#RPGThursday – Introducing ‘The Crew” that’s adventuring Five Parsecs from Home (from @Modiphius)

Five Parsecs from Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming from Modiphius is clearly a set of miniatures wargaming rules. It is also a very tabletop role playing game-like campaign setting. Let’s meet “The Crew.”

“The Crew”

We met through…mutual protection in a hostile universe. We are best characterized as cut-throat outlaws.

Morphius (Leader)Mercenary human from a subjugated colony on an alien world motivated by survival

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +1 / Toughness 4 / Savvy +0 / Luck +1 / XP 0
  • Military Rifle, Beam Pistol, AI-Companion

WedgeHuman technician from Tech Guild searching for romance

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +2 / XP 0
  • Marksman’s Rifle w/Laser Sight, Handgun, Cyber Hand

MacNomad Human bureaucrat motivated by order

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +0 / XP 0
  • Military Rifle, Scrap Pistol, Med Patch

DexHuman scoundrel from giant, overcrowded dystopian city seeking truth

  • Reaction 1 / Speed 6″ / Combat +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +0 / XP 0
  • Infantry Laser

“Whiskers”Ganger Feral alien seeking wealth

  • Reaction 2 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / Savvy +0 / XP 0
  • Shotgun, Machine Pistol, Hazard Suit
  • In battle, “all enemy imposed penalties to Seize the Initiative rolls are ignored”
  • When making a Reaction Roll at the start of a battle round, if the dice score a single 1 it must be given to the Feral crew member

B0T5Standard Bot

  • Reaction 2 / Speed 4″ / Combat Skill +1 / Toughness 4 / Savvy +2
  • Scanner Bot (Gadget)
  • 6+ Armor Saving Throw

The Crew’s Ship

The Rusty Bucket, retired troop transport, 35 Cr debt, 35 Hull with Emergency Drives

The Crew “Shares”

  • Bank Account – 17 Credits
  • Story Points – 3
  • Patrons – 1
  • Rivals – 0
  • Rumors – 2
  • Quest Rumors – 2

The Legend Begins

As this is my first campaign, I set the Victory Conditions at “Complete 3 Questswith Normal difficulty and no House Rules specified. I roll 1d6 +1 for Story Points, getting 4 but adding another three from character creation (Story Point total = 7).

Campaign Turns in Five Parsecs from Home are executed in a very methodical manner; Step 1: Travel, Step 2: World, Step 3: Tabletop Battle, and Step 4: Post-Battle Sequences. Let’s see how The Crew starts out…

The Crew is not fleeing an invasion, and decides not to travel (skip Starship Travel Events). Instead, they will see what this world, Zahhuz, has to offer them.

New World Arrival

  1. Check for Rivals – NONE
  2. Dismiss Patrons – NO (Mac has a Patron The Crew will lean on)
  3. Check for Licensing Requirements – No license required
  4. World Traits – “Travel Restricted”: No more than one crew member may take the Explore option each campaign turn

World Steps

  1. Upkeep & Ship Repairs – Spend 1 Cr on Upkeep and make 3 Cr payment toward debt (13 Cr left in bank; debt 32 Cr)
  2. Assign & Resolve Crew Tasks – Morphius and Wedge will Trade, Mac will Find a Patron, Dex will Train, and Whiskers will Explore while B0T5 will Track. Morphius finds something with “A lot of blinking lights” (a Snooper Bot) while Wedge sells some Trade Goods for 4 Cr (17 Cr in bank); Dex earns 1 XP for training; Whiskers Got a Few Drinks but nothing else; Mac uses his contacts to Find a Patron; and while The Crew has no known rivals, B0T5 makes sure none are following the group.
  3. Determine Job Offers – The Patron is offering a Corporation job with a bonus of +3 Cr for Danger Pay that must be completed This Campaign Turn; the job comes with a Connections Benefit (Gain a Rumor), is a Hot Job that has a better chance of earning an enemy, but , if successful, will keep the crew Busy and employed by the Patron next campaign turn.
  4. Assign Equipment – Standard load-outs are used
  5. Resolve any Rumors – The Crew has 3x Rumors, rolling d6 gets 2 (less than 3) gains a Quest Rumor
  6. Choose Your Battle: This is a Patron Job

Battle

  1. Determine Deployment Conditions – This is a Small Encounter and B0T5 will sit it out
  2. Determine the Objective – The Patron Mission is to Deliver. Wedge is carrying the package.
  3. Determine the Enemy – The Crew is going up against 5 7 enemies (1x Specialist present) who are Criminal Elements-Anarchists (Stubborn: Ignore first casualty in a battle when making a Morale check); with Panic 1-2 / Speed 5″ / Combat Skill +0 / Toughness 3 / AI A (Aggressive) armed “2B” (Colony Rifle, 3x Military Rifle, Hand Laser, Infantry Laser with Specialist carrying Rattle Gun); each also carries a Blade.
  4. Set up the Battlefield – NEXT TIME!
Photo by RMN

Feature image courtesy Kotaku.au

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#FridayReading Paired with #Wargame – From Midway into the Danger Zone as seen Ex Supra (mentions @ADragoons #fscsgame @gmtgames @AEI @Iron_Man_Actual)

Three new books this week that I will read and likely use as “inspiration” for gaming.

The Battle of Midway, Craig L. Symonds, Oxford University Press, 2011

Wargame Pairing: C.V.: A Game of the Battle of Midway, 1942 (Yaquinto Publishing, 1980)

The ad copy for Symonds’ The Battle of Midway claims:

Symonds is the first historian to argue that the victory at Midway was not simply a matter of luck, pointing out that Nimitz had equal forces, superior intelligence, and the element of surprise. Nimitz had a strong hand, Symonds concludes, and he rightly expected to win.

Goodreads

I think Symonds’ argument that the American victory “was not simply a matter of luck” is a valid claim when compared to Gordon Prange’s 1982 book Miracle at Midway (Penguin Books). I’m not so sure you could make that same argument when comparing it to Jonathan Parshall and Anthony Tully’s Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway (Potomac Books, 2005). I also recently visited this topic in my article ““What WAS Nimitz Thinking?”: Another Battle of Midway Wargame Analysis” for Armchair Dragoons.

Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, Hal Brands and Michael Beckley, W.W. Norton & Company, 2022

Wargame Pairing: Flashpoint: South China Sea (GMT Games, 2022)

It has become conventional wisdom that America and China are running a “superpower marathon” that may last a century. Yet Hal Brands and Michael Beckley pose a counterintuitive question: What if the sharpest phase of that competition is more like a decade-long sprint?

Over the long run, the Chinese challenge will most likely prove more manageable than many pessimists currently believe—but during the 2020s, the pace of Sino-American conflict will accelerate, and the prospect of war will be frighteningly real. America, Brands and Beckley argue, will still need a sustainable approach to winning a protracted global competition. But first, it needs a near-term strategy for navigating the danger zone ahead.

Goodreads

Both authors are from the American Enterprise Institute, a DC-based think-tank generally described as “right-of-center.”

Ex Supra: A Novel by Tony Stark, (Self-Published?), 2022

Wargame Pairing: Traveller/Cepheus Engine Role-Playing Game (Various publishers, 1977-2022)

This book started out as a work of Fictional Intelligence (FICINT) that the author, Tony Stark (@Iron_Man_Actual on Twitter) expanded out. The ad copy for Ex Supra reads:

This is the story of the war after the next war.

In 2035, an AI-driven disinformation campaign turned us on ourselves. We became the enemy’s first strike weapons, and as we set fire to our own country, the People’s Liberation Army seized half of the Pacific. From the first combat jump on Mars to the climate change-ravaged jungles of Southeast Asia, EX SUPRA blends the bleeding edge of technology and the bloody reality of combat. In EX SUPRA, the super soldiers are only as strong as their own wills, reality is malleable, and hope only arrives with hellfire. Follow John Petrov, a refugee turned CIA paramilitary officer, Captain Jennifer Shaw, a Green Beret consumed by bloodlust, and many more, as they face off against Chinese warbots, Russian assassins, and their own demons in the war for the future of humanity. 

Ex Supra ad copy

Feature image courtesy reddit

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Loose thoughts on Cortex Codex (not Fandom anymore, 2022)

New arrival this week in my RPG collection is the Cortex Codex. What is the Codex?

The first version of the Cortex Codex has arrived. It’s an alphabetical listing of every Cortex rule. It’s the collated form of the wiki-ish thing they’re going to put on the web site.

On the plus side, the explanations of rules are really good. On the minus side, there aren’t bookmarks and the index-like table of contents doesn’t have page numbers in it.

I love Cortex, and I was a lot happier with the Prime handbook than a lot of other people, but this one’s a bit awkward. Hopefully we’ll see an updated release soon.

Miss Atomic Bomb via RPG.net forums 1 Jun 2022

The Cortex Codex is a three-hole punched, loose-leaf assembly of the rules. I think I can see what the publisher/designer intended; each major rule is its own section that can be swapped out and updated as necessary. New rules are simply added in (alphabetically) as needed.

Yeah…you sorta can “see” though the pages…

With the recent sale of Cortex by Fandom to Dire Wolf Digital, I wonder what’s going to happen to Cortex in the future. While the Traveller/Cepheus Engine system is my first go-to set of rules for role-playing games, I have always enjoyed various Cortex-driven RPGs (like Serenity/Firefly Role-Playing Game and Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game). Like Miss Atomic Bomb above, I too enjoy the Cortex Prime Game Handbook and find the system highly suitable for many different genre of role-playing games.


Feature image courtesy the internet

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Wargame Wednesday or #RPGThursday? Alone just Five Parsecs from Home—Third Edition: Solo Adventure Wargaming (@Modiphius, 2021)

It seems I am always getting dragged into arguments discussions about “What is a wargame?” This should not be one of them. I mean, with Five Parsecs from Home—Third Edition: Solo Adventure Wargaming it can’t be any more obvious since “wargaming” is part of the title, right? In reality, I am torn whether to place my impressions in my #Wargame Wednesday or #RPGThursday or even a #TravellerTuesday column. That’s because Five Parsecs from Home is part wargame and part role-playing game with a healthy dose of Traveller RPG inspiration.

Here is how publisher Modiphius advertises Five Parsecs from Home:

Five Parsecs From Home is a solo adventure wargame where you assemble a ragtag crew of galactic trailblazers and head out to explore the stars, pick up jobs, and every now and then —  engage in some action-packed, sci-fi combat!

Battles are procedurally generated with huge combinations of enemies, weapons, battlefield circumstances and objectives whether fighting rivals or carrying out jobs.

With each encounter you earn experience and loot, progressing your crew and story as you send your crew to look for contacts, trade, explore the colony, recruit replacements or train up their skills.

The game is playable with any miniatures you have on hand and requires only a small number to get started, making it ideal for both experienced and new science fiction gamers. All you need is a few six-sided dice and a couple of ten-sided dice. 

Modiphius

“Adventure wargame.” That’s an interesting adjective for a wargame and certainly a thought worthy of consideration. Hang on to your thoughts as we will come back to that in a bit.

Wargame or RPG?

It’s Traveller

Five Parsecs from Home is Classic Traveller. No, I’m not talking about the Third Imperium setting for Traveller, I mean the original, near setting-less, GDW Little Black Books 1977 version of Traveller where the Imperium was a distant, nebulous entity. Here is part of the introduction to Five Parsecs from Home:

Here, in front of you, is the Fringe: a scattered array of worlds that defy generalization, anarchistic colonies of determined frontier settlers, crime-ridden concrete towns, corporate-controlled extraction bases, and battle-grounds for warlords and pirates.

Opportunities for credits are everywhere you care to look: mercenary work, doing dirty jobs for the corporations, helping solve the trouble of some colony. If you have a ship to your name and a crew you can trust, you can go far.

Sometimes it even pays well. Find allies when you can, because your enemies will certainly remember your face. Nobody makes it very far on their own.

Of course, you may not live to spend your ill-gotten gains. Maybe you end up face-down in the radioactive sand after a shoot-out. Maybe you’re collateral damage in a Galactic War invasion. Maybe you try to pet a Krorg.

Introduction

To me, that screams Classic Traveller (or maybe Serenity/Firefly Role-Playing Game…but you hopefully get my point).

It’s a Role-Playing Game

Five Parsecs from Home is a role-playing game (RPG). There are rules for character generation as well as encounters and narrative play to get one through an adventure (campaigns).

Characters

I would call character generation in Five Parsecs from Home as “just enough.” As in you create “just enough” to have a bit of some personality for your player characters (PCs). Of course, the focus is on combat so whatever attributes or skills the PC has in Five Parsecs from Home are combat-oriented. You also have “just enough” detail on your ship. There is no real role-playing—the adventure is driven by tables—but there are “just enough” story hooks that a bit of a narrative emerges as you progress.

Unlike Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine where PCs bring their attributes and skills to the game, Five Parsecs from Home has two metagame currencies: Experience Points (XP) and Story Points. XP is used to grow a character, but Story Points are how the solo player gains a degree of leverage over the procedural development of the adventure narrative.

Campaigning

When I’m asked to describe adventures in Classic Traveller two terms come to mind: Patrons and Encounters. PCs seek Patrons to find a job and move from encounter to encounter as they adventure. Five Parsecs to Home leans hard into this approach

Five Parsecs from Home is built using campaign turns. After creating a crew of characters and kitting out both them and their ship you travel and explore. Every campaign turn there WILL be a battle to fight. Whereas in Traveller the narrative flow of the adventure is set by the Game Master (GM), in Five Parsecs to Home the Campaign Turn is defined for you. That’s because Five Parsecs from Home is designed for solo play—the campaign turn sequence replaces the GM. In many ways Five Parsecs from Home is a bit more of a “rigid” directed adventure than the solo play rules available for Traveller: more specifically the newer Cepheus Engine version as found in various Solo titles from Zozer Games.

It’s a Wargame

Five Parsecs from Home is a miniatures wargame. More exactly, it’s a set of combat rules for skirmish battles. Indeed, a campaign turn in Five Parsecs from Home is built around getting to, through, and then determining the aftermath of a battle.

(For those of you who are miniatures wargamers, the rules are figure-agnostic. The rules recommend using 15mm or 28mm figures and ranges/movement is in inches.)

In many ways Five Parsecs from Home is a battle scenario generation system. I appreciate that not all fights are straight-up murder hobo missions. Maybe you have to deliver an item, or search something, or maybe secure something. Some missions are for your patron while some are determined by a rival or maybe a quest.

The battle rules for Five Parsecs from Home are not very complex. As the combat system uses a grid square, it is a bit more complicated than the Range Band combat found Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine but not by much. On the other hand, it is not as complex as that found in Classic Traveller combat games Snapshot or Azhanti High Lightning. The battle rules in Five Parsecs from Home are pretty much what I expect from a set of miniatures wargame rules; simple with just enough chrome to make it fit the theme but with a definite focus on playability.

Part of the reason the battle rules in Five Parsecs from Home work is the opposition “AI” in the rules. Rather than rigidly defining how an enemy force operates the game system give you a basic “doctrine” or “tactical tendencies” of how the opposition operates on the game board.

What is it?

So, if you ask me if Five Parsecs from Home is set in the Traveller RPG universe, I will probably answer, “Yes.” If you ask me if Five Parsecs from Home is a role-playing game I will also answer in the affirmative. Finally, if you ask me if Five Parsecs from Home is a wargame I will also answer in the positive. Which brings us back to the “adventure wargame” label…

Five Parsecs from Home is a solo skirmish wargame using role-playing game mechanisms to create your squad/crew. It is not unlike the Traveller Combat System in Classic Traveller nor unlike the related Snapshot or Azhanti High Lightning games where players are given more detailed combat rules for their characters. But Five Parsecs from Home goes a step beyod just being combat rules by adding solo “campaign” or “session” rules to help you build a story of how you got to the battle and what the aftermath is.

In many ways, I see a near-direct lineage between Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1980) and Five Parsecs from Home; both are a RPG to create characters that then move those characters through an adventure of encounters. Behind Enemy Lines was World War II in Europe; Five Parsecs from Home is a sci-fi future.

So, is Five Parsecs from Home a true “adventure wargame?” While I’m not necessarily going to categorize Five Parsecs from Home as a “wargame,” I’m certainly going to use it for some adventure gaming.


Feature image courtesy mentalfloss

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SundaySummary – Brute-al Wargaming by Myself with No Theme Simulated in Fulda (mentions @Modiphius @TheKrulakCenter @BarrickTim @SebastianBae @FoundationDietz @ADragoons @RexBrynen)

Wargames

The Krulak Center BruteCast video/podcast called out Tim Barrick’s Operational Wargame System (OWS) and Sebastian Bae’s Littoral Commander (civilian version available for pre-order from The Dietz Foundation). You get to see lots of how both games work.

Two weeks before Russia began its current invasion of Ukraine, we offered a #BruteCast panel on “Rapid Wargame Prototyping for Crises.” When the invasion actually occurred, #TeamKrulak staff started looking in real time at how to apply rapid prototyping concepts to the wargame platforms already offered to the Marine Corps University and wider national security communities. The goal was to provide “living” wargame layers and mechanics to allow these communities to learn and test battlefield developments as they were observed, in order to provide campaign analysis and inform future decisions. Mr. Tim Barrick, director of wargaming at Marine Corps University, and Maj Ian Brown, operations officer at the Krulak Center, discuss the prototyping and designs processes applied to the Operational Wargame System and Fleet Marine Force/Littoral Commander wargame systems as the war in Ukraine unfolded.

#BruteCast S5 E5–Tim Barrick & Ian Brown, “Wargaming and the Russo-Ukraine War”
Showing off OWS and Littoral Commander…

New ArrivalFive Parsecs from Home – Third Edition: Solo Adventure Wargaming (Modiphius, 2021). Five Parsecs from Home is a set of rules for miniatures wargaming. Specifically, it is a set of solo “campaign” and combat rules. The feel is very Classic Traveller RPG-like. Look for a future #Wargame Wednesday feature.

Boardgames

Well, a card game actually. Picked up a replacement copy of Star Wars: Jabba’s Palace – A Love Letter Game (Z-Man Games, 2022). My original copy was a birthday present but I gave it up to RockyMountainNavy Jr. as he packed for college.

Social Media

I “appeared” on the Season 9 premier of “Mentioned in Dispatches”, the official podcast of The Armchair Dragoons. Our topic was supposed to be “I know what you did last summer” but we meandered through many topics. Final edited version coming in the next few weeks.

Armchair Dragoons Regimental Commander Brant was gracious enough to publish my article, “Thematic? A look at Flashpoint Series Volume 1 from GMT Games” (29 Aug 2022). The article in turn kicked off a wide-ranging (and reaching) Twitter discussion of “game” vs. “simulation.” Listen for more on that topic in the near-future!

I’m also giving a shout out to Rex Brynen at PAXSIMS who mentioned my Armchair Dragoons article “Wargame History – An anti-nuclear wargame in Fulda Gap”  in his recent “Simulation & gaming miscellany, 3 September 2022” posting. If you are a wargamer and not a follower of Rex and his PAXSIMS site you are doing yourself a great disservice.


Feature image “OWS tutorial with the Marine Corps War College Advanced Studies Program. Doing the Battle Royale naval domain scenario focused purely on teaching game mechanics.” Courtesy @BarrickTim on Twitter.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerTuesday – The vices of Startown Liberty

Those awesome folks over at Bundle of Holding recently put out a new Traveller RPG-related bundle, The Gamelords Traveller Collection. This collection honors J. Andrew Kieth, a prolific early illustrator of Traveller (sorry, if all you have experienced is the “new” Mongoose Traveller art then you are poorly served). At one point in my Traveller journeys I had most of these supplements, but I passed them to a friend and then left for college only to never see them again.

Of all the Gamelord items in this collection, the one I remember the most is Startown Liberty by John Marshal from 1984. Why do I remember this one? Because it was so scandalous!

Recall that the early 1980’s was the time of the Satanic Panic. I watched on of my friends burn his D&D books in the fireplace because his parents insisted he “exorcise the demons.” Several of our parent’s looked with disdain on role playing games, but Traveller, being science fiction and not “fantasy”, got a bit of a pass (after all, Star Wars was huge). By the time 1984 rolled around the worst of the Satanic Panic seemed to be passing, and us Traveller players were high school, not middle school anymore.

It also didn’t hurt that during this time my Traveller gang had its own “wretched hive of scum and villainy” going. We played game after game set on the edge of the empire in dive bars and establishments of lesser-repute. We were like a syndicate that would go in, take a place for all the money we could, then leave…guns blazing if necessary. Very wild west! If our parents had really seen what Startown Liberty offered for a Traveller adventure I think they would have blanched, and I likely would have been burning some books in the fireplace too. Three items in particular stand out in my memory.

Games

Gambling has always been a core skill in Traveller. The rules are very benign, nothing like James Bond 007. Here though, the skill was given a background situation and character reactions. Now we could see who was a real cardshark! House always wins? Never!

Drinking

Marc Miller provided rules for Drinking in Startown Liberty. These build on the core skill Carousing found in Traveller. Growing up in Colorado the legal drinking age for 3.2 beer (“Canoe beer” according to Monty Python…”it’s like making love in a canoe; f**king close to water”) was 18 so we weren’t totally ignorant of alcohol, but still we had plenty of laughs as our characters got drunk. Looking back on the book today, I wonder just how much we were influenced by comments like:

In all locales, non-intoxicants can also be purchased, usually for the same price as “mild.” Doing this in a typical Startown dive is a fast way to attract attention, insults and snickers for other customers.

Startown Liberty, p. 28

Prostitutes

OMG, did John Marshal and Gamelords really go there? As much as Startown Liberty tries to capture the vibes of the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars (see the Dedication in the front matter) one thing you did not see in Star Wars (movies) were streetwalkers. Yet, in Startown Liberty the very first Street Encounter in the book is Prostitute. Again, looking back I laugh at how the author tried to play off all the “implications” of the event:

As a family game, these rules will not concern themselves with specifics; these are left to the individual player and referees to work out or ignore, according to their own desires. However, in addition to their basic trade, prostitutes may be willing to part with information for the right price, and may also be a source of danger by serving as a decoy for muggers, pickpockets, and the like. Referees can, however, feel free to ignore the whole thing and substitute some other encounter if they or their players would be more comfortable that way.

Startown Liberty, p. 9

Setting aside the “scandalous” elements, Startown Liberty is a great example of a core Traveller adventuring concept: Adventure Through Encounters. The entire book is one big setup for encounters; find a patron, find a job, find a challenge, find an adventure. Given a sufficiently flexible referee there is actually little need for campaign prep. While many players like the “campaign” approach to RPG adventuring, there are others (like myself) who embrace encounters as a way to progress the story, often in unexpected (but no less fun) directions.

Looking back, I see Startown Liberty having many core concepts that later “space western” RPGs like Serenity Role Playing Game (2005) or Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Edge of the Empire (2013) or Firefly Role-Playing Game (2014) would try to get at, but never quite get all the way there like Startown Liberty delivers. While “scandalous” play may not be your thing, Startown Liberty shows a possible way to incorporate it into your Traveller game.


Feature image “A Corellian prostitute solicits Derek Klivianof Rogue Squadron.courtesy Wookiepedia; I’m guessing you ain’t going to see this part of Legends resurrected for the Mouse version of Star Wars…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition (Mongoose Publishing, 2008)

Having started my tabletop roleplaying game life using the Traveller Little Black Books in 1979, I eagerly embraced the “new” Mongoose Traveller (MgT) when it appeared in 2008. While there was plenty of familiar aspects in character generation, there also were some differences that really stood out to me. The two most jarring were “Level 0” skills and the fact that death in character generation was now an optional “Iron Man” rule.

Truth is I rather liked the Mongoose Traveller rules—at least the first edition. The rules were in many ways a cleaned up version of the Little Black Books. I would play MgT for many years…at least until the Second Edition arrived. More on that later.

Young Agne

Strength B (+1 DM) / Dexterity 8 / Endurance 7 / Intelligence 8 / Education B (+1 DM) / Social 9 (+1 DM)

[MgT is the first time I recall seeing a by-rule Characteristic DM used in Traveller. The rule totally makes sense but it it can have an outsized impact on a 2d6 die roll.]

A Merchanting We Will Go

[One part of MgT character generation I really like is the checklist approach. It is actually rather well laid out and easy to follow. Like most Traveller character generation systems it’s also fast.]

Agne grew up on an otherwise nondescript Industrial planet (Background Skill – Trade 0) and gained some education in how bureaucracies work (Education – Admin 0). as soon as he turned 18 he joined the Merchant Marine as a Crewman (R0). His Basic Training teaches him Drive (Wheeled) 0 / Vacc Suit 0 / Broker 0 / Steward 0 / Comms 0 / Persuade 0.

Agne’s first term becomes very important to him as he meets a great mentor (Life Event – New Contact). He advances to Senior Crewman (R1) and learns how to pilot a spacecraft (Pilot- Spacecraft 1) as well as Mechanic 1 and Advocate 1.

[Life Events and Mishaps are intended to make “connections” or plot seeds for characters. Having an event each term seems a bit excessive to me; maybe my life has been too boring?]

In Agne’s second term he stays in the Merchant Marine and continues to network amongst traders (Life Event – Gain Contact). He does more extravehicular work (Vacc Suit 1) but fails to promote.

Sensing a change of pace is needed, for Agne’s third term he uses his contacts to sign on to a Free Trader. This change has immediate career benefits as he learns more of the “people” side of the business (Diplomat 1) as well as improving his piloting skills (Pilot-Spacecraft 2) and learning how to pilot a Small Craft (Pilot-Small Craft 1). He “advances” to R2 but is still just a “crewman.”

Now 30 years old, Agne continues as a Free Trader for his fourth term. He goes “back to school” for some training and acquires Sensors 1, Engineer-Electronics 1, and Engineer-Maneuver 1. He is rewarded by “advancement” to Experienced Trader (R3) which also means he has learned a bit of everything (Jack of All Trades 1).

It is Agne’s fifth term that life goes sideways. Lots of trade with airless frontier moons means more Vacc Suit expereince (Vacc Suit 2) but he gets caught up in a war (Mishap!) which forces him out of business but not before he learns a bit about pistols (Gun Combat-Pistols 1).

Agne leaves the Merchant Service after 20 years of service ranked as an Experienced Trader. He musters out with 20,000 Credits, a Blade, and two (2) Ship’s Shares.

The Quiet Bulldog

Agne decides he wants to go into business for himself, but he doesn’t have much to start with. He finds a 20-year old Far Trader that he gets on discount at 9% (see Old Ships rule on page 136 of the Mongoose Traveller Pocket Edition). Adding in his Ship’s Shares he is able to acquire a “gently used” ship for an 11% discount as long as he doesn’t mind the chemical spills in the cargo bay or the extra maintenance effort (+1 DM). This means his mortgage is “only” 45,733,095 Cr. or 190,555 Cr per month plus 4,383 Cr per month maintenance and another 20,600 for Life Support. Agne needs to clear at least 215,538 Cr. each month…not counting crew salaries.

Fortunately, Agne has his old mentor-contact that is willing to stake him to start his new life as Pilot-Owner of The Quiet Bulldog. Now all he has to do is, “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

Agne T’vern, Pilot-Owner The Quiet Bulldog

  • Agne T’vern / UPP B878B9 / Age 38 / 5-Term Merchant – Experienced Trader
  • Skills: Admin 0 / Advocate 1 / Broker 0 / Comms 0 / Diplomat 1 / Drive-Wheeled 0 / Engineer-Electronics 1 / Engineer-M Drive 1 / Gun Combat-Pistols 1 / Jack of All Trades 1 / Mechanic 1 / Persuade 0 / Pilot-Small Craft 1 / Pilot-Spacecraft 2 / Sensors 1 / Steward 0 / Trade 0 / Vacc Suit 2
  • Credits: 20,000
  • Contacts: 2 (1x Life-long mentor)

Pilot-Owner The Quiet Bulldog, a 20-year old Far Trader with chemical spills in the cargo bay and extra difficult maintenance.


Feature image from the TV series Lost in Space courtesy imdb.com

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My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – “Are you alive?” Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd., 2007)

My last TTRPG Challenge post was on the Serenity Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis, 2005). Although that game comes first chronologically, Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game was actually my first Cortex-system RPG. It was also my first “IP” game since The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) from a decade earlier.

“The” Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game

To date, most of my science fiction RPGs could probably be best described as space opera focused with a healthy dose of starships and high tech gadgetry. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV series certainly has starships and gadgets, but the focus is very much on the human story. Indeed, the trivia says that actor Edward James Olmos, who played Commander William Adama in the reimagined series, had a clause in his contract that no strange aliens or monsters would appear so that the story stayed focused on the human drama.

Creating a character in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is actually very straight forward. Indeed, in many ways it is not that much more complicated than my beloved Classic Traveller or Traveller 4 which is probably why I embraced the system so readily. Oh, there are major differences; the first being the dice pool mechanic. In many ways I was a bog-standard d6 gamer, so having to suddenly use d2, d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 was a bit of a shift. The other major shift was Plot Points, a meta-game currency that players can use to influence (control?) the storyline. The closest I had previously come to Plot Points was the Luck game mechanic in Star Trek: The Role Playing Game and James Bond 007. The other major adjustment in my thinking was “ships as characters,” which I discussed in the Serenity Role Playing Game.

The Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game also made me think about the “math” behind the game mechanics of RPGs. Most of my RPGs to date used either 2d6 or d%. I was very comfortable with “figuring the odds with those dice. Here though, you had a target number and often were mixing different die types together. If our Target Number is seven (7), what are the odds of rolling 7 or greater with a d8+d6? In many ways the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game created for me an interest in RPG mechanisms as I yearned to learn more about the “models” underlying the games.

Sometimes, you have to roll a hard six.

Commander William Adama

Reporting for Duty

Creating a character in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a simple seven-step process:

  1. Set Staring Level: Determines the number of Attribute/Skill/Trait Points to spend
  2. Concept: General personality
  3. Buy Attributes: These are the character’s innate abilities
  4. Buy Traits: Assets…and Complications
  5. Buy Skills: Purchased in the form of “dice”
  6. Calculate Derived Attributes: Simple calculations
  7. Finishing Touches: Gear and other details

Lt. Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace: I have my flaws, too. 

Col. Saul Tigh: The difference is my flaws are personal. Yours are professional.

Unlike so many of my TTRPG before, character generation in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a point-buy system. The nice part here is that the system has little incentive to min-max, in part because of the Assets and Complications. Taken in conjunction with the Plot Point game mechanism, I barely realized that the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game was very nearly my first “narrative” RPG. That is, this was the first game where players had the ability to control the narrative through creative use of their Assets and Complications and Plot Points.

But before we get too far along on that idea, let me introduce Thomas “Puke” Dogg, a Viper pilot aboard the Battlestar Galactica.

Thomas “Puke” Dogg

Starting Level – Puke is a Veteran starting with 48 Attribute Points, 68 Skill Points, and 4 Trait Points.

Concept: Puke is a Viper pilot that suffered from a bout of spatial disorientation in flight school that led to him “losing his lunch” during a flight with a very senior instructor. Thus, “Puke” was born.

Buy Attributes: Attributes come in two flavors; Physical and Mental. Attribute Points are used to purchase different die levels at 1-to-1 cost.

  • Agility (Physical) – d12
  • Strength (Physical) – d8
  • Vitality (Physical) – d6
  • Alertness (Mental) – d8
  • Intelligence (Mental) – d8
  • Willpower (Mental) – d6

In keeping with the “Puke” story, our Viper pilot has far above average Agility, but lesser Vitality and Willpower.

Buy Traits: Traits can be positive (Assets) or negative (Complications).

  • Assets: Dogfighter d4; Split-Second Timing d4
  • Complications: Illness d4. The occasional weak stomach is actually something more serious…but who wants to see the Flight Doc when there is another Cylon raid inbound?

Buy Skills: Skills are bought in General and Specialty levels.

  • Athletics d6
  • Covert d6 (Sleight of Hand d8)
  • Discipline d6 (Concentration d8)
  • Guns d6 (Pistols d8)
  • Heavy Weapons d6 (Autocannons d8)
  • Knowledge d6 (History d8)
  • Perception d6 (Tactics d8)
  • Pilot d6 (Viper d10)
  • Technical Engineering (Skilled only) d4

Calculate Derived Attributes:

  • Initiative (Agility + Alertness) = 20
  • Life Points (Vitality + Willpower) = 12

Finishing Touches: Puke is a Lieutenant.

Launch the Alert Viper!

Another aspect of the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game that I had to adjust to was a very character-centric approach to combat. So often in my RPG games to date, starship combat was a mini-wargame. Heck, the Star Trek: Roleplaying Game or The Babylon Project or Traveler: 2300 came with an entire set of wargame rules for ship combat. However, vehicle combat is the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is a bit abstract. As the text box “A Matter of Drama” in the Vehicle Combat rules section (p. 152) states:

…For the players, the most important part of any combat comes from the point-of-view of their characters.

In short, this is the Battlestar Galactica Roleplaying Game, not a miniatures wargame. Viper combat should be run on a personal level, with rolls made to attack or dodge incoming raider autocannons. It plays out very similarly to combat on a personal level.

The only time a roll is needed is when something dramatic is about to happen, when there’s a real question to be resolved.

“A Matter of Drama,” p. 152

In many ways, this character point-of-view approach to combat (or any encounter) in the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game is not that far removed from the original Little Black Books of the Traveller Roleplaying Game. This is probably why this game clicked so well with me.

In the Cortex system, one doesn’t just roll a d6, but many other die types too. The Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game opened up a whole new world to me based on the Cortex game engine. Indeed, the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game and the Serenity Role Playing Game were the start of what I term my “Game Engine” era of RPGs where Cortex, FATE, a new Traveller, and what would eventually become known as Genesys would become the preponderance of my games. Alas, there were other games in there too; some titles might even seem a little mousy to some…


Feature image courtesy wallpaperup.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Finding daylight out in the black with Serenity Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2005)

In 2002 I was stationed overseas with the U.S. military. If you have ever been stationed in the military overseas you will know all about the American Forces Radio & Television Service, or AFRTS (pronounced “A-FARTS”). What you will very likely remember is that AFRTS had no real commercials; instead you got “public service” and command messages.

Yeah…I still remember seeing these…in the early 2000’s

What you also didn’t get was the latest television shows, which is why I didn’t get around to watching the 2002 season of the TV series Firefly until after I returned stateside in mid-2004. By 2005 I discovered the movie Serenity and the Firefly TV series and eventually even a new RPG, the Serenity Role Playing Game from Margaret Weis Productions (2005)

Don’t we all…

Technically speaking, I didn’t actually discover the Serenity RPG until 2007 when I got the Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007) and then went hunting for the older game. But in this 2022 CharGen Challenge I’m working my way through titles chronologically by publication date which is why this game is here.

The books for Serenity are beautiful, full color hardbacks that are lavishly illustrated with extensive use of the intellectual property. They were then, and still today, bloody expensive. But between those covers I discovered a RPG game engine that reinvigorated my RPG mojo after a decade of darkness.

Don’t know where I found this but it’s true…

Serenity was written by Jamie Chambers and uses a game engine that eventually came to be call Cortex. Unlike many of the RPGs I played before, Serenity uses a dice pool system. The fact I needed to buy d2, d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12 to play was enjoyable. Characters were easy for me to understand as they have Attributes and Skills. Finally, a game that doesn’t have Classes or Feats or Talents!

While I had grown very comfortable over the decades with a lifepath character generation system of random tables and the like, Serenity uses a point-buy approach. Yes, this demanded a change in my attitude, but here it seemed so natural. I will admit that the first time I came across Traits, Assets, and Complications it was a bit tough to understand, but again the whole package was put forward in such an enjoyable and understandable way I just went with it.

Little did I realize it at the time, but with Serenity I was moving into a more narrative style of RPG play. Nowhere was this more evident than with Plot Points—a form of currency used in-game to “buy” a bonus or create a short-term, expiring “reward” for players. The other part major change Serenity showed me was the concept of “ships as characters.”

Let Me Tell Ya About this FREE Trader…

Up until this point in my tabletop role-playing game experience, vehicles—be they ships or aircraft or ground vehicles or whatever—were always thought of and described simply as equipment. That is, they had a very mechanical description for they were really nothing more than tools for characters to use. Going a bit further, given the wargame heritage of designer Frank Chadwick it’s not surprising that vehicles in the Traveller Roleplaying Game were described in wargame terms. The listing for any ship in Traveller is little different than one finds in Janes’ Defense journals.

Not so for Serenity. While ships are given some encyclopedic entries (Dimensions, Tonnage, Crew, etc.) the in-game statistics mirror characters with Agility, Strength, Vitality, Alertness, Intelligence, Intuition, Willpower, Initiative, and Life. Ships even had SKILLS! Add to that the different traits and complications and every ship could be given a personality. Which really does make sense and is totally in keeping with the sci-fi roots of the game. Enterprise (Star Trek), Eagle 1, Space: 1999) the Millennium Falcon (Star Wars) , Galactica (Battlestar Galactica), and Serenity (Firefly) all are more character than setting in each of those franchises.

In the Serenity Role Playing Game building a ship is like building a character. You start with a Concept, determine Ship Attributes, figure out some Specifications, and then assign Ship Traits, Ship Skill, and so on.

Bagman

Concept: Small(?) courier ship to move (few passengers) and (some) cargo between planets. Usually owned by corporations or governments but few operate “freelance” in the verse.

Attributes

  • Agility d6 “Average Maneuverability”
  • Strength d4 “100-1,000 tons / Small Transport”
  • Vitality d8 “Requires low maintenance”
  • Alertness d4 “Basic, typical needs for privately-owned vessel”
  • Intelligence d4 “Substandard; can handle mundane flight details”
  • Willpower d4 “Basic; automatically seal bulkheads at critical sections, backups for the most critical systems”

Specifications (Dimensions, Tonnage, Speed Class, Fuel Capacity, Crew Quarters)

  • Dimensions: 118′ x 74′ x 30′ (Wedge)
  • Tonnage: 875 tons
  • Speed Class: 4/6
  • Fuel Capacity: d4 “12 tons in a 60 ton tank”
  • Crew Quarters: 4x Staterooms (Rooms 9 tons, Common 23

Ship Traits: The Asset “Cortex Specter” which means few record exist (seems appropriate for a ship delivery “off-the-record” materials).

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My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Shot down in Luftwaffe: 1946 Roleplaying Game (Battlefield Press, 2005)

In January 2006 I discovered a website called drivethrurpg.com. This was an incredible discovery; a website devoted to digital publishing of role-playing games. Here I found games I had never heard of before. My first order was for a Twilight: 2000 supplement I didn’t own. The second, on January 11, 2006 was for a 2005 game titled Luftwaffe: 1946 Role-Playing Game from a publisher I had never heard of, Battlefield Press.

At the time, I had discovered a website called Luft 46 which is still accessible today. At first I thought the RPG and website were associated with one another. Then I discovered that the Luftwaffe: 1946 RPG was based on a comic book series. Luckily, I was able to find some issues in a local comic store.

Luftwaffe: 1946 used the Action! game engine based a target number and 3d6. Basically, to make a skill check you took Attribute + Skill Level + 3d6 and tried to beat the Target Number.

If Luftwaffe: 1946 has a problem, it’s that the game engine and character creation rules are unbalanced. The character creation system in Luftwaffe: 1946 is extremely dense. The end result was my appreciation of the game was also unbalanced; I liked the game engine but didn’t like the character creation system.

Dallas ‘Tex’ Miller

U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Lieutenant assigned to a special air squadron flying captured German X-Planes

  • Body Group: Strength 5, Reflexes 5, Health 5
  • Mind Group: Presence 5, Intellect 5, Will 5
  • Derived: Defense Target Number 15, Initiative 5, Toughness 5, Life 25, Move 10, Cool 5, Fatigue 5
  • Skills: Athletics – 1 / Acrobatics -1; Heavy Weapons -3 / Aircraft Machine Guns (Spec) – 2; Military Science – 3 / Tactics (Spec) – 2; Small Arms – 2 / Pistols – 1; Technical – 1 / Repair -1; Transportation – 3 / Pilot (Spec) – 4
  • Abilities: Ace! Technique -2 (Gunnery, Masterful Controller), Attack Combat Master, Heightened Awareness, Rank 2 (1st Lt.)
  • Disabilities: Famous (1), Recurring Nightmares (2)

Tex has a good life, getting to fly the latest Luftwaffe wonder weapons. Today it’s a Salamander-D, or the forward-swept wing Heinkel 162D (Maneuver Bonus +1). Tex is just trying the basics and is making a Immenlman Turn (Target Number 21).

The GM says the Governing Attribute is Reflexes (5). Tex adds his Transportation (+3) and Pilot (+4) or a total of 12. The 3d6 roll is 10 plus the Maneuver bonus of +1 for a total of 23. Tex pulls off the Immelman but the Salamander is being a bit slippery in its handling!

A bit later Tex decides to try an execute a Lag Roll (Target Number 24). The roll is as before (12 + 1 + 3d6). The 3d6 rolls com up with 7 for a total of 20; the maneuver fails with and effect of -4. Normally, Tex would have to make a TN18 skill roll to retain control with that -4 modifier added in, but his Masterful Control ability gives him the “ability” to ignore the negative penalty. The roll is 12 + 1 + 3d6 (11) for a total of 23—Tex maintains control and is starting to discover the Salamander’s true limits!

An RPG Atrocity

In the end, I gave up on Luftwaffe: 1946 not for the game, but for the politics of the comic book author. What bothered me is that he insisted that removing the swastika from plastic model kits amounted to censorship. He also stated, “I made a careful study of Nazi Germany and found out that their atrocities were not much worse than what other major countries had done to their people and their neighbors throughout the centuries of warfare” (p. 5). Now, I’m not so stupid to think my country is totally blameless, but I absolutely disagree that the United States of America and Nazi Germany are somehow morally equivalent. This forced me to relook at the entire setting in Luftwaffe: 1946. In the end, I decided not to pursue this game any further.


Feature image by Gareth Hector on Luft 46

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