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)

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!

 

My Trek – Part 5

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

Combat Rules

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

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

Phase Zero: The Command Phase

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

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

Combat Phases

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

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

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

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

Attacking

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

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

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

Targeting Systems

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

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

Hull Damage

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

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

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

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

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

System Damage

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

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

Self-Destruct

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

Assembling a Fleet

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

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

 

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

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

My Trek – Part 4

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

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


Spaceship Battles

Copyright 2019 John M Stater

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

Spaceship Specifications

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

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

Ship Size

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

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

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

Engines

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

Force Fields

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

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

Weapons

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

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

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

Energy Weapons

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

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

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

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

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

Projectile Weapons

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

Missiles Torpedoes
Attack Dice 4d6 6d6
Range 9 9

Tractor Beams

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

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

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

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

Boarding Parties

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

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

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

Ramming

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

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

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

Invisibility Device

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


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

My Trek – Part 3

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

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

Who’s in Charge Here?

Commodore Gray and Captain Kirk from Star Trek Continues

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

Here’s my idea for solving this little issue:

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

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

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

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

Side Trek – Gold or Green?

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

Advancing in Rank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Side Trek – The Medals

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

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

Next Week – Starship Battles!

My Trek – Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Trek – Part 1

A couple months ago, I was nearing burnout in terms of writing and publishing game materials – and I didn’t even know it. I was working at my normal pace, and although there were a few indications I was hitting the wall, I was still getting things done. When I started goofing around with Star Trek, though, I was soon to diagnose my coming burnout.

It started with my daughter wanting to watch all the Star Trek that had been made in the order in which it was set (more or less). She started with Enterprise, which I watched with her (still frustrated at the close-but-no-cigar aspect of the show), and then we watched Star Trek. Yeah – I just call it Star Trek, because that’s what it is. When you’re the “original series”, you don’t need an amendment to your title. We followed up with the animated Star Trek, the Star Trek Continues (because I like it and think it was worthy of inclusion), then the movies and now on to Next Generation – we’re on season 3 I think.

In the midst of this, I started getting the Star Trek bug, and found a copy of the first Star Trek RPG, which I reviewed on this blog a while back. This got me to designing a Star Trek campaign (hence, My Trek) that I knew I would probably never play, but wanted to do anyways. And here’s where I discovered my potential burnout. I started having so much fun goofing around with Trek, that I just plain stopped working on my writing. I have an issue of NOD that is written, edited and ready to go … and I’ve just let it sit there for a couple weeks. I could publish it today … but I don’t think I feel like it. The writing and publishing, as much as I enjoyed it, was becoming work, and so messing with Star Trek became not just a vacation, but really more like playing hooky. When writing game materials for myself feels like playing hooky for writing game materials for others, you know you’re heading for burnout.

To avoid that burnout, I’ve indulged myself with good old Star Trek. I followed up my Star Trek RPG purchase (and I do love that little game dearly) with an old Star Fleet Battles rulebook (which I found overly complicated – so I wrote my own version, which will appear in future posts), and then the Spaceflight Chronology, Star Trek Concordance, the book about Star Trek Phase II and a bunch of the novelizations of the animated series (though if I’m honest, I prefer Blish’s novelizations of the old episodes to Alan Dean Foster’s animated episode novelizations). I have created massive databases of star systems and starships for my probably never-to-be-played campaign, created my own map of the Star Trek universe, made a nice little time line graphic of Starfleet, Klingon and Romulan vessels (at least, the one’s I think are cool) and have written a handy little campaign guide for prospective players.

The lesson here: Watch for a burnout (of any kind), and deal with it before you suffer it. That way, you don’t lose a thing you really love and value, plus maybe you pick up a new thing to enjoy along the way. That next issue of NOD will be published, and next year I’ll do my Deities book and maybe my Nodian Cosmos book and some issues of Nod, and I’ll do them because I gave myself a well-deserved break.

Next Week on My Trek: I’ll discuss some challenges and solutions to turning Trek into a playable campaign – specifically how you deal with tons of material that contradicts and conflicts (and, honestly, just doesn’t always fit into the same milieu despite being called Star Trek).

Good advice if we’ll only take it

Aliens I Have Known

I love lo-tech aliens. I don’t mean aliens who wield sticks and stones, but rather aliens from old TV shows and movies who look goofy (or often look goofy). I love the creative work done by make-up artists and folks working with rubber and shiny polyester on these creatures. I’ve always appreciated old time special effects with technological limitations – nothing has taken the magic out of sci-fi and fantasy for me more than computer graphics. I used to wonder how they did it … now I know, and I wonder why with the ability to do virtually anything, they did what they did.

But let’s get back to those old sci-fi aliens – here’s a little chart of aliens I have known (or “watched” would be more appropriate). I’ll include a link to download it below. This could be used for rolling random alien encounters in a gonzo fantasy game, or just for inspiration when doing your own thing.

Oh – and those aliens from a galaxy far, far away who are too stuck up to come visit the Milky Way Galaxy – I left them out. Enjoy!

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

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