Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Redshirts: Failure


Manna 'Doc' Davies - played by Skipper
The first time I saw an RPG run with more than ten players was only a couple of years ago.  Matt Finch, of Swords & Wizardry, was running 14 of us through Mythrus Tower at NTPRG Con.  Matt's DM methodology included standing on top of a chair and yelling, as well as using a giant, schoolroom sized white board for combat diagramming - all to wonderful effect.

There were nine players in the Stars Without Number game last session.  I'm still trying to get use to such a large party.  I think I need a nice, stable chair to stand on – but things have been working out anyway.  Merwyn, the in-game CO, acts as caller – which helps a lot.  And Adelaide has this habit of raising her hand and staring at me with an undying glare until I acknowledge her.

This session saw Kaye with his new psychic combat character – Nick Scryer the grenade teleportist.  A new lady gamer, Skipper, showed up to play as well.   She sketched her warrior, Manna ‘Doc’ Davies, up above.

The title of this blog includes 'Failure,' and so did the game session.  The party was supposed to deposit a flight team onto an ancient starship and leave, but the complications became too great - the main complication being an enemy fleet attempting to secure the ancient ship for themselves.

Lessons learned:
  1. Infiltrating a star system in a snail-slow shuttle is folly, no matter how well cloaked it is.
  2. Grenade teleportation is effective and sneaky.
  3. Resource poor star faring nations would most likely mount Reaper Battery on any of their Patrol Boats.
  4. Calling a Reaper Battery an Ion Cannon saves a lot of time in-game, because everyone has seen Empire.
  5. Kaye has not seen Empire.
  6. Using the terms 'Scotty,' 'Chekov,' and 'Uhura' to describe enemy crew members is a quick and efficient way to get descriptive data to the characters during a loud and hectic combat sequence.
  7. Kaye has not seen Trek.
  8. Kaye will be voted off the island.
  9. Throwing in an electrified bridge floor is a fun way to knock out half the party.
  10. Having a violent fire-fight on a ship's bridge will destroy the controls on said bridge.
  11. All players will violently argue that if a ship's bridge is destroyed, one can easily reroute the piloting controls to engineering because that is how all starships are designed and that everyone knows that, even if they have never watched Star Wars or Star Trek.

Our dear Adelaide has documented the fun below in glorious purple:

Stars Without Number (Bullet Points :D)
  • The team awakes from cryosleep again, lots of vomiting is going on. Again
  • They are joined by a new psychic named Nick Scryer
  • The group swears they see metallic scorpions on the floor with tiny people chasing them but eventually that goes away and they are asked to go to the mess hall.
  • As they are eating lt. Commander Gonzales tells everyone “good job” for the last mission but that Newt, the child that they rescued, is not going under for cryosleep and that she is “creepy.” However, she is also able to operate the ship which is helpful.
  • He also assigns them, excuse me, Lt. Taylor volunteers the group to go back to the hellspawn-Biotonics ship because the commander is interested in the tech on it.
  • They are to drop off two specialists named Brick and Brack
  • There are self-replicating scorpions being taken off the ship the group is about to get on. Yay.
  • Lt. Nathienal Taylor attempts to hack the scorpions and destroys them.
  • Newt tells the ship she’s actually a brain in a jar and the group bolts for the ship quickly and it takes 4 days to reach the main planet.
  • Lt. Taylor finds a frigate floating around in barren space, which seems to be 600 years old, that they choose to ignore.
  • They continue to encounter ships randomly. I think the DM is attempting to bait us onto one of these ships. It’s not working very well.
  • Slices of the ark are missing and seem to have made home on this new Russian planet.
  • Suddenly every scanning system on the planet turns towards their ship and “see’s” them, but they manage to seem nonthreatening.
  • The lieutenants decide it would be best to attempt to fly into the ark and are detected, ship battle starts.
  • They get hit by ion cannons twice and are about to be boarded by the enemy.
  • The enemy ship attaches a “rope” and what seems to be a walking tube to the side of their ship and everyone prepares for battle.
  • Loranzo and Kal Kek fires at the enemy Russians but only Kek hits, it does little damage however.
  • Scryer attempts to teleport one of the men outside of his suit but it fails.
  • Marina “Doc” Davies eviscerated one of the armor suits in the doorway.
  • Everyone else fails at killing things.
  • Owlicious continues to hide in the back because she has learned from previous missions she is NOT a good tank. Survival of the smartest, bitches.
  • Lt. Mark Five gets knocked flat.
  • Three people come in behind the power-armored suits but they are only in normal suits.
  • Scryer shuts down all the power suits and the three guys behind them are dead.
  • There is chatter coming over the groups helmets, they decide to look down the tube to the other ship. They see there is another man down the tube and Professor Ramapudi shoots and kills him.
  • Everyone rushes like Han Solo down the tube to the new ship with the power armored people in the front.
  • Loranzo fires some spikes down the hall and turns it into a bloody mist.
  • “Doc” Davies throws a grenade down the hall at the enemies. Two of them go SPLAT and one guy looks stunned but still has his gun.
  • Kal Kek fires at one of the remaining men after he witnesses “Doc” Davies throw a grenade.
  • Scryer teleports a grenade to the last guys and blows them to pieces.
  • Owlicious is pretty sure she’s found a toilet.
  • Everyone else attempts to kill everyone not friendly on the ship that they come into contact with and one lone man flees for his life.
  • Owlicious makes it past as a door closes but Doctor Daktan and Mark Five get locked out before teleporting in.
  • Loranzo climbs up a ladder and sticks his head in to look around and “Doc” Davies gets impatient and moves him forcibly out of her way to get through.
  • Lt. Taylor and Professor Ramapudi attempt to hack the ship, but it doesn't go so well.
  • Kal Kek pushes “Doc” Davies out of the way much like she did to Loranzo but she quickly recovers and opens fire at the men shooting at Loranzo. She splats another against the wall.
  • Kal Kek fires at the other guy shooting and blows his head clean off.
  • Scryer finally managed to get through the ladder shoot and fires with his spike thrower at the captain and misses, destroying lots of valuable equipment.
  • Professor Ramapudi heads to the engineering room and the rest of the group hears shooting.
  • Lt. Taylor bolts for the engineering room quickly and Owlicious makes it just in time to blow Scotties brains out leaving Doctor Daktan alone in the hallway. He then begins skulking around the ship before heading for the med bay.
  • Kal Kek, Scryer, and “Doc” Davies get shocked unconscious but Loranzo stays standing. The captain and the other guy also get knocked out but Uhura is completely untouched. He opens fire at her with a spike thrower that rips her into a thousand tiny pieces.  Angry Loranzo is angry.
  • Professor Ramapudi attempts to halt the detonation but messes up and the time goes quickly down to just ten seconds. Luckily Lt. Taylor manages to turn the computer off before it counts down much more. 
  • Everybody in the bridge wakes up and “Doc” Davies can smell her hair burning. She see’s Doctor Daktan slit someone’s throat.  She then ties up the unconscious captain and prepares to react if he wakes up. You know, hovers over him ready to bash his brains in with the butt of her gun and all that.
  • Professor Ramapudi loots Scotty's body and finds commands that allows him to give Mark Five control to fly the ship.
  • They decide it is best to just bail as fast as possible out of the area using this new ship.
  • Mark Five attempts to jump the ship back to the three sisters and he nails it with the help of Professor Ramapudi and “Doc” Davies. His “jumping virginity” is now gone.

…to be continued <3


:)

- Ark

Monday, October 29, 2012

NSFW


In case you've been wondering what I've been drawing lately - instead of the comic - here is an example. :)

- Ark

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Spears Without Number . . . No . . . Wait . . .


I've been looking over the shoulder of a friend who already has downloaded his alpha copy of Spears of the Dawn, and I must say, I'm very excited.  Kevin Crawford certainly seems to know how to do a Kickstarter right.  And what's more, he's releasing all of the artwork into the public domain.  I'm tickled pink.

It bugs me that mega-corporations go around squeezing drawings of anthropomorphic mice until they've wrung out all the money that they can, long after their creators of the images are dead, instead of letting that intellectual property go back to the culture that helped spawn it and become folklore instead of a cash cow for people who are already rich.  Call me a communist if you want, but companies are not people and information wants to be free, baby.

Oops, sorry, I appear to be on a soapbox.  Let me climb down . . .

So Kevin Crawford's Spears of the Dawn - yeah - awesome.

A couple of friends and I were sitting around the table last week playing Thunderstone (awesome card game, btw,) and the discussion moved towards Spears of the Dawn.  I'm very interested in it - and so is Merwyn.  I see it as a great opportunity to role play in types of cultures that are rarely explored in RPGs.

Crazy-Ass Tim worried that playing an African culture based RPG would lead to stereotypes - unpleasant ones - popping out all over the place.  Kaye - our resident African-American - had similar fears.  We are all in The South, after all, and our stream-of-consciousness role playing style amplifies ugliness sometimes.

Perhaps I have more faith in humanity.  Perhaps I have studied more, as a person who once wanted to be a history professor, about the rich history and culture of the peoples of Africa, and see a wealth of gaming and role playing opportunities.  Perhaps I am huffing paint.  But I think it would be very fun, and could be done in a non-offensive manner.

The stereotype issue - well yeah, RPGs have stereotypes, though the term archetype is used more often.  D&D uses European stereotypes, but it's so ingrained that most of us don't even notice.  Take the ideas of elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins and move them back in time through D&D and Tolkien into mythology, and I'm sure they represented particular groups and cultures that the people telling the original stories didn't like, or didn't understand.  James Raggi tends to talk about that a lot, if you've ever noticed. :)

What I'm seeing from the alpha of Spears of the Dawn is a concerted effort to avoid negative stereotypes, and to educate gamers on broad facets of medieval African-ish culture, so that players understand their place in the game setting, and so that GMs know how to run the thing.  He's condensed what that players need to know about their chosen culture (of which there are five to choose from,) into a single page.  Okay, yeah, that is simplifying to the extreme - but it's a heck of a lot more information than you get from Basic D&D about Elf culture.  The GM gets a lot more data.

So, while I haven't delved deeply into it, the culture and setting look great.  Almost all of the game mechanics are the same ones from Stars Without Number.  There are some twists to the Death and Dying rules that I actually prefer, and I have been kind of soft-house ruling something similar myself in the Redshirts campaign - in that a stabilized but unconscious character is very boring to play - so why not have them be awake, just not able to do much.  I like his mechanic for that a lot.

The spell system appears to be a whole 'nother beast than the Psychic powers in SWN.  I haven't really read any of it, so I don't know.  Skimming it, I did see some casting times listed that were very long indeed, so looks like we have ritual based magic here as well as regular combat stuff.  I like that kind of spell diversity.

A while back I did a mini-review of a book called Essential African Mythology: Stories That Changed the World in this blog post.  I think the book would be an excellent companion piece to Spears of the Dawn for GMs and players alike.

So, I'm really pleased with what I've seen from Spears of the Dawn, and I'm sure it will illicit more discussion around the gaming table soon.

- Ark

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Redshirts: Choose the Form of the Destructor!

I make cranky players.

Apparently, I am not fast enough at posting, nor detailed enough in my game play session reports.

They are probably right.

So, Adelaide, our resident gamer grrrrl, has decided to write up the session for last Wednesday.  It's a lot different than the way I approach reports.  For instance, where I might spend a paragraph describing the intricate patterns on the alien wallpaper, Adelaide goes straight for the action.

Go figure . . . :)

She has done an excellent job, giving a good feeling of the psychosis, chaos, frustration, and helplessness that I try to imbue in gaming sessions.  You know, stuff that you might have to go talk to your psychologist about later in the week.

Oh, and before you ask - Spark Notes are apparently this century's answer to Cliff Notes.  I had to Google that.

So without further ado . . . say hello to Adelaide - she's in purple:

Stars Without Number (Spark Notes :D)

Everyone was in the shuttle.  The ship’s hold was full of giant crab meat and the A3-500 Transducer that they had been searching for.  All of the scouts felt good, but there seemed to be something off. Professor Ramapudi was missing from the rest of the group. 

It was also kind of odd and disconcerting, because no one remembered getting on the shuttle, or leaving the ark, for that matter.

Lt.Taylor and Spaceman Slate checked Slate’s helmet cam, only to get fuzz. The cam had been wiped completely clean. Undaunted by his inability to find shit the easy way, Lt. Taylor searched for a wifi signal, found one, and heard the haunting voice of GAIA whisper the words, “Help me help them,” again. He asked GAIA what was going on and the call for help was repeated, only this time much louder. 

While trying to figure out what was going on, Petty Officer James Loranzo, Lt.Taylor, and Doctor Daktan woke up to hear a drilling noise. 

The whole party was actually in the air lock where they had last left off, under the influence of enforced dreaming.

Petty Officer Loranzo saw Spaceman Kek lying on the ground with a drill about to dig straight into his head, while all the others were still lying around unconscious with strange blue alien balls with tentacles floating around them. One of the aliens seemed to be operating the drill aimed for Kek’s brain.

Loranzo quickly decided that it would be wiser to release Prof. Ramapudi, who was frozen in place by some psychic force, instead of stopping the drill. Luckily for Kek, the newly freed Ramapudi blasted the drill with a laser pistol, making it grind to a halt.  But the blue alien things that had been floating around turned toward the Professor and one of them attached itself to his face visor. Another blue alien went for Dr. Daktan’s face, shattering his visor in the process, and yet another raced for Lieutenant Taylor’s visor, also shattering it. Two aimed for Loranzo and managed to rip his entire helmet off. 

Lieutenant Taylor yelled an order to wake the rest of the sleeping members, which succeeded. Doctor Daktan tried to teleport one of the blue aliens away but failed. Loranzo ripped the alien off of the Professor’s visor before going after his own and Kal Kek walked over to stab at the alien on Lieutenant Taylor’s face with a mono-blade, which unfortunately ended up slicing the Lieutenant’s face.

After waking, Jack Slate fired a shotgun at a nearby alien and missed horribly, which caused Lieutenant Taylor to take shrapnel to the thigh - enraging him further. Doctor Daktan pulled the alien from his face by pure willpower, while Professor Ramapudi shot at the alien on Loranzo’s face but missed.  Luckily for Loranzo it didn’t hit him instead. 

The blue alien that had attached itself to Lieutenant Taylor’s head appeared to “melt” into it.  All the team saw were glowing blue eyes as Lieutenant Taylor turned towards Doctor Dakton in a zombie-like fashion. 

Upon waking and further inspecting the aliens, Petty Officer Owlicious decided that she knew of these creatures. They were actually animals from the main planet and had much lower levels of intelligence than what the team had already encountered.  But they were trainable and controllable by psychic means, and she let the Professor know.

Possessed Lt. Taylor knocked Doctor Daktan unconscious before anyone could react, bringing Doctor Daktan close to death but Taylor managed to break the mind control after it happened.

Yet another alien aimed for Lt. Mark Five’s visor and managed to attach itself, but did not break it. Petty Officer Loranzo began to roll around on the floor, almost like he was on fire.  Everyone was unsure as to what he was doing. Undaunted by his inability to remove the creature last time, Kal Kek attempted again to stab at Lieutenant Taylor’s face, this time artfully the slicing the alien in half without harming Lt. Taylor. 

Jack Slate shot at one of the aliens on Petty Officer Loranzo’s face with a shotgun and managed to blow one off while somehow not causing any damage to Loranzo himself. Then Professor Ramapudi laz-patched Doctor Daktan in an attempt to stabilize him - but it unfortunately did nothing. 

Another creature attached itself to Lt. Taylor’s face, only this time instead of it taking a while his eyes instantly started to glow blue once more. Petty Officer Owlicious also got an alien attached to her face and her eyes turned blue as well. She then attacked the Professor, but luckily for him, she missed. 

Petty Officer Loranzo stabbed at the other alien on him and succeeded in freeing himself finally, while Kal Kek punched at the creature on his head which did nothing.


Professor Ramapudi then attempted to cut the alien from Petty Officer Owlicious’ face and beautifully sliced it in two. Petty Officer Owlicious became free of the zombie-like embrace, but all the aliens, including Lieutenant Taylor who was still under their influence, scampered up a wall in an attempt to flee. 

Lt. Five stabilized Doctor Daktan with a laz patch, while the others attempted to quickly think of a way to halt the fleeing Taylor. Petty Officer Owlicious fires at the wall in front of him to scare the scurrying Lt., but the bullet misses its target and ricocheted around the hall. Luckily for the team Lieutenant Taylor slipped and fell on his face and the alien lost its power over him. 

Petty Officer Loranzo attempted to pull the alien off Lt. Taylor’s face and managed instead to get it stuck on his own face. Jack Slate then fired another shotgun blast - point blank - at Petty Officer Loranzo but somehow missed. Doctor Daktan finally managed to become conscious once again and shot at the alien on Petty Officer Loranzo’s face and epically removed it, killing it in the process. 

Once all the immediate danger had passed, Professor Ramapudi and Lieutenant Taylor teamed up to hack into the drill’s control panels and so they could control it as they wished. Everyone then took stock of the situation and paused to make a decision as to which door to go into first.

The Professor and Lt. Taylor argued over which door would be best, but they somehow are able to overcome their differences and hacked into the data center to attempt to figure out what was in each room. They found that the center door seemed to hold the most promise.

 Jack Slate stood in front of Lt. Taylor as he opened the center door.  (The DM goes on to describe the room – filled with a gigantic glowing ball forming an AI core and various other components   - with something about a machine that goes ping. ;D) 

Loranzo and Taylor made their way inside stealthfully to find the A3-500 Transducer before everyone else. Once inside, Taylor attempted to remove the Transducer, but set off an alarm in the process. He quickly hacked the security measures that will turn off the power to the whole ship, and instead rewired it to allow XC-OM, the shuttle’s computer, to control the reactor core. Everybody celebrated - silently - of course.

The two scouts then took the man-sized transducer out of its compartment completely.  The sphere in the center in the room powered down, and a breeze gusts through the room.  They realize that the AI core had been covered in black, hand shaped, feathery creatures that had begun to bob up and down like a colony of daddy-long-legs on a hot summer day.  Then the things disconnected from the sphere and shot into the air.

The rest of the group saw a cloud of black creatures rush out of the room and they all heard an alarm shouting, “Prepare for jump - moving to spike launch point NOW.” Lt. Taylor saw that GAIA had suddenly taken control of all the systems and that there was plotting going on astronomically. 

Lt. Taylor ordered Slate to open another door in the airlock they see nothing but darkness. Slate and Kal Kek turn on their lights and everyone heard a strange, girlish giggle.

Startled Kal Kek threw a glowbug towards the back of the room and there was a humanoid shaped creature that everyone could see. It seemed to be a small girl covered completely in a midnight black color with white star patterns running along her body and she had strangely glowing yellow eyes. Behind her was an external window where the Three Sisters’ pulsars could be seen flashing fast and asynchronously, creating a strange strobe-light effect in the room.

She suddenly blinked out of existence and then reappeared right in front of Kal Kek, reaching out to touch him with the tentacles protruding from her back.  The batteries from his suit began to drain. Kal Kek fired with his laser rifle, dead center, at the childlike creature, but it only giggled again. 

Professor Ramapudi and Petty Officer Owlicious fired their weapons as well, but both miss.

Doctor Dakton attempts to light the black tentacles on fire with his omnitool and failed.

Jack Slate fired at her with spikes, doing lots of potential damage but she simply shrugged it off much to everyone’s shock. 

Lt. Taylor rushed to the back of the room to close the windows to see if having direct access to the sister suns had any effect but nothing changed.

The girl then grabbed for Kal Kek’s face and her hands fazed through his visor, causing him to duck quickly in reaction. Then the mysterious black flying feathered hand things descended from nowhere almost instantaneously, attached to his power armor, and ripped it pieces just as quickly. 

Kal Kek, in his anger, fired again with his laser rifle, this time at her head and she actually hissed, reacting as though that hurt her. 

She then climbed into Kal Kek like some sort of body stealer.  Petty Officer Owlicious attempted to communicate with it, causing it to attack her gleefully using Kal Kek’s body. 

Everyone kind of mentally spazzed.  Petty Officer Loranzo, perhaps freaking out, was pretty sure there was chocolate somewhere.  Doctor Daktan quickly rummaged through a medpack, Lieutenant Mark five got undressed, and Lieutenant Taylor and Professor Ramapudi search the room for major science equipment. 

Accessing the equipment uncovered data fragments detailing the horrendous experiments undertaken on the ark - before and after the Scream.  The last experiment, implement over 400 years before, used the power of the combined supernovas of the Three Sisters to vacuum a ultra-dimensional creature from a higher plane of existence and imprison it inside a young psychic girl.  Then the girl proceeded to kill every crew member.  You know - that old story.

Petty Officer Owlicious’ vacc-suit was ripped from her, much like Kal Kek’s had been, and the creature using Kal Kek’s body backhanded her - knocking her several feet away. Petty Officer Owlicious noticed she was pretty much on her own for the time being and desperately started singing lullabies to distract the psychic child.

It worked.  For a brief, brief time.

Doctor Daktan, finally done with his looting, teleported Kal Kek a few feet away, which caused the child to be forced from his body and left her standing there entranced but Petty Officer Owlicious’ singing. 

Lieutenant Taylor then tried to hack into the main commands and GAIA fried his data slab completely….

….and then my computer had about 1% battery life left so I had to close it and of course we miss the best part of the night. 

Doctor Daktan, with his telepathy ability managed to separate the child – a more or less normal human girl, from the other-worldy, hyper-dimensional being that had possessed her.  The thing had 14 legs, 23 arms, 37 tentacles, 92 eyes, and it’s entire body was simply a giant mouth with so many teeth that it seized up a human’s brain if they tried to count that high.

Everyone ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, thinking of making a run for it.  The little girl was screaming incessantly, making it really hard to think.

Then Chonga, playing as the psychic doctor Daktan, attempted to jump into the monsters mouth– thus guaranteeing a touch - to teleport it elsewhere, but failed and only managed to slide “elegantly” underneath the beast. 

The beasts’ tentacles grappled just about everyone.  Before it could eat everyone, Kaye, playing as Jack Slate, once again sacrificed his character for the greater good and manages to destroy the beast. He jumped artfully into the monsters mouth, detonating the six rockets h was carrying all at the same time, killing the creature. He died in the process but everyone else lived, even the child! Yay Kaye!

The party then rushed as fast as they could to their shuttle and left the ark, which was mysteriously bound for parts unknown.  They did stop and get some crab legs on the way, though.

So, that's it from Adelaide.  Like I said, she did an excellent job.  Oh, and you can see Crazy-Ass Tim's take on the adventure over here.

And the crew has a new member - a blonde haired little girl.  And like any little girl who survives for a ridiculously long time amidst an alien infestation and lives to tell the tale - her name shall be Newt.

:)

- Ark

Monday, October 22, 2012

Redshirts: Make Thee an Ark of Gopher Wood

Awesome blog post ->> here <<-.  Go read.  I'll wait for you back here.  Okay, thanks.

We last left out intrepid adventurers outside of the hulking wreckage of the four mile long Biotonics Ark 3, nervously flying their tiny unarmed reconnaissance shuttle toward a gaping hole it its side. This was really only about thirty minutes into the second gaming session, but I have a tendency to blah blah blah a lot in these session reports, so I didn't get very far last time.

Speaking of blah blah blah, I was asked about where I get my ideas for the Stars Without Number games.  Well, over four decades of reading and watching science fiction kind of saturates your DNA with ideas, so specific instances can be hard to identify some times. But the recent sessions have been inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama, about a giant, alien ship that inexplicably zips through our solar system, The Ark In Space, a Doctor Who serial from the 70's that I watched over and over and over again as a child, and Alfonso Azpiri's Heavy Metal story The Ark, staring his busty space-babe Lorna - which has always reminded me of an naked version of Metamorphosis Alpha.  Oh yes, and of course, Jim Ward's horrific science fiction game Metamorphosis Alpha.  

In other words, I rarely have good ideas of my own - I just try to steal them.

I'm sure I had a point here somewhere.  Oh yes - the play report.

The shuttle set down in the blackened, twisted orifice of the ark.  The command staff of Lieutenants Taylor, Five, and Ramapudi, the psychic middie Daktan, petty Owlicious, and leathernecks Loranzo, Kek, and Slate suited up and entered the airless void, guns out and magnetic boots activated.  Creeping around in the dark, they found a hallway guarded by a laser security system.  Disabling it led them to an elevator.

Images from The Ark, by Alfonso Azpiri
Once inside the elevator, air pressure became normal and the lights flickered on dimly.  Along the wall were buttons for 100 floors, most dark and deactivated.  Only three lit up.  One read DESERT.  Another MARSH.  Still another RAIN FOREST.

Lt. Five, the scouts' resident pilot and astronautics expert, figured that the best place to find A3-500 Transducers was near the center of the ship.  The RAIN FOREST level was the closest active level to the core, so away they went.

The doors wooshed open and they were confronted with an array of comfortable chairs on a nice little patio overlooking an enormous alien rain forest with 100 meter tall trees and a dense canopy.  The glowing blue ceiling high overhead emitted a constant drizzle of rain through high-tech sprinklers.

Science Officer Ramapudi and CO/Hacker Lt. Taylor found a nearby data kiosk and broke into it in an attempt to access a computer.  Interfacing was almost impossible, due to the outrageous technology that the ark had been built with, but they did discover that the ecological systems on the spacecraft were being run by a powerful, if unresponsive, artificial intelligence named GAIA.  They also found a map - indicating an engineering egress on the other side of the forest - a good four hours' hike.

As they traveled through the wet, muddy jungle, they discovered stumpy bushes bearing banana-like fruit.  A scan revealed that the fruit had a heavy infusion of arsenic, but they decided to take some anyway.  At that point, they were attacked by eight-armed arboreal hairy monkey things that threw big, heavy balls of poo as weapons.  One hit Petty Officer Owlicioius so hard in the head it knocked her unconscious.  The leathernecks unloaded their weapons into the canopy, scaring off the beasts.  They revived the petty officer and continued on.

The whole quicksand with slurping monster at the bottom event didn't make them very happy, but they all escaped alive coated in mud - thanks to their space suits which they had refused to remove.

Then they met the giant intelligent mosquitoes.  Lt. Ramapudi and Petty Officer Owlicious, the scouts' xenoarchaeologist, began to try to communicate with the SKEETERS, carefully - oh so carefully, convincing them that they meant no harm and were indeed not food, but other intelligent creatures.

One of the skeeters had seen creatures similar to them, so they began to communicate and learn.

Then Spaceman Slate happened.  The leatherneck - perhaps bored - jumped up and and decided to communicate with the aliens as well.

Complete fumble.  Kaye seems to do that only at the worst times.

The skittish skeeters were so freaked out that Spaceman Slate had said he'd like to eat their queen that they snatched him up and flew away with him, saying that they needed to teach him a lesson be dropping him into THE MAW and letting it digest him.

Yeah, so much for a happy ending.  Lt Taylor tried to paralyze them by hacking Slate's suit and emitting a triggering sound, which sort of worked and deafened Slate. Then the leathernecks blasted the remaining skeeters, who dropped Slate, sending him hurtling to the ground.

Luckily, Midshipman Daktan, a psychic, teleported Slate to safety.  When the party head 7,000 angry skeeters in the distance, they decided to abandon the RAIN FOREST level.

After camping out in the elevator for a long while and nursing their wounds, the freeze dried scouts decided to try traversing the MARSH level to get to the engineering egress.  There they found endless ponds full of mysterious, glowing bodies, something like the Dead Marshes in the Lord of the Rings.  Inside each pond was a giant crab with 50 foot long claws with giant bio-swords on the ends.  But by that time, they had learned to communicate - in a fashion - with GAIA, who dropped the temperature in the Marsh, slowing the crabs, and letting them trek to the engineering egress in peace.

The engineering section was old and dark and deserted, save for piles and piles of 600 year old human corpses.  Eventually they found a section that was powered up - using a lot of power, mind you - and giving off a whole mess of biological reading.  We left our intrepid crew that night, in an airlock, nervously looking at three entrances to various, threatening engineering areas.

So, it was fun and nobody died.  I know, I know, I'm slipping.  Next time - I promise - there will be some death. :)

- Ark

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stars Without Number Web Ring

Remember web rings?  There would be some cgi (common gateway interface) code that you'd put at the bottom of your web page (that probably had a tilde ~ in the name) and it would link together a lot of similarly topic-ed pages.  And you'd go to them and clicked NEXT NEXT NEXT and you'd get a bunch of dead or not updated pages wanting to be about the topic in question but never quite were?

This isn't that.

What I've decided to do is to make a page on the blog here with links to people who are interested in Stars Without Number and blog about it on occasion.  No other requirements, other than that.

Are you interested in being included?

So, what I need you to do is to comment down below with the name of the blog, the link to it, your name (alias, whatever) and maybe a little blurb about it in relation to SWN.  Then I'll put it on the page - which will be accessible via a tab thing up at the top - I think that is how those page things work anyway.

Here is an example:

GamersJunk.com - Gamers' Junk - Billy Bob Phaser - I liek da SWN and make da blgo abou tit.

Okay, maybe try to spell words correctly, but it doesn't need to be Shakespeare. :)

So start typing.

- Ark

PS - If you find this post years after it's publication date and still want to be listed, just reply here - most likely I'll still be around and I'll add you - just reply below.

I Don't Always Read the Rules . . .

This was uttered by Crazy Ass Tim during tonight's gaming session, and I felt it should be immortalized . . .



- Ark

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Telekenesis in Stars Without Number

It seems that when my players imagine psychics in Stars Without Number, they get visions of Jedis dancing in their heads.  What do I get?  I get Bester.  You know, Bester from Bablyon 5.  Yeah.  Chekov.  But not nice Chekov. BESTER - psy-cop and asshole extraordinaire.

Bester hearkens back to a sci fi tradition where psionics were more subtle and had to do with mental activity and perception and all that.  Actually, the original Star Wars trilogy was a lot like that too.  Old Ben didn't go around melting people's heads off, and the pinnacle of power, Yoda, could lift an X-wing - barely - but he certainly wasn't powerful enough to wield an X-Wing like a sword and carve his initials into an AT-AT.

The second Stars Wars trilogy RUINED all that, and apparently has tainted some of my players.  They moan and groan about how wimpy the psychics are and how all of their powers have been nerfed.  I don't really have a problem with it.  Given my druthers, I'd nerf them down a bit more.  But I'm playing them as written.  The problem is that some of the powers, as written, can be lawyered to death.  The key part I'm referring to is the Telekinesis Discipline Track.

So here are my thoughts and rulings on the first four levels of the Telekinesis Discipline:

Remote Manipulation (1) - You have a ghost hand that extends to your unaided line of sight.  It had pick things up and hit people with them.  STR 10, -2 attack.  

Telekinetic Press (2) - Your can pump more strength (STR 18) into your ghost hand, but at the cost of speed and control.  Mobile is the limiting word in the description.  Anything that can move can get out of the way easily, and anything that can be moved will just scoot instead of being damaged.  However, if something is fixed to the floor or a bulkhead, you can exert that 18 STR and cause actual damage.

Complex Manipulation (3) - You can use two ghost hands at the same time, and if you use them to smack somone, you get no negative to attack, and have an 18 STR.

Telekinetic Ram (4) - This is the stickler that confuses people.  You can smack things real hard with force of will alone, but the object struck must be immobile.  Okay, so it sounds like it should be fixed and incapable of movement.  But then, later in the paragraph, it describes the power being able to damage vehicles.  Huh?  Well, there are two definitions of immobile - one incapable of being moved, and one not moving.  The second definition seems to fit here.  The words mobile and immobile are not always exact opposites.  So, if something is currently not moving, you can smack it.  If it is moving that round, no - no smack for you.  Back of the line.  Why?  Getting your telekinetic ram on is REAL hard.  Okay, yeah, it prevents your dear character from wiping out the tank platoon bearing down on you with a mere thought - but sorry - suck it up.

Enough lawyering.  That's my take.  But if Kevin Crawford were to wander by and pitch in his two cents, I'd carefully listen. :)

So, to heck with Qui-Gon Jinn.  Bester is awesome.  He doesn't do 40 meter backwards somersaults while killing 50 armored troops with a laser sword - no.  But Bester shows up and ruins your day with his smile.  Now THAT is power.

- Ark

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Gazing Into The Navel of RPG Blogging


Well, at least *my own* navel.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled onto blogs such as GrognardiaPlaying D&D With Porn Stars, and The Tao of D&D, and thought - gee - you know, a large part of my very soul is tied up in role playing games, I love to write, and these guys are writing about RPGs - so why don't I do the same thing?

So I did.  The blog sputtered along for a while.  At that point, it felt like talking into a echo chamber.  I was all alone, talking to myself, and I really wasn't digging it.  Then, one day, I started getting blog followers.  Somehow I had gotten hooked into the OSR blog zeitgeist.  Well, I think it was primarily due to Cyclopeatron and Tim of Gothridge Manor, but for whatever reason, I was in, BABY, and people were reading and responding.


Ah, the halcyon days.

I did a lot of stuff to try to get attention back in those days.  I came up with outrageous blog titles.  I hunted down pictures to specifically get geeks like me to click while looking at other blog rolls.  I dug through other blogs' follower lists and went and followed everything even vaguely on the same topic as my blog.

And the stats.  Oh yes, the stats.  Refresh refresh refresh.  Who is reading?  Who is linking?  When are they reading?  Stalk stalk stalk.

If page hits were down, I obviously did something wrong.  Did I post on the wrong day?  At the wrong time of day?  Was the title not interesting enough?  Was I competing with too many of the 'big boys' at that time slot?  Was I not topical enough?  Was I too topical?  Was I on a boat that had already sailed?

Low post responses were also an issue.  Obviously, I was not interesting enough.  And if no one responded to a post?  ACK!  Well, that was like the worst.  I was a nobody for that day.

Over time, things changed.  Google Plus came on the scene, taking most of the blog chatter with it.  Some important blogs closed their doors.  Others wasted away into nothingness.  For a while, there were more blog posts about reduced traffic than there were posts about actual gaming.

Then I got horribly sick and stared death in the face.  I hallucinated that my cat was Smaug.  And over time, my gaming interests and posting topics have shifted away from fantasy to science fiction.  Old D&D is the center of the OSR universe, and always will be.  Lowest common denominator, if you'll remember from your old math classes.

The stats crashed.  Page hits are way down.  I think most hits come from Russian Mafia Server Farms scraping content to add to their slowly growing artificial intelligence emulators anyway.  Or whatever they are doing with the data.  Building the Singularity, I guess.

But you know what?  I don't care.

Okay, maybe a little.  But nowadays, I write the blog to write the blog.  To me, it's performance art.  It's not the end product, it's the DOING.  I write.  I write for my own pleasure.  If people are reading it - that's just peachy.  If no one sees it - if no one posts - well - someone might one day.  It's not a big deal to me anymore.

So to all you other bloggers who are writing out there, feeling like you are yelling into an echo chamber - I hear you.  And I probably read your blog.  And no, I didn't respond to that post where you said the thing about the thing.  I'm lazy and I read too many blogs.

And if you are not enjoying stringing words together for the sake of stringing words together, maybe you need a new hobby.  But if you do like to string words together - keep on doing that.  I'll probably read it.  And no, I probably won't respond.  But I do wish you the best of luck in blogging.

- Ark

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Redshirts: The Three Sisters (And Broken SCIENCE)

Wednesday's Stars Without Numbers game began with the scouts being woken up from hypersleep in the Three Sisters' system. Lieutenant Commander Gonzales informed them that they had not intended on drilling to the Three Sisters, but there had been a misjump because a forklift had been attached to the outer hull at the time.  Because of the misjump, the Reprieve had burnt out an A3-500 Transducer.  While the ship could jump without one, there was a high risk of burning out the spike drive while doing so, which would end the mission and their chances of ever getting back home.

There was another problem - the ship had been forced to leave Perimeter Station Nine before it was fully stocked.  Thus, while the Reprieve was looking for hydrogen to fill it's tanks, the scouts would take a Blue Ghost Reconnaissance Shuttle out and reconnoiter the system for an A3-500 Transducer and a food source.

Before leaving, the party discovered that 1) Commodore Halberta Clarke had found a tiny metallic scorpion in one of the ship's corridors and was freaking out about it, and 2) the deceased AI named XC-OM was less than deceased because his AI matrix had been stored in an AI phylactery and had been installed into the party's shuttle.  Neither boded well.

Lieutenant Taylor (played by Merwyn) was assigned as the CO and the party jetted off into the Three Sisters' system.  It was immediately apparent that something very wrong.  Sometime after the Scream, the three red giants comprising the system had gone supernova, leaving vast nebulae of gas strewn about the system, and at its heart spun three pulsars emitting copious amounts of gamma radiation.

The party knew there had been a habitable planet in the system from charts created 600 years before, so they continued on.  Suddenly the sensors indicated an object close by, so they approached.  It turned out to be a frozen, desicated creature, bigger than the ship.  It looked like a brontosaurus with the head of a donkey, and XC-OM identified it as a native species to the system's habitable planet, Three Sisters Prime.

(This is where I SCREWED UP THE SCIENCE.  No, not the whole animal floating in space thing.  But timewise, it's off.  Per SCIENCE, a supergiant's lifespan is about 14 million years.  That is not nearly enough time for complex life to develop on a planet.  Or heck, for a planet to even cool down from the formation stage.  And I was looking for a planet that had had 10 billion years of evolution on it, creating a rich web of diversity and intelligence.  But nooo.  After the game, I was doing some research and realized that I had confused the lifecycle of a red giant with that of a red supergiant.  Damn my faulty remembering of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram!  So you can't have pulsars with a 10 billion year old planetary evolution cycle. Well, unless you do something weird.  I guess I'll have to do something weird.)

The party continued on through the wisps of gas, finally arriving at Prime to find a cracked and scorched world with its atmosphere blown off and its oceans boiled away.  But in orbit around the blasted planet was an ancient spacecraft  with the words BIOTONICS ARK 3 emblazoned on its side.

Now, some of the players know Biotonics Amalgamated as some sort of unholy union between the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, Aperture Science, and the Umbrella Corporation.  And they are right.  But the current characters don't know anything about it, except that records indicate that Biotonics Amalgamated was a altruistic, galactic-wide organization devoted to the betterment of humanity through biotechnology and clean living.  Well, that is what the Biotonics pamphlets say, at least.

They were a bit nervous. :)

The hull of the spacecraft was scorched and melted, but from deep within, power fluctuations could be detected.  A huge hole was visible on the side of the craft - the only discernible way in.

So, imagine this - a tiny shuttle, crammed full of sweating scouts, lit by three pulsars flashing asynchronously in purple patterns that would set off epileptic patients, flying in orbit around a cracked, dead world, and approaching a battered, ancient ship, slowing, and entering a dark, gaping maw ringed with rended metal teeth on it's side, going towards signs of activity in a ship that has been abandoned for 600 years, labeled a space ark by an extinct biowarfare company.

BOO.

- Ark

Friday, October 12, 2012

Freeze-Dried Astronaut Roster

It's time for another Character Matrix for your favorite freeze-dried scouts!

I'm running the Redshirts Stars Without Numbers game on Wednesday nights at the FLGS.  This week's adventure was quite fun, but the actual play report will be in a later blog post.    This post is just about the characters.

We had eight players this time around - up from 6.  We attempted using a caller - which worked - sort of.  I think it deflected a bit of the chaos - but none of us is used to working with a caller, so it will take some time.

Four of the players, Adelaide, Seamus, Felipe, and The Boy, had the same characters.  Kaye the robot didn't make it out alive last time, so he made a warrior named Jack Slate.  I threatened to rub chalk against him.  Merwyn didn't quite understand how I was dealing with the security and computer skills, so he built a fresh character to be an expert hacker named Nathaniel Taylor.  I was somewhat worried about the new player, Chonga.  I've heard stories about the guy.  Scary stories.  But Chonga was well behaved, made a Psychic Medic, and played him really well.  So much for stories. :)  And Crazy-Ass Tim finally showed up to play.  He kept on whining and making excuses about not being able to play for a while.  Something about getting married.  Geez.

So - remember that random officer rank chart that I adjusted to make lieutenants be rare?  Well, two of the players rolled lieutenants.   UGH.  Okay, back to the drawing board.  Maybe instead of a 1 in 6 chance, it should be revved up to a 12 on a 2d6.  Or something.  Now we've got THREE lieutenants.  Double-Geez.

Next time we could have ten players, so a matrix like this won't fit on the blog in the same manner.  Not that many people care, I don't think, but showing the party composition is at least fun to me.  So here they are, your Redshirts for October 10th, 2012:

Name
James Loranzo
Mark Five
Kal Kek
Owl icious
Engel Daktan
Nathaniel Taylor
Jack Slate
Ramesh Ramapudi
Player
The Boy
Felipe
Seamus
Adelaide
Chonga
Merwyn
Kaye
Crazy Ass Tim
Rank/Rate
E-6 Petty Officer 1st Class
O-3 Lieutenant
E-2 Spacer Apprentice
E-4 Petty Officer 3rd Class
O-1 Midshipman
O-3 Lieutenant
E-2 Spacer Apprentice
O-3 Lieutenant
Class
Warrior
Expert
Warrior
Expert
Psychic
Expert
Warrior
Expert
Level
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
HP
9
2
7
3
3
5
7
6
STR
14
8
12
9
8
10
14
6
INT
12
14
12
14
15
14
10
17
DEX
14
12
14
13
13
13
14
9
WIS
10
10
11
13
11
12
12
13
CON
14
10
17
8
14
10
8
10
CHA
8
17
11
8
14
15
10
14
Background
Soldier
Midshipman
Naval Marine
Researcher
Adventurer
Adventurer
Adventurer
Researcher
Training
Commando
Aviator (Naval)
Marine Officer
Xeno Archaeologist
Rogue Psychic
Adventuring Expert
Adventuring Expert
Scientist
Artist
-
-
-
-
Athletics
0
Bureaucracy
0
0
Business
-
-
-
-
Combat/
Energy
1
0
Gunnery
0
0
Primitive
-
-
-
-
Projectile
1
0
0
0
Psitech
-
-
-
-
0
Unarmed
0
1
0
Computer
0
Culture/
Alien
-
-
-
-
Criminal
Spacer
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Traveller
-
-
-
-
1
0
World
0
1
0
0
0
Exosuit
0
0
Gambling
-
-
-
-
History
0
0
0
Instructor
-
-
-
-
Language/
English
Native
Native
Native
Native
Native
Native
Native
Native
Gaelic
Native
Native
Native
German
Native
Russian
Native
Arabic
Native
Hindi
Native
Leadership
0
0
0
Navigation
0
Perception
1
1
0
1
Persuade
0
1
Profession/
-
-
-
-
0
Religion
-
-
-
-
0
Science
1
1
Security
0
Stealth
0
1
0
Steward
-
-
-
-
Survival
0
0
Tactics
0
0
1
Tech/
Astronautic
0
Maltech
-
-
-
-
Medical
-
-
-
-
0
0
Postech
1
0
1
Pretech
-
-
-
-
1
Psitech
-
-
-
-
0
Vehicle/
Air
-
-
-
-
Grav
0
Land
Space
0
0
Water
-
-
-
-
Disciplines
Biopsionics
Teleportation

- Ark