#TTRPG or #Wargame? — Thoughts on “Adventure Wargames” inspired by Five Parsecs from Home (@Modiphius, 2022) and Twilight: 2000 (@FreeLeaguePub, 2021)

I recently acquired two games that got me thinking, yet again, about the definition of a “wargame.”

The first game is Five Parsecs from Home: Solo Adventure Wargaming (Modiphius, 2022). Five Parsecs from Home is a skirmish-scale wargame where the battles are driven by a “story” developed using roleplaying game elements.

The second game is Twilight: 2000—Roleplaying in the World War III That Never Was (Free League Publishing, 2021). This 4th edition of the Twilight: 2000 family is a self-proclaimed “hexcrawl” military roleplaying game. As a military roleplaying game, Twilight: 2000 focuses on military player characters (PCs) and leans into the combat aspects of the setting, so much so that it’s not inconceivable that some might consider this a roleplaying wargame.

My local FLGS had Five Parsecs from Home stocked on the roleplaying game shelves. This was also where they sold Twilight: 2000 from. Could either of these games be sold from the wargaming side of the store?

My answer is yes, if one fully embraces the concept of an “Adventure Wargame.”

Adventure Wargame?

While my recognition of Adventure Wargaming is relatively new, the truth to the matter is I have owned Adventure Wargames since the early 1980’s. If I had use one game to define this genre, it would be Behind Enemy Lines (1st edition, FASA, 1982). This is how Behind Enemy Lines describes itself:

Behind Enemy Lines is a role-playing game which allows you to take on the character of a U.S. infantryman in World War II. Parachute drops, night raids, sniper ambushes, pitched battles, combat patrols, and long-range reconnaissance probes are the challenges you face. Your enemy is cunning, well-trained, and well-equipped. Your ingenuity, your courage, and skill are all that stand between you and disaster.

Behind Enemy Lines box back

The box for Behind Enemy Lines included (courtesy RPGGeek):

  • Book 1 – Character Generation and Basic Rules. 96 pages of information and tables ranging from character generation, tank data and equipment weights to the basic sighting and fire tables.
  • Book 2 – Event Tables – 48 pages filled with event tables for all types of terrain and situations. In all, 38 tables giving detailed Game Master information and general player descriptions are included.
  • Book 3 – Missions – A 56 page booklet containing three full length missions, four incidents, historical biographies, and 192 non-player characters. A 16 page booklet filled with maps for the missions and incidents is also included.
  • 112 illustrated counters depicting American and German soldiers, civilians and special equipment, are provided. The counters are two-sided, showing active and incapacitated states of the various characters.
  • Four cardstock sheets of the charts and tables most used in play. Also included is a sample character sheet.
  • Two six-sided dice.

Book 1 was clearly intended to make Behind Enemy Lines a roleplaying game. On this point there is no controversy as the game was nominated for—and won—the 1982 H.G. Wells Award for “Best Roleplaying Rules” given by the the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (AAGAD) at the Origins Game Fair.

To understand what an Adventure Wargame is, we must first understand what military roleplaying games are. Fortunately for us, some have already given thought on the matter:

THE CHALLENGE OF MILITARY ROLE-PLAYING

Serious role-playing games are built around drama, and there is no situation more dramatic than that of a soldier in wartime, so you might think the military is a natural setting for role- playing. However, RPGs work best in anarchic situations— where the player characters are their own bosses— and, in the army, discipline and coordinated group action are the keys to success. To get around this, the most successful military RPGs have settings where small groups can act with a large degree of autonomy, on commando raids, during guerilla warfare, or (most popular of all) after civilization has broken down due to holocaust or invasion.

The first attempt at military role-playing was Eric Goldberg’s Commando (SPI, 1979), which was primarily a board game of small-unit combat that had some role-playing features. The first version of The Morrow Project (Timeline, 1980) was also mainly a set of combat rules, but the designers were perceptive enough to set it in a post-holocaust future where the players could have freedom of action. This was also the case with Aftermath (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1981), a game of paramilitary survival after a nuclear war.

These were followed by Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982), a World War II game; Recon (RPG Inc., 1982), set on the fringes of the Vietnam War; and Merc (Fantasy Games Unlimited, 1983), which tried to capitalize on the brief public fascination with mercenary soldiers fighting in Third-World nations. None of these games met with sustained success. It looked as there might not really be a steady market for military RPGs until GDW released Frank Chadwick’s Twilight: 2000 in 1984. Once again the setting was after civilization was shattered by World War III, but this time background was more believable and worked out in great detail. The rules were unexciting but solid, and GDW supported them with a steady stream of scenarios and supplements that catered to players’ fascination with modem military machinery. Other contemporary military systems debuted in 1986 (The Price of Freedom, West End Games; Phoenix Command, Leading Edge Games; Delta Force, Task Force Games; Freedom Fighters, Fantasy Games Unlimited), but none have been able to make much headway against Twilight: 2000, which recently [1988] received a complete updating and revision.

Lawrence Schick
Heroic Worlds: A History and Guide to Role-Playing Games
Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books 1991

In each of these games, the PCs were cast as military members and the focus of adventuring was combat. These setting conditions are remarkably similar to many skirmish-scale wargames that focus on man-to-man combat. Similar, but not identical. Indeed, I see a spectrum of military roleplaying games to wargames with Adventure Wargames in the middle.

On the Spectrum

To illustrate my vision of the military roleplaying game to wargame spectrum, I mapped out where I think various titles in my gaming collection fall (see below).

Created by RMN

I’m not the greatest graphics artist, so please bear with me as I try to explain what you see here. I envision a spectrum of gaming that goes from military roleplaying games on the left to skirmish-scale wargames on the right. The more to the left you go the more the games are composed of narrative storytelling and character creation. The further you move to the right of the spectrum the more the focus of the game is purely on combat. In the middle are games that I am willing to call an “Adventure Wargame.”

I note that several of the games on the left side of the spectrum have related wargames. The Babylon Project has rules for fleet combat in its Earthforce Sourcebook that use the Full Thrust game system. Of course, the Traveller RPG has many wargames connected to it. Even FASA Star Trek was connected to the Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator where the characters could play individual bridge crew members. However, just because a military roleplaying game might have a connected wargame that does not automatically make it an Adventure Wargame.

The middle of the spectrum is where Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982) sits. I also have placed two roleplaying game supplements here to help further illustrate what I see as an Adventure Wargame. Hammer’s Slammers for Mongoose Traveller (Mongoose Publishing, 2010) is a supplement that brings David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers mercenary stories to life using the Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition rules. Players create characters using the RPG rules but the setting fully expects that they will be in combat situations. Likewise, ALIEN: Colonial Marines (Free League Publishing, 2022) is a sourcebook for the ALIEN Roleplaying Game (Free League Publishing, 2021) where the characters are assumed to be Colonial Marines and will undertake (mostly combat) missions across the known—and unknown—galaxy.

The further to the right you move on the spectrum the less important narrative storytelling becomes. You also find that the further you move to the right the “thinner” the character creation systems are until you pass into pre-generated “characters” or characters defined only by skills. Of note, there are some games like Car Wars or Battletech that have supplemental roleplaying games that can help define individual characters.

Moving even further to the right, other games like Star Warriors have no character creation system per se, but the system used is ready to integrate with a roleplaying game; in this case West End Games Star Wars D6 system.

To the far right of the spectrum are skirmish-scale wargames that lack character development. Individual soldiers may be depicted, but they are generally not given any defining personality and instead are defined simply by skills or abilities. They may be individuals, but they are defined very generically and only for the purposes of enhancing combat, not to help create any sort of narrative story.

All Models are Imperfect

I fully recognize my spectrum is imperfect. Even I have made the argument before that a good wargame helps create a narrative story, thus meaning the narrative story bar should extend across the entire spectrum.

In earlier drafts of my spectrum, there were two boardgames I considered including but eventually didn’t:

  • I initially considered placing Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game in the Adventure Wargame area of the spectrum, but eventually dropped it because, while it tells a narrative story, it lacks character creation and the focus is not on combat but on survival with a traitor in your midst.
  • I had placed Pandemic: Fall of Rome just to the right of Adventure Wargames because it had individual, pre-defined characters and a strong focus on combat; I eventually dropped it because I reconsidered the real depth of those individual characters and decided they were just too generic and more an archetype vice a well-defined individual.

Going back a few years, U-Boot: The Board Game won the 2021 Charlies Award for “Best Wargame of the Year.” That event has spurred many a discussion on the “Mentioned in Dispatches” podcast of the Armchair Dragoons. Some of you might be tempted to tell me, “Hey, U-Boot fits your Adventure Wargame definition and really is a wargame!” In response, I will tell you I (still) disagree because, while U-Boot has pre-defined characters and has combat situations, the focus of the game is not actually the combat but the cooperative effort to operate the U-Boat. In other words, combat is the driver behind the need for cooperative action, but it is not the focus of the game. Too bad, so sad!


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

#Wargame Wedneday – Bag job with The Crew in Five Parsecs from Home (@Modiphius, 2021)

The continuing sage of The Crew ‘s adventures played using Five Parsecs from Home – Solo Adventure Wargaming published by Modiphius (2021).

The Set Up

The Crew (minus B0T5 who is left behinds) has a Patron mission to Deliver a package. They are walking into a Small Encounter where they will face a seven-man Anarchist-Criminal gang armed with a Colony Rifle, 3x Military Rifle, a Hand Laser, an Infantry Laser with a Specialist carrying a Rattle Gun; each also carries a Blade.

Battle Round

Morphius casually eyed the plaza from a block away. “What ya’ think?”

Dex, who grew up in crowded cities, looked on approvingly. “It’s not a big park, but I really like the two buildings overlooking the place, not to mention the four little shops for good cover. Those walls along the moving walkway also provide cover.” He hefted his Infantry Laser. “I think I can get a good overwatch position on a roof.”

Wedge, who was holding the package, looked doubtfully at Dex. “Dude, you’re the fastest one we got. Why don’t you carry the package? I’ve got Vera here.” Wedge lovingly patted his Marksman Riffle with Laser Sight. “I should be overwatch.”

“We just need to go and get this over with,” said Whiskers. Mac nodded.

“OK,” Morphius decided. “Dex is the bagman. Wedge to overwatch. Whiskers leads and Mac brings up the rear. We wait 5 mikes to let Wedge get into position before we enter from the west. I don’t see any obvious bad guys, but Gabner said we should expect some. On my hack….HACK!”


No sooner had Whiskers stepped off when seven goons armed with an assortment of gear spilled out of the north building. Fortunately, Morphius saw Wedge set up on the roof of the south building and gave him the signal as The Crew quickly loosened off a barrage of fire. [The Crew is able to Seize the Initiative and each get a shot off except for Whiskers who finds the targets just beyond the reach of his shotgun. Four rolls to hit give 2x Hits from a pair of natural 6s!. Of the two hit, one goes down.]

Seeing one bad guy down, Wedge quickly lines up another target and lets loose. [Wedge is assigned the lowest Reaction Roll and is firing in the Quick Actions segment.] Another one down…five more to go.

Having seen two of their comrades already fall the gang of Anarchist Criminals return fire [Enemy Actions] as bystanders flee in terror. Much to The Crew’s surprise, Wedge, Mac, and Whiskers are all hit. Mac stumbles and falls to the ground…

[Slow Actions] Morphius and Whiskers both take Aim and Fire. Two more baddies fall (three left). Dex dashes for the kiosk where the delivery is to be made…

[In the End Phase the baddies test for Morale but all pass. New Battle Round begins…]

Wedge gets off yet another shot, this time at the apparent leader [Quick Action after Reaction Rolls]. Unfortunately, he rushes his shot a bit and just misses…

Dex’s movement attract the fire of two bad guys, while Whiskers comes under fire from a third [Enemy Actions]. As bullets plink off the castcrete walls of the walkway, Dex thanks the gods for the cover. Whiskers, on the other hand, has to shrug off a hit from a Colony Rifle.

Morphius, and Whiskers take Aim and Fire again while Dex reaches the delivery point [Slow Actions]. The Crew seem a bit rattled here as all miss. It doesn’t really matter as the remaining bad guys turn and run.

[Technically, the mission is a Success since Dex reached the objective. Though they are deemed Aggressive the remaining Anarchist-Criminals flee which leaves The Crew Holding the Battlefield].

Post-Battle

Word on the street travels fast, and this gang of Anarchist-Criminals, known as Red Revenge, swear vengeance [Resolve Rival Status – GAIN Rival]. The Crew’s Patron, Gabron, is very pleased and introduces The Crew to Channing who hints at future “prospects.” [Resolve Patron Status – Added]. The Crew also gets a lead on Mac’s lost girlfriend [Determine Quest Progress – d6+1 = 4 > Gain Quest Rumor].

Gabron settles up with The Crew. After bonuses, they add 9 Credits to their account [Get Paid]. The Crew watches their bank account go from 17 Credits to 26…with 32 Credits debt on their ship. That was one heckuva important package, eh? The Crew also found a vial of “Rage Out” on one of the fallen baddies [Battlefield Finds – Consumables – “Rage Out”]. Whiskers reminds the group that, as a Feral, he doesn’t need Rage Out. Morphius hands it over to Mac who is the unofficial “Doc” for the team, but wonders what would happen if the stoic Mac took some. “Don’t want to find out,” he thinks to himself.

This was not an Invasion Battle so there is no Check for Invasion. As The Crew gathers their payment and other Loot which is how the come to possess two data files [Gather Loot – Rewards – “Data Files” (2x Rumors)].

Although Mac went down in the battle, when all is said and done the only loss is a bit of Mac’s pride and his Scrap Pistol [Injury roll…Equipment Loss].

Experience Points (XP) Gained

  • Morphius – 3 XP (Survived and Won)
  • Wedge – 4 XP (Survived and Won, First Character to Inflict a Casualty)
  • Mac – 4 XP (Survived and Won, Became a Casualty)
  • Dex – 3 XP (Survived and Won)
  • Whiskers – 3 XP (Survived and Won)

No character has enough XP to upgrade an Ability Score at the moment nor do any chose to go to Advanced Training. Mac convinces The Crew that some new gear is needed and after paying 3 Credits he is the owner of a Frag Vest.

With the word on the street that the Red Revenge has put a mark down on The Crew yet another “businessman” reaches out to Morphius about The Crew “engaging in services” [Roll for Campaign Event – “You’ve made some business contacts.” (Add new Patron)].

[Here endeth the Campaign Turn]

Although this world is Travel Restricted, the fact you don’t need a Freelancer License and with several Patrons on hand leads The Crew to decide not to travel. Before taking up their next job, The Crew drops into a “local establishment” that is known for playing a long-lost boardgame simply known as “Settlers.” [Back to World Step].


Feature image courtesy newscientis.com

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

#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

#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

Lost in the Role – or – Why so Little RPG Talk?

If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.

I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.

I have talked elsewhere about the art in Star Trek Adventures and how I find it totally opposite what I imagine. I also talked about how the now-decanonized Klingons Sourcebook for the FASA Star Trek RPG was more inspirational. But the part that turned me off the most was this:

borg_cube
Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.

I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.

I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenity and Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Firefly and Star Wars Roleplaying Game finding cherished places on my shelf.

But then something changed.

The first was that Mongoose Publishing brought out Traveller Second Edition and repackaged it in a way that makes it totally a price grab. This was just after they changed the rules for third-party publishers and stifled creativity (no…that’s not fair…they monetized it in an unfair manner). This was followed not long after by Star Trek Adventures and the Borg Cube trying to assimilate my wallet.

I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.

I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.

220791-thumb140I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.

#RPGaDay 2017 – What is an RPG you would like to see published?

#RPGaDay August 2, 2017

B5_TitleHands down I have to say Babylon 5. I have two previous versions, the Chameleon Eclectic Babylon Project from the 1990’s and the disastrous Mongoose Traveller translation. I also have several of the d20 sourcebooks (again from Mongoose, yuk) and have recently been rewatching the series online. If there was ever a setting that is rich for adventure this is it.

But what system? I can easily see a FATE Core version but some may find that too challenging. FATE Accelerated? Dresden Files Accelerated may show the way. Magic Vacuum Publishing’s forthcoming CORTEX Prime or even Fantasy Flight Games’ Genesys could work once available. Just keep the license away from Mongoose Publishing (previous owners) and Modiphius (I can’t see their 2d20 mechanic working) as I think Babylon 5 deserves a more narrative and less mechanical game engine.

#StarTrekAdventures – Playtest loss of comms

wand_communicator_7
Courtesy the-gadgeteer.com

In late 2016 I signed up and participated in the Modiphius playtest of their new 2d20 System Star Trek Adventures RPG. I even expressed some of my earliest thoughts here. When given the chance, I submitted feedback through the online survey since that appeared to be a condition of continued playtesting (a condition I agree with…give feedback to keep the privilege of continued access to playtest materials).

Having not seen anything for a while, I went poking around the Modiphius forums to see what was new. Apparently the v1.3 playtest rules were released on-or-about January 16. I don’t recall seeing it, so I checked my email junk and trash folders to make sure it didn’t get routed to the wrong place.

Nothing found.

Did I accidentally get left off? I admit my feedback was not totally positive, but I was still interested in trying more.

Notice the word “was.”

Modiphius probably just made an innocent mistake, but by doing so they forced me to reconsider my involvement in the playtest program. Do I reach out to Modiphius and ask (pretty please) to be put back on distro? Or do I let it go?

Upon further consideration, I am fine that I got dropped off. The new Star Trek Adventures was not capturing my imagination to any great degree. Indeed, recent releases from Stellagama and Gypsy Knights Games supporting play using the Cepheus Engine/Classic 2d6 Sci-Fi is much more interesting to me. I also have my ongoing occasional Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG campaign to consider. I could make some excuse about having “limited bandwidth” to play RPGs but the reality is the 2d20 System just doesn’t draw me in.

Bottom Line: It actually doesn’t bother me that I dropped from the playtest because I ain’t gonna miss Star Trek Adventures. I wish Modiphius the best of luck because the hobby needs quality publishers.

#RPGThursday – Passing on Mindjammer Traveller

If you look at this blog, it should be apparent that the Traveller RPG is one of my favorite game systems. It should also be apparent that I have something of a love-hate relationship with Mongoose Publishing. Unfortunately, they are the current banner-carriers of the Traveller RPG system in the form of their Traveller Core Rulebook for Mongoose Traveller Second Edition.

To be clear, I don’t like it. Basically, I don’t see it as any real improvement over the original version and, when coupled with a more restrictive license that limits – even harms – third-party publishers, I am loathe to support it.

I also own Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition) by Modiphius/Mindjammer Press. Mindjammer 2E uses the FATE Core rules. I am not a real fan of Transhuman adventure but I saw much good press about the game and tried it. I even liked it.

pic3340140_mdThis month, Modiphius released Mindjammer: Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space using the Mongoose Traveller 2E rules. So I was challenged; I like Mindjammer but dislike Mongoose. What do I do? Do I invest in the Mindjammer: Traveller Edition for $22.49 (pdf) or not?

So I picked up the Dominion Quickstart for Mindjammer Traveller from DriveThruRPG. This is a free 48 page intro game with a few pages of rules changes from Mongoose Traveller 2E and then an adventure.

What I found was very few rules changes from Mongoose Traveller 2E and a lot of background. Background I already have in the FATE Core Mindjammer version. After careful consideration, I concluded that there is not enough new or attractive in the Mongoose Traveller 2E version of Mindjammer to purchase it.

So I’ll pass, and pause to ponder. Why do I find Mindjammer Traveller unattractive? It is the rules or setting? In this case, I don’t see a good marriage of rules to setting here. Maybe my experience with the FATE Mindjammer version has biased me, but I just don’t  feel the Mindjammer setting is best served by the Mongoose Traveller 2E rules. Indeed, I feel the story-telling or narrative basis of FATE is much better for Transhuman Adventure than the very mechanical Traveller engine. The possible results are much more wondrous – like a Transhuman setting should be.

Furthermore, I realize that my unbounded desire for anything Traveller has ended. These days, I appreciate a bounty of different RPG systems from the Cepheus Engine to Traveller 5 to FFG Star Wars to FATE games like Mindjammer or Atomic Robo to CORTEX Plus games like Firefly. Each of these games captures or compliments a setting in unique and positive ways – Mindjammer Traveller just doesn’t give me that same feeling.

 

#RPGThursday Further Thoughts on “Star Trek Adventures” RPG Alpha Rules

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Vanguard Station courtesy artstation.com
I have been playing around in the Alpha rules version of Star Trek Adventures (STA) from Modiphius Entertainment. Being the Alpha rules, the playtest focus at this point is obviously the Core Mechanics of the 2d20 System as adjusted for the setting. After my last blog post, the lead designer, Nathan Dowdell (@N01H3r3 on twitter), reached out and welcomed me to provide direct feedback. I appreciate the offer, and have submitted feedback through the Playtest Survey sent on Dec 14.

Although the playtest requires one to sign up, there is no non-disclosure agreement to date, and given the forums are publicly accessible I “guess” public comments on the game system are also acceptable. Even so, I am going to be a bit cagey with my comments to avoid going beyond a line that I am not so sure even exists.

This is not the first setting to use the 2d20 System. I have not played the other Modiphius 2d20 games, and I understand that Modiphius modifies the game engine for each setting. That said, I am of mixed emotions as to balance between simulationism and narrativism in the core engine and the ability to create adventures evocative of the Star Trek Universe. I am not quite as negative as JP Chapleau (and it almost sounds like his group doesn’t fully grok the rules) but…he has got many good points.

Setting Evocative?

One of the feedback questions concerned Attribute names. More directly, the question was if the Attribute names are evocative of the setting. I find the names evocative, but the application of each Attribute is a bit confusing. I think this is because each Attribute seemingly has a physical and mental aspect. Whereas in Classic 2d6 Sci-Fi (like Classic Traveller or the more recent Cepheus Engine) attributes such as Strength and Intelligence are distinctive and obviously different in application, in STA you get Resilience (“…physical and mental strength…resisting hardship…employing direct methods such as brute force”) and Reason (“…applies to the rational mind…applying theoretical knowledge…making observations and deductions”). Once players are more familiar with the system nomenclature this may may more sense but at the start it’s a bit confusing.

When attempting a task, one must use a combination of Attribute+Skill. The rules state that this combination can be defined by either the GM or players (a rare nod to narrativism). This is a positive thing and I believe rules for “sharing the narrative” should be encouraged. That said, the flow of my games at this point suffers because players are unsure what each Attribute fully means.

Without character generation rules I can only see Focus and Talents as mechanical effects. I look forward to seeing how CharGen uses (hopefully) Focus and Talents to assist in further defining a character and not just enhancing a stat block.

I find Momentum in the core engine useful for creating mechanical effects. Momentum can create a cascade of successful outcomes. It is also VERY powerful; a single Momentum usage can reroll an entire task! I find Threat a useful counterbalance, although I note that – once again – the effects are usually more mechanical than narrative. I see how Values can introduce some narrative-flavor, although in the Alpha rules – with no character generation given – they act (once again) in a more mechanic vice narrative manner.

Extended Tasks are also mechanically clumsy. Having to track three factors (Progress/Magnitude/Resistance) seems a bit much and at this point the challenge seems purely mechanical.

I do not like the Difficulty 0 Task. Using the rules as written, one can attempt a Difficulty 0 Task for the simple reason of creating Momentum. I find this too gamey; a character could perform a simple – and possibly unrelated – task check just to gain advantage for themselves or the group. I can foresee an Engineer running a systems diagnostic check just to roll some dice with any successes automatically becoming Momentum. Unless somebody can show me how this is Really A Good Thing I hope Difficulty 0 Tasks go away.

I am also somewhat doubtful of the Challenge Dice [CD] mechanic (or is it Combat Dice…that’s what the playtest survey asked). In the Alpha rules, the main use of [CD] is determining damage. To determine damage, one adds the damage rating of the weapon AND the Security Skill of the character and arrives at the number of [CD] to be rolled. Although this captures the flavor of how a more skilled character can get more out of a weapon I fear this “narrative advantage” (i.e. a better trained character is far more effective) may be too powerful. Oh yeah, the [CD] is really Fate Dice where the “minus” is read as a “1,”, the blank sides don’t count, and the “plus” sign indicates success and Effect.

The Alpha rules are very lean and give little insight into how flexible – or not – the rules are going to be in making a Star Trek adventure setting of interest to me. Even the playtest adventure is railroading the GM and players to showcase the rules and ensure they get exercised. I really didn’t like the adventure premise – newly minted cadets on their way to a first assignment – because it evokes too many nightmares of Whinny Wesley Crusher. So when I first read the rules heading, So Crazy It Might Work, I had hope. Alas, the section is not any sort of rules, just advice to the GM to encourage the trope but mostly to beware about letting the PCs get carried away and derail the story. Extremely disappointing, especially when there are rules like Brainstorming in the Atomic Robo RPG that are a wonderful example of how those crazy technobabble solutions can be made to work within a game system (and the Fate SRD for Brainstorming is available online).

Indeed, the main problem I have with the rules is that they almost, but not quite, capture the Star Trek feeling for me. For example, the three classes of NPCs are Troopers, Elites, and Nemeses. Elites and Nemeses I can see, but Troopers? Almost, but not quite Star Trek to my ears.

Vanguard to Adventure

I purposely signed up to playtest in TOS era not because I love the adventures of Kirk and the Enterprise, but because I really enjoyed the Vanguard-series of Trek books. Frankly, part of my evaluation of the game will be if I can even come close to recreating a Vanguard-like adventure with smaller starships (like the Archer-class USS Sagittarius NCC-1894) or the civilian Rocinante (no, not the Rocinante from The Expanse). For that matter, I wonder if the game will even support non-Starfleet characters like Cervantes Quinn. I guess I have to wait until at least early next year; upon submitting my playtest survey there was a note that the first wave of ship adventures will be released then.

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USS Sagittarius (NCC-1894) courtesy masazaki.deviant.art
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