#RPGThursday Retrospective – Manufacturer Settings (2009-2010)

At the end of the 2000-aughts my roleplaying collection again took a different turn. For a few years, I turned away from new game systems and instead invested in campaign settings. At the time, the seemingly most popular settings were published courtesy of major publishers, or what I term “manufacturer settings.” I realize the term is not totally fair; in more than a few cases the setting was a labor of love from a small-time or alternative author that teamed with the larger publishing house because they had the experience and marketing prowess to bring the product to market.

pic544013_mdUniverse of Babylon 5 used Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller (1E) game engine. This campaign setting was translated from an earlier D20 series. UoB5 suffers from poor editing and sloppy game system translation as well as poor production quality. Given how rich a setting the B5 Universe is, to have the game version be so poorly done is a travesty. A major disappointment.

pic651616_mdReign of Discordia (Mongoose/Gun Metal Games) was another campaign setting using the Traveller 1E-engine. Another system translation (originally True20) it suffered from many of the the same issues as U0B5. Another disappointment.

pic760617_mdWhen I saw Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose) I just had to get it. Here was going to be the RPG version of my favorite military science-fiction series! Even better, it used the Traveller 1E-game engine that I was so familiar with!

What a let-down.

The fact that it was Mongoose should of been a warning. That and the cover art – that soldier is nothing like I imagined Hammer’s Slammers to be. Opening up the book, the maps were so amateur and very un-military-like. The rules were an expansion of the basic game engine, and links to future products were promised (and never delivered).

In my disgust with Mongoose – they had obviously tried to cash in on the Hammer’s Slammers name and ended up doing a great disservice to the IP – I turned to another recognized gaming name. pic797297_mdSpace 1889: Red Sands (Pinnacle Entertainment Group – PEG) was the campaign setting book for Space 1889 using the Savage Worlds game engine. This was by far the best of the setting books I tried as it was a good match of setting (steampunk) and game engine (Savage Worlds – “Fast, Furious, Fun”). The campaign setting also works well with the

Courtesy Wessex Games
Aeronef  (Wessex Games) miniature rules I had recently found. Indeed, long ago I used Red Sands to create Aeronef characters.

By the end of 2010 my flirtation with campaign settings died out. Looking back, each of these settings I tried was backed by a major publishing house and closely tied to their game engine. In the case of Mongoose the poor production values reflected to me a cash-grab attitude the turned me off then like it does today. The second part of the problem was that there was little “new” in these settings; in each case the setting was a translation of an older IP or license into a newer game engine. Red Sands was the best done of my lot, but I was looking for more.

In retrospect, this era – 2009 thru 2010 – was a major disappointment. Interestingly to me, I purchased each of these settings in a dead-tree form. This was among the last times I did that. The rise of online publishing and the availability of content through sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG (and more recently the Open Gaming Store) were starting to dramatically change not only how, but what content was being delivered to RPG customers like myself.

All images courtesy RPGGeek except where noted.

RPG Thursday – A Little History (Space: 1889 Red Sands)

21ST LANCERS. LANCER IN SUDAN KIT Original watercolor signed by C.Y. (after Caton Woodville), reproduced in The Illustrated London News, Sept. 3, 1898; mounted lancer in campaign dress,

A while back I was working on a RPG setting I called Savage Aeronef, which was a matchup of the Savage Worlds RPG and Wessex Games Aeronef seting. In the course of developing the setting, I created a character named ‘Ace’ Woodley who had a burning desire to get to Mars where his explorer Uncle died. His only connection; his Uncle’s Radium Gun.

More recently, I got a copy of the RPG Space 1889: Red Sands. This fits well with my Savage Aeronef setting and actually requires little change to use. So when I decided to draw up a Space: 1889 character it was logical that I would draw up Ace’s dead uncle.

In Space: 1889 you start character generation with a concept. In this case, I had a (now) dead uncle that died on Mars. Looking over the book and chargen tables, I decided that “Uncle Martin” had been an Army Cavalryman who ended up on Mars and eventually invented his own Radium Gun. In game terms he can be described as a Veteran-level character:

Agility – d8/Smarts – d10/Strength – d6/Spirit – d6/Vigor – d4
Fighting – d8/Knowledge (Battle) – d6/Notice – d8/Persuasion – d6/Repairs – d6/Riding – d8/Shooting – d8/Survival – d6/Tracking – d8/Weird Science – d6
Airsickness (Major)/Disowned (Minor)/Enemy (Minor)
Army Cavalryman/Arcane Science

Space: 1889 also introduces the concept of “status” which roughly equates to social class.  Given that Uncle Martin has the “disowned” hindrance, this reduced his social status to 1, or the underling class.

Looking to flesh out his life history a bit, I went looking for some background information. As one of his languages was Russian I at first imagined that he may have been involved in the Crimean War and the “Charge of the Light Brigade”. This event took place in 1854, or 48 years before ‘Ace’ and seemed to me to be a bit of a stretch. So I kept looking for something else.

One of the books I looked at for the “Charge of the Light Brigade” was Men of War which was edited by Ernest Hemingway. This book is a collection of short stories. One story that jumped out immediately was “The Cavalry Charge at Omdurman” by Winston Churchill.

The Battle of Omdurman took place on 2 September 1898. The key event of the battle was the charge of the 21st Lancers which included a young Winston Churchill. In Churchill’s account, the battle was exciting, but other accounts point to the slaughter of helpless Dervish troops. Churchill wrote to his mother, “I shall merely say that the victory at Omdurman was disgraced by the inhuman slaughter of the wounded and that Kitchener was responsible for this.” (Cited in Farwell, Bryan; The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Land Warfare: An Illustrated World View; W.W. Norton Company, New York; 2001; pp 613-614.)

So what could have turned Uncle Martin into the wild Martian explorer? Maybe he was repulsed by the slaughter at Omdurman and left the service in disgust. This could account for his minor enemy (Winston Churchill?) and being disowned – or in this case turning his back on society. Eventually he ended up on Mars, “invented” his Radium Gun, and then met his death. Two or three years for all that to happen is a bit tight but not unrealistic. It also explains how ‘Ace’ and his uncle were close.

In the end, creating Uncle Martin turned into a bit of historical exploration that helped flesh out a character. If one had to play Uncle Martin in the time after the Battle of Omdurman and before his death, the little bit of history creates several interesting hooks. Is Churchill his enemy? What does he do on Mars? Does he join the opposition to the British? How did he invent his Radium Gun? Looks like Space: 1889 and Savage Aeronef are a good match!

Savage Aeronef – Dawn Patrol

My first Aeronef battle featuring the Savage Worlds character of ‘Ace’ Woodley….

Dawn Patrol

Flight Lieutenant James ‘Ace” Woodley entered the bridge just as the phone-talker repeated the look-out’s call.

“Four Aerostats. Bearing 000 relative. Range maybe 15,000 meters. Constant bearing, decreasing range!”

Ace spoke up, “Could be that German aerostat flotilla that was poking around last week. Four Heildelberg-class if I remember correctly.”

[Heildelberg/Class 5(DM)/Hull 3/Gun 1/Bomb 3/Speed 12/Turn 3]

The First Lieutenant, Mr. Card, spoke in a dismissive tone, “The Germans use the Heildelbergs as reconnaissance ‘stats. They are gunboats like us but with smaller hulls and only half the weight of fire. We are faster by a factor of half. Even though they outnumber us four to three we outgun them three to two. Should be no problem.”

[Achilles/Class 5(M)/Hull 4/Gun 2/Bomb 0/Speed 18/Turn 4]

“Ever the statistician, Mr. Card,” said the Captain. “Mr. Woodley, it seems your gunners will get some practice today,” the last comment was direct to Ace.

“That would be a first,” came the taunt from Lieutenant Card. Ace looked the First Lieutenant with a slightly bemused expression. He really wanted to strangle the pompous fool but knew that would be bad manners in front of the Captain. Instead he replied to the Captain, “My gunners will do their duty, sir.” Ace turned to leave the bridge.

“Speaking of duty,” Card said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “Your white scarf may have been acceptable in the Aeroplane Corps but I remind you that you are now a ‘Nef officer. In the future, I am sure you will dress for duty in an appropriate manner, yes Flight Lieutenant Woodley?”

Ace’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Card. Noticing the Captain looking his direction, he threw a sharp salute to the Old Man and dismissed himself with a “By your leave, sir!” As he exited the bridge, Ace was sure Card was smiling at his ability to needle the younger officer.

As the Assistant Gunnery Officer, Ace’s battlestation was in the gunnery plotting room. As he entered, another Lieutenant, Wilson, looked up from the plotting table. “This constant bearing is playing havoc with the plot! Getting a range is really hard!”

“I expect the Captain to turn soon. He has to in order to bring the guns to bear,” Ace spoke. No sooner had he spoken than Ace felt the ship bank into a port turn. To Ace, a former aeroplane pilot, banking into a turn felt natural. To many an Aeronef officer who had come from the wet navy and expected a ship to heel over, the maneuver felt foreign.

Wilson was listening intently to the soundphones over his ears. “Looks like Odysseus is staying astern of us as we swing north, but Theseus is still going due east. Captain isn’t too happy.”

Ace grunted. The Old Man was the Senior Captain of this small squadron, not enough to rank being called Commodore but still, he was in charge….

The call from the bridge came over the ship-wide speakers, “Starboard gunners, stand by!” Ace quickly plugged his soundphones into the speakerbox. The starboard guns were his. The phones were silent except for the occasional order from the Leading Petty Officer in each casement.

“Hey boys,” Ace called out, “we ready for some fun?” The cheers he got back brought a smile to his face and a grimace to Wilson’s. Being a former pilot meant Ace was a lot friendlier with the enlisted men. He may be popular with his men, but many of his fellow ‘nef officers frowned upon his actions. None so more than First Lieutenant Card.

“Range 8,000 meters!” Wilson announced.

“Open fire!” The order came from the bridge. Quickly Achilles started spitting out fire from its light, quick-fire guns. By order of the Captain, Ace relayed to his gunners to concentrate on the lead ship. As the two squadrons approached one another, the Germans had shifted to a line abreast formation. The lead ship was actually the second ship from the right.

Ace could hear the cheers from the gunners as solid hits were scored. With all three ships concentrating their fire, it was a short few minutes before the first enemy aerostat plunged to the sea a burning wreck.

The first 10 minutes of the battle and the downing of the enemy aerostat was certainly joyous, but the next 15 minutes were full of frustration for Ace and his gunners. The remaining three aerostats split into two groups, two swinging to the north and one going to the south. Achilles and Odysseus swung behind then alongside the lone southern aerostat and raked its hull several times but it refused to go down. Meanwhile, Theseus took on the two other aerostats by herself. Not long after, Theseus was visibly trailing smoke and slowing down.

“Mr. Woodley!” Ace had not noticed the arrival of the First Lieutenant in his spaces. “The Captain is most disappointed in your gun crews. Because they seem unable to finish this lone aerostat, you are to cease fire while we move to protect Theseus. If it were up to me, I would throw you and the lot at the enemy because even that has a better chance of hitting them than your guns apparently do!”

Ace passed the orders to his gunners and wiped the sweat from his brow. He didn’t even look at Lieutenant Card who glared at Ace for a short time then left for the bridge. It took only a few minutes for Achilles and Odysseus to near Theseus, given how damaged that ship was already. Seeing the British squadron together once again, the German aerostats turned to the east and retreated. At least two of the three were trailing a good deal of smoke.

The loundpeaker boomed, “Mr. Woodley to the bridge!” Wilson looked at Ace and shook his head.

As Ace moved to the bridge he realized that Achilles had not been unhurt in the battle. The damage was noticeable as he entered the bridge. The Captain sat in his chair with his head wrapped in a bandage. Lieutenant Card was pacing the bridge like a tempest.

“Mr. Woodley,” the Lieutenant practically spat out the name, “your extremely poor performance today is a disgrace to the service! I should have you cashiered out for such a poor showing!”

The adrenalin was still coursing through Ace’s veins and this was one fight he was not ready to back away from. “My gunners did as well as could be expected under the circumstances! We need good stable optics to take ranges and a faster way of making calculations so the gun crews can do the real dirty work!”

Card shot back. “So we all need one of those new Babbage machines, yes? To hear that from you of all people; yourself that abhores technology. Well, I don’t need a difference engine to tell me this; the German ‘stats got five good sets of hits on the squadron. One against Achilles, and two against Odysseus and Theseus each. The look-outs tell me that at best we got eight hits on the Germans. Three took down the leader but we only got one hit in the second and maybe two hits each on the other two. That is unacceptable, Mr. Woodley! We outgunned them three to two! We should have at least downed a second aerostat! Your incompetent gunnery crews will force us to land this ‘nef for repairs. Time wasted, Mr. Woodley, time wasted!”

The two men glared at each other. Card glanced down at Ace’s belt and smiled. “Fingering your dead uncles Radium Gun, eh? Admiralty regulations on mutiny are quite clear. Just what are you thinking, Flight Lieutenant Woodley?”

Ace took a deep breathe and slowly moved his hand away from his holster. Someday, Card would pay. Someday, but not today.

Wargame Wednesday – Veterans Day Outlook

Looking forward to a long weekend and hoping to get in a few games.

Aeronef – Will try to get my “Savage Aeronef” battle done.  What will happen to ‘Ace’ Woodley?

Imperium – Will try to find out what happens in the Second Terran War.

Star Wars Saga Edition – Following my Star Warriors and Star Wars Silent Death games I am going to give a similar scenario a shot using the SWSE starship combat rules.

‘Ace’ Woodley – RNAS Pilot (Savage Worlds/Aeronef)

The background of Aeronef and the pulp-feel of the Savage Worlds RPG system just seem to go too well together.  Presented here is my first “Savage Aeronef” concept character:

Flight Lieutenant James ‘Ace’ Woodley, Royal Navy Aeronef Service (RNAS), Gunnery Officer, HMS Achilles (Achilles-class Aeronef Gunboat) [Seasoned Character=25XP]


  • Agility – d10/Smarts – d6/Strength – d6/Spirit – d6/Vigor – d6


  • Driving – d8/Fighting – d8/Persuasion – d6/Piloting – d10/Repair – d6/Shooting – d10/Weird Science – d6


  • Heroic (Major)/Doubting Thomas (Minor)/Enemy (Minor)


  • Ace/Arcane Science/Command


  • Leather Flight Jacket
  • Radium Gun
  • Rapier

‘Ace’ Woodley started out flying aerofighters for the Royal Navy Air Corps.  He proved himself a capable pilot over the course of several campaigns and battles.  His burning desire is to get to Mars where his explorer Uncle died at the hands of natives under mysterious circumstances.  The only connection Ace still has to his uncle is his uncle’s Radium Gun which Ace was able to keep after his Uncle’s possessions were returned to Earth.  However, the RNAS is not keen on this aeroplane pilot intruding upon their service and has assigned Flight Lieutenant  Woodley to HMS Achilles, a small gunboat to “gain experience” while the Aeronef Service evaluates the junior officer.  It is an open secret that Achilles’ First Lieutenant, one Oliver Card, intensely dislikes the upstart ‘Ace’ who is very popular with the deck hands  [Lt Card is treated as Hostile in all interactions with Ace].

It is now 1902 and BBC Radio is playing a funeral dirge for the death of Queen Victoria….

Wargame Wednesday – Aeronef

Aeronef pdf Cover

To use the words of Wessex Games, “Aeronef is a simple set of rules designed to allow you to play Victorian Science Fiction aerial wargames…The rules are basic enough for beginners but flexible enough so that the more seasoned gamer will find them enjoyable….”

Aeronef postulates that Victorian Science Fiction technologies such as the “Negative Gravity Screw” and “R-Matter” are real and lead to flying ironclads in the sky.  This is the world of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

The rulebook is 18 pages long in a two-column setup.  The first six pages are cover and background.  The actual rules of play cover only three (3) pages with “Expanded Rules” adding another three pages.  The Expanded Rules actually add a design modification section which shows how to modify the base stats for custom craft.  Scenarios add another three-plus pages and appendixes with Designer Notes, Bibliography and other assorted odds & ends finish the last three pages.

Aernoef (and lighter Aerostats) come in five basic classes from Class 5 “Gunboats” or “Patrol Craft” to Class 1 “Dreadnoughts.”  Aeroplanes are also depicted but fly in squadrons.

Movement can use a hex grid or work like regular miniatures.  Turning is in 30-degree/hexside increments.  There is no initiative; rather ships move half their current sped in order from slowest to fastest.  After the first half-move, the process is repeated.  Combat uses the self-named RASH (Roll-a-Six-to-Hit) system meaning players will need buckets of dice to play.  When attacking player roll a number of d6 equal to their gun rating; any “6” is a hit and reduce the hull points of the target.  As hull is lost, gun, bomb, speed and turn are reduced.

Aeronef certainly is a simple set of rules.  Even the Expanded Rules do not add complexity to the basic system.  The draw of Aeronef is not an innovative rules set, but the miniatures that can go with the game.  Indeed, Brigade Models in the UK has a very extensive Aeronef line.  There is also the draw of the subject matter.  The authors of the game have brought to life  the Victorian Science Fiction of the “ether” and “Negative Gravity” or “R-Matter.”   To my surprise, I found many of the books or stories listed in the bibliography to be available for free on the net.  Reading these stories helps one to get in the mood of the game!

Aeronef has two major expansions available, the Aeronoef Captain’s Handbook which adds Martians to the mix and Land Ironclads which add ground forces with “land leviathans.”  Both use the same RASH-system for combat resolution and similar unit design modification processes making integration of all the games close to seamless.

If you are looking for a simple Victorian Science Fiction rules set Aeronef is likely a game you will want.

Savage Worlds of Aeronef

I really believe that wargaming and RPGs go hand-in-hand.  Maybe this is because my earliest RPG was Traveller which had many wargames that went along with it (see Mayday or Imperium for example).

So the other day I was looking for my next wargame to play and pulled out Aeronef by Wessex Games.  Aeronef is a Victorian Science Fiction game loosely based on writings of authors like H.G. Wells or Jules Verne.  The Aeronef Captain’s Handbook expands the Aeronef universe by adding Martian battles.  This in turn got me thinking about Savage Worlds: Mars which is a Planets & Sword RPG using the Savage Worlds engine.

Still thinking, I drew up a Savage Worlds: Explorers Edition character to populate my Aeronef world.  I see battles forthcoming featuring this character.