Friday, August 26, 2016

Loaded for Bear - Speciality Ammo for Stars Without Number (or similar Modern or Sci-Fi Old School Games)

I do have a healthy love of science fiction, especially in a space opera environment. There is so much cool stuff to explore and play with. Fantastic technologies, alien races, ancient ruins on lost planets, shooting people with.. uh.. little beams of light?

Confession time. I've never really liked energy weapons. Yeah, melting someone's face off with a plasma gun sounds cool in theory, and some of the more exotic concepts (gravity manipulation, crazy tesla guns) can be pretty interesting, but none of them quite have the same kind of visceral impact as the rapport of a rifle, the smell of burning powder, spent brass flying. I sometimes have similar thoughts about gravcars and the like. Yeah, it can fly, sure.. but does it sound like this?

I didn't think so.

I admit, there's a certain amount of self-interest in this topic. You're talking to a man whose character is the captain of a space vessel capable of traversing the stars - yet carries a single-action revolver. This remains doubly true when one considers the sentimental nature of this character makes it extremely unlikely that he would swap out his sidearm of choice even if I by strange choice found an artifact revolver of similar make. What's a man to do?

Well the thing about good ol' slug throwers is that you can get a lot of variety out of them. Even today, there are nearly as many loads of ammunition as there are calibers to manufacture it in. While that level of granularity would be absurd in a game like this, I thought some variety might spice things up for us old-fashioned types.

Specialty Ammo for Stars Without Number

Broken down by weapon type for which it is available. Unless otherwise noted, assume range is identical to the standard for that weapon. The majority of the following can be produced by TL3 societies, though a few are TL4. Legality of various ammunition at GM's discretion. More exotic ammunition to come later.

Standard: Semi-jacketed or full metal jacket rounds, meant for a variety of situations. Standard per weapon description. PL2, 10 credits for a box of 20.

Hollow Point: round cast with a hollowed end in order to cause maximum deformation and energy transfer to a soft target. Practically useless against hard targets, however. +2 to Damage, but imposes a -2 penalty on any hard armor of AC5 or better. PL3, 20 credits for a box of 20.

Incendiary: round built around a core of phosphorus or other hotly burning chemical compound designed to ignite flammable targets or slag the inside of sensitive electronics from the heat. Any flammable target struck has a 2-in-6 chance to catch flame. If it pierces into something with sensitive circuitry, it has a 1-in-6 chance of slagging from the heat. If fired on burst, it increases by a further 1-in-6 to each. Targets caught on fire continue to take d4 damage per round until put out. PL3, 70 credits for a box of 20.

Manstopper: a heavier grain cartridge often using a higher than normal amount of propellant. It produces a significant jump in the amount of force delivered to a target at the expense of creating heavier recoil. +1 to damage, but burst fire gains no to-hit benefit. Burst fire damage, however, is increased as normal. Shotguns can use this in scattershot loads as well as slugs. PL2, 30 credits for a box of a box of 20.

Penetrator: armor penetrating rounds build around a core of hardened steel, tungsten, or similar material made to defeat body armor at the expense of transferring less kinetic energy to the target. -2 to damage, but treats any PL4 or earlier physical armor as being 2AC worse. Force fields and the like are unaffected. PL3, 30 credits for a box of 20.

Riot: bullets made from rubber or a high-impact gel intended for non-lethal use against civilian targets. Deals nonlethal damage, deals no damage against a natural AC5 or better. PL3, 10 credits for a box of 20.

Safeties: highly frangible rounds intended to completely fragment on impact with a soft target. Safeties are used in a number of delicate combat conditions in order to minimize danger to bystanders through ricochets or over-penetration of a target, and to prevent damage to sensitive or pressurized environments, such as aboard a space station or ship. Deals normal damage, but does no damage at all against a natural AC5 or better. Shotguns can also use these as breacher rounds to blow out mechanical locks at point-blank range. PL3, 20 credits for a box of 20.

Shotguns Only
Shotguns can also use any of the above ammunition, but only in the slug format unless otherwise noted. 

Birdshot: a scattershot load of lighter but more numerous pellets with a wider spread pattern, generally used for fowling or hunting other small game. +2 to hit, but damage is reduced to 2d4. PL2, 10 credits for a box of 20.

Caustic: biochemical slug with an acidic payload. Target takes d6 damage from the initial impact, but the acid will continue to burn into the target for d3 damage each round until it is either neutralized, or the affected surfaces are removed. PL4, 60 credits for a box of 3.

EMP: short-range slug that houses releases an electromagnetic discharge on impact. Uses scattershot ranges despite being a slug. Does d6 damage on impact, but has a 3-in-6 chance of slagging anything electronic it hits (including power armor). Specially shielded electronics reduce this to 1-in-6. PL4, 300 credits for a box of 3.

Flare: a standard thermal flare built around a shotgun cartridge. Uses the scatter-shot range despite being a slug. Mostly used as a signaling device, though it will provide dim illumination in a 50m radius along its path. If used as an attack, it does 1d6 damage at a -2 to hit. PL3, 30 credits for a box of 3.

Grenade: a miniature grenade that fires like a slug to project its payload over long distances. Roll all attacks against as though the target had a base AC9 (dex will improve this as normal). Force fields retain their AC as normal. On a miss, figure out what's behind the target as the thing will go off somewhere. On a hit, it has an effect as follows:
  • Explosive: a miniaturized grenade. Explodes for 3d4 damage against the target struck. Anyone within 5m makes a Luck save or takes 2d4 damage. PL3, 90 credits for a box of 3.
  • Flash-bang: an nonlethal explosive that blinds and deafens anyone within a 5m area. Target struck takes d4 damage from the impact. Everyone takes a Luck save or is blinded/deafened for 1 round and takes a -1 to all rolls for d3 rounds following. PL3, 75 credits for a box of 3.
  • Gas: A gas canister that releases its payload on impact. Target makes a Physical save or succumbs to the effect. Generally used for tear gas, though more nefarious compounds may be used if one can acquire them. PL3, 75 credits for a box of 3.
  • Incendiary: pyrotechnic payload that detonates and ignites on impact. Target hit is set alight for 3d4 damage. Anyone in the 5m splash zone is hit for 2d4 damage. All targets can take a luck save for half damage. The entire area is set alight for d4 rounds while the chemicals burn themselves out. Characters who remain in the area suffer an additional d4 damage per round. PL4, 90 credits for a box of 3.
  • Shredder: anti-personnel fragmentation grenade that sends a cloud of razor-edged shrapnel in every direction. Everyone within a 5m area of the impact point takes a Luck save, with the damage for failure depending on their unmodified AC. 3d6 vs AC6 or worse, 2d4 to anyone with better armor. PL3, 90 credits for a box of 3.
Hellfoam: a frangible slug filled with a chemical payload that reacts with oxygen on impact, rapidly expanding into a thick, sticky foam that covers the target and nearby surfaces. After but a few seconds, this foam hardens into a thick rubber, making normal movement almost impossible and potentially gluing them to their surroundings. Deals no damage, but attacks as though the target had a natural AC of 9. Dexterity modifies as normal. Fields are unaffected by this effect. Target makes a Luck save. On a failure, the target takes a -1 penalty to all actions the following round. If they do anything other than spend that round scraping the goo off of them, the following round will be a -3 penalty. If they are still covered in goo on the third round it hardens, encasing them in a stiff foam rubber until either a solvent is applied or they are carefully (and potentially painfully) cut out of the material. PL4, 60 credits for a box of 3.

Lawful Compliance: short-ranged slug that is little more than a flying taser, delivering maximum voltage at range. Uses scattershot range despite being a slug. Does 1d8 nonlethal damage. Mechanical/electronic targets struck have a 1-in-6 chance of being shorted by the discharge. PL3, 150 credits for a box of 3.

Peppershot: a load of frangible ball rounds filled with powdered chemical irritants that aerosolize on impact, potentially disabling a single target without risk of injury. Fires against an base AC9, though dexterity modifies this as normal. If the character's eyes, nose, or mouth are exposed to the elements, they make an immediate Physical save. On a success, they roll a d3, which indicates the penalty they will take to any rolls that round. The penalty will reduce by 1 each round until it disappears. On a failure, the target is overwhelmed by the effect and can do nothing for d3 rounds, after which they may proceed as though they had succeeded on the roll.  PL3, 15 credits for a box of 3. 

Sabot: solid slug in a case that helps impart spin to a projectile, giving a more rifle-like range and accuracy to a shotgun slug. Uses slug damage, but extends the weapon's effective range to 50/100m. PL3, 40 credits for a box of 20. 

Shrapnel: A scattershot load of razor-tipped flechette rounds that fulfills a similar role to hollow point rounds. Perfect for turning someone into hamburger but significantly disadvantaged against hard targets. +2 to Damage, but imposes a -2 penalty on any hard armor of AC5 or better. PL3, 15 credits for a box of 3.

Volcanic: a scattershot load that replaces the standard pellets with some kind of high-energy pyrotechnic load. No attack roll required. Instead, the target makes an Evasion save to avoid the ridiculous gout of flame. If they fail, they take 3d4 damage as normal, but anything flammable on them automatically catches fire and continues burning for d4 damage per round until put out.PL3, 30 credits for a box of 3.

UPDATE: Changed quantities/prices around a bit. While I initially had everything listed in boxes of 20 simply because the original game listed ammunition in quantities of 20, I wanted a bit more scarcity involved. That, and I was chastised about specialty shotgun ammunition coming in boxes of 3. Fine. I'm fixing it. After a bit of research, I also realized how ridiculously under-priced some of these were compared to their real-world equivalent (and arguably, their power level), so prices have been adjusted.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Tyrant's Crew - Big Iron (an Episode 1 Interlude)

Last night I opened up photoshop with the intention to do a bit of doodling, maybe knock out a portrait of Moraine. I'm an alright illustrator. If I actually put in the effort, I might eventually become good enough to do something with it. Instead, I spend my time reading RPG systems and tinkering with my own.

I got a decent ways into the portrait before I started thinking about his seemingly now-signature Big Iron. If you're playing a western character, of course you want a good revolver, and the way I've been playing with him so far his anachronistic gear has been something that distinguishes him from the world around him (I wouldn't be surprised if the nav computer on The Tyrant was analog), so I obviously wanted something that looked old and chunky. Not at all a modern thing. Being something of a western gun nut (it's almost as bad as my medieval arms & armor fetish), my mind went wandering.

Originally I had imagined him to carry something like a Griswold & Gunnison that was somehow chambered in .44 Magnum. The Griswold is one of the iconic "confederate guns," during the war. The sort of thing that if you saw someone carry it after the war, you could wager good money which side they fought on. I have a weird relationship with gear in games. I like it to make statements about the character. We already know that because he (ridiculously enough) fires a big single-action revolver he comes from a frontier world, probably is very old-fashioned about a lot of things. Clearly either stubborn or sentimental (why not both?) because he hasn't swapped the gun out for something modern and more useful. No, I imagine the gun he carries is the gun that got him through the war. Having something as identifiable to his former allegiance as the Griswold was in the south? Perfect.

Griswold & Gunnison cap and ball revolver

Of course, I'm also too much of a fetishist for my own good. Sure, you could maybe rig a Griswold to accept a cartridge (conversion kits were made for the Colt Navy), but I can't imagine it'd be very convenient even by the standards that I'm going for. Plus, we're wasting a perfectly good opportunity to have something bigger and chunkier as the big iron.

My next thought went to something slightly newer. Well. A few years newer. The Smith & Wesson New Model No 3 in 44 Russian.
Smith & Wesson New Model No 3 in 44 Russian.
I have a serious love of this gun for purely aesthetic reasons. It started production in ..1877ish? I'm on the internet, I could look it up, but you'll have to take my word for it. Something about the oversized build makes me happy inside and there's nothing quite so satisfying as watching spent brass fly out the back of a top-break revolver when you slam it open. Despite being a relatively modern gun, it has some very distinctive lines that make it almost hearken back to much older firearms than its contemporaries. This is exactly the sort of thing I could see Moraine carrying.

This was about the time I was struck with another dumber but somehow even greater idea. If I wanted something that screamed "confederate" while being striking and unusual... I clearly needed to pattern it off of the LeMat revolver.
LeMat "Grapeshot" Revolver
The LeMat was a giant beast of an old horse pistol. It was a pistol meant for cavalry and in some ways was a mirror in use to the more well known Colt Dragoon. Only instead of 6 rounds of 44, the LeMat could load an impressive nine rounds of .42 or .36 caliber ball. The real surprise was that it also had a secondary barrel below the first that ran through the cylinder that fired a single 20 gauge shotgun round. Thus the LeMat earned its nickname "The Grapeshot Revolver."

Only around a hundred of them were made in the States, including the 25 or so prototypes. Another thousand or so were manufactured overseas and smuggled into the south with blockade runners from Belgium and France.

So. Clearly if I wanted something that would be unique enough to have a bit of mystique and be strange enough to warrant "signature weapon" status (important, given that my sentimental character will probably never trade in the side-arm that got him through the war), the LeMat was a good way to go. Did I say Le Mat? I clearly meant  La Grange. Two hours later, the La Grange Special was born.
The La Grange Special. That's right, I made a thing.

Funny how I started this trying to make a portrait of a character and instead end up a piece of homebrew gear. I definitely like the look of the result though. Something I find interesting is that even though the bits are all more or less historical (compare with the images above), the end result looks just shy of steampunk. I'd like to have one in real-life, though maybe in some lighter calibers. I don't have the benefit of space metal to keep a .44 break-top revolver from blowing itself to pieces.

UPDATE: The La Grange Special has been GM approved and retconned in as Moraine's sidearm of choice. I erased the shotgun I had on my list and we just assumed that the pistol costed as much as the shotgun and revolver combined. The upper barrel just uses the standard Revolver stats, the lower uses the standard shotgun profile with only 1 shot. The detachable cylinder works identically to a magazine for reloading purposes, save that I can crack it open at any time to replace an individual shell. 

I can't wait for Saturday. The next session is going to be great.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Tyrant's Crew - Enter Miss Kitty (An Episode 1 Interlude)

Saturday's session was a stupid amount of fun. I can't stress what a great job Barb did on the thing, especially at the short notice he had to get it running. His love for the subject matter is clear, and he and he and I riff off each other ridiculously well as it is.

But I have a confession to make. I left a chat window open during the game. Yes, this is horrible, terrible, unforgivable behavior for a player of a tabletop game.. but I did.. and I'm not sorry.

I'm not sorry mostly because the resulting chat was hilarious. I was messaging back and forth with a girl named Kate. The resulting transcript of that conversation is as follows:

Fix your goddamned spaceship.

Yes dear.

Oh that made me laugh too much.

We're supposed to get paid 200k for this job, you know, if we don't all die.


I'm so sorry.

You wanna leave, woman, the airlock's right there. Your ass can hitchhike back to Dixie for all I care.




Woman, you come between a man and his hat you won't like the answer.

I have no comeback.

I'm pretty sure that means I won.

I confessed my chatting-during-the-game sins to the group and pasted it to them. They got a kick out of the conversation though. And then the magic happened.

What I love about this group is how quickly we come up with canon. It was quickly established that Kate was, in fact, an NPC in our game. After kicking some stuff back and forth with Barbarossa, we wound up making her the Madam of a brothel and saloon -- that was one giant space station, kept completely off any official records or charts. She pays good money to keep it that way. As a result, it's a popular and lucrative watering hole for pirates, outlaws, smugglers and other ne'er-do-wells to blow off steam, indulge in a few vices, pick up jobs and stock up on uncommon goods. We wound up dubbing the station The La Grange, which happens to be both an astronomical term and a ZZ Top song about a whorehouse. Sealing the deal, we wound up calling her Miss Kitty, which is both the most cliche possible name for an old west prostitute and fairly close to the name of the inspiration anyway.

The relationship between her character and mine is just what one might expect given what started the idea. The characters both love each other—and hate each others guts. It's always a warm reception on arrival followed shortly after by one of us threatening to shoot the other. I have a thing for damaged relationships.

Further backstory revealed that it as actually Miss Kitty who gave me The Tyrant's Fear in the first place. She was in some (currently undefined but potentially life-threatening) trouble with the law (or perhaps Hegemony forces?) that I saved her from. She acquired the ship herself after a man mistreated one of her girls and she had him thrown in an airlock. Turns out he liked breathing more than flying, and offered to turn her over by way of recompense. Not being one who liked feeling as though she remained in anyone's debt, she passed the the ship on to me to square our account.

The La Grange is now unofficial home port of The Tyrant's Fear, Miss Kitty some cross between patroness, ally, and walking plot-hook.

I look forward to seeing what Barb has in store. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Tyrant's Crew - Episode 1: A Simple Milk Run (A Stars Without Number Actual Play Report)

Our crew assembled and gear purchased, we were ready to go. It was decided that Wang had made his way to Dixie in the last days before the surrender in an attempt to chase a fortune that never quite materialized. When The surrender was signed and Hegemony troops took over, he decided the political climate was no longer in his favor and hopped aboard the first ship heading anywhere but there. As luck so happens, it was mine. We'd flown together a couple weeks before we picked up Doc. We still don't know what his story is, but he was in an awful hurry to get off that station. You can tell in a man's eyes whether they're running to something or away from it. Doc was definitely the latter. We needed the extra hand though, so we welcomed him aboard. Might be nice to have someone patch us up when we need it.

Our first session was going to be easy, right? It was a simple milk run. A previous contact of Wang's named Mr. Daws from the Rabani sector wanted us to visit a Maxwell Aldo. There was some kind of corporate exchange going down with everything in escrow. All we needed was to pick up a hard copy of some sensitive data and make it back. Pick it up, drop it off. We walk away with 200,000 credits. What could possibly go wrong? (Please, contain your laughter!)

Spike drive engaged. We came out of transit just outside the planet's gravity well. It was this massive, fancy-ass bureaucratic nightmare. The space port was a giant glass dome with one major exit/entryway. Space ships were lined up like ants trying to get in. The docking attendant chimed in on comms, asking us about the nature of our business planetside. She seemed to get annoyed when I give the name of our contact as Jonathon Doe. It took about two hours from the time we talk to customer service to the time we're cleared a spot to land. Government at work, ladies and gentlemen. 

We managed to land without issue. I decided to go low-profile, meaning that I was only carrying the derringer (Savannah) in my waistcoat pocket, the Dixie toothpick in a sling under my armpit, and the big iron low on one hip. With my coat, it was all covered up nicely. Practically stealth mode. The rest of the crew takes a similar tact, with the Doc stuffing a shotgun under his coat. Wang decided to leave the grenades at home, opting instead for his stun baton (apparently, his only options are "nonlethal" and "overkill"). Outside, we were greeted by a docking engineer who asked if we needed any station services -- refueling, maintenance, etc.

"Could use a carton of cigarettes." Moraine is clearly a smoker, he'd been a week in transit, and I'm sure as hell not trusting the fire suppressor on our rust bucket.

"Uh. I'm.. Sorry Sir.. I'm an engineer, not a stewardess."

"..The hell use are you?" My 17 Charisma shined through.

We hop a cab and make our way to the location. Aldo's was a big warehouse in the shipping district. It's a giant reinforced brick building, completely unadorned but for the sign with his name above. A huge steel security door is built into the wall beside an obvious intercom panel. There are no windows. Promising.

We buzzed in. The guy on the other side had no idea who we are or why we were here. We eventually ask for Maxwell Aldo by name and tell him we are supposed to make a pickup. He disappeared for a few minutes before the door opened and some Pink Water security goons show up to greet us. A man with a voice matching the intercom guy greets us and tells us that he's sorry about the mix-up, and offered to escort us to a waiting room. I'm itchy already, but we go.

The waiting room was down a roundabout hall or two, but was ultimately what you'd expect out of a mid-level corporate break room. A bunch of uncomfortable chairs, some old coffee, bottles of water, some fruit in a bowl, and a couple magazines. Wang dove straight for the food because we've been eating nothing but protein-sludge for three weeks now. Doc takes a seat and flipped open a magazine. As soon as the guards are gone, I immediately go for the door -- Locked. "Son of a bitch."

"They probably don't want us wandering around." Wang is trying to be helpful. Really.

"Don't cotton much to cages. I've been locked up long enough." I spent nearly two hours pacing my happy-ass back and forth along the low-maintenance grey area rug. Just when it seemed like I might be contemplating blowing the door off its hinges, Wang chimes in again.

"Calm down, Bo--" his line is interrupted by boots running in our direction. I turn to face the door from my left, to obscure the play I'm already making for my piece. The door swings open and red dots pan up the floor and the across the wall behind us. One of the goons takes a knee and disengages the safety on his SMG just in time for a .44 caliber hole to open up in the front of his skull. Big iron, big bullets. He goes down like someone flipped a switch. The goon behind him took a graze to the hip where the round over-penetrated through the first man into the second. Wang was on top of him in an instant with the stun baton, rendering him unconscious. The doc finished the job with a shotgun blast to the face. Gnarly.

"So much for the milk run."

Doc and Wang grabbed their SMGs and strap up. I wound up going for the walkie talkie on his chest rig. A few seconds later, the asshole from the intercom out front chirped through. "Heard shots. Report in. Were they taken care of?" I spammed the button while replying to give the impression the thing was malfunctioning. "Ta-" click "ermin" click "rep" click "firmative." I clip the radio to my waistcoat and replace a shell in my revolver. We need to move.

We took a wrong turn and end up in the warehouse proper. There were boxes and crates everywhere. I wound up asking Wang if he has any idea what the thing we're looking for looks like.

"Uh, it's easy. It's a <fucking technobabble.>"

As I stood there with a single-action revolver in my hand, "Do I look like I know what a <fucking technobabble, repeated phonetically> is?"

"...Right boss, I'll get looking."

"You've got two minutes, son. Make it quick."

Everyone was making search checks, looking through boxes. I wound up having a moment of thought and asked the GM "Can I make a tactics roll? I want a defensible position?" "uh.. Sure!" The resulting roll was silly high. I found a sturdy table and what appeared to be the sort of steel plates you'd expect to reinforce a wall with. My two companions turn suddenly and in some horror at the ridiculous clatter of me kicking the whole thing over.

"What are you do--" The objection was cut off by a deafening burst of automatic fire as more security entered the room. A bunch of shots were exchanged in an intense standoff, with my now-reinforced table absorbing a lot of oncoming fire. There were four men in chest rigs and what appeared to be the head of security in full combat armor. One of the mooks winged me in the shoulder with their SMG. Banter ensues which ultimately results in said mook getting focus-fired on by the rest of the group until he got his head unzipped from a three-round burst from our side. I managed to plug another dude in the chest with my revolver and the other two mooks hauled ass out of the warehouse, shouting that they were not being paid enough for this.

The head of security seemed like he was taking this whole thing rather personally, and opened up another burst, this time catching Wang in the stomach and in the process managed to take the pinky and ring finger off one hand. We call him 8-ball now. Doc finally gets a shot through the guy's armor, dropping him low. I walked up and put a bullet in his stomach out of spite.

Doc jumped on 8 Ball with a Lazarus pack. He was bleeding bad. We have no idea where his fingers got off to. Deke's player got two of the worst rolls I've ever seen and seemed to be reliving some kind of traumatic episode involving the last time he lost a patient. I ran over and shoved him out of the way. I have no medicine skill, but with a shockingly good roll I managed to get him stabilized. "Ain't you never seen a bullet wound before?" (It's no wonder that mobster's daughter died.)

The doc stammered and helplessly shrugged.

8-Ball was still conscious and tried to tell us to keep looking for the thing. I turned to the doc "You have any idea what he's yammerin' on about?"

Deke's player turns to the GM "..Uh. I have points in science. Do I have any idea what he's talking about?"


"I totally know what he's talking about."

"Get to it then while I drag his sorry ass out of here."

Doc went off exploring. I started trying to get 8-Ball back down the winding corridor to the exit. Doc managed to find the guy we were sent here to deal with in the first place. Aldo is sitting at his desk with a revolver leveled and ready. Unsurprisingly, he demanded to know why we were here. Doc attempted to explain the gist as best as he understood it, and that it was supposed to be a simple pickup before, you know, the goons.

"You've murdered four men."

"To be fair, they shot at us first."

"..What will it take to get rid of you?"

"Uhhh." Doc actually opened up a channel with our compads to call me on the other side of the building. In the most amazing "let me let you talk to my manager" moment I've ever seen, he explained the situation and then puts me on speaker phone with the guy. This whole thing has apparently been absurd enough to make Aldo require a cigarette. He apparently smokes some dainty-ass Imperial Slim crap.

I finally make my initial offer. "Three hundred thousand credits... and a carton of cigarettes."

"Two hundred thousand credits... and a carton of cigarettes."

"...Two-hundred and fifty thousand credits, and two cartons of cigarettes."

He sighed. "Two-hundred and fifty thousand credits, two cartons of cigarettes, and I never hear from you again?"

"You'll forget we were ever here."

He digs through a drawer and fishes out a disposable credit chip. "You've got ten minutes after I hand over this chip before I call the cops."

"Make it twenty and you can keep a carton of cigarettes."


Doc collected the carton of Imperial Slims and the chips and goes off to find me. Aldo returned to work like nothing happened.

We meet up just outside the place. The two run-away security guards were outside on their phones. I handed one of them a $50 chip.

"Reckon you boys are out of a job. Fifty credits in it for you if you cut that sumbitch's phone line in the next ten minutes."

"Dude.. you killed Steve."

"Steve was an asshole, son."

The other guard chimes in. "... Steve was an asshole."

They agreed right as the cab showed up.

We wound up telling the cabbie that we were mugged. He bemoaned the state of the shipping district this time of evening. I offered him a double tip if he can get us to the space port fast. We cleaned up in the car. By the time we made it there, we still look worse for the wear but we've downgraded our traumatic appearance from "lost a gunfight" to "maybe traded even in a bar fight."

We managed to get through customs fairly quickly and get back on the ship. We're granted clearance to leave just as I got settled in. That's when Doc handed me the goods. "What kind of asshole smokes Imperial Slims? I should've shot that sumbitch when I had the chance."

The ships comms chime in. "Tyrant's crew, you are free for takeoff."

8-Ball is our pilot, but he wasn't looking so hot. I can fly in a pinch, so I asked him if he wanted me to take over.

"Boss, me on my worst day is better than you on your best."

"...Remember who plugged them holes in your hide, son."

"... Sorry, Boss. You know what I mea--" a failed flight roll, due to all the penalties from, you know, bleeding out. We manage to clip the giant dome on our way up, sending a section of shattered glass and crumbling structure raining on anyone unfortunate enough to be below.

The ships comms chime in -- would you like to accept the call?

"Uh. Shit."

8-Ball immediately goes "No! I got this." He hits the button to accept and then immediately hangs up. "Tyrant's Fear di---" click.

The ships comms chime in -- would you like to accept the call?

"Tyrant's F--" click.

The ships comms chime in -- would you like to accept the call?

"TYRA---" click.

Klaxons are screaming. The ship's computer kindly informs us that we are being painted by targeting lasers. Doc is stammering. "CAN WE GO? NOW? PLEASE?"


We're approaching maximum acceleration as we fight to get out of atmosphere. A little warning signal is beeping on the console. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep beep beep beep beepbeepBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP -- TARGET LOCKED.

We break out of the gravity well.

PUNCH IT. We're gone. The klaxons vanish. The computer goes silence. I manage to utter the closing line of "We need to have a talk with Mr. Daws."

And so ended our first session.

The Tyrant's Crew (A Stars Without Number Campaign Report)

Last night Barbarossa got to experience his first time GMing, and it was my first experience with the OSR space opera Stars Without Number. If you're not familiar, SWN is basically what happens when Moldvay Basic gets drunk at a party and starts making sexy grog-eyes at an edition of Traveler whose has had too many shots to know better. Nine months later, Stars Without Number is born.

To Barb's credit, he was informed that he would be GMing all of four hours before the actual session and he did spectacularly well with it. He's easily the most well-read sci-fi nerd in our group, and you could tell even just from the way he handled it that he loved the material he was working with. Superb.

Part 1: Dramatis Personae

We went for a very predictable "Baby's first space opera" campaign. We are to the be the crew of a tramp freighter smuggling, shipping, and doing odd jobs just to stay afloat in this harsh galaxy. Oh. We're playing Firefly? We're playing Firefly. Sweet.

Ironically, Barb was never a fan of firefly ("Their system makes no fucking sense. That's not how asteroids work"). I know one of the other players refuses to watch it because it was never finished ("I don't watch unfinished shows") and if the third watched it, he didn't seem to get anything out of it.

The starting crew was three players, including myself. Unsurprisingly, I was nominated to be the captain before we even started. The ship was also assumed to have been mine off the bat as well, so I rolled with it. In no particular order, our characters of note:

George Wang: a bright young Caucasian man adopted by an ethnically and culturally Chinese family from a settlement whose name I have since forgotten (uh, sorry, Boose). He should have had a promising life and career ahead of him, except he dropped out of college to pursue a life of petty crime—apparently just because it seemed more interesting. He's a decent pilot, though, so he's been useful aboard ship.

Deke Sun: an ex-mob doc who is now on the run after an attempt on the boss's life found his former employer's daughter instead. The wound was mortal, and there was nothing to be done. She died on the table. Rather than face the possibility that it was a life of crime that cost his daughter her life, the mob boss has externalized the blame and placed it solely on Deke's shoulders for killing her.

Then there's me.

Donnal Moraine: basically the stereotype of the post-war confederate. Hails from a backwoods planet that was recently brought under compliance in a brutal brush war with the Hegemony of Man. By group consensus (and for pure hilarity) this planet was named Dixie. The fighting was bitter on both sides. While Hegemony forces could have glassed the entire system from orbit if they chose, they wanted to dominate the system, not eradicate it. Native militia put up a strong resistance with a guerilla campaign, but eventually the toll on both the population and infrastructure was too great. A surrender was negotiated and a blanket pardon granted. Donnal was a kind of airborn infantry and lost everything during the war. He was one of a large number of ex-militia who still feel a seething resentment for the Hegemony, and a betrayal at the hands of the cowards in charge who surrendered. He now wanders the stars with his ship as the only home he knows.

As though this archetype wasn't quite strong enough yet, when I purchased his gear he wound up getting: Leather Jack, Dagger, Revolver, Rifle. This quickly got recorded on the character sheet as Leather Duster, Dixie Toothpick, Big Iron, 'Ol' Bess' Lever-Action Repeater.

I'll play Firefly by myself if I have to.

The Tyrant's Fear: Our ship is a horrific rust bucket that my character came by in a way that wasn't quite established yet, though I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't acquired in a game of cards with a dark-skinned gentleman with an Armenian name. It's a real piece of work. In Boose's words "Hot Garbage." They don't know what they're talking about. She's cozy. So what if some of the wires are fraying... Some of those panels don't quite shut anymore... Or we don't have enough power to run our offensive lasers and point defense gun at the same time? Whatever. It's fine. She's home.

UPDATE: The campaign has now been added to the Actual Play Reports widget on the side. You can check out the index here.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Waxing on Gaming Autobiographica

I first started playing RPGs by hacking together a functional game out of just what I could glean from the AD&D1e DMG. I later moved into Alternity, Cyberpunk, and then I was all over the place. Back then, I played games the way most people did—or maybe still do—without a hell of a lot of thought about design, "creative agendas" or any of that.

My big shift came when I discovered The Riddle of Steel. It was in many ways, unlike anything I'd ever seen. It completely challenged my ideas of what role-playing was or could be, how games should be run. The combat system was like nothing I'd ever seen. I had already been a major history nerd, but it was through TROS that I'd developed a love of HEMA and all that was entailed. I was too late to the party to be around when The Forge was kicking hornet's nests, but damned if I didn't pursue The Riddle.

The next big shift came for me in discovering Burning Wheel. This was nowhere near the paradigm shift that TROS was, but it was perhaps the clearest demonstration I've ever had of the idea that "system matters." In both my own Burning Wheel experiments and those I've watched/listened to (I have a weird fascination with actual play recordings) I've gained a huge appreciation for how the system influences and informs play.

At that point in my life, I don't think you would've been able to convince me to play D&D if you paid me. My few attempts to experiment with it again were... painful. My experiences with 3.x and pathfinder were abysmal. When 4th edition came out, I couldn't even finish my read of the player's handbook. Striker? Defender? Controller? Ugh. I couldn't get past the terminology. In my mind, it immediately left me thinking about MMOs. Would we be drawing aggro and baiting spawn points next? This is without touching that the game designated which classes were "leaders" of the party (we'll decide who leads our party among ourselves, thank you). Making this impression even worse, I watched Chris Perkins DM a 4e game on youtube. It was a four-hour session which took place entirely on a battle map. It started with the party in the dungeon with some exposition to put them there, followed by three or four combats interspersed with a couple skill challenges. Read: someone had to throw some dice at something. It took them four hours to run four fights. I wouldn't be playing 4th edition. (Later, I did actually come to appreciate it as a kind of combat-based dungeon crawling board game, I just wouldn't want to run it as a D&D game.)

The next weird step in my gaming evolution was encountering the practically unheard of Chronica Feudalis. This was a system I found so interesting and hackable that it actually prompted me to start blogging about it. The original blog those took place on has long-since been abandoned, though I've migrated several of the most interesting posts here. Oddly enough, one of which is in my "Popular nonsense" stuff on the sidebar, making it my number 2 most all-time viewed post. I guess someone out there has heard of this stuff after all.

What struck me most about CF was just how flexible it actually was. The structure of the wounds and maneuvers system gave me nearly as cinematic and bloody combat as I was getting from TROS (or, by this time, Song of Steel -- the game that would eventually be rebranded as Band of Bastards). Was it meant to be used in such a bloody faction? I have no idea, but some of the most bloody and cinematic combats I've ever played were in a hacked version of Chronica Feudalis.

Perhaps the most radical departure for me in this was just how simple it actually was, by comparison. How quickly it played and how little effort as a GM it took to run. I can safely blame Higgins for introducing the game to me. I had previously been playing a great deal of Savage Worlds specifically because it was relatively simple for players to wrap their head around. When I'd argued for SW to be a relatively rules-light game (how naive I was!) Higgins scoffed and rightly put me in my place. He may have been nicer than that, but I certainly remember there was scoffing.

This is when I bumped into the OSR movement for the first time. I had already had a lot of fond memories of AD&D as a kid. For whatever reason, I never really mentally categorized those experience into the same box as my encounters with 3.5 or 4e D&D. They seemed like completely different kinds of games. It wasn't until I started getting into the OSR scene that I understood why.  They were  fundamentally different types of games. Whatever one might say about indie games and The Forge, the whole culture will get you thinking about how games are designed and played, even if you disagree with their conclusions.

I was hooked pretty quickly. I'm not sure if it was my newfound craving for simplicity, a touch of nostalgia, or that the games so openly embraced a lot of things that I'd sort of lost sight of from in
Somewhere between my newfound craving for simplicity, a touch of nostalgia, and an open embrace of a lot of things I'd lost sight of somewhere along the way. Likely, all of the above.

I have to really credit the OSR scene for bringing a lot of balance back to my gaming tastes. There's a lot of people out there who like to try to pit indie/nar/forge types as being in one camp and OSR as being two opposite and non-overlapping things, each vying to be the One True Way and the other being badwrongfun. I've gained a lot from both communities and I greatly enjoy both kinds of games. They provide radically different experiences, and in a lot of ways follow the same "system matters" ethos. In a curious way, they even both seem to be a response to the same thing - dissatisfaction with "Adventure path" (read: railroad) style of GMing and systems that are bad at what they are supposed to be doing.

I actually had a reason for going into all of this besides my own nostalgia. I have a handful of topics that have been digging at me for a while now, but I thought they could use some context before I began. Unfortunately, this post is far too long already. So those will wait until next time.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Adept: Revisited (A Class for Lamentations of the Flame Princess and other Old School Fantasy Games)

A while back I propose an adept class that was ripped off from inspired by force-users from the star wars canon. I've been tinkering with an update, so I figured I'd just repost the whole thing. 

The Adept

Nazgul by Martawadman
XP and Saves as Magic-User, d6 HP per level. Same combat options as Fighters, Dwarves, and Elves. Must choose to be either Chaotic OR Lawful.

Where others search outwardly for answers, the adept looks within. Through secret rituals, rigorous discipline, mind-altering drugs and intense medication, they walk the wyrding way giving them preternatural abilities and influence on those around them.

The Wyrding Way:
Adepts can channel the wyrd and use it to add an extra die to any ability, save, attack, or damage roll they must make, or can be rolled and added to their AC for a single combat round (from the beginning of their turn to the beginning of their next turn). At first level, this begins as a d4 and goes up by one die-size every four levels. d6 at 4, d8 at 8, d10 at 12, d12 at 16. This can be used on any roll as often as the adept wishes, but every time a 1 appears on either die rolled, their Wyrd goes down one die size. If it is reduced to less than a d4, their will is depleted and they can summon it no further until they've had time to rest and perform the proper meditations (treat the same as a magic-user regaining their spells).

Reaching Out:
No power is without temptation.Though different sects and philosophies will argue as to where originates the wyrd, they can all agree on one thing - it is a power that comes from beyond the adept. The mind is a but a focusing lens, the body an empty vessel. Particularly ambitious (or foolhardy) adepts can attempt to drink deeply of the wyrd -- and at their own peril. On any single roll, the adept may attempt to roll equal to or under their Wisdom on a d20. On a success, they increase their Wyrd die for any checks made that round, including giving them a d4 even after they have spent their powers. If their die is already at d12, the die becomes a d20. However, doing this is not without terrible price. If the Wisdom roll fails roll the die they would have received. The number on the face is temporarily subtracted from their Constitution. If this would adjust their HP, remove any lost hit points from their current HP first. If either their HP would be reduced to zero, or their Constitution would be reduced to zero, the character is slain. If the character survives, their constitution will recover at a rate of one point per day but cannot be restored any other means (including magical).