Archive for December, 2009

This thread has died on the vine a bit, because fine though it is, Mythic isn’t really what I’m looking for in a game system. Possibly I am too much of a gamist, and it is too much of a narrativist system. Anyway, it joins a pile of games which I can see are good, but which I don’t think I can game master well enough to do them justice – this pile includes Amber and Vampire: The Masquerade, amongst others.

However, Santa brought me Two Hour Wargames’ Larger Than Life, which I think will fit the bill for the Arioniad (and also for a solo Warhammer 40,000 game, still at the concept stage, tentatively entitled Ordo Hereticus). So, I’ll convert Arion and the plotline and see where that takes us; the 1950s style science fiction which inspired Classic Traveller isn’t far removed from pulp fiction.

Under Savage Worlds, which I used for characters and combat, with Mythic as a GM emulator, Arion looked like this: Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6. Skills: Fighting d6, Guts d6, Healing d6, Notice d6, Piloting d8, Repair d6, Shooting d6. Charisma 0, Pace 6, Parry 5, Toughness 7, CV 76. Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal: Friends. Edges: Ship. Gear: $25. Kevlar Vest: +2/4, Glock: 2d6, Knife: Str+d4.

Working through the overview on p. 58 over a large scotch, I convert Arion as follows and decide that the scoutship Dolphin is his Co-Star to add some SF flavour.

Star: Arion, Rep 4; Star Power 2; Profession – Pilot; Employer – Self-Employed; Love Interest – not yet defined; Primary Attribute – Brains; Other Attributes – Brawn, Bravado; Recruiting Points 4; Advantages – Strong Willed; Disadvantages – Runt; Weapons – pistol, knife; Brawn Skills – Fighting 2, Melee 2, Piloting 2; Brain Skills First Aid 4; Bravado Skills – none; Recruits – see below.

Co-Star: Scoutship Dolphin and repair swarm; Rep 4; Primary Attribute Brains; Brawn Skills – Piloting 2; Brains Skills – Repair 4. (I only passed 1d6 on the recruiting table, so have no recruiting points left for others.) I decide the Dolphin has Larger Than Life and Cheating Death as befits its status, but not the full pack of Star advantages. I thought about declaring the Dolphin as Arion’s home as well, but that causes trouble I’m not ready for yet with the recruiting and Going Home rules.

The shadowy nemesis in earlier episodes I decide to call Schrodinger, since he may or may not have a cat. Dmitri I decide is an Extra, and closer to a Private Eye than anything, so we’ll use that entry, which gives him Interrogate and use of the Enforcement Crisis Table.

Now on to the Story (p. 29). Rolling 1d6 = 5 on the Person, Place or Thing table gets an 8, which is reduced to 7 because of Arion’s career. 7 is “Retrieve an Object.” Who is the Big Bad? Rolling on the table on p. 29 yields a 6, followed by a 2 – a King Beast. Interesting; that suggests the shadowy figure is some sort of shaman or witch doctor. Checking the Big Bad’s Rep on the next table I roll 2d6: 1, 1 vs 4 = pass 2d6: The Big Bad has one Rep less than I, namely 3. His Master Plan is on the next table; 1d6 + Rep (3) = 5, “Steal Treasure”. However, if the mystery opponent is a shaman, he must have Rep 6. Hmm. I’ll go with Rep 6 for the moment, so Schrodinger will be a real challenge, but keep the master plan as rolled.

Big Bad: King Beast, to be confirmed (but probably some kind of giant cat; possibly invisible, as in Forbidden Planet). I remember some improbably large pouncer animals being generated at random in Classic Traveller, so we’ll go with that.

Big Bad’s Shaman: Schrodinger (and possibly cat), Rep 6; Star Power 2; as he is not the Big Bad he gets half his Rep in Skills – tentatively, I’ll make his Primary Attribute Bravado, and give him Intimidate 6, Hypnotism 6, and Social Chameleon 6. I’m not sure if as an Extra he should get this, but maybe that will become clear in play; I’m half minded to make him a recurring villain, in which case he may well be the Big Bad himself in future.

I now roll on the Advance the Story Table (p. 30). 1d6 + Star’s Rep (4) + number of clues solved so far (0 – Arion is clueless at this point) = 2 + 4 = 6. Get info from someone in a story advancing scene, namely what is the object he must retrieve? It seems easiest to say the object is the same as the treasure Schrodinger is trying to steal. I break from LTL to roll a random cargo on the Classic Traveller Trade and Speculation table and get 45 – tools; I decide this is some kind of ancient artifact which grants control of the King Beast, and decide it is a fist-sized emerald sphere known as the Eye of the Cat.

To advance to the next Story Scene I need a Travel Scene. I decide Arion is currently in an Exotic location (because of the mercenary hiring-hall aspect of Matapan), and roll 1d6 on the Where To Next table (p. 31) – a 4, so Arion and Dmitri must go to another Exotic locale. Obviously they will go by means of the Dolphin; that seems most like a Private Plane to me, but from the tables on pp. 32-33 it will be easier to integrate with the rules if I treat it as a Tramp Steamer. Maybe the next Star should be a Free Trader Captain rather than a Scout – shades of Firefly!

I now roll 1d6 to see if we have an encounter en route, and get a 6, so we arrive without incident. I haven’t got a suitable name for the destination yet, but imagine Schrodinger’s men arriving at the landing pad just in time to see the Dolphin disappearing into the distance towards it.

This has been a bit dry and gamist so far, I will use a more in-character voice for the tale going forwards.


Posted: 30 December 2009 in Reviews

As promised, thoughts on counters. There is a wide range of them available, ranging from chess and drafts pieces to specialist gaming counters, and they have some advantages.

The advantages are saving space, saving money, and (at least the way I use them) clear visibility of PCs or Stars.

  • Saving space, because a stack of 15-20 counters takes up roughly the same space as one 30mm figure.
  • Saving money, because counters are cheaper than figures – see below.
  • Clear visibility, because I tend to use counters for NPCs (in roleplaying games) or grunts (in THW games), and normal miniatures for the PCs or Stars.

The main disadvantage is that they are very lightweight, so tend to go flying everywhere if someone bumps into the gaming table.

Sources are more limited than you might think, though. Setting aside things like chess pieces, one could use:

  • Boardgame counters vary in price, usefulness, and looks, but you probably have some lying around anyway.
  • Look on RPGNow or similar sites under “paper miniatures”, or search for that term, and you’ll find a wide range of 2D (counters) or 3D (paper minis). Again, price and quality vary widely; price is hard to judge though, since you could print out each one many times. My personal favourites are the Fiery Dragon Counter Collections, where about £8 will get you 180 counters, although fewer different poses than that. That’s about 4p to 5p per image, plus the cost of paper and whatever you base them on, if anything. I used to print them on photographic paper and superglue them to the bottom of Games Workshop 1″ square bases to make a durable counter, thick enough to pick up easily even with my fingers; I estimate that took the price up to around 10p or 15p per counter versus £2-£3 for a figure.
  • The D&D Roleplaying Game Starter Set includes about 50 counters for roughly £10. (Shop around and you can find it for less.) Even if you ignore the dungeon tiles, quickstart rules and scenario, that’s about 20p each, compared to a couple of quid for a figure. Admittedly, your choices of PCs are limited, but it’s a good selection of monsters.

Of these, after using the Fiery Dragon pieces for a while, I wound up using the ones in the D&D Roleplaying Game Starter Set, because no assembly is required – making the Fiery Dragon ones up takes a fair amount of time, which I’d rather use actually playing.

Using counters and hexmaps is starting to transform my miniatures games into SPI-style boardgames, but I can’t get excited about that.

One of the things that Better Dead Than Zed does much better than the original All Things Zombie is to give me an emotional connection to the Star and his group of companions; partly because it starts on Day One of the outbreak, not two years afterwards, and partly because you are encouraged to play Day One as if it were actually happening to you.

As background for the 28 Months Later campaign, I wanted to understand better what would still be available to survivors over time once civilisation had collapsed. (Wargaming is very educational, and takes you off in all sorts of strange research directions.)

I originally planned to work this out myself, but then thought: It’s so obvious a topic that someone else must already have done it. And indeed they have; you can find timelines in increasing levels of detail here, here, and here. Since civilisation in ATZ collapses over roughly a one month period, you may want to adjust the timelines for the first year or so to reflect that.

Nentir Vale, Cardolan

Posted: 14 December 2009 in Settings

This post is here just to draw your attention to Greywulf’s excellent idea of transplanting D&D 4e‘s Nentir Vale into Cardolan, in Middle Earth, in 1650. Nice job, Greywulf.

I’ve been a huge Lord of the Rings fan since I first read it in 1970; all my kids love it too, and it will be very cool for them to realise gradually where they are. The human characters are easy to fit into this set up, and the longtooth shifter isn’t too different from Beorn; but I’m not sure how I’m going to explain the warforged yet. So, he needs to start attracting more NPC attention, as he is more unusual than the party realise.

I should ask Anna for advice – she is a proper Tolkien scholar, did her undergraduate thesis on LotR, speaks at conferences about Tolkien, and so forth.

Talomir Nights – the House Rule

Posted: 14 December 2009 in Rules

My players have been known to complain that I’m so fond of house rules, they never play the same game twice. Even though part of the fun for me is tweaking the rules, I have tried to rein that impulse in over recent years, mostly to avoid that complaint, but also so that I’m sure I understand the rules before I change them.

However, I’ve reached the point with Warrior Heroes that I want to make a change, and since I play it solo, no-one can stop me! I’m changing the rule for generating the opposition so that it’s based on the number of figures in my party, not their CV. That brings it into line with most other THW rules sets.

Why? Well, my party will probably stabilise at 4-6 figures, because that’s the size of troupe I prefer to play. If I use the standard THW encounter rules, this will mean opposition of half to twice my numbers, namely 2-12 enemy figures.

If I stay with the Rules As Written, opposing forces will be based on my party’s Combat Value. Over time, I think the advancement rules mean this will stabilise at about 10 for each figure in my force, giving me a total CV of about 50 for a party of five. That would mean the enemies would be 25-100 CV in total, and since they have a CV of 1-2 per figure, I would be facing off against 12-100 figures. That moves away from the skirmish gaming I prefer; and most games would consist of the five man band moving onto the table, not liking what it sees, and moving off again.

Shelf Life

Posted: 13 December 2009 in 28 Months Later

One of the things that struck me as implausible when reading Earth Abides was that decades after the collapse of civilisation, the protagonists were still eating food out of cans they scavenged from old warehouses. “That can’t be right,” I thought. Yesterday and today, though, I did some research – this was driven by my starting to play All Things Zombie again, finally catching a repeat of Life After People on TV, and wondering how long our preserved food would last before completely non-survivalist types such as myself would have to learn farming.

It turns out that Earth Abides is correct, much to my surprise. The US Army is cited on a number of websites as studying this sort of thing, and determining that canned food is still good after 46 years in some cases – the record seems to be tinned veal from 1824, still edible when opened in 1938. The limiting factor seems to be that it starts to taste funny, and the testers begin to comment that they wouldn’t eat it even in an emergency, despite the fact that medical analysis shows it still to be nutritious (although vitamins A and C are lost after a few years).

Dried goods last nearly as long; things like rice, pasta, and flour are good for 25-30 years if stored properly, and salt, sugar and honey seem to last literally forever. (Or in my cupboards, until the ants find a way in.)

With the exception of some anti-malaria drugs, which fail stability tests after a few years, drugs seem to last a long time too.

Admittedly, these sites are secondary sources; the original reports are supposedly buried somewhere in the US DoD and DFA websites – I can’t find them, but since this is idle curiousity rather than life or death, I’ve given up after a few hours’ cursory search.

So now, apart from the obvious manufacturing need to have a steady throughput of products rather than one bulk order every decade, I wonder why we have such short shelf lives on most products?

It’s late in the evening after Encounter Two, and the new girl, Brown, can’t sleep. She wanders over to Reed and sits nearby while he’s on watch.

“Mind if I smoke?” she asks.

“Don’t strike the match where I can see it.” Seeing her put away her lighter and cigarettes, he explains. “No, I mean that literally. I don’t want to lose my night vision.” She takes them out and lights up, carefully, where he can’t see the flare.

“You’re Reed, right?”

“That’s what they call me,” he says, neutrally.

“So, where were you when it happened? Day One?”

“Most of us did things we don’t like to talk about.”

“I need more than that. I need to know what kind of people you are. You’re in charge; they’ll take their lead from you. What did you do, personally?”

“I went to get my daughter…”

* * * * *

So, I finally cracked and got All Things Zombie: Better Dead Than Zed, which is ATZ updated to the Chain Reaction 3.0 rules and with other changes, chief amongst which is that it starts on Day One, the day of the outbreak, rather than two years later. I’m thinking, what was Reed doing? Well, Reed represents me on the table, so what will I be doing on the day of the outbreak? You’ll recall that I set this according to the currently-popular Mayan end of the world thing, which makes it either 21st or 23rd December, 2012. Probably I will be at home getting ready for Christmas. My wife and kids will be too, there’ll be a fair amount of food and drink to hand, and in honesty at this stage I wouldn’t see the need for firearms, so why would I go out looking for trouble?

Aha. One of my daughters will almost certainly be at a party. So, into the car to recover her. Let’s assume I start as a Rep 3 civilian, but let me assure you, if I’m expecting enough trouble to go get her, there will be improvised melee weapons in the boot of the car. I’ve got a garden shed full of spades and edging tools; they’ll do. I’ll treat this as “spouse’s workplace” for game purposes. I look through the other list of locations on p. 64 and decide my second, and final, location for Day One would be home. The date rules out workplaces and schools, and the other locations don’t have anything I’d risk my life for on Day One – in reality, I think I’d stay home for a couple of days and try to ride it out. About Day Five, when we start running out of food, or whenever hordes of zombies start moaning “Brains…” outside the door, we’d wake up and smell the coffee…

I shall take Born Leader and Brawler as attributes, which retcons Reed a little, but so what. I base this on all the leadership courses employers have sent me on over the years, my 30 years leading teams, and my former martial arts hobby. (I plan to run some co-op ATZ with the family over Christmas, so their attributes will follow. Giulia ought to have Athlete, because she is very fast; and her mother is a great driver, so will get Transporter. More of that later.)

2d6 vs Rep 3 on the getting there table on p. 64: 5, 5. So I arrive one location later; my first location counts as location 2. There are 2d6 = 7 terrified civilians on the table who I must fight my way past. To represent fighting my way through the crowd, I must fight them in melee, one after the other. I’m a gentle soul, so this early in the outbreak I am probably just shoving rather than laying into people with a spade; however, they roll 2d6 in melee and I roll 4d6, as a Rep 3 Brawler, so it should still be workable.

I can’t figure out how to do the Zed or No Zed test – there being no zeds on the table yet – so I decide to skip it in the interests of speed.

Civilian 1: I roll for his Rep on the Civilian List (p. 9) and get a 2. Activation 1, 2 so we both activate. I roll higher so I go first and charge (as a Star, I can choose my result for this one.) C1 takes the Being Charged test; 2d6 vs 2: 5, 4 so pass 0d6 – he halts and may not fire (not that he has a gun anyway). He rolls 2d6 vs 3: 3, 4 = 1 success. I roll 4d6 vs 3: 2, 5, 5, 6 = 1 success. We each discard scores of 4+ and reroll. C1 rolls 6 = 0 successes. I roll 2 = 1 success. As I have one more success than my opponent, he is Out Of the Fight, which in this situation means he runs past me.

Civilian 2 is Rep 4 – fortunately he only rolls 2d6 in this fight. Activation 1, 3 so we both activate and again I go first. I auto-pass wanting to charge, he passes 1d6 on the being charged table so melees normally: 2d6 vs 3: 2, 6. 1 success. I roll 4d6 vs 3: 2, 5, 5, 6. 1 success. We each reroll 1d6. C2 rolls a 2, I roll a 5, and since he has one more success I am OOF and rendered unconscious. This location is over.

I wake up an unknown time later. The crowd has gone. No sign of my daughter. There is nothing to say the crowd has taken my keys, so I limp back to my car and head home. We’ll assume the mobile phone network is down as it became overloaded with calls; that’s what happened on 7/7 when I was in London. Staying here isn’t helping, so off to my second choice. A roll on the table on p.64 is now needed. 2d6 vs Rep: 1, 2 = pass 2d6. I arrive there normally, but I was late to the first location so it counts as location 3. There are no panicked civilians here, and the activation dice are kind, so I reach the house before anything untoward happens.

Hmm. Did my daughter arrive back? I decide to roll for her on the travel table as she will probably have had her own car with her – she usually does – and has no other locations to visit. She rolls 2, 5 vs Rep 3 = 1 success. Her Rep is greater than the location number so she reaches home while I’m still en route to the party house.

No matter, we’re all back home safe and can hunker down for the night. What would we do next? So far we’ve seen no zombies, so probably we’d go with the stay put option for the moment. Looking at the timeline on p. 53 for the first stage of the outbreak, sometime around day 10-14 we’d head out into the countryside. By about day 25 or so, we’d be living rough somewhere and looking for a safe area to use as a base. So, our first encounter of the campaign proper will be a Take Back encounter, in a rural area, during the daytime. Wish us luck.