Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Not Brand X: Dracoheim, 3d6 in Order, Fantasy Vietnam, and the Beating Heart of SF/F

Fantasy (Misha Burnett) American Fantasy — “That’s what I set out to do with Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. Dracoheim is not on any version of Earth–the Settled Lands are on a world with a different year and a different climate than Earth, the physical/metaphysical laws are different there. Yet the setting is recognizably American (despite a sprinkling of UK terms to describe the government and courts). Dracoheim is Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th Century in the same way that the Shire is rural England at the end of the 19th Century.”

Books (Jon Mollison) Bad Dreams and Broken Hearts — “Erik Rugar makes Harry Dresden look like a chump, and makes Discworld look like a set from Scooby-Doo. Imagine if Bright wasn’t so preachy and had some solid romance subplots. It’s that good.”

D&D (E. Reagan Wright) The 3d6 Grease Trap — “Guys who run Big Boy D&D understand that how a character is rolled has no impact on the way the game runs. The best DMs do not craft worlds and challenges for characters, but for players. The sandbox gets stocked with high challenge areas and low challenge areas. The wheels of the campaign churn away with neutral efficiency. It is up to the players to determine which is which by throwing bodies at the campaign with the same reckless abandon as a Soviet lieutenant yeeting prisoner units at German machine gun emplacements.”

Brand Echh (Jon Del Arroz) Is Publishing Just A Scam For Power? — “Alan Moore is right. Editors don’t have taste. Publishers don’t have taste. They have no idea. It’s why the comic stands are filled with crap, it’s why there’s nothing even worth picking up when you make a Barnes & Noble trip. Everything that’s worthwhile is on the new frontier of self-publishing.”

Brand X (Kairos) The Fap Cult — “One thing both cults have in common is their elevating of personal preferences over the good. Fundamentally, they do away with the concept of objective value altogether and seek validation solely from their choice of weird sexual hangup or entertainment product. Nor will they countenance neutrality. You must join in their liturgies and partake of their sacrifices. Just try pointing out that transsexuals are mentally ill or that Big Brand X is a shame ritual that bilks money from paypigs for the pleasure of insulting them.”

Short Fiction (Rawle Nyanzi) The Persistence and Promise of Cirsova — “Though fiction writing in general is a tricky business, one stands to make more through a series of novels than through any number of short stories. I often wonder if he is wasting his time due to the poor economics of the enterprise, and yet, he continues to publish. The short story used to be the beating heart of SF/F, but now, it is little more than an appendix; through continual publication of short stories, P. Alexander may be able to revive the form.”

Brand Zero (Cirsova) Rawle Nyanzi’s Brand Zero and a Look at Some Cirsova-Published IPs — “The short version of it is a mindset to put fully behind the failing corporate fiction brands that continue to disappoint and instead focusing on new brands, new properties, either by creating them or supporting them. Talk up these new IPs instead of spending time and effort on complaining about how let down you are by the old brands. Brand Zero has picked up a lot of traction in the last few weeks, but it’ll be interesting to see if it gains real momentum beyond a few writing circles.”

Fantasy F***ing Vietnam (Brain Leakage) Kitbashing D&D: Skills, Resolution Mechanics, and Combat — “Every patrol to and from the Keep should be a tense cat and mouse game, as the PCs watch out for goblin ambushes, senses alert for any sound or sign that the enemy is near. Meanwhile, they’re trying to move like ghosts through the underbrush, staying to the darkest shadows they can find. Every snapped twig or dropped water skin should cause their little hearts to race, wondering if they’ve just given themselves away.”

Canceling Fantasy (RMWC Reviews) Pink Slime Review: The Man Who Came Late — “In short, everything about the world and characters that made them unique and loveable, from the magic to the culture to the weirdness to Holger’s blockheaded goodness, are stripped away and replaced by stewpots, housework, and boring people living boring lives. Faerieland and the forces of Chaos have been replaced by something far more sinister: ‘Realism.'”

Brand Zero (Paul Lucas) BrandZero Reviews of Indie and Self-Published Authors — “Here you go folks, copies of the reviews I’ve posted to Amazon for the work of independent and self-published authors. All of these people publish work that at least verges on the Weird, however you want to define it, and some of them roll around in Weirdness, completely naked. This is my small attempt to help support non-mainstream creators by focusing on them and not on the products of large media companies – naming no names. Go #BrandZero!”

Appendix N (The Charmed Circle) What’s in Your Appendix N? (Memories of the First Books #4) — “Appendix N was a list, written by Gygax himself, enumerating the works of fantasy and science fiction which were influential in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. These were the books which shaped Gygax’s imagination, what he brought to the creation of the game, and what the game would become over time. Some of the authors are considered icons of the field, and some of the works are seen as classics. Others are less known, obscure, even out of print. All of them are, in a sense, part of the game’s DNA.”

From the Comments (Sacnoth’s Scriptorium) The New Arrival: APPENDIX N (The Book) — “As other reviewers have mentioned, his reviews revolve around creating strawmen who somehow ‘hate’ classic sci-fi/fantasy (because it is too politically incorrect or features male protagonists) and then he encourages the reader to ‘fight the power’ and read the classics anyway. It’s nonsense, none of these authors are ‘condemned’ by his mythical ‘them’ who are out to destroy fantasy and keep him from reading books about ‘heroic’ characters like himself.”

On The Table: Melee and Wizard!

I tell you, these games are something else.

Long, long ago I heard rumor of them in the introduction of GURPS. Elements of Melee and Wizard are of course baked into the classic Second Edition GURPS Basic Set and first edition GURPS Fantasy. But strangely enough, the group of high school buddies that went hog wild playing Car Wars and Ogre and Illuminati somehow never went beyond doing anything else beyond creating a few 100 point characters with those gaming materials that were supposed to be Steve Jackson’s magnum opus and the ultimate testament to his design genius.

But now today, thanks to these beautiful editions of Steve’s groundbreaking fantasy microgames, we could finally appreciate his astonishing contribution to the development of fantasy role-playing games. Hoo, boy! What games!! The best thing about them, of course, is that there’s nothing you can do with them except play them. And wow, is it ever easy to dive in.

I will caution people that pick these games up that the fighter cards that I think came with the Legacy Edition are NOT the way to introduce Melee to people. No, the CORRECT way to be initiated into The Fantasy Trip is by creating a figure of your own with no idea what you’re walking into. (Pregens considered harmful!)

My opponent picked a counter out of the stack and decided to run with Rapier Dandy– ST 10, DX 14(13), IQ 8, MA 10, Rapier 1d, Cloth 1 hit. (We later figured out that this figure was a girl. Haha!) Not wanting to throw the weird rules into play at once, I countered with Cave Man– ST 14, DX 10, IQ 8, MA 10, Club 1d. Needless to say, Cave Man got cut to pieces fairly quickly. Rapier Dandy got in a solid hit that gave Cave Man a -2 on his next strike. An 8 or less is not easy to pull off! A followup blow knocked him down into the -3 penalty for low hit points. This was an elegant demonstration of Melee’s death spiral mechanic where once you start losing, things go from bad to worse very fast!

Of course this one on one fight was rather simple– two figures closing to melee range and then trading attacks does not require a hex grid in order to adjudicate. If the whole point of this game is to repudiate the godawful combat systems of classic D&D which have absolutely NO TACTICS involved whatsoever, then this game really needed to step up its game.

So we tried again this time with Rapier Dandy being joined by Archeress “I”: ST 11, DX 13, IQ 8, MA 10, Longbow 1d+2, Short Sword 2d-1. Together they would take on Longsaber Shortie– ST 10, DX 14(12), IQ 8, MA 8, Saber 2d-2, Leather 2 hits– and Knife Girl: ST 11, DX 13(12), IQ 8, MA 10, Saber 2d-2, Main Gauche 1d-1, Cloth 1 hit.

In the opening my pirates ran across the board at maximum move, giving up their melee attacks to close the range. Then… Rapier Dandy managed to not only flank Knife girl but also engage both Knife Girl and Longsaber Shortie by placing them both in her three front hexes.

This meant that rather than engaging the Archeress and forcing her to was tea turn changing weapons, it was Knife Girl that ended up losing an attack while getting ganged up on by both of her opponents. (Doh!) My figures dealt their share of blows, I suppose, but the Melee death spiral soon returned as both my figures bought it. All because of a careless mistake on their positioning in the opening turn. Doh!

Rapier Dandy had now won two arena combats, thus gaining an attribute point to spend. She went up to DX 15, making her even more dandy than she was to begin with.

At this point I suggested we try out Wizard, but after a few minutes of perusing the spell list my opponent countered that we should try running his Melee figures against a mixed team of both a Wizard and a Melee figure. This is not surprising, really. Not even players settling in to a brand new B/X D&D campaign bother reading through the full spell list, much less take the time to think through some kind of spell use strategy. Expecting a new player to do something like that with Wizard over a couple of beers is a really big ask, even for a long time microgame addict.

Therefore I created Knife Girl II out of a desire to get that main gauch into play. I also produced Belboz: ST 10, DX 13, IQ 11, MA 10, Staff 1d6, Blur, Magic Fist, Staff, Avert, Clumsiness, Confusion, Fire, Summon Wolf, Summon Myrmidon, Illusion, and Rope.

Knife Girl II again charged across the board. Belboz hung back and created the illusion of a wolf. The next turn I’d hoped to cast a second spell, but Archeress “I” had a greater DX and went first in the attack face. She hit and did five points of damage! That combined with with the two points I’d spent on the wolf was enough to put me in the -3 to DX zone. The death spiral was rearing its ugly head yet again!

Meanwhile, on the other end of the arena, Knife Girl II got cut down by Rapier Dandy. My wolf bit back and finished off Rapier Dandy. My wolf then flanked Archeress “I” while Belboz played the dodge option. Archeress “I” needed a 12 or less to hit with her bow, and she let fly… mercilessly killing Belbox. The wolf illusion then promptly disappeared, ending the game. Ah, if I could have survived that one attack, the Archeress would have had to change weapons and attack the wolf with her shortsword. Doh!

The moral of the story here is that a good archer has MANY advantages over a wizard character– namely, that archers can make ranged attacks without having to spend strength to do it!

Not quite the outcome I expected. On the other hand, we both immediately began discussing tactics for working around this problem and what we would do differently the next time we played– the hallmark of solid game design! And there will be a next time, too. These games are just too danged charming not to play obsessively!

Besides, Archeress “I” went up a level in DX after that third game and is itching to do it again!

On the Table: Combat Showcase

This little gem of a game supplement hails from the heyday of Car Wars, when the Deluxe Edition and Dueltrack were both out in all their upsized glory. This collection of designs marks the point where the game transitioned away from being a role-playing game about driving and shooting to being an arena combat game where the best vehicle designer one. Not everything in the book would hold up– the Variable Fire Rocket Pod which debuted here would later be nerfed into uselessness. But the concept of easily photocopied record sheets of dedicated fighting vehicles was still solid.

One of the neatest designs inside is the Challenger. It’s a metal armored vehicle with three linked rocket launchers, an explosive spike dropper, and loads of component armor. It’s fireproof– as long as you don’t penetrate the metal armor or target the tires. It can take a LOT of punishment– as long as you aren’t sporting big guns like the ATG or the blast canon. It can also dish out some serious firepower. The only downside is the heavy duty transmission. This thing has just plain horrible acceleration and top speed.

The main thing… it looked like something different from the other cars we’ve recently played. It also looked like the sort of vehicle that would be fun to put up against its doppelganger. So it got dropped into our Amateur Night campaign.

In the opening pass we got up to speeds in the 40 to 50 mph rang. We needed twelves to score a hit on the opening salvo and my opponent actually connected, even rolling a 6 on the damage dice. One point of metal armor gone and the first obstacle counter was laid down!

We cruised into point blank range and my opponent then failed a control roll while executing a D1 bend. Thanks to the opportune skid, I could position myself to tag him with a T-bone as he went by. Driving past, the hazard caused by the obstacle counters would put me into a fishtail that would result in a skid of my own. We both came to a stop simultaneously and then began the painstaking 2.5 mph acceleration to lurch back towards each other again.

Maneuver was no longer much a factor as we reached speeds between 5 and 10 mph. We burned through nearly all of our ammo. Obstacles littered the arena floor. Half my front armor was gone. I whittled away at my opponent’s right side and then his left. What little internal damage I scored mostly went to my opponents component armor surrounding his power plant. My opponent blew through the component armor on my rockets, damaged one with a single hit and took out another altogether.

I had maybe four or six rounds of ammo left at this point. My opponent was hoping to go past me and then maybe force me to waste those last couple shots on his back armor. Unfortunately, my pivot brought my two rocket launchers into position for a solid shot against his weakened side armor. I scored well on damage, penetrated both the metal armor and the power plant component armor and– incredibly– managed to set him on fire to boot.

This was a fairly lucky outcome for me as I could easily have missed, rolled a minuscule amount of damage that the armor could have ignored, hit the driver’s component armor instead, or even just rolled a 3-6 for the fire check. In a game where two’s and twelves had both been rolled, it was pretty exciting. And I have to say, we were both weirdly invested in the results of every single round of fire leading up to this.

My opponent bailed out of his car and began fleeing the scene. Continuing characters are rare enough in this game I opted to let him live for the rematch rather than run him down. He managed to escape before his car could explode, so autodueling fans were on the edge of their seats for the final finish. I think the networks got their money’s worth with these two cars!

Here are the stats for our two continuing duelists:

Borf: Three points in driver skill, eight points in gunner. Four prestige. One kill. Possesions: one S’most with two points of damage to each of the tires, one point of damage to each internal component, 7 points of damage front, 8 points of damage left, 7 points of damage right, one point of damage top, and 1 point of damage to the underbody. Five FT shots fired.

Poindexter: Two points in driver skill. six points in gunner. Five prestige. One kill. Possessions: one Challenger with 6 hits to front armor, 2 hits to left, five hits to front left tire, 2 hits to front right, 2 hits to back left, and 4 hits to back right. Front component armor destroyed, 2 hits to driver CA, and 3 hits to power plant CA. One RL destroyed. One RL at 1 DP. Four RL shots remaining.

Whoever wins the next match will go up to Gunner-1 and will also have enough salvage money to repair whatever vehicle we end up driving for the third round. Though I think the networks should give you a brand new version of one of your best winning car for free and then let you keep the salvage value of everything else– at least in a series of these one-on-one games.

For the final match, we wanted something to create a different feel from the ram car, flamethrower trike, and metal armor slugfest. We decided that linked APFSDS ATG’s, HDFOJ, FT, IFE, spoiler, airdam, and acceleration 10 would do the trick. See you next time for the finale!

 

On the Table: Car Wars Compendium Second Edition

I love this game.

It’s easily among the best values in gaming history and one of the greatest “everything you need in one book” games of all time. It was played to death and then revised… played to death again, revised again… and then played to death some more only to be tempered into one of the great achievements of gaming history.

There are many editions and variations of this game. I have tinkered with the rules a great deal myself and chased after many attempts to simplify what people tend to think of as a moderately overcomplicated game. But this weekend I decided to come back to my old flame and revisit the game that I originally fell in love with a long, long time ago. Not as it was in the small black pocket box edition that was the very first hobby games purchase I had ever made. But rather, as the end all be all, supercharged Second Edition Compendium release that was, perhaps, the last thing I would ever be excited to receive on a Christmas day.

That means playing with the “Advanced Collision” system that was first released as part of the referee screen– and the variant fire rules (“All Fired Up”) and a development of the “Advanced Maneuver System” from the pages of Autoduel Quarterly. Further, it meant going back to the original rules for ramplates– the days before some line editor decided to nerf the most efficient means in the game for converting a hot rod into piles of debris and obstacles. Finally, it meant embracing the Compendium’s speed modifiers as well!

How did it go…? Well, I’ll tell you.

I selected for our first scenario a Challenge Night event where two hot headed amateur duelists would get a chance to kill each other in the Dumbarton Slalom arena with sponsor-supplied Scorcher compacts. These have two flamethrowers in the back and a ramplate on the front. The idea was to get to a decisive and dramatic ending fairly quickly. The session did not disappoint!

The opening started straightforward enough. I managed to edge ahead by a quarter of an inch in the opening moves before we sped into the part of the drum where we’d gain the ability to fire. I cut right and let loose with my two flame throwers, but because my target was speeding across my back arc I had to eat serious enough speed modifiers that this shot was pretty well wasted. (Granted, a lucky hit could win the game if I set my opponent on fire– neither of us had fire extinguishers!)

My opponent then kicked it up to 60 mph while I dropped down to 40. His additional speed gave him a great deal of initiative. If he got to move at just the right moment, I was dead. But then… just as he was arcing toward me for a potential kill… he lost control and started to skid!

We exchanged shots and I put enough burn modifiers on him that he was in danger of catching fire. He then lost control again and skidded into the arena walls. His driver bailed out of the flaming vehicle and I ran the guy down before he could make it to a safe zone.

At this point I proposed changing up either the arena or the vehicle design or both, but this was evidently an intriguing enough match-up that it was worth another go. This one saw my opponent skid into the wall yet again even though he had slowed down a notch this time. I then accelerated and came in for the ram. He scored multiple flamethrower hits on me as I closed, but the ram completely destroyed his car. My driver was able to bail out of the flaming vehicle and escape before it had exploded.

Now… this was pretty exciting for me. I love love LOVE having a continuing Car Wars character that has earned all his wealth by defying certain death in the arena. My guy “Duncan Idaho” had a brand new Scorcher that had had only 2 shots fired from each flamethrower and was merely nicked on the back with four points of damage there. Compendium Second Edition is pretty generous with the “general” skill point awards, so while he didn’t gain any salvage from this event, he did gain enough skill points to go to Driver-1. This would give him a better chance for starting an event with improved reflexes and help him recover better than normal handling status at the end of each turn!

Going into the third and final event of the weekend, I had to ask… should I set this guy aside so what we could have a fair match where everyone was started the game with equal amounts of skill? My opponent didn’t think that was a problem. I mean hey, if you have a cool continuing character in a Car Wars campaign, you should get to use him. If he comes out of his third Amateur Night event with enough salvage that he actually stands a chance on the freeways, so much the better.

We did agree to change up the vehicle design and keep the same arena layout. Here’s our all-new low end vehicle we whipped up:

S’most — Medium Reverse Trike, x-hvy chassis, hvy. suspension, large cycle plant, platinum catalysts, 3 PR tires, driver, FT left linked to FT right, fire extinguisher, targeting computer. Armor: F 20, R 15, L 15, B 20, T 4, U 4. Accel. 5, HC 3, 2,518 lbs., $7,986.

Division 10 option — Make tires and armor fireproof and add heavy duty brakes. Equip driver with body armor and a grenade. $9,997.

We played without the Division 10 options, hoping for another short and decisive event. Rolling in, I took a stray flame thrower hit early on and caught fire. My fire extinguisher failed to put it out until the next turn– everything on my car had taken one hit of damage! Things did not look good for my awesome continuing character, but on the next pass, my opponent found himself in the exact same shoes. Suddenly, every single die roll we made began to matter a whole lot!

I admit, my opponent had done much better than me in terms of dishing out the damage in this round. I was the better driver and cruised around the arena with no chance of losing control. Meanwhile, my target veered away from me toward the arena wall and the damage that I had done was just enough to make this hazardous. He made one control roll after another… then needed to make just one more. His luck ran out, though, and he crashed into the wall for the third game in a row!

Now things were serious. My opponent has just gone into a skid and so was at -6 to-hit for that until the end of the turn. I had continuous fire bonuses and could control exactly how the pass played out. I managed to get my hit against the stationary target. Time to check for fire one last time. I needed 8 or less on two dice to light him up. I got it! My opponent needed 4 or less on two dice. Not likely! But then… he got it anyway. Doh!

Now to check for fire extinguishers…. My opponent made his roll of 3 or less on one die and his vehicular fire went out. Me? I failed… and my car went up in flames along with my continuing character!

Absolutely brutal!

Now my opponent’s character “Borf” is the guy with a promising future. He has two skill points in Driver and six in Gunner. He has a very beat up reverse trike with two points of damage to each of the tires, one point of damage to each internal component, 7 points of damage front, 8 points of damage left, 7 points of damage right, one point of damage top, and 1 point of damage to the underbody. (Whew!) Though if it was up to me, I’d rule that the event sponsors would totally give him a brand new division 10 model of that vehicle to drive home him.

The game play for this round was much more random due to the loss of the ramplates. In order improve this design in terms of how it plays fighting itself, here are the changes I would make:

S’most II — Add bumper spikes and upgrade fire extinguisher to IFE. Armor: F 18, R 13, L 13, B 14, T 4, U 4. 2520 lbs., $8,402.

(We did get to one rules question game. Obviously, the fire modifiers stack up as are explained in the rules. What we wanted to know was what happened to the fire mods when a fire extinguisher puts out the fire. Do they disappear or do they stick, continuing to set fires on later turns again and again…? We went back and forth on this until we agreed that it would be more fun to have the FE wipe them all out when the moment a fire extinguisher puts out a fire. Your mileage may vary!)

But how do things set in the aftermath of three quick playing duels…? “Borf” now respects the control table enough to slow down a little but… but not enough to persuade him to put extra skill points into driver skill. He is eager to get back into the arena for a chance at nabbing enough salvage that he could pimp out his ride in a substantial manner. He is liable to want to fireproof everything if he has any say in how the next cars are designed.

But most importantly… he can’t imagine playing Car Wars any other way than with the Super Advanced™ rules accretions that 1980’s gaming addicts laid down in order to strike just the right balance between simulation-feel and smooth game-play.

If you’re in the camp of those that think they want simpler rules in order to open the game up to more casual play, think again! Everything you need in order to speed things up can be addressed by playing with identical makes and models a la Amateur Night events, restricting dueling vehicles to driver only, outlawing pedestrian equipment, and greatly increasing the ratio of weaponry to defense in the vehicle designs.

Drive offensively!

Life After 1980: RPG Consent Forms, Broken Elfs, and No Concept of Economy

D&D (John Blacktree) The Nature of Consent Forms in Role Playing Games — “There are great DM’s and awful ones. It’s a roll of the dice. (pun intended) but when something like a consent form is brought forth you are exerting an unearned level of control over others fun. They didn’t sign up to be whipped and burned with candle wax. They just want to play a game.”

Fantasy (Dutrope) Editor Interview: Cirsova Magazine — “For some reason, we get a lot of elf stories. Unless you’re doing something Dunsanian, no elves! Look, we can fix formatting, we can add page numbers to the footer of your manuscript, but we can’t fix a story that has generic D&D elves in it.”

Writing (Dean Bradley) Fighting Style and Character — “Before the renaissance in traditional European martial arts, a katana conveyed a much more seasoned and developed fighting style than a bastard sword. We now know that the fighting style of European knights was every bit as systematic and developed as that of the samurai, but the truth mattered less than the viewer’s impression of skill and study.”

Books (Castalia House) Swords & Dark Magic — “The better sword and sorcery writers who came out of the 1970s got their start in the small press. They started out writing short stories, then novelettes. A few then made the jump to mass market paperbacks that were generally 80,000 words long. Now it is backwards, the writers of the past ten to twenty years start out writing 700 page novels for seemingly never ending series. They have no concept of economy.”

Appendix N (Grey Dog Tales) Tarzan Reborn! — “I have no way of knowing exactly how the late Fritz Leiber approached the job, but I can easily imaging him watching the movie over and over, along with reading the original script treatment, making copious notes on what did and didn’t work. Frankly, he did an astonishing job of it. I was recently reliably informed that Philip José Farmer considered this to be one of the best Tarzan novels he ever read. I can’t disagree with that appraisal.”

D&D (The Alt-right DM) How Consent Works — “When you sit down to my D&D game, you consent to play my games. Both the RAW B/X game, and the head games that are part and parcel of dealing with a maniac like me. Like my second ex-wife’s ass cheeks, there a lot of overlap between the two.”