Posts Tagged ‘Stars Without Number’

In a Nutshell: Sourcebook of lost technology for Stars Without Number. 34 page PDF from Sine Nomine Publications, written by Kevin Crawford.

CONTENTS

No spoilers…

Relics of the Lost (1 page): What the book is, advice on how to stock ruins with relics of the Terran Mandate, guidelines on how to buy and sell Pretech.

Tools of Ill Omen (8 pages): Weapons and armour from the none-too-peaceful era before the fall of the Mandate. A couple of dozen weapons and 10 items of armour showcasing Mr Crawford’s imaginative ways of killing characters, ranging from the ingenious to the downright unnerving. On top of that, there is the possibility that a weapon might have been improved in some way from the standard model, or have developed a flaw during its centuries of disuse.

A Better Shell (5 pages): Advanced medical technology of the Mandate; 30 drugs with various healing or recreational properties, and how they might have gone bad over the years. There’s also a brief piece of background information on pharma companies of the Mandate for flavour.

Delights of a Former Age (7 pages): Yes, your PCs are looking for bigger and better guns, but they might well find civilian tools and basic commercial goods. Which they will probably try to repurpose as weapons, at least if they’re like my lot. Roughly 50 everyday items that a typical Mandate citizen might have left lying around when they died or fled. A shout out here to the Gaming Miniatures and their “esoteric and largely incomprehensible set of rules”. See how many ways you can think of to kill an NPC with them.

Unsleeping Servants (5 pages): Robots and expert systems. This begins with explanations on where such things might be encountered and their reactions to PCs attempting to force or con their way in, repairing non-functional ones you might find, and how to buy and sell them – the core rulebook includes Tech Level 4 robots, so this section focusses on 8 examples of TL 5 Mandate relics rather than how to build such items.

Forbidden Fruits (4 pages): Five devices with which to inflict ruin on your PCs and their homeworlds, and notes on what defines Maltech in the game, what modern Maltechnologists are up to and why they might hire PCs to help.

Random Equipment Tables (2 pages): What it says on the tin.

FORMAT

Colour cover; inside, two-column black text on white in the usual SNP ‘trade dress’, occasional black on white line art.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

I got nuthin’. This is a book full of ‘magic items’ to stock the ruins your PCs explore, and it does that job well.

CONCLUSIONS

Like its companion sourcebook Engines of Babylon, this is something I’ll dip into occasionally to spice things up rather than make the core of a campaign. It’s basically a book of magic items for SWN explorers to find.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. I think I’ll get more use from this than Engines of Babylon, but that’s because my gearhead days are long gone.

The first of a handful of reviews of things I acquired last year and haven’t got around to reviewing yet…

In a Nutshell: Vehicle design supplement for Stars Without Number. 42 page PDF by Sine Nomine Publishing, written by Kevin Crawford.

CONTENTS

Dead Men’s Toys (1 page): What the book is, namely a selection of vehicle design systems, example vehicles, and stuff your players might pick up while scavenging.

Howling Engines (14 pages): Custom vehicle design rules. These are much like the starship or mecha rules in the core rulebooks (the free edition has no mecha); choose a hull, choose systems to slot into it, total the cost, calculate the derived stats such as speed, armour, hit points. There are 20 basic hulls for aircraft, ground vehicles, and grav vehicles, and a wide range of accessories and weapons to add; most of these are for Tech Levels 3-4, but there are the odd TL 5 and PreTech elements statted up for those lucky enough to have access to them. This is followed by rules for operating vehicles, chases and combat, and the section ends with 15 example vehicles built using the rules.

A Nearer Apogee (14 pages): Design system for insystem ships without spike drives. Similar in concept and methods to the previous chapter, but focussed on TL3 spacecraft rather than ground and air vehicles. In the official SWN universe, these system ships are for planets that either don’t have spike drives or don’t consider them economical for insystem workhorses. A spike drive would run rings round them, but they still have commercial uses. In a homebrew universe they might be the only option available. System ships require different combat and travel rules to spike drive vessels, which you can find in this chapter along with 11 example ships.

Precious Things (6 pages): Treasures of the long-vanished Terran Mandate which PCs might come across while exploring its ruins. No spoilers, but whereas the core rulebooks focus on Mandate relics of use to warriors or starfarers, these 20 items are luxuries which the Mandate elite would have owned. This does not mean they are safe for the ignorant.

Forbidden Fruits (4 pages): While the Precious Things are, if sometimes dangerous, at least not definitively evil, the Forbidden Fruit are maltech devices. You might still find them while scavenging, but your customers are likely to be either Big Bad Evil Guys or those bent on making sure the BBEG don’t get hold of them. These 9 things enslave or destroy on a vast scale. Again, no spoilers.

FORMAT

Colour cover; inside, two-column black text on white in the usual SNP ‘trade dress’, occasional black on white line art.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

None, really; does what it says on the tin.

CONCLUSIONS

My gearhead days are long behind me now, and I am generally happy to stick to the standard vehicles in the core rules of most games, so the design sequences are not something I expect to use. The example vehicles, precious things and forbidden fruit are more useful to me.

Overall Rating: 3 out of 5. Not really my cup of tea, but some useful bits to cannibalise and use later.

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.” – Carl Bard

Actually, I kind of can make a brand new start, and I will. For new readers: The Arioniad was a solo campaign I ran from 2009 to the cliffhanger ending in 2013; it was one of the campaigns deleted in the Great Blog Purge of 2015, but I miss the characters and would like to play with them again. I considered reconstructing the previous game from such offline notes as remain, but on rereading those, I discovered that the game was much better in my memory than it was in reality; so I’m moving to a re-imagining of the game, a gritty reboot if you will – if it was good enough for Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, it’s good enough for me. This is the second attempt at that, and by the time you read this the first attempt will also have been purged from the blog – it really wasn’t working, I think because I was trying to railroad it into repeating the earlier adventures.

Beyond simply being fun, the campaign is a way for me to experiment with different rules and setting elements before tormenting my players with them; the characters stay the same, but the rules and setting change around them – the reason for this was explained in the 2013 cliffhanger, and will come out again in due course; it also conveniently explains the periodic reboots, as you will see later.

ARION

Arion is the story’s protagonist, and he will appear in multiple formats as we go along. He will pick up sidekicks as we go. Like all my PCs, he has a theme tune, in this case The Traveler by Joe Satriani.

Savage Worlds: The basic version of Arion from which the others are converted. After several reworkings, he stabilised as a Pilot Archetype from p. 19 of Savage Worlds Deluxe, with his spare skill point used to buy Knowledge: Astrogation d4; his Hindrances are Heroic, Loyal: Friends, and Outsider. He has a Glock, a knife, a kevlar vest, and $25 in cash. He also has constructive possession of a small starship called the Dolphin.

THW: In THW games such as Larger Than Life, 5150 and so on, Arion is a Rep 5 Star pilot with the Steely Eyes and White Knight attributes, which means he uses the LWC reaction tables and moves in Exotic circles. His skills are Savvy 5, Fitness 4 and People 3. His items are a starship, body armour, a commlink, a pistol and a knife. He lives in the dock district of a Metropolis, for easy access to his ship. The conversion uses Steely Eyes to represent Alertness, and White Knight to represent Heroic; THW Stars are typically Rep 5, and looking at his SW traits, Arion looks like he is best at job-related skills like Piloting (thus Savvy 5), average in terms of physical attributes (Fitness 4) and worst at interpersonal skills (People 3).

Classic Traveller: UPP: 686777. Skills: Navigation-0, Pilot-3, Mechanical-1, Auto Pistol-1. Equipment: Cloth, auto pistol, knife, scoutship. Based on those, and using the 1977 edition of the rules, Arion would be a three-term scout. This conversion assumes that characteristic scores match the attribute die type where there is an obvious equivalence, and are 7 otherwise, while for skills d4 is expertise level 0 or 1/2 (depending on the rules edition in use), d6 is expertise-1, d8 expertise-2, and so on. CT doesn’t use Hindrances, and has only ship ownership or Travellers’ Aid membership as Edges, so none of those elements from SW really converts.

Stars Without Number: Attributes: Strength 10, Intelligence 10, Wisdom 10, Dexterity 14 (+1), Constitution 10, Charisma 10. Skills: Combat/Gunnery-1, Culture/Spacer-0, Culture/World-0, Exosuit-0, Navigation-1, Tech/Astronautics-0, Tech/Postech-0, Vehicle/Air-0, Vehicle/Space-1. Equipment: Woven body armour, knife, semi-automatic pistol, Cr 20. This incarnation of Arion is a level 1 Expert, using the Transport Specialist background and Pilot training package, which probably means he comes from a spacer family and is as close as I can get to the skillset of the original. We’ll pick the World whose culture he knows later. This conversion assumes attributes that match SW ones are the die type plus four, others are 10, and the character’s free 14 goes into the attribute with the highest score (unless it is already higher than that). Again, there are no Edges or Hindrances, it’s all in how you play.

DOLPHIN

I don’t expect much in the way of space combat or interstellar trade, so none of the statblocks are likely to see action anytime soon; this means I can be fairly relaxed in converting them. In any event, the key to conversion is to convert the feel of the thing accurately and not worry about the stats too much.

Savage Worlds: The Dolphin is a stock Light Freighter from p. 49 of the Science Fiction Companion. The onboard AI uses fist-sized metal spiders as effectors for repairs and so forth; these are collectively known as the Repair Swarm, and use the swarm rules in combat. One of the swarm typically rides on Arion’s shoulder, acting as a commlink.

THW: I haven’t got any THW rules for which this matters; I expect Fringe Space will have something, so I will come back and retrofit it later.

Classic Traveller: A Type S scoutship, obviously, but to match the SW version it has picked up a brace of pulse lasers from somewhere. Arion probably sold the air/raft to pay for them.

Stars Without Number: A Free Merchant from p. 198 of the free edition rulebook, because that’s the closest I can get without designing something from scratch.

THE SETTING

Initially, there isn’t one! It will emerge in play – but this time around there is not going to be a star map. Place names will be convenient for filing NPCs, so those will appear, and calendars may or may not be needed, depending on which rules I’m using at the time. Since the 1970s I have habitually set my homebrew SF campaigns in a volume of space centred on Antares, Alpha Scorpii, which I call the Antares Sector, with a starting date one thousand years in the future; there is no reason to change that for this campaign.

THE RULES

Since it’s the one that worked best last time, let’s begin this experimental run using straight Larger Than Life. Next up: The Opening Scene.

In Stars Without Number (and other games), one thing that intrigues me is the minimum population level needed for particular capabilities to be present on a world. Does a world with a quarter of a million people have its own intelligence apparat? Can it build its own gravsleds?

I decided to look at real-world nations of the contemporary world as a guide to the possible, and spent several weeks’ worth of lunch hours surfing and winnowing data to collate something a GM could use. I’ve split the SWN bracket of Millions along Classic Traveller lines, to make the output more broadly usable.

What else would you like to see? Let me know please, and if I can find it, I’ll add it.

FAILED COLONY

These haven’t got anything as such. There are a surprising number of these on contemporary Earth, but for game purposes I think you’re best served by rolling for what its population was, and using that as a guide to what’s in the ruins.

OUTPOSTS

  • Almost always a dependency of a larger state (Vatican City excepted).
  • Some states as small as a single family or person, but these are rarely recognised officially.

TENS OF THOUSANDS

  • Independent states appear at this level. My inference from the Rules As Written is that in the Stars Without Number universe, this is the smallest sustainable population.
  • Armies appear (Seychelles, Tonga).

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS

  • Espionage agencies appear (Barbados Financial Intelligence Unit).
  • Navies appear (Bahamas, Brunei). At this level they are brown-water navies, focussed on local defence.
  • Military special forces appear (Brunei Special Forces Regiment and Special Combat Squadron).

MILLIONS

Millions

  • Vehicle manufacturing appears – AFVs, aircraft, cars (e.g. Bulgaria, Latvia, Lebanon respectively) – although typically designs are bought in from outside.
  • Merchant marine shipping appears (Slovenia)
  • Mechanised and armoured units appear in the army (Estonia, Laos)
  • Air forces appear (Lebanon)

Tens of Millions

  • Top tier economic or military powers are at this level and up (G20 members, top ten military nations).
  • Blue-water navies appear, able to project power sustainably at a distance and maintain bases outside their state’s territory  – Regional Hegemon tag becomes credible.
  • Significant shipbuilding capabilities emerge – Major Spaceyard tag becomes credible.

Hundreds of Millions

  • Manned space programmes appear on TL 3 worlds.

BILLIONS

Billions

This is present-day Earth as a whole, so if you can find it in the real world, a planet with this population could have it.

Tens of Billions

We have no data for this yet, I’m afraid. I expect it would be like billions, only more so.

ALIEN CIVILISATION

As for Failed Colonies, I think you’re best served by determining a population and working from there; at the time humanity discovered agriculture, the total human population seems to have been about 15 million, so a viable alien civilisation is probably in the millions and up.

REFLECTIONS

The more I look into this, the more surprised I am by two things: First, how small a population is when a given capability first appears, and second, how large nations can get without having specific capabilities – I haven’t recorded the second, because the first seems more useful.

The take-away is that any system with a population in the hundreds of thousands and up could conceivably have any capability you might be interested in, given the political will; but that major powers need populations that are at least in the tens of millions.

We got the bubble-headed bleached blonde comes on at five
She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry.
– Don Henley, Dirty Laundry

Sometimes, I think I take this stuff too seriously.

In a setting like the Dark Nebula where news travels at the speed of a starship, news items from nearby systems arrive earlier than those from distant ones, so if you expect players to use this intelligence to inform their actions in the sandbox, it is important to know what they learn when. It’s bad enough when you only have one party, but in the Nebula I will have several, and some of the news items are triggered by things other parties are doing.

So I built a spreadsheet and entered the news items to date into it, and with a bit of not-terribly-clever calculation I can now extract the following three views…

MAIN VIEW: EVENTS BY DATE AND LOCATION

Only the GM will ever see this; it’s what really happened.

main

Column A shows where the event happens, column B shows when, columns C to J show when the news of that event reaches the primary systems, and column K is the actual news item for reading to players.

I considered tracking news arrival dates for every system on the map, and allowing different arrival dates depending on the spike rating of the ship carrying the news, but decided the extra complexity wasn’t worth it. So I’ve limited myself to the primary systems, and assumed that news moves along the charted routes on the map at one week per system.

I also considered a slightly more elegant approach with a lookup table of travel times so that I could select a system and have the dates automatically calculated from that, but decided on a quick-and-dirty prototype to see how much use this actually is before I do anything clever with it.

LOCAL NEWS VIEW

By filtering on column A, you can see what happens on a particular world in sequence. Not sure how useful this is, but it’s easy to do. Here we see what happens on Enjiwa, month by month.

enjiwa

PLAYER NEWS VIEW

By filtering on one of the primary worlds and then re-sorting the items in the order that the news arrives, you get what is playing on the holo set in the corner of the bar while your PCs are drinking the profits of their latest mission. Here we see what a party on Valka between late February and early April would learn; notice the difference between when things happen (column B) and when Valka knows about them (column I).

valka

This is likely the most useful view during a session. The jury is still out on how useful that actually is.

The player characters haven’t got this far into the campaign yet, so there are no player activities this turn, but I may as well finish off the five day blitz…

image

FACTION TURN

All factions except the Solomani Confederation select new goals this turn, having achieved their previous ones last turn. All of them now have one experience point; it will be a couple of years at this rate before anyone can improve a rating.

The die comes up 4, so Confed goes first.

Solomani Confederation: Action – move Surveyor from Tangga to Hasara. Confed gains one experience for going a whole four turns without attacking anyone, and ends the turn with 20 FacCreds. Next turn, it will select a new goal – Expand Influence on Hasara – which it can achieve immediately.

Aslan Hierate: New goal – Expand Influence on Valka. Action: Extended Theatre moves itself from Panas to Enjiwa, preparing to move the Space Marines to Valka next turn. The Hierate ends the turn with 5 FacCreds and one experience.

Great Archive: New goal – Expand Influence on Hasara. Action – move Surveyor from Kov to Tangga. The Archive ends the turn with 5 FacCreds and one experience.

Mizah Combine: New goal – Expand Influence on Gazzain. Action – move Surveyor from Kov to Gazzain. The Combine ends the turn with 5 FacCreds and one experience.

PC ACTIVITIES

None as yet. Stay tuned!

NEWSFEED

Hasara, 7 April 3201

The Great Archive’s Adept-in-Place on Hasara reports the arrival in-system of an apparently friendly Solomani Confederation surveyor crew.

Faction turn 4; the Confed surveyor arrives at its destination. This occurs on Hasara on 7 April; the news reaches Mizah on 21 April, and Valka on 5 May.

Enjiwa, 14 April 3201

Lord Bhasmasura of the Simsek Clan, Colonel of the 1st Hierate Marines, welcomed the 11th Hierate Logistics Wing to the new base on Enjiwa today. When asked about the absence of Enjiwan government officials, Lord Bhasmasura stated that they were valued allies of the Hierate, but that their presence was not required for this event.

Faction turn 4; the Hierate starts moving up other assets to support its push into Moralon. This occurs on Enjiwa on 14 April; the news reaches Valka on 21 April, and Mizah on 26 May.

Tangga, 21 April 3201

Tangga’s Ministry of State Security surveillance satellites observed an Archive Survey ship transiting their system en route to Hasara. “This is perfectly normal,” a spokeswoman said, “We have mutual assistance treaties in place with the Great Archive, which grant them the right to free passage through Tanggan space.”

Faction turn 4; the Archive Surveyors move towards Hasara, little knowing that Confed has beaten them to it. This occurs on Tangga on 21 April; the news reaches Mizah on 28 April, and Valka on 26 May.

Gazzain, 28 April 3201

Confederation Marines were asked to intervene when a mammoth brawl at Kandla Orbital Spaceport grew beyond the Shore Patrol’s ability to contain. The fighting is thought to have begun when recently-arrived surveyor crews of the Mizah Combine exchanged insults with local spacers. When interviewed later, as the last of the bodies were being removed, Company Havildar-Major Yilan of the Confederation Marines commented that “Thisss wasss the bessst fight we have had in yearsss.” Rumours that one or more urseminites were instrumental in provoking the carnage are unconfirmed.

Faction turn 4; the Combine’s Surveyors arrive at Gazzain. This occurs on 28 April; news reaches Mizah on 12 May, and Valka on 16 June. I’m starting to feel the need for some sort of spreadsheet or database which allows me to sort news items into the order they would be received on each planet; I can see why The Last Parsec opted for FTL radio.

REFLECTIONS

That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do.

Achievement unlocked: Summer resolutions 3 and 8 completed!

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FACTION TURN

The die comes up 2 again; the Archive moves first this month.

Great Archive: Action – build Base of Influence on Kov with 12 hit points (as much as they can afford). I did consider making a smaller base and buying a second Surveyor, but as you can only claim experience for one goal at a time, and I think Expand Influence has to specify a particular planet, that is a sub-optimal use of FacCreds; better to make a stronger base that can resist attack for longer. The Archive has now achieved its first goal and gains one experience, ending the turn with 0 FacCreds.

Mizah Combine: Action – build Base of Influence on Kov with 11 hit points (the Archive’s discount on buying Surveyors gives them a slight edge). Again, the Combine achieves its first goal, claims one experience, and ends the turn flat broke. You have to speculate to accumulate, they say.

Solomani Confederation: Action – move Surveyor from Kov to Tangga. Confed ends the turn with 14 FacCreds and no experience.

Aslan Hierate: Action – build Base of Influence with 15 hit points on Enjiwa. The Hierate claims its first goal and an experience point.

PC ACTIVITIES

This is as far as the crew of the Collateral Damage have got in the face to face game; they arrive back on Mizah on 1 March. Notice that while they are notionally part of the Combine Surveyor asset, there is no reason why the actual asset should return to Mizah with them. At the character level we assume follow-up missions from the Archive and the Combine move in to build on their work, while they are reassigned to something more exciting.

NEWSFEED

Mizah, 01 March 3201

Following the recent terrorist outrage at the Great Archive in Zonguldak, long-proposed gun control laws have been pushed through the Planetary Assembly of Mizah by the Phoenix Party. This makes automatic weapons and explosives illegal. The Free Trade Party managed to secure some concessions against the expected blanket weapons ban; semi-automatic pistols and longarms, and blade weapons, are still permitted so long as they are properly licenced, openly carried and registered with the police.

The government of Mizah and the GM react to the events of Collateral Damage episode 2: Please Enter Your PIN by belatedly introducing weapons restrictions to the campaign. Occurs on Mizah on 1 March; news reaches Mizah immediately, and Valka on 12 April.

The Combine surveyor and free trader Collateral Damage returned from Kov yesterday with great news for both the Archive and the Combine; the crew successfully negotiated a treaty between Karabulut Station and the Combine, giving the Combine a base of influence on Kov, and rescued the missing Great Archive Adept, Hurriyet Gundogan, who has now assumed control of the Mandate planetary defence grid node No More Mr. Nice Guy on behalf of the Archive, which the node recognises as the legitimate heir of the Terran Mandate. The president and Grandmaster Adept issued a joint statement congratulating the Heroine of Kov, and emphasizing that the node’s acknowledgement of the Archive proves it has a manifest destiny to reunite humanity for the greater good.

Collateral Damage episode 3: Hot Hydrogen. The ship leaves Mizah on 11 February, arriving at Kov on 18 February. Completing their mission on 22 February, they return to Mizah, arriving on 01 March. The events occur on Kov 18-22 February; news reaches Mizah on 1 March, and Valka on 5 March.

Tangga, 21 March 3201

Tangga’s Ministry of State Security announced today that orbital surveillance satellites detected spike drive emissions which they describe as “consistent with the drive signature of a Confederation Frigate-class vessel”. The sensor contact was observed to take a hyperbolic path through the atmosphere of the system’s outermost gas giant before moving off on a trajectory towards Hasara; it made no attempt to contact Traffic Control.

Faction turn 3; this is the Confederation Surveyor en route to Hasara and not bothering to stop. This occurs on Tangga on 21 March; news reaches Mizah on 28 March, and Valka on 25 April.

Enjiwa, 28 March 3201

Lord Bhasmasura of the Simsek Clan, Colonel of the 1st Hierate Marines, today announced the completion of a Hierate military base on Enjiwa. When asked what the reaction of the Enjiwan government was to this, he observed that this was irrelevant.

Hours before his mysterious disappearance, an Enjiwan spokesman later said, “I for one welcome our new rakashan overlords. Did I say overlords? I meant protectors.”

Faction turn 3; here is the Hierate Base of Influence appearing. This occurs on Enjiwa on 28 March; the news reaches Valka on 4 April, and Mizah on 16 May.

REFLECTIONS

As I have four factions I’m placing their actions in a different week each month, which is probably too predictable but makes it easier for me to keep track of things. PC activity happens when it happens, which obfuscates the pattern a little.

This is all working rather well now I’m using the faction rules as written rather than trying to add complexity.