Monday, March 26, 2018

Uranium Fever

Stellagama Publishing is Proud to Present:


Mining is a time-honored practice, its roots going back to the Stone Age. When humanity reached space, it began mining the asteroid bodies and extraterrestrial planets in pursuit of metal and ice. The most desired and profitable of these minerals are rare earths and radioactives. With asteroid mining, the Belter was born – a profession, and then a culture, of space miners. The company miner, working for corporation or government, works long shifts on interplanetary rocks for a steady salary and employment benefits. The independent belter, on the other hand, strikes out into the belt, prospecting, and mining with his own ship. Usually, he scrapes by on base metals and the more abundant rare earths. However, what sustains the belter through hard work and the loneliness of space is the lust for hitting a "motherlode" – good radioactive ore worth a fortune. As the 20th century song goes, this Uranium Fever infects the miner's heart and propels them into the unknown.

This product explores the theme of interstellar mining. Its default setting is These Stars Are Ours! – Stellagama Publishing's space-opera setting. However, almost all material in this book will work perfectly well in any science fiction setting using the Cepheus Engine rules or any similar 2d6 OGL ruleset. The book begins with a discussion of belt mining in Terran space in the 23rd century, and then provides detailed rules for generating belter characters, generating asteroid belt characteristics in the Cepheus Engine, and mining asteroid belts. It also includes three belter spacecraft, and a collection of equipment serving in the interstellar mining industry.

So, fire up your fission reactor, calibrate your mining laser, and follow the calling of Uranium Fever to distant stars!

Get it HERE!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dark Nebula: Accelera, Research Unit #72, and origin of the Dark Nebula

How did the Dark Nebula Event come into being? The answer is in the waning years of the Rule of Man, when paradoxically, science developed in a feverish, accelerated pace. This was the Accelerando - a blossoming of a hundred strange flowers of weird science while interstellar society crumbled around them.

This had several reasons. Chief among them was lax - often non-existent - government ethical oversight. Any kind of research was possible, including the most bizarre and inhuman experiments. Another was the rampant corruption and inefficiency of the late Rule of Man. Local officials - often junior naval officers in their origin - had unchecked power and little experience in politics. The well-connected or manipulative scientist could often convince the official (or "Noble") in charge to dedicate vast sums to research which will "save the Imperium". Simpler graft and embezzlement were also common. With little or no regulation and easy access to ill-gotten funding, science could take roads never thought of in the past. Cybernetics, machine intelligence, human gengineering, trans-dimensional travel, psionics - all were on the table.

One such group was Research Unit #72. In the early 28th century, they set up shop on the extreme Spinward frontier, near a young colony named Maadin. They chose five stars within a nebula as their abode, far from the prying eyes of whatever remaining Imperial authorities. There, they tried to develop technologies which will - so they claimed - save the ailing Rule of Man from its inevitable collapse - artificial intelligence, cybernetics, genetic engineering, and, especially, new technologies for interstellar travel and, theoretically speaking, communications.

The latter technology reached a place that even the great scientists of the much later 3rd Imperium were unable to replicate, but at a price. On November 3rd, 2747 AD (-1771 Imperial), The Event occurred. Experimental stationary jump-transmission coils on the world known today as N3 fired as part of a planned experiment. But they caused an unexpected effect. In an instant, all five star-systems of the Dark Nebula were torn from their place in the Space-Time Continuum, and hurled, through space and time. For a whole year, local time, these systems were in limbo - disconnected from our universe. But then they burst back into Real Space - 145 years later in Real Space dates after their disappearance. For that time, the Nebula was a dead zone - an area of space where no solid bodies could be seen, and where anomalies in the Space-Time Continuum endangered any ship entering that space.

In August 2892 AD (-1626 Imperial), suddenly the N4 star of the Dark Nebula appeared on the horizons of Taida Na, re-lighting the old cloud. By 2900 AD, these stars appeared in the skies of Osa, Salia, and Kov as well. Soon enough, rumors have reached both Solomani and Aslan ears that the worlds of the Nebula, hinted upon in legend, are back. And now, their technological treasures are ripe to the plucking, though still ripe with Space-Time Continuum anomalies, mutated animals, crazed survivors and a mad, mad AI.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dark Nebula: some musings and considerations

More musings and considerations of my variant-OTU Dark Nebula setting.

First, I would like to move the date two centuries back to 2900 AD (-1619 Imperial). This will make the Aslan Hierate even younger, as appropriate for a frontier setting. So this might have "30th Century Role-Playing" as a tag-line. In the Core - near Terra and Vland - this is still within the "twilight" years. However, at the high frontier such as the Dark Nebula, the Long Night has come earlier.

There is no direct contact with Terra for over a century. Contact was sporadic since the collapse of the 2740's (-1770's Imperial). It slowly declined; today, in the 2900's, it is rare for news to travel all the way from Terra to Maadin. Even when it does, it is indirect. The communications lines and trade routes are dead. Maadin and the other colonies had to fend for themselves for a century and a half. Even before that, distance from the Core forced them into partial autonomy.

The Aslan had a slow start. They were initially at TL9 in 2520 (-1999 Imperial). Since this setting has no empty-hex jumps, this means that they could only colonize the Aslan Main. This chain of stars extends to some distance to the Rimwars-Spinward from Ikona. Contact with the scattered Solomani colonies did not provide rapid technological advance due to their underdeveloped state; for years, the Aslan used native TL9-10 technology, supplemented by Jump-2 and Jump-3 ships purchased from Terrans. When they developed TL11 and large-scale native Jump-2 capabilities, they have already put their major colonial effort along the Aslan Main. Ihatei expeditions began raiding to the Trailing, but by that time the Solomani have developed to a degree which made such efforts difficult.

There were many border conflicts between Aslan and Solomani. Most were minor skirmishes between a band of ihatei and local Terran colonists. The exception was the Great Aslan War (Aslan call it the Solomani War) of 2771-2779. This gave birth to the (Maadin) Solomani Confederation as a mutual defense pact of the better-developed Terran worlds against the Aslan in the absence of help from the Core. The War ended in decisive, but bloody, Solomani victory. The result was the Mizah Accords. These forced the Aslan to withdraw from Enjiwa and Pasar and set the majority of both subsectors as a neutral zone. Definition of "neutral", however, was vague, especially as far as Aslan are concerned. So far, this seemed to hold as a "gentlemanly agreement", with both parties limiting the scale of military activity in the neutral zone to a reasonable level. There were two larger conflicts in 2813 and 2877, but these did not escalate into all-out war and things returned to normal afterwards.

Now the drums of war beat once more, this time with a new generation of aggressive ihatei maturing on Kuzu with thirst for conquest to the Trailing and an increasingly authoritarian and militarist Solomani government eager to meet this challenge with laser fire.

The 30th century Solomani Confederation is small - a mere 9 worlds - but united under a strong regime. The Aslan have many colonies to the Rimward-Spinward, but are split along clan lines and do not present a united force. The would-be belligerents are an ambitious Aslan clan (I'll choose or generate a name later) and its new generation of restless ihatei and the Solomani Confederation.

Maximum tech level is 12; military ships are capable of Jump-3. Most civilian Solomani ships have Jump-2 as the Solomani lack a Main going out of their space. Aslan civilian ships sometimes have Jump-1 and service the Aslan Main. Independent colonies tend to have lower TLs, but most of these are not very habitable and thus require some technology (often TL7) to survive.

There are Starport-A's only on three worlds: Maadin, Mizah, and Kuzu. There are a handful of Starport-B's as well. The rest is the high frontier.

As of the Dark Nebula itself, the stars within it disappeared 200 years ago, in 2686; then suddenly reappeared in 2898. They were colonized by a large research institute before the rest of the Maadin subsector, and are rumored to hold extremely high technology developed by that institute. However, there are far, far worse things there than renegade scientists...

Dark Nebula - Kuzu and Maadin subsectors - 2900 AD

Sunday, March 18, 2018

ACKS: Flagellant Redux

The Joy and Purity of Pain
Art by Hannah Saunders
(C) Stellagama Publishing, 2018
I have decided to re-design my Flagellant class to fit the Heroic Fantasy themes of my Elysian Empire campaign setting for ACKS. In this case, the actual priests would be the Monastic ones presented in the Heroic Fantasy Companion. The Flagellant becomes a non-spellcaster. A darker equivalent of the Paladin, a fervent opponent of Chaos, using pain to purify his soul and unleash divine wrath at his enemies.


The followers of the Flayed Lady - called St. Maraella by the Bright Church - see pain as the pathway to penitence and spiritual purity. They view martyrdom as the pinnacle of faith a believer can achieve, and wounding of the mortal flesh as a road to clearing one's soul of dark Chaos. Their most devout holy warrior, therefore, is the flagellant - marching through the corrupt mortal world to call the sinful to repent and flogging his own flesh to ward away the bestial call of the carnal body.

An iconoclast, an enemy of slavers, resentful of the haughty, the flagellant fights with zeal. He - or she as is often the case - may lack training in heavy armor or in a wide selection of weapons, but makes up to that in burning religious fervor. A simple robe or a leather armor to his skin, he carries his characteristic flails to rend the flesh of the Chaotic idolater and the mortal tyrant.

Requirement: None
Prime Requisite: CON and WIS

Class Build
(see the ACKS Player's Companion)
Hit Dice 2 (1,000XP): 1d8 hit dice.
Fighting 2 (1,000XP): as a fighter, but:

  • Weapon selection reduced to Narrow - bows/crossbows and flails/hammers/maces: 3 powers, 450XP.
  • Armor selection reduced from Unrestricted to Restricted - hide armor or lighter: 2 powers, 300XP.
XP for level 2: 2,750XP.
Attacks, Saving Throws, and Magic Item Use: as a Fighter.

Powers: 5, of then 4 at level 1 and an additional 1 traded for powers at levels 5 and 9.

Level 1:
  • Flagellation: the character can whip himself into a furious religious zeal. He suffers 1 point of damage per level of experience, but gains a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls and becomes immune to fear. The character may not retreat from combat while this lasts. Furthermore, the Judge may rule that he will have to attack, to the best of her lethal ability, the nearest enemy of his faith, even if the player thinks this is not a prudent choice. The zealous fury lasts until the combat ends (1 Power).

  • Stigmata (re-skinned Flesh-Runes): innumerable scars from years of self-flagellation and other forms of self-punishment blessed his wounded flesh with holy protection - an armor of faith. At 1st level, the flagellant gains a +2 bonus to AC and decrease the damage from any non-magical attacks by 1 point per die. At 7th level, this protection increases to +4 AC and 2 points per die. At 13th level, the protection increases to +6 AC and 3 points per die. The damage reduction is applied per die. Damage can be reduced to 0, but not less than 0, on each die. The AC bonus from flesh-runes stacks with potions of invulnerability, rings of protection, and similar effects, but does not stack with armor. Attacks from monsters of 5 HD or more are considered magical attacks due to the monster’s ferocity (3 Powers).

Level 5:
  • Martyrdom: upon reaching 0 hit points, the character may choose to remain in full fighting condition, functioning as if he has above-zero hit points, and applying any further damage as negative hit points. He may continue fighting until she reaches a negative number of hit points equal or exceeding his Constitution score, or stays conscious for a number of rounds equal to her level of experience - the sooner between them. Then he falls, unconscious mortally wounded. The price of his sacrifice is that he suffers a penalty of -1 per level of experience to both Mortal Wounds and Tampering with Mortality rolls related to that injury (1 Power).
Level 9:
  • Holy Fervor: Any hirelings of the same religion as the character gain a +1 bonus to their morale score whenever she is present (1 Power).

Dark Nebula Redux: the Long Night has Come!

Following a discussion online, I think I will go with the Dark Night for my Dark Nebula OTU variant, just as Andy Slack did. There are three reasons for this.

The first is that it appears that the Dark Nebula board game takes place during the Aslan Border Wars (-1118 to 380 Imperial, 3399 to 4898 AD) - or before them - most likely before the Imperial era, as it depicts a Solomani rather than an Imperial human faction. The small size of the Aslan(ic) Hierate on the Dark Nebula board game maps, near seemingly frontier neutral space, also hints at an early stage in Aslan interstellar colonization.

The second is to give me more freedom of play in this setting, most likely as a Solo game, by toning down the Space Nazi aspect of the Classic Era Solomani Confederation. The Classic Era Solomani make great villains, as in the Argon Gambit adventure of Classic Traveller fame, but a totalitarian or semi-totalitarian regime would yield itself to quite a specific type of game, while making other game-play styles more difficult to carry out. I can still have various elements of this regime present in my game, as I see aggressive authoritarianism - though not necessarily totalitarianism - as a thread going through Solomani history. Unlike the Vilani, who love a stable, placid state of affairs, Solomani value entrepreneurship - both private and governmental - in the economy and an aggressive push forward in the political sphere. The Interstellar Wars between the Terran Confederation and the Ziru Sirka accentuated these tendencies, as did the tragically heroic attempts to keep the ramshackle Second Imperium together. The Classic Era Confederation did not arise in vacuum.

The third is to allow a frontier. In the well-developed Classic Era, I'd expect thorough development of space within a few jumps from the Aslan homeworld of Kuzu, as given in the Dark Nebula. Even secondary and tertiary colonies will benefit from centuries of trade and development. This is especially true due to the trade routes between Aslan and Solomani. Trade brings prosperity, and prosperity tends to expand beyond the trade routes themselves. However, a century or three after the Aslan first reached to the stars, near collapsed Terran space, would present a frontier. The Aslan, hungry for land holdings, would eventually come into conflict with the less-collapsed Solomani worlds. Reverse-engineering Solomani technology, they will eventually rise to challenge the local Solomani pocket empire. Still, between the two pocket empires - the nascent Aslan Hierate and the resurgent Solomani Confederation (centered on Maadin) - a wide frontier will still exist, slowly developing as the two polities make their play.


The Long Night has Come.

The Ziru Sirka, mighty empire of Mankind, ruled the stars for millennia. Suffocated by bureaucracy and drowned in a quagmire of bureaucracy, this magnificent culture was rotten at its heart. Its Terran conquerors, despite their heroic efforts, could not save it from its inevitable doom. Thus the Rule of Man - a bright light among the dark stars - fell into oblivion. Many worlds died in isolation. Others fell prey to raiders, pirates, and slavers. Chaos reigned.

These are the darkest years of Humanity.

The year is 3100 AD - later generations will call it -1419 Imperial. The 32nd Century has just begun.The Long Night reigns for 357 years. The Rule of Man is no more. But on the frontier, far from the worst parts of the collapse, a new candle flickers in the dark. A candle at Maadin, an old colony of the Second Imperium. With its rise from the ashes of the old empire, it built a confederation of nine worlds - the new Solomani Confederation, a name used by several successor states of the Second Imperium, and later to be used by the Classic Era Solomani state.

However, a new power arose to challenge the scattered human colonies of the Dark Nebula - a young alien species, proud Aslan. Entering the scene five centuries ago, the slowly rose from their homeworld to a union of several worlds - the Aslan Hierate. Its Trailing expansion, however, encountered human resistance from the various pocket empires of the day, and thus most of its colonial efforts are to the Spinward. Cold peace endures between humans and Aslan, distured by brief periods of warfare.

Now, once more, a war is brewing. The Solomani Confederation of Maadin thirsts for resources while the Aslan thirst for land; slow recovery from the initial collapse means that heavier military forces are once again available.

But as the two polities maneuver in preparation for war, the stars of the Dark Nebula, long absent, have reappeared. Now, they are the key for victory - or possibly the doom of both prospective belligerents. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Dark Nebula Redux

Four years ago, after purchasing the Classic Traveller and JTAS CD-ROMs from Far Future Enterprises, I encountered the Dark Nebula board game. This game depicted a proto-Traveller struggle for dominance between the Aslan and the Solomani. It showed an area of space similar to two adjacent Traveller subsectors. However, directions were reversed - the Solomani were to the Spinward of the Aslan - and the game used fixed jump routes instead of Traveller-style free jumps. Most stars on that map - except for the Aslan homeworld of Kuzu - did not appear in later Traveller publications.

The interesting thing is that Dark Nebula presents an interesting version of the Solomani-Aslan border region different from future depictions of the canon Dark Nebula Sector. Here was an opportunity - a proto-Traveller, quasi-canon setting ripe for the plucking. On one hand, this is the "Official" universe. This allows us to use the wealth of material presented by the Classic Traveller and JTAS CD-ROMs. On the other hand, it is non-canonical, so we need not be bound to the stifling limits of Traveller canon.

Andy Slack did design an excellent variant of this setting for Stars Without Number and Savage Worlds; I find his work inspiring, though I am probably taking a very different road than his in my version.

I toyed with this setting back then, in 2014. Now I got the urge to explore it once again.

My old map was cluttered; I added two unnecessary polities which made non-aligned space needlessly civilized. However, the basic conversion from board game maps to Classic Traveller maps still holds. Here we have two subsectors - Kuzu and Maadin - on the Aslan/Solomani border. Neutral systems abound as well, just as in the boardgame. There is probably some treaty in place between teh Solomani and Aslan, which created this frontier "buffer zone" between them. A treaty both intend to violate.

I wonder if Kuzu here, on the border, would be the actual Aslan homeworld, or will the real one - Kusyu - exist two or so subsectors to the Spinward?

This will mostly be Classic Traveller, with some Megatraveller seasoning. I do like the idea of a weak Imperium leading to resurgent Aslan and Solomani expansionism. Megatraveller's Civil War, when removing the New Era virus from it, serves this purpose well. Imperial events are very distant from this setting. However, both Solomani and Aslan seized the opportunity to invade Imperial space. With great success. With their Imperial rivals knocked out of the fight and recent conquests bolstering their confidence, both polities look for new places to satisfy their appetite for conquest.

War is inevitable.

But when will it break, and who will emerge victorious? This depends on many factors. Both sides now set their plans in motion in this deadly game of interstellar chess. Before launching an invasion, they first need to put their pieces in place and prepare well. In the meanwhile, "peace" reigns - the calm before the storm.

Both are eyeing the big prize: the Dark Nebula itself, its stars returned from beyond time and space, brimming with technological wonders - and untold horrors. Neither the Solomani nor the Aslan, however, dare send their fleets into the Nebula right away, as this will surely ignite all-out war - for which they are still preparing. Instead, they work by proxies, by mercenaries and "Stalkers" - (fool)hardy men and women who dare enter the Nebula in search of relic technology and dark secrets. Few return; but those who do bring back wealth and speak of wondrous phenomena and buried secrets.

Espionage, false-flag operations, Stalking the nebula, exploring the dangerous Neutral Zone frontier - the players have a sandbox brimming with opportunities to play in.

This is Proto-Traveller. Mostly Classic Traveller, Books 1-3/The Traveller Book, and anything I can cannibalize from other Classic Traveller adventures, supplements, and JTAS. The above-mentioned Megatraveller seasoning is relatively minor in scope - mainly as a background to the Solomani-Aslan border tensions.

Most ships are small; however, the Dark Nebula board game calls for heavy transports each capable of carrying an armored brigade or an infantry division, and capital ships capable of carrying an infantry division each. This is definitely smaller than High Guard ships - the larger of which could carry many more soldiers; probably this will use Expanded Book 2 with ships going as large as 12,000 tons, probably sufficient for carrying infantry divisions.

But most ships would be small - the capital ships and heavy military transports are the exceptions, not the norm. Only huge corporate freighters plying the few core routes can sometimes reach such sizes. Most systems without Naval bases usually see ships at 1,000 tons or below.

Here is my new work-in-progress Dark Nebula map. I'll generate the starports and most bases later.

A Note on Canonicity

Dark Nebula is not canon. I repeat: it is not canon in any way. It is vaguely set in the OTU, but in a variant OTU. Specifically, I use Classic Traveller - and some Megatraveller - material in a way suiting this particular variant. I sometimes use it in significantly different ways than in canon. I also place some adventures and other material set in Foreven, the Solomani Rim and the Spinward Marches in the Dark Nebula

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Barrowmaze Play Report: Hidden Shrine of the Green Man

Revised Barrowmaze Map
Yet another excursion into Barrowmaze, this time exploring deeper into the tombs, including the central one... And discovering that un-nature, like nature, abhors a vacuum.
The Lucky Dwarves and their Companions
  • Boulderson the Lucky - Level 2 Dwarven Craft Priest - Eliran
  • + Nobus Handus B. the Magnificent - Level 1 Nobiran Wonderworker, Boulderson's henchman
  • Rufus Chickenfoot - Level 2 Dwarven Delver - Itai
  • + Angus the Cleaver - Level 2 Dwarven Fury - Rufus' henchman
  • And dogs, Lots of dogs.
Yet again, the Dwarves delved deeper into Barrowmaze, returning to the old central mound after an uneventful trip from Helix. They expected their initial travel through the chambers they have "cleared" to be uneventful as well. However, un-nature, just like nature, is ever-moving and ever-developing.

They heard horrid laughter from a chamber they once cleared. Investigating it, they encountered no less than four Hecuvas, horrid undead remains of long-dead priests animated by Nergal's waning chthonic influence. The Dwarves, however, once again were uncanningly lucky - this time with their Ancestors' providence. Boulderson called upon his fathers of old, and three of the undead cowered and fled from their bright spirits deeper into the maze. The fourth stood no chance against the aggressive Dwarves.

And deeper they went into the haunted halls. They ended up in a dark room with four pillars, and found four gloves bearer demons' faces. After Rufus checked for traps, and found none, they spent a long time investigating the pillars, until they found secret compartments with levers on their tops; it took them some more time to figure out that they should pull the levers while wearing the gloves. This opened a secret door to a narrow corridor.

There, beyond another secret door their keen Dwarven senses found, they found the long-dead remains of a priest of the Green Man - an old Neutral pagan god - called Hildras; he was interred in the tomb upon his dead many years ago. He was buried alongside his cloak (permanent Resist Cold effect) and holy mace (+1), which the adventurers took. Now Boulderson was armed with a magical weapon! Undead beware!!!

Finally, behind the final secret door in this area. they found a shrine to the above-mentioned Green Man. Boulderson, while far from a cleric of the Green Man, still paid respect to that god and performed a ceremony in his honor; the Green Man bestowed a minor blessing upon the Dwarves.

Thus, once again, they returned victorious to the Village of Helix.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Barrowmaze Play Report: Who robs the robbers?

Revised Barrowmaze Map
The Dwarves continued their delve into Barrowmaze, searching for treasure in these haunted halls. This time, as you'll see below, they did have to use their axes - and in this case, not only against the living dead.

The Lucky Dwarves:

  • Boulderson the Lucky - Level 2 Dwarven Craft Priest - Eliran
  • Rufus Chikenfoot - Level 2 Dwarven Delver - Itai
  • + Angus the Cleaver - Level 2 Dwarven Fury - Rufus' henchman
  • And dogs, Lots of dogs.
So the Lucky Dwarves entered Mound 12 - the Central Mound - for the first time. The mound was empty and full of tracks - the result of significant foot traffic. A deep pit from the floor led into a deep, arched hall below. The Dwarves lowered themselves and their dogs by rope to the deathly quiet room below. There were bones on the floor, and, again, tracks of recent foot traffic. They followed the tracks into a side room, where a trap separated Angus from the rest of the party, locked behind a stone slab along with his dogs - and three skeletons attacked him. One dog lost his life, but the other characters managed to find the secret level which raises the stone slab, and defeated the skeleton.

Down the road, corpses - some of them fresh - were abundant. One still held a torch in his cold, dead hand, and had 15 Platinum Pieces in a small belt pouch, which the Dwarves looted. The corpses looked like novice adventurers or lowly tomb robbers, usually gnawed and partially eaten by creatures unknown - or by the "surprise" waiting next door: rats. Lots of rats. With razor-sharp teeth under their whiskers. However, the party was clever, and threw a burning oil flask into the rat-infested room, killing most of the rodents. Axes and hammers took care of the rest.

Keen Dwarven eyes located two secret doors in the nearby corridor. One room held a demonic idol, next to which two bags sat on the floor. After some deliberation and fear of a trap, the players opened them - to find silver and gold, which they took. Another room appeared to be a tomb-raiders' hidden cache, with backpacks and adventuring equipment hidden in it, again much to the joy of the Dwarven crew.

Such potential treasure, of course, attracts unwanted attention. The party was split, with Rufus in the cache room and the rest in the demon room, when Angus and Boulderson heard noises from the corridor. A whole gang of tomb robbers heard the noise made by the Dwarves and came to investigate - and rob them. They set up two battle formations on both sides of the corridor next to the demon room, trapping the characters. Then they made their demand: "your gold or your life!"

But Dwarves do not surrender so easily. Rufus and Boulderson prepared to defend themselves on both sides of the demon room's door, effectively setting up a choke point. One robber entered and was quickly felled. A stalemate ensued, as the robbers did not try to enter that death trap and held positions outside. However, Rufus, hearing the ruckus from the nearby room, sneaked back towards it, surprising one of the robber squads from behind. This led to disarray in their ranks. Then the Dwarves attacked. Enjoying momentum and partial surprise, they defeated the rank-and-file robbers and backed their leader to a corner.

They offered the robber boss a choice: "your gold and (good-looking) sword or your life!" - and he agreed. They allowed the leader and the one surviving robber to retreat deeper into the dungeon with their armor and light weapons, but received all the robbers' gold and the leaders sword - a magical Sword +1!

Thus, victorious, they returned top the Village of Helix.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

ACKS House Rules

So far, we've been using the following house rules for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS):

  • Thieves and thief-like characters (e.g. Dwarven Delver) add their Dexterity modifier to Move Silently, Hide in Shadows, Open Lock, Pick Pockets, and Disarm Traps rolls.
  • War dogs take Henchman "slots" and are limited by them.
  • War dogs get Mortally Wounded and may be stabilized by a character with Animal Husbandry. This, of course, entails a roll on the Mortal Wounds table for the poor hound.
  • Dwarves have "darkvision", which seems appropriately natural given their subterranean habitat. This is not necessarily perfect infra-red vision but (probably) rather the ability to see with very little light. It seemed to us that dwarves, who often spend their entire lives underground, should have a way to see in darkness, or at least in very dim light.
  • Turned undead who flee far into the dungeon (i.e. out of the fight) grant XP as they are "vanquished". However, you can gain experience from a given group of undead only once per "foray into the dungeon", which is approximately a week. This is to prevent abuse of Turn Undead to gain infinite experience from turned undead.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

ACKS: Sorcerer class build

I have been working on a sorcerer class for a while. Here I will present the full sorcerer class build, using the "Sorcerous Value" as part of the class build points.

Sorcerers. The dread of normal men, who huddle behind their walls in fear of the feared men and women who wield unearthly power. Scourge of the stalwart warrior and barbaric brave, who cower from the sorcerer's eldritch might. Horror of eternity, steeped in the occult in life, terrifying in eternal undeath when they transcend the grave.

Sorcerers are the latter half of "Sword and Sorcery", the first half being the courageous sword-wielding barbarian who dares face such magical power. An archetype of a spellcaster, in many cases a monstrous villain, but sometimes a valuable ally.

Sorcerers are studious spellcasters, like mages - they have a limited spell repertoire and must study and record tomes to cast spells. However, they can also rebuke (turn) and control undead like clerics, and their spell list combines healing, summoning, and necromantic magic, essentially bridging the gap between the divine and the arcane. Sorcerers are far better summoners than either a cleric or a mage - calling forth powerful creatures at low levels. They have, however, two weaknesses. The first is that they lack effective blast skills and are unable to use divination or illusion spells. The second is that their magic is shaded. As given in Axioms #1, in the article "The Shades of Magic", this means that many sorcerous spells constitute black magic and are thus dangerous to the caster's soul. As these spells tend to be very powerful, the temptation is great. Power corrupts.

In a typical ACKS campaign, sorcerers can exist alongside traditional divine and arcane magic. They represent older, riskier magical traditions lacking the various wards and safety measures of arcane and divine magic. In a more "hardcore" sword & sorcery campaign, they might replace arcane and divine spellcasters altogether.

The sorcerer is human. Thus, sorcerers have 4 build points using the ACKS Player's Companion. The class build is as follows:

Sorcerer 2 - 800xp
Fighting 1b - 500xp - as thief
Hit Dice 1 - 500xp - d6

Total 1,800xp to rise to level 2 - not bad at all. Somewhere between a Cleric and a Fighter.

Sorcerers fight like thieves, may wear leather armor and fight either with a two-handed weapon or with two weapons, but they have a limited selection of weapons - swords/daggers and bows/crossbows. Where advanced technology exists, they may also use various guns and technological swords and daggers.  This means a trade-off - reducing weapon selection from Broad to Narrow for 2 powers at level 1!

Spellcasting resembles the mage and so does saving throw progression. Sorcerers have all magical research capabilities of mages. You can find the sorcerer's spell list here.

I trade the 2 powers at level 1 for 1 power at the 3rd, 5th, and 7th levels. Special power progression is as follows:

Level 3: Contact Dark Powers

Level 5: Summon Infernal Powers (invisible stalker once a month!)

Level 7: After the Flesh (grows in power after undeath!)

Now, the next step is to codify all of this into a proper, coherent class...

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trauma Surgery for Classic Traveller

In Classic Traveller, you die when all your three physical characteristics fall to zero. The following alternative rules, however, allow the mortally wounded character a second chance in life - typically at a terrible price. A good surgeon, following timely first aid and triage, can sometimes save a critically injured traveller from certain death.

Under these rules, a character whose all three physical characteristics fall to zero is not necessarily dead, but only possibly so. There is still some hope - given prompt medical attention.

The key is to bring the mortally wounded character to a hospital within the "Golden Hour" of trauma medicine – that is, within one hour from injury. Even with advanced first aid, critically injured characters whose three physical characteristics were reduced to zero will not survive without trauma care within an hour of injury.

Ordinary medbays common on most starships will not suffice – a dedicated hospital, whether shipboard or planetside, is the only facility capable of such medical operations. If no hospital is reachable within one hour, the only way to preserve the wounded is to place them into a low berth. Note that the survival Medic check upon thawing the frozen character also applies here. Also note that characters killed by vehicle-scale or starship-scale weapons cannot be resuscitated.

Once on the operating table, the surgeon treating the critically injured character throws 2D + their Medic skill, modified by the DMs below, and consults the following table.

Note that a TL15 Autodoc, costing MCr1, can perform trauma surgery. It has an effective skill of Medic-3.

Trauma Surgery Table
5-Patient is dead
6-7Significant internal damage 
8-10Radical measures required
11+Normal recovery

Trauma Surgery DMs:
  • DM-2 if no first aid provided within 10 minutes of the injury.
  • DM-2 at TL7-; DM+2 at TL12+.
  • DM-2 if injured by an explosion.
  • DM-2 if patient has END 5-, DM+2 if patient has END 10+.
Trauma Surgery Results:

Patient is dead: character dies on the operating table. No further resuscitation attempts possible.

Significant internal damage: multiple organs severely damaged. Permanently subtract 1D from each physical characteristic. If any of them reaches zero or less, the character dies.

Radical measures required: Throw 1D:
1-3: internal organ removed. Permanently reduce one physical characteristic by 1D. Character dies if it reaches zero or less.
2-3: leg amputated. Movement halved (given a crutch) and the character may either act or move during a given round. TL8+ cybernetic replacement costs Cr25000 and restores full functioning.
4-5: arm amputated. The character obviously cannot use this arm for any purpose. TL8+ cybernetic replacement costs Cr20000 and restores full functioning.
6: eye removed. DM-2 to all actions requiring one eye, including all attack throws. TL8+ cybernetic eye costs Cr7500 and restores full vision.

Normal recovery: heal as normal for a seriously wounded character.

Looks brutal? Always remember that without these merciful rules, your character would be automatically dead.

Tentative ACKS Sorcerer spell list

In my previous post, I presented the sorcerer - a spellcaster inspired by sword & sorcery literature, who is beyond the dichotomy between arcane and divine magic. Here I will list the sorcerer's initial spell list.

As noted, these are the sorcerer's spell type categories:

Blast - as cleric
Death - as mage
Detection - unavailable
Enchantment - as mage
Healing - as cleric
Illusion - unavailable
Movement - as cleric
Protection - standard as cleric and mage
Summoning - 75% of mage! The sorcerer's big forte.
Transmogrification - as mage
Wall - as cleric


* denotes a reversible spell
Italics denote a spell from the ACKS Player's Companion

Level 1:
Charm Person (Black Magic)
Choking Grip (Grey Magic)
Cure Light Wounds* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Detect Magic (I include this despite being a Detection spell, for flavor reasons)
Protection from Chaos* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Remove Fear* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Resist Cold (White Magic)
Shield (White Magic)
Sleep (Grey Magic)
Summon Berserkers (Black Magic)
Unseen Servant (Black Magic)

Level 2:
Alter Self (White Magic)
Create Water (Grey Magic)
Deathless Minion (Black Magic)
Delay Poison (White Magic)
Hold Person (Grey Magic)
Resist Fire (White Magic)
Snake Charm (White Magic)
Summon Animals (White Magic)
Summon Winged Steed (Black Magic)
Summon Hero (Black Magic)
Wizard Lock (White Magic)

Level 3:
Call Lightning (Grey Magic)
Conjure Oozes (Black Magic)
Create Food (White Magic)
Cure Blindness (White Magic)
Cure Disease* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Dispel Magic (White Magic)
Feign Death (Black Magic)
Infravision (White Magic)
Insect Plague (Grey Magic)
Levitate (Grey Magic)
Protection from Chaos, Sustained* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Protection from Normal Missiles (White Magic)
Remove Curse* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Summon Weather (White Magic)
Water Breathing (White Magic)
Web (White Magic)

Level 4:
Call Dragon (Black Magic)
Charm Monster (Black Magic)
Command Plants (Grey Magic)
Confusion (Grey Magic)
Conjure Elemental (Black Magic)
Control Undead (Black Magic)
Cure Serious Wounds (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Growth of Plants* (Grey Magic)
Magic Jar (Grey Magic? Is this Summoning?)
Massmorph (Grey Magic)
Neutralize Poison* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Polymorph Other (Grey Magic)
Polymorph Self (White Magic)
Sticks to Snakes (Grey Magic)

Level 5:
Adaptation (White Magic)
Animate Dead (Black Magic)
Control Weather (White Magic; I read this as a Summoning spell)
Curse of Swine (Black Magic)
Dimension Door (White Magic)
Dispel Chaos (White Magic)
Feeblemind (Grey Magic)
Flame Strike (Grey Magic)
Hold Monster (Grey Magic)
Invisible Stalker (Black Magic)
Summon Djinni (Black Magic)
Sword of Fire (White Magic)
Transmute Rock to Mud* (Grey Magic)

Level 6:
Anti-Magic Shell (White Magic)
Death Spell (Black Magic)
Disintegrate (Black Magic)
Flesh to Stone* (White Magic; the reverse is Black Magic)
Haste* (White Magic, the reverse is Grey Magic)
Passwall (White Magic)
Reincarnate (Grey Magic?)
Torpor (Black Magic)
Trollblood (White Magic)
Wall of Fire (Grey Magic)
Wall of Ice (Grey Magic)

Monday, January 1, 2018

Initial notes about an ACKS Sorcerer

Art by Hannah Saunders (c) 2017 Stellagama Publishing
First post of 2018! Happy new year!

Sorcerers. The dread of normal men, who huddle behind their walls in fear of the feared men and women who wield unearthly power. Scourge of the stalwart warrior and barbaric brave, who cower from the sorcerer's eldritch might. Horror of eternity, steeped in the occult in life, terrifying in eternal undeath when they transcend the grave.

Sorcerers are the latter half of "Sword and Sorcery", the first half being the courageous sword-wielding barbarian who dares face such magical power. An archetype of a spellcaster, in many cases a monstrous villain, but sometimes a valuable ally.

The mage given in ACKS Core emulates a sorcerer to a certain degree, but its roots still stay in the old Dungeons & Dragons magic-user. Sorcerers in fiction often have powers similar both to these of mages and those of clerics; they transcend the dichotomy between arcane and divine. Indeed, they study tomes of ancient lore, but often have dealings with all sorts of deities.

This is why I am writing up a sorcerer. It can serve both in a traditional Sword & Sorcery ACKS game, as well as in my Blighted Future post-apocalyptic setting - where "exotic" quantum breached reality and allowed the occult forces of Chaos to pour through.

Right now this class uses rules from Aurach's Axioms Issue 1 - a highly recommended product for ACKS. The final version of the sorcerer will, itself, include all necessary rules (thanks G-d for the Open Game License and the creativity it inspires).

Sorcerers summon. They do not control the domain of psychics, namely detection and illusion spells, but they are particularly potent in calling allies from beyond this world, far beyond the ACKS Core mage. They are not very flashy casters - and far from mastering blast spells - but have a strong grip on matters of life and death.

Using the Axiom rules, I have built Sorcery as a magic type. They are somewhat more potent than clerics, but significantly weaker than mages. This, however, allows them a far lower XP cost, as well as having full sorcerous power at 2 class build points (as per the ACKS Player's Companion). A sorcerer can, thus, wield weapons or have varied non-spell powers as common in sword & sorcery tales. Alternatively, the all-out sorcerer, at sorcerer class level 4 and at the hefty cost of 3,200 XP to reach level 2, is a powerful caster - enjoying a large number of spells per day.

Here are my notes for building the sorcerer's spell list. This refers to levels, not actual spells; for example, "casts blast as a cleric" does not mean that it is limited to divine blast spells as given in ACKS Core, but rather that its spell power level in regard to blast spells follows the cleric. The spell categories are as per the ACKS Player's Companion.

Blast - as cleric
Death - as mage
Detection - unavailable
Enchantment - as mage
Healing - as cleric
Illusion - unavailable
Movement - as cleric
Protection - standard as cleric and mage
Summoning - 75% of mage! The sorcerer's big forte.
Transmogrification - as mage
Wall - as cleric

A "full" sorcerer class category is at 2 build points and 800 XP. For example, a sorcerer with reasonable fighting abilities - Fighting value 1 and Hit Point value 1 (both at 500 XP) will require a mere 1,800 XP to reach level 2 - faster leveling than a fighter. My intention for the base "sorcerer" class is to do just that, though I'd be tempted to use the Thievery 2 class value instead - that version of the sorcerer will be weak in combat, but will level fast and will enjoy a wide variety of non-spell powers.

Sorcerers are studious - they gain their spells from study like mages and receive bonus spells for high Intelligence.

Like mages, sorcerers can perform magical research:

Research spells at level 5
Scribe scrolls at level 5
Brew potions at level 5
Create permanent magic items at level 9
Cast ritual spells at level 11
Create crossbreeds at level 11
Grant unlife at level 11

Sorcerers advance in saving throws slowly - by 2 points every 6 levels.

They may use magic items intended both for clerics and for mages.

A sorcerer's prime requisites are both INT and WIS.

Sorcerers cost an additional sum of 150,000 XP per level after the 8th level.

Sorcerers use the Shades of Magic code of behavior. At sorcerer class value 2, this grants them the ability to rebuke and command undead as a cleric of their level, as appropriate to a dread necromancer! The price, however, is that some spells are designated as Black Magic - especially summoning creatures from thin air and animated the dead; these have a corrupting influence on the sorcerer (sorcerers are good in summoning, but certain summoning spells are black magic - and usually powerful - so the temptation is huge). There are Grey Magic spells, such as transmogrification spells cast at unwilling targets, which may be corrupting if used against Lawful or Neutral sapient creatures, and non-corrupting otherwise. Finally, there are White Magic spells, such as healing spells, which are safe.