#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 – My Top Seven RPG Internet Meme

James over at Grognardia started it, and I am late to get on the bandwagon.

My top 7 played RPGs in 2012 (and a good marker for the past several years):

1 – Classic Traveller (Admittedly not so much the RPG but the setting. I especially have played the games of Classic Traveller such as Striker, Book 5: High Guard, Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron, Imperium, Fifth Frontier War, and Power Projection: Fleet; as well as using adventures such as Adventure 7: Broadsword as inspiration for Tomorrow’s War.)

2- Mongoose Traveller (including Hammer’s Slammers, Outpost Mars and Orbital)

3 – Battlestar Galactica

4 – Serenity

5 – Prime Directive

6 – Mouse Guard

7 – Others I played around with in 2012 were Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Game. Also messed around with Space: 1889 and A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones Edition.

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!