Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Reprieve

Lasgunpacker and Crazy-Ass Tim have been very helpful with ideas for the upcoming Redshirts Stars Without Number campaign.  I love Lasgunpacker's idea for a crazy captain AI controlling a teleportation machine.

However, as described, it doesn't quite fit into  the SWN technology background - which I'd like to stick with.  Actually, the fact that it doesn't fit makes for a wonderful creative exercise into making it fit.  That's something I've always enjoyed immensely - mental masterba . . . I mean mental gymnastics.

So, if you'll remember from the last post, our intrepid crew of freeze dried scouts were meat-sicles aboard the experimental starship, the Reprieve.  While the Aquilan scientists were experts at stitching together a working starship from ancient parts, their aesthetic sense left something to be desired.  The Reprieve looks remarkably like Rick Moranis' spaghetti strainer hat in Ghostbusters.  Well, not exactly.  It looks like Rick Moranis' spaghetti strainer hat in Ghostbusters, covered with a hairnet.  The inside resembles the cramped, steamy corridors of a German U-boat during World War II.

For those who are familiar with ship statistics in Starts Without Number, here is the Reprieve:

Aquila Union Starship Reprieve (Experimental Deep Space Scout Ship)   Power: 15/3 free     Mass: 15/0 free
Cost: 6,290,000     Hit Points: 40     Crew: 10/40     Speed: 2     Armor: 10     AC: 7
Weaponry None
Defenses None
Fittings Spike Drive-4, Advanced Nav Computer, Armory, Cold Sleep Pods, Emissions Dampers, Fuel Scoops, Precognitive Nav Chamber, Shuttle Bay x2, Ship's Locker

Blue Ghost Reconnaissance Shuttle     Power: 3/0 free     Mass: 5/2 free
Cost: 237,000     Hit Points: 15     Crew: 1/20     Speed: 3     Armor: 0     AC: 9
Weaponry None
Defenses None
Fittings Spike Drive-1, Atmospheric Configuration, Emissions Dampers, Survey Sensor Array, Ship's Locker, 4 tons of cargo space

You may note that neither the Reprieve, nor its two shuttles, have weapons or defenses.  The crew certainly did.  The scientists pointed out that the great big hairnet helps the ship avoid detection, so they should be okay.  The crew really didn't buy that.

The crew also noticed that the Reprieve had a honking big spike drive - faster than any engine that the Aquila Union could produce.  The scientists noticed that too, but had no idea how it worked.  That is where Commodore Halberta Clarke came in.

Commodore Halberta Clarke

Five hundred and thirty five years ago, Commodore Halberta Clarke (who looks remarkably like Nancy Parsons from Porky's, aka Ms. Ballbricker,) was an officer in the Terran Mandate in charge of the operational integrity of the regional psitech Jump Gate network.  A top notch psychic herself, she also assisted in the day to day operation of slinging spacecraft across the universe. (see Anne McCaffrey's The Rowan for a trip down the rabbit hole on that subject.)

Then 'The Scream' happened, killing all psychics, or driving them insane, thus making inoperable the Jump Gates and ending the Golden Age of Man.  Commodore Clarke didn't die - but she did go insane.  An insane master psychic with teleportation, precognition, and telepathy abilities doesn't make a very good neighbor, so the Terran Mandate military took her down and let the research scientists experiment on her to see if they could restore her sanity.

Since no one alive really understood how the psychics did their psychic things, the scientists did the best that they could as civilization collapsed around them.  They took a snapshot of Commodore Clarke's mind, then pasted that image over the pre-existing neural synapse net of a Voltaic 9000 AI brain-cube.  After they had a working simulacrum of Commodore Clarke, they extracted her physical brain, put it into a jar, and hooked it up to the Voltaic 9000.

On paper, the old 'hook an AI up to a psychic brain in a jar to use it as an input/output device' looked like a good idea to reboot mankind's crumbling empire.  It wasn't.  After 2 years of war, leveling much of the planet, the a team of brave soldiers finally shut off the AI, froze the brain in stasis, and the remaining research scientists were put to work in the rice paddies of what had been once the sector capital.

Five hundred and thirty five years later, desperate research scientists from the Aquila Union find a Spike Drive-4 capable engine they don't understand, a dead AI, and a brain in a shoe box - and have an idea.


The crew of the Reprieve live in fear of their commanding officer.  The hologram of Commodore Halberta Clarke stalks the corridors.  She doesn't know she's dead.  She doesn't know her brain in in a jar.  The crew must act as if they are members of the long gone Terran Mandate Fleet - not the Aquilan Navy.

Halberta sleeps most of the time, running the ship's spike drive in REM state.  The captain, the real captain,  can breathe easy then.  But when the Commodore gets up, she is grumpy.  She can read minds.  She can see the future.  And she can teleport a person into the heart of a star.  She is clinically insane.  But no one else knows how to make the ship go but her.

The research scientists who set this nightmare situation up are still sleeping comfortable in their beds back home.  After all, the Fleet Admiral okayed everything.  He's safe in his bed back home too.

The Redshirts, however, are not so lucky.

 Commodore Halberta Clarke adjusting something on the Lido Deck.

Happy gaming.

- Ark

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Redshirts: A Stars Without Number Campaign

This doesn't really have anything to do with Star Trek, or the John Scalzi novel.  It's more of the working title for a campign idea that I had that just . . . kinda . . . stuck.

I wanted to run a Stars Without Number campaign at the local FLGS - open to anyone who dropped by - at random dates and times. To me, the stardard trope of Traveller-esque 'intergalactic tramp steamer' doesn't seem like it would really work.  Each character is pretty vital to the operation of the ship, and having people disappear and reappear - while doable - doesn't tend to make sense.

So, the idea is to have the PCs be freeze-dried scouts.

Let me explain.  No . . . there is too much.  Let me sum up.

For 100 years, the two major powers of the Ptolemy Sector have been waging war.  The Skorpios Empire, a bunch of Russian-speaking vat grown genetic purists, are pretty sure they have discovered the best way for people live, and enjoy enforcing that way at gun-point.  The members of the Aquila Union are not too fond of their neighbors, and have been keeping them at bay for three generations with their powerful navy.  But due to recent events, including secession by several powerful systems, Aquila faces eventual defeat.

In an ancient bunker deep within the crust of an abandoned planet, The Aquilans found a possible solution to their demise - a spacecraft surpassing any existing technology.  Current spike drives allow for passage between systems 3 hyperspace hexes away (see sector map.)  While all of the systems in the Ptolemy Sector are reachable - the density of systems drops off in neighboring sectors, making travel outside impossible.  Until now.

The Aquilan Navy immediately refits the ship for active use, renaming it the AUS Reprieve.  Its mission is to explore the systems of The Void and find whatever can be used to help defeat the Skorpios Empire, be it technology, allies, or something beyond imagining.  The assumption is that since The Void was unreachable with standard technologies, then the Scavanger Fleets would not have stripped the systems bare during the Silence.

The PCs are members of the Void Expeditionary Force.  They are not crew members of the Reprieve itself, but scouts that are put into cold storage until needed.  The Reprieve is too valuable to be put into danger, so the ship will stay on the edge of a target system, thaw out the scouts, and send them by shuttle to perform reconnaissance and do as they see fit for the benefit of the Union.

Each game session would present a new system and a new set of adventures for the PCs to pursue.  Players could come and go from time to time, with those not attending just spending time in the freezer.  They would be given a wide berth in how they handle situations, as the captain and all of the command staff are back on the Reprieve doing long range scans and filling out paperwork on whatever goofy messes that scouts created during the last adventure.

So - those are my thoughts so far.  I think it will be fun - handled right.  I certainly don't want an atmosphere of railroading, and I think making sure that the PCs actions, and the results thereof, impinge upon the decisions of the command staff for the next adventure, will do so.

Of course, they could just kill the captain and become pirates in the fastest ship in the quadrant.  Hmm.

Any suggestions or thought are welcome. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Helltainted HEROs

John Ritter on the Cover of Champions

In preparing for the Helltaint  campaign, I sat down and read through the Hero System Basic Rulebook, a sort of Cliff Notes version of the 800 pages that make up the Hero System Sixth Edition Volumes One and Two.

I must say, it was a lot like happening upon an old girlfriend in the mall that you never quite got over.

I ran into Champions Fourth Edition in the late, late 80's, after a decade of searching for that 'perfect' role playing system that would do everything I wanted it to.  While not a huge fan of Superhero RPGs, I fell in love with the system mechanics.

Champions was like GURPS - a point buy character generation system.  I always liked the *idea* of GURPS, but Champions was actually fun the play.  (Sorry Steve Jackson.)  And by 4th Edition Champions was morphing into HERO, which was pretty much a universal RPG system.

It's funny, I come to the OSR to rediscover simpler, easier game systems, but it leads me back to more complex ones.  Fickle much?

Well, much like all of my ex-girlfriends, HERO is bat shit crazy.  This Saturday I sat down to teach the guys the system.  Two hours for character generation.  Five hours to go through FIFTEEN SECONDS OF COMBAT.

Of course, when you are familiar with the game system, things go a lot faster.  But the fact that it took seven hours of groove in time is no surprise.

Still - I love the system.  Those five hours of combat were very fun.  There is something about the game that brings big, vivid, four-color images to mind while the PCs and NPCs duke it out.  And with the particular players at the table, I think we laughed straight through one of those five hours.

Purestainhuman gets into what the game a bit more here.  I'll just sum up the characters that the players whipped up for now:

Sir James - The Boy created a knight from King Arthur's time that was teleported by Merlon to modern day North Texas to fight the evil demon incursion.  Sir James has magic rings and sword, but also was dipped in magical water (like Achilles) that makes him a power to be reckoned with.  The Boy is finding that a Code of Chivalry is a tough ruleset to follow, though.

The Brain, Jr. - Crazy Ass Tim is playing an baby that looks remarkably like Stewie.  The Brain has off-the-chart psychic powers and uses a mind-slave to pose as his mother and carry him around.  As is typical with Crazy Ass Tim, he has not let the rest of the party know that he exists - he just follows them around and stares at them creepily while breast feeding.

Pyotr - Merwyn's character, Pyotr is an escaped KGB operative that is actually a Frankenstein monster stitched together during Stalinist times from the body parts of patients at an insane asylum, mixed in with a Russian circus bear. Considered a failed experiment, he was frozen in a facility in Siberia until the interdimensional rifts bursts through the fabric of the universe, mutating Pyotr and waking him up with an unquenchable thirst for vodka. Despite being permanently drunk, Pyotr is lighting fast (Speed 12,) and is an expert marksman - a combination that allows him to uses pistols as if they were heavy machine guns.

Hyperion - Kaye made Superman.  Superman; from another dimension that was destroyed by the Helltaint so he came to Earth.  Superman; but no other powers than to punch really hard.  Really hard.  Did I say really hard?  Like, the ability to punch someone and and them flying through fifteen meters of asphalt?  Yeah.  He can punch people too.

Okay, yeah, the players are bat shit crazy too.  If you may have guessed, normal people bore me.

So, Its been fun so far.  The campaign will probably have a limited run, but it should be memorable.

- Ark

Friday, September 14, 2012

How to Freak Out Your Players

from: Studio Arkhein
to: Merwyn, Kaye, CrazyAssTim, TheBoy
subject: re: HELLTAINT Champions Campaign - not TAINTMEAT


Okay, so everyone will be there.  Yay!

Oh, btw - this is a superhero LARP - so please dress up as your character.  We'll be moving the game to Grapevine Mills Mall after character creation.  Everyone with flight powers, don't forget to bring your flying rig and a ladder to attach it to the ceiling.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Game Master

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Helltaint - a HERO System Campaign

I'm planning on starting up a supers game using the 6th Edition Hero System Rules.  I'll be using just the Basic Rulebook for simplicity.  I don't know how long it will last, but I promised Kaye a superhero game, so he's going to get one. :)

However, I'm not a huge fan of your standard superhero universe.  And I don't think the players would really fit into one, so I devised a universe where I think they could have fun.  I'm sure there is a comic book or setting that's exactly like this, since it uses so many common tropes, but I haven't seen one.

It's called Helltaint:


Next Monday, AD - During the morning commute to school and work, microscopic rifts opened in the very fabric of the universe.  Earth was bathed in varying levels of preternatural energies from another dimension.  Most were not affected by this strange radiation, but in the weeks and the months afterward, creatures exposed to high levels began to develop mutations, changing form or ability.  On rare occasions, inanimate objects began to change as well.

As doctors tried to understand what happened, some victims rapidly changed into vicious, powerful monsters bent on destroying all around them.  Governments worldwide began research projects into the new, inscrutable energies, and formed rapid response teams to deal with the horrific abominations that were commonly referred to as 'devils.'

Within a year it became clear that some of the radiation victims did not become devils, instead developing stable super powers like a hero out of a comic book.  Most tried to hide their powers, fearing a backlash from those who considered them 'tainted.'  Organizations, both legal and otherwise, started to recruit or kidnap victims to further their own ends.

Scientists eventually discovered the microfissures in the space around Earth, and theorized that they could be coaxed open with enough power.  This research culminated in the TORCH Project at CERN, in which a rift was opened, allowing an army of otherworldly, nightmarish monstrosities to ravage the Swiss country side.  While they had no standard form, they were all called 'demons.'

The TORCH Project caused instabilities in microfissures worldwide, allowing one-way traffic to flow at random times from the other dimension that immediately was labeled 'Hell.'  Governments developed methods to close the portals, and built teams to deal with the open gates as soon as possible.  This did not stop the microfissures from randomly emitting preternatural energies, however, creating new devils and Helltainted from the creatures of the Earth.

Ten Years In the Future, Now - The world is a dark place for the victims of the radiation - called  the Helltainted.  When discovered, governments, corporations, or organized crime groups draft, forcibly employ, or enslave them. Those Helltainted who escape detection from humanity don't have it easy, since the devils and demons can sense Helltaint and feast upon it.

Powerful new technologies have been built from extradimensional knowledge, but it remains under control of those in power.   Genetic monstrosities powered by Helltaint have been created in labs, and of course, have escaped into the wild.  Monster sightings reported on television may not have an extradimensional origin.

While humanity tries to ignore the chaos brought on by the Helltaint, it grows.  Monsters fight in gangs on the streets. Wars between nations escalate as new powers are developed.  Hundred foot tall demons march out of rifts and begin to eat skyscrapers.

It’s a perfect time for adventure.

- Ark

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Two Clan Jade Falcon mechwarriors were surprised when they exited the dropship and were met by the combined forces of Middle Earth.

- Ark

Monday, September 3, 2012

Recent Draw-rings

I've been filling up the sketch book.  Enjoy.  Or not.

- Ark

All Battlemechs to Warp Factor 8!

Here I am directing our Battletech forces to victory.  Okay, so no one on my team actually followed my glorious plan, so we all lost miserably.  See?  People should listen to me.

And yes, I always wear my Starfleet uniform while commanding a Battlemech lance.  What?  Don't you? LONG LIVE FASA!

- Ark