By The Numbers

Before I drill too much into individual worlds, let’s make a few assumptions and see what we can deduce from the map and the SWN world generation rules. Quite a bit, as it turns out…

NEW WORLDS AND NEW CIVILISATIONS

Now that I’ve reinstated the double stars, there are 59 systems on the map; 2 Homeworlds, 8 Primary (naturally habitable), 39 Secondary and 10 Tertiary. For this first pass I assign Homeworlds a population of billions, Primary millions, Secondary hundreds of thousands and Tertiary no population at all.

Statistically in SWN, one would expect 59 systems to include 3.28 with populations of billions, 11.47 with millions, 26.22 with hundreds of thousands, 11.47 with tens of thousands, 1.64 with alien civilisations, and 4.92 with either outposts or failed colonies. So we’re a bit light on high population worlds and a bit heavy on uninhabited ones, but not unbelievably so. About a third of the Secondary systems should have populations in the tens of thousands, but as you’ll see it makes very little difference at the sector level.

Meanwhile, I already know that I want to use rakashans and saurians as well as humans in this campaign, and statistically that is already slightly too many alien races for this many worlds, so that’s all I need.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

I derived the cultures for the systems by looking up the world names in Google and selecting the closest culture in SWN for the world concerned – you’ll see the details of that reasoning later as I look at each area of the map in turn, but for now we get the following:

  • Arabic culture: 8 worlds, 1,002,500,000 inhabitants (49.84% of the total).
  • Chinese culture: 3 worlds, 300,000 inhabitants (0.01%).
  • English culture: 15 worlds, 700,000 inhabitants (0.03%). Six of these worlds are N1-N6 in the Dark Nebula, and another two are tertiary systems outside the Nebula; perhaps those should not be counted.
  • Indian culture: 5 worlds, 1,400,000 inhabitants (0.07%).
  • Japanese culture: 2 worlds, 1,000,000,000 inhabitants (49.71%). One of these is a tertiary system with no inhabitants.
  • Nigerian culture: 7 worlds, 1,500,000 inhabitants (0.07%). Again, one is a tertiary system.
  • Russian culture: 11 worlds, 3,600,000 inhabitants (0.18%). Two of these are tertiary systems.
  • Spanish culture: 8 worlds, 1,600,000 inhabitants (0.08%). One of these is tertiary.

The only inhabited world with a definitely Japanese name is Kuzu, and we already know that is inhabited by aslan – errm, sorry, rakashans. So it’s tempting to do what I did with my last 2300AD campaign and have the aslan – sorry, rakashans – be a life-form genetically engineered from human and feline DNA by Japanese scientists. That would explain them having a vaguely Japanese culture and let me use the Japanese name tables, because no other worlds will need them.

You can see from the table that over 99% of the sector’s population is concentrated in the regional hegemons.

LANGUAGES

It’s actually quite hard to find out how many speakers a language has in a given country, so I assumed an even split between them by culture. This gives me the following, in descending order of speaker base:

  • Arabic: 1,002,500,000 speakers.
  • Japanese (or whatever the rakashans actually speak): 1,000,000,000 speakers.
  • English: 3,600,000 speakers, of whom 81% speak it as a second language.
  • Russian: 3,600,000 speakers, as many as English but more concentrated.
  • Spanish: 1,600,000 speakers.
  • Hindi: 1,400,000 speakers, most of them on Gazzain so this may be an overstatement as that’s where I’m going to park the saurians.
  • Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba: 233,333 speakers each.
  • Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese: 150,000 speakers each.

SWN states that all PCs speak English, certainly all the players do, and there is a long tradition of English as the language of air traffic control which it seems reasonable to extend to space travel as well. So the idea occurs to me that a disproportionate fraction of ship crews are English-speaking people, with enclaves at most starports; this gives the players a reason to work together, as they are members of an ethnic minority, much like gypsies or Sephardic Jews.

GIMME THAT OLD-TIME RELIGION

It’s always a bit risky including actual religions in games – one reason most of them don’t do it – as you may offend potential players; but made-up ones have never felt right to me in science-fiction games, especially if I’m using real-world cultures.

So I assumed religions in the sector are split roughly along cultural lines, again with an even mix in cultures that have multiple religions, as finding the actual numbers of worshippers is more work than I want to do. This gives me the following:

  • Islam: 1,003,310,000 worshippers.
  • Buddhism: 500,410,000 worshippers, of which 500,000 are rakashans on Kuzu. Maybe they picked it up from Japanese genetic engineers, maybe I apply a trapping to make it less obviously human.
  • Shinto: 500,000,000 worshippers, all on Kuzu. Same comments.
  • Christianity: 6,560,000 worshippers.
  • Jainism, Hinduism, Sikhism: 350,000 worshippers each.
  • Traditional Nigerian religions (assorted): 150,000 worshippers.
  • Confucianism, Taoism: 60,000 worshippers each.

REFLECTIONS

It’s amazing how much the campaign unpacks itself just from the map and the names, no?

Faction Turn 1: January 3200

In turn one, all factions build Surveyors, as they are the only unit which can (a) move without costing their faction more money, (b) move two hexes on the starmap, and (c) require a low attribute to buy – the other alternatives don’t have all those advantages. Smugglers, for example, are cheaper to buy and have a similar range and attribute requirement, but you have to pay FacCreds to move them.

The Hierate builds its surveyors at Panas, the Confederation at Gazzain, and Mizah on Mizah (as it has no other choice).

Hierate: Income 7, spend 4, balance 3. Goal: Expand Influence on Valka; that’s the nearest primary system with good land to grab.

Confederation: Income 7, spend 4, balance 3. Goal: Expand Influence on Hasara; the Hierate is coming for Solomani land, and this is the most distant system where Confed can guarantee to set up a Base of Influence before the Hierate can, thus hopefully blocking their movement. Confed will then work its way back along the Hasara Chain building up influence on all worlds, with a view to their eventual absorption.

Mizah: Income 4, spend 4, balance 0. Goal: Expand Influence on Hasara; Mizah sees the Hasara Chain and Triangular Route as its pre-eminent sphere of influence, and correctly divining Confed’s plan, intends to get there first.

How does this manifest itself for the PCs? Well, they’re on Mizah, so it will be at least February before they can learn of the Confed surveyors, and March before they know about the Hierate ones. However, this is playing on the holovid in the corner of the bar where they hang out between scenarios:

“Preceptor Adept Aisha Tabari of the Great Archive announced today at a news conference in Sinqit that President Jibril Shadi has agreed to the proposed massive expansion of the Mizah Survey Service, allowing the Archive to carry its advice and services to worlds along the Hasara Chain and Triangular Route. The MSS is now acquiring a number of ships for this purpose and hiring crews at Sinqit Starport.”

B&B Hero Construction Set

A couple of years ago I bought the Beasts & Barbarians Hero Construction Set from Okumarts; I don’t normally do standees, but I like David Okum’s artistic style so I do have a few of his 2D figure sets. Last weekend, with the family still occupied elsewhere, I finally got around to building a set as an experiment. They look like this:

20140601

Left to right: Valk, Cairnlander, Gladiator, Barbarian, some chick with a dagger, Amazon, Ivory Savannah tribesman, Tricarnian, Jademan Monk, creepy sorceror dude, Alchemist, Red Desert tribesman.

So how did it work out? Well, firstly, the speed is a big improvement. It’s only taken me two years to get these ready for the tabletop, whereas my last batch of metal figures took eight years. In hindsight, it was a huge mistake getting rid of the figures I painted while I was in college, because I have not had the time since I started working and raising a family to replace them.

Secondly, they are surprisingly robust and stable. I was really dubious about the recommended basing technique (cutting a slot in a piece of foamcore), but it does work very well, once I learned not to press the figures into the foam board too hard – they bend at the ankles if you do that, although since I printed them on 160 gsm card (which folds up to 320 gsm) they recover quite well from that.

Thirdly, I need a thinner permanent marker. Running a black marker around the edge of the figure makes a surprising difference to how good it looks, but trying to force the chisel-tipped one I have into the little nooks and crannies around weapons means it often slips off and leaves ugly black marks on the figures. You can’t really see the mistakes from arm’s length, but I know they’re there, and it bugs me.

Fourthly – and this is important given my almost total lack of artistic and craft skills – there’s a lot less frustration and swearing involved, because if I ruin one of these figures I can replace it very quickly and easily.

Finally, though, this bills itself as a hero construction set, and that’s what it is. This set gives you a good range of Beasts & Barbarians heroes, but no mooks; if you want a couple of dozen Valk as opposition, say, you’re either going to print off loads of copies of this set, or find something else to proxy for them. (If I were to do that and stick with the same artistic style, I’d use Okum Arts’ hobgoblins.)

CONCLUSION

These little guys are not as nice-looking as a well-painted mini, but they are a lot cheaper, much faster to prepare, I get a lot less angry when one of them gets taken out by a passing elbow and I’m a big fan of the artistic style. So I can see myself using Okumarts’ standees for future games.

The range includes Wild West, classic fantasy and (obviously) Beasts & Barbarians, retro SF and Chinese martial arts figures. I can get zombies from the megaset “Katana Schoolgirls vs Zombie Furries”, but there are no modern or near-future figures unless you count the kilted highlanders in the Spot of Bother set. More moderns, please!

I wonder how long it will be before I can buy 3D printer files for minis and print them out at a local copy shop? If they came pre-coloured so that I didn’t have to paint them, that would be the best of all worlds.

Movers and Shakers

"Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"
"Same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!"
- Pinky and the Brain

Before I kick off the Dark Nebula campaign in earnest, I need a view of the local factions.

It’s tempting to make up all kinds of custom factions, but at this stage I want to move quickly into actual play without worrying about whether the factions are sensibly designed or not, so I pick three template factions from SWN p. 127; the Aslanic Hierate (Regional Hegemon), the Solomani Confederation (Regional Hegemon) and the planetary government of Mizah (Backwater Planet). The Regional Hegemons each begin the game with the Planetary Government tag for all the worlds in their pocket empire.

I want the Dark Nebula system type for a world to be reflected in its government faction, and the simplest way to do this is to say that homeworlds are Regional Hegemons, primary systems are Backwater Planets, and secondary systems are Colony Worlds. Tertiary systems have no worlds, therefore no populations and hence no factions. For the most part, the planetary government factions will just sit there, waiting to provide opposition to the three active factions.

WHY MEN FIGHT

I now need to know the factions’ motivations, since that will both determine their goals and actions in game terms, and make them seem more real to the players.

Aslanic Hierate: Landgrab

In line with Classic Traveller canon, aslan are obsessed with owning land. If there is unoccupied land, preferably on a primary world, they will occupy it. If the only decent land they can get at is already occupied, they will fight for it. Aslan expansion therefore consists of creating Bases of Influence anywhere they can, starting with the primary worlds. The cheapest way to do this is to build Surveyors and send them to each world in turn to Expand Influence there. Once that’s done, they will happily spend their FacCreds upgrading the Bases, representing the expansion of aslan clanholds on the world.

Solomani Confederation: Reunify

As the spiritual heir to the Celestial Empire in my earlier campaigns, the Confederation seeks to restore the lost glories of the Terran Mandate, reuniting humanity under a single banner – this time, theirs. Their long-term aim is therefore Planetary Seizure of every system on the map. It’s faster and cheaper in most cases to do this by building Surveyors, using them to create Bases of Influence, and then building other assets for conquest at those Bases – otherwise they would have to spend faction turns and FacCreds just moving military units into place. Seizing control of systems is neatly Difficulty 3 for a homeworld or primary system, 2 for a secondary, and 1 for a tertiary.

Government of Mizah: Spread the Word

Mizah is comfortable with the status quo, thank you very much; it has a nice home, a comfortable income, and an honourable and altruistic purpose. To pursue its objective of sharing knowledge with its neighbours, it will also plant Bases of Influence offworld, and again the cheapest way over three or more turns is a unit of Surveyors. In philosophy, Mizah is closer to the Confederation, but its methods are closer to those of the Hierate. Its ambitions are also limited to a specific group of worlds, whereas the other two factions both want to dominate the entire map.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

It’s expensive both in FacCreds and actions to move assets around, so they need to be placed sensibly to begin with.

Mizah

  • Everything starts on Mizah. There’s no other option.

The Hegemons

  • Space Marines: Panas (Hierate) and Gazzain (Confed). They have to start inside the faction’s home turf, but they’re strike units, they’re no good at home.
  • Planetary Defences: On the homeworlds, Kuzu and Maadin. These need to be defended, and there are too many potential routes to the homeworlds to block with the available units.
  • Blockade Fleet: Gazzain and Bors. These are a bit of a white elephant really, they need to be refitted into something that can move two hexes.
  • Extended Theatre: These need to begin on the faction’s borders, and quickly move up to a transport nexus nearby but on the outside. The Hierate would be best served if theirs were at Dno, the Confederation needs theirs to be at Bulan until they have pacified that area; so the Extended Theatre units start at Panas and Kamat.
  • Pretech Manufactory: Maadin and Kuzu. These are probably a big part of why the Hegemons are Hegemons.
  • Shipping Combine: Wherever the Extended Theatre went, the Shipping Combine needs to be on the other main route out of faction territory. That puts the Hierate one at Bors, and the Confed one at Gazzain.
  • Tripwire Cells: These may as well stay at home to defend against stealthed infiltration units.
  • Cyberninjas: Panas and Gazzain. I’m not quite sure what to do with these, but those locations give the most options.

We can see from this that the biggest naval base in the region is at Gazzain, and the second-biggest at Panas.

REFLECTIONS

I’ve tried running macro-level wargames or boardgames to provide setting background before, and the game has always collapsed under the weight of record-keeping required. However, I think SWN factions will be different, as they can only do one thing each per turn, so record-keeping is fairly basic – at most three assets per turn move, usually less.

If the factions were merely level grinding, they’d all go for the nearest system and set up a Base of Influence for a quick experience point; but these moves seem more aligned to their known mindsets.

Finally, notice that I don’t need to know anything about the worlds to pick factions and set them at each other’s throats.

Mizah

After rereading the rules for my various science fiction RPGs, and experimenting a little off camera, I came to the conclusion that for the kind of game I want to run, SWN world generation, faction rules, and setting background will give me the most fun for the least effort. There is almost no mechanical interaction between those and the PC-level rules, so Savage Worlds PCs and SWN worlds and factions can co-exist peacefully without requiring any complex rules interfaces.

The PCs’ home world is going to be Mizah, and I have a very clear idea of what I want to do with it; so I move directly to assigning stats without worrying about dice rolls.

WHY MIZAH?

  • It’s naturally habitable.
  • It has routes to six other systems, making it the best-connected primary system on the map and making offworld travel simple when the PCs start to do that. This is also why it’s a trade hub.
  • It isn’t aligned to either the Hierate or the Confederation, but would be a valuable ally to either. Enter intrigue and espionage, stage left, but with the PCs having a free hand as to which faction they support. This is the “offworld faction trying to seize control complication for the trade hub” tag in action.
  • It’s only a few weeks’ travel away from either the insectoid Hive of space bugs (off-map past Simba) or the mysteries of the Dark Nebula itself.

MIZAH

Atmosphere: Breathable mix. Temperature: Temperate. Biosphere: Human-miscible, dominated by giant beetle analogues (the players told me this, during Back in Black). Population: Millions. Tech Level: 4. Tags: Preceptor Archive, Trade Hub. Culture: Arabic (“Mizah” means “joke” in Turkish, and the closest culture to Turkish in baseline SWN is Arabic).

Mizah’s government is a representative democracy; the current president is Jibril Shadi. (As recommended by SWN, the base world gets a representative democracy because how it works will be instinctively familiar to the likely players. President Shadi’s name is courtesy of a couple of dice rolls on the Arabic names table in SWN.)

When the Scream came, Mizah managed somehow to hold things together, thanks to the joint efforts of the Great Archive outpost and the planetary government. During the Silence, the Mizah Survey Service worked closely with the Archive to keep the flame of civilisation burning, however weakly, along the Hasara Chain and the Triangular Route, acting as a cultural bridge and provider of news and technical (especially medical) advice. Local populations therefore look on it fondly for the most part, although of course there are those who infer sinister conspiracies.

  • Hasara Chain: Hasara, Tangga, Salia, Kov, Mizah.
  • Triangular Route: Mizah, Simba, Omaro, Umuru.

These worlds will all have Tech Level 4, as a result of the Great Archive’s “missionary” work along those routes.

Places to Visit

  • Sinqit starport, whose wide, open plazas bustle with activity.
  • Charshi Market, a raucous bazaar on the edge of the starport whose coffee-houses are frequented by ship’s crews on shore leave and adventurers on the make.
  • The Great Archive lecture hall in the centre of Sinqit City and its quasi-religious ceremonies.

REFLECTIONS

The campaign is likely to develop over three phases. In the first phase, the PCs will be limited to Mizah, since they have no ship and no shipboard skills. In phase two, they will escape into local space, which effectively means the Hasara Chain (Hasara-Tangga-Salia-Kov-Mizah) and the Triangular Route (Simba-Omaro/Umuru-Mizah); the Hive of space bugs can turn them back at Simba, the Solomani military can stop them going past Gazzain, there’s nothing to do in the Nebula so far as they know and Daanarni can have a flare or something if they try to go that way. In phase three, all bets are off and they can go anywhere on the map.

So, I needed to know what Mizah is like right away, and should soon have some idea about eight other worlds; the other fifty-odd star systems may never come into play from the PCs’ perspective, although Maadin and Kuzu cast long shadows and are easy enough to generate, as the fact of being a Regional Hegemon dictates most of a world’s statistics.

You’ll note I’ve swerved from the CT Long Night as the historical background to the SWN Scream and Silence. Dramatically, these are much the same – worlds re-emerging into space 600 years after a great human empire collapsed – and experience teaches me the players will neither notice nor care, so I may as well go with the path of least effort, which means the SWN world and faction rules claimed the background followed them home and asked if they could keep it.

Flack, Z+199: The Only Easy Day

"The only easy day was yesterday." – US Navy SEALs.

With my other half out of the country and my boy studying hard for exams next month, I had a little extra time this weekend just gone; and how better to use it than killing zombies?

7th July, 2013. The boys are back in town, looking for supplies but expecting to find zeds. Flack is bringing along Hardcase, Wannabe and Pugh; Wannabe needs to start earning his keep, and the other two are reliable enough. That leaves the other Pugh and Dibble guarding the land rover off-map.

SETUP

This is a Take Back scenario in daylight, in an urban area (ER 5). Take Back is risky as I have to clear the board to win, but I figure if the group is staying in town for a month, an early priority would be to secure a base of operations. As it’s a new area, I check for available supplies using the rules on p. 57; this area has 16 Body Armour, 59 Food, 29 Fuel, 53 Luxury Items, 18 Medical Supplies, and 41 Weapons.

The team move 8" onto the board and I place zombies and PEFs (dice on their own in the middle of sections, see picture below). In an urban area, there are 1d6+1 zeds per human, so 4d6+4 against the group today; we roll well, and there are only 14 of them, 4 at 4 o’clock, 2 at 6 o’clock, 2 at 8 o’clock, 2 at 10 o’clock, 4 at 12 o’clock.

You’ll see I’m using my shiny new City Deck and Risks & Rewards Deck for this game, and pawns from the Zombies!!! boardgame. Flack is Red, the Rep 4 Pugh is blue, Hardcase is green and Wannabe is yellow.

FZ199-01

TURN 1

Activation: Flack 4, Zeds 2.

Firstly, Flack can see the PEF in section 4, so I resolve it. I roll 5, 3 and given the ER of the area is 5, we’ve found something and I go to the contact tables to find out what. It turns out to be three more zeds.

Flack & Co. fast move into the Bar None. (They don’t need the extra movement, but it does make them harder to hit if anyone shoots, so I do it habitually now.) Well, what else are you gonna do in the Zombie Apocalypse?  You certainly need a drink by this stage.

I don’t bother drawing a card from the Risks & Rewards deck because initial placement put two zeds inside. We take the Charge into Melee test; Flack passes 2d6, Pugh 2d6, Hardcase 2d6, and Wannabe 0d6. Wannabe panics and opens fire with his machine pistol, missing with all three shots (not hard if you’re a fast-moving Rep 2) and generating two more zeds.

"If you fire that thing again," Pugh says, "I’m going to make you eat it."

"Can I kill him, boss?" Hardcase wants to know.

But there’s no time for that. The rest of them are attacking the zeds in melee, giving them +1 success, and the zeds are at -1d6 because of the excellent rolls from the team. Flack kills his outright, and the other fights Hardcase to a standstill until Pugh takes it Out Of the Fight which is the same as dead for a zed.

While this is going on, the two PEFs both pass 2d6 and move up two zones. The zeds move one zone, which brings three of them into contact, barging into the Bar None behind our Heroes. Oops, I should have seen that coming. More melee, and the team is at -2d6 on the Charge Into Melee test because they’re hit from behind. As we’re rolling 2d6 + 1d6 (Survivors) – 2d6 (hit from behind), all open fire. I really do have to take that MP off Wannabe, it’s physically impossible for him to hit with his Rep, all he can do is draw more zeds. The rest of them fare a little better; Flack kills one, Pugh knocks one down, and Hardcase embarrasses himself by missing everything. Four more zeds rock up, drawn by the gunfire.

The rest of the zeds march to the sound of the guns, creating a target-rich environment.

FZ199-02

TURN 2

Activation: Flack 5, zeds 4. This means only the zeds who can see humans will move; that’s basically the ones in front of the Bar None.

On the basis that there are more zeds in front of the bar than behind it, Flack leads the crew out the back door, fast-moving, and behind the Cornerstone Coffee House. This will leave them facing five zeds, but the alternatives are (a) facing 17 zeds, or (b) barricading themselves inside the Bar None and watching hopelessly as every zed on the table moves up and batters at the doors. No thanks.

More melee? Well, if you insist… Everyone except Wannabe passes 2d6, so opens fire, but Wannabe only gets one shot. Of course he misses, although I still roll in the vain hope that he runs out of ammo, but luckily no more zeds appear. That’s a small mercy, as the remaining 16 zeds now know where we are. Flack knocks two down, Pugh kills two, Hardcase kills one. Good enough. All that gunfire draws six more zeds; we have to stop doing that, but unfortunately you don’t always get a choice.

FZ199-03

TURN 3

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 2. Time to get the hell out of Dodge. The crew zip into the side entrace for Downtown Parking at a fast-move, Wannabe trailing as he passes 0d6. What’s inside? I draw a card from the R&R deck and discover it’s a brace of Casters. I’m not using those – they’re from High Rise to Hell, which I don’t have yet – and not knowing how many there are in the deck, I decide to treat them as no encounter and drive on. We’re not stopping to loot with that many zeds on our tail, so that ends the team’s activation.

The zeds move to wherever they think we might be, and the PEFs close up as far as they can without breaking cover.

At this point I check the time and discover I’m just under an hour in, halfway through the target time for the encounter. Even allowing for my being rusty, it looks like the full 16 cards is going to be too many for a typical game for me. Let’s see how things go.

FZ199-04

TURN 4

Activation: Flack 2, zeds 1. The team fast-move across the street (fortunately the zed in the road is facing the other way) and into Gilligan’s Tavern, where they find – three vampires?!? More High Rise to Hell stuff, and this time I decide to redraw and get four zeds.

Naturally, Wannabe panics and fires, drawing two more zeds. Flack kicks one zombie OOF, Hardcase kills another, the third knocks down Pugh who rolls boxcars on his Recover From Knock Down test and is Obviously Dead. Oh no! Continuing the roll of extreme luck, Wannabe kills the final zed.

The team takes a Man Down test as they react to the loss of Pugh. Flack, as a star, can choose his result and passes 2d6. The rest get the benefit of Flack’s leader die; Hardcase rolls 2, 3, 3 and passes 2d6; he carries on. Wannabe rolls 5, 4, 3 and Runs Away, so he is removed from the table.

FZ199-05

TURN 5

Activation: Flack 3, zeds 4. Only the zed in Gilligan’s activates, as none of the others can see a human. It’s already in melee, and Flack kills again, clubbing it viciously with his rifle until Hardcase pulls him off.

"He’s gone, Captain. He’s gone."

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Flack composes himself. Scanning the area, he can see, or knows of, over 20 zombies, and there’s only him and Hardcase left. Time to go.

"Right," Flack says, with the merest hint of a catch in his voice. "Follow me," and the pair of them fast-move off the board.

AFTERMATH

Wannabe rolls 3, 3 vs Rep 2 for After The Battle recovery; he never makes it back to camp. The team never find out what happened to him, but given his flaky Rep it’s not likely to be anything good.

Hardcase and Flack roll to see if they lose Rep as a result of failure, but neither does. They have both lost men before, and no doubt will lose them again.

The rest of the crew reflect on whether to stay with Flack once he breaks the news about Wannabe and Pugh; not his best day in command ever. Flack himself is rolling 5d6 for Rep, an additional 1d6 as he is a Born Leader, but -1d6 as he lost a man this trip. He scores 4 successes (rolls of 1-3).

Dibble is not rolling to leave the group any more. Hardcase rolls 5d6, -2d6 because he has been with Flack for over 6 months now, for a total of 3d6; he rolls no successes and is no longer rolling to leave the group. Pugh rolls similarly and gets 2 successes; again Flack has at least twice as many successes, so Pugh becomes a permanent member.

REFLECTIONS

That was a big, ugly failure. I used 26 zombies and 4 humans, and the game lasted about 90 minutes. The tactical lesson is not to shoot at zeds if you can possibly avoid it, but you can’t always, especially if you have a low Rep team member.

The two card decks work very well; the risks and rewards deck in particular saves a lot of time, and now I want to use it for Savage Worlds as well (it was the vampires and casters wot dun it, officer).

Based on the movement ratings, the recommended board layout is equivalent to a board around 40" x 48", and based on my progress in this game would take me 3-4 hours to clear, which is more than I have available in a typical session; I shall switch to one card per built-up board section, which is a good match for what I get when using terrain, and see how that goes – I can always add more cards later. (As an aside, I personally think a ground scale of one inch to six feet is about right for ATZ, in which case to scale my local coffee shop is about 4” by 6”, my usual office is around 8” by 10” and a typical house is probably 4” by 4”, so the city deck is about right, actually; a couple of buildings per board section in a built-up area.)

Considering they are little plastic men and lists of numbers on an index card, I was surprisingly touched when they pulled together more tightly than ever after losing Pugh.

It’s all about the story.

STATUS AT Z+200

  • Capt. Flack: Rep 5*, Pep 4, Sav 3, Born Leader, Initiative. Body armour, assault rifle, binoculars.
  • Pugh: Rep 5, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Dibble: Rep 4, Pep 2, Sav 3. Body armour, assault rifle, pistol.
  • Hardcase: Rep 5, Pep 3, Sav 4. Body armour, assault rifle, SMG, goggles, backpack.
  • Group: Land Rover, 3 Food, 0 Fuel.
  • Area: 16 Body Armour, 59 Food, 29 Fuel, 53 Luxury Items, 18 Medical Supplies, 41 Weapons.

Once More Into The Nebula

This year’s sci-fi campaign is gaining momentum now, after a certain amount of dithering over what rules and setting to use. Some of my previous groups have had firm ideas on what should be used, but the current players are very laid back about that, so I can use whatever I want.

THE RULES

Much as I love Classic Traveller, it has holes. Character generation is too random, there’s no levelling up to speak of, and the range and armour DMs for combat are too clunky. I could house-rule my way out of that, or we could learn a new game (say, Mongoose Traveller or Stars Without Number), but you know what, we’re already familiar with a game that will do the job, and that’s Savage Worlds. So there’s the core rules set.

There are things SW does not do well, mostly around setting generation; but that’s fine, because I have a setting in mind already.

THE SETTING

The Official Traveller Universe is too big and too detailed not to use, but by the same token I want to tweak the setting too; that and my affection for the Dark Nebula map have taken me away from the well-trodden paths, towards that region of space.

I’ve used the Nebula as a setting before, in the playtest campaign for my work on GURPS Traveller Alien Races 2 and 3, and I expect to have a couple of the same players. To avoid awkward questions and allow me to apply lessons learned in the intervening 15 years, I turn the clock back from 1105 or so Imperial to 3400 AD and the very start of the Aslan Border Wars. That’s during the Long Night, 650 years after the fall of the Rule of Man, so there’s a major difference – this game will have the feel of re-emerging into space after centuries of rebuilding, much like Stars Without Number or Traveller: The New Era, either or both of which may be mined for resources.

It also means the Solomani Confederation doesn’t necessarily have to be the Stalinist Nazi hybrid of the Official Traveller Universe; that’s 2,000 years in the future from the PCs’ viewpoint.

THE STARMAP

I promise I will eventually stop redrawing the map of the Nebula; but not today. I hope this will be the final version, although I admit it never has been before…

This version has the rescaling and rotation I normally apply, but I worked out how to do double star systems in Hexographer so added those back in. Doing that revealed that I could have a more authentic jump route network by moving a couple of worlds as well; since one of the conceits of the tweaked setting is that one can only move along jump routes, this has no effect.

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Worlds are colour-coded; red dots are homeworlds, blue ones are primary systems, orange are secondary, grey are tertiary. (Using dots for everything makes it easier to do the map key in MS Word for player handouts.)

Jump routes are in green; solid lines for charted ones, dotted lines for uncharted. Hyperspace jumps are only possible along charted routes; my rationalisation for this is that the map is a 2D representation of 3D space, so worlds that appear next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump; there is an explanation for the uncharted routes, which I’ll come back to later when I do some world writeups.

That means I can suppress the hex grid for clarity, since the players will never use the hexes. Then, the map looks like this:

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The map uses the original 1980 terms for the interstellar states, Solomani Confederation and Aslanic Hierate; this is so that any Traveller-savvy players who join the campaign will immediately realise this is an alternate Traveller universe, not the official one.

THE CONFLICT

The period of tension and intrigue leading up to the First Aslan Border War is a great time for roleplaying adventures, the straight-up combat after war breaks out not so much, at least not for the players I have in mind. This is a good thing, because otherwise I would feel compelled to work out the war in detail – which naval squadron is in which system on what date, how long the Battle of Valka lasts and who is involved, that kind of thing – and the campaign would collapse under the weight of my notes.

So instead of using the Pacific War of 1941-45 as a real-world analogue, the campaign is going to be more like the 1930s, which will suit the pulpy feel of Savage Worlds very well.

THE PCS AND THE BASE WORLD

The PCs will be those from Back in Black; converting them to SW is a cinch because they are actually SW archetypes converted to CT.

None of them have a ship, or ship-related skills, so for the moment all I need to worry about is their base world; this is going to be Mizah, and I’ll look at that in the next post.

Shadows of Keron: A Retrospective

It’s time to call this one. Time of death: April 2014.

I have enough material to keep running the game for another year, maybe two, but with several of the group dealing with serious illness in the family, two running after a new baby, one off to university and two off to Japan, the best I can hope for is a long hiatus. All the same, it’s been fun while it lasted, and a real success. My only regret is that it petered out, rather than ending on the kind of slam-bang, white-knuckle high note I’d hoped for; but such is life.

If you count the city of Irongrave where the PCs began, which was absorbed into the Dread Sea Dominions once Beasts & Barbarians captured my imagination, this campaign has lasted about four years of real time; one of the longest I’ve ever run.

The game introduced half-a-dozen new people to role-playing, and four of them still play on a regular basis; that’s a win, right there. I converted the whole group to Savage Worlds – win – and they converted me to Shadowrun – win. I got to know Piotr Korys and Umberto Pignatelli – win.

Over the course of the campaign, the PCs have grown from their lowly beginnings at Novice rank to the edge of Legendary. They have travelled across the Dominions from the Independent Cities to the Troll Mountains to the Ivory Savannah. They have looted tombs, toppled kingdoms and slain a god. They have upset the balance of power in the Dominions for centuries to come by gifting both the Ascaian Amazons and the Smith-Priests of Hulian the secret of steel-making.

What now for our heroes?

The Warforged intends seizing control of the abandoned City of the Winged God, where he plans to create a new race of warforged and take over the world – for the greater good of all, of course. (It always starts like that, doesn’t it? Then there are dissenters, then the Blast powers and frying pans come out, and the screaming starts…)

Nessime has been instructed by the Smith-Priests to make her way to Jalizar, there to help contain its ancient evils.

Gutz’ present whereabouts are unknown; but the party’s jewels are safe with him, wherever he and Maximus the warhorse are – at least until he finds a tavern with dancing-girls…

“When it’s over, when it’s done – let it go.” – The Bangles, Let It Go

Dark Nebula: Setting Inferences

“The Klingons are a proud warrior race, and have no need of fripperies such as fridge magnets.” – Bill Bailey

Having done the map, the next stage in my budding Dark Nebula campaign is to peruse the boardgame and see what I can infer from it. For this purpose I’m considering Savage Worlds, Stars Without Number, 5150 and Traveller as candidates for the rules – I expect to use all of them in this setting at some point, so I’m looking for common denominators.

TRAVELLER

Let’s start with Traveller, because the designers were writing Classic Traveller at the same time they were writing Dark Nebula and used some of the same concepts, so it should be easiest.

Jump Routes

There are only a handful of J-3 routes, and a single J-4 route.

J-1 drives would be limited to a few specific clusters of worlds; in the Solomani Confederation there is one group of four worlds and one pair, in the Aslan Hierate there is a group of three, there’s a group of six worlds between Mizah and Daanarni, and there are a few isolated pairs out in the boonies.

However, there’s only one system you can’t reach with a Jump-2 drive at the start of the game, and that’s Taida Na, which initially can only be reached from Valka using a J-4 drive. So the majority of starships would have Jump-2 drives; you really don’t need anything more, and you have severely limited movement with less. The military might have a few J-3 ships, maybe even the odd J-4, but that’s debatable.

This is somewhere that Mongoose Traveller may have an edge; in the board game, any ship can traverse any jump route; so the Mongoose warp drive variant rule might be a better fit. (And while we’re at it, given the unusually high proportion of waterless worlds, maybe the Mongoose hard SF option for world generation.)

Population

Kuzu and Maadin are both specified as homeworlds with "high populations". That term has a specific meaning in Traveller, namely a population of 9 (billions) or A (tens of billions) – looking ahead to SWN, and because I normally assign the minimum value necessary to match other evidence, I’ll go with 9. Given their status in the game, they deserve class A starports as well.

Technology

As far as technology goes, J-4 drives and battle dress for jump troops, but lack of evidence for anything higher-tech than that, place the maximum TL in the region at D (13). There’s also no need for it anywhere other than Maadin and Kuzu, so that sets their TL.

Races

The boardgame is silent on these, but familiarity with the default Traveller setting will tell you that Solomani humans and Aslan are present. In the past I’ve added droyne, ithklur, vilani and others, and may do so this time as well, but let’s see how far we can get with just the basic two for the moment.

STARS WITHOUR NUMBER

Spike-4 drives are needed to move 4 hexes in SWN, and require TL5, so we can assign a population of billions and TL 5 to the two homeworlds, which are also Regional Hegemons. Races will include humans and also hochog, renamed and described as if they were aslan – the Proud Warrior Race is such a classic SF trope that almost every game has it, and SWN is no exception.

SAVAGE WORLDS / 5150

The above topics don’t really matter in SW or 5150, and neither game needs much about them beyond a little narrative. The only problem with 5150 is that it’s not immediately obvious how to do aslan, but to start with I’ll just give them +1 Rep for being the Proud Warrior Race.

As regards Savage Worlds, I rule out High-Space at this point because it’s grounded in transhumanism, and CT/Dark Nebula aren’t, so the Sci Fi Companion is a better fit for this particular game. I make a note that natives of Maadin and Kuzu might have the High-Tech (Minor) Hindrance under the SW SFC, and that jumps are only possible along mapped routes. On the racial front, we have humans and rakashans; those are the only two races obviously needed, and the boardgame is about a war between the two, so it seems reasonable for the rakashan racial hostility to be directed at humans.

THE ARIONIAD

As usual, I’m feeling lazy, and rather than create new characters for the SW implementation of the Nebula, I’ll reactivate Arion and company, setting Gordon’s as yet undocumented civilisation in a planet-less system in the Dark Nebula itself. Daanarni becomes the aslan name for Antares, Halfway becomes the orbital station at Hasara, and I’m sure I can retcon in other stuff easily enough when I need it. The Arioniad’s riff of a loose alliance of worlds threatened by a human empire fits best with the Mizah cluster facing off against the Solomani Confederation; good luck, guys.

Lighting A Candle

“Don’t curse the darkness – light a candle.” – Chinese proverb.

So, I’ve been thinking… For years now I’ve planned my gaming in some detail at the start of the year, and I’m never really happy with the outcome; first I get frustrated because some real life event gets in the way, then I grudgingly hack bits off the plan until it fits, repeat those steps every few months, and wind up grumpy and dispirited because I haven’t achieved anything.

Since that doesn’t work, let’s try something else, shall we? Let’s not bother planning, and as Ed Teixeira says, “Just play the game”.

-o0o-

In the spirit of “just playing the game”, this is a campaign that is taking up space in my head and just won’t go away, so I suppose I’ll have to get it out of my system by playing it. Starting a new campaign is like having kids; there’s never a perfect time for it, you just have to get on with it and deal with the problems as they arise.

Dark Nebula is, of course, a board game by the sadly defunct Game Designers’ Workshop, and is an offshoot of their Traveller RPG (which is itself arguably an offshoot of their earlier Imperium boardgame). For some reason the board just sings to me, and must be used. However, the official board is at half a parsec per hex; I’ve shrunk that to one parsec per hex and merged each of the double stars into a single system, the better to fit Traveller standards. Here’s what that looks like in Hexographer, with the maps laid out so that the hex numbers match up; in the board game, the map is in geomorphic sections, and placing them to one’s advantage is part of the game.

nebula2

Primary (blue) systems have an earthlike world, orange ones don’t (specifically, they have no free-standing water), and grey ones have no planets at all. Systems named all in upper case are “homeworlds”, with high levels of population and technology; ones in cloudy-looking hexes are inside the eponymous Dark Nebula. Solid green lines are known jump routes, dotted ones are theorised to exist but have not been mapped well enough to use.

The Arioniad has been a game about a group of characters with no fixed setting or rules. Dark Nebula will be a game about a setting with no fixed rules or characters, although as ever I expect to develop favourites. Will it last once the SW SF Companion and/or the next Shiny Thing come along? Who knows? Certainly not me, but I have spent enough time cursing the darkness.

Fiat lux.