid’s series, it punches way above its weight in the creativity department.

Space Angel – Part One

I am finally getting around to doing a couple posts about one of my favorite little pieces of mid-century sci-fi, Space Angel. Airing from 1962-1964, Space Angel is a limited animation (and I do mean limited) cartoon following the adventures of Scott McLeod, the “Space Angel”, as he enforces galactic law and defends the Solar System for the Interplanetary Space Council.

While squarely aimed at children, Space Angel has a couple things to recommend to adults of the nerdy persuasion. The first is Alex Toth. The legendary comic book artist and cartoon designer worked on Space Angel, and lends the production some really cool and beautiful designs.

The second great thing about Space Angel is the setting. As with Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, this series primarily takes place in the Solar System, with maybe a few forays into the wider galaxy. Also like Rocky Jones, Space Angel plays it very loose with science fact, and like so many productions of the period, the writers did not have a firm grasp on the definitions of galaxies, star systems, planets, moons, etc. If you’re going to set a game in the Space Angel setting, you’ll need to use some interpretation to make it realistic enough for your players to understand.

The Basics

Scott McLeod lives and works in the Solar System in the 21st century. The time is confirmed in one episode when Crystal proclaims, upon visiting twin worlds, one enslaved by the other, that it’s hard to believe slavery still exists in the 21st century. I couldn’t agree more.

In Scott’s time, humanity has spread out from Earth, populating the other planets and their moons, and perhaps some planetoids in the asteroid belt and the Kuiper Belt.

The other inhabited planets appear to be politically independent, but they belong to the United Planets. The United Planets is governed in some fashion by the Interplantary Space Council (ISC). The ISC meets on Jupiter (or perhaps a moon of Jupiter) in never-ending session. In some episodes, we get to see shots of the city in which the ISC meets, as well as the building, and we get to see the different peoples of the Solar System. All of them look generally human, but it’s possible some are meant to be aliens, or perhaps people who have changed somewhat since their ancestors left Earth.

The Space Council has an Executive Committee, and at one point we hear of a World Court that will try an extra-solar emperor for his planet’s attack on Diamond Harbor on Earth. Diamond Harbor – get it – like Pearl Harbor.

In one episode several planets are maneuvered into declaring war on one another by a hostile extra-Solar power (more on them later). The living situation seen on the planets suggests that major terraforming projects were done to make them habitable. Proximity to the Sun and a body’s mass do not appear to get in the way of humans living on them. Mars may be more recently terraformed than other planets, as one episode features a land rush, like the races that used to occur in the American West, to claim portions of the planet’s southern hemisphere.

Under the ISC is the Space Force or Space Corps. The Space Force consists of numerous planet-based squadrons (which are called upon by their home planets during the near interplanetary war) of space vehicles, as well as Space Intelligence, for whom Scott McLeod works. The Space Force and Space Intelligence are commanded by a Chief of Space Force, whose aid is a major. The chief’s rank is unknown.

Space Intelligence is also referred to as Earth Intelligence, Earth Spatial Intelligence and Interplanetary Space Intelligence. Scott McLeod, in the guise of Space Angel, is their top agent. The “secret identity” angle never makes much sense. McLeod keeps his visor down when acting as Space Angel, but he wears the same suit with the angel emblem, and both he and Space Angel fly the Starduster with the same two additional crew members. Honestly, Scott does a worse job of hiding his true identity than Superman.

Scott’s crew are Taurus, a big (as in tall and fat) red-headed Scotsman who acts as engineer and weapons officer, and Crystal Mace, who is in change of communication and navigation. Crystal’s father, Professor Mace, is in charge of the space station Evening Star. Professor Mace does not appear to be a member of Space Force, but rather a civilian. We also see a large space station orbiting Pluto, called Complex Core, and an orbiting fuel station orbiting Jupiter.

In one episode, we catch a glimpse of Space Force Complex 1 (or Defense Complex 1), under the command of Commander Selkirk. This craft looks like a space vessel that appeared in some old science magazine. While SFC-1 at first seems to be a space station equipped with a space squadron of its own, it later appears to be mobile, which would make it something like an interplanetary aircraft carrier.

In Grit & Vigor, you could portray Scott, Taurus and Crystal as members of the Spaceman class. Crystal seems to be the youngest of the three, and therefore probably the lowest in level. Taurus and Scott are the veterans of Space Force. I would suggest they are 5th level and Crystal is 3rd or 4th. All are highly competent and very professional. They are equipped with firearms when necessary, and Scott wears a ring in early episodes that permits him to hypnotize people. This was a concept that seems to have disappeared in later episodes.

Other members of the Space Force appear to mostly wear white or very light grey uniforms. Technicians wear white or light grey or light blue jumpsuits, though some of the techs on Evening Star seem to wear khaki jumpsuits. Scott McLeod wears a white spacesuit, while Taurus and Crystal wear grey. Under their spacesuits they wear grey turtle-neck sweaters and trousers. Due to the quality of the surviving episodes, it is very difficult to tell what color things are supposed to be. Most make Taurus and Crystal’s spacesuits look blue, rather than grey.

In one episode we see cadets from the Space Force Academy, who wear different style spacesuits marked with their planet of origin. One has his spacesuit marked with Texas, rather than Earth. Other space squadrons wear different spacesuits as well. Spaceships from the differen planets are marked with that planet’s zodiac symbol. During the series we see Jupiter Squadron, Pluto Squadron and Neptune Squadron.

In future parts of this series I will discuss the spaceships and their technology (what little of it I could figure out), aliens in the series, the other planets and moons and the villains who challenge …

SCOTT MCLEOD – SPACE ANGEL

Happy New Year*

* Please do not take this as a guarantee that your new year will, in fact, be happy … but I sure hope it is

We’re a couple days into 2022, and I’m on the last day of my annual Christmas vacation. I take a couple weeks at the end of the year to revitalize the old brain and soul, and I’m happy to say this was a pretty good vacation. I got some work done around the house, including finally building a work bench, got to do some cooking (a roast for Christmas dinner and hoppin’ john for New Year’s Day), did some reading, and watched a metric ton of Gerry Anderson shows – Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Space: 1999 and the Secret Service (ooo – and there’s a new episode of Nebula 75 out – not Gerry Anderson per se’, but close).

I even took a couple naps (unheard of) and spent a couple nice days sitting on the patio listening to tunes and sipping pop.

What’s on slate for 2022?

First and foremost, I need to finish editing the Blood & Treasure version of Deities & Demigods. I also have a few cool ideas for blog posts that need some finishing/polishing. Other than that, I’m just trying to enjoy the beauty of life, spend time with family, and get myself right with the Lord.

Speaking of blog posts and Gerry Anderson – one of my favorite things about the Anderson-verse is the design. The sets, the costumes – just mid-century awesome. This is part of the reason I dig Star Trek so much. For some reason, I started making notes on the military uniforms that appear in the different series.

While some of the series reference the U.S. military and British military, they also reference world-wide military organizations – the World Army, World Air Force and World Navy. They have some pretty groovy emblems:

Where uniforms are concerned, they can jump all over the place. At some point I’m going to diagram them, because they are super cool, but for now, I’ve diagramed some of the rank insignia. It’s often hard to figure out just what they look like, since the marionettes are fairly small. It’s also hard to figure out the overall schema sometimes. But here’s what I’ve figured out so far …

U.S. Army

As a life-long American, I would have once said that the chances of our military changing its rank insignia was nil … these days, who the hell knows? Maybe we’ll get creative by the 2060’s.

U.S. Air Force

The U.S. Air Force got a few different looks in Thunderbirds.

The first one is probably the most realistic, with the traditional colonel’s insignia

The last batch are the oddest; they were worn by men in a control tower. I don’t think there was ever a mention of rank, so how they hang together, I have no idea.

U.S. Navy

One comment on the emblem worn on the cap of the U.S. Navy personel – it look remarkably like the chrysanthemum emblem used in Japan. I can promise you that the U.S. Navy will not soon be adopting the emblem of Imperial Japan on its caps. 

World Army

We get a good shot of World Army uniforms in the “Avalanche” episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.

While the different stripes on the general’s epaulettes and sleeves is weird, one can actually see how this rank system would work. The only question would be what symbol accompanies the stripes for the major – lt. colonel – colonel ranks.

World Navy

The World Navy apparently gets different rank insignia for surface vessels and submarine vessels.

There’s a taste of the weird and wonderful militaries of the Anderson universe. More to come when I have more time to spend.

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger

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

The Basics

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

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

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

The Setting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Station RV5

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

Rocky in dress uniform and Secretary Drake

Rocky and Winky in field uniforms without jackets

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

Hey – here’s that future addition!

And here’s those nasty Ophicians:

Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Frontier

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

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

Let’s begin with real places.

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

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

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

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

“Pyramid” on Fornax

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ophician spaceship

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

Torida is the uninhabited moon of Mercury.

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Actuaries in Outer Space

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

Who is Manning Draco?

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

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

The Stories

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

The Setting

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

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

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

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

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

The Technology

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

Hypno-perfumes were banned in 2963.

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

A Guide to the Galaxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alpha Centauri: The Alpha Centaurans are actual centaurs.

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

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

Alpheratz: Populated by giants.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ganymede: Mention is made of a Ganymedian dancing girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polaris: Produces spiced wines.

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

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

Procyon: Procyon suede is mentioned.

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

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

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

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

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

Sirius III: Sirians marry in threes.

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

Upper Seginus: The people here are not remotely humanoid.

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

Venus: Mention is made of the Venusian tree dragon.

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

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

Looking Back – Space Princess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody Loves a Spaceman in Uniform

After drawing those Jason of Star Command uniforms (in Excel, of course) for the post last weekend, I decided to try my hand at drawing some more sci-fi uniforms.

Below is the result of my mania. I chose a bunch of science-fiction TV and movie uniforms – not just costumes, you understand, but uniforms – and with MS Excel in hand cobbled them together as best I could. They are presented in the chronological order in which they appeared in reality – I thought about doing it in order of when the show/movie was set, and may do that one later.

It was a fun exercise, and although it took longer to do than I had planned, it sure helped me mellow out while I worked on it.

What’s your favorite old sci-fi uniform? What’s your favorite that didn’t make it onto my little poster? Let me know in the comments!

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)

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Hey folks! I missed the last couple weekends because, frankly, I’ve been busy as a one-armed paperhanger lately. I work in economic research in commercial real estate, so you can imagine that the business closures over the last few weeks have made for a very interesting (to use a very nice word) business environment. We don’t have much economic data to plow through yet, but I’ve been writing numerous articles for my people to help them better understand the situation. As a result, I needed a couple weekends away from  writing.

But now I’m back … with a pretty easy post to write. Today, I’m going to direct your attention to a few old shows I’ve found episodes of on Youtube. You might already have seen them, but they were new to me, and I found them fun. This isn’t a RPG post per se, but half the challenge in running RPGs is finding new sources of inspiration – hopefully this post will give you some ideas you can use, especially for modern games.

Sapphire & Steel

A British sci-fi show that ran from 1979-1982, I can only say that the vibe of the show is a little bit X-Files and a little bit Doctor Who … and that that description is completely worthless in describing this show. It’s really it’s own animal. The show stars David McCallum and Joanna Lumley, and the concept is sort of bizarre. They are agents, who might actually be personified elements, sent to contain weird distortions of time that are trying to force themselves into the normal time stream. I love that they are very circumspect, at least in the first series, of explaining just what the heck is going on, but the show is creepy and wonderful and McCallum and Lumley are excellent in it. I dug the show so much that I hit Zia Records and ordered the complete series. By the by – if you’re looking for cool stuff, sometimes pre-owned, I suggest Zia. I absolutely love going to their stores and browsing, but right now their online ordering is all I can do.

Zodiac

Another British show, Zodiac ran in 1974, and thankfully has nothing to do with the Zodiac Killer. This show stars Anouska Hempel as an astrologist who helps her paramour, a detective inspector played by Anton Rodgers, solve crimes. It’s not a bad mystery show, really, though it’s more in the vein of the shows, like Columbo, that showed you who the villain was at the beginning, rather than letting you figure it out along with the detective. I dig it because it comes from that mid- to late-70s period when things like UFO’s, astrology, psychic powers and big foot gained a weird legitimacy in popular culture – not as elements of speculation, but as things that were on the cusp of being made matters of fact. If you’re my age, you probably remember watching In Search Of, with Leonard Nimoy (I don’t mean watching the show WITH Leonard Nimoy, whic would have been great fun, but rather … oh never mind).  In Search Of was dedicated to pushing pseudo-science over the goal line into the realm of main steam science, and I really love that old vibe. Zodiac does the same, and I’ve had fun watching a few episodes.

Burke’s Law

A wonderfully weird show from 1963-1966. I’ve only seen the early episodes, which follow Captain Amos Burke (Gene Barry) of LAPD homocide and his lieutentant and sergeant solving murders. The twist is that Burke is a millionaire – I think he inherited it – who shows up at the crime scene in a chauffeur-driven silver Rolls Royce, and that the suspects are all pretty eccentric, not unlike the Emma Peel-era episodes of The Avengers. I also love that they re-use actors from episode to episode in different rolls, kind of like using a troupe of favorites. It’s a weird show filled with crazy characters, beautiful women and tangled cases that are fun to solve along with Burke. On a side note, one episode has Barbara Eden in essentially a genie costume showing off her belly button. Apparently just a few years later that was going to be a problem for prime time TV.

So there you go folks. If you were running low on things to watch, now you have some new old shows to check out. Up next, I present some stats on a few heroes of myth and legend – a little preview of my Gods & Heroes book. Have fun!

Back in My Day: HBO

Today I start a new series of reminisces about the times I grew up in. Because folks … they’re getting to be the “olden days”. There’s about as much time between now and those golden 1980’s in which I grew up as there was between the 1980’s and World War II when the ’80s were new. It’s a funny thing, the way things change slowly, gradually, so that you don’t even realize it until those changes pile up and you find yourself in a whole new world.

Our entry today is HBOThe Wonder of its Age (for boys who weren’t supposed to be watching it at our age!)

Before we get to HBO, though, I’d like to let folks know that Pen & Paper Baseball is now up for download on DriveThruRPG.com … and free to make up for the lack of Opening Day this year. It will stay free until the baseball season starts – so Play Ball!

Home Box Office! Movies at home … but newer than the movies of the week you got on normal TV … AND NO COMMERCIALS! You see, the awesome thing about cable TV was that since you had to pay for it, there were never going to be commercials! Can you believe it? Probably not, given how many damn commercials there are on cable TV now. That promise sure didn’t last very long.

Now, my family were never early adopters of new technologies. Be patient, let them produce better products at lower prices, and then jump in. I didn’t have HBO in my house as a kid, but my friend next door did. In fact, he was the only one of my circle who had it, so many an afternoon were spent at his house. He also had an Atari, so we’d waste some hours playing Pitfall and Pac-Man, and then catch a movie or two. Pretty sweet deal.

There are three movies in particular that I remember from those days, which I share with you now in no particular order …

1. Ice Pirates (1984)

This was one of those films we probably shouldn’t have been watching back then. I was 12 when it came out, so maybe 13 when it was on HBO. It stars Robert Urich, and the movie is about … well, ice pirates. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen it since I was a kid, so all I remember is that water is super valuable in the future, and there’s all this fighting over a big hunk of ice floating in space. Oh, and there was a joke about them being turned into eunuchs. Heck, it was mildly dirty and involved space ships, so it was a hit with my crowd. Honestly, I’m going to guess the movie is a LOT funnier when you’re 13 years old.

2. The Big Red One (1980)

Holy crap did we watch this movie a bunch. I was the World War II freak in my circle, and dragged the rest along with me into playing army. We all had plastic M-16s and grenades and would play war in the neighborhood like crazy. We even fought some kids who lived on the other side of the street once (and won!). They were led by another kid named Matt, and since he was big and we were as sensitive as you would expect as elementary school kids, he was known as Fat Matt. I was just Matt.

Anyhow, the movie follows the 1st Infantry Division in World War II, from North Africa, through Italy and into Germany. It stars Lee Marvin, who is just plain cool, and you even have some early post-Star Wars work by Mark Hammill. I don’t remember now, but I’m sure it freaked us out to see him be something other than Luke Skywalker.

Now, we dug the movie because it was a war movie, but also because it provided something that young fellas in those days were often in search of … bare boobs. Pre-internet, finding bare breasts was no easy task for a curious kid. In this movie, there is a split second – and I mean split second – of bare boobs that we could not believe we had seen when we first watched it. Super forbidden … and guaranteed to make the movie an instant classic for a bunch of 10 to 12 year old boys.

3. The Cannonball Run (1981)

Man, do I love this movie. Loved it when I was a kid, and I love it still. My daughter is a big fan as well. What more can you ask for in a film? Fast cars, beautiful women, Burt Reynolds, Dom Delouise, James Bond, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Jackie Chan! This was another movie that we knew we probably shouldn’t have been watching at our age, but there it was. I can still remember sitting in my friend’s living room, watching the movie while prepared to get scarce if his parents came home. I also remember us turning aerosol cans and lighters into makeshift flame throwers … God knows how we survived childhood. In our defense, we pretty quickly realized that playing was fire was a bad idea and cut it out. Even we weren’t that stupid. We did discover, though, that if you sprayed a fly with Lysol its wings would crystallize in mid-flight and it would fall from the sky.

So there’s a walk down memory lane from a kid who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and then grew up some more in the 90’s, and then had a kid and grew up a lot more in the 2000’s.

I’m getting back to watching Charlie’s Angels and making hopping John … and Emergency is on at 3! … but if you have some favorite HBO memories from back in the day, go ahead and share them in the comments, and stay safe out there Nodians!