'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Corrupt Cliffs

Corrupt Cliffs
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Showing posts with label Sci-fi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sci-fi. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Sci-Fi Dungeon Sticks

Welcome back to the blog! 2024 is here and I'm done school, for now at least, leaving me more time to focus on gaming and my online presence! Near the end of 2023 the RPG Alliance held their annual convention, and I ran a couple of games: Vaesen online and Mothership in person. I had a great time running both and got to play some fun games.
Getting the game set-up at the convention.

Running Mothership in person prompted me to dig out my Ultimate Dungeon Terrain (check out how I built it!) and sci-fi scatter terrain so I could set up a few rooms on the fly if the players encountered the creatures lurking in the darkness of the derelict spacecraft. While I love the giant dungeon set-ups (both sci-fi and fantasy) I find them largely impractical, especially when it comes to traveling to and from a convention. Another aspect of many large dungeon set-ups I dislike are full-height walls. I find they make it hard for the players to see their miniatures and in the end, while looking cool, they just get in the way.
The sci-fi UDT with scatter terrain.

Of course, one solution is the 2.5d dungeon tile giving a hint of a wall without actually being a wall. This does not work that well with UDT-type setups. The solution to this is to use modular low or half-height walls, such as "Dungeon Sticks". Given the options I have stated so far it should come as no surprise that this is the method I employ. Digging out sci-fi terrain I haven't used since before the pandemic reminded me of a project I had worked on for an ALIEN game I ran: Sci-Fi dungeon sticks. Looking around I saw a few ideas (Check out this collection on Thingiverse) for this but I didn't love any of them, so I did what any self-respecting terrain-making GM would do, I designed my own solution.
Some new freshly printed scatter terrain for the game.

When I started this project I had a few ideas in mind. I wanted to leverage the 3d printer (Elegoo Mars), I wanted cool walls and I didn't want to print full-length walls to save on resin.

My solution was to print small end pieces that I could slot foam core into. I would then do some simple textures on the foam core and paint them up all the same. This ended up having two main advantages. The first was using less resin, and the second was to allow the walls to come apart for storage and transportation. Since I had the original STLs stored on an old computer I didn't have access to I had to redesign the STL, and at the same time, I created one that would accept straws as wall piping.

One of the 3d models for half-height walls.

I've made the basic stl files I used available on thingiverse if you are interested in trying these yourself.

One of the piping walls in action!

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Stars & Steel: A Space Opera Scale Miniature Wargame.


When I first came across Stars & Steel by Assault Publishing Studio I knew I would have to take a closer look at it.  Not only is it in my wheel house, ie spaceships and gaming, it has a name very similar to my online gaming presence, even though it is for different reasons.  For me Starships & Steel represents two aspects of gaming, Sci-fi and Fantasy.  Steel represents swords, "What is steel compared to the hand that wields it?" Thulsa doom asks Conan.  For this wargame steel represents the hulls of starships out among the stars.

Most ship to ship games I have played are on a much smaller scale than this representing a scale something like FullThrust or smaller.  Games where you control a handful of ships.  Stars & Steel aims to take on much larger engagements, fleets of hundreds of ships.

Game Scale and Basics

If you think of this game in terms of an older version of Warhammer 40k where you had 4 or 5 units of 5 Space Marines, and put 25 models on the table, you are thinking in the same approximate terms of this game.  

Stars & Steel is a nanofleet scale (1:10000) squadron based game, each squadron is comprised of 1-12 ships controlled by a commander situated on that squadron's flagship.  Each ship is one of three classes: Battleship, Cruiser or Destroyer.  Each of these ships is comprised of some combination of missiles, artillery, fighters and point defense as well as special rules.

The flagship of a squadron is chosen from the largest and baddest ship in the fleet and the marker by which all ranges and movements are calculated from.  Other ships in the squad are arrayed around the flagship, but their actual position isn't that important.  You could, with a little bit of record keeping, represent each squadron as a single counter or model, although that wouldn't be as cool looking.

A small fleet engagement.
A small skirmish featuring 6 squadrons per side.

Ships do not not track individual damage, instead you will track damage and disorganization on a squadron level.  As damage is increased there is a better chance one of the ships in the squadron is eliminated.  Likewise as the squadron takes more fire it becomes more disorganized and begins to suffer negatives to its effectiveness.

Ship movement, maneuverability and some artillery ranges are determined by the ship's class.  A battleship is slow and turns poorly, but it's artillery range is far beyond that of a nimble destroyer.  Missiles and Fighters have a set range, it doesn't matter what kind of ship launches them.

The number of squadrons is determined by the scenario, with a small skirmish representing 6 squadrons a side and a legendary battle fielding up to 24 squadrons per side.

The other limiting factor determined by the scenario is the maximum rank for the squadron commander.  This in turn controls the number and type of a ship that can exist in a squadron.  If we look back at the skirmish scenario, we are limited to a rank of two stars or Captain. 

The above might represent a 6 ship squadron commanded by a Balanced Lieutenant.  As you can see it is composed of 6 ships and is fairly well rounded, have equal artillery and missile power as well as some point defense capabilities.  Fielding a squadron commanded by a captain will allow us to use Cruisers as well.

Although they recommend you use nano scale ships, they have left distances up to you, listing all ranged and movements as Distance Units or "DU".  They go on to suggest for epic scale, that 2" per DU is probably a good number with 20mm square bases for the ships.

The Color of Outer Space

This game makes use of colored dice to note incoming artillery, missiles and airborne fighters.  Further it uses colored dice to track damage and disorganization: Yellow, Blue, Green, Black and Red.  I am almost certain if you played the game for awhile you would figure those out, provided you had no issues with color.  For people who are color blind I can see this causing potential issues.

Fortunately the game also comes with a bunch of print and play tokens, so they aren't completely tied to using the dice colors.  I would suggest the tokens are a better way to go, they will be clearer and easier to see and understand for everyone.

I whipped up a set of counters quickly using Game-Icons.net as well.  If people are interested in these I can make them available.  

The Game Turn

The game is broken into a number of phases, some are small and quick housekeeping steps, while others are used to move or fire your weapons.
  1. Beginning - Initiative, deployment and damage control
  2. Orders - Determine what fleet is doing - Reactive
  3. Artillery - Resolving artillery orders
  4. Movement - Resolving movement orders - Reactive
  5. Aircraft/Fighters - Resolving fighter orders - Reactive
  6. Missiles - Resolving missile orders
  7. End - Housekeeping
The game is played in an alternating reactive style.  The player with initiative selects and activates one of their squadrons.  Once they have finished the opposing player selects the squadron closest to the activate squadron and completes it's phase.  Not all phases require this activation sequence, but several key phases require it: Orders, Movement and Fighters

Orders Phase: Orders come in 5 flavors (Artillery fire, Missile fire, Maneuvers, Regrouping and Fighter command) and two types (Basic and Advanced), with advanced orders requiring a roll by the squadron's commander to achieve.  For example a squadron can easily make a turn, but to take evasive action requires the commander to make a competency roll. 

Each Squadron can complete a number of orders up to the Commanders efficiency rating.  In our sample squadron above the Lieutenant may issue 3 orders per turn. ie Fire Artillery, Turn and Regroup.  Everything a squadron is going to do is planned here and resolved in later steps.  

Artillery & Missile Phases: These two phases are pretty similar.  During the orders phases squadrons will have directed their fire power ratings at enemy squadrons.  When we get to these phases all of these allocated dice will be resolved.  Each point allows a die to be rolled to determine damage and disorganization.  For artillery a roll of 5-6 causes 1 point of damage and 1 point of disorganization.  So if a squadron has 10 artillery points against it, the attacking players rolls 10d6 and determines which dice are above 5-6.  

Fighter Phase: During the orders phase a squadron can increase the number of fighters it has in space at one time, but they aren't directed anywhere.  In this phase we direct them to do various actions, hold position, attack, shoot down missiles, etc.

Movement Phase: As mentioned above this is a cinematic 2D space game.  Ships are moved via reactive initiative up to their max movement range.  They can elect to not move if they wish.  Ships can not collide, but if they end their turn close to each other they may incur disorganization points.  Turns are not well defined here.  They need to be ordered in the orders phase but there is no indication of when the turn can occur.  At the beginning?  During the move?  At the end? 

The game progresses through these phases, ships moving and firing, launching fighters and becoming disorganized until the missions objectives are completed.

Overall Thoughts

My initial thoughts for this game was there was a lot to remember and a lot to keep track of.  I didn't think it had that much potential to be honest.  I almost didn't even bother writing this overview.  As I continued to look at the rules and take notes and got a better feel for it, I started to warm to it.  

As I write this now, I see potential for some pretty cool games fielding lots and lots of ships, which is of course the downside, you need lots and lots of ships.  You can get a couple of destroyer class ships from Ground Zero games for the $5 mark, putting a squadron of destroyers at about $15.  Ships in the battleship range jump steeply in price from Ground Zero.  All of these GZG ships are also a little on the large size, but the modern world has all kinds of 3D printing options to make the idea of fielding 100 ships and not breaking the bank a possibility.

Assault Publishing Studio have released a set of .STL files available as with the Pay What You Want model on Wargame Vault as well and plan on releasing more.  I downloaded the current set and printed a few off so you could get an idea of the ship scale.  The image is taken against a 1"x 1" grid.  So if you already have a 3D printer this game should be fairly cheap to get into.  I will go over a simple basing method in another article.

I also want to take a moment and point you at a blog that I had not visited in quite awhile.  I was happy to see a lot of new posts, especially around his creation of spaceships.  Jump over to Solipsist Gaming and check out his DIY gaming stuff.

Some of the things I like is how abstracted it is, making it relatively simple and quick to maneuver vast fleets, with the above skirmish example each player is only going to need to deal with 6 entities a turn, making this no more complicated in essence than something like A Song of Blades and Heroes.  

Ship weapons are broken into three basic classes: missiles, artillery and fighters.  What those look like is largely up to you and the universe you are trying to portray.  Dice resolution is all die pool based, something I find quick and fun, who doesn't like rolling lots of dice?

I do feel that the game is missing at least one key aspect and that is shields.  You could make an argument that they are abstracted into the game engine and all ships carry them.  I am OK with this as an explanation except the game engine uses point defense as a mechanic to take down missiles.  Perhaps this was a conscious decision to not include them.  Does adding shields make missiles even less effective? 
Perhaps instead of a point defense system the ships could simply have a defenses stat, which abstracted to Armor, Shields and Point Defense, with it effecting missiles and artillery differently?  These are of course simple idle thoughts that occurred to me as I was reading the rules.

Another idea it misses and one that might help with missiles not being useless if we add shields, is something I have seen elsewhere, artillery gets weaker over distance.  At close range they do full damage, and as that range increases then the damage decreases.  Sure this doesn't make a lot of sense given the vacuum of space, but this is a cinematic game, not a perfect depiction of starship combat.

These two elements are just ideas and certainly aren't meant to say this system is missing the boat.  I do not think that.  Abstractions of things are necessary or games of this size can quickly become a nightmare of logistics.

So if you want a fairly quick to play game of starship combat that allows you to field that grand fleet from The Last Jedi, this game might be for you and I suggest jumping over to Wargame Vault and checking it out.  Right now the game is Pay What You Want, you can download it for free and head on back later if you like it and drop them a few dollars.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Alien RPG: Colony & Station Layouts.

The Basic Framework

The Core book states that Alien is generally played out on a map of a space station, a colony or similar structure or location, but where do we get these? There are certainly a few around on the internet and many get posted to the Facebook group "Alien RPG by Free League". Despite these excellent resources the time will come when you run out, or simply want something original. This article aims to give us an easy way to quickly whip up a colony or station. Colonies and Stations are fairly similar in their internal components: Power, housing, control, repair, engineering, food etc, however their physical construction will be considerably different. Let's start with the basics...

The map is divided into zones. A zone is typically a room, a corridor, or an area of ground. How big a zone is varies—from a few steps across up to about 25 meters. A zone is generally smaller in a cramped environment than in open terrain.
-Alien RPG Core, Page82

Another consideration is how fast characters and opponents move in the game.

In one Turn, you can move two zones on the map and explore them, scanning for enemies and getting a superficial description of these two zones from the GM.
-Alien RPG Core, Page85

We should also note that the Xenomorph moves twice that fast, so a map with 12 zones in it isn't going to provide a very long cat and mouse chase.

With these two basic factors in mind, we can give our map some thought.

The Components

For game purposed a station and a colony are not all that different, one is ground based and one is floating in space. certainly the structure between the two will change, such as foorprint vs height and the ability for ships to dock.

Looking through the internal modules on page 171 and the Novgorod station on Page 360 we can start to put together a list of areas in our new map.

Colony/Station Modules
Cargo storage
Corporate suite
Emergency escape vehicle
Landing pad/Docking bay or Docking Clamps
Mess hall
Med Lab
Science Lab
Machine Shop
Central Control
Power Supply
Defense Armaments
Security & Jail
Exterior Access
Maintenance Corridor

The final question I would ask would be what is this thing for? Is is a mining colony or a repair station? This can help flesh out some final ideas.
Main Use
Black Ops

The Layout

So now we have some idea of areas within our structure and maybe an idea of what it is for. We can finally start laying out our ship or colony, this is where we really need to know what we are building. Here we may see some design differences between a colony and a space station. Colonies are generally going to be flatter and wider, while stations are going to be more compact and taller.


We can look at Novgorod station in the RPG as an example of what they call the "Tapering Spire" design, and we see similar in Isolation with Sevastapol station. Gateway station provides another look at a potential design, and although I am unsure to the scale, it is best described as a grid of office towers in space.


Colony wise we don't have a large subset, but we can tell from Hadley's Hope that they are probably not going to be the highest end of facilities, especially in the beginning and they will be built largely from modular components. As we get our first looks at Hadley's Hope we see a set of low structures that could be a frontier town anywhere, complete with a neon sign advertising "bar". The colony is, of course, mapped out in detail within the Core RPG as it provides the setting for the adventure included with the rules.

Building the Colony/Station

You can choose from the lists or roll d66 to determine your outcome.

Step 1: Select the structure type

RollStructure Type

Step 2: Determine the structure's size

This will tell us the basic size of the complex and it's initial components as well as how many rooms or zones are present in each of these components.
ie a small colony has the following modules: Central Command, Power Supply and Exterior Access. Each of these are 1 zone large. In addition the structure will need to house and feed its crew.

RollBasic Structure
SizeBase modules & Layout MarkersBase Zone SizeAdditional Modules
1-26SmallCentral Command (CC), Power supply (PS), Exterior Access x2 (EA)12
31-46MediumCentral Command (CC), Power supply (PS), Exterior Access x2 (EA), Med Lab (ML), Landing Pad (LP)26
51-66LargeCentral Command (CC), Power supply (PS), Exterior Access x2 (EA), Med Lab (ML), Landing Pad (LP)312

Step 2a: Determine the structure's population and housing needs.

Knowing the a zone consists of a single room we can assume a barracks style might house anywhere from 4-6 people in bunk beds, or 2-4 people per zone in a more colonial/family setting. Once we have a total population we can divide the population by the style of housing to get a total number of zones required for housing.

SizeBase PopulationAdditional Population

RollBunk StylePop/zone

Step 2b: Mess Hall

Assign 1/4 of the housing total to mess hall zones for the structure, ie if we have 9 housing zones, we need 2 mess hall zones. These are probably in one large area adjacent to housing but could be spread across the structure in smaller sizes. When it comes to station layout, simply use MH as the initials.

Step 3: Determine the structure's makeup

All stations or colonies must contain the following to function: Central Control, Power Supply, Mess Hall, Housing and Exterior Access Everything else is optional.

Make a number of rolls on this table based on the Colony size determined in Step 2. You should re-roll duplicates.

RollModuleLayout Marker
11-12Cargo Storage
13Corporate Suite
14-16Landing Pad
26-31Science Lab
32-34Med Lab
35-36Machine Shop
65-66Emergency Escape Vehicles

Step 4: Determine the zones in each Module

Simply roll 1d6 for each module rolled above and add the following modifier to it.


Step 5: Colony/Station Shape

Colonies and Stations will look considerably different from each other, so this step is divided into two sub-steps, one for colonies and one for stations.

The concept here is the same, roll or pick from the chart to get the number of divisions present. Divide your total zones by this number to get an idea of how big each section will be.

ie If we are building a massive sprawling colony that has 60 zones, within an L shaped layout, simply divide the zones by the divisions, 60/5=12, to get a total of 12 zones per section. If you were building the same station with 60 zones and rolled a single spire we would divide the 60 by the 3 zones per spire level to get 20 levels. Generally speaking a station spire isn't going to have any more than 10 levels per spire. Divide the total levels together to get the number of spires on the station, in our example this would be 2.

If you don't have an even division, which is common, simply take the remaining zones and hold them in reserve and add them onto the layout as needed.

Step 5a: Colony Shape

Roll on the table below to get the basic layout for the colony.


Step 5b: Station Shape

As in all things the exact layout of a section, or an entire level is left to your discretion this is simply to give a quick basis to allow the generation of a station.

RollBasic ShapeDivisions/level
11-24Tiny Spire
25-36Small Spire
41-53Medium Spire
54-66Large Spire

Mapping the Colony/Station

Step 6: Division Layout

The easiest way to approach this is going to require a pen and a piece of paper.....OR Google Slides. As we continue through this section we will assume we are building a small square colony with standard dorm housing (4 people per zone).

  1. We will start by drawing out the number of zones in a division in as close to a square as possible. Once you have an idea of the size and shape of the area, you can draw the remaining divisions.

  2. Next, go through the zones and start populating each zone with its layout marker, based on the rolls in step 3. If you want to have a multi-zone mess hall, simply place the MH marker in adjacent zones. Add the extra zones onto the layout as makes the most sense.

    If you find you have a zone module that doesn't make sense, move it to a place that does. This article is a guideline on building a system, not a totally random chart based generator.

  3. Now take your zones and combine the ones you want to to make larger rooms as well as adding some shape character to the rooms to aid in narrative descriptions.

  4. Now we have a basic layout but we need to link them together in a sensible fashion.
    • People should be able to get from housing to the other areas without going through other housing areas.
    • Do we want people to have to go through Central Command to get to the rest of the base, or should it be off on its own for security?

  5. Now that we have a basic map we need to place some doors. As a rough guidline place a door at the junction between two modules or a module and a corridor. Finally split the larger rooms into their component zones. It is a good time to denote any doors with extra security levels on the map as well. I used red for high security, orange for special security and green for general access. This gives us a fairly complete colony or station. Only one step remains....

Step 7: The Underbelly

What Alien scenario would be complete without having a network of vents and sub basements?

1-36Air Vents
61-66Air Vents & Sub-basement

Step 7a: The Air Vents

No matter the roll, the structure is going to have some system to allow air to move to the various places in the station. This roll represents air vents large enough for a human to enter in a crouched way, think of them about the same size as we see in ALIEN. Except in extreme cases these vents are going to require characters to follow the crawling rules.

We now have a map which we can use to figure out how the vents look using a few simple guidelines.
  1. Place a marker representing a vent entry in any room you think makes sense.
    • I generally place one per room/module excluding airlocks.
    • Larger rooms might have multiple vents.
  2. Connect your vent entry points with the actual air vents.
    • Redundancy is good.
    • Follow hallways where possible.
  3. Make any marks on the map that denote secure hatch entries at vent junctions, or entries that require some kind of key access.
    • It is helpful to use the same color key as we used for the door in the previous step.

Step 7b: The Sub-basement

Ok, technically a sub-basement is a basement below a basement, but frankly it just sounds cooler than basement, so we are going to go with it. If you like, it will allow you to include a basement level should the plot suddenly require it.

I am viewing these areas as maintenance and possibly storage for the facility, and as such I picture them generally to be below the main base structures, but probably not below housing.
  1. The first thing I do is mark out the areas and shape I would like the sub-basement to be. Here I had drawn sub-basements below the main power generator, the garage and the storage area.

  2. Once we have the basic layout we can add corridors and doors onto the map, after all we don't want our sub-basement to be completely open.

  3. Now make note of the security levels you would like on the doors. I used the same color key as I have been using. You also may want to keep in mind how your main level security works and mirror that below. Although it might be an idea to use high security on the upper levels to force players into the sub-basement for some reason....

  4. Finally make note of the access hatches that lead into the sub-basement. I color coded these as green, just to note there wasn't additional security on these hatches.

Step 8: Additional Areas?

Like Hadley's Hope, these structures could have additional areas separate from the main colony or station. On a world, this might be represented by a refinery or atmosphere processor. Is there a direct corridor from the main colony to this structure or is it simply reached by crawlers and tractors? Perhaps it is part of the maintenance level?

On a station, there might be another spire that hasn't been defined yet or perhaps another smaller, separate orbital facility reachable only by shuttle. What is it for? Is it a dry dock, or perhaps just mineral storage.

Either way, referring back to those original questions we asked will help to flesh out this area of the structure which you may or may not decide to map out depending on how important it is to the story.

Step 9: The Completed Map

And now that we have walked through the set-up we have a complete map for a small colony or station complete with main level, air vents and a sub-basement.

Final Thoughts

As always these articles are meant to help you as the GM of your game produce ideas and stories for your table. They are not meant to be an end-all method of playing or creating. Please use these ideas and build on them or even think to yourself, "Wow that is dumb.", and go about it in another way. The basic layouts and lists of modules are ideas, add your own, take some off, whatever works for you.

If you have some time and need a colony or station this system can help you produce something that makes some amount of sense, but leaves you in the driver seat to build the structure that works for your game.

AND as always please leave me a comment and let me know what you think. Share the page with your groups and social media if you find it useful. This is a hobby for me, a way to give back, but I enjoy my hobby more when I have more people access the content here and on YouTube.

If you liked this article then don't forget to subscribe to get the next exciting installment on pulp gaming both Sci-Fi and Fantasy!

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Space Truckers? How about Space Telephone Repair? More Thoughts on the Alien RPG by Free League

The Idea.

While I was writing an article on FTL communications in the ALIEN universe I added a line about broken nodes as a plausible way to make communications take longer. When I wrote that line it occurred to me that it might be an interesting plot thread for a campaign. Surely these nodes do go down from time to time and surely these nodes need to be repaired.

The Job.

The players are in control of the crew aboard a Weyland-Yutani vessel tasked with repairs on the Network. The priority of node repair and thus the remuneration of it's repair boils down to two factors. How important it is to the Network's functionality, and perhaps more importantly how much priority the Company places on the node.

Campaign mode wise this is going to fit closest to a "Space Trucker" theme. Generally blue-collar workers out among the stars trying to make their living repairing Company assets.

At first impressions you might imagine repairing and maintaining the Network would be a high priority for the Company, but due to redundancy in the nodes, this is generally not the case. The Company likes to keep things repaired to maintain that redundancy of course, but the repair of a single node is not a high priority job. Because of this the crews out doing the repairs are often under equipped. Crews relying on older ships and tools to get the job done.

The Missions.

I wanted to build a set of tables to help you as the Game Mother come up with repair ideas, much like we see in the core book under campaign play. We can use the standard job generator on page 341, but we need to set up some new tables to give us some repair missions vs. cargo missions.

Node Level

Node Repair Crew
D66Node ImportanceDescription
11-26Tertiary NodeLow Priority Repair. No loss of Network functionality
31-46Secondary NodeMedium Priority Repair. Network slowdown in this area of space
51-56Primary NodeHigh Priority Repair. Minor loss in Network functionality
66Series of Primary NodesVery High Priority. Loss of Network connection to this area of space.
1d6 node types require repair.

Company Interest

Node Repair Crew
D66Node ImportanceDescriptionExtra remuneration
(thousands of US dollars)
11-33Highly InterestThe node serves an area of space of extreme interest to the Company. Perhaps a central communication point, or something darker?None
34-53Medium InterestThe company sees the node as important, but of no particular interest. Simply a colony node perhaps.1d6
54-66Low InterestThe node is far from Company interests. Is the crew bribed by a rival company to repair it ahead of other Weyland-Yutani interests?3d6

Node Type

Node Repair Crew
D66Node TypeDescription
11-13Planetary NodeIn orbit around a world of interest providing a link to a system node.
14-16Deep Space NodeA deep space relay node.
21-46System NodeA node within a star system providing extra-system communication.
51-53Station NodeA node based on or around a space station.
54-56Diagnostic NodeNode functions as a aggregation of nearby nodes diagnostic information.
61-66Black NodeThe function of these nodes is classified within the company, they are generally very high priority to be fixed.
Node Type is always Primary.
Add $10,000 USD to reward.


Node Repair Crew
D66Repair TypeDescription
11-13Node downThe node is completely unresponsive. Investigate and repair.
14-16Part SwapParts are sometimes rare, occasionally you need to salvage what you can from one place to put it in another.
21-46MaintenanceRoutine maintenance to keep the Network operational.
51-53New NodeDeploy a new node.
54-56Node VanishedNode is no longer responding, upon arrival the node is gone. Was it stolen?
61-66Node DestroyedUpon arrival all that remains is a debris field. Why was it destroyed?


Node Repair Crew
11-13SabotageSabotage is obvious!The node is fixable, but was it abandoned or it is a trap?
14-16BeaconA beacon is detected within range of the node, perhaps on a nearby planetoid? Who sent it? Is it an SOS?
21-46MaintenanceA critical part of the ship is close to failure, it will require immediate attention or result in some catastophic failure on the ship.
51-53AsteroidsThe ship drops out of hyperspace in the middle of an asteroid field. Can the crew navigate the field? Are there pirates hiding in it?
54-56IntermissionThe ship's computer brings the ship out of hyperspace and then wakes the crew. What's the story?
61-66DerelictA derelict ship is detected in the space around the node, it is lifeless and cold...or is it?


Node Repair Crew
Node Crews will be rewarded based on the node repair type plus....
11-13First refusal on next Primary Node repair.
14-16New contact within the a company, perhaps not Weyland-Yutani?.
21-46Extra monetary reward offered.
51-53Leaked information of value.
54-56Debt cancellation.(or credit granted)
61-66Ship or equipment upgrade.

A Sample.

Now we can use the tables above to generate a few mission ideas for our node repair crew.
  1. Routine. Within System. $39,000. Tertiary node. Of high interest to the Company. Black node (Node becomes Primary). Node Down.
  2. Normal. Nearby system. $38,000. Primary node. Low interest. Station node. Node destroyed. Derelict ship detected. First refusal on the next primary node repair.
  3. Difficult. Within System. $75,000. Primary node. Low interest to the Company. System node. Maintenance. Ship maintenance & Sabotage. New contact within company (Rival?)
There are three ideas generated quickly from the tables above plus the tables on 341 for the core book. I am sure will help to get your brain thinking and imagining any number of ideas and adventures your players might end up in as they roam the galaxy keeping the Network operational, truly a thankless job.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Episode 90: An Intro to Combat in the Alien RPG by Free League.

I have uploaded a new video to youtube, this time going over a quick combat example for the new ALIEN game by Free League. I hope everyone enjoys it and finds it interesting. 


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Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Interstellar Communications in the ALIEN RPG by Free League

The question of FTL communications was asked on Alien RPG forum I participate in, and I thought it would make a fun article. I intend to extrapolate how fast communications might take place in the ALIEN universe using data presented in the RPG book and the movies. It is not meant to be an exact measurement of transmission speed, but rather a short fun exercise to give a plausible foundation for your ALIEN RPG game.

FTL Communications?

Communications on the Frontier, Page 162
Interstellar space is vast. Transmissions are not instantaneous, sometimes taking weeks or months to reach the recipient. Fortunately Weyland-Yutani has built a sophisticated communications satellite grid surrounding most inhabited sectors of space. Known as the Network, all signals are routed through it, sometimes bouncing off of thousands of comm arrays before reaching their destination.

Core Components: Communications Array, Page 170
Spaceships are fitted with a range of antennae and relays, some for interstellar FTL communications and others for intrasystem communication.

Now that we have definitively established that Faster than Light Communication is a thing in the Alien universe we need a few baselines to figure out some numbers.

The Calculations.

We are going to need a few things to determine the speed of FTL communications.
  1. The first thing we are going to need is how long a message takes to travel from one point in space to the other. In the deleted opening to ALIENS depicting the final days of Hadley's Hope on LV-426 we are shown the colony manager being told that a mom and pop survey team has found something at a place the company has told them to investigate. The survey team wants to make sure they have a claim before exploring and reporting. In this scene we get the following line from the Colony Manager, "christ, some honch in a cushy office on earth says go look at a grid reference, we look, they don't say why and I don't ask. I don't ask because it takes two weeks to get an answer out here and the answer is always, don't ask".

    So now we have a time frame for communications from Earth to LV-426, at least on average. I am also going to make the assumption that the 2 weeks is a round trip, that is time for the message to leave LV-426, reach Earth and to get a response, making the time it takes for a message to travel from LV-426 to Earth to be about 1 week.

  2. The second is a distance. Now we just need to determine how far LV-426 is from Earth. Fortunately, the Alien RPG by Free League includes a map. Assuming no significant deviation from the galactic disk in the Z direction we can use a simple ratio based on how many inches a parsec is and how many inches Sol is from Zeta 2 Reticuli.

So that puts the Zeta 2 Reticuli system 11.33 parsecs from Sol. Now we have both a timespan and a distance. With some simple math, we can determine how far a transmission travels in a day. If a message travels ~11.33 parsecs in 7 days we can determine that it travels about 1.162 parsecs in a day.

11.33 parsecs / 7 days = 1.61 parsecs/day

The game defines the FTL rating of a ship to be how many days a ship takes to travel 1 parsec. A ship with an FTL rating of 2, like a Conestoga frigate, would take about 22 days to transit to LV-426 from Earth. If we reverse our calculation we can determine how many days/parsec a transmission takes.

7 days / 11.33 parsecs = 0.62 days/parsec

So given all of the above information, we can assume communications have an FTL rating somewhere around 0.62. But that's making a bunch of assumptions and it isn't a great number. If we give communications an FTL rating of 0.5 it would take something like 5.7 days to get a transmission from LV-426 to Earth, giving us a roundtrip time of 11.4 days. This leaves about 3 days on Earth for the bureaucrats to decide what to do and respond.

Of course, communication should travel at the speed the game needs it to travel at. I think that is going to generally be longer than intended, leaving the players and their characters isolated for longer. If your players need a believable reason, simply knock out a few of the nodes in the Network and have the message have to route across a few more parsecs of space.

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Monday, November 11, 2019

Making a Character in the Alien RPG by Free League.

In my first article about the Alien RPG I talked a little about the steps required to make a character. I thought it would be a fun and useful article to go through those 10 steps and actually build the character.

The first thing we need to know as a player is the type of campaign we are going to run. Is this going to be like Alien or do we want something more action packed liked Aliens? For this example I think we will create a character for a "Space Trucker" type campaign.

Building the Character

Step 1: Choose a career.

Who doesn't like Brett from Alien? Right.
We will choose the career: Roughneck.
These guys are the manual labor out on the frontier. Hard working, physical laborers.

Step 2: Spend points on attributes.

We get 14 points to spend between our 4 stats: Strength, Agility, Wits & Empathy. Health starts equal to your strength score.
The minimum value we can have is 2 in each stat, meaning we have spent 8 of those 14 points before we even start. We have 6 points to distribute freeling, but we can't have an attribute higher than 4.
  • Strength: 5
  • Agility: 3
  • Wits: 3
  • Empathy: 3

  • Health: 5 - Starts equal to strength score
  • Encumbrance: 10 - Starts as double your strength score
*Strength is listed as a KEY career skill, so we can assign 5 points into it.

Step 3: Spend points on skills.

We get 10 skill points we can spend up to 3 points on each of our career skills, and may assign a single point each to any remaining skill you choose.
  • Heavy Machinery: 3
  • Stamina: 2
  • Close Combat: 3
  • Ranged Combat: 1
  • Comtech: 1

Step 4: Choose a career talent.

We get to choose a single talent for our career from a list of 3. We will choose The Long Haul. We can ignore all stress rolls from a single roll once per game sessions in the campaign.

Step 5: Choose a name.

They give you a list if suggested names for your career, so we will just pick one of those.
Sassy Diaz.

Step 6: Decide on your appearance.

Again, your career gives you some options to go with. For Sassy Diaz, I think I want a shorter, wiry type with short-dark cropped hair and some tattoos on her arms.

Step 7: Decide on your Personal Agenda.

This is the part of your character that drives your action, your career will give you options, but you don't have to stick to those. Sassy is out on the rim to make a buck, and willing to take risks to do it. If she can increase her share, she will.

Step 8: Choose your Buddy and your Rival.

Since we are not creating an entire group, we will skip this step, but be aware this allows you to define your interpersonal relationships with your fellow players.

Step 9: Pick your gear and signature item.

It should not surprise you, but your career determines your starting equipment. We can choose two items from a list of 8 things, however, they are listed as "Liquor OR compression suit" so we couldn't pick both of those. Sassy is going to start with items that will help her with her goal of making some cold hard cash on the frontier.
  1. Hi-beam flashlight
  2. DV-303 Bolt gun
We also need to pick a small item of significance to the character. Again there are a few suggestions with your career.
We will give Sassy a small silver locket she always wears that stands in stark contrast to her otherwise roughneck appearance.

Step 10: Roll for cash.

And finally, we roll for some cash. Roughnecks get $d6x100. I rolled a 4, giving Sassy $400.

The Character Sheet

Then we just need to fill out the character sheet and we are done!

Creation Summary

Now that I have walked through the process I can say it is a pretty easy creation process that will not take up that much table time, but be aware if you are trying to do it at the beginning of your session each player is going to need the career and talent section, which could easily slow things down quite a bit.

Having a fairly simple character system for campaign play might be a good idea since death out on the frontier is a very very real thing.

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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Alien RPG by Free League

I am excited to finally get my hands on the new Alien RPG by Free League. I received the PDF on Tuesday morning, and while I had looked over the quickstart I was looking forward to seeing the whole book. The quickstart did nothing but make me want more.

Initial Impressions

The book is beautiful, the art is on point and the overall feeling managed to be dark without taking away legibility. I found the layout to be thematic and easy to navigate and read with important text broken into small easy to find bite-sized chunks.

Further, the .PDF is well built and XODO had no issues displaying a fully functional table of contents making things easy to find.

Player Section

The player section accounts for nearly half the book and provides pretty much everything a player might need to build a character and use that character including outlines and examples of skill success, skill failure and skill stunts.

Basic Mechanic

The games basic mechanic is a d6 dice pool where rolling a 6 is a success and rolling multiple 6s grants you stunts, ways to make the success better. In other words, this game allows you to succeed with measure, a feature I love.

The second part of this mechanic is stress. As your character gains stress they begin to roll more dice which also grants your success on a 6, but on these dice, a 1 may trigger your character to panic. It will also indicate you have run out of ammo.

The Setting

The game is set in the early 2180s after Alien 3. Not much more to say here, it's Alien. It is set in the era of Aliens more or less.

The year is 2183—little more than three years since the destruction of the Hadley’s Hope colony on LV-426, the disappearance of the USS Sulaco, and the closing of the prison and lead works on Fiorina 161. The loss of the Sulaco’s Colonial Marine unit along with these Weyland-Yutani sponsored outposts, and the implications of corporate foul play stemming from these incidents, have created an air of distrust between the company and the United Americas.

To add fuel to the fire, conflicts between the rival sectors of space have increased exponentially in the past five years. While unconfirmed, many believe that Hadley’s Hope was a test site for one of Weyland-Yutani’s bioweapons and that an enemy state sent a warship to nuke it from orbit. Others believe that the Company is working with a rogue nation to assume control of the colonies on the Frontier.

The 2180s are a dangerous time to be alive.
-- https://www.alien-rpg.com/

Game Modes

  • Cinematic - Designed to be played as one-shots with pre-generated characters.
  • Campaign - For those longer games when the characters will span multiple missions. These are generally broken into 3 types of games: Colonists, Marines, and Space Truckers.

Character Creation

The game splits creation into a simple 10 step process.
  1. Choose career
  2. Buy attributes
  3. Buy skills
  4. Choose career talent
  5. Choose name
  6. Choose appearance
  7. Choose personal agenda
  8. Choose buddy or rial
  9. Choose gear & signature item
  10. Roll for cash
Many of these choices will be guided by the career you pick. Each of them has suggestions for signature items, agendas, names and appearance. They will also give you a list of career talents to choose from.

The game uses a simple character creation process making character generation easy, which is a pro but on the other side of the coin it doesn't provide much in the way of guidance for a backstory, which is a bit of a con for me, especially for players who are new to the system.


Combat is a deadly affair in Alien. Like many games having a map layout to determine combat is handy, and Alien is no different. Many of you may be familiar with measuring distances or counting squares, but Alien uses zones. These are spaces in the game where action can take place. Conan 2d20 is a user of zones and I have come to believe they are a superior style of laying out the world. They hit a sweet spot between the tactics of counting spaces and the strict theatre of the mind approach. I have written a few articles on zones and you can check out my latest one here.

In addition to zones and maps this section details player actions, damage, recovery, critical injuries and finally panic. As you can see it is a fairly in-depth section of the book.

Although in general combat is pretty straight forward, you start with health and damage reduces it, I feel the "Signature Attack" that the Xenomorphs have is worth a special mention. Basically during an attack, the GM rolls a D6 and consults the charts....
An Example of this is the face hugger. A roll of 1 and the hugger simply causes stress as the little Alien horror skitters towards the character, but a roll of 6 can come close to immediately jumping on the player and reducing them to near-death instantly. These signature attacks make the Xenos horrifying and if they haven't figured that out yet, your players will soon enough.

“Seventeen days? Hey man, I don't wanna rain on your parade but we're not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before! And they're gonna come in here and they're gonna come in here — AND THEY'RE GONNA KILL US!”


The game has an extensive arsenal of weapons and equipment, showcasing a little of everything, ie we have 4 pistol types and 6 rifle types. We are also given images for each of those fire-arm types. There is, of course, more weapons than that, including melee and heavy weapons.

I am sure some people will want more equipment, weapons, and armor, but realistically there is a lot here, including some of the iconic vehicles from Aliens.

Hard Life

The final part of the players' section is a setting primer detailing life amongst the stars. It gives us some basic ideas of what living in space might be like. Mainly it is information, but it would be critical for a player unfamiliar with the setting, but still useful and in-depth enough for those of us who have had the Xenomorphs as part of our lives for pretty much as long as you can remember.

Besides talking about living in space, the law, entertainment and religion this section also has a detailed section on the spacecraft of the game including a few basic ships and detailing space combat in the Alien Universe. I admit I was a little surprised to see this section, as Alien has never been about ship to ship combat to me. I haven't looked into these rules yet but they should prove interesting.

Game Mother

The GM's section of the book is broken down into 4 major areas: being the GM, the gazeteer, the Aliens and running a campaign.

In keeping with the theme, the typical GM is named after the MU/TH/R computer system first brought to life as the Nostromo's AI. Instead of the basic Game Master, the game leader is known as the Game Mother.

Running the Game

This first section isn't rules oriented, but more a section of advice to the GM. Ideas and themes to use, how to use horror etc. Sections like this often get skipped or glossed over as GMs read the rules and the fluff material and skip over this essential advice. My first pass shows this section to be full of good ideas and advice to elevate your Alien game. Read it.

It also has sections specifically on Cinematic, Campaign play and NPCs.

The Gazeteer

This section contains a couple of chapters within the book, the first deals with governments and corporations and gives us a solid breakdown of each of them. These are the overarching nebulous entities that control the world and probably cause more bad than good in the character's lives.

The second section is about 34 pages in length and deals with planets and systems. Again we are given an impressive amount of background information on each sector of space followed by the systems of interest and finally the planets within the system. We are given stats on worlds like Location, Affiliation, Terrain, Mean Temperature, Colonies etc. as well as a short description of the world.

That's the thing. You were out there for fifty-seven years. What happened was, you had drifted right through the core systems, and it's really just blind luck that a deep salvage team found you when they did. It's one in a thousand, really. I think you're damn lucky to be alive, kiddo. You could be floating out there forever.

The Alien

Arguably the stars of the show this section will attract people too it quickly, curious to see what an Alien looks like, stat wise, in this world.

We start with the Engineers, where we get a breakdown of who they are and the tech that they posses, including a run down on their starships. We do not however get any stats to use them in the game.

Next up we come to the Xenomorphs. We are given a list of each of the stats used by the Aliens and then we are on to the various special attacks and specification for each Alien species. This section might be my biggest layout beef with the book. Because of the signature attacks there are a lot of tables in this section, which are easy enough to read, but the Alien spec blocks are also in the same format making it harder to quickly pick out the Alien stat blocks from the signature attacks. It might have been nice to have another table style layout for these, more like what we see for the NPCs.

This chapter ends off with a section on other alien species out there, things that are not the bugs. These are not intelligent species spread across the stars, rather they are local fauna characters might run into on other worlds. It would have been nice to have seen a few more of these but their inclusion at all is welcome.

Campaign Play

The final section here is on campaign play and gives us a variety of tools and tables to generate everything from star systems and worlds to adventure seeds to job types based around the campaign type. This section is largely roll tables and ideas to help you build a campaign. Beyond that it contains a list of archetypal human NPCs: pilots, mining experts, ICC inspectors, etc.

The section finished with "Novogrod Station", a fairly fleshed out space station on the edge of space to provide a template you can use to produce your own station, or to be used as is.

Hope's Last Day

Although technically part of the GM section, I thought this could get it's own section since. It's not rules after all.

We are given a quick jump into the action adventure that the players should recognize and get on board with right away. They should be able to conjure clear images of the location they are being thrust.


Yes, that Hadley's Hope. The adventure is about the last days of the colony on LV-426. We all know how it turns out. We all know no one makes it out alive. Welcome to a cinematic adventure. Overall the adventure looks to be pretty short, but for a quick one off intro scenario? it looks pretty good.

Final Thoughts

Overall I really like this book, it's layout is easy to read and yet remains thematic and dark. The text is generally broken down into small easy to digest bites, and this is especially true in the rules section. I have liked the system since I read it, even if I haven't had time to play it, and regret not running a game of the quick-start rules at a convention this year. Because really playing it is necessary to see how it really runs.

If you are a fan of the series. If you are a fan of the Alien. If you like RPGs and you didn't pre-order, you need to pick this up when it is released.

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If you need to check out any of these great games stop on by DriveThruRPG and pick something up through my affiliate link to help support the blog! Finally the Amazon links included in this posts are affiliate links and give me a small kick back, which helps out the blog. Thank you!

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