Tag Archives: Star Rovers

The Runes Of Doom, Part II

The Runes Of Doom, Part II

Politics & Pickpockets

Rulers & Rabble

And The Black Wind

In today’s installment of the Arduin walkthrough, we look primarily at what is now called “downtime” events — that vague limbo between “Well, half of you will be rolling up new characters while the other half sell the loot they stripped from your still-warm corpses” and “You stand upon the threshold of the Dungeon Of Indescribable Torment And Certain Slow, Painful, Death… so, naturally, you head straight in without a moment’s thought.” As I ranted on extensively a few posts back, this was kind of a new and strange concept to the former wargamers, as no one ever thought to pack little lead camp followers in with their Napoleonic figures so the infantry wouldn’t be bored between engagements.

The Urgency Of Time

Really, I just have to post this “paragraph” verbatim, because nothing else could “convey” the perfect Hargravian nature of the writing. Here is Dave Hargrave in full-on “Listen up, you primitive screwheads!” mode, a style of writing often used by Gygax and others of the era (also in the brilliant Star Rovers, the first of my truly epic analysis projects… wow, five years ago… damn…)

Get Off Your Chubby Buns!

Get Off Your Chubby Buns!

Oh, and I mentioned the Black Wind was statted out in Welcome To Skull Tower, but illustrated here? Here it is:

Too Many Oozes, Not Enough Clouds, That's What's Wrong With Modern Games

Too Many Oozes, Not Enough Clouds, That’s What’s Wrong With Modern Games

So, check this out. You’ve got a Phraint and a human in what looks like a starship corridor fighting a roiling cloud of smoke and lightning. With swords. By a treasure chest. As with the cover, nearly all that is awesomely cool about old-school gaming is conveyed in a single perfect image.

So what happens to the world while the players are resting on their chubby butts, their fingers stained orange from cheetoh consumption? There’s two charts. One determines the chance of something happening, the other determines what happens. Sort of.

Frankly, The Only Real Political Allignment(sic) Is "Amoral".

Frankly, The Only Real Political Allignment(sic) Is “Amoral”.

One of the things that’s interesting, to me, is that the degree of dissatisfaction has no bearing on the severity of the intrigue… just the chance for it to occur. As for the intrigue itself, well…

Clearly, GRRM Rolled A 19 For Robb Stark

Clearly, GRRM Rolled A 19 For Robb Stark

You have to love result 20.

DM:”OK, you commit suicide… (roll roll roll)… by sticking your wand of incineration down your throat and activating it in the public square.”
Player: “What? Why?”
DM: “Political reasons.”
Player: “But I’m dead! How does that help?”
DM: “Let the dice fall where they may. Moving on…”

I’ve Got Some Good News And Some Bad News…

Next up we have the good and bad event charts, which are rolled on once a month. There’s a 50/50 chance for either, but each must be rolled on at least three times a year. The charts are the usual mix of things. A sampling, and some notes:

"She's Rich..."

“She’s Rich…”

  • It’s interesting the “Good” chart includes “25% chance of misfortune”. Old School Gaming was definitely about never giving a PC an even break.
  • You can only fall in love with, or be loved by, females. One assumes this means one of:
    • Every player was male and only played male characters.
    • There were female players, but the only played male characters.
    • All female characters were lesbian/bisexual.
  • A “Small Fortune” was less than even low-level PCs will have from their first dungeon crawl.
I Admit To Curiosity As To What The "Etc" Can Be

I Admit To Curiosity As To What The “Etc” Can Be

  • “Well, I was able to battle an uruk-hai riding a violet dragon on the 12th plane of Hell without doing myself any long term harm, but during a tavern brawl, I took an arrow to the knee.”
  • An item not shown is “Altercation With Nobility”, with the notes reading “Results Are Varied”. Yeah. That helps.

It is later noted that these two charts are “generally used by Non Player Characters” in campaign style games, such as various sheriffs, lords, and retainers. This makes a certain sense, and it’s a way for the DM to get ideas to spark events in a long-term “Rulers & Rabble” style campaign, without seeming too biased or railroady. (I declare “railroady” a word, not to be confused with “rail roadie”, which would be a person of dubious hygiene and social standing who idolizes Amtrak conductors and follows them about. But I digress.)

The Westeros/Downton Abbey Table

85% Chance If You're A Lannister

85% Chance If You’re A Lannister

See, folks? This is why PCs are murderhobos, rootless wanderers with no close kin or connections. Because if you have relatives and family, the GM will use them entirely as a way to completely screw you over, again and again and again, and if you whine, the GM will shrug in that annoying way GMs do, and say, “Sorry, dude, I was just rolling on the chart… so, have you set the date for your character and his sister to get married, yet? I’ve got them ‘psychopathic incest babies’ chart around here somewhere…”

A bit short, but I’ve got some other stuff to work on this week, and this is the end of the background material.. next time, we get into classes. Alchemists, assassins, and more.

Quick Link: Cool Star Rovers minis!

Since a comment on an old article may be missed by both my fans, here’s a link to awesome Not Star Wars Really They’re Not Honest Mr. Lucas Don’t Sue Us minis for Star Rovers!

Stellar Warriors Update

Stellar Warriors Update

I’ve mentioned, several times, my desire to an over-the-top sci-fi game inspired by late 70s/early 80s tropes in both game design and science fiction (and by “science fiction”, I mean, the pulp space opera, movies, and TV shows of the era and earlier, not the actual quality SF that dealt with meaningful themes of the era. We’re talking sci-fi, not SF.) I’ve been waffling badly on this, with a lot of initial design steps petering out. Going to far in the purely old-school mechanics, limiting myself to things like AD&D 1e as the defining point, bored me as a designer… if I found AD&D too limiting as a player back then, why embrace those limits? My attempt to do it as a full-fledged Pathfinder game got a bit further, but I felt I was spending too much time mimicing Paizo’s style and dealing with an accumulated body of rules that all had to be edited to fit my desire, with the risk of losing compatibility with each edit and the problem of balancing my content with the rest of the game. Finally, when rereading my collection of Knights Of The Dinner Table, it suddenly hit me I was looking in the wrong place for system inspiration. I’ve often praised Hackmaster 4e as the kind of old-school game that captured the spirit of old-school as I remembered it. Even stripped of the purely parodic/silly elements, the core of the game embodies the attitude that spells “old school” to me, the kind of exuberant, unapologetic, energy and enthusiasm that the best old school books have, and it makes no bones about complex mechanics — it has them and loves them and expects you to be smart enough to decide which to use and which are too much bother, and as for game balance… whatever. Good enough is good enough.

So I realized I don’t want to write, per se, AD&D in Space, or Pathfinder in Space… I want to write Spacehack, or something close to it. I want to capture the kind of universe implied, but never clearly defined, in Star Rovers and the Arduin miniatures line.  I want to pull from the same kind of influences that produced Encounter Critical, but not as a parody. I also realized I want elements of the first edition of Warhammer 40K, before it started taking itself too seriously — space dwarves and space elves and space vampires. I want bounty hunters and space ninjas.  I want it all… and I want it wrapped in a system that’s actually playable and that satisfies the things I look for in a game, as a player and as a GM.

At this point in the very mercurial development process, it looks a lot like AD&D 1e after going through a radioactive blender. We’ve got descending armor class (-10 is better than 2, and a +2 bonus to your AC lowers your AC by 2), attack charts cross-indexing level and AC (what the hell’s a thayko, anyway?) using a roll-under D20 mechanic, roll-over saving throws, and a skill system shamelessly borrowed from Hackmaster (in terms of some mechanical ideas, no text is copied and the actual implementation differs in many ways, let’s be clear here).

Some of the mechanics are deliberately more obtuse, contradictory, or idiosyncratic than they need to be… that’s  a big part of the spirit of the era. Percentile systems, roll-under systems, roll-over systems… I’ve got ’em all. My hope is that the different types of mechanics will be siloed enough that you won’t actually have trouble figuring out what to use in play or how to resolve any situation the rules don’t explicitly cover.

I’ve also finally got the tone right, the authorial voice. If anyone thought Earth Delta was written with a bit too much snark… well, I’ve got the ghost of Gary Gygax whispering in one ear, Gary at his most authoritative and belligerent, the early Gary of the AD&D 1e DMG and the fire-spewing editorials in The Dragon, and David Hargrave whispering in the other ear. (The fact my writing in no way compares to theirs in quality and imagination is best attributed to poor communication from the spirit world, and it should be considered no failure of their talents that I am a poor, poor, copy of the departed masters.)

Here’s a sample… this may end up highly changed as the editing process continues, and certainly the raw mechanics will be tweaked a lot, but I simply like the tone of it all:

If you roll a natural 20 (that is, the number “20” is the number showing. Does this really need to be explained to you?), you have scored a critical hit if the modified roll would have hit the target’s Armor Class (so if you needed a 24 to hit, and you had total bonuses of +5, so your modified roll was 25, then, this is a critical hit). If the modified roll would have missed (say, you needed a 30 to hit his AC), then a natural 20 is just a normal, run of the mill hit, and, by the way, if you’re missing when you roll a freakin’ 20, this means that the guy you’re fighting is way out of your league, or you’re a blind epileptic diplomat using a weapon you have no proficiency with, or both. Run, you idiot! Where was I?

Oh yeah, Critical Hits.

Your basic, run of the mill critical hit is a Grade A critical. For every 3 points by which your modified roll exceeds the number needed to hit, the critical improves one Grade, so if you needed a 15 to hit and your modified roll was a 26, you scored a Grade E critical! (There are some things which can reduce a critical grade; a critical reduced below Grade A is Grade 0 (that’s “Zero”, not “O”). Grade 0 criticals are kind of “Participation Ribbon” criticals. You showed up, so you get a token to soothe your fragile little ego. Anything reduced below Grade 0 isn’t even a critical, it’s just an average hit. Better luck next time.

The critical chart is nothing more than a shadow of an idea at this point; it’s going to be a bear to complete, because I ultimately want different weapon types to have different critical effects, ideally with Rolemaster-esque flavor text.

The biggest design issue I have now is that I want a fairly rich set of skills, proficiencies, and talents which players can choose as they level up, but I also want a strong class system, and deciding what kind of things should be class-specific and which should be accessible to anyone who wants to spend the Customization Points on them is not always self-evident.

I’m also trying to decide if I want racial level limits. Limiting classes and levels by race has a great ability to add flavor to a race and to avoid some kinds of munchkinism, but it can also be a real game-killer if the campaign goes on too long. Multiclassing is another issue I’m playing with; I’m likely to part with tradition and let humans multiclass.

As with all my projects, this may go on to semi-completion, or it may be abandoned from this moment forward.

Random WIP: Hyperspace

Honestly, this is sort of being posted because I don’t like long stretches of “No posting”, not because I genuinely think it’s likely to be of interest to anyone. (Oh, BTW, the next stage of the Battlelords walkthrough is almost ready; I need to decide if I want to split it into three parts or charge ahead and finish it now.)

Anyway, work on Stellar Battles proceeds in fits and starts; I’m still having trouble finding the right tone for it, in terms of rules. On the one hand, I’ve really been wanting to do the Ultimate Kick Ass Space Opera Laser Sword Five Mile Long Starship Pew Pew Pew Lasers Barfights And Smugglers And Ancient Mystic Powers And Forgotten Alien Artifacts science fiction game for a long time.  A very long time. As in, honestly, it was the very first thing I tried to design back when I was 14 and one way or another it’s been in the back of my mind for a while. I know I want race/class/level, because while I love freeform systems for a lot of reasons, I honestly find that I prefer RCL designs because they let me better define the core archetypes for a game while still (if using more modern variants, i.e, OGL-based) allowing for the kind of fine-tuned character control I like. I’m definitely not interested in doing a new game w/the 4e engine, not because I don’t like the system, but because I’d rather focus all my 4e efforts on Earth Delta.

This leaves me pulled in two directions.

One, go very much mid/late 1970s, esp. pulling from the “unofficial” stuff and the things Gary Gygax (sometimes with good reason, sometimes without) hated, and that’s Classes Galore… lots and lots of classes, most with some kind of simple “At this level, the blah can blah 1/day” powers to liven them up — see, well, classic Arduin, and no real skills/feats/goodies/ whatever, just boolean proficiencies or class specific powers laid out in varying levels of detail (ranging from simple notes bound to cause arguments to pages of niggling detail bound to cause arguments).

Two, give in to my passions and use a more “modern” system, either an OGL/Pathfinder variant or FantasyCraft, the latter being a system I really like for its plethora of crunchy bits and how it weds the kind of meta-gaming systems you normally find only in wussy free form commie hippie “story telling” games with the kind of hard tactical crunch I find endlessly appealing.

Three, screw it all, make up my own core rules that will draw from many strains of inspiration but not be particularly “plug and play” compatible with anything else. This is another thing I keep waffling over. I have argued, many many times, that the world doesn’t need one more way to kill an orc. And I stand by that. At the same time, I like creating systems for their own sake, knowing that they’re unnecessary and redundant. There’s a few mechanics I really like (non-Boolean success systems, for one) that aren’t a common part of the core D20 family. (By “non-Boolean”, I mean “multiple successes”, where how well you do matters. Hitting someone by 10 points does more damage than hitting him by 1 point. Tasks such as picking a lock require accumulating successes over time. The best known systems that use this mechanic, though, are dice pool systems which tend to fail in terms of granularity.)

Putting it more plainly, since I get no money, and very little in the way of fame or even feedback, for these kinds of projects, the only thing that drives me is passion, and if I don’t have passion for a particular style, it doesn’t get done. While I’m willing to play almost any game, except that which must not be named, when it comes to either running games or designing games, I like high granularity and high levels of mechanical character differentiation. That last one is important and it’s what tends to keep me out of the “Old School Renaissance” except as a source of ideas I can rip off inspiration. (It also kept me very annoyed at 4e until the first wave of “Power” splatbooks and Dragon articles.) I don’t care if one 4th level Fighter is run as an axe-wielding illiterate barbarian and another 4th level Fighter is run as a gallant Knight — if, when the dice hit the table, they are mechanically identical, then, for me, the system doesn’t work. The more generic the mechanics, the less interest the game holds for me.

However, the title of this topic was “Hyperspace”, was it not? It was! I’ve been dancing around the system issue by focusing on the setting, which is going to be, like most of the settings I prefer, something mostly drawn in big, bold, colorful strokes with unending room for GM improvisation and expansion. However, it does need some “rules of physics”, both literally and figuratively, and if you’re doing a grand space opera setting, you need to set out how faster than light travel works, as this is going to shape the game universe more than any other decision. It will influence politics, economics, and character backgrounds in all sorts of ways. There is no disconnect between “swashbuckling action” and “world building” — if the universe in which you’re buckling your swash has no sense of verisimilitude to it, you are not Errol Flynn innnn spaaaaaaaace… you are a four year old running around a living room, waving a plastic sword and going “I’m a piwate!”.

Thus, the first draft of the hyperspace rules.

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Star Rovers, Finale

Star Rovers, Encore

Well, here we are. Barring a response, or libel suit, from Mr. Stocken, this will most likely be my final Star Rovers article. (There’s a temptation to begin producing new material for a game out of print for almost 30 years, surely the ultimate in both retro-gaming and quixotic gestures, but I will finish Earth Delta before embarking on any other large undertaking. I will, I will, I will. (Beta 1 is in heavy, active, "I was editing it last night and will be playtesting it tonight" development. Really. This is not going to be one of those projects where I post annual messages declaring I’ll be getting back to work on it soon.))

Anyway, while the focus of the "Characters From A Thousand Games" section is supposed to be solely character creation, with other game systems looked at as needed, I’m going a bit beyond the scope with this look at the cosmology of Star Rovers, because a world in which more people know about hyperspace trenches and rainbow holes is a better world.

After the break, yadda yadda. There’s also a picture. You like pictures, right?


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Star Rovers, Part V

You Gotta Have…Wait, I Did That Bit Already

Alright! After a long trek through space corporations, exchange rates, equipment failure, bodily improvement, and mining, we are staring at the skill listing for the Spacer class. This gives us the attribute prerequisites, which helps me figure out what classes I qualify for before I pick one. It’s also illustrated by an attractive, eye-patched space pirate lady (I assume she’s a pirate ’cause of the eyepatch, it is a fundamental law of the universe that naval officers or guys who haul space-beans from one forgettable starport to another either don’t lose eyes in fights at Moondog Maude’s or else can afford prosthetics) with a wonderful 80’s style "do", and her somewhat more butch looking crewmate, and because I’ve spent way too much time on the Internet and I’m a dirty old man, I’m going to have to speculate on just what they do to celebrate a successful raid. But since there’s no space combat rules (bitter? Moi?), I might just assume they have to keep busy while waiting, during those long, cold, nights in space… yeah, I’ll be in my bunk.

Picture (and some text) after the break.


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Star Rovers, Part IV

Star Rovers Part IV

Well, this is the first time in the history of this blog anyone actually commented to say they were looking forward to/waiting for something, so I suppose it’s a good idea to actually write it. I also have a special treat for you… some scanned art from the game, so you can see a bit of what I’ve been talking about.

A minor digression, here — something you ought to be used to if you’ve been reading this blog, or, well, anything I write that’s longer than a Facebook status update. Comments help. A lot. There’s often a feeling of screaming into the wilderness, here. Any kind of feedback which isn’t coming from a spambot trying to sell fake watches or link you to malware sites encourages me to keep writing. My game collection is immense, and includes a lot of fairly rare old games and fairly obscure newer ones… if there’s a particular game you’d like to see me work through/review, let me know, and I’ll see if I have it. A lot of my "game design" time… well, OK, all of my "game design" time… these days is taken up with Earth Delta, but these types of articles occupy a different sphere, so I don’t feel I’m "getting distracted" if I work on them. (PS: Today I wrote the words "Earth Delta Beta 1" on my ever-growing rules document… it may be a bit before that’s actually posted, but it really is happening.)

Links are cool, too. You link to me, I link to you. Based on the overall readership of this thing, that’s a lot more benefit to me than to you. Hey, I’m honest, at least!

OK, enough of this stuff. On to the actual article.

Read more for amazing art, interesting classes, and maybe even a look at the equipment lists…


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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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