Red Stars sci-fi setting riff

[also posted to rpg.net]

The year is 250 SE (socialist era) (or AD 2167 in the old, bourgeois dating).The Federation of Socialist Friendship (FSF) dominates the earth and space, following the collapse of the imperialist west in the 70s SE (1990s), and is itself dominated by the Soviet Union, reformed by Mikhail Gorbachev in the 60s-100s SE
The USA is a declining state, still clinging precariously to its outdated imperialist-capitalist dogmas. Its main ally is Canada, along with some Latin American states and Australia. It survives mainly due to superpower rivalry between the USSR/FSF and China, and its nuclear arsenal. Both find the existance of the USA useful in their geopolitical tussles. Western Europe has been absorbed into the FSF as a number of Socialist states. The African Socialist Union rules Africa from its capital in Addis Ababa. The nations of the middle east are allied to the FSF. Most of South and South-East Asia is dominated by China, the FSF’s only real rival (and nuclear competitor).
Dominating earth orbit is the massive FSF orbital complex Lenin-Gorbachev, the HQ of the FSF fleet and administrative capital of the non-earth FSF in the solar system. The Chinese have a smaller orbiting complex, the Chairman Mao Zedong. The solar system is exploited by both the FSF and China, and there have been several stand-offs in the last few decades (none of which have thankfully resulted in a shooting war).
68 years ago, FSF scientists developed a practical hyper-drive, exploiting holes which had been exposed in the theory of relativity. China soon reverse-engineered the drive, and a new extra-solar space-race began. Dozens of colony worlds were established, and soon  great quantities of extra-solar resources were pouring into earth.
The strains were showing, however, and in 225 SE, 14 colony worlds revolted from the FSF, arguing that they should decide what was done with their resources. After a short civil war (and some humiliating defeats for the FSF: it is rumoured that the Chinese gave the rebels help), the Out-worlds treaty of 228 SE established the Out-world Union, independent of the FSF. These planets have developed into more democratic states than FSF or Chinese colonies, although they still have socialist economies. The FSF, China and Out-world Union have all started new exploration programs, and the total number of colonies and Out-world planets number in the hundreds.
Both the FSF and China have so-called Gulag planets, where criminals, dissidents and other undesirables are exiled. Whilst not as notorious as the early Gulag camps on earth,  in the 1st century SE, these are still tough planets to live on and are dominated by gangs and mafias.
The FSF and Chinese both maintain large space fleets. The pride of the FSF fleet are the Kutuzov and Zhukov class dreadnoughts, whilst the Chinese have the Zhou EnLai and Long March class Battleships. Although the USA doesn’t have much of a space fleet as such, its massive Yankee Clipper class merchant transports are important in transporting goods, especially to and from the Out-world Union. In addition, they are rumoured to support the Freebooters, pirates in all but name.

Dragonrage Review

[Archived from www.thehexedgamer.co.uk]

Publisher: Flatlined Games (only available direct)

Designer: Lewis Pulsipher
Developers: Eric Hanuise and Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon Rage is a remake of a game originally published in 1982, shortly before the then publisher (Dwarfstar games) went out of business. I had a copy of the original game (no longer, unfortunately!), so I was intrigued when I heard about the remake.

What’s in the box?

You get a lot of bang for your buck – a mounted, double-sided board, with a Human city on one side and an Orc oppidum on the other, 2 rule books, 213 counters, 4 monster cards and a player-aid card. The counters are thick, with rounded corners, and feel like they can take a lot of play! They are double-sided, with the original artwork on the back.

Gameplay

The basic scenario (covered by one rulebook) has 2 dragons attacking the city – large monsters like Dragons have several hit locations and attacks, so the scenario is well balanced. The Dragons have to make hit and run attacks, and avoid being caught on the ground. Other scenarios (in the other rulebook) have various combinations of units attacking the city or oppidum, and there are also point-buy and campaign options.
The way the large monsters work reminds me very much of the Steve Jackson games Ogre and GEV. They have several hit locations, and damage affects the movement modes (walking, flying, bounding or crawling, in the case of Dragons) and the attacks it can make (Bite, Wings and Legs, for Dragons). Other large monsters are Rocs, Wurms, T-Rexs and Sea-Serpents. Each has its own combination of hit-locations and attacks. Giants (Minor Monsters) have several wound points, but only one attack.

Combat is a case of rolling against a target number. If the target is a Major or Minor monster, wound points are reduced according to the attack score of the attacker. Normal units die if attacked successfully.
One or both sides may have a Hero and/or a Wizard. Heroes are ‘super’ units, able to provide leadership and take on monsters single-handed. They die after 2 hits. Wizards cast spells.

The rules are pretty comprehensive, with rules for breaching gates, scaling walls etc. There are some confusions, but these can be resolved by agreement. Each unit has its own section – this can cause a lot of flipping between pages in early games. There is a lot of fun little rules which add a lot to the atmosphere (Orcs and Goblins can only scale walls once, as they leave their ladders behind!), but the complexity is low (Eric Hanuise has stated that this was developed as a introductory wargame).

The victory conditions confused me somewhat – the attacker gets Victory Points by destroying important buildings, the defender wins by destroying the attackers – what happens if both things happen? I decided that the attacker can declare victory once he has reached the VP target. If he wants a better victory, he will need to continue and risk being destroyed.

This is an excellent game, and I recommend it as both an introductory wargame and a fun game which you can play to a conclusion in a couple of hours.

Traveller Starports Review

[Archived from www.thehexedgamer.co.uk]

 Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Author: Carl Walmsley

Traveller Starports is a supplement for Mongoose Traveller, about, well, Starports. It is tagged as a Third Imperium product, but could be used in any campaign.
The book is softback, and has 118 pages, divided into 6 chapters: Introduction, Starport Encounters, Designing Starports, Sample Starports, New Ships and Reference Manual.

Introduction

This outlines the different types of Starport, and the (Imperial) Starport Authority (SPA). It explains what travellers can expect to find at the various classes of Starports (E to A), and Highports and Downports.
The SPA covers the organisation of the Authority at Imperial Starports, its objectives, customs law and links with other Imperial organisations. The Imperial Starport Organisation details the directorates within the SPA at each Starport, from Administration to Traffic and Flight Control. In a small Starport, employees will cover multiple roles, whilst the largest Starports will have hundreds or thousands in each directorate.
Finally, other Starports (Scout, Naval, Naval Depots, X-Boat Station, Independent Ports and Private Starports) are covered briefly.

Starport Encounters

The bulk of this chapter is devoted to tables for encounters at Starports, from Backwater Locations to Metropolis Locations. Each group of encounters is divided into General (day-to-day) and Significant (unusual and/or perilous). Some are patron encounters, environmental encounters, opportunities to buy unusual goods, and others are specific passengers.
Finally, it includes tables for local character details, the Starport Governor and Starport Quirks.

Designing Starports

This entire chapter is given over to designing Starports, and their associated costs. It is pretty comprehensive, covering everything from landing pads to security holding cells. Each Starport has a Profile, which may be filled out by the GM when creating it.
Starports are expensive – even a Class E Starport will cost upwards of MCr 1.
The chapter ends with a couple of examples: a Class E built from scratch and a Class E upgraded to a Class C.

Sample Starports

This includes details of 9 Starports created under the rules of the Designing Starports chapter. These are detailed with adventure hooks and important locations and personalities at the Starport. However, despite what the chapter introduction says, the do not include maps, which is a bit of a let-down. This from Mongoose, who provide plans for every ship they details (even 200,000 tonne warships!). Poor show.
The Starports range from Rhylantinople, the city-sized Starport of Rhylandor, to The Boneyard, an independent Starport built into the hulk of the Imperial battleship Megalith by a group of radicals (called the Dregs) from Querrion.
All the Starports have their place in the OTU, but could be transposed elsewhere with a little work. This is probably the most Third-Imperium centred chapter of the whole book.

New Ships

This includes 4 new ships: Dreg Fighter, Dreg Hunter (both associated with The Boneyard detailed in the previous chapter), Recovery ship and Tanker, all with associated rules and ship plans. New equipment is also included: Fuel Transfer Equipment and Magnetic Grapples, both of which may be included in other ships.

Reference Material

This has example Starports of each type, both Downports and (where appropriate) Highports. It also has basic schematics of each class Starport.

Conclusion

A good, solid supplement, aside from the now inevitable Mongoose typos: why can’t Mongoose hire proof readers (they jump out of the page at you, so a once-over would have revealed the problems). Still, it’s nowhere as bad as the Universe of Babylon 5 sourcebook! The lack of maps in the Sample Starports chapter is also a disappointment.
I would recommend this supplement to anyone running a campaign in the Third Imperium.

Return to Second Edition

[Archived from www.thehexedgamer.co.uk]

Recently, my gaming group have started a 2nd Edition AD&D campaign – and it’s been interesting. Travel back with me to D&D, 90’s style…

My group currently has 3 players and a DM, but another player is about to (re)join us. We were previously playing a long-term 3.5 campaign, from 1st-20th level. We hope to move onto Pathfinder when the 2nd edition game finishes. One of the players in the previous campaign (I was the DM) volunteered to DM this campaign, to give me a break (thanks, Louise!)

Characters

The characters are as follows:

A Human Cleric of Waukeen (me)
A Dwarf Fighter/Cleric of Moradin (Gerry)
A Elf Thief/Wizard (Matt)

We should hopefully be getting an Elf Ranger joining us soon.

I had forgotten just how useless low-level Wizards were in 2nd Edition – luckily I persuaded Matt to play a multi-class wizard, so he still has his Thief skills to fall back on (once he uses up his one spell). The whole multi-classing took some getting used to for players used to the d20 model. To be honest, I am playing a human only for story reasons: Humans are very weak compared with other classes, unless you play a long-term campaign with level limits. Still, I should be one level higher than the others throughout the campaign, which is some compensation.

Clerics are a mixed bag: having to memorise Cure spells is a pain, as it really reduces the flexibility of the Cleric, but I love the god-specific spell lists (I had largely forgotten these until recently). It is irritating that I can’t use certain spells, but it adds to the Role-Playing aspect of the whole thing.

Combat

The first thing we did was run a small combat, to get us used to the combat system. It feels a lot less tactical than 3/3.5, but that is perhaps inevitable given 1 minute combat rounds. It was a bit weird that technically this combat outlasted pretty much every combat we ran in the previous campaign, as it lasted about 5 rounds (5 minutes). That would be 50 rounds in 3.5! Actually, I’ve always found one minute rounds allow the abstract elements of D&D (Armour Class, Hit Points etc.) to make more sense.

It took some time to get used to announcing what you are doing at the beginning of the combat round, and then rolling initiative (we are using the individual initiative rules). That required some house-ruling (what happens if the situation changes etc.). But by last session (our fourth or fifth), it was beginning to become second nature. We also misplayed the backstab rules, treating them as more like the later Sneak Attack. We are now playing the correct rules.

Other Rules

Talking of rules, they are not that well organised in comparison with 3.5. Some rules are quite obscure and downright badly written. For example, are all bows assumed to have Str bonuses for those with less than 18 Str? Or only specially made ones? Since they cost the same, I can’t see why you wouldn’t buy and enhanced bow. Indeed, the whole bow specialism section seems odd. But that’s probably with 10 years experience of running a system designed with checks and balances (3/3.5). AD&D was always much more “simulationist” (potion mixing table etc), or as much as a game with magic could be…

One of the advantages of d20 is that there is one over-arching system. There are lots of different sub-systems in 2nd Edition (combat, non-weapon proficiencies, thief skills etc), which is good and bad – it allows systems to be created for specific tasks, but can be confusing. I find the non-weapon proficiencies to be better than skills in d20: you are proficient in the skill to start with, and they don’t overwhelm other systems like some skills do in d20 (diplomacy for example is badly broken in d20).

Conclusion

I am enjoying our journey back to the 90’s. I don’t think I would play it all the time, but it has rekindled my interest in the game (I played it to exhaustion back in the 90’s, and openly embraced d20). Unlike d20, it really is basically the same game as original D&D, with some additions – the real jump in evolution would come with d20. Of course, d20 was itself based on Gamma World, 4th edition (released in 1992, only a couple of years after 2nd Edition).