Saturday, December 30, 2017

Come the ACKS-Pocalypse (Blighted Future): Technology in the Blighted Future

Two weeks ago I wrote here about my new setting idea for ACKS: a far-future post-apocalyptic setting which I now call Blighted Future. This takes place an indeterminate number of centuries into the future, after an apocalyptic war involving nuclear, chemical, biological, nanotechnological, and "exotic" quantum (read: reality-bending) weapons. The world regressed to a medieval society, where the majority of resurgent humanity toil in the fields in meager subsistence farming, ruled by feudal lords. The wilds are vast and dangerous, and ancient technology awaits in long-forgotten bunkers. In other words, this is "usual" ACKS set in an apocalyptic future.

The subject of this post is that of technology. Before the war, humanity was very advanced - capable of producing highly durable goods, energy weapons, wonder drugs, semi-sentient (or sentient in some cases) robots, and reality-warping "exotic" quantum weapons.

All of this went up in radioactive smoke when the bombs fell.

Current blighted future technology ranges from stone age to early Renaissance. The average, and most common, technological level resembles the Dark Ages. Dark ages with shields made from old traffic signs and plate armor made from pre-war boilers, that is. Crop rotation and stirrups, but nothing mechanized beyond the windmill and arbalest level. Bloomeries for smelting scrap metal, but rarely blast furnaces.

In terms of arms and armor, some city-states can manufacture firearms out of scrap, but these never exceed the flintlock level. Even then, unreliable trade means that the various materials necessary to manufacture good gun powder and firearms are expensive and in short supply. Most people use swords, bows, and spears - which are far easier to make from low-grade scrap or local materials. Scrap also allows primitive armor, but high-grade plate mail is rare as it requires better steel and craftmanship, which are uncommon.

Scholars, particularly sorcerers, sometimes learn how to manufacture wondrous technology resembling pre-war achievements. However, these are expensive and complicated beyond imagining. This has two reasons.

The first is that modern technology requires a vast manufacturing infrastructure. A village in early 21st century Afghanistan can manufacture AK-47s. However, this requires parts and materials produced by industrialized countries. Low-grade scrap is common in the blighted future. However, materials and tools good enough to assemble pre-war technology - even a good revolver, not to mention a laser rifle - are exceedingly rare and no living person or organization can produce them. The only exception are sorcerers in their abodes - and even they require high-grade pre-war parts for any complex technological project.

The second is a cargo-cult attitude to science and technology. Science is a way of thinking, and so is engineering. A modern-day scientist or engineer approaches problems in a skeptical and rational manner. Based on scientific knowledge, he knows how to deduce solutions from evidence. Not so in the blighted future. Centuries of primitive subsistence eroded this crowning achievement of modern thought. Instead, people approach problems from a mystical point of view and cannot separate superstition from fact. This includes sorcerers. Thus, they approach problems not from their underlying principles, but from their appearance.

For example, Blattus, a 9th level sorcerer, wants to build an assault rifle. He spends many sacks of gold on excellent scrap parts brought by adventurers from old ruins. He then researches the many texts written by previous post-war sorcerers on this subject - as pre-war blueprints are both impossibly rare and baffling to the sorcerer. Such tomes arose from experimentation. This experience includes a vast amount of superstition. For example, a previous sorcerer built an assault rifle, but during its construction he prayed to a dread idol. The gun worked, so he wrote down that this prayer helped. Add many layers of such flawed "deduction", and the entire production process becomes arcane.

In short, the lack of a technological base and magical thinking (which sometimes works! notice the "exotic" quantum weapons and their effects...) makes advanced technology indistinguishable from magic.

Thus, making technological items follows the magic item creation rules in ACKS.

The other way to acquire advanced technology, of course, is to delve into ancient ruins and bunkers...

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Streamlined ship combat rules for Classic Traveller

One problem I always had with the Classic Traveller Book 2 (and Cepheus Engine) space combat system is the number of rolls per combat turn. Think about it - even the small Patrol Cruiser has 3 turrets with 3 lasers each. This means no less than 9 attack throws per round! Now imagine a small battle between a Mercenary Cruiser with a full complement of turrets and two Patrol Cruisers...

My players generally love rolling dice but this means far too many of them, not to mention a huge amount of attack throws by NPCs.

Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard solves much of this, but serves for large-scale naval battles between multi-kton battleships better than for small-ship scuffles as envisioned by Classic Traveller Book 2.

Therefore, I propose the following streamlined rules. Their main purpose is to make combat a little bit more abstract and thus facilitate games in which the PCs are bridge crew of a medium to large (in small-ship universe, that is) starship. I recommend using the core CT Book 2 rules when refereeing battles between a few lightly armed small ships, such as a Free Trader ambushed by one or two pirate ships.

Turrets and Batteries

Each turret makes one attack, regardless of the number of weapons it carries. All weapons in one turret, with the exception of the lone turret of a 100-ton ship, should be of the same type. Two weapons attack in one roll with DM+2; three, with DM+4. damage is as usual for a single weapon. This reduces the rolls by a factor of 3 right out of the box. (this is inspired by a house rule posted by tbeard199 on CotI).

Ships with 4 or more turrets may have batteries of 4 turrets each. Any remainder of turrets attack individually. Each battery has one weapon type and all turrets should be identical. Attack is with DMs as above for multiple weapons per turret. Make a single attack per battery using the battery commander's Gunnery skill. However, damage "explodes" - for every 2 points (rounded up) the throw exceeds 8, the battery makes an additional hit. For example, Effect 1 makes two hits, and Effect 5 makes 4 hits (this is inspired by the Striker automatic fire rules). A single battery can generate up to 4 hits.

For example, a 1000-ton Light Cruiser has 10 triple laser turrets. It makes 4 attack throws per round: one for each battery, and one for each non-battery turrets. This is instead the 30 throws it would have made under the baseline rules.

Weapons do damage as usual - for example, three hits from a pulse laser battery will mean 8 rolls on the damage table.

Fighter Mass Combat

Fighters operate in flights of up to 3 fighters. Two fighters make one attack throw together at DM+2; three, at DM+4.

Use the flight leader's Piloting skill as a -DM to hit the flight. Furthermore, fighters at 3G to 5G acceleration are at a further DM-1 to hit and at 6G, DM-2. Apply software DMs as usual. Any hit on a flight "mission-kills" one fighter.

After the battle, resolve the actual damage for mission-killed fighters - in many cases, the pilot survives, and/or the fighter is salvageable. Throw 2D, DM +the flight leader's Pilot skill. On a roll of 6-, the fighter is destroyed; 7-9; cockpit hit - throw 6+ to safely eject and avoid death; 10-11, fighter heavily damaged but salvageable; 12+, fighter knocked out but easily repairable.

Four flights are a squadron which attacks like a battery.

For streamlined combat, missiles move either in salvos of 3 missiles each, or in barrages of 12 missiles. Anti-missile fire targets the entire salvo or barrage. For each two points a single laser turret's anti-missile attach throw exceeds 8, remove one missile, up to a number equal to the turret's lasers (e.g. 3 for a triple turret). Batteries destroy one missile per single point the throw exceeds 8.

Any remaining missile hitting the target causes 1D hits as usual.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Revenant "Race" for ACKS

(c) Seamartini Stock Photography
Some say that death brings final rest and respite to man. However, some spirits cannot rest. Drawn to the living world by an oath unfulfilled or a mortal sin unconfessed, these revenants emerge, restless, from the grave to right the wrongs of their former lives. Many are monstrous undead, acting in vile ways to pursue the crimes they committed while living. A few, however, evade the dark grasp of Chaos and retain their free will. Some retain their own morality.

Revenants are undead, albeit free-willed undead. They must consume the blood and flesh of living or recently dead sentient beings to heal and exist. A Chaotic revenant will gleefully engage in cannibalism. A Neutral one, on the other hand, will steal corpses from coffins and gallows, feed on the flesh of evil men and beastmen, and drink some of the blood of the living while keeping them alive.

A revenant has a mission. This might be vengeance, or maybe redemption. Its player must choose a mission which will allow for a long campaign - a long-term mission rather than a short-term one. This mission will take precedence over other goals, as it alone keeps the dead character walking. Once completed, the revenant should usually die; alternatively, a Judge may allow continued play pursuing a new goal, especially if other player characters - spell-casters and their allies - have already turned into sentient undead through magical research, or plan to do so.

As noted above, revenants have free will. Enough free that a player would be able to play them as any other player's character. However, note that they are reviled by their very nature, and must take great efforts to disguise their true form, lest the living  cower in fear from this visage, or try to slay the unliving character. Thus, the prudent Judge should consider this race carefully, and only allow experienced players to play it.

By the Law of nature and Law of the Divine, a revenant shouldn't exist; death should be final. Thus, a revenant may be Neutral or Chaotic, but never Lawful, even if they walk the land to pursue a Lawful cause or calling.

A revenant must have Constitution and Wisdom scores of 12 each.

Class category values:
  • A revenant class may have any category value. However, it may not choose a spell-caster class with a Lawful code of behavior and it may not turn undead. In case of a Divine spell-caster, it must choose Control undead instead.
  • Revenants with an Arcane class cannot use spell research to become undead - as it is already undead.

Revenant 0 (100xp):
  • Relentless: The revenant is unaffected by the paralysis ghouls can inflict, and gain a +1 bonus on saving throws versus Petrification/Paralysis and Spells (reskinned Connection to Nature). 1 power.
  • Dead Soul: The revenant is dead and cursed and is beyond the capability of magic to return to life. It cannot be restored by Restore Life and Limb. Instead, this requires Animate Dead; after the spell is cast, roll on the Tampering with Mortality table. The revenant, of course, stays dead, but may be reanimated into undeath. Furthermore, it suffers a penalty on the 1d20 roll of the Tampering with Mortality table of -1 per level of experience.
  • Dead: a revenant is not a living being and thus it does not have to breathe. It also does not have to eat and drink except for healing purposes (see below). It is also immune to all forms of disease and poison including magical ones. 2 powers.
  • Sleepless: a revenant does not have to sleep, and cannot sleep even if it desires to do so. It is also immune to all sleep powers and effects. 1 power.
  • Reverse healing: a revenant is undead. Therefore, regular healing spells damage it, while reverse healing spells (such as Harm) heal it. Potions of Healing damage the revenant. -1 power.
  • Unholy: a revenant may be turned like any other undead of the same HD and are vulnerable to weapons and other effects (such as holy water) which harm the undead. However, their strength of will and the importance of their mission - which brought them back from the grave - allow them a save vs. death, with a +2 bonus, to escape the effects of turning. If this save fails, a "turned" result works like a fear spell; a "destroyed" result instantly slays the character; and a "controlled" result works as a charm effect. -2 powers.
  • Deathly Visage: a revenant suffers -2 on reaction rolls vs. any non-Chaotic beings, and enjoys +2 to reaction rolls with Chaotic beings. 0 powers.
  • Bloody Healing: the revenant does not heal naturally. Instead, it can only heal by magical means, or by consuming the flesh or blood of living or recently-dead sentient beings. One XP worth or creature eaten heals one hit point in the revenant. The revenant may also drink the blood of a living being. This requires a willing or incapacitated target, reduces the target's hit points by half of its regular maximum, and heals the revenant as if the target had half of its regular XP. -1 power.
  • Profane Endurance: like many undead, the revenant resists mundane damage. At 1st level, the character 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. this AC bonus from 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; the same goes to silver weapons.
Revenant 1 (600xp):
  • Revenant 0 (100xp)
  • HD 1 (500xp)
Revenant 2 (1,100xp):
  • Revenant 0 (100xp)
  • HD 1 (500xp)
  • Fighting 1 (500xp)
Revenant 3 (1,600xp):
  • Revenant 0 (100xp)
  • HD 2 (1,000xp)
  • Fighting 1 (500xp)
Revenant 4 (2,100xp):
  • Revenant 0 (100xp)
  • HD2 (1,000xp)
  • Fighting 2 (1,000xp)
Additional XP requirement after level 8: 40,000xp.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

FREE character sheet for These Stars Are Ours!

FREE from Stellagama Publishing!

Character sheet for the These Stars Are Ours! (TSAO) setting; compatible with the Cepheus Engine and other OGL 2D6 Sci-Fi games.

Available in three formats: Standard PDF, Fillable Form PDF, and High-Resolution PNG.

Get it HERE!

Barrowmaze Play Report: Iconoclasm and... OH SH#@, RUN!

Gaming Supplies
(and a D&D 5E quitstart kit being used as a dice tray)
Our lucky dwarves delves, again, into Barrowmaze, escaping death once more by the skin of their teeth. This time, however, they messed with a god! The statue of one, more accurately. They also fulfilled the OSR motto, according to which, "OSR" stands for "OH, SH#@, RUN!".

We are using ACKS rules, with three house rules so far:
  1. 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.
  2. War dogs take Henchman "slots" and are limited by them.
  3. 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.
The Lucky Dwarves:

  • Boulderson the Lucky - Level 2 Dwarven Craft Priest - Eliran
  • Rufus Chikenfoot - Level 2 Dwarven Delver - Itai
  • + Angus the Cleaver - Level 1 Dwarven Fury - Rufus' henchman
  • And dogs, Lots of dogs.

Revised Barrowmaze Map

And thus our heroes tried their luck again among the Mounds. They approached Mound 10, which was sealed, and made a whole ruckus trying to smash its door open. Three giant scorpions came to check what tasty snack makes that noise. The dwarves tried swinging at them but the creatures' armor was too tough and it was apparent that they bear venom. So... OH, SH#@, RUN! And the heroic band decided that discretion was the better part of valor. They ran as fast as they could, and eventually the scorpions lost interest in them.

From there, they walked again to their usual hunting ground - Mound 16, from which a secret staircase - well-known to them - leads to the Barrowmaze dungeon proper. There, they carefully explored the tombs. First came a ransacked burial hall - the dwarves recalled the tomb robbers encountered in a previous foray - and then a well-preserved one. Angus and Rufus wanted to search the many burial alcoves for treasure, but Boulderson the Craft Priest strongly objected. He has no problem looting the undead or Chaotic tombs, but sealed tombs of ordinary people, he believes, are not to be disturbed. However, while Boulderson built a small shrine from stones and performed a short ceremony in memory of the dead, Rufus managed to secretly search some of the burial alcoves and pilfer a few treasures - for himself. A third chamber had a cracked ceiling and two long-dead skeletons in it; luckily, the heroes avoided a collapse.

From there they marched down a long, dark corridor and checked a room to their right. It was a temple to Nergal - complete with an altar and a large stone statue of the dread god. Boulderson approach the altar, and narrowly avoided falling into a pit trap! Not only that, but curses and shouts in Dwarven came from the now-open pit! With a rope, they managed to rescue Ard Cobblestone, a 2מג level Dawrven Vaultguard, from the pit. He was hungry and dehydrated, but once fed, he thanked them and agreed to join them in their exploration of Barrowmaze.

Boulderson sensed great Chaotic evil in the altar. Despite the fact that it appears to allow some sort of augury, he raised his hammer and smashed it!

Nergal was not pleased.

The statue awakened! It attacked the dwarven (and canine) group with zeal. This large animated statue was very tough, and very dangerous with its fists. Our cunning heroes, however, thought of a way to topple this heavy monstrosity by throwing a net and ropes (all of which they had) on its head and drag it, with the muscle of four burly dwarves, into the pit. This didn't work well. However, luckily, they did manage to injure the statue, then push it into the pit with their combined efforts, making it an easy target to their rocks. Thus the dwarves smashed down this unholy idol and walked away - alive but injured.

While they survived the statue and defeated it with great valor, they also made a tremendous amount of noise. This brought about a whole pack of giant rats looking for fresh meat. The same heroes who smashed down a heathen idol, now faced a lesser, but not less lethal, threat. Injured, they remembered the OSR motto... OH, SH#@, RUN! And ran for their lives.

They didn't run fast enough, and a giant rat bit Boulderson in his legs. Rufus carried him and continued running; when tending to his wounds when they reached relative safety, he found out that both of Boulderson's legs were mangled.

Expensive magic corrected that, eventually, but brushing again and again with death now torments Boulderson (the Craft Priest) greatly; one in three nights, on average, he suffers from recurring nightmares which deny him sleep, rest, and spells...

Thus concluded the session.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Come the ACKS-pocalypse

I imagined (dreamed/thought at night, in fact) a post-apocalyptic ACKS. Not necessarily an all-out Gonzo apocalypse - Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu does the Gonzo job wonderfully well - but rather an apocalypse after which Humanity regressed to a medieval technological level and to feudalism.

Domain management works as in vanilla ACKS, as does the rest of the economy and society.

Possible use of "exotic" (or "quantum") weapons alongside the usual nuclear and biochemical weapons led to various mutations and possibly "magic" as well. 

Instead of magic items, most of what you get are high-tech pre-war artifacts, as well as S.T.A.L.K.E.R-style Chaotic artifacts created by the "exotic" weapons. Monsters/mutants are results of pre-war advanced bio-engineering and the "exotic" weapons.

Possible invasion of Lovecraftian entities due to use of "exotic" weapons.

There is the Blight - a collective term for radiation and bio-contamination, as well reality-wrapping Chaotic effects of the "exotic" weapons. The Blight causes mutations and can cause sickness and death. This is similar to Kelly Roberge (K-Slacker)'s Creep rules.
Fighters, thieves, explorers, assassins - work as per the base rules.

Mages, clerics, and other casters - removed and replaced by psychics and sorcerers. Both use traditional spellcaster rules, similar a bit to a mage. Psychics use psionics, which are quite limited in scope and power but safe to the caster; mostly divination and charm-type "spells", very little actual damaging spells. Psychics cannot create "magic items".

Sorcerers, on the other hand, take risks and mess around with Chaos, which is nasty; they follow the Shades of Magic rules from Axioms 1. Anything damaging or mind-controlling, among other similar things, is Black Magic. Using black magic invites Chaotic influence, and thus Blight. Thus, sorcerers seek pre-war artifacts to gain power from rather than risk frequent use of black magic. They may assemble all sorts of contraptions from scrap, but these are expensive; without the pre-war industrial infrastructure, building even a simple automatic weapon is a major undertaking, even if there is pre-war scrap at hand. Building such devices uses the magic item creation rules in ACKS.

Both psychics and sorcerers can heal; in fact, this is a safe white magic spell.
Machinist rules are perfect for the tech-artificer who builds robots from scratch! But this time in a human rather than a Dwarf.

Mutants are a race - and one with low XP cost. They gain two rolls on a beneficial mutation table and one on a negative mutation table. Each mutation is a Power as per the Player's Companion. Thus, the negative mutation evens out one positive mutation, and what we are left with are one positive mutation and blight resistance - 2 powers, 100XP. Higher levels of the Mutant race grant more mutations.

Robots are also a race - but much, much more expensive. Very tough at low levels, but progressing through levels at a snail's pace. They need no food or water and are resistant to Blight, but normal healing magic or stim packs do not heal them - they need repairs (as automatons?).

You can justify almost any monster by the combination of radiation, pre-war bio/cyber-technology, and invading Chaotic entities.

Between this and my Elysian Empire, my head is full of ACKS ideas!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A review of HOSTILE by Zozer Games

Product's Name: HOSTILE

Ruleset: Cepheus Engine/OGL 2d6 Sci-Fi

Author: Paul Eliott

Artists: Ian Stead, Paul Eliott

Size: 307 pages

Publisher: Zozer Games
Price: $19.99
Grade: 5 out of 5

HOSTILE is the real deal.

Admit it - you watched Alien(s), Outland, Blade Runner, and many other 1970's and early-1980's sci-fi films. You loved them. You've always wanted to run role-playing games in their settings. There was once a relatively obscure Aliens RPG published in 1991. Classic Traveller also comes quite close to Alien(s). However, none of them captures the spirit of these "retro-industrial" hard-line 1970's universe as brilliantly as HOSTILE does.

The entire thing oozes atmosphere. It is clear that the author knows the milieu like the back of his hand and has analyzed it, dissecting it to its most basic elements: a focus on work and working-class heroes; industrialization and an "industrial" look and feel; danger lurking in the many corners of space; anthropocentric milieu; retro-futurism; and a hearty dose of cynicism. It provides a list of several movies inspiring HOSTILE games, from Alien to Elysium.

Also, it lists Red Dwarf as inspiration! And also mentions it again as a source of adventure inspiration! BONUS POINTS!

HOSTILE comes in the form of five PDF files:
  • 1970's-style Classic Traveller-inspired rules. These are almost exclusively combat rules, which supplement the many rules included in HOSTILE. However, ship combat is still absent.
  • A PDF with 15 floor plans of various "space colony" locations, from Aliens-style colonial corridors to a warehouse.
  • An in-universe starship-trade "Magazine" showcasing the "Hercules"-class tug, which is, in a nutshell, the Nostromo (of Alien fame) with its serial numbers filed off.
  • A HOSTILE-specific character sheet, in the shape of an in-universe PERSONNEL Form.
  • The HOSTILE book itself.
After this introduction, there is a 9-page setting overview, out of which 3 pages are setting history, 3 are nation-state and corporate overview, and the rest is mostly art. I love this: short and to the point. History serves the setting. No need for long fluff here. Just the bare bones necessary to provide context to the rest of the book. Excellent game-design choice, in my humble opinion.

After that comes astrography. This is meaty - 54 pages, most of which describe worlds. As in Aliens and 2300AD, HOSTILE organizes space into "arms" of human expansion into the stars. This book focuses on the American Arm. It also divides space into "Zones" - i.e. Traveller-style Subsectors. The book includes six of these, in excellent blue-and-dark maps. Before the worlds, it overviews the standard Cepheus/Traveller world generation rules, with minor modifications. The book details 23 worlds, all "Core" worlds, and then mentions Frontier worlds in a passing, without details. This is a shame - Frontier colonies are a hotbed for adventure.

A major point of divergence from standard Cepheus/Traveller is that of tech levels. HOSTILE combines TL15 in computers, robotics, and ship drives with TL10 in everything else. It also totally lacks cybernetics - remember, this is Blade Runner, not Johnny Mnemonic. Other than a short table on p.38, the book does not mention tech levels. As in Aliens, colonies have similar technology to that of the Core.

After this come the actual setting details - those of the "Big Seven" mega-corporations, the obligatory spacefaring USMC, the United States Space Command (refreshingly a development of the Air Force rather than the navy), starlines, NGOs, mercenaries ("Private Military Contractors" - PMCs - HOSTILE uses the real-world contemporary term), non-profits, and criminals. Ah, and Antarctica Traffic Control! It also has the equivalent of Bladerunner Replicants, that is renegade psychopathic clones which authorities are trying to hunt down.

As in most third-party Traveller and Cepheus settings, such as Clement Sector and These Stars Are Ours!, HOSTILE has a sizable character generation chapter. This follows standard Cepheus Engine rules, though with 15 new careers such as Corporate Exec (the replacement of a Noble), Marshal (frontier lawman), and Roughneck (space miner). There is also an option to play Alien(s)-style androids. They have several limitations, such as Asimov's rules they are programmed to follow and limited skills, but still - playing an android is cool!

Also, there is this:

Perfect Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine "character sheet" if there ever was one! Just add equipment on the back and start chasing star outlaws!

Similar to my own Outer Veil, HOSTILE provides equipment, complete with in-world brand names. Expect Pulse Rifles and an AK-equivalent. The equipment chapter also discusses technology as a whole in this setting. This is straight 1970's-mid-1980's sci-fi. No cellular phone, no flat or touch screens, no nanotechnology. Video-Phones rule the day, as well as data cards and minidiscs. A great addition is in-universe "medicinal" names for the otherwise dry Traveller drug names; you will find ACE Inhibitor and Dexamphetamine here, not Slow Drug and Combat Drug. There are all sorts of equipment, as well as guns and vehicles. There are no gravitic vehicles in HOSTILE, so vehicles are restricted to pretty realistic ones, from cars to tilt-rotors. This chapter is very long, and has its fair share of "Gun Pr0n".

Oh, and the Referee/GM is called here... The "Manager"!

The next chapter details styles of play and the general milieu, with adventure hooks aplenty. The three recommended play styles are Work - that is, playing corporate troubleshooters solving all sorts of nasty frontier problems; Fight, where the PMCs and the said obligatory space USMC come in; and Explore, which is boldly going where no man has gone before and probably getting eaten by a xenobeast as well. HOSTILE then gives many tips about how to run and describe an Aliens-style setting. This includes visual and auditory ques, as well as the main themes of the game. There is also an excellent discussion of horror gaming, with tips to the budding horror Referee ("Manager"). Including Xenomorphs. And Hyperspace anomalies! HOSTILE mentions Red Dwarf in the latter, which, again, is wonderful. I love that series!

There are also stats for various dangerous xenomorphs, including, as you expect, a Reticulan Parasite, i.e. an Alien (in TSAO!, of course, a "Reticulan Parasite" has another meaning :-) ) and a creature inspired by the one from John Carpenter's The Thing. The next section discusses environmental hazards, including radiation and a realistic depiction of vacuum exposure. Everything is well-detailed and clear: from extreme temperatures to poisonous atmospheres. I think that this chapter will be perfectly useful in other settings as well, as it is, in my opinion, superior to the discussion of these subjects in Mongoose Traveller or the 2D6 Sci-Fi SRD. The only downside is that the chapter only lists the amount of rads a given radiation source causes, but does not list their effects on the human body; this sends the player to browse the Cepheus Engine.

There are belting rules, along with some new equipment, which is very well thought out. The mining rules themselves remind me of my own old rules, a version of which appeared in Outer Veil - these are OGL, of course, and this pleases me very much.

The next big chunk of HOSTILE is starship construction. This is a major point of divergence from the Cepheus Core. HOSTILE ships are big; as big as those of old Classic Traveller Book 5: High Guard. Up to a million tons! However, maneuver drives are plasma reaction drives. Hyperspace engines require no fuel, but M-Drives require fuel similar to that of a Cepheus Core J-Drive. Thus, you can use ship designs from other 2D6 OGL-compatible products in HOSTILE, including their deck plans, with minimal adjustments.

This is "not"-Alien(s) so while in Hyperspace transit, everyone must hibernate in Hypersleep or suffer horrid effects. Ships still have staterooms for in-system flight, though, and Hypersleep seems much safer than vanilla Traveller Low Berths. There are also shipboard medical facility rules (possibly) inspired by my own, but sadly no hydroponics, which would be, in my opinion, highly appropriate to this setting. Finally, the chapter clarifies the Cepheus/2D6 SRD missile rules, which is a boon.

The book provides several ship designs, from tugs and refineries (ahem, Nostromo) to Naval patrol ships - similar to cruisers in MGT terms, I think. There are no deck plans, but there are beautiful renders of some of these ships.

Finally, there are adventure seeds - they are short, but there is a large number of them.

The book ends with some NPC stats - including a very well-known crew with its serial numbers (and names) filed off - and a filled character sheet example.

The bottom line is that this is a wonderful product. I think that, far more than a setting book, it is a genre toolbox. If you want a gritty, Alienesque near-Terra, near-future setting, this is the book for you. If you want to build your own near-Terra, near-future setting - this book would also be of immense value to you.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Variant Psionics for the Cepheus Engine

Stellagama Publishing Proudly Presents:
Variant Psionics for the Cepheus Engine!

Bend the universe with the power of your mind!

Psychic abilities are a staple of science fiction in general and space opera in particular. Therefore, the Cepheus Engine Core Rules include rules for psionics. These core rules use a skill-throw mechanic for psionics, which, while being reasonable given the Cepheus Engine mechanics, greatly limit the use of psionics. This bookletpresents a variation on these core psionic rules, using a simple, more straightforward system. As we at Stellagama Publishing like to describe it: "pay the PSI points and the 'magic' happens". While these rules increase the power of psionics, there is still a strict limit to their scope in the shape of a tightly limited pool of Psionic Strength points.

In addition to these variant rules, we present expanded psionic powers; rules for psychic struggle between psions; new psionics-related equipment; and variant psionic training rules.

Compatible with the Cepheus Engine and other 2D6 OGL Sci-Fi games.

Get it HERE!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Barrowmaze play report: Dogs of War and Chicken Feet

Woof! Woof!
Our extremely lucky dwarves discovered the joy of leading war hounds to battle, and even defeated a mummy! Almost dying in the process several times. Below is their incredible story.

We are using ACKS rules, with three house rules so far:
  1. 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.
  2. War dogs take Henchman "slots" and are limited by them.
  3. 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.

The Lucky Dwarves:
  • Boulderson the Lucky - Level 1 Dwarven Craft Priest - Eliran
  • Rufus Chikenfoot - Level 1 Dwarven Delver - Itai
  • + Angus the Cleaver - Level 1 Dwarven Fury - Rufus' henchman
  • And dogs, Lots of dogs.

Revised Barrowmaze Map.
The Story so Far

After resting in Helix after last session's heavy fighting, Angus bought a war dog and equipped it with leather barding; Rufus already had a hunting dog. With the hound in tow, the three dwarves made their way back to Mound 16, the Skeleton Mound, where they previously found a magical sword, nearly got wiped out by skeletons, and discovered a secret stairwell down to the Barrowmaze itself. They knew of the Fossilized Skeletons hidden below, and decided to slay them.

Thus they entered the deep chamber (Area 81 on the Barrowmaze map). Rufus stole his way through the chamber, contemplated backstabbing the skeletons (is that possible at all?), then re-positioned himself and his henchman Angus for the fight. Boulderson tried to invoke his ancestral spirits to banish the undead, but alas - they did not answer his call. The skeletons, on the other hand, attacked. Thus three dwarves and two dogs found themselves facing no less than seven massive fossilized skeletons with bones as hard as stone!

Eliran and Itai with Mrs. Stellagama who came to visit.
The fight was intense and very long. A skeleton took Rufus' hunting dog and crushed the poor pooch on the wall, brutally killing it. Then, they heard a commotion from the nearby door. Rufus and Angus tried to block it from opening, but a massive Bloodthirsty Spider leaped out of it and tried to suck Angus out of his blood! Luckily, it was soon dispatched.

Boulderson, once again, fell to 0 HP from skeletal attacks, just like last session. Rufusused his Healing proficiency to stabilize the Craftpriest. The latter was, again, incredibly lucky on his Mortal Wounds table roll, and after a short ghastly hallucination of the entire party being brutally dead, he awoke with 1 HP.

Rufus and the warhound then proceeded to smash the skeletons, gaining victory!

All characters, however, emerged with serious war wounds (low HP).

This was followed by searching burial alcoves and briefly visiting the nearby room, easily crushing the two spiders who waited there as well. Laden with gold and a diamond ring, they continued down the hall. However, Rufus, who was leading the party, failed to notice a pit trap and fell to it, almost dying in the process and screaming in pain. After he climbed out, the dwarves continued carefully, but then heard whispering voices out ahead.

These were eight tomb robbers - unsavory characters, heavily armed by lightly armored. The party - not the most charismatic dwarves in the world to say the least - managed to roll a Neutral reaction, and the robbers parlayed. However, the intrepid heroes were very uncouth, even more than the ruffians, ending up with Rufus yelling SHUT UP! at the criminals - which led to them attacking the heavily wounded dwarves. Heroes that they are, they decided that discretion is the better part of valor and ran back around the pit. Rufus, however, stood there, on the other side of the pit, and taunted the tomb robbers. They shot him in his foot with a crossbow bolt, and he fell, mortally wounded. Angus and Boulderson grabbed his bleeding body and ran out through the secret stairs, then stabilized him.

The great diplomat ended up losing three toes!

Thus they went back to Ironguard Motte to get healed and sell loot - they had gold aplenty and Helix lacked a powerful enough cleric. There, Rufus rolled well on his 1d20 throw on the Mortal Wounds table... But rolled poorly on the 1d6. This ended up with his brand-new foot...

Replaced with a chicken's foot! The Ancestors must be jesting.

After two days of rest and travelling on the main road at a leisurely pace, rested and healed, they walked back to the Barrowmoor. This time around, they bought as many war dogs as their Charisma allowed them to lead. Once again, they lucked on the random encounter rolls and the trip was uneventful. However, when they approached the mound, hoping to catch the robbers unaware, their dogs barked. Soon after, the heard an insufferable croaking sound from inside. They entered the mound to find three Giant Toads feasting on five of the - now dead - tomb robbers!

The fight, luckily, was very easy - except from a dog briefly digested inside a toad's belly and surviving the ordeal, none was injured. Emboldened, they returned to the Barrowmaze itself. They found some burial urns and a little stash of electrum pieces where the tomb robbers once hid. Then they entered one defiled tomb. There, a large, pristine, sealed sarcophagus stood. While Angus disliked the idea of disturbing the dead, Rufus managed to open the sarcofagus without his consent, and from it sprung...


The Dwarves did not run. They unleashed their dogs at the undead horror. Only a few were paralyzed by fear. They fought hard. Luckily, the mummy rolled very, very low on its damage rolls (1d12), so none fell. While Boulderson and one hound contracted Mummy Rot, they won the fight.

Year, you read it right - they have SLAIN A MUMMY. At level 1. By blind luck. With a little less luck, they would have been cut down like weeds.

The lucky band, with its pack of wardogs, returned to Helix and then Ironguard Motte, victorious and with the mummy's treasures - a magnificent bejeweled scepter and a golden circlet, sold together for 2,400gp. They also paid to get Remove Curse cast at Boulderson and the dog to cure the mummy rot.

With sacks of gold, both Angus and Boulderson are now Level 2!