Friday, April 21, 2017

Misunderstood and Improperly Played: Save or Die Mechanics.

Not too long ago I ran into episode 43,912 in the unending series of posts that can be summed up as 'Save or die is teh stoopid'.

As much as I want to reply,
 "No! You're stupid! you're stupid and you play wrong!"
I didn't.

Well, until now.

Your Party Had Better Have More Than Four People In It - Hints for Players and GMs

When I was just starting out as a wee DM of 11 years old I had to make due with the players I could find. Before too long I was good at recruiting and training players. I typically had 3-7 people at the table with me.
But I always had 6+ characters in the party. Sure, sometimes they were henchmen, but always 6 or more.
When I joined Lew Pulsipher's group he had a pretty firm rule - at least 6 'tough guys' (meaning PCs or close-to-PC-level henchmen) in the party. Eight full PCs and their henchmen is best.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Movie Game I Play With My Kids

I love movies. I studied film in college and teach film classes. I watch movies all the time, talk about them all the time, and so on.
About 5 years ago I started playing a game with my kids called 'as this movie is to you...' where I would look at a relatively recent film and compare it to a film from my own lifetime, or vice versa.
Unclear? here is a broad example.

1939 is called Hollywood's Golden Year, widely considered the year when the best crop of movies to be released in a single year was issued. Son of Frankenstein, Ninotchka, At The Circus, The Man They Could Not Hang, Destry Rides Again, The Women, Gunga Din, Tarzan Finds a Son, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Only Angels Have Wings, and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man were the c-list movies that year! Dark Victory, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Of Mice and Men, Wuthering Heights, Stagecoach, and Gone With The Wind were some of the movies nominated for Best Picture in 1939.
So here is how the first half of the game is played. I am 49 years old so 1939 was 28 years before I was born. What were the biggest movies made 28 years before you were born if you were-

39?- All the King's Men, 12 O'Clock High, and A Letter to Three Wives
29?- Anatomy of a Murder, The Diary of Anne Frank, and Ben Hur
19?- Hello Dolly!, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Midnight Cowboy

Here is how you do the second half of the game.
I remember seeing Big Trouble in Little China in the theater the week it came out and really loving the experience (what can I say - I'm a cult movie kinda' guy). I have seen the film a ton since it was released the year I turned 19. So - what cult/fringe movie came out the year you turned 19 if your current age is-

39?- Fargo, The Cable Guy
29?- Beerfest, Lady in the Water
24? (it takes a few years to ID a cult hit)- Hobo with a Shotgun, I Am Number 4

We play this game for fun, but there is a fair amount of information about trends in film if you pay attention.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Adventure Design Philosophy, Random Encounters, and Notebooks

Early in the week I started an adventure for the family. We hope to finish it tomorrow before the Easter Vigil. But the adventure made me think about my design philosophy.

So let me share a bit.

Bullet Reviews: The End is Nigh

I just finished a collection of short stories about the beginning of the end of the world. The End is Nigh is edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. It is the first in a set of three set just before, during, and after various apocalyptic events. I will be doing bullet reviews of each story.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Refutation of Rebuttal to a Response to a Defense of a Review; or, Let's Get Meta!

  Earlier I wrote a little something about an article by Mr. Genesson where he attempted to 'defend' Dune against a review one of my sons wrote.
  He has responded.
  His response is, well - more of the same.

Your Response is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

  My second oldest son, Alex, had his short review of Dune published at the Castalia House blog the other day. He wrote it in about an hour a few days after finishing the book and I shared it with the editor of CH who was kind enough to put it up.
   Alex wrote a largely neutral review ('some parts were great, some parts were terrible, overall average so I don't understand the hype' is a solid summary, IMO) and the overall comments largely boil down to 'yeah, that sounds accurate'.

  Reviews are tricky things to begin with because they are subjective opinions. Reviews of older, well-regarded things are even trickier because there are a lot of other subjective opinions already formed. You expect some pushback, especially from the True Fans, and Alex frankly expected a lot more than he has (so far) received.
  While still a minor, Alex is a big boy and I usually let him fight his own battles; he has so far declined to even read any of the comments since "...the sorts of people [he] cares about know it is just [his] opinion...".

  But there is a review I was made aware of I would like to point out as an example of terrible defense. Alfred Genesson's reply titled 'The Sleeper Must Awaken: A Defense of Dune'.
  Let me begin by saying - Mr. Genesson is entitled to whatever opinion of the book Dune he wishes to hold. If he wants to call it the pinnacle of human arts and letters - fine! he can. I am talking about the fact that his post is objectively bad and he should feel bad for writing it.
  Let's begin!

  Mr. Genesson writes,
  " Alex Stump has gone and made some rhetorical opponents with a tirade against Dune. Sure, he claims he's "meh" towards it, but who on Earth gets that passionate over something you're ambivalent towards? Sorry, the word count alone belies not apathy or ambivalence, but rather, antipathy."
  I must ask - if the essay was only 1,000 words would this be under the 'antipathy limit'? If the final rating had been 7/10 rather than 6/10 would this raise the 'antipathy limit' word count threshold? Is there a PDF Mr. Genesson could share showing how many words indicate approval, admiration, and pure animosity?
  All kidding aside, what Mr. Genesson has done is impart motive with no actual proof. He is saying, essentially, 'no matter what he wrote, I know what he really felt' and trying to justify it with something totally unrelated to the actual point. This is terrible writing, especially when he could have just asked.

  He goes on to show a picture of a 1st edition of Dune, which is cool. He continues,
" I'm a going to have to say, his summary and "good stuff" section is well, overly simplistic..."
  It is a less than 2,000 word review, so simplistic is the key. This seems like a cheap dismissal of the fact that the review does speak positively of the book and Alex admits it 'sucked him in'. Of course, that would mean his 'antipathy' theory is wrong, so....
  He then writes,
  "...he gets bits wrong here. Melange does indeed grant longer lifespans, but prescience? Only to the Kwisatz Haderach, the Messiah figure of the story."
  Let me be very blunt - the instant I read this I came very close to dismissing the rest of Mr. Genesson's reply and almost didn't finish reading it.
  Why?
  It is very badly wrong. As in, 'sell off that first edition because you don't deserve it and go actually read the book' wrong.
  A central plot point of Dune is that melange is essential to FTL travel because the astrogators use it to see the future. The book Dune explicitly states that melange gives prescience to Bene Gesserits that have access to it, to astrogators, to Fremen during their communal events, etc. It is strongly implied in Dune that anyone who consumes enough spice gains at least limited prescience. The Kwisatz Haderach is different in his level of clarity, etc. but it is a matter of degree.
  This is a critical misunderstanding of what is arguably the central plot point of the book and means that I personally find Mr. Genesson to have very little credibility as he continues to discuss Dune.

  Mr. Genesson then writes,
  "Alex calls the "man vs. machine" story cliched, but how many times have those in the Pulp Revolution crowd pointed out that the so called cliched stories of the old Pulps are in fact, better, and more compelling stories?At any rate, this is centuries after the Butlerian Jihad, and I fail to see the point of complaining about a background piece that the book isn't even about. His immediate comparison here is to The Matrix, and honestly, that's only a mediocre film addressing VR, AI, and philosophy. It looks pretty, but if that's compelling to you, I'm guessing you don't or watch much SFF."
  Whether a story is good or bad does not change whether or not it is cliched. Also, Alex wasn't complaining, he was discussing the background. And Alex never mentioned whether or not he found the Matrix compelling, he was mentioning that Dune was written well before the man v. machine concept was recently popular. Just as with the 'antipathy' bit at the beginning Mr. Genesson is inventing emotions and motivations out of thin air. This strawman he is erecting seems to be so he can try some character attacks.

  Mr. Genesson starts to really go off the rails,
  "Mr. Stump believes this book to be painfully long. I suggest he avoid Mr. John C. Wright's Somewhither at all costs, then, if he can't handle that. I find this argument specious and indicates a lack of attention span and possibly discipline. Please, try getting though Pierre Bayle's Commentary, I did. Get back to me."
  In addition to the strawmanning for character attacks, Mr. Genesson is now bragging about his own 'abilities' [he seems to be obsessed with the length of his... reading materials]. This was rather cringeworthy as I read it, but I soldiered on.
 It also reveals he misunderstands the point. War and Peace is a long book, but a pleasant read. A Jack Chick tract is only a few pages, but still 'painfully long'.

  Mr. Genesson joins a list of other people who miss a plot point,
  "As to Dr. Yueh's betrayal, everyone has a breaking point, and the fact is that nobody is immune to such, and even hardening and conditioning only go so far. Since it's the Harkonnen that have her, he was likely shown the horrors they have or will visit upon her if he doesn't cooperate. Where does loyalty and honor dictate one protect first? Yueh has an impossible decision to make, and acts with as much honor as he can given the situation."
  Yup. Totally misses the point.
  The book explicitly states that Suk School conditioning is so intense that it is assumed that anyone who has gone through it would die before telling a lie or betraying an employer. It is so incredibly powerful if the Emperor knew they had broken it House Harkonnen would be wiped out. Herbert has Yueh break over what an illiterate street tough would try first. It isn't the fact that Yueh broke that is a plot hole, it is that it was so damned easy it was laughable that is a plot hole.
  I have my own take on it here.

  Mr. Genesson again misses the point,
  "Further argument against this [argument that Dune is pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli] is the fact that the Arabs have not reclaimed any of the desert, yet the Jews in Israel have indeed done so."
  Alex didn't say 'Arabs', he said 'Palestinians'. You know, the landless, wandering, looking for a home Palestinians? The ones that OPEC nations marginalized and largely refused to shelter, a stance Palestinians in the '60's thought was because they were focused on protecting their profits from spi..., I mean, oil? The ones that fought the Israeli army that was largely considered unbeatable and that lived in its own harsh desert "world"?
  Yeah. Them.

  Mr. Genesson just keeps digging,
  "Not to mention that Mohommadans do not search for a Messiah..."
  Wow. Just... Wow.
  Yes, Islam has a Messiah figure. In Islamic eschatology the "Guided One" (or the Twelfth Imam, etc.) will come to earth just before the Last Days and the yam al-quayammah, the Day of Judgment, to fight the Masih al-Dajjal ('anti-Messiah') to rid the world of evil for Allah.
  This is Comparative Religion 105 level stuff. This is 'I watch PBS sometimes' type knowledge. This is an 'I am too lazy to spend the time to google 'Islam messiah' and read the top hit' error of fact.
  In Dune Paul takes the name Muad'dib
 The Arabic word for "Guided One" is Mahdi.
  Yes - Paul is meant to be a messiah figure!

  Mr. Genesson also keeps building that strawman,
  "Addressing his criticism of the Bene Geserrit..."
  What criticism?
  No, seriously. Alex never criticised the Bene Gesserit. He simply mentioned they are obviously patterned on the Jesuits. Period. The end. Nothing positive or negative, just  - 'look at this parallel'.
  Mr. Genesson is trying to refute something that never happened.

  Mr. Genesson goes on to state that he has a different opinion of Dune's characters and dialog. Sure!

  Mr. Genesson continues his wave of assumptions with this gem,
  "I get the impression that Mr. Stump doesn't understand stoicism..."
  I'd like that turned into an essay so I can figure out why, personally.

    Mr. Genesson signs off with a non-sequitur,
  "When you play Social Justice, the world loses."
  Which seems apropos of nothing. Perhaps he ends every blog post that way.

  Now that I have gone through Mr. Genesson's "defense" let me be blunt;

  Mr. Genesson, the title of this blog post is for you.
  I don't know you and I refuse to speculate as to your motivations, but here is why your response is objectively bad and you should feel bad.
  You made errors of fact about the essay you are responding to.
  You made errors of fact about Islam.
  Most damning, you made at least one critical error of fact about the book Dune.


Friday, March 31, 2017

Revisiting Aftermath! Part II

Part I

This time I am looking at the combat rules. Just - reading them and making nots of my impressions as I go.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Revisiting: Aftermath! Part I

  My oldest sister and her husband are cool, like jazz musicians and rock stars. They got me the Buck Rogers collections when they were first printed; they introduced me to King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Dave Brubeck; they got me a subscription to Dungeon magazine for Christmas. 
  And they bought me Aftermath! in the Summer of 1982.
  I was already running 2 AD&D campaigns, a Champions campaign, and was pretty active socially so I never ran it, but I remember the first rules read-through was great fun.
  A classmate of mine, Derek, ran an Aftermath! campaign called Broken Sky in '84-'85. I have described it elsewhere in this blog, but imagine if The Road Warrior was crossed with the Dark Crystal, then re-written by Monty Python and directed by Mel Brooks. Everything was lethal, everyone was insane, and it was hilarious. He was using Spell Law for the various magical/super-sciency stuff but everything else was Aftermath! mechanics, including the rolling to hit with Firebolts and the gaining of spell lists. I played 4-5 sessions as one of the 'Shinermen of the Apple-Atcha' Mountains.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Getting Girls To Play

  I was reading an article about how to get girls and women to play TRPGs [no, I will not link it] and I came away from it annoyed. I always find it annoying when female authors pull the hat trick of
  1) talking down to men
  2) by giving their personal preferences as universal advice
  3) while also talking down to women

  The author said some stuff I find wrong-headed, so let me give my advice on how to get more girls and women into the hobby.

  Be courteous to everyone.

  Thanks!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

FORTY. YEARS. and a sale. And a prize

40 years ago today I sat down with a small group of college freshmen and rolled up an Elf. I was only 9 years old. The DM's girlfriend *insisted* that he let me play [thanks, Kim!].
We went into a dungeon - I went first. 90 feet in, I fell into a pit trap and I died.
Another player helped me roll up a replacement, and I rolled a paladin!

The Elf is long gone, but I still have and sometimes play that paladin.

I mentioned to the guy at the bookstore that I was playing. He ordered the books for me and pointed out Traveller, that had just arrived.
  I got the monster manual for Christmas.

  In the years since I have played and sometimes run:
2300 AD, Aberrant, Indiana Jones, Aftermath!, Alternity, Amber, Ars Magica, Beyond the Supernatural, BESM, Boot Hill, B&B, Bureau 13, CoC , Castles and Crusades, Champions , oWoD, Chivalry and Sorcery, Conan, CORPS, Cyberpunk and FNFF, DC, Elric!, EotPT, Fading Suns, FUDGe and Fuzion, Gangbusters, Ghostbusters, Space Opera, Godlike, HackMaster (both versions, early memebr of the HMGMA and early pre-orderer of books), HARP, Heros Unlimited, In Nomine, Jorune, Marvel, Mechwarrior, Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, Metamorphosis Alpha, MERP, Morrow Project, Ninjas and Stupid Guys, Over the Edge, Palladium, Paranoia, Pendragon, Prime Directive, Psiworld, Rifts, Robotech, RuneQuest, Sailor Moon, Shadowrun, Space 1889, Spacemaster, Star Frontiers, Star*Drive, Star Trek (most versions), Superworld, Bushido,Talislanta, TMNTAOS, TFOS, Timelords, TOON, Top Secret, TORG, Traveller (all versions, although the LBBs are best), Trinity, Twilight 2000, and, of course, D20, D6, and GURPS. And my favorite non-D&D game, Rolemaster.
  I am certain I missed a few.

  My wife and I spent our second date playing WEG's Star Wars. Half of all the Christmas presents I have ever received are RPG related. I have met amazing people at gaming tables and many a friendship has been forged over badly-photocopied character sheets.

  On the 16th and 17th (Thursday and Friday this week) I will be having a 50% off sale at RGNow.

  Today, though, is a special giveaway to celebrate!

  I will be posting this on Google+ under 'public' and my collection for 'tabletop roleplaying games' and in a few communities. Tomorrow morning the Fun Lads Four will make a list of everyone who makes a comment on one of these entries and my dear wife will randomly draw two names.
  Those two people will get a prize! The can choose from
1) A free copy of The Book of Seaward - my complete add-on rules for AD&D 1e that are never sold.
or
2) Free copies of all of my stuff on RPGNow.
or
3) A write up of the top four levels of Skull Mountain, including the sublevels
0r
4) I create a new, custom adventure for them in one of the following game systems: D&D 1e, 2e, 3e; Rolemaster; HERO; Classic Traveller.

  Good luck and good gaming!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Play Report: Old-School Take on 3e, First Session & Second Session

  As I had mentioned a short time ago, the Fun Lads Four and I decided to try to make 3e as OSRish as possible and try it out.

The Setup:
Classes- PHB classes only. Some are limited (Druids must pick the one combat-worthy wildshape form they can take, for example).
Skills- PHB only
Feats- PHB only and not all are available (Natural Spell, for example, isn't to be found)
Prestige Classes- Some from the DMG
  In general, splatbooks don't exist (although we are told 'there might be psionics. Or not. If there are, they were always there. If not,t hey were never there'.)

Players and Characters:
I played Janusz- 1st level human Cleric
Jen played Mary- 1st level elven ranger (bow path)
Sam played Frederick- 1st level human paladin
Nick played Kedrick- 1st level human rogue
Jack was DM

Friday, March 10, 2017

RPGs, Deceit, the OSR, Publishing, FUD, and you! - A Rant

  Warning - rant follows.
  My blog's tagline mentions something I don't do enough of - talk about the industry of RPGs. There are reasons for that, the biggest being I am a hobbyist publisher. Not a 'small press'; not an 'indie'. A hobbyist. I strive to generate high-quality work, yes, but I will never, and do not wish to ever, generate a wage off of my RPG publishing.
  But there are people I talk to and interact with on G+ who either do make a wage off of gaming and related activities or wish to. Semi-series to serious authors, artists, etc., too. I enjoy reading of their interactions with and participation in what I will call 'more serious RPG publishing' for lack of a better term in much the same way I enjoy reading about baseball trades; it impacts my hobby, so I am interested.

Monday, March 6, 2017

How We "Fix" 3e - a Short Post

From years and years of not having access to anything else, I have a few cubic meters of AD&D 3e books. Working for Fast Forward as a freelancer added to that, as did freelance copyediting for, oh, half of the d20 explosion guys. They are all neatly stored in my (finished) basement. About once a year my wife has to convince me not to sell them.

Son #1 pulled a few out last week.

For the last three days he and I have been discussing them and there was a lot of,
  "Why do people say 3e wizards are overpowered?"
  "Huh. Why do people think this feat works a way it doesn't?"
  etc.

So over the last two days he's decided to run a short 3e campaign in a unique setting.  But it led us to talk about What's Wrong with 3e and how to fix it.

Our takeaways:

1) The GM must keep tight control over what prestige classes exist. The creep and bloat of splatbooks can make a campaign collapse.

2) The GM must carefully control the magic items in the campaign. This ranges from 'no, you can't buy potions from a street vendor' up to using items that grow. While this may sound too obvious, the implied/assumed setting of 3e appears to be awash in magic items!

3) The GM must throttle access to spells for wizards and sorcerers and make sure cleric spell selections make sense in the context of the domains, deity, and alignment of divine spellcasters.

4) The GM must control access to feats, especially advanced ones.

5) Challenge ratings must be based on the level of play not the level of PCs.

This is from an old 3e campaign of mine- 6) Consider making the Barbarian and the Druid NPC classes

7) Play the rules as written.

  We'll be trying this out over the next few weeks. We think with GM oversight and cooperative players we can have a 3e game with a real 2e feel and play!

Play Report: First Game in the Dosmend Campaign for HERO System

  I love Champions and the HERO system. I've been playing Champions since it came out and it is my default superhero system. HERO is my default system for damn near everything that isn't fantasy or horror.
  Recently Son #4 told us that phrase that all people who play superhero games both love and dread.
 "Play anything you want".

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

DM Report - Adventure in the East: new 1st level AD&D 1r party in Seaward

  Since I prefer jazz band adventuring and the PCs are leveling, we all agreed to launch a new low-level party.After a bit of die rolling we ended up with:

The Wife - Trixie Redspark, 1st/1st Cleric/Thief gnome
Son #1 - Lennart von Schwabach, 1st Nobleman (custom class from my Far Realms book) human
Son #2 - Ga'Ree Byu-Zee, 1st Magic-user elf
Son #3 - Ludwig von Schwabach, 1st Nobleman human
Son #4 - Anarawd, 1st Bard (another of my customs) human

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Classic Traveller: Reactionless Drives and Repulsor Tech

  Let's get nerdy and jump into the deep end of the scifi RPG pool - reactionless drives.
  In short, the reactionless drive 'issue' boils down to this:
  1) So far, in Real Life, it appears that in a vacuum and microgravity (or close enough) you need to expel reaction mass to generate thrust. Burn a rocket and shoot out the exhaust; use magnetic bottles to eject ionized gas; have hydrogen bombs detonated by a shock plate; whatever. In short, to move mass X through space you somehow hurl mass Y in the other direction and the reaction generates thrust.
The RF Resonant Cavity Thruster which is being tested in space about now might change the 'in Real Life' part of this post. We live in interesting times
The issue is this - with this as true travel through space is hard, expensive, short-range, and slow because you have to use mass to move mass.

  2) In fiction lots and lots of people use reactionless drives - ships move, but they don't have to throw mass 'that way'. 
  3) So some people say 'Yay, reactionless drives are fun! They let my book/game/whatever be Horatio Hornblower in space!'
  Other people say, 'Boo, reactionless drives are no fun! They break my ability to accept the book/game/whatever and mean that everyone should just be hurling planets at one another at 99.9999% C!'

  As much as some would like to label the latter group 'pearl-clutching ninnies' in the what was perhaps the very first fictional portrayal of reactionless drives (Doc Smith's Lensman books) the characters did, indeed, escalate until they were destroying planets by hitting them who two other planets. 
  From opposite directions.
  Both doing 99.9999999% C.
  And both were made of antimatter.
The father of Space Opera wrote BIG stories.
  So there is a risk there.

  You'd think that such a rather nerdy, niche, obscure issue wouldn't be that big a deal, right? I mean, it isn't as if people obsess over things like food or fuel sources in fantasy rpgs, right?
  But reactionless drives are a Big Deal in SF TRPGs, so much so that one side of the debate has the slogan 'friends don't let friends use reactionless drives'.
  Part of the problem is classic Traveller.
  If you are among the few guys who might read this blog who don't know what Traveller is, hoo-boy: you are missing out.
  As I remember, Traveller hit the FLGS in Spring of 1977. Dad owed me a huge favor involving a situation straight out of a 1980's sitcom
...but that is a story for another time...
  so I got it that week and started reading it.
  Two weeks after I got it, I saw Star Wars for the first time.
  Great timing.
  Traveller is a pretty crunchy game. The original books are full of mathematical formulae you need for play, including an intro to the use of vectors. The ship building rules, planet generation rules, sub-sector generation rules, etc. are essentially minigames. The game is developed enough that you can run a full game that is all about being explorers based on a remote, agrarian frontier world: you slip out into barely-explored space and come back with valuable knowledge and rare items. Or you can run a full game that is all about being mercenaries based on a remote, agrarian frontier world; you are guns-for-hire for the brush wars that erupt far from centralized power. Heck, you can run a full game that is all about being merchants based on a remote, agrarian frontier world; you are trying to corner the market on farm machinery!
  Oh, yeah - the trade system is another mini-game.
  Anyway, Traveller supports SF RPG play from asteroid prospectors trying to earn enough for more oxygen to intrigue among galactic nobles at imperial court where entire solar systems are used as currency and everything in between. A seminal game in the early days of tabletop RPGs.

  And it uses reactionless drives.

  I can remember the debates about this from Back in the Day, and they were pretty serious on the old Traveller Mailing List from time to time. I remember particularly when T4 was coming out with new ship construction rules.

  Personally, I have never had an issue with reactionless drives for one simple reason - we are surrounded by 'reactionless acceleration' all the time.
  Gravity.

  "But, Rick!," I hear you say, "Gravity involves mass! The mass of the attractors!"

  Yeah. I know.

  As a little aside, I have fond memories of my Physics 360 prof telling us a humorous aside as we discussed gravity. He was quoting someone else (whose name I don't think he mentioned) and I am paraphrasing,
"The Medieval world used the concept of Crystal Spheres to predict the movement of the sun, moon, planets, and stars and were very, very accurate about it. If you pushed a Scholastic to tell you what it was that made the celestial objects move he couldn't tell you exactly what it was - he could measure its effects, he could make very accurate predictions about the future, etc. but what it was? He only had measurements and formulae. So he said it was the angels."
"Today people laugh about that, and say 'it is gravity!' But all we have done is give the angels a new name. We can measure its effects; we can make very accurate predictions; but as to what it really is? Could be angels."
  Anyway, the idea of a gravity-based drive being 'reactionless' is actually kinda' goofy. The reaction mass is just other places.
  Here is an analogy - beam powered propulsion. This is the 'planet based laser pushing a vessel with a light sail' idea. In this case the reaction mass is the planet that holds the laser - the vessel doesn't carry reaction mass for the main trip.
  With sub-light thrust using gravity fields the 'reaction mass' is, well, the rest of the universe, really. Even some of the biggest proponents of 'reactionless drives are broken' admit this (not all - just some).

  We know Traveller uses artificial gravity (it is explicitly mentioned in the books) and even use a form of defensive gravity generator, the repulsor. So I assume that the drive systems in spaceships are gravity-based in any spacefaring civilization in Traveller unless otherwise noted.

  One of the things I like about classic traveller in particular is a lot of things are implied, giving a GM plenty of room to move around. Look at gravity technology in books 1 through 8 of Classic Traveller and you see a lot of discussion about artificial gravity in use. Indirectly, usually. It really lets you go off on your own and has some interesting little quirks. G-carriers, air/rafts, repulsors, grav belts - artificial gravity tools are all over the background clutter of the CT game.

  Looking at the development of ships by tech level I decided to add something to a campaign I wrote up in 1986, re-wrote in 1988, and eventually never got to run. I have ported it over to my about to be launched campaign. That is....

Repulsor Shields
High Guard stats:

Repulsor Shield Tech Level Table
Tech Level-            11    12    13    14    15
Shield Rank-           2      3      4      5      6
  this is the maximum shield rating available at each tech level

 Repulsor Shield Displacement Table
Rank                 1    2    3    4    5    6
Displacement-  2    5    8    11  14  17
  this is the percentage of the ship required for the shield generator

Repulsor Shield Cost Table
Rating-    1       2    3     4     5     6
Cost-       1.5  0.7  0.5  0.5  0.5  0.5
  in millions of credits

Repulsor Shield Power Requirement
is calculated by: R 0.01M
Where R equals the rating of the repulsor screen and M is the total displacement of the ship.

  Feel free to point out any errors I am making as I am recreating these really experimental devices from memories about 30 years old!

  If you do more than glance at this, you'll realize that repulsor shields are just another maneuver drive! Rather than provide thrust for the ship, though, they push away any inbound missiles. In combat a ship with active repulsor shields applies its shield rating against all  incoming missiles! This is, naturally, in addition to any counter-fire, dedicated repulsor bays, and nuclear dampers.
  The downside is that a ship with active repulsor shields cannot launch or recover any sub-craft, regardless of size, and also cannot fire any missiles or even use deadfall ordnance.

  Thoughts?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Conan the Barbarian: A Review, an Analysis, and a Little Bit of a Misunderstood and Improperly Played - While Talking About the Pulps

It appears that, barring a sudden change, my father will not be with us much longer. As his children, grand-children, great-grand-children, and various in-laws gather (there are about 65 of us, all told!) to see him, my thoughts are on what he shared with me.
Note: My father passed away while this was being written. We were able to see him before he died.

In the Spring of 1982 I was 14-going-on-15 and very excited because Conan the Barbarian was coming out soon. My father, who was a huge fan of the pulps, had introduced me to Conan when I was very young (even the De Camp stuff) and I had been mining it for my D&D games for years, along with Howard's works on Kull, Kane, and even his Breck Elkins stories. The day that Conan hit the theaters my father took me to see it.

Over the weekend I saw that the 1982 film was available on streaming and watched it again (the 14th or 15th time, I am sure). I had seen the remake with Momoa in the intervening years, as well as the TV series (Well. Some of the series).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard - Implications for World Building

  I do love classic traveller. From that fantastic box cover giving us the mayday from Free Trader Beowulf to the crisp aesthetic to the crunch. Toss in the mini-games of ship design and it was an instant classic.
  Book 5: High Guard was one of the best splat books ever added to a game, in my opinion. Advanced character generation, advanced ship design, detailed yet streamlined space combat.
  Hard to top and it might not have seen its equal in the 37 years since it came out.

  Lots and lots of people use HG to build ships, but I also use it to look at the 'Domain Game' of Traveller (or as Traveller calls it, the Pocket Empires game).

Let's talk about what the shipbuilding charts in HG tell us about building a campaign setting for Classic Traveller looks like.

First, a quick glance at FTL travel with the Drive Tech Table:


  You need to have Tech Level 9 to have any FTL ships and you don't get longer than 1 parsec until TL11+.

  Impact: To have interstellar travel you must have worlds capable of at least maintaining and repairing TL9 jump drives. To have real strategic speed you have to have TL11+. This means TL9 and 10 civilizations will be very 'local' compared to higher techs.

  Now let's look at Weapons and Defenses, starting with major weapons weapons, i.e., stuff that's big for starships:












At TL9 you have access to heavy bay Particle Accelerators (or PAs), PA spinal mounts, and heavy missile bays. TL10 adds heavy repulsor bays and bigger PA spinal mounts as well as some light bay weapon systems. TL11 is a big jump where you gain Meson spinal mounts.

  Let's look at turrets:


  It can be hard to see, but the heavier energy weapons aren't available until TL10+ and they get more powerful fairly rapidly.

  Last in this section, screens;

You can't have nuclear dampers or meson screens until TL12+.

  I am not going to post the huge combat charts showing the various target numbers to hit and then penetrate, but the end result is - until TL10+ missiles, especially nuclear missiles, dominate space combat because they are more likely to hit and penetrate. Repulsors eat up some of (ok - a lot of) the advantage of missiles at TL10 and TL11, but once nuclear dampers are added to the mix missiles are matched by energy weapons. If you track missile reloads in large scale, long-term space battles energy weapons can take the edge, especially at higher TLs.

Impact: Missiles rule until TL12. After TL12 ship-killer mesons spinal mounts appear.

Now it is time to talk about a rather odd fact or two. Here is the computer chart:


  This chart is important because more powerful computers = bonuses to hit and penetrate with weapon fire. This chart is critical to world building because of ship size.
  Yes, really.
  See that column that is headed'Ship'? That column is 'the hull tonnage size that requires that model of computer as a minimum'. In other words, that code is the largest ship hull available with that computer model. This means hull size is limited by tech level.

    Here is the hull chart:


  By cross-reference you can see that at TL9 maximum hull size is D, or 4,000 displacement tons while at TL12 maximum hull size is R, or 100,000 displacement tons.
  There are some very interesting implications from this! For example, at TL9 the smallest PA spinal mount is 5,000 displacement tons while the largest possible space ship is 4,000 displacement tons. As a result, at TL9 PA spinal mounts are for planets, moons, etc., not ships. The most powerful weapon that can be put into a TL9 ship is a 100 ton missile bay with a weapon factor of 7. Next would be a PA bay or a total of 30 missile tube, both of which have a weapon factor of 7. A capitol ship for a TL9 navy might look like;
4,000d dt, Jump-1, Manuever-3
1 x 100 dt PA bay (factor 6)
10 x triple sand turrets (1 battery of factor 7)
10 x triple missile turrets (5 batteries of factor 3 each)
10 x triple beam turrets (5 batteries of weapon factor 4 each)
Armor factor 12
Agility 1 (emergency 3)
Computer factor 3
  So while it has a relatively low agility it has fair survivability with the beam lasers capable of anti-missile fire and the sand to stop heavy energy attacks and decent armor.

  On the other hand, TL12 is a big leap in capabilities. Ships get very big, meson spinal mounts, meson screens, and nuclear dampers are on the table, armor gets tougher, etc. The differences are pretty stark - the TL9 navy's capital ship isn't a match for a TL12 navy's frigate - the TL12 frigate would have Jump-2, heavier armor, better agility, and a more powerful computer in the same size hull. This means the higher TL ship chooses the range of engagement, hits more often, penetrates more often, gets hit less often, etc.
  The Fun Lads Four refer having a more powerful computer in space combat "The Traveller Bless spell".

  TL12+ capitol ships should be able to engage entire TL9 battle groups alone and prevail.
  So how could a TL9 navy face a TL12 navy?
  Two words - zergling rush.
  The TL9 navy could put so many ships into play at so many locations that the TL12 navy would be forced to pick what it defends. With the TL12 navy pinned the TL9 navy could then swarm selected fleets, or even ships, with an overwhelming number of attackers. This depends on a few things, though:
  1) They need to have that many hulls
  2) They have to be able to lose a lot of hulls
  3) They have to be willing to lose a lot of hulls
  4) They must be committed to a long conflict
  5) Their own economic and supply bases must be secure from counter-attack

  That is a tough combo to pull off.

Impact: When doing world building within CT to achieve anything approaching parity between a TL( civilization and a TL12+ civilization the TL9 group must be much larger and have a lot more population and have well-defended manufacturing. If not the TL12+ group will be able to overwhelm the other at will.

Next time - how I used these elements to make my new CT campaign setting.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Play Report/DM Report, Blackstone Record Keeping and the Domain Game

  Twenty months ago the party ended a 7 real-world year arc in the Blackstone campaign. The adventures were Big Deals and the loot was spectacular.
  In the approaching-two-years since we have played a lot of sessions, but the party never sat down to even divide the loot from this adventure! In the intervening time castles had been designed, built, paid for, etc. and a lot of Domain level diplomacy had occurred, but little nuts and bolts.
  I spent a little time doing a game-year worth of encounters and issued an update of what was going in in Blackdell, Doomsman's domain. Then we decided to sit down and settle some things.

Traveller: The Lanxing Comity - a short take

It has been a heck of a fortnight: I went to a Red Hat conference week f=before last and had a blast, then last week:
  One of my employees who is also a family member got shingles.
  I slipped a tore a muscle in my lower back.
  I found out I have about 20 hours of hoops to jump through to become an approved vendor for 3 major potential clients. 20 hours each.

  So today as the rest of the family is at Mass I am sitting at the interwebz machine with ibuprophen, a heating pad, tea, and smelling of Thera-gesic (my analgesic heat rub of choice) working on stuff to relax.

  Last June I wrote about a Classic Traveller campaign I have been doodling on for about a decade without putting pen firmly to paper, so I decided today is a good day for it. Behold the Lanxing Subsector-


Legend: Yellow Line = official interstellar trade routes of the Lanxing Comity; Light blue lines = official trade routes of the 12 Moon Trade Cooperative; Light purple lines = independent merchant routes; Diamonds = Jump-capable starship manufacturing facilities; five-pointed stars = Jump-Capable Warship Bases; triangles = Civilian-accessible stardocks with refined fuel and jump repair facilities.

  The Lanxing Comity is the focus, naturally, of this subsector.

  I'll have planet write ups and such in the near future.

  I used hexographer for the mapping. It took me about 20 minutes to cobble this together.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane and an apology

Sorry for the light posting - I started a new business and have been busy and my free time has been going to projects.

10 Cloverfield Lane
  The Fun Lads Four and I saw  Cloverfield in the theater but waited on the semi-sequel to hit streaming.
BTW - we cut the cord on cable about 18 months ago and never looked back, We got a Roku stick and Sling TV subscription for Christmas and are sorry we didn't already have Sling! I recommend Netflix + Sling. For $30/month I have more TV and movies than I did with cable
  We watched 10 Cloverfield Lane (TCL from now on) last night and then discussed it for about 40 minutes.

Spoiler Heavy Review Follows

Monday, January 2, 2017

Play Report and Adventure Review for A Baker's Denizen

  Howard Beleiff was kind enough to send me a pre-release copy of his adventure A Baker's Denizen for review.
Edit: It can be purchased here!

The Review
Layout and Such: I like the design and layout and found the page art very nice. He uses a classic illustration you better recognize!

Editing and Style: The adventure has a nice, conversational style that imparts a mood without overwhelming you. The writing is crisp and fun to read. The editing is great.

Content and Adventure: Try to come up with an adventure in an urban setting that is fun, engaging, able to be dropped into almost any campaign, and still has a unique hook. It is hard.
  Howard pulled it off.
  He uses rarely-seen monsters, a nice master villain, unusual layouts and floor plans, and a nice hook to craft a simple, fun adventure that is still capable of being adapted and changed.

My Score: Four out of Four