Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Flavor of Space Battles

I am currently planning a space opera campaign, to be set in a distant future. Unlike the previous game that was set in the Star Trek universe, this one is set in a universe of my own creation.

I want the characters to be space travellers. I want them to have their own ships. I don't want them to be able to get on the phone with headquarters to request more stuff, so perhaps they'll be merchants, or pirates. Either way, it's obvious that there will have to be space battles.

Oddly enough, while I dislike combat in a sword & sorcery RPG being handled as a miniatures tactical board game, that's exactly what I want in space combat. Maybe it's because that zero-drag Newtonian motion is so unlike anything that we have on earth that it becomes interesting.

Anyway, the main question that I'm battling (heh heh) with right now is the flavor of those battles.

In the space opera genre, there seems to be three main flavors of space battles. Not coincidentally, each corresponds to a war movie:

  1. Midway (or maybe, Baa Baa Black Sheep if you remember that TV series): This flavor of campaign is marked mainly by carriers and fighters. In this type of campaign, player characters would probably be fighter pilots--each one launching his own fighter from a huge carrier to break through the lines of enemy fighters, and attack the main enemy fleet. This is the style of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. The benefit of this style of play is that space combat becomes just an extension of personal combat--each PC has their fighter, and each makes their own offense and defense rolls, and each takes their own damage. It's very easy to write the rules.
  2. PT-109: This is the type of campaign in which ships--be they destroyers or battleships, or even armed merchant vessels--fight each other directly. While fleet actions are certainly possible, in the campaign most combat would be the PC's single ship against one or two enemy vessels. In this flavor, PCs are usually all crew members of the same ship, filling different roles such as the Captain, Pilot, Gunner, and Engineer, each somehow contributing to the combat effectiveness of the vessel. This is the style of most episodes of Star Trek. The challenge with writing these rules is that you need each PC to have a meaningful role in the combat, otherwise the other players mentally check out while the captain and GM play a board game.
  3. Hunt for Red October: In space terms, this is a situation where ships are hard to detect. Kind of like if the cloaked Romulans went to war against the cloaked Klingons. Instead of worrying about the accuracy of the gunners to hit the enemy ship, the focus shifts toward a big game of cat-and-mouse where you attempt to detect the enemy ship without giving away your own location. You see this in the old submarine movies where they "run silent, run deep", and they debate whether or not to use a sonar "ping". Instead of action scene, you have a lot of tension scenes. PC roles are the same as the Pirates, but the Gunner becomes a sensor operator (the sonar man in the old sub movies). This shares the same disadvantages ad #2.

Number one was ruled out by one of my players. That leaves two or three. Currently I'm leaning towards the second flavor.

Edit: Original post had formatting errors due to copy/paste retaining HTML. Tidied it up but didn't change content.

Friday, April 19, 2013 Another Virtual Tabletop

I've posted multiple times about my quest for a virtual tabletop solution.  At the time I had been using ScreenMonkey, and was happy with it.

Then I picked up the September issue of Knights of the Dinner Table magazine.  In the editorial Jolly Blackburn mentioned another solution in  As I said, I've been happy with ScreenMonkey, but I like to check out "new shinies", so I did.

You may recall a few posts back that I said I was thinking about writing a plug-in for Google Hangouts to facilitate die rolling.  Now it looks like I don't have to, as supports voice and video chat natively.

So the game moved over to Roll20 for a few trial sessions, and I have to say we won't be going back.  The move to voice (we don't use webcams) has sped up the game to near-tabletop speeds, and has added 100% to the enjoyability of the game.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Wood Elf

I'm hoping to get my brother into RPGs, so for Christmas I gave him a copy of Frank Mentzer's Player's Manual from the 1983 basic set of Dungeons & Dragons.  I chose that particular edition because the opening pages are the best introduction to the hobby that I've ever seen anywhere.

Well, it doesn't make sense to give him a book if I don't plan on running a game, so I gathered a few friends and started a weekly old-school D&D campaign.  My goal is to use this campaign to introduce him to the hobby, then switch over to my re-write of Dekahedron.

One of the players--James--wanted to play a Ranger.  But Rangers were in AD&D, not D&D.  So I split the difference and made a new race for him: The Wood Elf.  If the original D&D elf is a hybrid fighter-magic user, then the wood elf is a hybrid fighter-druid, which is exactly what I think a fantasy ranger should be.

Here's the write-up:

Wood Elf

RequirementsWisdom score of 9+
Neutral alignment
Prime RequisitesStrength
5% Experience BonusStrength of 13+ *and* Wisdom of 13-15
10% Experience BonusStrength of 13+ *and* Wisdom of 16+
Hit Dice1d6 per level up to 9th level
10th level, + 1 hit point, and Constitution adjustment does not apply
Maximum Level10
ArmorRestricted to organic-based armors only (Leather armor)
shield permitted if made only of wood and leather
WeaponsAny, but must be entirely constructed of organic materials
Save asElf of the same level
Fight asElf of the same level
Special AbilitiesFighter Maneuvers (Lance Attack, Set Spear vs. Charge; at 850,000 XP, Combat Options for Fighters);
half damage from dragon breath at 1,600,000 XP;
extra languages (elf, gnoll, hobgoblin, orc);
1 in 3 chance to detect and follow tracks in the wilderness;
immunity to ghoul paralysis;
Druid spells;
Most Cleric spells

More so than the other Elfin sub-races, Wood Elves are one with nature. They live in isolated communities scattered throughout The Dreadwood, each lead by a self-proclaimed Elfin Princess. Unlike the more common Elves that dwell in great forest-cities, Wood Elf communities are intentionally kept small in order to reduce the environmental impact on the local area. When a community gets too large for the local area--usually when it reaches a population of 500 or so--an Elfin Maid will be named Princess and gather a group to form a new community.

Like the other Demi-Human races, most Wood Elves do not adventure. Those that do are almost always from the Priest-caste, which is presented here. They go out into to the wider world sometimes to spread their views on nature love, and other times to judge the other races for their treatment of the Wood. in fact, some believe that the Cataclysm that gave rise to The Dreadwood was caused by a Wood Elf ritual as an attempt to restore their view of "natural balance."

Wood Elf priests are not limited bludgeoning weapons like the Human clerics, but any weapon that they do carry must be 100% organic, with (for example) no stone or metal parts. For example, the arrows used by Wood Elf priests are often tipped with ivory arrow heads, costing twice as much as normal arrows.

While Wood Elf priests can technically wear any type of armor, the requirement that it be 100% organic effectively limit them to cloth or leather armor with a wooden shield. There are rumors of other types of armor made from organic materials, but such things are rare.

Wood Elves may cast any Druid spells supported by their current level. They may also cast any Cleric spell that does not relate to good, evil, law or chaos. For the number of spells per day, see the level progression chart.

Level Progression

Spells per day by level

*Per The Dreadwood house rule, 1st level clerics and Wood Elves receive 1 first-level spell every-other-day.

EDIT: I forgot to mention it earlier, but I used an excellent article, "Building the Perfect Class" by Erin Smale to help me determine the XP progression.