Archive for March, 2011

Escape from WHAA

Posted: 31 March 2011 in Rules

After Ispitan’s recent escape from Valdemar, one of the authors of WHAA (Bob Minadeo – thanks Bob!) kindly advised me that in earlier drafts of the rules, the alarm was raised if the die roll was the turn number or less on 1d6, and suggesting that as an optional rule.

Here are the chances of the alarm being raised per turn, and cumulatively, under either approach…

Turn RAW This Turn RAW Cumulative Option This Turn Option Cumulative
1 17% 17% 17% 17%
2 17% 31% 33% 44%
3 17% 42% 50% 72%
4 17% 52% 67% 91%
5 17% 60% 83% 98%
6 17% 67% 100% 100%

Assuming your group moves 8” per turn, and starts in the centre of the board, 24” from the nearest edge, it has a better than even chance of escaping without the alarm being raised using the Rules As Written, and about one chance in four of doing so using the optional rule.

Your call – whatever you think would suit your game better.


My narrative inspiration is on holiday this week, so you just get some fairly mechanical results.

Arion’s Log, 087-3011

No encounters on arrival insystem.

We arrived in the Erriin system, which proved to be as advertised in the data pack we picked up on Betiqu. There were no other ships in orbit, and we landed without incident.


Legal encounter rolled, group reaction 5 – hostile.

Today was spent in refuelling, renewing life support, and the dozens of other tasks which need to be handled at each new planetfall. A group of surly local law enforcers dropped by, looking for trouble, but Coriander managed to persuade them otherwise.  I suspect she continues to use her psionic powers on our behalf in these situations, to modify the reactions of the natives; I wonder if she is doing that to me, too? Possibly her influence on Dmitri and I has an older, and more pheromonal, source.


Rolled a 5 for selling the gems, +1 for Coriander, +8 for this being a Rich world; 300%, so we sell the two tons we have for a cool Cr 6 million. Yummy. Another legal encounter, group reaction 7, followed by a random person encounter – more police, but with a reaction of 10.

Coriander has developed a real knack for trading, or at least a way of influencing buyers. She sold the gemstone cargo for six million Credits, so we’re financially secure for a while. A second, and later a third, group of police came by to check us out; judging by their accents, they are not locals – probably the Republic of Inlaarin is flushing the local enforcement agencies with its own people, at least in the senior roles. The second group were neutral, and the third, positively friendly.


Rolled more gems as speculative cargo, which will be expensive to buy and won’t sell well anywhere close by. We’re rich enough at the moment not to need them. Another legal encounter, more police with a reaction of 5. I also roll a patron encounter, Governor, and decide he wants us to deliver a message wherever we’re going next.

Coriander came back from the traders’ godowns laughing; someone tried to sell our gems back to us. We declined, politely. Another group of police came by, with the same surly attitude as the first lot, and marched me off to the Starport Authority. I was trying to work out what we’d done wrong, when the Inlaarinese Governor himself turned up, and asked me to deliver a message when I left. He gave me a sealed data cartridge.

“Who is this for?” I asked. “And how do you know where I’m going next? I haven’t worked that out yet myself.”

“They will find you,” he replied. “Wherever you go.”

None of us like the sound of that, but not agreeing probably means an all-expenses-paid indefinite vacation in Aquatraz, a local underwater prison I would rather not find out any more about than I already know.


Legal encounter, reaction 10.

Another visit by the police. Now that they know I’m doing a job for the governor, they’re pleasant enough, but I still have a bad feeling about this.


Type C pirate cruiser encountered, but the captain’s reaction was 8. I decide the most logical explanation is that this is a representative of the Government-in-Exile of Free Erriin, and that the Governor is sending them a message for some reason. That would explain why he can’t do it through normal channels.

Thankfully, today it was time to shake the dust of Erriin from our boots and lift off.

Heading for the 100-diameter safe jump distance, we were hailed by another vessel, a cruiser. I was worried when they started painting us with fire control radar, but once we established radio contact we quickly learned they had come to pick up our message from the Governor. I don’t know what’s going on here, and Dmitri says it’s safer not to find out, but once we had transmitted the data cartridge on tight beam they let us go.

I’d already decided to jump to Ustianan next to get some weapons fitted, and this encounter just reinforces that decision. It’s dangerous out here, and we need to be able to defend ourselves.

While the Dolphin is safe in jumpspace, I’ll think about Ustianan.

It’s dark, damp and filthy in the ground floor of the keep, where Eyjolf and Ispitan have been dumped while Valdemar decides what to do with them. At length, the big cavalryman descends to visit them.

“Are you ready to tell me what these are for?” he says, hefting the satchel of herbs in one hand.

“So,” muses Ispitan. “You do not entirely trust the one who ordered you to retrieve them.”

“That is none of your concern.”

Ispitan gestures at the cell around him.

“If I agree to help, could we be moved to somewhere more comfortable?”

Valdemar laughs. “One would normally keep persons of your status, lord wizard, in cleaner surroundings. But you are in no position to negotiate.”

“Do you know why captive wizards are not usually held in dungeons?” says Ispitan, in a low and dangerous voice.


“It is not because of our status. It is because with a fistful of cobwebs and some rats’ teeth I can do this…” Ispitan shouts a word of power and makes arcane gestures. Valdemar is stunned for a moment, then begins to copy Ispitan’s movements.

“The only difficulty,” Ispitan continues in a conversational tone, while Valdemar’s mouth apes his words, “Is that of controlling another body from an unusual point of view. That’s it, take out the key and unlock the cell… now come inside… Eyjolf, tie him up and gag him, please, I need to maintain the spell. And collect the bag of herbs while you’re at it. Thank you.”

As they make for the exit, Ispitan turns and calls back over his shoulder, “Your men should discover you soon. Adieu, Valdemar.”

And they are gone.

This is an Escape scenario. I don’t need to lay out terrain unless and until a fight seems imminent; if Ispitan and Eyjolf are in the middle of the 48” x 48” board, they can’t be further than 24” from the nearest edge. A couple of die rolls determine that there are no horses to steal, and it is night. The easiest way to handle this mechanically, at least until combat, is by a table…

Turn Alarm Die Alarm? Activation Die Star Active? Star Has Moved
1 6 No 1 Yes 8”
2 4 No 2 Yes 16”
3 2 No 3 Yes 24”
4 2 No 6 No 24”
5 4 No 1 Yes 32”

I note that it’s actually quite hard to get caught sneaking out of prison. At this point, Ispitan and Eyjolf have escaped Valdemar and run off into the night. Ispitan has survived another encounter, so rolls to improve Rep, Hardiness and SS; rolls of 5, 1 and 6 mean his Rep stays the same, his Hardiness drops one (must be the prison food), and his Social Standing increases by one.

Name Class Rep Hard Weapon AC Move Notes SS Align
Ispitan Missile 5 3 Staff 2 8” Caster 6 TW
Eyjolf Melee 4 Spear 2 8” SS
Valdemar Mtd Melee 6 4 Spear 4 12” Elite SS

“Quantity has a quality all its own.” – Joseph Stalin.

As the Arioniad is a spacefaring campaign, I feel the need to flesh out the naval situation in the subsector a little more. To a first approximation, this will show the strategic balance of power as well.


The first thing this draws to my attention is that the subsector map shows the naval base symbol wherever the UWP list shows a scout base, and the scout base symbol wherever the UWPs show a naval one. I’ve fixed that by redrawing the map, which you can now find a link to in the Campaigns section (see top menu bar).

I decide that naval bases indicate what we’d call today a "blue-water navy" – one that can credibly project power outside its own territorial waters (read, “system space”). That means the actual naval powers are Aresar (part of the Mageer Swarm), Direra (Inleer) and Ustianan (Esusce).

There are quite a lot of class B starports in the subsector, where small craft could be built, but only four class A starports capable of building starships; Zamaso and Aresar are both in the Mageer Swarm, and Esusce and Ustianan, both controlled by Esusce. Since only Aresar and Ustianan have both a naval base and a starship yard, they are probably the worlds with the best naval traditions.


I spent quite a bit of time researching various ways to calculate available fleet budgets and tonnages, and comparing those to the real world, but then decided that for a role-playing campaign, it doesn’t matter; all of the methods in are CT ultimately based on population, and because they are expressed in powers of 10, the highest population level in the state is a good approximation to its total population. The empires stack up against each other thus, with the navies of equivalent-sized present-day nations for comparison:

Population Empires Present-Day Examples
10 Mageer Swarm All contemporary navies. Twice. With chips. Thousands of warships.
9 Teenes Indian or Chinese navies. Hundreds of warships.
8 Inleer Pakistani navy to USN. Tens to hundreds of warships.
7 Xemaais, Enaniqu, Inlaarin Iraqi navy to Turkish navy. Up to a couple of hundred warships.
6 Edcetequ, Esusce Israeli navy to Swedish navy. Up to several dozen warships.
4 Laarerer No contemporary state this small has a navy.


Now, history shows that the number of ships is not the whole story; training, motivation and leadership can act as force multipliers, allowing a smaller navy to punch above its weight. Looking at the relative combat power of real-world navies, a highly-effective one could take on the next level up in the table – I’d bet on the USN against the Indian navy, if it ever came to that – but not two levels above; the Swedish navy is not going to take on the USN and win, nor is the Trinidad & Tobago Coast Guard going to stand much of a chance against the Royal Navy, should they ever wind up on opposite sides of the gaming table.

It should also be noted that population isn’t a completely accurate yardstick – the USN has almost half the world’s warships, but the USA is only the third most populous state – but since this is a roleplaying campaign rather than a full-on strategic simulation, I shan’t worry about that.


The Mageer Swarm, if mobilised to a single purpose, can basically whip anyone it wants, whenever it likes. The Swarm has a killing, heart-breaking numerical edge. Esusce’s navy does have a one TL advantage over Mageer, but I can’t see that making up for being outnumbered 10,000 to 1. Most of the other powers have a lower TL than Mageer, which makes the imbalance worse. Comparing the population levels of the Swarm’s worlds, around 99% of their ships, crews and troops will be imagoes.

Teenes is the second-ranking power, able to take on the rest of the subsector combined and expect to win, so long as Mageer stays out of the fight. However, theirs is not a “blue-water navy”, and while no-one but the Swarm could hope to beat them in a war, they are not a credible threat to other empires.

Inleer is the third-ranking power, fearing only Mageer and Teenes, able to bully the rest of the subsector if it so desires, but unable to build its own ships; this limits its ambitions somewhat, and suggests an alliance with Esusce – Esusce providing the technology, and Inleer the numbers. The alliance’s primary military concern is how to deal with the Swarm if it turns its hive mind to conquest, since it would be outnumbered 100:1.

The rest of the multiworld empires are comic-opera affairs, of minimal strategic importance. Laarerer’s navy probably has no actual ships, and consists of a number of sinecure positions whose incumbents dress up in smart uniforms and salute each other on public holidays.

Farewell to D&D Insider

Posted: 23 March 2011 in Reviews

This is, in a way, a review. Earlier I reviewed D&D Insider and pronounced it worthwhile, at least for me; after a couple of years, I no longer feel that way, and will not be renewing my subscription when it lapses in June.

The things that were valuable to me are no longer worth the money. Let’s take a look at why.

Character Builder: There is no longer an offline version. If I want to use it, I must be logged in via broadband. This makes it unusable for me, as I want to use it away from my internet connection; in the lounge, when at friends’ houses, or on holiday. There’s also my growing disillusionment with the continually-changing character classes and options, but mostly it’s the move to online-only use that is the killer.

Dungeon and Dragon Magazines: I was happy enough with this stuff going online and out of the newsagent, but in the last couple of months there’s been a change here too. I preferred to snag the whole issue and browse offline at my leisure, but now articles are split out as individual downloads. That means I have to decide what I’m interested in before I download rather than afterwards.

In short, then, WotC has decided that serious D&D players and DMs have an always-on broadband connection, wherever and whenever they need content; and that players and DMs are happy with constantly-changing rules. None of those things apply to me, nor do I wish them to; and so D&D Insider and I must part company.


Posted: 22 March 2011 in Arioniad
Tags: ,

Using Google to check on what Erriin might mean, I discover that Google thinks I should have typed Errin, which could be an Irish girl’s name, a birth control pill, or the European Regions Research and Innovation Network. Replace "European" with "Empire" and you have a science-fiction version. I’ll go with the girl’s name for now, give the place an Irish feel, and leave the Network as a possible secret organisation to be uncovered in future adventures, as the patron dice dictate.

Erriin is part of the four-world state controlled by Inlaarin, so it would be useful to know something about that empire’s government; the simplest thing is to say that like Inlaarin itself, this is a charismatic dictatorship. I dub the mini-empire the Republic of Inlaarin, since watching the news on TV suggests to me that most dictators call their states republics, and themselves Presidents. I also need to work out the derivation of Inlaarin; a little Google-fu suggests the most likely origin is the Estonian surname Laarin, so I’ll assume Inlaarin’s earliest settlers were Estonians. That’s all I need to know about them for now.

Starport: C. Routine quality installation; unrefined fuel, reasonable repair facilities. Scout base present.

Size: A. Diameter 10,000 miles, surface gravity 125% standard, safe jump distance 10 million miles (7 hours at 1G)

Atmosphere: 8. Dense, but breathable.

Hydrographics: A. Surface is completely covered in seas; water world.

Population: 7. Tens of millions of inhabitants.

Government: 6. Captive government, answerable to a governor appointed by the President of the Republic of Inlaarin.

Law Level: 9. All weapons are prohibited.

Tech Level: 7. Equivalent to contemporary Earth.

Trade Classifications: Rich. Main imports: Gems, pharmaceuticals. Main exports: Machine tools; polymers, body armour, aircraft, electronic parts, mechanical parts, computer parts.

Gas Giant: No.

Alignment: Republic of Inlaarin, which maintains a Scout base locally.

Most of Erriin’s inhabitants lead the life of ocean nomads, following the currents and shoals of local fish. There are a few small islands in an equatorial chain, mostly of volcanic origin; the largest of these houses the starport and capital city.

Erriin is ruled by a Governor-General appointed by the President of the Republic or Inlaarin, which seized control of the world several decades ago, presumably because of its wealth and mild climate. It is unclear why the previous government surrendered to Inlaarin, but whatever the reason, the masses do not agree with it. Since the population density is very low, however, the vastly-outnumbered occupying forces perforce content themselves with controlling the starport and offworld trade. The occupation thus has little direct impact on the average inhabitant.

Theoretically, no citizen may bear weapons outside his home, but in practice the Republic’s military is unable to enforce this; their only recourse is to use orbital laser and missile fire to suppress concentrations of rebels, and superior cyber-warfare to control the economy; individuals who stay away from major cities, far apart from each other, and communicate by low-tech channels are relatively safe.

Ispitan – August 986

Posted: 20 March 2011 in Talomir Nights

I went through the encounter process in detail last time, so I’ll skip to the outcome today: Ispitan & Co. have stopped at a farm to get supplies, unaware that local troops are about to attack it, in the belief that one of the farm buildings contains a McGuffin of some sort. The only thing special I know to be there is Ispitan’s herbs, so we’ll start with the idea that a rival of the Sable Mage is trying to stop him getting his material components.

Ispitan & Co. are helping out with some farm chores as payment for last night’s hospitality, when Galen trots back into view from one of his frequent trips to the woods to get medicinal herbs.

“Trouble coming,” he says. “I saw horsemen, heard chatter and weapons. We’d better get ready.”

“Get the farmer and his family into the cellar,” orders Ispitan.

This was a really tense and close-fought battle, and I was very pleased with the layout and photography – finally using a proper camera. This lasted right up to the point where I discovered that none of the pictures had been saved to the SD card. So you’ll have to imagine it I’m afraid.

Anyway… learning from experience, Our Heroes stayed in the farmhouse as the PEFs approached them.

  • Turn 1: Rufus gets Line Of Sight on one of the PEFs, and it resolves as one retinue infantry, 3 retinue cavalry and 3 borderers.
  • Turn 2: The retinue cavalry dismount and close on foot, driven by the NPC table on p. 48. This brings them within 12”, so a Test of Wills is in order. Ispitan uses his star ability of choosing the number of successes to force both sides to halt in place and do nothing, so that he can cast on his next activation. (I decided that they would leave one of the dismounted cavalry holding the horses so that they didn’t wander off.)
  • Turn 3: Ispitan casts Steel Wind, but fails and loses 6 Rep for casting purposes. Oh well.
  • Turn 4: The infantry and dismounted cavalry charge home, but in a masterful display of lucky dice rolling, Rufus and Galen render three of them Out Of the Fight.
  • Turn 5: All this time, the other PEFs have been milling about moving to the closest cover, but now one comes into view and is resolved: One skirmisher, 7 borderers, and one retinue cavalry – this turns out to be the Big Bad, with Hardiness 4 and Rep 6; I dub him Valdemar and decide he will make a fine recurring nemesis. Valdemar and friends close up, a Test of Wills is in order and again Ispitan forces a “hold in place” result to buy time for his friends. Rufus and Galen put another foe OOF.
  • Turn 6: Valdemar’s group charges home and kills Galen outright. Ispitan clobbers one of the borderers with his staff, rendering him Out Of the Fight. Rufus takes down another enemy. At this point I started to wonder if I would have enough OOF markers.
  • Turn 7: A retinue infantryman drops Eyjolf, OOF, and Rufus is Obviously Dead following an exchange of blows with several foemen. Only Ispitan is left on his feet, and things are not looking good for the home team.
  • Turn 8: The last PEF heaves into view and resolves as one skirmisher and four borderers. Ispitan is hard pressed by Valdemar and several borderers, but his Hardiness saves him until the next activation.
  • Turn 9: Ispitan has his back to the farmhouse wall, and again his Hardiness saves him from a flurry of blows by three opponents. However, he is wounded and loses 2d6 from his melee Rep.
  • Turn 10: Ispitan is clobbered again, and has his Rep reduced to zero, taking him OOF. It’s all over bar the shouting.

“Shall we kill them, Lord?” asks one of the footmen.

“No,” says Valdemar. “Search them. See if they have the herbs we seek. Bury the dead honorably, for they fought well. Bring the wounded with us, including the enemy.”


“That wizard fought three of us and a horse to a standstill armed only with a stick. He is definitely worth talking to.”

Ispitan has survived another encounter, and so rolls to improve his Rep, Hardiness and Social Standing. He rolls 5, 6, 5 and all three go up one point.

Name Class Rep Hard Weapon AC Move Notes SS Align
Ispitan Missile 5 4 Staff 2 8” Caster 5 TW
Rufus Melee 4 Sword 4 6” SS
Eyjolf Melee 4 Spear 2 8” SS
Galen Melee 4 Sword 2 8” Healer SS
Valdemar Mtd Melee 6 4 Spear 4 12” Elite SS
Retinue Cavalry Mtd Melee 5 Spear 4 12” Elite SS
Retinue Infantry Melee 4 Spear 4 6” SS
Borderer Melee 4 Spear 2 8” SS
Skirmisher Missile 3 Bow 2 8” SS