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 90s Syndicate

It was 1987, and I was super excited in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. This was not uncommon in childhood, of course – it just took an awesome prize in a box of sugar goodness – but I was a teenager in ’87 and the excitement was due to an ad for something called Star Trek: The Next Generation on the back of a cereal box. This was my introduction to the show, and I remember telling my dad – the source of my Star Trek love – about how cool it looked, with a new ship, new crew … and that there was going to be a klingon on the Enterprise!

Back in the 80’s, syndicated TV was mostly the domain of game shows like Wheel of Fortune until Star Trek: The Next Generation showed up. I remember that it was a big story when The Next Generation managed to beat Wheel of Fortune’s ratings. Fast forward 30+ years, and though I’m sorry to say the show doesn’t do much for me these days, I am thankful for the syndicated TV goodness it helped spawn.

The syndicated shows of the 90’s almost never had as much budget as they needed, but they were all cool and creative. Because of the time in which they were made, they have a distinct look that I suspect really triggers good vibes for many Gen-X’ers.

Here are a few of my favorites – check them out if they’re new to you, or renew an old friendship if you remember them from way back when:

The Flash (1990-1991)

Not syndicated, but I sorta wish it had been after it was cancelled. We’ve been watching these lately, having scored a super cheap DVD set of the complete series at Zia Records, and I must say I’m enjoying them. The show was far from perfect, but it had some great moments and I genuinely like the people in it. The sad thing about Flash is that it only made it to TV because of the success of 1989’s Batman, and as a result ended up with a Danny Elfwood score and an awkward aesthetic borrowed from Batman and Dick Tracy. The style just seems out of place to me, and though it doesn’t ruin the shows, it doesn’t help them either. On the other hand, it’s full of absolutely beautiful mid-century cars, so that’s pretty cool. The Flash costume was a little jarring as well, but c’est la vie.

We were watching some of the new Flash episodes, but gradually got out of them when they did the stupid time travel bit for the umpteenth time. I really loved see Shipp reprise his role in the series, though.

Oh – and who doesn’t love Amanda Pays? So smart and cool – on Flash as well as Max Headroom. She did a fun guest appearance on Psych as a date for Corbin Bernsen’s character on the series, which is another family favorite.

I think my favorite Flash episode is “Beat the Clock”, which has a pre-What’s Love Got to Do With It Angela Bassett, and good performances by Ken Foree and Thomas Mikal Ford.

Highlander: The Series (1992-1997)

In my normal backwards way, I discovered this show way before I saw the movie … and if I’m honest, when I finally saw the movie I preferred Adrian Paul to Christopher Lambert as the immortal. I think it was that darn overcoat they had him wearing in the movie – looked like it belonged on Harpo Marx. I did enjoy introducing my daughter to the Kurgan, though, and then revealing he was the voice of Mr. Krabs.

Being a history-buff, I loved all the past lives of Duncan McLeod. I think I enjoyed the stuff set in the past more than that set in the modern day. I remember being super-jazzed to see Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals and Roger Daltry in some episodes. Highlander really had some legs, but I didn’t stick with it all the way to the end … by 1997 I was married and about a year away from having a kid, so life sort of got in the way. Still, the awesome opening will always stick with me. God bless Freddie Mercury!

Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990)

Okay – this series sort of screws up my premise that Next Generation led the way with cool syndicated shows, since it was also first-run syndication and showed up at about the same time. Oh well – it’s my story and I’m sticking to it, facts or no facts!

I don’t have a long-term relationship with the horror genre. I was never into the Friday the 13th movies, or really any contemporary horror movies in my youth. I didn’t grow up with that stuff, so all the blood and guts and shock horror really freaked me out. Classic Universal horror movies I could do … but Leatherface, Jason, Freddie, Michael Myers, flesh-eating zombies, etc. – no sir. Not my cup of tea.

That’s why I don’t know how I ended up watching Friday the 13th: The Series. It has almost nothing to do with the movies – I might remember there being some tiny thread connecting them, but I’m not sure. The premise – which would work beautifully for a horror RPG campaign, is as follows:

Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.

It now occurs to me why I started watching it – Louise Robey as Micki. She was pretty darn cute. Still, it was the show’s concept that got me to stick with the show. Each week, a new evil artifact was introduced and off the two leads went, trying to bring it back to the shop to end the curse. It was much more in the vein of Outer Limits than gory 80’s horror movies. I remember it fondly, and should really check back into it.

She-Wolf of London / Love & Curses (1990-1991)

Originally titled She Wolf of London, I caught one or two of the later episodes when it was renamed Love & Curses , and always wanted to see more. A bunch of them are posted on YouTube (how do they not get fined a billion bucks a year for aiding and abetting copyright violations?), but I’m happy to say I picked up the entire series on DVD last week for $12 – sweet price, even I end up not liking them much.

In this series, a woman named Randi Wallace (played by Kate Hodge) who travels to England to study the occult is attacked by a werewolf on the moors and becomes a lycanthrope. Her companion, Professor Ian Matheson (played by Neil Dickson), helps her deal with her curse while they run around encountering all sorts of supernatural evils and stuff. I love good, old fashioned episodic TV with fun characters.

Love & Curses could be a good set-up for a campaign as well, with one PC having a werewolf curse (or something similar) and the others having to survive dangerous adventures AND their dangerous friend.

And yeah, I had a thing for Kate Hodge as well …

So what 80’s/90’s syndicated stuff do you remember loving? Let me know in the comments – remember, sharing is caring!

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!

Space Cowboy Diplomacy

Retief and the Aga Kagan by Jack Gaughan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Retief and a quornt by Gaughan

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

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

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

Group Solo Play

“Well, now what do I do?”

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

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

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

Dragon by Dragon – March 1982 (59)

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

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

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

1. The More Things Change …

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

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

And

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

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

2. Cantrips

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

3. Giants in the Earth

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

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

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

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

4. Gypsies

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

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

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

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

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

5. Monsters

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

6. Traveller

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

 

7. Halflings

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

8. Poisons

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

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

9. What’s New with Phil & Dixie

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

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

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

 

Buzzkill

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.