The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
– Percy Bysse Shelley, Ozymandias

The Arioniad, Season Four: The Sindalian Legacy

We’re back on a combination of Savage Worlds (SWADE this time) and Solo. Our Heroes were last seen on Collace, so I roll on Solo p. 58 for a World Encounter for the week; 22, a ruined structure attracts our attention. We should explore it, clearly. Now, it might be empty, but what kind of adventure would that be? So I roll on p. 59 for a Patron who is inside, and a Mission he is carrying out. (I often use Patrons as villains or other movers and shakers, as well as potential employers.) 43, spy, and 56, sabotage. There’s a story there somewhere, surely…

Collace, 059-1105

Four figures in bulky parkas and full-face breathing masks crest a ridge in a howling snowstorm.

The shortest points ahead, to a cave entrance, which shows hints of once having been a more regular passage. Crumbled pieces of stone on either side of the entrance might once have been statues. Or not.

“There it is,” she says, over the commlink net. “Let’s get inside, out of the wind.” She plays her torch over the ruins, leading them to the entrance. “As I suspected,” she continues, “Clear evidence of Sindalian architecture…”

“What are you expecting to find, Cori?” asks Arion.

“A good scientist doesn’t expect anything,” Coriander replies. “She reports what she finds, and tries to explain it.”

“Will there be any fluids inside I can absorb for nourishment?” Mr Osheen queries.

“I honestly don’t know, but there are five litres of cream of tomato soup in the air/raft if you get peckish.”

“You said Sindalian architecture,” says Dmitri. “Why is that significant?”

“What do you know about the Sindalian Empire?” Coriander asks, as they step inside out of the wind. They sweep their torches over what might once have been a reception area. There are general mumbles indicating “Nothing.”

“Okay… so the Empire was founded about 3,000 years ago, during the Long Night; it eventually had maybe twenty member systems, and outposts in dozens more, up to twenty or twenty-five parsecs out. It lasted about 1,500 years before it collapsed in a civil war. There’s a theory that Collace was originally a Sindalian mining camp. If I can prove that, one way or the other, it would be a good doctoral thesis. I might even graduate at last.”

“You’re full of surprises, Cori,” says Arion. “So you’ve been on sabbatical this whole time?”

“Yeah… I ran out of grant money, and I’d been trading as a side hustle, so I signed on a freighter for a while. It was only supposed to be a vacation job, but it sort of stretched out.”

“This doesn’t look like a mining camp,” Dmitri points out. He scuffs aside the debris covering the floor. “You ever see a mining camp put a mosaic on the floor? Or statues at the entrance?”

“What’s the mosaic?” Cori asks.

“Not sure, we’d need to spend a couple of hours brushing it clean to see the picture. There’s a white bit, a blue bit, and a yellow spiky bit. Could be anything.”

“Over here,” calls Arion. “I think I’ve found a lift.” They troop over to him.

“Not working,” Dmitri says. “No surprise there… but there should be an emergency staircase nearby, there usually is.”

I decide to run exploring the ruin as a Quick Encounter, SWADE p. 134-135, which is the closest thing to Solo’s Plan mechanic. It should be dangerous as there could be anything in here. Each PC rolls against a suitable skill; Arion rolls Notice (d6 with wild die, +2 for Alertness Edge) and gets a 6, success; Cori rolls on Academics, d6 plus wild die, and gets a 4; Dmitri rolls Notice (d8 plus wild die) for 7; and Mr Osheen rolls Athletics (d4 with no wild die) for a 3. As it’s a dangerous encounter, everyone gets bumps and bruises (p. 125) except Mr Osheen, who takes a Wound. The three wild cards need to make an Athletics roll to avoid a level of Fatigue; everyone is on a d4 with a wild die for that. Arion scores 11, Cori 4, Dmitri 2 – he spends a benny to reroll but that only nets a 3, so I decide to settle for the level of Fatigue rather than wasting more bennies.

Mr Osheen can’t Soak his Wound as he is an Extra, and as he only has one Wound he is Incapacitated and potentially killed. Cori uses psionic healing on him, rolling d6 and a wild die on her Psionics; she scores 5, removing one Wound (SWADE p. 96) and he’s back in the fight. (I could have rolled to see if he survived thanks to his Vigour, but if he fails that roll he dies, and Cori doesn’t have Resurrect.)

Now to explain that in narrative…

Descending several flights of stairs is not without its hazards. Arion leads the way, checking for hazards, with Cori following him, giving advice about the layout of Sindalian buildings. Halfway down, the staircase gives way; Mr Osheen misses his footing while trying to avoid the new hole and plummets to the basement, with a large lump of masonry falling on top of him; and Dmitri nearly follows him, saving himself at the last moment by grabbing a handhold nobody else had noticed. Dmitri is quickly pulled back up, uninjured apart from some minor bruises and sprains, and the team descend with the best blend of caution and speed they can manage to where Mr Osheen lies motionless in the rubble. As there are no prying eyes to see, Cori uses her psionic healing to return him to full health.

After a moment’s rest, they press on, into a smaller reception area that has seen better days.

“This was no mining camp,” Dmitri says, looking at the wreckage before them. “Back there is some sort of biological lab. It was sealed off with this thick transparent acrylic. Somebody took that bench,” he points, “and rammed it through that door to get out.” He moves to a skeleton on the floor. “This guy had a gun out, for all I can tell he fired it, and then somebody smashed his rib cage and skull. No breather mask, so this place probably had a breathable atmosphere back then.”

“The Sindalian civil war used a lot of bioweapons, we know that much,” says Coriander. “That might explain the lab.”

“That bench has got to be fifty kilos,” says Arion. “And it was moving fast enough to shatter ten centimetres of acrylic. There’s not enough room for more than four people to carry it through the approach.”

“There are more bodies inside,” Mr Osheen observes. A note of disappointment enters his voice as he continues. “But there are no bodily fluids I might absorb for nourishment.”

Arion moves up to the bench.

“Hey – we’re not alone down here. There’s another set of footprints in the dust.” There is a flash as he takes a picture with his commlink for later analysis of the tread pattern. “Oh…”

“Oh?”

“I’m no expert, but that looks very much like a bomb…”

Character Status

So that I don’t forget… Character status: Dmitri -1 Fatigue, -1 Benny; Cori -3 Power Points.

GM Notes

Over Christmas and the New Year, I spent a lot of time dithering over what to do next with the Arioniad… 5150? Cepheus Light? Classic Traveller? Interstellar Overthruster? Mongoose Traveller? Stars Without Number? And what about the setting? Homebrew with any of those rules, or the official setting for one of the games that have one, either straight or mashed up with something else?

This kind of thinking is generally a sign that I have too much time on my hands and I’m not playing enough.

However, stepping back and looking at the focus for the year, the answer became obvious: I need to immerse myself in Savage Worlds Adventure Edition, and not devote too much effort to deciding what I need to complement it with for solitaire play or which setting to use. I’m already familiar with Solo and the Official Traveller Universe, so I’ll use those. This suggests that Team Dolphin should pick up where they left off, Collace in 1105.

Browsing through the entry on Collace in the Imperial Encyclopaedia, I saw the statement “Some suspect that there was a population on this world by the 400s, who were descendants of marooned Sindalian Empire miners.” That gives me a hook to the Trojan Reach… Cori is an ex-archaeologist… it’s not so long since I reread Bob Mayer’s Synbat… and we’re off!

Expanding my data set gave me a better set of conversion guidelines – the previous ones can give strange results in the 400-800 dton range, and are hard to apply if you don’t have deck plans.

Updated Conversion Guidelines

  • Size: Multiply displacement tons by 10 and use the Mass column on page 179 of SWADE to determine Size. (100 dton ship counts as 1000 tons for SWADE, giving a Size of 13.)
  • Handling: Acceleration in G minus 3. (4G maneouvre drive gives Handling +1).
  • Top Speed: Not relevant, but use 25,000 mph if necessary.
  • Toughness: Size plus Armour value. Armour value is the Traveller/Cepheus Engine armour plus 4. All ship armour is Heavy Armour.
  • Crew, Cost: As listed in Traveller/Cepheus Engine.

Let’s look at some examples from two core rulebooks…

Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition

Cepheus Light

GM Notes

I think these guidelines are better, so I shall switch over to them directly. Size in particular feels right without having to count squares on deckplans, which doesn’t work very well for spherical or annular hulls.

Note that heavy lasers have enough AP to ignore armour on any of the above ships, and Sidewinder-equivalent missiles ignore armour on all but a handful of them.

“As long as we’re making up the numbers anyway, we might as well make up nice ones.”

For a Savage Traveller mashup, I can use Traveller stats, deckplans etc. for most things, but I do need conversion guidelines for space combat.

This means I need the same stats for Traveller ships as SWADE vehicles have; Size, Handling, Top Speed, Toughness, Crew and Cost. Weapons need Range, Damage, AP, ROF, Blast, Weight and Cost, but there’s a cheat for it – we’ll get to that shortly.

Now, Crew and Cost are already provided as part of the Traveller statblock; Top Speed is irrelevant for spacecraft but we can put in 25,000 mph as they are all capable of reaching Earth’s escape velocity. That leaves us with Size, Handling and Toughness to worry about.

(These guidelines are updated in a later post here.)

Size

SWADE has a handy table on page 179 for figuring out Size based on length and/or mass. If there is a deckplan available, which there usually is for the kind of ship adventurers would operate or assault, it’s best to get the length from that; especially at the lower end of displacement, using tonnage gives you a ship several Size points too small.

Examples: A Type S Scout/Courier is 120′ to 130′ long, depending on which version of the game you’re using, and therefore Size 13-14; if you go by dtons, 100 tons is Size 10. A Type A Free Trader is 170′ long (Size 15) and 200 tons (Size 11). Remember the bonuses to hit things that Size and the extra Wounds they get for sheer mass.

Handling

Most ship-to-ship dogfights occur in space, where the controlling factor on handling is the ship’s acceleration, which we know from its statblock. I’ll ignore delta-V for this purpose as that is more about fuel management than handling, and is therefore Not Fun.

I’m looking for something quick and easy here, so Handling is ship’s manoeuvre drive rating minus three, which puts it in the right range.

Examples: The scout has a 2G drive, which gives it Handling -1. The free trader has 1G, thus Handling -2.

Toughness

Toughness is simply Size plus Armour Value.

I did quite a bit of research on armour value so you wouldn’t have to, and I can summarise it by saying ship armour is +4, or the armour value given by Mongoose Traveller/Cepheus Engine, whichever is higher.

The longer version involved finding out the thickness of armour on historical warships, converting that to SWADE armour values using the rules on page 81, and then comparing those values to various ratings in other games. As space combat and ship classes in most SF games, movies and literature are based on World War II vessels and tactics, I biased my research towards that era. The hull on a 1940s destroyer was about 6mm thick (Armour +4), that being the thinnest plate it was practical to work or weld; surprisingly, even battleship belt armour didn’t go much above 300mm (Armour 26), and submarine hulls were typically below 50mm (Armour 4-6). I expected them to be thicker, frankly.

There’s a certain amount of guesswork going on here, not least because “armour value” is as much about cunning structural design as it is about materials science.

Although contemporary aircraft and spacecraft don’t usually have Heavy Armour in SWADE, I wanted my spaceships to have it, which sets the minimum armour value at +4. (This is so a PC can’t take out a starship with a lucky kick, which could happen otherwise due to aces on damage rolls. Although I admit it would be hilarious if it did.)

Example: Classic Traveller scouts and free traders have armour 0, which gets bumped up to armour 4; the Mongoose Traveller free trader has armour 2, again bumped up to 4; the Mongoose scout has armour 4, which stays at 4. So the Types S and A are respectively Toughness 17 (4) and 19 (4).

Weapons

Here’s the cheat; missiles are Sidewinders (page 79) and lasers are Heavy Lasers (page 80); that’s based on the work I did last year on the 1977 edition of Classic Traveller, which showed a Sidewinder was the best fit to a basic ship missile. Single, double or triple turrets can be represented by single, twin or quadruple mounts respectively, so long as the turret has a homogeneous weapons fit. That covers most things one might meet except the Gazelle class, whose particle barbettes can be considered a trapping on a quad laser mount.

If it becomes necessary, I can steal bigger guns from the Science Fiction Companion, but to be honest by that stage you’re edging into Mass Battle territory.

Oh yes, I almost forgot sandcasters. They basically work like the deflection power against laser beams, so I’ll use it like that. Actually I might apply it to missiles as well, even though Traveller doesn’t, because ramming 100 lbs of sand and crystals at 25,000 mph ought to ruin your whole day. Maybe it should count as the armour power instead? I’ll experiment and see what happens.

Chases and Mass Battles

The typical Classic Traveller RPG ship combat is a one-on-one ship duel between vessels in the 100-200 ton range, slugging it out with lasers and missiles, and the Chase rules are perfectly adequate for that.

Once combatants edge over a few hundred tons, the number of dice you’re rolling starts to become tiresome, so at that point I’d switch over to the Mass Battle rules, using total combatant hardpoints/fixed mounts to work out numbers of tokens. For example, a Type S Scout/Courier (one hardpoint) versus a Type C Cruiser (8 hardpoints and two small craft each with a fixed mount) would be using one Mass Battle token to face off against 10, and hoping to survive long enough to jump out before it turns into a rapidly expanding cloud of gas fluorescing in the far ultraviolet.

The Dolphin

Here’s the Dolphin, a typical Type S Scout/Courier converted using those guidelines… The laser and five missiles are listed in the 1977 edition of Classic Traveller Book 2 as “typical weaponry” for a Type S, the ship’s cost varies between MCr 28 and 37 depending on which rules you use, and armour ranges from none to 4, again depending on the rules in use.

Size: 13, Handling: -1, Top Speed: 25,000 mph, Toughness: 17 (4), Crew: 1+7, Cost: 28-37M.

Notes: Heavy Armour. Double turret with one Heavy Laser and one missile rack, five missiles on board.

The Purple Twilight

The Purple Twilight, Captain Locksley commanding, is a Type A Free Trader which has been rattling around inside my head for a number of years, and may yet make it into the blog at some point.

Size: 15, Handling: -2, Top Speed: 25,000 mph, Toughness: 19 (4), Crew: 4 + 16, Cost: 37-45M.

This is the first drop from the most recent Kickstarter I backed, and in my case consists of four PDFs; more on the rest of it when it rocks up.

In a Nutshell: Epic tale of exploration in the Official Traveller Universe, written for Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition.

Book 1: Deepnight Legacy

Adventure, 33 pages long. If Deepnight Revelation were a TV series, this would be the pilot.

The Travellers find themselves assembled as a scratch crew for a supply hauler. The previous ship on that run has failed to return, and their mission is to find out what happened to it if they can, and complete its mission of resupplying a distant outpost regardless.

As it’s an adventure, I will avoid spoilers. I will say that the central theme has been around since 1986 at least, and if you’ve read/watched/played SF any time in the last 20 years, you’re probably familiar with it. And so are your players.

The adventure eschews specific set pieces and stories, instead providing a situation to which the PCs can react. It favours quick and lateral thinking by the players, rather than specific skills or characteristics of the characters. The worst case outcome is not good, the second worst case is a Total Party Kill, and in the best case the PCs return with some useful information and a reputation for solving a particular kind of problem – a reputation which leads to them being offered jobs on the good ship Deepnight Revelation.

Book 2: Campaign Guide

Referee’s guide, 113 pages. This provides an overview of the mission, the crew, the ship and its vehicles and equipment, a couple of new creatures and so forth.

Important early choices include how senior the Travellers are – are they the mission command crew, or do they just do what they’re told? – and what level of detail they want to track supplies at.

The overall mission is in seven principal stages, each of 1-3 game years duration; the ship will arrive at the main objective 10-11 years after leaving her home port, and is expected to return 24-28 years after departure. This is a long trip; the first stage is covered in the Campaign Guide, albeit at a high level, stages 2-6 are covered in individual expansion books to follow in future drops, and stage 7 in the Terminus Point adventure.

The first few jumps are used to familiarise the players with how things usually go, and to allow them to establish routines or standing orders the crew will follow thereafter; in effect, they are a tutorial for the campaign. During the first leg, the PCs are invited to a party by the Duke of Tobia and have a chance to interact with nobility in full dress uniforms. There are also several ‘stopovers’, in effect generic capsule adventure seeds; reprovisioning, mineral strike, biological anomaly. Three specific plot points occur, in the form of somewhat larger adventure seeds, before the ship reaches the last prepositioned supply cache (and a task force sent to repair their ship) and heads out into the unknown.

The bulk of the book covers the ship, its complement, and the vehicles and equipment it carries. The crew of almost 500 gives plenty of opportunities for swapping characters in and out of the player group, and while the referee is encouraged to play fast and loose with NPCs to give himself scope for changes later, there are guidelines on names, personality tags, and likely skills. During such a long voyage, the crew might easily split into factions, and half a dozen of these are sketched in for use as needed. Eight NPCs get a couple of paragraphs each, but most are just a name and a one-line tag. I actually prefer it that way.

The referee is encouraged to take things slowly, and let the campaign build to ensure it’s memorable. Tradeoffs just before launch should be decided by the players, so that they know why the ship and crew are set up the way they are.

Book 3: Referee Handbook

Referee’s guide, 97 pages. Here we find the nuts and bolts of how to run a campaign which lasts at least ten years of game time, maybe more, and who knows how long in real time.

If your players are the mission command crew, they have to balance making progress towards the ultimate goal against wearing out the ship and crew, while also considering which wonders they should investigate. To this end, there are abstract rules for resolving tasks carried out by (say) a team of 30 in Engineering, consuming and foraging for supplies, managing crew fatigue and morale, maintenance, and so on, which take up most of the page count. Fantasy players would probably think of this as “domain level play”.

This book also explains the ship’s standard operating, research and survey procedures, which the PCs are at liberty to change and for which there are abstract resolution rules, and navigational planning – basically they decide where to stop, and the referee generates worlds or even subsectors accordingly, using either the core rules or the modified ones in the Great Rift pack (which I don’t have). This extends into types of worlds the Travellers may encounter.

While you could run this campaign as an episodic planet-of-the-week game, focused on one of the landing parties, I think the author is right to say you’re missing out if you do that. If and when I run the campaign, I intend to give the players a couple of characters each – one on the mission command team, run in a narrative format by email, and one on the landing party, who is a more traditional PC.

One decision the mission commanders need to make every month or so is how fast they are moving; the faster you go, the more points of interest you miss and the more likely the ship is to break. There are large tables of random events for both, which I would use for inspiration rather than rolling on.

Book 4: Terminus Point

Adventure, 73 pages. The Travellers have now reached the mysterious object they were sent to investigate, and most likely do so. Again, the referee is provided with a situation for the heroes to interact with, rather than a specific story railroad. There is a countdown in the background, which will lead to a certain amount of nastiness if the PCs don’t figure out what’s going on in time; but if they’re clever, they can get out in front of it.

Depending on their plan, and their level of success in executing it, there’s a range of possible outcomes, including Total Party Kill (again, this is not the worst possible outcome), heroes’ death, Lost In Space, and Run Away!

Conclusions

By themselves, the first four books form a very basic campaign; a start, an end, and a framework for the middle. This seems to be a trend in Traveller at the moment; any given product provides you with a toolkit for building something, rather than the thing itself. In this case, you don’t so much get an epic campaign, as a set of tools you could use to build one, given the time and the creativity.

This is a problem for me, given that the bulk of the campaign is about addressing a difficult kind of conflict to write: Protagonist vs Nature. There’s a very good reason why the overwhelming majority of RPG stories have a central conflict of Protagonist vs Antagonist – it’s easy to write and easy to play. (In case you’re interested, the third kind is Protagonist vs Himself, and unless you’re running World of Darkness for a single player you’re probably not using that one either.)

For this product to be useful to me, I need playable adventures that make weird, uninhabited star systems interesting; something like the old 76 Patrons, but focused on heroic explorers rather than downbeat noir anti-heroes. The basic four books don’t really deliver on that, but I await the remaining ones with optimism.

Overall Rating: It’s too soon to tell. Either way, I expect this to be the last campaign I buy, since I don’t get enough use out of them to justify the cost.

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition has a few changes that affect Our Heroes, and between that and the rules dropping the generic archetypes I’ve relied on for the past few years, I feel the need to revisit Arion and company. Below you see the usual figures for these reprobates (eM4 prepainted, a mixture of the Chequers Gang and Mercenaries sets) on the normal battlemat for the Dolphin (the Hornet-class courier from Wydraz).

Left to right: Arion, Coriander, Dmitri, Mr Osheen. Below them: The Dolphin

In rebuilding these characters, I followed this approach:

  1. Based on the character concept, choose two Edges and one attribute at d8, set the other attributes to d6.
  2. Add core skills at d4. Buy other skills appropriate to the concept, but without exceeding the limiting attributes.
  3. Add Hindrances appropriate to the concept.
  4. Pick a figure; buy gear which matches what the figure has as closely as possible.

Arion

The concept for Arion is a one-man scoutship crew and ace pilot.

Attributes: Agility d8, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigour d6.

Skills: Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d4, Electronics d6, Fighting d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Piloting d8, Repair d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d4, Survival d4.

Pace 6, Parry 4, Toughness 6 (1).

Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal, Outsider.

Edges: Ace, Alertness.

Gear: Leather jacket (+1), Desert Eagle (2d8), Ruger (2d4).

Coriander

Cori is the group’s “face”, ex-archaeologist, former merchant starship crew, and secret psionic.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigour: d6.

Skills: Academics d6, Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d4, Fighting d4, Intimidation d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d8, Psionics d6, Shooting d4, Stealth d4, Taunt d6.

Pace 6, Parry 4, Toughness 6 (1)

Hindrances: Clueless, Loyal, Secret (Psionic).

Edges: AB (Psionics), Attractive.

Powers (10 PP): Boost/lower trait, healing, mind reading.

Gear: Leather jacket (+1), MP-5 (2d6). $100.

Dmitri

The brains of the outfit; a spy who knows his way around ships and explosives.

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigour d6.

Skills: Athletics d4, Common Knowledge d4, Fighting d4, Notice d8, Research d8, Persuasion d6, Repair d6, Shooting d6, Stealth d6.

Pace 6, Parry 4, Toughness 5.

Hindrances: Curious, Loyal, Secret (Spy).

Edges: Connections, Investigator.

Gear: Desert Eagle (2d8), Glock (2d6).

Mr Osheen

Looking at the 5150 source material and the SWADE rules, it quickly became clear to me that Mr Osheen is in fact a zombie; tough, dim, and vulnerable to headshots. He isn’t really undead, but in game terms he behaves as if he were. So he gets the zombie statblock with the Soldier Edge, because he’s a mercenary – note that in Savage Worlds, your basic zombie can run and shoot.

For gear, he really ought to have a gatling laser (the figure is toting some kind of energy weapon with a huge backpack) but for now an AK-47 ($450) will have to do. That leaves him with $50 in cash.

The Dolphin

You’ll see how I did this in a later post… for now:

Size: 13, Handling: -1, Top Speed: 25,000 mph, Toughness: 17 (4), Crew: 1+7, Cost: N/A (detached duty scout).

Notes: Heavy Armour. One Heavy Laser, five Sidewinder missiles.

To be true to the deck plans I’m using, the Dolphin should have no air/raft, three staterooms instead of the usual four (giving a Crew of 1 + 5), and a bigger cargo hold – let’s say 11 tons. There are several variants of the Hornet class, maybe I will stat them up properly at some point.

GM Notes

Each time we change rules, the characters develop in interesting ways. This is probably why I haven’t felt the need to give them any advances yet, the character development comes from switching settings.

I got this in the hope that it would fill in the gaps in 5150 No Limits Maiden Voyage, and it does. No Limits leaves out some things you might expect if you are a seasoned role-player, and while they are by no means essential – you’ve seen me play an entire season of the Arioniad under No Limits without them, and none the worse for it – I am still pleased to have them available.

The game has the same basic rules engine as No Limits, and you’re encouraged to freely move on and off New Hope, mixing and matching the games to taste. However, rather than being an adventurer or budding merchant prince as in No Limits, in Missions you are an infantry squad leader balancing completing your assigned mission with keeping your squad alive.

About half the rulebook is the rules, factions and generic scenarios, while the second half is a mini-campaign of 16 linked missions, lasting at most 24 battleboard encounters – this is two game hours, so we can infer each encounter lasts about five minutes. Since the character normally gets one encounter per month, there’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait going on.

New rules:

  • Factions. Gaea Prime, Free Companies, the Hishen Empire (including grath), and zhuh-zhuhs. There are also a few notes on xeogs buried in the mission brief for the main scenario. Put this together with the notes on the Rings in No Limits and you have a basic game setting.
  • More toys. Three more kinds of armour, and half-a-dozen new weapons. Oh and a security bot, which initially shows up as something you might encounter in the mini-campaign.
  • Campaign rules. Your skirmishes as an infantry squad are assumed to be part of, and representative of, the overall battle for an individual planet. This is tracked through a campaign morale stat; success or failure on missions, together with a random factor, adjust your side’s campaign morale and the enemy’s – if either side’s morale drops to zero, they leave the planet. If your side won, you begin the next planetary campaign with higher morale, if it lost, your starting morale is lower.
  • Psionics. Psis have several abilities; first, psychic interaction, which allows them to probe a target’s mind or make a suggestion. Second, psychic blast (like razors), which is a ranged area effect attack. Third, read thoughts, essentially a variant on the normal Challenge rules which allows you to know what the target is thinking – as a player, you’re encouraged to make up something that furthers the story. Fourth, premonition, which allows your psi to gain the initiative in combat. Fifth, if you’re playing a game including No Limits, psis can cheat at gambling.

Modified rules:

  • Attributes: While in No Limits you roll one attribute at random and choose a second, in Missions you decide what troop type you’re going to play, and that determines your attributes – all Star Army grunts, for example, have the Crack Shot attribute, making them better shots than the average bear.
  • Skills. There are no skills in Missions, just Rep.
  • Your Lifetime Rep when the character retires has different outcomes than those available to merchant princes in No Limits. Grunts don’t have as many options for a luxurious retirement, but can still do OK.
  • Missions in this game are much simpler than in No Limits; here, instead of the complex branching sequence of possible encounters I’m used to, there are seven basic types: for a simple campaign you use only Attack, Defend, and Patrol, for a more advanced one you add Escort, Find, Questioning, and Raid.
  • Linked encounters. You can declare a series of encounters to be ‘linked’, in which case the figures roll to recover from injury after each encounter, but only roll for improvement at the end of the linked set.

Things I hoped for that are not included:

  • Razors and bugs (although bugs are mentioned in a couple of places). No matter, I can import them from other products in my 5150 collection.
  • While there are rules for play on a tabletop with minis and terrain, as well as on a battle board, these don’t extend to proper movement with rulers and whatnot, instead the tabletop is a set of nine battle boards linked together. I had hoped for something like the appendix in All Things Zombie Evolution, which includes more conventional movement in inches. However, in effect all parties move one battleboard at a time; that certainly speeds up the game, but it removes a lot of the feel of a skirmish wargame.

Reflections:

  • The focus on connecting battleboards to make a table means I could use a hex and counter game like Squad Leader to generate epic battles, with each hex becoming a battleboard as one enters it. That would take more time than I usually have, though.
  • Although I mainly bought it as a supplement for No Limits, this looks like it’s worth playing as a campaign in its own right.

2020 Vision

…aaannd we’re back in the room. Happy New Year, everyone!

Honourable Mentions

Over Christmas, as well as the usual family festivities, I’ve been toying with a number of things.

Bolt Action is something I bought on a whim years ago but have never actually played. It’s a very clean and elegant platoon to company level World War II miniatures wargame. I originally came to RPGs through WWII miniature wargaming, and I love the idea of playing Bolt Action on well-made terrain with a force of nicely-painted figures – panzergrenadiers probably, for no better reason than I think Hanomags look cool. Meanwhile, back in the real world, I have no-one to play with and nowhere to keep the toys, even if I could persuade my wife to put up with the smell of glue and paint.

Rangers of Shadowdeep is much more credible as a potential game for me; you can play it solitaire, it’s more of a squad level game, and I could repurpose my existing collection of D&D figures and battlemats for it. Or even play it in Roll20, which would avoid the need to set up the table and tear it down. You may see Rangers of Shadowdeep here yet.

Group Gaming

I gave the usual suspects five options for the next campaign, and perhaps predictably they want more Beasts & Barbarians. I was hoping to persuade them to try a science fiction game, but there wasn’t enough interest; maybe next time.

I also floated the idea of a Roll20 VTT game with my children and their partners, but while the initial response was positive, it’s all gone quiet since; and to be fair, they’ve got other things on their minds – weddings, moving house, small children, that kind of stuff.

Finally, I’m thinking of running some one-shots at the FLGS, probably starting with Trailer Park Shark Attack. If that goes ahead, it might sink without trace or it might spin off a whole new group.

Overall, though, it looks like things will be quiet on the group front this year, apart from playing in the Genesys games run by the usual suspects every 2-3 weeks.

Solitaire Gaming

My intention for season four of the Arioniad is to move to SWADE, to familiarise myself with the system and avoid skills fade before my next campaign kicks off. As for the setting, I see no reason to shift away from the Spinward Marches, in fact I may fully embrace the detail already online in the Traveller map and the Imperial Encyclopaedia wiki. The choice of the Official Traveller Universe in turn drives me towards Solo as the solitaire game engine, although I will gradually replace parts of it with SWADE’s GM tools.

I confess though, SWADE doesn’t enthuse and inspire me the way SW Deluxe did; I’m not sure why. Likewise, I’m less enthusiastic about the latest THG products, although in that case I think it’s because of the switch from more traditional tabletop and miniatures rules to 8″ x 10″ battleboards with no tactical movement.

However, there is no reason why my solitaire games should use the same rules and setting that my group games do, other than sheer laziness. Likewise, with the exception of SWADE, where I dabble in editing published products and therefore need to stay current, I could ignore new versions of games.

Acquisitions and Blogging

I bought myself 5150 Missions: Infestation for Christmas, and I kickstarted Deepnight Revelation late last year, so you will see those reviewed in due course, but they don’t count against 2020’s purchases.

For 2020, I’ll get the SWADE Test Drive when it comes out, and possibly the revised Science Fiction Companion; but it’s getting harder to justify new gaming purchases, even to myself, and so far there’s nothing else on the horizon that looks interesting enough to warrant buying it.

I expect to throttle back on the number of blog posts this year – I only have so much free time, and in 2020 more of it will need to be allocated to non-gaming activities. In particular, I’ll be happy if I manage one ‘season’ (26 episodes) of solitaire gaming. I plan to tidy up the blog, renaming categories and moving things around to reflect the current focus; I don’t intend to delete anything, just neaten it up a bit.

Let’s be about it, shall we?

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