Saturday, January 25, 2014

Alternate Ship Combat Rules for Starships and Spacemen (1st Draft)

Someone recommended I use Starships and Spacemen for War on the Final Frontier. I initially scoffed at this, since I didn't think I wanted a level based system, but after some thought I'm warming up to it. However, I don't really like ship combat. "Balance of Terror" is my favorite TOS episode, and it basically defines how I want space combat to work in anything. The computer game FTL is also a good model. With those things in mind, I designed this. I hope to playtest it tomorrow with my home group.

I'll be adding a link to the google doc in the documents section. When I update this system, I'll be updating the doc, not this page.

This system is designed to give more players something to do during space combat, as well as to replicate the sorts of space battles one sees in the Star Trek films and in games like Star Fleet Battles and Federation commander.

Engagements still begin at 300,000 miles away from each other and have the option of moving 30,000 miles per turn.

At the beginning of each round, the Captain - the Command officer on board with the highest rank - of each ship rolls 1d6 and adds their intelligence bonus.  The highest ship moves first.  All action on a ship is considered to happen simultaneously.

Each player takes control of one console on the starship.  These consoles are Weapons (Combat), Science (Science), Engineering (Technical), Comms (Contact), and Helm (not associated with any skill, but best suited for Navigators).  Each turn, the player may perform one action at his or her station.  To perform the action, simply roll the skill check associated with it.  

Characters that possess a primary skill in one of the functions of the station but not the skill required for the station level itself are considered 3 levels lower than their actual level.  If this means their level is less than 1, they cannot perform any actions at the console.

Consoles manned by NPCs cannot employ functions beyond the original combat rules; NPCs can fire the ships weapons or move the ship, but do little else.  An exception is made for this below.

The player at Weapons console selects which weapons will be fired this round and at what targets.  The player must select either the phaser banks or the photon torpedos, and the ship may only fire a number of photon torpedos at a time based on its class.  Otherwise firing functions as in the original rules.  Ship skill is only used if the console is manned by an NPC, otherwise the player uses their combat skill.  Fire Control characters still have a +2 bonus to using these weapons.

The weapons console may also be used to fire a tractor beam.  This does no damage but holds a ship in place, which is particularly useful against ships that are trying to flee.  To do this spend 5 energy and make a Science test.  If the test is successful, the target is caught in a tractor beam.  Every round thereafter the tractored ship may attempt to break out by bidding a number of EUs.  For each EU they bid, the tractoring ship must match their

The player at the Science console may either attempt to use their phaser frequency to bypass the enemies shields, dealing damage directly to the ship, or target specific systems if the shields are down.

To bypass the enemies shields, make a Technical skill test.  If the roll is successful, all phaser damage this round is dealt directly to the ship.

To target specific systems, make a Science skill test.  This may only be attempted when the enemies shields are offline.  A successful test, when coupled with a successful hit, will neutralize an enemy console until it is repaired by damage control.

Characters at the Engineering console may willingly sacrifice EUs in order to power other systems, boost the shields, or perform damage control.

To boost power to other systems, make a Technical skill test.  If successful the player may spend 5 EUs to add another die of damage to the phaser banks (including all phaser shots that connect), or to double the distance moved by the helm.  

To boost power to the shields make a Science skill test.  If successful the player may spend 5 EUs to completely restore them; however, if they are offline the cost is 10 EUs.

To perform damage control make a Technical skill test.  If successful, restore 1d6 EUs to the ship or restore a disabled system.

The player at the Comms console may jam enemy communications, attempt to contact the enemy, or to attempt to contact starfleet or other allies.

To jam the enemy communications make a Science test.  If successful, the enemy ship cannot use any Comms station functions and cannot perform damage control.

To attempt to contact the enemy make a Contact test.  If successful the player may talk to the enemy captain.  This can be used to taunt enemies and draw them away from ships which you may be protecting.

To attempt to contact an allie make a Contact test.  If successful the player is able to get a subspace message to the nearest allied ship, though their is no guarantee they will be within range to do anything about it.

The player at the Helm console chooses whether will move this round, perform evasive maneuvers, or attempt a ram.

Moving does not require any kind of skill check.  Simply state whether your moving towards or away from the enemy.

Evasive maneuvers require a Combat skill test.  If successful the next attack made against the ship has a -2 penalty.

Ramming may only be done when within Torpedo range of an enemy ship.  To attempt a ram roll a Combat skill test.  If successful both ships are typically destroyed, though this may not be true for certain “space monsters.”

The captain is not technically a console but functions much like one.  This position is always held by the highest ranking Command officer on the ship.  The captain may attempt to aid a player at a console or to command an NPC at one.

To aid a player, make a skill test for the same skill that they are using this round.  If successful the player gains a +2 bonus to their skill.

To command an NPC, simply choose the console you wish to use this round and run it as though you were the player at that console.

Remember that player at each console and the captain may only take one of these actions in a round.

Enemy ships are typically treated as though they had a player captain (the Star Master) and the rest of the consoles controlled by NPCs.  Exceptions will be made for certain ships, particularly those the Star Master wishes to serve as a “rival crew.”

This alternate system uses shields instead of screens.  Unlike beam vs phaser weapons or photon vs ionic torpedos, this is more than a semantic difference.  Shields are essentially a set of temporary armor that exists on top of a ships EUs.  Thus a ship must have its shields go down due to damage before it can take direct EU damage.

For the purpose of conversion, and just as a general rule, most ships have a shield rating equal to 1/4 their EUs (rounded up).

Disrupters are special weapons found on Klingon ships.  They may be fired at Fireball range and deal 1d10 x 5 damage.

If an enemy’s shields are down, the captain may choose to send over a boarding party, but must lower his or her ship’s shields in order to do so.  These can only be brought back up with a successful Technical skill check made at the engineering console.  This check does not count as the Engineer’s action.  The rest of these rules are abstract and presume a team of NPC enlisted men rather than a PC boarding party.  PC boarding parties may make for an interesting adventure, but running them simultaneously with space combat is a headache I would wish on no Star Master.

Marnies typically are sent to disable certain systems.  For every 3 people a ship is capable of transporting, you may target one system.  To see if their mission is successful, roll on the table below for each team.

Marine Raid Table

If the marines disable the system, that console can no longer be used until it is repaired with damage control.

Marines could hypothetically attempt to gain control of a ship.  The simplest way of doing this is to target the Bridge instead of a system.  Roll on the table above, but add 1 to the die roll for each difference in size between the defending ship and the attacking ship.

New Ships
These ships are designed to more closely resemble the ships of the Star Fleet Universe. PC crews will be assigned to one type at the beginning of the campaign, and unless special circumstances arise they are unlikely to switch.  Command ranks are given for determining the level of an NPC Captain.

Smaller ships used for small missions or as escorts.

Crew Complement: 150
Command Rank: Ensign
Nacelle Power Base: 100 EUs (two half nacelles)
Shield Capacity: 25
Teleporter Capacity: 3 at a time
Phaser Banks: 1
Photon Torpedos: 6 Total; 1 at a time
Shuttlecraft: 1
Sick Bay Capacity: 20

War Destroyer
Crew Complement: 200
Command Rank: Lieutenant
Nacelle Power Base: 150 EUs (three half nacelles)
Shield Capacity: 40
Teleporter Capacity: 4 at a time
Phaser Banks: 2
Photon Torpedos: 9; 1 at a time
Shuttlecraft: 2
Sick Bay Capacity: 40

New Light Cruiser
Crew Complement: 250
Command Rank: Commander
Nacelle Power Base: 200 EUs (two nacelles)
Shield Capacity: 50
Teleporter Capacity: 6 at a time
Phaser Banks: 3
Photon Torpedos: 10; 2 at a time
Shuttlecraft: 3
Sick Bay Capacity: 50

New Heavy Cruiser
Crew Complement: 300
Command Rank: Captain
Nacelle Power Base: 300 EUs (three nacelles)
Shield Capacity: 75
Teleporter Capacity: 7 at a time
Phaser Banks: 4
Photon Torpedos: 12; 2 at a time
Shuttlecraft: 4
Sick Bay Capacity: 75

Battle Cruiser
Crew Complement: 400
Command Rank: Commodore
Nacelle Power Base: 400 EUs (two double nacelles)
Shield Capacity: 100
Teleporter Capacity: 9 at a time
Phaser Banks: 5
Photon Torpedos: 18; 3 at a time (For Kirov Battle Cruisers); 12; 2 at a time Fireballs (for Bismark Battle Cruisers)
Shuttlecraft: 5
Sick Bay Capacity: 100.

Crew Complement: 450
Command Rank: Admiral
Nacelle Power Base: 600 (Three Double Nacelles)
Shield Capacity: 150
Teleporter Capacity: 12 at a time
Phaser Banks: 6
Photon Torpedos: 24; 3 at a time or 18; 3 at a time Fireballs
Shuttlecraft: 6
Sick Bay Capacity: 150

The stats above are for Federation ships.  For Klingon ships, substitute Disruptors for Photon Torpedos and ignore the total number.  For Romulan ships, add a cloaking device and change photon torpedos to fireballs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

War on the Final Frontier

A number of years ago - just a bit longer than a generation - a number of independent companies began the privately funded colonization of the Arucanis Arm.  This remote section of space is believed to contain a number of species and civilizations that the Federation has yet to contact.  Needless to say, the Federation government was alarmed but at the time its leaders decided to respect the right of the colonists, who were mostly humans but with a few members of other Federation species, to self determination.

But war does strange things to people, and the war with the Klingons has gone on longer than any in the Federation expected.  The current stalemate as well as rumors that the Klingon empire is seeking an alliance with the Romulans have made the Federation council desperate.  They have begun seeking their own allies in unlikely places, and a number of council members believe that it is time someone investigate the situation in the Arucanis Arm.

The Arm lies in an extremely strategically important are where the initial Klingon advance at the beginning of the war managed to create a sliver of Klingon occupied space between the Federation and the semi-independent colonies.  If the colonies and unknown civilizations of the Arm could be convinced to join the Federation in the war, the Klingons' main supply lines to the front would be severed.

You are the crew of the USS Reliant and your mission is to survey the systems Arucanis Arm, make contact with the colonists as well as the unknown species, and convince them to join the war against the Klingons.  The Reliant is a New Light Cruiser, a wartime design that provides a not inconsiderable amount of firepower at a relatively low cost.  Unfortunately, this is possible due to the fact that much of the crew amenities have been stripped out, and thus this assignment is more spartan than a Federation exploration or battle cruiser.  However, the Reliant was chosen for a very specific reason: the common nature of its class will mean that the Klingons are less alarmed by its crossing their borders into the Arucanis Arm.  The Federation feels that any other ship would likely tip the Klingons off to the purpose of the mission, and thus endanger it.

Starfleet has made contact with the company that settled the closest section of the arm, now a small merchant empire headed by one Harcourt Fenton Mudd, a criminal from Federation space and fairly recent arrival to the Arm.  How he came to be in charge of the company is as yet a mystery, but he has agreed to help the Federation in exchange for amnesty and possible asylum at some future point.  The aid he is willing to provide at this point does not include fighting men or ships, but his company can offer their space stations to the Reliant for refueling and shore leave.  Mudd is also adamant that Starfleet inform you that he has quite a few suggestions for the latter purpose.


This posts premise and title is taken from the somewhat obscure game Protostar: War on the Frontier, which the internet consistently tells me is mediocre at best.  However, I thought it had a good setup for a game that would be easily adaptable for settings of most any genre, though sci fi is obviously the easiest for it to port to.  I have expressed it in terms of Star Trek rather than Traveller partly because I think those terms are more broadly familiar, and partly because I've had a deep desire to run Star Trek that coincides with, and to some degree predates, my recent Traveller mania.

If I were to keep it Trek, I'd almost certainly borrow from a number of "non-canon" sources including the material for Star Trek Phase II (the unaired series, not the fan series with the same name), the closely related Star Fleet Universe (including that ship design up there), FASA's Star Trek supplements, and the animated series.  I'm not sure what system I'd use.  The two options that I would be most likely to look at are a kitbashed Traveller converted for Star Trek shenanigans or FASA Trek itself.  The first has some advantages, namely that I know I like the system and I have a bunch of red, blue, and yellow d6s, but it would probably take the most work.  Having looked at FASA Trek recently I see a lot to like there, but I'd probably have to houserule the combat into basically being regular old BRP combat before I'd use it.

I could also use part of the Terran Directorate setting, exchanging the Klingons for [Click], but there are a number of adventure ideas I can think of for this that would work better with Star Fleet do-gooders.

Monday, January 13, 2014

My Nostalgia be Different

Last week, I did a bad thing.  I ran a game and it wasn't Traveller.   I was weak (and the home group was going to be missing its pilot), and so I repurposed an old Uz map, put in some bandits and some degenerate "elves," and put it in hex 2521 of the Elephand Lands.  In keeping with what I talked about a while ago, I used the last D&D Next playtest packet to run it, and we had a blast.

I probably wouldn't be talking about it, except that over at the Hill Cantons blog Chris did a post about a recent game he played and the nostalgia he felt in doing so.  Despite using a new system, I felt a lot of nostalgia as well, and weirdly about things that are essentially the opposite of what Chris describes.  I started with 3e and for most of my high school and college games used a weird mix of 3e and 3.5 (I had the 3e books and my players had 3.5 and I had no idea what the difference was).  The things that took me back, so to speak, were things like 4d6 drop low stats, barbarians as a class, and weird class/race combinations like dwarf ranger and tiefling cleric.

Certainly the setting and the play group had something to do with it - the people at the table were the same people I played some of my first games with back in high school, and I ran the Wilderlands for most of my undergrad college career - but there was something in the air that wasn't when I tried some of my OD&D/S&W experiments out with the same group.  They liked Uz, sure, but it didn't feel like this did.

I also found that D&D Next was able to evoke this certain special something without a terrible amount of rules complication - in fact, certain aspects of the system mirrored what I was already thinking of doing or had done with my Dark Country house rules.

Ah, but since I am Demogorgon (probably) I would not be true to myself if I was not also filled with lingering doubts and some small voice whispering "no! no! it is wrong!"  The thing that originally attracted me to OD&D and S&W was their mutability.  In 2008 when I started reading these blogs, Huge Ruined Scott - in contrast to his current "no setting information whatsoever" ethos - was first working on his Wilderlands of Darkling Sorcery and then his long lost Thool setting.  These were in uncountable ways different than what I had thought of as D&D while still feeling obviously like D&D settings, with ruins and adventurers and weird magic and stuff.  He took OD&D and banged it into something weird and idiosyncratic to Scott, and he did it with ease.

So I said I wanna do that, and did my own thing for the Hammer Horror set.  The Dark Country is, as I have often said, my baby, and running a fantasy game (or really any game) outside of it - despite my constant urge - ultimately always seems pointless.  But it has developed in ways that, while still fairly close to D&D, make it and D&D Next, or at least what my group seems to want out of D&D Next, like fitting a square peg in a round hole.

But - says my other, D&D Next liking head - the characters they made for the little test session seem easy to convert to the Dark Country.  The chaotic wizard and the dwarf ranger are acceptable untouched, and the half-orc barbarian whose adopted human father tried to burn him works just as well if he's some kind of riff off of the calibans from the 3e version of Ravenloft.  Maybe I can do this, thinks Aameul.  Ah, thinks Hethradiah, but your wife made a tiefling cleric of Braz Kazon, Battle God of Smoke.  That would be quite a bit harder...

A note on the top picture: my favorite book for 3e was Oriental Adventures, and when trying to find 3e art that made me nostalgic, I was lucky enough to find this illustration.  Not only does it make me nostalgic for 3e, but it always reminds me of a Chinese folk tale about a dragon who lived in a kingdom under the sea I heard in my rather bizarre 7th grade history class.  Any time I have a map with an ocean or lake on it, I always put some little underwater ruins there because of that exact story.  Unfortunately, I don't think any group in my games has ever had the water breathing spell.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

An Attempted Pictorial Dictionary of my Wilderlands



Elf, Northern





Evil High Priest
Dark Elf (male)

Dark Elf (female)

Ghinorians (of Damkina)

Alryans (CSIO)




Viridians (common soldiers)

Viridian (Black Adder)






Ruins (Kelnorian)

Ruins (Ancients)



Ghinorans (Lenap)

Ruins (Orichalcan)

Gods (small)



Statue (animate)

Ruins (Elven)



Wizard (high level)


Viridians (archers with "magic" arrows)