Monthly Archives: June 2010

Star Rovers, Part III

Star Rovers III

Well, this series has generated more comments than any other posting here (three! Three comments! Whoooo!), so here I am again, as my computer spends most of its processing power to churn through a few hundred thousand pieces of financial data to test out my code. I’ve been promising chargen for two long, digression-filled pieces now, and it’s time to deliver.

Click "More" to see me deliver.


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Star Rovers, Part II

Star Rovers Part II: Character Building

(With a quick digession into game mechanics.)

Right then.

Let’s jump into what these articles are all about — character creation, and discovering a game system by working through it. Much as with Space Opera, I’m turning back the clock to my earliest gaming days, forcing myself to take off misty glasses of vague recollection and confront the cold type burned into the dead trees, facing the rules as they were and judging them with the eye of a semi-competent semi-pro game designer and writer who has been gaming, now, for longer than I’d been alive at the time I originally played. Let us see… (at this point, the screen should get all wavy and fade out, but anyway…)

Some physicality. Star Rovers was a boxed game, as most were at the time, though the era of the single book, "You buy your own damn dice!" game was rapidly approaching — Villains and Vigilantes and Champions were already in the vanguard for that. I can’t find a price on the box, but that’s not atypical. I suspect it was 19.95 or so. For this presumed price, you get a rulebook of about 130 pages, held in a cheap plastic spine which could be unclipped to remove or add pages, three ring binder style. This design choice, tried again with the AD&D 2e Monster Manual, was intended to allow the addition of new "modules" as the game progressed — rules modules, not pre-fab adventures (and therein lies a tragic tale). The boxed game was "Module 1", of course. You also got maps. You got several pages of blueprints for the "Zirconium Zephyr", a generic PC-class starships, a large, scaled for 25mm figures (but not hexes or grids, despite the game relying on hexes for combat) map of "Moondog Maude’s Cantina", which included "Galactic Roulette" tables, spice racks (labeled "Salt, Pepper, Sulfur"), bathrooms for males, females, and "non-humanoids" (evidently, male, female, receiver, and nurturer Blagovaxians had to share), an out-of-order video booth (really, it says, "Out Of Order" on the map!), and many more wonderful things that tell you exactly what we of the 1980s thought the future — the kick-ass, galaxy-eating, lightsabre-fighting, totally heavy metal future — would be like. Sure, at this same time period, William Gibson was penning depressing novels about the grim dehumanization caused by technology (and we gamers would turn it into a genre where you played cyber-mercenaries who kicked 26 different kinds of ass with their built in penis mounted missile racks), but for us 16 year olds back in high school, it was all about the vrooosh (that’s a lightsaber  sound effect) and the lasers (pew pew pew!). The only thing "grim" or "dark" about the future was the slavering alien hordes that would nom your face off if you didn’t shoot them first! Pew pew! Wait, where was I?

Read on to find out where I was!


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Star Rovers

Star Rovers

Most of the articles in this series reference games I’ve never played, or played only occasionally. Some are extremely obscure. Well, this one is definitely obscure, but it’s a bit different, in that it’s a game I played quite a bit back in High School (Gill/St. Bernards, 1979-1983), namely, Star Rovers, published by Archive Miniatures in 1981, which was a very good year for gaming. I’d say it was roughly the peak of what I, personally, consider the "classic era" or the "Golden Age", based mostly on the premise that "The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12" — that is, the defining moment of any genre is the era that it is discovered by the individual. But anyway…

Star Rovers embodies the spirt, essence, zeitgeist, whatever of what I think gaming, and especially science-fiction gaming, should be. It’s really Space Fantasy, not "Science Fiction" in any meaningful sense. It’s an insane hodgepodge of whatever random elements the writers thought were cool, pulling from pulp sci-fi of the 30s and the science fiction movies of the 1970s (especially "Star Wars", which of course itself pulled from those same pulp elements) as well as the vaguely inchoate common assumptions of the rapidly developing gamer subculture.

Setting? Oh, you silly, silly, man (or woman). This was the early 1980s! We didn’t need no steenkin’ setting! (We still don’t, if you ask me — not as part of the core rules.) What you needed was the idea of a setting, a sense of a setting, the echo and color and tone of a setting, but not any actual, definable, setting. So what does Star Rovers give us?

From "In The Beginning", on page 0.01. (Yes, 0.01. You got a problem with that?)

Billions of years in the primoridal future, beyond Infinity, the Universe collapsed into a Black Hole and ceased to exist. Time reversed its flow, and the stars burst forth from the Cosmic Nothing in a blaze of light. Cosmic wastes congealed into captive orbits in the outer darkness, forming planets, sometimes colliding with each other, shattering into rocks and asteroids and wandering comets.

As if on signal, at different times and places, floating synapses of energy crystallized into minute replicas of ancient suns, then into chains squeezed by the colloidal clay into the building blocks of Life. Carbon and Silicon proved to be the most prevalent molecular bases to evolve life from, but there were others, and sentient races evolved in a bewildering variety of forms. Sometims the path of Intelligence omitted many stages altogether, assuming bizarre shapes far removed from the normally travelled paths of natural selection. The Cosmic Computer catalogued nine billion different species of sentient life before the Universe collapsed and the stars winked out of existence.

(All random Capitalizations are As Found in the Original text.)

Don’t ask about the Cosmic Computer. It’s never mentioned again. But the mere fact it was mentioned automatically gives you some sense of what this game’s about, isn’t it? 

A paragraph or two later, in "Fragments of Imperial History", we learn that:

Then, the Biomorphs came. They grew from within, these Exploding Men, almost impossible to detect. They struck without warning, like a sudden earthquake or an epileptic seizure. They were a threat so dreadful that the Empire felt obliged to deny their very eixstence and the terrified people gave tacit approval to this conspiracy of silence. For the name itself, though seldom spoken, conjured Death and Oblivion, almost attracting attack with each utterance.

I didn’t leave out anything vital; "Biomorphs" aren’t defined or explained, either.

Skip ahead one more paragraph, and we get:

For Time has begun to run out. The Hurrakku — they who would gnaw their way through a starcluster and leave nothing in their wake — had already starswarmed. And even though they were still more than forty galaxies away, they were headed in the Empire’s direction.

But they were only the messengers of a great doom. What goaded the Hurrakku onward was the fear of impending annihilation. There loomed behind them an expanding, starless, blackness — A rift in the Space/Time fabric grown so large that it consumed the Past, the Present, and the Future. This was the Final Darkness that Would Cancel Everything!


But then we learn of the El’dar scrolls!

With great secrecy at first, and then more openly, the Empire began to field great numbers of intelligence gathering operations; then exploratory groups to search for the lost technology of the El’dar.Starknight enclaves planned and executed missions into unexplored territories to recover lost artifacts. The Rebel Axis also began receiving reports and dispatched probes of their own. So did the Dragonspawn. The Biomorph High Command had always been aware of the existence of the lost artifacts, even before the Empire, but had never succeeded in recovering any.

Thus it was that the Star Roving Ages began. As always, the enemies of the Hu-men, who sought only their destruction, followed in their wake. But the Hu-men no longer looked back in fear. Instead, they looked forward into the vastness of space with a renewed sense of wonder.

I’ve skipped a few paragraphs here and there, but nothing which would add more "context" or "meaning" or "definitions" or any other such wuss-like things. Hurrakku? Dragonspawn? "Starspawned"? Starknights? Rebel Axis? Some of these words show up again in the text, never explicitly called out or defined, others are never seen again. But you KNOW what this game is about! Giant alien…somethings… that chew through ENTIRE STARCLUSTERS! Biomorphs! Starknights! Ancient artifacts! Galactic secrets! Holes in TIME AND SPACE! Some sort of outer space dragon men, or something! Whatever! It’s cool! This game certainly isn’t about whipping out your HP Scientific Calculator that does RPN and trying to figure out the fuel requirements for the jump drive and if you’ll show a 15 credit profit on that load of dried beans you’re hauling from one planet to another. This game is about things that eat galaxies, man! Whatever they are! Didn’t you read it, dude? They, like, eat galaxies! Or they’re running from something that eats galaxies. Or… something. Whatever. Dragonspawn!!!!

Sorry. Lost myself there.

Anyway, that’s just the first two pages. We’ll get to character creation… sometime. I just had to post the introduction. Enjoy.

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Earth Delta Alpha 1.6

It’s That Time Of The Month…

Yes, it’s that time of the month… well, not THAT time of the month… it’s the time of the month when Lizard posts another Alpha of Earth Delta (make your own damn Greek letter joke this time). I thought this would be in Beta by June 1, even possibly done? Bwaahahah! At least I suspect it will go faster for Paragon and Epic, in that the main rules tinkering will be done-ish.

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Killer Fractals

Killer Fractal Of The First Iteration

Never let it be said I do not provide actual content anymore, as opposed to long rants about how I changed +2 to +1 and then back to +2 again. In the course of my Earth Delta development work, I realized I was really shy of 1st level monsters not too tightly bound to Cataclysm Cults. So in addition to everything else, I’ve been buffing up the monster lists, and somehow the phrase “killer fractal” got stuck in my head. Possibly due to listening to too much Coulton. Anyway, for once, the leap from “idea” to “implementation” was not particularly painful.

With a small amount of reflavoring, this can easily be a creature from the Far Realm for those of you playing “standard” Fourth Edition D&D.

Actual stat block and description after the break!

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Rudyard And Ringworld

Rudyard And Ringworld

This is a continution of the RPG Blogger’s Network blog carnival theme, on what non-RPG material inspires or informs your games. My previous entry on this topic is here. Today we (well, me… er… I) look at two other factors from my formative years which have contributed to my ideas of gameplay, world design, and general sense of… I don’t know if there’s a word. Something like ‘aesthetic’, something like ‘scope’, something like ‘the feeling that those things give me’. Stupid English language with its stupid limited vocabulary of only a quarter million words or so.

Read on for more!
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Earth Delta Design Diaries 6/10/2010

Earth Delta Design Diaries 6/10/2010 — Oy.

So I finally got one of my rules lawyers/minmaxing friends to look over Earth Delta in some detail, and, after a lot of discussion, a lot of things will be changing, which is why this is still an "Alpha" and not a "Beta". The general overall shape of the rules remains, but a lot of specifics are going to be redone. The heart of the beast, the mutations-as-magic-items system, is undergoing a fairly major shift. Namely, the enhancement bonus aspect of weapon, armor, and neck mutations is going to be split out from the Properties/Powers/Vestigial Effects of the mutation. Enhancement bonuses to mutations will now be part of "treasure parcels". The flavor text/justification for this is going to be fun, but not impossible, but the main mechanical reason is that a mutant with 5 personal mutations is basically guaranteed powerful "magic items" in many slots, along with his normal, level-by-level loot, which will be going, presumably, to the slots he doesn’t have filled. Most of the mutations "turn on" by level 2-4, so he will basically have a full set of "magic" (game mechanically, not flavor textually) gear before someone with only a few mutation slots.

I’ll also be revising some of the key attributes for most of the new classes, and redefining the powers. I like the logic of "Attribute A to hit, Attribute B for damage", but I’ve been well convinced of its non-viability for a lot of gameplay. It was also pointed out to me that the current design has a very heavy bias towards Strength, Dex, and Int based characters, leaving other stats as "vanity stats" which will have lower values overall — esp. Charisma, which can leave a party underpowered for non-combat/skill challenge encounters. Quite honestly, I’m having a hard time coming up with a viable Charisma-based class which fits the genre, doesn’t feel forced, and seems "plausible" to the same degree the Scavenger is. I’m looking at a heavily Charisma-based build for Warlords, instead of a full class. The new class structure is going to be:

Scavenger: Dexterity as the attack/damage attribute for single target powers, Intelligence as the attack/damage attribute for area powers, Wisdom as a likely secondary to reflect both perception and healing.

Savage: Constitution as the primary attack/damage attribute, Strength and Charisma as secondary attributes for various powers. This also helps insure a Savage will have higher hit points, since he’ll need them as a Defender.

Scholar: Wisdom as the primary attack/damage attribute, Charisma and Intelligence as secondaries.

The overall class design and most powers will remain the same (until they’re tested further), but the key inputs are changing.

This is going to be a busy Saturday.

On the other hand, it was a fairly straightforward process to roll up a Quickvine Plantman bow-using ranger with spider powers, and that’s what the game’s all about.

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What Inspires My Games

Source Of Inspiration

This article is written for the June RPG Bloggers carnival; to see other people’s replies, you can go here.

The question is “What non-game media have most inspired your games and how?”.

I’ve got a couple of cheesy answers, like “Serious drugs, dude!”, or “What doesn’t?”, but the first is a lie, as I am, sadly, a lifelong tetotaler, and the second is just lame and pointless, and what would the Internet be if it consisted mostly of lame and pointless content?

So I’m going to attempt a serious answer. I hope both my readers forgive me.

Star Wars

Star Wars came out in 1977; I discovered D&D in 1978. Someone once said “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13.” Well, I was 12 in May of 1977, and 14 in December of 1978, so two of biggest influences of my life hit me right square in the formative years. There’s a lot of things about Star Wars that makes it an obvious inspiration, but there’s one thing, one line, in particular which I can point to, time and again, as one of the most important lines spoken in a movie, at least in terms of how it has shaped and influenced me.

“You fought in the Clone Wars?”

Why does that simple line have so much resonance, so much meaning, to me? Especially since didn’t learn what the “Clone Wars” were until decades later, until I’d turned into the cantankerous, fossilized lump of grumpiness you all know and love so well?

Because we didn’t learn what the Clone Wars were!

Because Obi-Wan didn’t turn to Luke and says, “Yes, we fought in the Clone Wars, when Palaptine created armies of clones to fight against the Secessionist forces, though we didn’t know at the time he was manipulating both sides. Those clones became the Empire’s Stormtroopers, you know.”

Because with that simple line, and the equally important refusal to explain what it meant, the movie exploded outside the boundaries of the screen. This wasn’t simply a story; this was a peek into a world, the movie screen being simply a window through which we looked onto one part of that vast infinity which lay beyond. There were other stories there — a past, a thousand worlds, a tale that began before the opening credits and would continue afterwards.

I knew I needed to do that. I knew I needed to make worlds, worlds in which stories could happen, but the world was the important thing. A world would create stories to fill it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the tools I needed.

Then D&D came along. I was drawing my first dungeon within two days of learning to play. Never mind that I didn’t have any version of the rules, I drew the map on graph paper and drew little pictures for monsters — skeletons, blobs, dragons — and wrote down their hit points, making up numbers which “seemed right”. (And I hit the hit points for a large, adult, red dragon right on the button — 88 !) Dungeons quickly gave way to cities and continents and multiverses, and I could never keep a campaign running for more than a few weeks before I decided I had a better idea for a cooler world. I’ve lost only a little of that creative ADD since then, become slightly more focused, but I still have more ideas than I will ever be able to detail — or even sketch out — in a lifetime.

Jack Kirby

It took me a while to realize that while I thought I could say a major influence was “comic books”, the truth is that Jack Kirby is at the heart of those comics which have influenced and shaped me the most. He loved teams of iconic, clearly-defined and visually distinctive heroes battling equally iconic enemies. He built worlds by the dozens, too, but fortunately for him and his readers, he lacked some of my obsessions with crop yields and how many peasants could actually fit into a city of size “X”. He painted in broad strokes, with bright colors, and didn’t shy away from “cheesy” names like “Darkseid” or “Bernadeth“. If you’ve read Earth Delta, with its thermites (heat-generating termites) and squirkills (they’re squirrels.. that kill you!), you’ll see Jack’s influence at work. Even more than names, though, was the sense of style, pacing, and most importantly, wonder. Jack loved Big Dumb Objects. Jack loved world-shattering explosions. Jack loved massive armies of exotic warriors with ludicrously shaped swords fighting in glorious battle, surrounded by “Kirby Crackle”. He stole shamelessly and lovingly from mythology, folklore, religion, and himself. He didn’t care if he was telling the same story over and over in different costuming, as long as the costumes were really cool looking — and they were!

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