'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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Places of Interest

Monday, June 8, 2020

Stars & Steel: A Space Opera Scale Miniature Wargame.

Introduction

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.

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on TwitterFacebookYoutube or Instagram!
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Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Ancient Stone

Welcome back to Tool Trunk Thursday!  I hope you have stayed safe this week and done the things you needed to do.  The world seems to be in upheaval this week, stay strong, stay safe and stand up for your fellow human.

Ole Hankerin' Ferinale over at RuneHammer ran a stream yesterday where we worked on a map.  During that stream the participants raised over $1000 for colorofchange.org and giannafloydfund.

On Friday's he runs a ~2 hour DJ mix session on youtube where we all get together and chat about the week and listen to some tunes.  He would love to have his secondary channel over 1000 subs so he can activate superchat and pull in some more charity funds.  If you are reading this and haven't done so yet please get on over to The Dungeon DJ and subscribe!




This piece of stone could be a tablet, part of a column or part of a wall, really anything that might have had images and writing on it.  I encourage you to make the players come up with how it is relevant to the task at hand.  Perhaps it has images and similar script to what they are currently looking at?  Or maybe it is more like a Rosetta stone representing some ancient language as well as a proto-version of a language they currently speak?

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on TwitterFacebookYoutube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today! 

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!

Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!


Friday, May 29, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Digging Tools

As another week comes back around, so do we open the Tool Trunk on  Thursday Friday and look inside!  As seems common these days, I missed Thursday again!

One of the most iconic scenes from the '82 Conan the Barbarian involves our heroes preparing the mounds of the dead for the assault by Thulsa Doom.  How much easier would it have been if they had digging tools to mound up the earth and set traps?  We even see Conan digging with a shield in one scene. 




This represents a selection of digging tools such as picks and various types of shovels.  These are not things your players will generally carry around with them, but who knows when it might come in handy?

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on TwitterFacebookYoutube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today! 

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!

Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Spiked Pauldrons

Welcome back to another installment of Tool Trunk Thursday!  I hope everyone is doing well during the pandemic.  Remember to consider that everyone out there is experiencing and expressing their frustrations and change in life their own way.  Let us try and give everyone a little leeway.

Nothing says fantasy armor like spiky bits.  When I came across this icon I immediately wanted to include it in the Tool Trunk, but I wasn't sure how.  It certainly doesn't make armor more effective, and an argument could be made for it to be less effective.  I gave it some thought and asked myself, "why do people wear this, or like to pretend to wear this?".  My answer was it looks cool.  It looks mean, and so I had my answer.



These spikes are either riveted to the armor after it is built, or in some cases they are built right into the armor at the time of it's construction.  Their materials vary from steel, to wood to bone and everything in between.  No matter what they are made of they all serve the same purpose, to make the wearer look bigger and meaner and give someone pause before attacking.

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!

Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

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!

Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A First Impression of the Vaesen RPG by Free League



VAESEN: väsen n. supernatural being or creature.


Intro
Recently the Vaesen BETA rules were released to the backers of the Kickstarter project, and I wanted to write down some first thoughts on the book and game.  Like Tales from the Loop, the game itself comes from extremely evocative art.  Tales from the Loop takes it's setting from the Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, while the Vaesen RPG take's it's setting from the book of the Swedish artist Johan Egerkrans, Vaesen

Some people probably question basing games on the work of an artist, but some art is so distinctive and evocative that it immediately transports you to another world, and if that doesn't scream RPG, I do not know what does. In the case of Johan we are shown the creatures of Scandinavian Folklore: fairies, trolls, lindworms and everything in between. Which doesn't mean Johan hasn't drawn other fantastic works of art, he is just more well known for his creatures of myth and legend.

The Book

The current Beta rules have 232 pages including the character sheet and index. Roughly the first 100 pages are dedicated to the basic rules and character creation.  The basic rules will be familiar to anyone that has played a Year Zero Engine game. The remaining 100 pages are dedicated to setting, lore, how to set up an adventure, a sample adventure and of course the Vaesen themselves. All of this is interspersed with art from small sketches to full page color renditions of Johan's art.

I backed this game largely based on it being a Free League game, it having beautiful art, and the potential behind it.  I knew very little about what the game would be like beyond the kickstarter descriptions.  That is to say I knew it was going to be centered around fantastic creatures that were beyond the general persons's ability to perceive.  Judging from the art I could guess it would probably be late 1800s to the Early 1900s, generally the Victorian era.  From the book itself, "The idea is that you
and your friends will use it to tell – or play – mystery stories together in mythic Scandinavia of the nineteenth century."  Beyond that I didn't know what was in store for me.  

The Game

In Scandinavia of old there are creatures, faeries and trolls and such, that existed outside the perception of humanity, but were very real.  The people were aware of them through folk knowledge and knew how to make them happy, leaving offerings for them.  In return the beings were largely benevolent and lived in relative harmony with humanity.  

As humans advanced and industrialized much of this knowledge was lost.  People moved into towns and cities, and the rituals and offerings to the Vaesen were forgotten.  The Vaesen still exist and some have become less benevolent for various reasons, which the game lays out as adventure idea hooks with each of the Vaesen descriptions.  for example a wood based Vaesen might be wreaking havoc because of deforestation and logging.

You and your compatriots all have the ability to see the Vaesen and so stumble across an ancient society dedicated to fighting the Vaesen, and protecting humanity.  If you are playing in a campaign the Society and it's headquarters are more than just a part of the background and lore of the game, it is itself a character in the game. As the players grow in power and resources, they are able to add abilities to the Society that will grant them more ability to glean information about the Vaesen they are dealing with.

A secret society set in Victorian times isn't a new idea.  A secret society dedicated to fighting the supernatural isn't new either.  Still I think the idea the players can grow the Society back to it's former glory, which is in turn a usable resource for the players is a pretty cool idea to add to the campaign play.

Conclusion

Overall this book will be a beautiful addition to any RPG library and should delight fans of Free League and the Year Zero Engine.  It is full of amazing art and cool lore ready to open up a new world of Nordic horror for you and your players.  If you are a fan of monsters of the week, mysteries and the unknown, then I think this will make an excellent addition to your game library.  

If you are not part of the kickstarter look for this when it hits the shelves!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on TwitterFacebookYoutube or Instagram!

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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!

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!




Thursday, May 14, 2020

Tool Trunk Thursday: Stygian Beans

Another Thursday and more equipment is shoved into the tool trunk! Today's piece of equipment comes from the dark anbd mysterious lands of Stygian. This works perfectly with the launch of Conan the Adventurer, the sourcebook detailing Stygia and the Black Kingdoms.

Stygian Beans



These beans have been cultivated in Stygia since time immemorial. The shrubs they come from are picked of their bright red berries, and then the seeds are dried and roasted in great clay ovens. Finally the now dark beans are ground and hot water is poured over them. At this point the Stygian beverage is ready to be consumed.

It is said that those that wield magic prize this concoction for it's mind altering and restorative effects. 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!

If you have questions or comments don't forget to hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube or Instagram!
Make sure you don't miss a single post and subscribe by e-mail today!

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!

Equipment icons are found on https://game-icons.net/ and are provided under CC BY 3.0.

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!

Monday, May 4, 2020

Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells: The Flourish!

Welcome back! Today we are going to look at my first look at a house rule for Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. If you have followed the blog for awhile you will know I am more of a fan of narrative results or success by measure vs simple pass/fail mechanics. I am also a fan of keeping math as simple as possible, in a basic D20 system, the simplest way is to have a concept something like what we see in Savage World with raises. In my opinion it works less well in a d20 system since that TN or DC is moving all the time.

Fortunately that is not how Sharp Swords works. As a role under system based on stats we can simply take our attribute and subtract 3 or 4 from them and assign a second threshold. So if your Physique score is 12, we can set a second value at 8. Rolling under 12 gives you a success, rolling under 8 gives you your success, plus some other benefits. If you are familiar with Conan 2d20, Year Zero Engine, Genesys, AGE or others you will know the basic idea I am going for. Below you can see what my character sheet looks like with the addition of the Flourish number.



From experience I know having too many choices can slow a game down, having 5 stunt points in an AGE system has the ability to slow things down as the players try and choose how to spend that currency. It was something I was wanting to avoid here since this is a rules light game. Solution? Rolling under the flourish allows a player to choose a single item from a Flourish list, this choice will still add a little time to a turn but I think the reward of having the player narrate how that flourish works will be worth it.

As the game progresses in level, hitting enemies will probably become easier, they will also probably become better armored and have more hit points. By the RAW your damage output doesn't really increase, the only exception to this might be magic. Either way if you encounter a creature with 6HD, and it ends up having 40+ hitpoints, doing 1d8 damage in a round or less depending is going to make the combat pretty boring IMHO. It will be a lot of players rolling to hit, and the monster rolling to miss. The creatures ability to do massive damage will be scary initially (2d6 in this example), but as the combat drags on I think it will grow dull. Flourish maneuvers like these will also hopefully make these combats quicker and more decisive. Now all of this is just a feeling, I haven't actually played this game at a high level.

Below is my initial list of Flourish options I have worked up for my Sharp Swords game.



My main goal in naming these to have the names be more than just mechanical. I wanted them to spark the imagination about what each one was doing. I didn't want it to be called "extra damage" and have players say ok. I roll an extra d4 damage. At the very least they are choosing "Mighty blow" and rolling that extra damage, which in and of itself is way more narrative.

Well the game is done and after utilizing this system I felt the general idea of it was pretty good, but using a simple subtract 4 from the ability score and making it a strict roll under made the flourish occur too often, which reduced it to a more mechanical effect than the larger narrative effect I had hoped for.

During the game a rule was highlighted that showed that this game isn't really a roll under your attribute mechanic, it is a roll under your attribute but close to it. So if your attribute is 13, 12 is a better roll than 2. The flourish system outlined above works against this.

Going forward, and staying in line with the idea of being close to your attribute, I might take the Flourish number and make it a range band. If your attribute is 14, and the Flourish is 10, activate a flourish on rolls of 10-14. This would reduce the number of times there was a flourish, which would hopefully make them a little more exciting for the players, and hopefully more narrative.

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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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!

Remember this isn't the end times, this is humanity working together to save as many lives as we can through proven methodology for fighting new a new virus. Stay Strong.

Till next time, don't forget to Keep it Weird!