#4thofJuly Sunday Summary – Lazy dog days summer means little #wargame #boardgame action with mentions of @gmtgames @LeeBWood @DanThurot @PastorJoelT @fortcircle @beyondsolitaire #TravellerRPG @FFGames @m_older

Happy 4th of July!

This weekend being the 4th of July holiday in the States usually means I try to play either a Gettysburg or American Revolution game. As of the time of writing this post I had done neither, but I will call your attention to two recent “Rocky Reads” columns I did on the books Meade at Gettysburg and Longstreet at Gettysburg.

The title of this post is only partially true. True—There is little wargame and boardgame action in my schedule right now. Not True—It’s a lazy summer. Reality is I’m back to work 100% of the time with something like 120% of the taskings. My Game of the Week approach was designed to optimize my reduced gaming hours but even that schedule is being threatened by work demands. Add in family requirements for summer vacation activities and gaming takes a back seat.

Game of the Week / Wargames (Mostly)

Time demands meant I struggled to get through Stalingrad ’42: Southern Russia, June-December 1942 (Mark Simonitch, GMT Games, 2019) this week. I barely made it through a play of the eight-turn Fall Blau scenario. Deeper impressions coming in my #WargameWednesday column, but I’ll just say as familiar the ZoC-Bond System was after previously playing Holland ’44: Operation Market Garden, September 1944 (GMT Games, 2018) I was surprised by how much slower this game felt.

Looking ahead, I think I’ll be able to get through Space Empires 4X (Jim Krohn, GMT Games, 2017) and Wing Leader: Legends 1937-1945 (Lee Brimmicombe-Wood, GMT Games, 2021) in the next few weeks. I am especially excited about Wing Leader: Legends because the campaign game is Kursk, which means I get to circle back to My Kursk Kampaign series from earlier this year. After that I think I’ll need to drop wargaming for a few weeks as real summer vacation kicks in. The family takes boardgames on our summer trip so some boardgaming will happen. I figure a return to wargaming won’t happen until mid-August after which Ted Raicer’s Dark Summer: Normandy 1944 (GMT Games, 2021) and Strike of the Eagle (Academy Games, 2011) should land on the gaming table. By then I expect a few other GMT P500 deliveries to deliver too. With the return of the school year I also hope that the Weekend Gaming Night returns.

Speaking of Wing Leader: Legends, I (belatedly) came across this awesome video explainer of air combat in the Wing Leader series by Joel Toppen. Joel’s careful explanation here seemingly draws out this combat example but I find that once you understand the system then combat resolution actually flows quite quickly.

Boardgames

RMN Jr. actually approached me this weekend to play a short, 2-player boardgame. He pulled Kahuna (KOSMOS, 1998) off the shelf so we played. As I quickly scanned the rules I missed the destroy bridges part…but Jr. had not forgotten. It put me at a disadvantage which he mercilessly reminded me of. Regardless of my stupidity a great game was had.

**If you have not read Dan Thurot’s review of Comancheria: The Rise and Fall of the Comanche Empire (Joel Toppen, GMT Games, 2016) then STOP what you are doing and go read it RIGHT NOW. I’ll even understand if you don’t come back because this is one of the best review of a boardgame I have ever read. **

While you’re at it, the words of Kevin Bertram from Fort Circle Games in an interview on the Beyond Solitaire podcast are also very worthwhile to listen to.

Role Playing Games

My middle boy approached me about restarting our Traveller RPG or Star Wars Roleplaying: Edge of the Empire campaigns. While I’m quite happy to run a Traveller RPG campaign loosely set in the Third Imperium using the “modern” Cepheus Engine, I am a bit hesitant to jump into a Star Wars campaign. The setting is the problem. The RMN Boys are huge Di$ney Star Wars fans and voraciously consume all the new content. I am not as excited about the new stories and therefore have limited familiarity with shows like Rebels, The Mandolorian, or the newest Bad Batch. Add into the equation the fact that RMN T is the actual owner of most of the Star Wars RPG splat books in the house and I am at a bit of a disadvantage.

Or maybe not….

In this case my familiarity with non-Star Wars might be an advantage. With a bit of some prep (like reviewing the splat books to see what additional rules are there) I can probably run a campaign that leverages history and is Star Wars but avoids much of their canonical characters. It’s a big galaxy out there.

Books

As it happens to be, I am reading Robert Erwin Johnson’s Far China Station: The U.S. Navy in Asian Waters, 1800-1898 (Naval Institute Press, 2013) this week. As I started reading the book, I felt that in many place it reads like a classic Traveller RPG adventure. So maybe I have inspiration for the RMN Boys Star Wars campaign after all.

Next Book

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Shipping Out in The Clement Sector under HOSTILE Conditions with @IndependenceGa6 & Zozer Games

New Classes

It’s been a while since I picked up any new Traveller RPG materials. With summer in full swing I decided to rectify that situation and picked up four ship books from Independence Games. These ships all are part of their The Clement Sector/Earth Sector settings where the former is a personal favorite of mine. As I noted before, The Clement Sector is a “small ship” universe. Thanks to the limitations of the Zimm Drive (The Clement Sector version of the Jump Drive), ships over 2,500-dTons risk bad things using their Zimm Drive. In The Clement Sector, the TL10-12 Zimm Drives effectively cap ships at 4,999-dTons. That said, these latest books show a creep towards larger designs. Which really means I need to go back and reread Tech Update: 2350 and refresh myself on larger ships in Earth Sector.

(Update –Earth Sector has rules for TL13 Zimm Drives that boosts ship sizes.)

Copeline-class Merchant Vessel

The Copeline-class merchant vessel is quickly becoming the most popular ship in Earth Sector!  Created in 2348 by Corolys Shipbuilding Company, the ship has overtaken such venerable designs as the Rucker and Atlas among merchants in Earth Sector.

The Copeline is a 300-tonne ship with modules which can be switched out to make the ship into a freighter, a passenger liner, a scout, or a combination of all of those!  This versatility has made it the chosen ship for independent operators and small shipping corporations.

Ad copy, Copeline-class Merchant Vessel

Opportunity-class Light Trader

Introduced into service in 2330, the Opportunity-class was Corolys Shipbuilding Company’s entry into the light trader market. The designers of the ship focused on high thrust in-system drive and maximizing the cargo space in the smallest starship hull size available.

The Opportunity is a 100-tonne light trader which is found throughout Earth Sector.  This book contains all seven variants of the ship including the Maximus-class (with greater cargo capacity), the Dispatch-class (which is used as a fast courier), and the Star Reach-class (which has enough fuel for two transits).

Ad copy, Opportunity-class Light Trader

Lion-class Battlecruiser

Designed to provide heavy support for independent cruiser squadrons, act as cruiser squadron flagships, to undertake escort duties and to engage in commerce raiding, the Lion-class battlecruisers of the Royal Navy are recognized as being the most modern capital ships in service with any national navy. 

Taking advantage of TL13 innovations in Earth Sector, the 5000 tonne Lion-class battlecruiser is massive and armed to the teeth. This large ship stands ready to defend the British colonies and take the battle to those who would threaten their holdings. 

Ad copy, Lion-class Battlecruiser

This book draws features several new weapons systems; specifically, “the British Space Systems Type 15 Voidswarm Capital Ship Torpedo and the British Space Systems Type 21 Voidlance Capital Ship Torpedo”.

Atlanta-class Carrier

The latest book published just this week is Atlanta-class Carrier.

One of the largest ships in Earth Sector, the Atlanta-class carrier is the main capital ship of the Southern Alliance Navy. The Atlanta-class carriers are often the centerpiece of a strike group and stand ready to launch their fighters. 

The Atlanta-class carrier is a 3800 tonne vessel which is heavily armed and armored.  The Atlanta also carries 50 F-40B Tomcat fighters and 15 B-44A Archangel strike craft.  In short, the Atlanta is prepared for action. 

Ad copy, Atlanta-class Carrier

This book also has rules for small craft weapons such as missiles, rapid fire railguns, lasers, and particle beams. 

As you can tell, there is a wide variety of ships here. From a very nice “adventuring” 100-dTon ship to a 300-dTon merchant for trading there are many story possibilities. The larger military ships are very suitable as backdrops to adventure.

HOSTILE Warning

Speaking of adventure, I also took the opportunity to pick up a couple of free adventure modules from Zozer Games set in their HOSTILE universe. For HOSTILE, think Aliens meets Blade Runner meets Outland. HOSTILE is more of a gritty, hard sci-fi setting. These HOSTILE Situation Reports are free one-page RPG NPCs or adventures seeds that can be added to your game.

  1. Ghost Ship – “A mayday signal draws the PCs to a lonely gas giant, and a starship in an extremely low, atmosphere-grazing orbit. There’s no response … can the crew be saved? Are they even still alive?”
  2. Snakehead – “Meet Baosheng, a veteran Snakehead operating in the Off-World colonies. His syndicate specialises in techno-crime and the theft of shuttle craft. He has a job you might like … it’s just a pity you’re a deniable asset and he is posing as a legit businessman. What could go wrong?”

Feature image courtesy weirdsciencefiction.blogspot.com

#RPGThursday – Cepheus Journal #5 -or- #TTRPG at it’s finest

Bad on me for not pointing out earlier that Cepheus Journal #5 is now available. This is the first issue without a spaceship on the cover but that doesn’t mean it has any less worthy content. Indeed, though Cepheus Engine started out as an updated instance of the Classic Traveller RPG, as this issue shows it can support a myriad of tabletop role playing game settings from Fantasy to Modern to Sci-Fi.

Cepheus Journal #5

“High Tech Clothing” takes the everyday mundane and shows one how to make it a useful part of the game setting.

“Making Hell” is another excellent example of how to “read the dice” in the world generation sub-game.

“Jump Setting” explains that handwavium science in terms meant to enhance the player’s (and Referee’s) interaction with the setting.

“Fighting Undead” is useful for incorporating sci-fi beings fantasy monsters.

“Exotic Chemicals” is a bit more scientific than some may desire but there are some great ideas in here for adventurers.

“Abstract Wealth Rules” is another alternative means of tracking money; maybe a bit too abstract for some but quite useful for settings that want to emphasize play effect over finite tracking of resources.

“The Hidden Temple” is a nice adventure map for a 2d6 dungeon adventure – or a hidden room on a lower-tech world.

“Epsilon Indi” is another ready-made world that can be dropped into an adventure.

“The Sche” is a race of aquatic beings that may look something like shrimp but are so much more.

“British Cold War Tanks” is an example of Cepheus Engine in a modern setting. Needs more exploration from me.

“Old School Rethink” is a new column and it should be the first article in this issue as it really captures the power of the Cepheus Engine. As author Paul Drye explains:

One of the basic premises of the OSR movement is to reproduce the free­ wheeling feel of early roleplaying and running counter to that are many decisions that were made in those early days which have become set in stone. Players and referees don’t think to challenge them because they’ve been “just the way it’s done” for decades and in doing so miss an opportunity for some fun.

What Paul Drye explains is actually the real reason I love Cepheus Engine; it gives me control over my setting without burdensome IP rights or canonical influences.

Best of all, Cepheus Journal is free!


Feature image courtesy projectnerd.it

#Wargame Wednesday – Rev’ing My War Engine (with #Boardgame and #TTRPG mentions)

Despite COVID, the hobby boardgame industry is generally having a great time. ICv2 columnist Scott Thorne even noticed:

I find it rather strange that, in the midst of a pandemic, a large number of game and comic retailers have reported that March 2021 was their best March ever in terms of sales; with a number of them commenting it was their best month ever in terms of revenue.

ROLLING FOR INITIATIVE — “BEST MONTH EVER”

There are hundreds—if not thousands—of new game titles being published each year. I partake just a corner of it, mostly in the niche wargame market. But like history my gaming interests runs in cycles and here in 2021 I feel like I’m at an inflection point. These days, the RockyMountainNavy Boys don’t have the same interest in gaming as I do and our weekly family game nights have basically ended. Call it COVID fatigue—we did so much gaming in the last year we sorta burned ourselves out. Further, though Mrs. RMN always indulges my hobby game spending habits she’s well within her rights to complain about it at times. In 2020 my game collection grew by ~8% to over 1000 items. For these reasons I needed to reconsider my hobby direction.

As I am a wargamer first the most dramatic changes are going to be in that part of my hobby. What I decided upon is to focus on what I like best – those games that I enjoy the most and keep me coming back – in effect, those games that form a “ZOC Bond” for me and make up the core of my War(gaming) Engine.

Wargaming – Investing in War Engines

I take the term “War Engine” from the excellent chapter “War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer” by Henry Lowood in Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming (MIT Press, 2016) which was edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Lowood calls games that combine a game system plus scenarios a “war engine” as contrasted with early wargames that were monographic (unique game system and one battle/campaign focus). The earliest example is PanzerBlitz of which Lowood writes,

“In contrast to monographic games, PanzerBlitz introduced the game system as a generator for multiple mini-games. Wargamers came to call these mini-games “scenarios,” possibly borrowing from the term’s currency among RAND’s Cold War gamers to describe synopses or imagined or hypothetical political crisis….Henceforth, I will call this combination of system + scenarios a “War Engine.”

Lowood, Zones of Control, p. 93-94

In the most practical of terms, I see “war engines” as series-type games. Thus, I am going to focus more on certain series and less on “new” designs. Oh, I’m sure I’ll still buy a few non-War Engine titles, but I’m going to be more picky about it. The main draw with going to proven war engines is that my time investment to get into the game and enjoy it is usually less than a totally new title.

Here are a few of the War Engines that I enjoy the most and why I will maintain a focus on them. This list is not all-inclusive but a (fair?) start at what I’m trying to focus on:

  • Admiralty Trilogy (Admiralty Trilogy Group) – Although these naval wargames tend towards the simulation-end of the spectrum of gaming they are my tactical go-to series for nearly 40 years now; I have no intention of changing that!
  • Conflict of Heroes (Academy Games) – I discovered this series in 2016 and absolutely love the “new-age” mechanics in what outwardly appears to be standard hex & counter wargame; top-notch production quality is also a major draw as well as the innovative Firefight Generator and Solo Expansion (most incredible AI in any game).
  • JD Webster’s Fighting Wings (Clash of Arms/Against the Odds) – My tactical air warfare counterpart to ATG naval warfare.
  • Lee-Brimmicombe-Wood’s Air Raid series (GMT Games) – As a former strike planner in the US Navy I planned these types of mission in real life and enjoy the tabletop version.
  • Next War (GMT Games) – Modern (or near-future) warfare is all speculation but this system uses a good framework to try to get at the problem in a reasonably playable manner.
  • Panzer/MBT (GMT Games) – The 1979 Yaquinto Publishing edition of Panzer was my first wargame and this series is my tactical go-to system for ground warfare in World War II or the Cold War.
  • South China Sea (Compass Games) – The modern day spiritual successor to the 1990’s Fleet Series from Victory Games; my operational level modern war at sea game (with some politics thrown in).
  • Standard Combat Series (Multi-Man Publishing) – I don’t have (nor will buy) every game in the series but if the topic is right I know the base game is easy to learn and will have an interesting “gimmick” rule to represent an important element of the battle/campaign.
  • Wing Leader (GMT Games) – While Fighting Wings is all about the dogfight, Wing Leader looks at the larger picture of why the dogfight is taking place, not the details of “turning & burning.”

If I had to point to a trend here it’s that I have grown leery of The Cult of the New. Which has advantages and disadvantages. There are some great one-off (or small series) wargames out there but my reality is I can’t play (nor afford) them all. A plan of focus is important.

The Rest of the Story

Wargames are just one part of my hobby (albeit the major portion). Boardgames and role-playing games also compete for my hobby time and will also see changes.

Boardgames – REDUCE

I must sadly face that the heady days of playing new boardgames almost every week with the RMN Boys is past. Instead I need to focus on fewer boardgames. This means that as much as I personally love games like Root (Leder Games) and the completionist in me wants all the new Marauder Expansion material, the truth is it will likely never get those items to the gaming table in any reasonable quantity. Instead I will commit to spending half the money and be satisfied with just the new factions and a taste of the hirelings rules. This same approach will be my driver of boardgame purchases in the near future.

That said….

Like wargames there are certain boardgame series that I like. I really enjoy Root (Leder Games), if for no other reason than it is incredible to play a design that somehow incorporates so many mechanics. It really is a design tour-de-force.

Another boardgame series I really enjoy is AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018). I love how this “adventure exploration” game starts as a railroad/resource grabbing Euro but evolves into a type of wargame as the Old Ones awaken. I like the core game so much I am going to jump in and support the Kickstarter campaign from Schmili Games for AuZtralia: TaZmania and AuZtralia: Revenge of the Old Ones.

I also recently enjoyed the history strategy game No Motherland Without: North Korea in Crisis and Cold War (Dan Bullock, Compass Games, 2021). Dan has a new game on Kickstarter, 1979 Revolution in Iran about the Iranian Revolution being published by The Dietz Foundation. I already pledged and am anxiously looking forward to the experience of playing the game.

Role-Playing Games – FOCUS

This has actually been my approach for a few years now. I’ll be honest; I turned away from much of the role-playing industry because of the wave of political correctness that infects it. [Truth be told, the boardgame industry is going the same sad way] I am going to focus on the Traveller ruleset and especially Cepheus Engine materials. I also want to reexamine the various Traveller-related wargames (and several near-adjacent rules/settings like Twilight: 2000 or Traveller: 2300).

Shelves of Shame

I own many games I played a just few times (or not at all in the last decade). I need to get more games into a replay rotation. My collection is quite sufficient to keep me going for a long time. I need to look at selling more than a few too. There is a very decent local fleamarket listing on BGG that I use occasionally; maybe I need to be a seller instead of a buyer.

Books

I really enjoy my recent combining of reading a book and playing a related wargame. I need to make this a normal thing. Of course, that may mean more trips to the local used book store.

Models

My real shelf of shame is my plastic model collection. I really meant to get more built over the winter months but it didn’t happen. To clear that shelf will take real effort. Hmm…maybe I need to combine wargaming and plastic modeling….

Rocky Reads for #Wargame – Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82 (Sept/Oct 1980) -or- Grognard nostalgia (with a mention of @markherman54)

I recently acquired Jim Dunnigan’s wargame Fifth Corps: The Soviet Breakthrough at Fulda, Central Front Series, Volume 1 (Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82/SPI, Sept/Oct 1980) in a trade. This is the magazine version which came in the subject issue. As I was reading the rules for the game (still stapled inside the magazine) I started thumbing though the rest of the issue. Very quickly I found myself waxing nostalgic at much of the content. I stopped thumbing and started reading.

In late 1980 I was in 7th grade. I had been playing wargames for less than a year at this point and was heavy into my very first wargame, Jim Day’s Panzer from Yaquinto Publishing (1979). By this point I probably had the second game in the series, ’88’ (1980). I also surely had started playing the pocket edition of Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979). This was also the start of my “serious’ military history reading, especially since my neighbor worked for Ballantine Books and monthly would throw a box of history books over the back fence into my yard. So when I open the pages of this issue of Strategy & Tactics it brings back many great hobby memories.

At the time this issue was published, I was just starting to read wargaming magazines. The $5.00 cover price for the issue was a bit steep for me. It would be another few years until I started making enough of my own money in chores that I could afford luxuries like an issue of Strategy & Tactics.

Full page ad on page 3 for Dallas: The Television Role-Playing Game. Was this really a thing? I was huge into (now Classic) Traveller RPG but what was SPI thinking?

The feature article in this issue is “The Central Front: The Status of Forces in Europe and the Potential for Conflict by Charles T. Kamps, Jr. Mr. Kamps wrote more than a few articles for wargame magazines back in the day and I always thought they were well researched. The main article is rather short (four pages) but the added text boxes that follow are awesome and include:

  • Skeleton Order of Battle, Fulda Gap Battle Area
  • The Airborne Threat
  • Air Support (with an interesting aircraft readiness chart…boy those high-tech F-15s were difficult to maintain!)
  • The Big Picture: A Scenario for Invasion
  • The Miracle Weapons (TOW, other ATGMs, FASCAM)
  • Nuclear & Chemical Operations
  • The Prophets (with a shout out to Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War, August 1985 which I read religiously)

The last text call out box is “The Wargames” where Mr. Kamps relates results from “professional” wargames. The author lets us know what he thinks of these wargames when he concludes:

Having participated in Command Post Exercises in Europe wherein general officers and senior field grade officers accomplished their objectives by fraud, (e.g., map movement of mechanized units through impassable terrain; ignoring or defying umpire rulings on combat resolution; etc.), the author issues a caution to regard all “official” results with a degree of circumspection.

Charles T. Kamps Jr., “The Wargames,” Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, p. 14

Hof Gap: The Nurnburg Pincer, Volume 2 of the Central Front series for only $9.95!

On page 17 is Volume 1, Number 1 of “For Your Information: A Wide Ranging Survey of Historical Data and Analysis.” This column would be one of my favorite parts of S&T in the future. These little factoids, an early version of a wargaming wiki, were awesome for me to read and store away. “FYI” contributed much to my military history historical knowledge.

I can almost remember looking at ads like the full-page spread on page 21 with wargames shown. To this day I still want to find a copy of NATO Division Commander: Leadership Under Fire (Jim Dunnigan, SPI, 1980). I would end up with a copy of Air War: Modern Tactical Air Combat by David C. Isby but it would be the 1983 TSR version. Likewise, the full-page spread of SPI science fiction/fantasy games also brings back memories, like playing my friend’s copy of Greg Costikyan’s 1979 game The Creature that Ate Sheboygan (near where my father grew up). I also see Commando (SPI, 1979) and StarSoldier (SPI, 1977) listed on these pages, both of which ended up in my game collection around this time too. Jim Dunnigan’s The Complete Wargames Handbook is also available for only $7.95.

I was surprised, but not surprised, to see the secondary feature article, “Across Suez: The Battle of Chinese Farm, October 15, 1973” was written by Col. Trevor Dupuy, USA, Ret.. Dupuy founded The Dupuy Institute and is the paragon of an operations research specialist. I would read several of Dupuy’s books through the years but I was not aware of this connection with SPI. In retrospect, it should be obvious to me. Christopher Lawrence, who worked at The Dupuy Institute with Col Dupuy, writes in War By Numbers (Potomac Books, 2017) about Dupuy and combat models in the 1970s:

By the early 1970s the models were being used to war game a potential war in Europe for the sake of seeing who would win, for the sake of determining how we could structure our forces better, and for the sake of determine what supplies and other support were needed to sustain this force on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

This development of models created a need to understand the quantitative aspects of warfare. While this was not a new concept, the United States suddenly found itself with combat modeling structures that were desperately in need of hard data on how combat actually worked. Surprisingly, even after 3,300 years of recorded military history, these data were sparse.

It was this lack of hard data on which to base operational analysis and combat modeling that led to the growth of organizations run by Trevor N. Dupuy, such as the Historical Evaluation and Research Organization (HERO). They attempted to fill the gap between modeling communities’ need for hard data on combat operations and the actual data recorded in unit records of the combatants, which required some time and skill to extract. It was an effort to integrate the work of historians with these newly developed complex models of combat.

Lawrence, War By Numbers, p. ix-x

Interestingly, the advertisement for the related wargame, Across Suez: The Battle of Chinese Farm October 15, 1975, shows it is designed by some guy named Mark Herman. I have to wonder what sort of conversations Mark had with Col Dupuy when designing this game. Seeing how Mr. Herman went on to lead a major defense contractor’s wargaming effort (not to mention all the wonderful games he has designed) I am interested as to the degree of influence the Colonel had on him.

I really enjoyed the “Gossip” column and all the name dropping. There is talk of the new and amazing Ace of Aces (Gameshop, 1980) with “no counters and no map.” I remember this game very fondly as my friends and I would play endless rounds on the school bus going to to/from middle school. Star Fleet Battles also gets a mention along with the forthcoming Federation Space (Task Force Games, 1981) which I would purchase.

Then there is this little snippet—”In the role-playing corner of the world, Chaosium is working on a role-playing game on H.P. Lovecraft’s work.” How little did we all know that Call of Cthulhu would still be going strong 40 years later!

I even found some early Satanic Panic reporting in this issue:

“These books are filled with things that are not fantasy but area actual in the real demon world and can be very dangerous for anyone involved in the game because it leaves them open to Satanic spirits.” Guess what they are talking about. Right. Dungeons & Dragons. It seems there is trouble in Heber, Utah. The Mormons are in an uproar over the game and, in fact, the state legislature is debating banning the game. “D&D banned in Utah” read the headlines next week, and up will go sales again. It is also rumored that a Christian organization forced a Phoenix store to withdraw D&D from sale. Something about it coming from Satan and working with the Anti-Christ. It’s probably all a Communist plot anyway. Oh, they said that too?

“Gossip,” Strategy & Tactics Nr. 82, p. 35

I was surprised to find David C. Isby reviewed Warship Commander 1967-1987: Present Day Tactical Naval Combat and Sea Command: Present-Day Naval-Air and Anti-Submarine Warfare. Both games were by Ken Smigelski and published by Enola Games in 1979 and 1980, respectively. I have these two books and for a while they were a direct competitor to Harpoon (now from Admiralty Trilogy Games) in my collection. I like how Dave Isby characterizes Warship Commander; “This book presents a study of modern naval surface combat set up in the format of wargame rules, aimed primarily at miniatures play but easily adaptable to boardgame format.” He goes on to say, “The book is a thorough, detailed simulation of a fascinating subject, and is worthy of comparison with the best boardgames.” On Sea Command he states, “Sea Command is an eduction in modern naval combat in wargame form.” Yes, I know!

Looking across the “Games Rating Chart” I find several games I either owned or would own in the next few years:. As much as we talk about the Golden Age of Wargaming being dominated by SPI or Avalon Hill I see more than a few other companies listed here with Yaquinto being a personal favorite:

The back page of this issue has an advertisement for For Your Eyes Only, a military affairs newsletter I actually subscribed to for a while. There is also an advertisement for a new bi-weekly newsletter by a guy named Richard Berg who was starting a new publication, Richard Berg’s Reviews of Games.

In many ways I feel lucky to find this particular issue of Strategy & Tactics. There were so many great games talked about within these pages that I am personally associated with. It’s great to see where the wargming hobby was in late 1980 when my hobby journey was just starting.

#RPG Thursday – From The Winds of Gath to #TravellerRPG

Role-playing games didn’t just spring up from nothingness. The most famous RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) had it’s root in science fiction and fantasy literature. The famous D&D Appendix N gives readers a listing of some of those sources. Likewise, the Traveller RPG drew from science fiction, but there has never been an “official” counterpart to Appendix N. Some fans have built their own. For myself, I prefer to read some of the Golden Age of Science Fiction stories and find connections. So it was that I picked up The Winds of Gath, the first story in E.C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra Saga. First published in 1967, there are direct connections to elements found in Marc Miller’s 1977 Little Black Book editions of the role-playing game Traveller.

The Winds of Gath

“What’s it like being a traveller?”

‘I mean, what do you get out of it?’

His eyes were curious and something else. Dumarest had seen it so often before, the look of the stay-put to the mover-on. They all had it and the envy would grow. Then, as the prison of their ship began to close in, that envy would sour into hate. That’s when a wise traveller waited for another ship.

‘It’s a way of life,’ said Dumarest. ‘Some like it, some don’t. I do.’

‘How do you go about it? What do you do between trips?’

‘Look around, get a job, build another stake for passage to somewhere else.’

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Note how E.C. Tubb uses the double-L version of traveller, just like Marc Miller would. This short exchange summarizes the essentials of any Traveller adventure, especially the early version found in the Little Black Books that were mostly rules and very light on setting. Get a job. Build a stake. Move on.

Cold Sleep

Dumarest sat hunched in the box as Benson crossed to the dispenser. He wrapped his arms about his chest, conscious of the cold, the bleakness of the compartment. The place resembled a morgue. A chill, blue-lighted cavern, the air tainted with a chemical smell. A low place, shapeless with jutting struts and curved beams, harsh with the unrelieved monotony of unpainted metal.

There was no need for heat in this part of the ship and no intention of providing comfort. Just the bare metal, the ultraviolet lamps washing the naked coffin-like boxes with their sterilising glow. Here was where the livestock rode, doped, frozen, ninety per cent dead. Here was the steerage for travellers willing to gamble against the fifteen percent mortality rate.

Such travel was cheap–its sole virtue.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

In Classic Traveller, when a Traveller is awakened from Low Passage there is a basic saving throw of 5+ on 2d6 (Book 1 Characters and Combat, p. 21). That works out to an 83% chance of survival – or 17% chance of dying. You want to boost your chances? Have an attending medic (“DMs: Attending medic of expertise 2 or better, +1).

‘I haven’t lost one yet,’ boasted the handler. ‘That’s why you had me worried. I’ve got a clean score and I want it to stay that way.’

It wouldn’t, of course. Benson was still fresh at the game. Give him time and he would become less conscientious, more time and he would grow careless, finally he wouldn’t give a damn. That’s when some of his kind thought it cute to cut the dope and watch some poor devil scream his lungs raw with the agony of restored circulation.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Travel the Traveller Way

Further off and to one side, on some high ground well away from the danger of the field and the smell of the camp, sat a prim collection of prefabricated huts and inflatable tents. There sat the money and comfort money could provide–the tourists who travelled High, doped with quick-time so that a day seemed like an hour, a week a day.

Those in the camp had travelled like Dumarest–Low. Those who rode Middle stayed with the ships which were their home.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Book 1 Characters and Combat on page 21 laid out the three classes of travel:

  • “High Passage – Includes first class accommodations and excellent cuisine.” CR (Credits) 10,000
  • “Middle Passage – Includes second class accommodations (though still reasonably good quality) and passable quality food and drink.” CR 8000
  • “Low Passage – Involves travel in cryogenic (cold sleep, or suspended animation) capsules, and the traveller is unconscious for the course of the journey.” CR 1000

Better Living Thru Chemistry

We already noted that High passengers used “quick-time” to speed up the perception of time. In the chapter “Drugs” in Book 2 Starships we find “Fast Drug:” “Fast Drug is named because it makes the universe (to its user) appear to move much more quickly; the drug slows down personal metabolism at a ration of approximately 60 to 1″ (Book 2, p. 38).

The opposite of Fast Drug is Slow Drug. Again, we find this in The Winds of Gath:

‘You said that you know what you are doing but few have used slow-time in the conscious state. The dangers are too great. It isn’t just a matter of living faster, you know.’

‘I know.’

‘I hope that you do.’ She handed him a small bag. “These glucose tablets might help. You’re going to need all the energy you can get. Unconscious you’d be no problem; I could supply intravenous feeding and your energy-demand would be relatively low. Conscious…’ She broke off. ‘Well, you know about that. Just remember that the square law comes into effect on food requirements and everything else.’

….

He felt nothing, not even the air-blast carrying the drug into his bloodstream, but, with shocking abruptness, the universe slowed down. It hadn’t, of course. It was just that his own metabolism, reflexes and sensory apparatus had suddenly begun operating at almost forty times the normal rate. The danger lay in accepting the illusion of a slowed universe as reality.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 14

In Classic Traveller a Slow Drug accelerates the users metabolism to twice the normal rate. Not quite the “forty times” in The Winds of Gath but the essential element of the drug’s effect is there.

1 of 1001 Characters

Classic Traveller Supplement 1 1001 Characters included nine characters drawn from science fiction. Although not identified in that supplement, the later Supplement 4 Citizens of the Imperium called them out. Here is Earl Dumarest (warning – minor spoilers):

  • Homeless Wanderer
  • BFCA98 / Age 34
  • Cr – 0 to 100,000
  • Blade-6, Most other edged weapons-4, Most guns-4, Streetwise-3, Steward-2, Pilot-1, Tactics-3, Leader-3
  • This individual habitually carries a blade or dagger and wears mesh. Raised on a tramp trader, he now wanders the galaxy alone, searching for the home he left as a youth.
  • In the course of his travels, he has acquired the formula to the affinity twin, a chemical that, when ingested by two beings (animals, persons, etc) allows one to occupy and control the other. The occupation ends with the death of one of the individuals.
  • Incidentally, he is pursued by nefarious forces that want this formula.

Reading for Roleplaying…or #Wargame? – The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson (@docetist) – or – I’m a Munchkin Grognard (#RPG #TravellerRPG)

My first role-playing game (RPG) was Traveller from game Designers’ Workshop back in 1979. In the same little store where I discovered my first wargame, Panzer by Jim Day from Yaquinto Publishing (1979), I found a small, very plain black box with three Little Black Books inside. So started my RPG adventures which would parallel my wargame experiences. As I was a solid military history reader and generally avoided fantasy science fiction in those days I never felt the urge to play Dungeons & Dragons like a few of my friends. But that was OK; we played the heck out of Traveller for RPGs and Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979+) for wargaming back in those days. All of which means I entered the world of RPGs without realizing that I was amongst defining moments of the hobby. The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson provides a “lost” history of how Dungeons & Dragons and other games came to define a new genre of gaming – the role-playing game.

As Peterson points out, Dungeons & Dragons (1974) did not call itself a role-playing game. Indeed, the cover stated it was, “rules for fantastic medieval wargames campaigns” (Peterson, 15). Starting from this observation, Peterson in The Elusive Shift takes the reader on a historical survey of how role-playing games came to be defined; or, as Mr. Peterson says:

It is not the ambition of this study to settle on a tidy dictionary defintion of role-playing game but instead to show historically how the game community came to grapple with agreeing on one.

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 19

A Munchkin Grognard Traveller Perspective

Like I already stated, my first foray into RPGs was through Traveller, not D&D. At the same time I was entering the wargaming hobby. Forty years later I consider myself a wargame Grognard, that of an “Old Guard” of players who have been involved in the hobby a long time. So it was interesting to realize that in RPG terms of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I was a “munchkin.” As Peterson relates:

It was around this time that the pejorative term munchkin entered the role players’ vocabulary. The Wargamer’s Encyclopedic Dictionary (1981) defines a munchkin as “a young wargamer, generally under 14 or 16 years of age,” in contrast to a grognard, “a wargamer who has been in the hobby a very long time.”

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 232

As I was 12 years old when I got my first wargame and RPG, I was actually a very young munchkin which is probably why I missed out on so much of the background fighting over what the RPG hobby was; I simply did not have the money to subscribe to all those newsletters or magazines where the discussion was taking place! Even if I did subscribe, as a sixth-grader the discussion may even had gone right over my head (figuratively and literally).

Through reading The Elusive Shift I also came to discover just how much of an influence Traveller has on my definition of an RPG. Peterson goes so far to call Traveller a “transcending design” (p. 173) and devotes an Intermezzo in his book to the game. Since Traveller was my first, and for several years my only, RPG* when I read the “rules” I accepted them as “the way” without question. Peterson points out that how one plays Traveller is a matter of player preference; “There are three basic ways to play Traveller: solitaire, scenario, and campaign. Any of these three may be unsupervised (that is, without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation” (Traveller Book 1, p. 3). To this day I have no problem playing an RPG solo; it has always been an option from the beginning. I also have no problem setting up a one-shot scenario or digging into a campaign. Again, that has always been “just the way it is.” I also was very happy to see Jon Peterson call Traveller, “perhaps one of the most adaptable of the designs of the 1970s” (p. 173) though he says that because the game exemplifies the extremes of both open-ended (with a Gamemaster) and close-ended (no referee) systems. Without trying to ignite an “Edition Wars” argument discussion here I’ll just say that these days I am very happy with the Cepheus Engine version of Traveller which is very similar to the original Little Black Books Classic Traveller from decades ago.

In The Elusive Shift Peterson shows how Dungeons & Dragons grew out of both the wargaming and science fiction fan communities. Again, as I entered both genres of hobby gaming at the same time I didn’t really see any “legacy” issues . All of which means I never really got into the whole “D&D is a wargame” controversy discussion because RPGs and wargames were always two related-yet-distinct facets of hobby gaming to me.

To this day, the wargame community constantly grapples with the age-old question “What is a wargame?” Heck, even I took a stab at answering that question in an episode of the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast for the Armchair Dragoons. Peterson’s The Elusive Shift shows us how a closely related community grappled with a very similar defining issue. This book won’t give wargamers an answer to their question but it certainly can promote understanding of how the RPG community came to some agreement.

Coming together. In agreement. What a novel concept!

Citation

Peterson, Jon, The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2021 (Apple Books electronic edition)


*I’m not sure what my second RPG was, but it may have been Commando by SPI (1979) which Peterson notes is both a wargame AND and RPG. I know my copy has marked up charts where we tried to convert Commando tables for use in our Traveller activities. Behind Enemy Lines (1st Edition, FASA 1982) is clearly my next RPG after Traveller, though some might argue that it is more a skirmish-level wargame adventure guide than a “true” RPG.

#SundaySummary – From Kursk to Karelia to No Motherland Without; complete Scythe, Dicing with @ADragoons, Cepheus Engine, and too much Kickstarter #wargame #boardgame #TravellerRPG

Wargames

Still working on my Kursk Kampaign reading. Have gotten through July 12, 1943 and am now looking at my tactical armored combat wargames like Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel 3rd Edition (Academy Games, Panzer (GMT Games), or Blood & Thunder (GDW) to see how they approach the the first part of the offensive and especially the signature Battle of Prokharovka.

At the same time I am exploring my newest Standard Combat Series (SCS) title from Multi-Man Publishing, Karelia ’44: The Last Campaign of the Continuation War (2011). So far it’s pretty “bog-standard” SCS with the added splash of “The Boss’s Patience” rules which vary game length. More to follow!

Boardgames

My copy of No Motherland Without from Compass Games was supposed to ship this week. I don’t have a shipping notice yet so I hope it’s on the way. It arrived! It may have spent the night out on the porch. Did I accidentally order the “Frozen Chosin” edition?

My corrected copy of Scythe Complete Rulebook (Stonemaier Games) arrived this week. The major changes were in the Automa for solo play. Using the Automa for solo play was a part of the Scythe design I have shied away from; maybe that needs to change?

Check out another episode of Mentioned in Dispatches podcast from Armchair Dragoons where we talk about dice for over an hour. Did we have a purpose for the podcast, or was this just a good ‘ole bullshat session?

Roleplaying Games

Issue #4 of Cepheus Journal is out. If there is one thing I find interesting about this issue is the range of settings that are using the Cepheus Engine rules. I mean there is everything from classic space opera to more hardish sci-fi to historical to fantasy to modern. This issue may be the best one yet showing off the versatility of Cepheus Engine.

Kickstarter

Lot’s of wargame content being offered with closing dates before the end of the month; so much so I can’t possibly back them all:

Pro Wargame Reading Recap

Via Micah Zenko (@MicahZenko)New Defense Science Board report on state of US military gaming, exercises, simulations. –>”strategic gaming has become a rarely employed tool for analyzing today’s larger and longer term challenges.”

Via Major General Mick Ryan (@WarintheFuture) An awesome Friday #PME read – #Strategy, #War, and the Relevance of Carl von Clausewitz, from the Military Strategy Magazine.

Via designer Brian Train“Commercial Wargames and Experiential Learning” by Roger Mason PhD.


Feature image from Team America: World Police