Friday, November 24, 2023

Coming Soon: Faster Than Light: Nomad!


I have been working on a brand new science fiction role-playing ruleset, named Faster Than Light: Nomad. It is, in a way, an evolution of my existing Quantum Engine rules, but many of its mechanics are radically different. The goal is to develop a sleek but comprehensive sci-fi ruleset, which will be an in-house Stellagama Publishing title, and which will have its own Reference available for all to use under a Creative Commons license.

It is expected to be released in Q1 2024.

To give you a taste of the new rules, here is an excerpt of the core game mechanic:

"In dangerous situations, where failure carries dire consequences and where luck plays a major role, throw 2d6: throw two six-sided dice and add the results together, and add the relevant skill level as a modifier. If the total equals or exceeds 8, you succeed. Otherwise, you fail.

Skill notation: "Throw Skill" means throw two dice, add them together and add the relevant skill, and if the total equals or exceeds 8, you succeed.

An unmodified, “natural” result of 12 constitutes a critical success.

Note that - as noted above - intrepid interstellar adventurers are competent. If your character has no points in a skill, treat it as “Skill 0”, and simply roll 2d6 on its checks, without any modifiers. There is no need to note this on your character sheet or monster description: when a skill is absent, simply assume that it is at 0.

Advantage and Disadvantage Dice

Various circumstances affect the skill roll. In cases where these circumstances are significant, these rules apply Advantage Dice (+1D) and Disadvantage Dice (-1D). When making a skill roll with Advantage and/or Disadvantage Dice, sum up all Advantage Dice and subtract all Disadvantage dice from the sum. If the result is positive, roll 2d6 + skill and an additional number of dice equal to that sum, and choose the highest two dice. If the result is zero, simply roll 2d6 + skill. If the result is negative, roll 2d6 + skill and an additional number of dice equal to the sum, and choose the lowest two dice.

The same applies to the Personnel Damage roll; throw 2d6 without any modifier and check the Personnel Damage table. Apply Advantage and Disadvantage dice as given by weapons and armor.

We note Advantage and Disadvantage Dice as (+1D) and (-1D), respectively. Multiple dice are noted in the same way, for example “+2D” or “-3D”."


Highlights if the FTL: Nomad ruleset include:

(Note that the following are subject to change based on playtester feedback)
  • Streamlined 2d6 core mechanic with "dice pool" components, as described above. Instead of rolling 2d6 with a series of modifiers as in the old Quantum Engine rules, you roll a bunch of dice, and choose the lowest or highest two, then add them together and add the skill modifier.
  • Fast but deeply customizable character generation. Distribute 5 points among 7 skills (3 points max in any single skill), choose an Archetype, choose a Talent, and roll for starting cash. That's it. But this means that a wide range of combinations are possible!
  • Straightforward psionic rules using a simple skill roll rather than "psi points". If you fail that roll, you can't use the same power again until the next day. 36 powers included.
  • Streamlined combat, with only 4 "range bands"; a "FRENZY!" mechanic for multiple attacks if you "drop" an enemy; and "hit point"-less wounding damage for strong grittiness and minimal book-keeping.
  • Tech Ages rather than numerical "Tech Levels" as in Traveller/Cepheus. Your ship was made in the Early Interstellar Age, not "TL12".
  • Varied equipment, including a detailed collection cybernetics, low-tech and high-tech weapons and armor, pharmaceuticals, and, of course, many Galactic Age and Cosmic Age (i.e., ultra-tech) gadgets!
  • A long list of vehicles and streamlined vehicle combat, using the "chase" mechanic inspired by the Quantum Engine and our old Cepheus titles.
  • Robot design rules!
  • New "harder science" spacecraft design rules. These are an advanced version of the rocket rules first published in Solar Sagas. Build your rockets - which involves design and mass trade-offs - then travel to the stars with it!
  • Streamlined world generation, focused on things players are likely to encounter, in both game-mechanic and descriptive manners.
  • Detailed starship, social, and xenofauna encounter rules!
  • Reference document released under a Creative Commons license, available for download in an editable file for anyone who purchases FTL: Nomad!

Sunday, November 12, 2023

[Variant OTU] Broken Cradle - Draft Virus-less 1140 Solomani Rim Map

Following my overall setting concept for Broken Cradle, my Virus-less 1140 Imperial OTU setting for Classic/Mega Traveller, I have firmly decided to use the Solomani Rim, with all its complex politics and ample useable canonical inspiration, to run my game(s) in this setting. Therefore, I have started reading GURPS Traveller: Rim of Fire, an excellent canonical source for this setting despite being set in a Rebellion-less milieu. I have also started converting a map of the Solomani Rim rendered by The Traveller Map to this setting.

The first task is deciding on the various Hard Times zones, which affect how each world regressed - in most cases - due to over two decades of warfare and political-economic collapse.

The following map is a rough draft. It still has the 1105 Golden Era starport and base data, but shows where the various zones are present. Later maps - probably on the subsector or two-subsector level - will show post-Hard Times data.

The gray area represents the Outland: areas abandoned by the shrinking polities, with worlds left to their own devices, without significant warfare. The red area is the Wilds - areas affected by warfare, which spread like disease across Known Space, often with worse damage. The blue area shows the Frontier areas, where damage was more limited, and some semblance of government remains. Finally, green areas are Safe zones, where order prevails and war destruction is minimal.

Subsectors marked with an asterisks were notable warzones in the Rebellion and/or the subsequent Solomani Civil War. Areas marked with a large "X" were major battlefields, typically in the Solomani Civil War.

Note that the main polity in this sector is the Solar Commonwealth, a successor-state of the Solomani Reformists. Off the map, and slightly on it, is the much larger True Solomani Confederation - led by the Hardliner Solomani. While appearing small on this map, they control a large Frontier, as well as a Safe zone, around Home/Aldebaran. The enjoy great industrial might compared to the Solar Commonwealth, but suffer from greater political instability.

Tentative starting setting are the Dingir and Albadawi subsectors, including both Frontier and Wilds areas, as well as the totalitarian True Solomani Confederation being merely a few jumps away... A perfect area for adventuring!

Legal Disclaimer: The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2023 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises' copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

[Variant OTU] Broken Cradle - Virus-less Traveller Universe Variant

For some time - for almost two decades, in fact - ever since I first read the Official Traveller Universe background in full in Traveller: New Era: 1248 - I have been wondering about various routes the Official Traveller Universe might have taken. In short, I have a love/hate relationship with the Virus, the Empress Wave, and the New Era. On one hand, many Traveller: New Era books are of superb writing, though the T:NE rules are less to my liking. On the other hand, the uniform almost-gray-goo destruction of Imperial space and neighboring polities was less appealing to me than the more "textured" and nuanced MegaTraveller: Hard Times setting (a book I adore).

Thus, I have set forth to write a setting for future Traveller gaming - be that solo or with a proper group - based on my speculations on how the Traveller setting would have evolved in absence of wholesale Viral cyber-destruction. I have named the setting, focusing on the Solomani Rim Sector - for which I can find ample pre-Rebellion canon inspiration - Broken Cradle, in honor of the interstellar Cradle of Humanity now beset by interstellar war and later civil warfare.

Disclaimer: Broken Cradle is not canon. I repeat: it is not canon in any way. It is set in the Official Traveller Universe (OTU), though in a variant thereof. Specifically, I use Classic Traveller rules and a MegaTraveller (or, more accurately, post-MegaTraveller) setting. However, this should not be seen as a challenge to Traveller canon, but rather it is my humble attempt at taking a road not taken by canon.

So, on to the setting's recent history - this time, the Virus-less Midnight 1130 map. The timeline has advanced 5 years from the latest (1125 Imperial) map in Hard Times, so Wilds have expanded and Frontiers and Safe areas have contracted. This is prior to the Solomani Civil War and the Aslan invasion of Solomani space, both of which will alter the map further.

The question begging itself, of course, is why am I beating a horse which is dead for the past 30 years? After all, Official Traveller has taken its course from the Rebellion to the New Era to the (now semi-canonical) 1248 to the Galaxiad from the early 1990's on. But the joy of alternate fictional history and twisting the lore-laden OTU to my tastes was too tempting, let alone the beauty of the late-1980's Hard Times sourcebook. So, onward on my Quixotic quest to chart a variant OTU!

And now, to the "present" (1140 Imperial):

While the Vilani, Margaret's Imperium, Dulinor's "official" Imperium (Core), and Ilelish/Verge show recovery, the frontier areas in Ley, Gushmege,  and Glimmerdrift Reaches collapsed. The Solomani are locked in a civil war between the Reformists, centered on Terra/Sol, now calling themselves the Solar Commonwealth, and the Hardliners, centered on Home/Aldebaran, who now call themselves the True Solomani Confederation. The Aslan have then seized upon this weakness of their Solomani neighbors to invade former Confederation space en-masse.

I had to make the tough choice, in the absence of an all-destroying Virus, between Dulinor dying trying to retake the Iridium Throne, thus allowing for Lucan to become a Cyber-Emperor as was done in canon (both in the original plan and in actual canon), and Dulinor taking the Iridium Throne and reigning over the smoking ruins of the Imperium he so desired to reform. Dulinor's karma won the argument in the end: his destiny was one of a Pyrrhic victory and of a tragic fate as the emperor of ruins.

I am drawing some inspirations from Charles Gannon's excellent proposals for a MegaTraveller sequel, which were at least partially rejected in favor of Traveller: New Era in the early 1990's, but am not adhering to them.

More to come.

Legal Disclaimer: The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977 - 2014 Far Future Enterprises. Traveller is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises' copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Gargoyle 74 - An OSR Ruleset by Stellagama Publishing


Earlier in 2023, Stellagama Publishing launched Gargoyle 74, a fast-play, old-school-flavored OSR game written by Tamir Levi and translated from Hebrew by Omer Golan-Joel. This ruleset grew organically from Tamir's extensive gaming, and enjoyed prolonged playtesting by him and by his various groups. The key aspect of Gargoyle 74 is taking the 1974 Original RPG rules, and gently adapting them to modern play in which the rules fade into the background and adventuring occupies the foreground.

Gargoyle 74 draws its inspiration from both myth and sword & sorcery literature. Monsters have a mythical twist, such as kobolds being miners transformed to monsters by their greed, and undead being difficult to kill without a Cleric's blessing. Once again, these rules developed out of its author's need for a system which does not get in the way of playing, and which the Referee may mostly play from his or her head after reading the rules once or twice - without unnecessary page-flipping during play. The goal is high adventure and heroic (or villainous) exploits - unobstructed by rule bloat.

The system itself is mostly compatible with the 1974 Original RPG and Swords & Wizardry, with some modernization (such as ascending AC), and almost exclusively uses 1d20 and 1d6 for the sake of simplicity. It also uses a unified XP progression chart and has spot rules for common adventuring pursuits, from stealth to listening at doors to wilderness travel, all simple and straightforward. It is quite easy to use any OSR adventure with Gargoyle 74 with minimal or no conversion, and hacking these rules is extremely and intentionally easy.

Available in PDF and print format from Stellagama Publishing.

Get it HERE.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Your OSR Setting is a Deathworld

Art by Cristian Ibarra Santillan; used under CC license

Your OSR setting is a deathworld. This may not seem obvious - indeed, many settings appear to have an expansive and relatively safe countryside - but an examination of the encounter tables and monster descriptions of popular Old School Revolution (OSR) games speaks otherwise.

A "deathworld" is a term popularized (or maybe coined) by the Warhammer 40K universe. It refers to a world which is inimical to Humanity, be that due to climate, atmosphere, or biosphere. Such worlds require a major effort to survive on, and, in Warhammer 40K, typically breed elite warriors forged by the world's overall hostility.

Encounter tables in various OSR games, if you examine their implications, depict a world not unlike these deathworlds. Even in the perfect fantasy environment, with a temperate climate and pleasant terrain, monsters abound. Not just wolves and goblins, but rather dragons, powerful undead, owlbears, and worse. A sea journey may even be interrupted by a dragon turtle or a kraken - monsters sometimes above the ability of even "Name Level" (level 9) characters to fight without specialized tactics, or even with them.

The encounter tables are laden with powerful monsters. In OSE, for example, on pp.218-222 of the Roles Tome, the encounter tables depict a frightening world. There is a 1-in-8 (!) chance, for example, to encounter a dragon in most biomes, always a tough encounter for characters of any level. While some dragons may be reasoned with, many of these regal beasts would demand tribute, or simply try to eat whomever they encounter. Lycanthropes are common, as are undead, including powerful mummies and vampires. In ACKS, tables are similar to those in OSE, with a 1-in-8 risk of a dragon and a major piracy risk (yarr!) in the high seas. In the Basic Fantasy RPG, 4th Edition, pp.180-181, dragons are a somewhat less common (only encountered on the results of 2 and 16 on 2d8), but still an extant threat in almost all biomes. Giants and rocs in the mountains and giant octopi in the sea are more common.

Note that neither ruleset has a "safe countryside" column. Even ACKS's "Inhabited" column has a dragon in it! It's either cities, with their own criminal and undead problems, or the deadly Wilderness!

Anything PCs can encounter, villagers and even sedentary villages will encounter often. Even if you reduce the encounter rate in "Civilized" areas to once a month, on the long run, dragons, giants, and other monsters will come to your village to raze it or demand tribute. Goblinoid tribes will raid villages on a frequent basis. It's a dangerous world out there! Not your idyllic fantasy countryside. Not the Lord of the Rings Shire, where danger is a rare occasion worthy of an epic saga. It's closer to Catachan of Warhammer 40K fame!

And add to that monsters outside the encounter tables, but present in your typical OSR ruleset's Monsters chapter, such as Cloud Giants in their flying castles.

The implications are numerous:

  • The default setting, given the encounter tables and monster chapters, would be Points of Light. That is, most of the world is deadly, and Humanity huddles around the few safer spots - typically city-states as noted below. Outside these safer points - the world is out to get you.
  • It is likely that the setting is post-apocalyptic, with a strong Gamma World vibe to it. Maybe the past was safer, with a mighty empire keeping the monsters at bay. Maybe even most monsters did not exist before the apocalyptic event.
  • A dispersed population would be at much greater risk than a concentrated settlement pattern. Defending disparate villages is much harden than defending a walled city-state and its adjacent farmland. Thus, settlement pattern will be closer to that depicted in sword & sorcery literature, namely city-states rather than vast expanses of countryside.
  • There is a reason Name Level - when characters can become "proper" lords - is at Level 9. Below that, the local lord would be hard pressed to defend his protection ra---- sorry, feudal domain - from roving monsters and humanoid hordes. But even then, remote villages ruled by high-level characters would still be at greater risk than the city-states, with their high concentration of name-level characters, strong walls, and the ability to raise large armies.
  • Personal power would equal political power - the ability to defend one's turf against monsters and usurpers.
  • Outside Civilized territory, monsters will form their own domains. A dragon may be worshiped as a protective deity, sometimes enjoying human sacrifices from its subjects. A powerful undead monster may be able to carve a domain of death or even construct a necropolis around it. Humanoid tribes are also affected by this - they will often be at the bottom of the monstrous food chain, giving tribute to more powerful monsters, and sometimes serving them as cannon fodder.
So, expect a Points of Light setting with a concentrated settlement pattern, mighty city-states, and a vast, deadly wilderness challenging adventurers seeking danger, glory, and wealth.

Friday, September 15, 2023

On the Free Kriegsspiel Revolution


A new wave washes over the shores of role-playing games - the Free Kriegsspiel Revolution (FKR). While the concept itself is not new by any means, this Revolution follows the heels of the traditional OSR, brushing aside the stricter rule systems and granting greater freedom to players and Referees alike.

The name "Free Kriegsspiel" itself comes from 19th century Prussian wargames initially used for training military officers in battlefield tactics (the word "Kiegsspiel" simply means "Wargame" in German). Originally, there was Strict Kriegsspiel, a rules-heavy, high-complexity refereed Napoleonic tabletop wargame using a map, counters, and dice, first developed in 1824.

The rules, however, were of such complexity that many officers had to invest much time learning the rules, at the expense of playing the game itself and learning tactics. Thus, half a century later, in 1873, a new movement began - the Free Kriegsspiel Movement. This movement dispensed of most rules, in some cases of all rules, and replaced them with referee discretion. The game became a conversation between the players and the referee (often an experienced military expert), where the referee would adjudicate military actions based on his expertise rather than using complex table and dice (at least for the most part). This movement became highly popular among Prussian officers, as this permitted faster play, as well as allowed for expert referees to utilize their knowledge and experience in a more realistic manner rather than rely on tables.

A century and a half later, the term Free Kriegsspiel was adopted by role-players. While this was a translation of the principles from wargaming to role-playing games, the core idea remained - "ruling, not rules", and a Simulationist approach based on conversation between the Referee (or Game Master) and the players and the Referee's judgement of the situation, with dice kept in the secondary role of resolving dangerous situations where luck is of great importance.

This does follow the "rulings, not rules" approach presented by the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming by Matthew Finch. However, the new Revolution crystalizes the greater freedom and secondary nature of rules, presenting a strong case against the "new school" approach. "New school" being the spirit of post-2000 d20 and similar games, where it is customary to use dice to resolve many, if not most, in-game situations.

For example, in a (new school) D&D 5E game I am a player in, the Dungeon Master calls for ability or skill checks very often, sometimes even 5-10 times per scene or dungeon room. I find this fatiguing and distracting from the game world, especially when basic clues are "gated" behind linear 1d20 die rolls. This also makes characters feel incompetent, as even a high-level character may fail in relatively trivial tasks he or she should be an expert in.

In comparison, in an FKR game, the table resolves most exploration by conversation between the Referee and the players, with the players asking questions about their environment and the Referee answering them. The dice come out only where there is imminent danger and when luck plays a role even for competent experts such as higher-level player characters. There may be structured minigames with more die rolling (such as combat and character generation in Classic Traveller, for example), but the core game loop is conversational.

This seems to be the way Marc Miller, Traveller's creator, Referees his own game. Yes, even with the high-complexity Traveller 5th Edition rules, from what I understand. Outside of minigames, his games are often very conversational in nature, and with limited die rolls. This also explains why Classic Traveller has no clear "task system" outside of the minigames, as the game assumes such situations would be resolved by discussion between the Referee and the players, or, at most, that the Referee will improvise a die roll when needed, based on the situation and not on a rigid resolution mechanic.

Note, however, that FKR games are Simulationist and not Narrativist. The key here is exploring a living world and interacting with it, with the "story" being emergent, rather than explicitly weaving a story together or following the GM's pre-planned story. However, this simulation relies more on Referee judgement than on complex rules, except for specific situations where, again, there is danger and luck plays a part.

I am now in love with this concept of FKR, and it may inspire my future game design!

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Starfield Video Game Review

I began playing the new video game, Starfield, immediately when it came out, and I have clocked 18.9 hours in it. It is thus a good time to review it for the benefit of my readers, based on my experience with the game. Note that I am greatly enjoying Starfield, and that I was drawn deeply into it in a manner which did not happen to me with video games since Cyberpunk 2077.

My System Specs:

  • AMD Ryzen 5700X CPU.
  • 32 GB RAM DDR 4.
  • AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT 12 GB VRAM.
  • MVMe SSD.

Rating: 7/10


This is an enjoyable game, but flawed. It is also a very typical Bethesda game. If you enjoyed Fallout 4 and Skyrim, by all means give Starfield a try. If not, you may consider waiting for a discount on it in a few months, as well as for quality-of-life and graphics mods.

I made an effort to keep this review spoiler-free.

The Good

  • Starfield's space and ground combat, while not perfect, are highly enjoyable to me, with a vast array of weapons having different "feel" to each.
  • The engine runs smoothly on my good machine at 54 FPS on average, on maximum settings, with relatively few bugs in my case so far.
  • Side missions are quite often very fun and interesting, with different worlds having different flavors. As expected from Bethesda.
  • The musical score is amazing!
  • I like the crafting and outpost system, which is an upgrade from the Fallout 4 system, which I liked very much.
  • I like exploration! While the content is procedurally generated, which is a disadvantage, I enjoy visiting the various planets and feeling like a space explorer.
  • Mercifully, the game lets you "fast travel" quite easily, with certain limitations, conveniently even between star systems, though I usually avoid doing this as flavor. But, see below for the associated flaw.
The Bad

  • The engine used by Starfield is Bethesda's own Creation Engine, in what is marked as its second version. However, the original engine from 2011 still shows up very clearly under the layers of new paint, with all the associated aspects. It feels like a 2011 game in some respects. The engine aged poorly, with multiple content "cells" gated by loading screen between them as in Skyrim/Fallout 4 and with graphics that look dated even on maximum settings.
  • Enemies are not very varied; you have alien monsters on life-bearing worlds, which are often similar to each other across worlds, and about 4 hostile or semi-hostile factions repeatedly thrown at you.
  • Space travel is by fast travel and cinematics/loading screens. On one hand, I like the convenience of this, as noted above, but on the other hand, this reduces from the space travel flavor.

The Ugly

  • Starfield's main quest is downright boring. It has no urgency to it, no existential threat, no portal to Oblivion, dragon attacks, or abducted children. The story itself involves exploration and some artifacts, but, so far (almost 20 hours into the game!), nothing interesting.
  • "Dungeons" are recycled! I entered a mine on one world on random, then went to a main story mission on another world, and lo and behold, it is the same mine exactly! Not even slightly changed as in, say, Dragon Age 2. Which was a huge disappointment from a game with such a massive development budget!
The Bottom Line

Starfield feels like Fallout 4 in space. It is an enjoyable game, marred by a dreary main quest, content recycling, and an aging engine. If you liked Fallout 4, as I do (I have 323 hours on F4!), you are likely to enjoy Starfield very much. If you dislike Fallout 4, you should consider waiting with its purchase for a good discount and for quality of life and graphics mods to come out.