Thursday, November 30, 2017

Starfinder - the New Working Campaign Premise: Stranded 500,000,000 LY from Home - the Mayall's Galaxies Campaign

So after the last blog here's the late evening inspiration I got up to:


1. I'd let everyone start at level 3. Use the default point buy method in the book (no rolling!)
2. Start with 6,000 credits instead of the measly 1,000 cr. -- this is a bit higher than the book advises
3. Core classes and races only. Ignore chapters "Setting" and "Pathfinder Legacy." They don't exist. If any do, I'll mention it. Some suitable exotic racial options from the Starfarers Companion  might be suitable. All the core races (page 40) are fine. Most of the racial options in Alien Archive may be fine UNLESS they are obviously a fantasy race. Nuar are an uplifted species in this universe, genetically modified animals which were bred on Fringe Worlds in human space as cheap labor to bypass slavery laws. 
4. Equipment is whatever you can afford. I'll think about level limits for purposes of the game, but for buying equipment, assume if you can afford it you can get it.

Setting: (Note, edited a couple times because I seem to have copied a draft and not a final....gah)

Setting starts with the near future. Earth is a distant memory, lost to time...but it wasn't only about a century and a half earlier. The region of space everyone functions in today is known as Mayall's Galaxies, a special galactic location of two galaxies in collision. 

In 2095 Earth discovered a warpgate located in the solar system's Kuiper Belt, and another one at Alpha Centauri by 2250. The solar warpgate was the first they learned to activate, and scouting expeditions reported a vast galactic expanse in an unknown location eventually identified as Mayall's Object, a two-galaxy collision occurring in distant space. Redubbed Mayall's Galaxies, this became the center of a colonization effort. The first decade led to dozens of colonies, a major space-station, and hundreds of thousands of eager immigrants to a new galaxy, literally. 

About two decades after the colonization The Drift was discovered when humanity collided with the  Kasathas, who introduced them to Driftspace drives and also the power known as the Weave, which humans equate with some sort of quasi-magical higher dimensional psionics. The Solarian orders started with the Kasathas and other races, and humans adopted them.

When first contact with Mayall's Galaxies' Kasatha happened, something else caused a problem....the warpgate shut off, and the gate parked in the Kuiper Belt of the Solar System appeared to detonate in an anti-matter backlash. The colonies in Mayall's Galaxies were cut off from Earth!

The first colonies struggled.....life was hard, and few worlds were precisely ready for human colonization without terraforming, but the colony ships with their terraforming resources did most of the work. Over the next hundred years other races were encountered, but a curious pattern emerged: many, many worlds in Mayall's Galaxies show signs of ancient colonization or the development of native species, but all of these native aliens appeared to have died out, gone extinct, or disappeared. Most of the species in this galaxy (of which there are cataloged dozens) are all natives from other galaxies just like humanity, who arrived by one-way jumpgates, were kidnapped by reptoids or grays, or got here by misfortune. Only a handful of actual native species still exist, including the Kasathas, shobad, formians and a few others (see below). 

In this setting there is no other magic than what is defined in the core, and only practiced by the Mystics, Solarians and Technomancers. The optional class/spell stuff in 3PP Starfarers Companion is assumed to be nonexistent until I can review.

The Drift is still a way in to a weird other-dimensional space. That may accidentally bridge on other universes, with suitably terrifying Event Horizon-esque horrors. 

The fact that most species in Mayall's Galaxy are imported means that you as the player can assume any history or background in Starfinder is acceptable, but it's all ancient history to the species, which usually follows up with a paragraph along the lines of , "And then this colony ship used the Stargate discovered at Point X and found themselves trapped in Mayall's Galaxy."

Species of Mayall's Galaxies:

Species of this region fall into three categories: trapped species (colonists, explorers and visitors who were lured here by warpgate or other means and then cut off from home), native species (aliens that seem to have developed here as natives, or have been here so long it is hard to determine if they started as visitors from elsewhere), and Special exceptions. This breaks down as follows:

Trapped Species Brought here with Humanity's Arrival: 
humans, androids, ysoki (may be uplifted species brought her by humanity?), Nuar (also an uplifted species), 

Trapped Species of other Origin: 
Lashunta, Shirren, Vesk, Contemplatives, Draeliks, Haan, Maraquoi, Lashunta, Ryphorians, Sarcesians, Dragonkin (see below), Skittermander, Verthani, Wrikreechee

Native Species:
Kasathas, Barathus, Formians, Ikeshti, Kalo, Shobhad, Urog, Wytchwyrd

Special:

Grays: Grays, interestingly, are from the Milky Way and traveled here much as humans did. The Gray colonists arrived ten thousand years before humans did, and are distantly related to the Grays which plagued humanity's pre stellar years

Reptoids: Reptoids are native to Mayall's Galaxy, but they may have created the vast warpgates that led humanity and other species to this galaxy....possibly as traps. 

Dragonkin: Dragonkin are certainly dragonlike and exist, but are either A: coincidentally dragonlike or B: an uplifted or engineered species. They call themselves the Athokar and appear not to have a recollection of their true heritage. 

Drow (Hirrin): Drow are nonexistent, but have an analog of some sort called the Hirin. Their nature is a mystery, but their threat is evident.

Space Goblins (Harkoniath): Space Goblins call themselves the Harkoniath but humans call them space goblins because of how they look and act. Harkoniath live in junk flotillas and survive on piracy and salvage, having long ago stripped mined their home system. They are also a stranded race, though likely they had little to care about at whatever strip mined system they left behind.

Spacefarer's Companion Options that are okay to use:
Native Acceptable Species in Mayall's Galaxy: none
Human Uplifted/Created Species: catfolk and mechanoi are acceptable.
Species that may have arrived by Stargate and became trapped in Mayall's Galaxy: Deoxyians, Suli, Vishkanya, and Wayang may all be permissable.

Themes of this proposed campaign:

1. displacement; with few excpetions, most species are visitors and colonists, unwitting trapped in this galaxy
2. Mysteries....thousands of worlds with evidence of collapsed civilizations; why, and how? Does the convergence of two galaxies have anything to do with it? 
3. Resource problems: many worlds, few still able to support life; the pressure of dozens of species to compete over the last thousand years for precious resources pushes many into necessary but unwelcome conflict

4. Isolation - humanity has been here two centuries and is barely holding on to a dozen colony worlds while aggressive species like Vesk and Shobad seek to take that from them and subjugate the new arrivals.

Fun Fact: Mayall's Galaxy is a real Galaxy about 500,000,000 LY from the Milky Way, which is called Mayall's Object. It's two galaxies colliding at interesecting angles with each other:



Starfinder Round Three: Ramping up the SF Element


Yeah, I can't stop working on this.

Okay, so my thoughts on making Starfinder more SF:

1. Ignore all the content in the Pathfinder Legacy chapter. We don't need no stinkin' Pathfinder Legacy to make this work. This chapter mainly functions to update the default game universe to reflect racial and organizational connections to the Old World of Golarion. We don't need elves in our SF game for this!

2. Reading the history and details of the pact worlds is interesting and useful, but it's best to simply extrapolate ideas from this while deleting the "non SF" elements that won't work for what I'm intending. So....for example...purging this universe of anachronistic D&D fantasy elements would mean ditching drow, orcs and others on Apostae, for example. I could reskin this world and use it....but drow could become some other sort of space alien not connected to D&D or Norse myth to fill the void (no shortage of options there).

3. In reading through the mystic, technomancer and solarian carefully, plus reviewing most of the spells in the book, it feels like this is all easy enough to call magic but claim it's part of some enigmatic "force" (pun intended), be it psionics (Traveller and 90% of classic era SF), biotics (Mass Effect), actual space magic (that is, magic which is some fundamental principle unlocked as a result of some strange reason tied to space travel; for example, the first FTL space travel through the Drift accidentally unleashed the power of this mysterious other-dimensional magic on the world), or something else suitably enigmatic and Clarkensian enough to be indistinguishable from future technology.

I like the idea that developing FTL drive using other-dimensional physics to enter the Drift lead to the manifestation of "magic," and that this magic is regarded as some sort of paradimensional force to contend with....but now centuries old with spacefaring cultures quite used to it. It solves (for me) the problem of how technological advancement could happen at a reasonable pace in conjunction with the sort of magic coming from typical fantasy worlds by saying tech came first, magic came later.


4. The concept of the drift ties in to a special deity, a magical planar realm tied to the conventional Pathfinder planar cosmology, and all sort of other implied stuff. In the new, liberated "Starfinder as slightly sterner SF, now with less fantasy" the Drift is part of the mysterious other dimensional realms which can in turn be used to account for hideous things like undead and demonic/mythos manifestations....you name it....so the idea here is "Use the drift, but make it just like any other weird SF tale where the dimension used to bypass the speed of light has weird and unintended effects, denizens, etc." In this scenario, a movie like Event Horizon dovetails very nicely with the modified Starfinder cosmology.

5. Next, the aliens in the core rules and most of the alien races in the Archive are more than suited to populating this universe, we just need to reskin some of them (like nuar and drow), delete the obvious suspects (see #1 above) and then focus on the more distinctly alien Starfinder aliens, of which there are plenty.

6. Finally, while it's not necessary, adding a connection to Earth is a good way to ground the setting in expectations and help players establish when something new and weird is ...you know... "new and weird." It's not necessary though....see Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, for example.....but it's an idea. I think for my campaign, I'll imply that Earth is there in humanity's distant past....but so far removed that no one anywhere remembers where the homeworld is anymore. It's been lost to memory; so much time has passed since humanity left for the stars that the existence of the homeworld is more of a legend and fantasy in its own right. Ironically, to a certain extent this is precisely what Paizo tried to do by making Golarion disappear. This has the added advantage of making it easier to modify and insert the published Starfinder adventure path modules into the customized setting.

Okay, now to figure out how to try this out! I remain determined to figure out how Starfinder will work for me.....maybe this is the direction to go. Hmmm.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

After Action Report (Epilogue) - Call of Duty WWII and Star Wars Battlefront II

So which is more evil, Activision or EA? Hard to say, but I think my tentative money goes to EA right now. As you might have read, EA suspended the option to purchase loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II, which many in the gaming press have suggested was really Disney telling them to stop getting negative press for a Star Wars product right before the next movie. Makes sense.

I'd written about both of these games earlier in the month and wanted to follow up with some after action reports on where they are at now, and how I feel about them after sinking a decent amount of game time in all modes into both games. Here's the scoop:


Call of Duty WWII

Many hours in to multiplayer and Nazi zombie modes and I can safely say that Call of Duty is benefiting from a return to a slower, more tactical experience. The offline split-screen options are solid and the AI for the bots is sufficiently challenging at the highest levels to be a good substitute for live players (at least, for purposes of my son and myself playing). The zombie mode needs more maps (there are only two right now) but it's a solid experience. They got rid of plank-nailing to control the flow of zombies, but they tempered the experience such that it's possible for two offline players to get pretty far into the zombie waves....my son and I hit like wave 11 which was almost impossible in prior CoD zombie experiences without four players online.

Online the experience is great, the multiplayer is solid, and the experience is better than it has been since Black Ops III (which I loved), but with normal mortal soldiers rather than the supersoldiers of the last few entries. The loot crate component of the game is there, and they have tried hard to push you in to the battlefield operations area where you walk around and meet other people (in theory), then open loot crates in front of them.

In CoD the loot crates are 100% cosmetic, which makes them easy to ignore. They are also less exciting than in, say, Black Ops 3 because WWII is trying to be at least a little authentic (black Germans and aggressive active female combatants in full military fatigues aside) so you can't bling your trooper out quite as badly as prior iterations of the series would allow for. But the point is....these aren't exciting loot crates, and I don't know why anyone would really spend money on them. The game lets you accrue in-game purchase points at a decent clip, and I've never felt like I was lagging behind or missing out by not spending a cent on this stuff.

As for the campaign mode, I fired it up a few more times, got really annoyed with the invisible rails, stupid health packs and intensely accurate German soldiers and decided that I didn't care. This may be the first time I may not have finished a CoD single player campaign.

Verdict: I don't regret this purchase, but I do feel that they need to come up with something more innovative and interesting for the next CoD game, but which takes a lesson from the slower and more tactical multiplayer experience. As for single player, they have got to figure out a new formula and stop making these crappy invisible rails shooters with flimsy storylines stringing together arbitrary set pieces. Solid A for the multiplayer modes and couch split-screen, but a C for the campaign. Overall it's a solid B.


Star Wars Battlefront II

The shining gem of this title is the single-player campaign, but it's too short to carry the entire game on its weight alone. The multiplayer is a solid experience....most of the time....but it's a fractured experience. If you play it for a while you'll get the sense of what I mean: Clone Wars map, rebellion map, first order map....rinse and repeat. The game's attempt to stretch across three eras of Star Wars actually makes for a shallower experience as no single era is supported as well as it should be, and I am still irritated when you are on a Clone Wars era map and Darth Vader shows up working with the Separatists, it's just too stupid. As someone over at Cheap Ass Gamer said, why the hell can't you play Captain Panaka when you're on Naboo, or Padme, Anakin, etc? Probably because they are all coming down the pike as premium unlockables for hard cash.

EA freezing loot crate purchases with real money caused some new problems, too. First of those is: people who spent a lot of money before the option went away clearly have a battlefield advantage. As I mentioned before, early on it was clear that being a top dog meant you were in one of two categories: a rabid player who has been playing non-stop since the game started in order to earn the necessary points, or B: you spent a lot of money on unlocks and got the cool stuff. Either way, usually one guy doesn't just dominate the battlefield in two or three of the "top positions," he smashes it to bits. I've rarely seen cases where one guy gets twice the points of the #2 player in other games (including the first Battlefront) but I see that with alarming consistency here. It is a bit too suspicious.

Second, freezing the option to purchase loot crates forces players to earn the points. Well, after a certain point the accrual of these points slows down, and if you're an average player it becomes clear that the play time to get these precious points is simply not worth it. To be fair, Battlefront I had the same problem, but the difference was mainly that everyone was locked in to the same environment, and most of the time the later unlocks didn't give you a decided advantage over the battlefield in the way that they do in Battlefront II. If I didn't have all of the Jabba weapons and star cards I was still able to function just fine in the first game and even excel. Hell, once you had the jump pack, pulse card and Scout card almost all the other star cards were just fun experimental options. Unlocking those took time, but it was fun to play to that point. Getting the end-level unlocks for skins? Not so much, but who cared?

Battlefront II lives under the shadow of its loot crate controversy, which makes the painful cost of time to earning ratio for in game currency stand out. And it's own star cards are not as variant, and are not focused on gaining equipment or actions, but percentage increases and bonuses in play that clearly make a difference in player success. This is disheartening.

The offline component is oddly not as robust as the first game either, if you can believe that. There's a range of scenarios, sure, but the offline bots are rather dumb, and the maps and scenarios just don't play well in offline mode, with it feeling more like a crude shooting gallery than a decent simulation of online play. It exists, and my son enjoys it, but I do not.

The maps in all of the game modes, in fact, are more lackluster than they were in Battlefront I. I've noticed this...several of the maps are just wide open shooting galleries, with lots of clutter to substitute for more dynamic or tactical environments. They are not, on average, as well thought out as the maps in the first game. There are a couple exceptions (Kashyyk map and Maz's palace are really nice maps) but others (especially Yavin and the Imperial Landing Strip) are awful. The gameplay, especially in Blast mode, ends up being "race to one end of the map killing enemy, then get killed by enemy spawning behind you with sniper rifles." Oi.

On the plus side, I like how they balanced hero characters in Battlefront II. I really disliked the hero modes and playstyle in the first game, and those issues have now been fixed.

Verdict: It's got problems, it's effort to model three Star Wars eras somehow simultaneously made this game more robust and yet feel thinner in content than ever (plenty of heroes, but not enough for each era of play), but the actual gameplay is very solid, despite fewer quality maps, and the offline bots are idiots. So the online multiplayer is an A for actual gameplay but a D for slow progression being hampered by the idiotic loot crate system, the offline component remains a C but could have been better if the bots acted more tactically, and the single player campaign remains an A+, but it's not enough to pull this up from an overall C.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

D&D 5E - World of Sarvaelen - Ghuls of Camrinal as a Character Race


I've been updating Sarvaelen (The Watchers of the Sullen Vigil) to D&D 5E. I just can't get enough interest mustered for Fantasy AGE in my group of jaded vets, and S&W is a hard sell when D&D 5E does the same job with more. Sarvaelen in 5E would automatically use the sanity and all the gritty rest/healing rules in the DMG. Here's the Ghuls of Camrinal, adapted for 5E:

The ghuls are a survivor race, mutated descendants of a handful of Camrinal citizens that survived the apocalypse and kept their wits about them. Even hideously changed into half-dead beings the ghuls prosper, though in time it seems the madness inevitably creeps over them.

The ancient empire of Camrinal was a vast, dominant power that subjugated the old kingdoms to its rule about two hundred years ago. Camrinal not only ruled by force of arms but by force of magic as well, for it indulged the aristocracy of its era with a culture of free experimentation and arcane dabbling that eventually led to a magiocracy in which only those who demonstrated sorcerous talent were allowed to hold the reigns of power, ownership of property or positions of strength in the Empire. Magic had, in this now lost era two centuries gone, become ubiquitous.

When the fires of destruction rained down upon Camrinal in the Final Conflict, the vast majority of the old empire was wiped out, but many of its lesser citizens and a few elites survived. Today these survivors are mostly found as changed beings among the population known as the ghuls, but in some odd corners of the world there still exist untainted purebloods, though they often do not realize their own lineage.

As ghuls age they gradually begin to lose their mental faculties, and slowly go insane. When this happens they become feral creatures, driven purely by a desire to devour flesh. When a ghul dies or is slain, it returns within 1D4 days as an actual undead ghoul.

Ghul Characters: Most ghuls are likely to be NPCs and those which have lost their minds or become true undead are inevitably going to be foes, but a certain number of ghuls walk a fine line between death and madness, retaining their sanity for decades or longer. These are possible player characters. Campaigns which would allow ghuls probably focus on anti-heroes and more villainous plots and characters, but it is certainly possible that you might have a ghul who seeks redemption as a cleric of a benevolent goddess such as Nevereth, or a paladin of a divine calling.

Ghul Character Traits:

·         Statistics: All ghuls have +1 Dex and +1 Con. Ghuls which retain their sanity have strong wills; roll 2D6+6 for Sanity (if used) to determine this stat.

·         Darkvision: Ghuls have darkvision for 60 feet

·        Natural Weapons: Ghuls are armed with a claws which deal 1D6+strength damage and are proficienct in natural weapons. The ghul also has a vicious bite dealing 1D4+strength damage. The bite exposes the victim a nerve-damaging bacteria which acts quickly, requiring a constitution save vs. the ghul’s Constitution modifier plus 8, or suffer from a debilitating fever that causes weakness. The principle effect is 1D6 minutes long and induces nausea and severe cramping, as per the weakness condition.

·         Flesh Eaters: Ghuls engage in cannibalism to revive themselves. Any ghul that feeds off of living humanoid flesh may immediately spend a hit die and add twice their CON modifier. Ghuls experience a sort of hungry bloodlust when exposed to wounds on the living, and must make a Wisdom save (DC 12 if the target has more than half it’s hit points, DC 18 if it is wounded by half or more, and DC 22 for dying targets) to resist attacking wounded beings.

·         Fear Resistance: Ghuls have already experienced some amazing horrors in their time. Ghuls roll advantage on saves vs. fear.

·        Disease Immunity: Ghuls are immune to the effects of all disease. They are not true undead however, and still breathe.

·         Half-Dead Immortals: Ghuls don’t age. They look like zombies, with rotting skin and bones visible, clearly not being quite “alive” yet not dead, either. Ghuls are susceptible to turn undead effects. They “appear” as undead on spells that detect such conditions, but with an eerie aura of half-life suggesting something unusual about them. When a ghul does finally die, the necrosis running through its body will animate it as a true undead ghoul 1D4 days later.


·         Aging Madness: As ghuls age they develop a sort of madness and dementia, becoming increasingly dangerous and feral. For every 4 years past age 60 the ghul must make a save vs. Wisdom (DC 15+1 per every 4 years over age 60) or it loses 1 point of WIS, CHA and INT, down to 4 in each. If a ghul rolls a natural 20 on any of these saves, he regains a lost point in each (if he has lost any).


Five Ghul Facts:

1.      There are only so many ghuls. They cannot reproduce, and only exposure to the magically irradiated wastes of Camrinal can make new ghuls (and few normal humans or humanoids seek to live there long enough for this to happen). As the ghuls gradually go mad and lose their faculties, or die and become true ghouls, their numbers dwindle.

2.      Some ghuls claim that you can cure the condition, but it requires a form of asceticisim that requires the ghul to somehow refrain from their insatiable hunger for raw flesh for ten years. These ex-ghuls are mere rumors and legend, for their success necessarily means they are no longer ghuls, thus the reality of this cure remains a mystery.

3.      A handful of ghuls have followed a warlock’s path and have directly made a pact with the Old Ones, or Gaol itself. A Warlock who makes a pact with Gaol follows an Infernal Pact. A ghul warlock making a pact with the Old Gods follows the pact of the Old One.

4.      There is a knight in Therinal, where the Hag rules, who wears silvered armor and always bears a closed helm. He goes by the name Naramaste, and some suspect he is a ghul paladin.

5.      A Watcher of the Sullen Vigil named Danton Seramonde once journeyed to the edge of the ruins of Camrinal itself, and claimed he saw a swarm of feral ghuls hundreds of thousands strong. Only the light of Nevereth carried him to safety….or so he claims.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Riven Star Gambit - A Starfinder Introductory Scenario

Here's the introductory Starfinder scenario I used last week. I will continue with Starfinder, but not without retooling it to be less "fantasy" and more "sci fi." Not sure how best to do that yet; I want the game to have a more coherent sense of order to the mayhem...an explanation for magic that is stronger than "because Golarion, d'uh."


The Riven Star Gambit - A Starfinder Introductory Scenario

Meet the Patron: Group is approached by a half elven Naelythian scholar named Dremora Walker. She needs the group to escort her and her cargo to Horizon’s Edge, near remote star port called Blunted Spear in the Riven Star system. As an elf she is respected and appears to be of high station, but Dremora explains her cargo is valued and may be the target of interested parties. She knows a Drow agent of Inatras has taken an interest in securing the cargo she carries. She asks for discretion, but explains the cargo is valuable, but harmless. She is protected by a mercenary Nuar named Makros. She explains she needs to make one stop along the way: after leaving port they need to jump first to the Fallen System to Outpost Coriander, an asteroid base managed by the Solar Order. From there, to Horizon’s Edge.

Presumably the PCs have a ship, but if not Dremora reveals she has one: a Tier 1 Venture, and she needs crew. Either way, she’s paying 5,000 credits apiece for their aid, and another 20,000 for the group on arrival.

Secret: the cargo contains the ashen remains of a solarian noble named Suffaros. He died fighting the Nether in the Fallen System and his remains were returned to his family. He wished to have his ashes buried on the homeworld of his elven wife (Dremora’s mother, Esienthe), a small planet in the Riven Star System called Horizon’s Edge.  The reason she needs to go to Outpost Coriander is because that’s where the remains are….her luggage contains an empty sepulcher waiting for his ashes.
Secret #2: The drow agent, an enforcer named Zedratas Callumhir, learned of the solarian’s death. His mortal enemy, the drow matriarch Usande Dralilei, would pay good coin (100,000 credits) for the ashes, as she wishes to use them to raise the solarian and torture him for ancient crimes he committed against her.

(In the one-shot, one of the PC's was Dremora's niece, an easy tie-in. The location of the hit that follows was based on a tea house they agreed to meet at. My version of Port Standown was a run-down version of "future San Francisco.")

Event #1: The Bounty Hunters

The group starts in Port Standown, a run-down district of Old Gyldarion of the Vulmeadean Empire. Assuming they take the job, they experience the first hit due to their precious cargo: Krung Hapas and his bounty gang. Krung is a half-orc who was put up to the job by the drow agent, who tipped them off. He wants to test (and distract) Dremora’s protectors, so he wants the bounty hunters to hit when they are with her, to see how they react. He will time it so her Nuar guard is not present if possible, preferably in an open market or commerce area where lots of confusion can be created.

6 Human Bounty Hunters
CR ½ soldiers (eldritch assailants) (NE) XP 200
HP 13, EAC 10, KAC 12, Fort +2, Ref +0, Will +2, Ability DC 9; Spell DC 9
Str +3, Dex +2, Con +1, Int 0, Wis 0, Cha 0
Skills: Stealth +9, Perception +4, Athletics +4
Special Ability: At-Will Eldritch Cantrip: Daze
Melee: survival knife (1D4+3 S; analog)
Ranged: Pulsecaster Pistol (shock; 1D4 E; 30 ft; nonlethal)
Flash Grenade I (20 ft; explode; blinded 1D4 rnds; 5 ft)
Armor: Freebooter Armor I (+2/+3); 50 credits each

1 Half-Orc Bounty Hunter, Krung Hapas
CR 1 soldier (eldritch assailants) (NE) XP 400
HP 20, EAC 11, KAC 13, Fort +3, Ref +1, Will +3, Ability DC 10; Spell DC 9
Str +4, Dex +2, Con +1, Int 0, Wis 0, Cha 0
Skills: Stealth +5, Perception +5, Athletics +10
Soldier Traits: Arcane Assailant (rune of the arcane assailant; treat attacks as magical to bypass DR and affect incorporeal)
Special Ability: Infernal Caster (ex-hellknight acolyte); gain
1/day 1st level: Jolting Surge (4D6), Overheat (2D8 F cone)
At will (2):  Daze, Energy Ray (1D3 energy)
Melee: survival knife (1D4+4 S; analog)
Ranged: Tactical Semi-Automatic Pistol (1D6 P; 30 ft; 9 rounds; use 1)
Armor: Freebooter Armor I (+2/+3); 250 credits

There will be at least one drow enforcer using cloaking tech (one use, DC 18 Perception to spot) to try and lift a card key from Dremora in the mayhem. He intends to go to her hotel room overlooking the bay and steal the urn....but will stop when he does so, realizing that the run is empty! He will instead then report back to his master Callumhir that she does not yet have the ashes.


(I rolled up a level 1 nuar soldier for this NPC, with the intent to offer it as a working character if someone needed a pregen. The fight above was easy enough for six PCs and I had the nuar knocked out at the start since his presence wasn't necessary. The group actually caught on that the drow had taken the key card and went to the hotel where they caught him in the act. I spiced this encounter up with the arrival of a refurbished gunship and a gang of goblins working for the drow enforcers. The scene got....weird....and a goblin took a roof dive into the deep end of a hotel pool. The drow did not escape.)

Event #2:  The Escape from Port Standown

The group finds an expedient need to get off-world when the bounty hunters attack, and Dremora begs them to make haste. When they reach their Ship Bay, they find a series of technicians and port officials shutting the bay down on grounds that the ship must be impounded for dozens of flight standard violations and an unpaid berthing cost. The port official is a Samsaran named Official Kuloth.

Suggested ways around the problem:

1.       Group can try to bribe him (he refuses to be bribed and threatens legal action; a Perception check might spot the tech with the lockdown motioning that he’ll take a 500 CR bribe…later)

2.       Group can wait and try to break through the lockdown or they can try to find a way to sneak in through the vents, and override the berthing launch clamps which require a DC 12 Computers check.

3.       They can pull out weapons and threaten their way through (this will work), but this leads to a chase by two Venture Class Patrol Ships! It also puts them on the Wanted List for the Starport and and the system.

Either way, Zedratas Callumhir is waiting in his sleek drow attack ship to follow them….having determined that Dremora does not yet have the body’s ashes.


(In the actual play session, the group bribed the tech to get to their ship, but then tried hacking the local terminal and bribing officials to force a lockdown on the drow ship. This was actually as far as we got....so the following encounters did not manage to take place. When I run Starfinder next, it's going to be something decidedly different, and with a lot less D&D style feel to it, and a lot more SF.)

Event #3: Transition through the Drift and Arrival at Outpost Coriander

The journey takes 5D6 days to reach the remote Fallen System. When the ship arrives, it does so with alarms blazing and a warning that there is an ether rift nearby. And something is pouring out of it!

The group witnesses what appears to be Outpost Coriander, an asteroid base on the edge of the Fallen System, under attack by nether demons of the outer rift. One demon is drawn the interlopers ship: a shadow demon swings close and begins a chaos invasion! The ship reports multiple reality incisions along the hull, and abruptly a Dretch appears, possibly more than one if the challenge merits it…or 1D6 zombies from hell.

The battle should be swifter if the Nuar is with the group but the demon needs to be put down before the reality incision grows and lets more in. This can be done by dragging the body of the demon and ejecting it from the airlock, or worst case slicing off a section of hull, dealing damage to the ship but casting the infected machinery out. The dretch will try to make it to the ship’s core computer….infecting the AI with chaos will cripple the ship.

(If it is more convenient, have the encounter take place on the planet instead, after the ship lands; an incursion at the spaceport; if you don't want to convert a dretch or use the Hyperspace Fiends book, substitute accordingly).

By the time the PCs resolve this, they will witness a squadron of multiple Star Worlds fighters slide in and blow the Nether Rift to bits, then communicate their good luck to Outpost Coriander and the PC’s ship before winging off….they do offer to send a medical ship for assistance.

Outpost Coriander is in bad shape, but the key element the PCs get to deal with is the Solar Temple, where the Solarian Order resides. Standing on the edge of chaos, the order has been monitoring activity in the Fallen System for decades now, and only within the last five years have Nether Incursions gone from one every few years to sometimes dozens a month. The head of the order, Praxios Gemarne, a Vosk Warteacher, will speak of how he is certain that the Nether was awoken by whatever madness the Star Empire is up to on the mainworld in the system, Pellamorda. He will tell the PCs if they are interested in more work, especially recon, he has a job for them when they are done aiding Dremora.

Dremora will stay long enough for a sanctifying ritual transferring the ashes of her husband in to a vessel, and a recount by the order of his deeds slaying the Balor Crucifon before perishing under a horde of Nether in an effort to save the Imperial Cruise Liner Thousand Bells from destruction. The princess Tynerae of Szengauth, an ally world of Astrophikus, was on board the cruise liner and his actions convinces Szengauth to join the Coalition of Free Worlds.

During their stay at the temple, solarian guards capture a man snooping around. He admits he was paid to enter the temple and report on the location of the sacred sepulcher of the solarian, though he only knows it was “some drow.”

The group will have no further excitement, and may stay for up to two days at Outpost Coriander before they need to take leave. When they do take leave, have the science officer make a sensors (Computers, DC 14) check to see if they spot the stealth drow ship following. The drow ship will threaten attack….a pilot with a good enough maneuver check can buy time while the group contacts the Outpost for help….or they can try to make a drift jump with haste to escape. Worst case, the drow ship will seek to disable their vessel and board. Use the Eox Blackwind Sepulchre for the drow vessel stats. The drow do not want to blow up the target ship, they want to take the artifact ashes intact!

If the drow manage a boarding party, it consists of 4 drow enforcers initially, and 4 more after 6 rounds as backup or if they call for it. The party is sufficiently strong that this may pose difficulty for the PCs at this level of experience. If Zedratas Callumhir is forced to intervene, then use the drow noble arms dealer stat block. If the PCs really get luck and ambitious, the crew consists of another 5 drow, none of whom are as proficient as drow (use CR ¼ for each; Zedratas is the captain).

Either way, if the PCs hold out for ten minutes two solarian ships will come to their aid. Worst case, the solarians can knock out the drow ship, but best case the PCs might make a computer (sensors) check, DC 15, to try and track the drift coordinates of the escaping drow ship. They will see it’s going to the Inatras world of Bysal, a shadow planet at the edge of the Cinder System. That can lead to a future adventure, if they are brave enough for recovery….Dremora will not ask them to commit to such danger, though.  But if they do, it might accidentally be in time to reach the rough starport of Gearmans, where outsiders are welcome, and find that the drow matron has resurrected her husband….

(Solarians do not believe in resurrection of their fallen, especially when they fell in the service of the Light; but it can happen, if divine providence wills it)

 If the PCs somehow retain the ashes and can resume their journey, then go to Event 4.


Event #4: Arrival at Horizon’s Edge

In 3D6 days the group arrives at Horizon’s Edge, located in the Riven Star System. The planet is idyllic and tranquil….PCs investigating may learn it has close ties to the Arboreal Realm, and is riddled with natural passages between the Material Plane and that dimension. Indeed, those in tune with nature can sense that this planet has not been impacted by the presence of technology at all….except of course for Blunted Spear.

Blunted Spear is the name of a starport where gentrified elves and other races cohabitate and engage in modest trade with the rest of the universe. It is a Freeport, and Horizon’s Edge stands unclaimed. Inquiries as to why will reveal that there is a powerful, ancient presence which guards the world from foreign intrusion, though it accepted the first colony, founded by priest-dedicates of the Golden Traveler, Ptah. Since then, the starport has grown, almost organically, with the landscape.

Dremora will not ask the PCs to go further, but will accept their escort if they do. She will travel by foot for three weeks to a remote village where she finds the urn of her mother, and places the ashes there, in a new niche beside it in the family crypt. She explains that her mother died early, not long after childbirth, and her father was a fierce protector but not always the best. She settles her debts at last, and bids the old village goodbye. If the PCs went with her, she will ask them for passage back as well.

The PCs get 1,000 XP and 1,250 XP if they also accompanied Dremora on her journey by foot. A GM could extend that experience by adding in some good old fashioned random encounters with a fey theme (and space goblins are always a lurking menace!)


Worlds of Chaos Space and the Coalition of Independent Worlds

Astrophikus – Jewel of the Sky, first to join the Coalition under the immortal rule of Halistrak, where the ancient Vulmeadean Empire rules.

Seraphione – The peaceful world, second to join the Coalition, but known for its powerful military which trains off-world to protect the purity of the planet itself. Nonetheless, the art of war seems to be carefully developed into an art form, and the soldiers of Seraphione’s main moon Tybor are all sworn solarian dedicates to the god Ares.

Hyskortius – water world ruled by the aquatic elves of the Esentriule, third member of the Coalition of Independent Worlds. Said to be a rough domain, ruled by several balkanized states.

The Haze – stretching throughout Chaos Space, a domain of vast scope in which a great asteroid field blots out the very sun in places. The Haze is where belters, drifters and pirates come to seek their fortune and hide from the law.

Naelyth – The world of the Naelythian Elves, located in a region they call Dominion Space, and home to the elven starfaring empire. Their ships stand as gossamer strands even in the far future.

Lingusia – The artificial world of Lingusia was created with a sun and moon orbiting the flattish, disk-like planet which is 16,000 miles in diameter and 2,000 miles thick. The primary side of the world harbors and ancient but primitive culture which is largely unaware of the ongoings in Etherspace. The far side contains the remnants of a vast, ancient empire which was destroyed by the Nether of the Planar Realms and is a favored refuge of pirates, treasure hunters and antiquarians looking for details on the purpose of the ancient world. The artificial nature of the construct is attributed to its creators, the local pantheon of deities who seem to believe the world is a prison which harbors twelve ancient chaos gods called Skaeddrath, and is designed to prevent their awakening and escape.

Planets of Etherspace and the Star Empire of Corgastin Grace:

Corgastin Prime – home world of the Star Empire, and center of power. Corgastin Prime is marveled as a technological powerhouse and the source from which all technomancy arose over the last thousand years. Ruled by Darakos Astrokan, the technomancer who has extended his own life indefinitely through a use of arcane weavings and technology, he is epitomized as the bearer of the “new way,” and has sought to purge the Star Empire of all magic that is not technomancy. He seeks to destroy all primeval or wild magic, and all solarians who are not of the Order of Grace, the Supreme Divinity, the deified artificially intelligent god that rests at the heart of Corgastin Prime and is the secret power behind the Star Empire.

Wyseria – Home of the Wysentrian elves, these elves are almost albino, and are dedicated to the weavings of technomancy, having largely eschewed all of their ancient connection to nature and the Weirding. They are some of the most loyal of the Star Empire, and comprise a significant percentage of its military officers as well.

Pellamorda – a world in the realm of the Fallen System, technologically regressed and ignored by most space faring civilizations until five years ago when the Star Empire invaded. It is classified as a Quarantine world by the Galactic Scout Authority, due to the fact that it is a nonstandard planet: Pellamorda is toroidal, suggesting the presence of cosmic/deific forces at work, or an ancient artifact. The system shows evidence on numerous dead worlds with strong evidence they were assaulted by the demons of the Nether. Currently Pellamorda contains a number of cultures and civilizations fighting against the Star Empire, while the leading kingdom, the Empire of Daralle, stands in thrall. The ancient holy artifact of the Star Crystal has been removed to Corgastin Prime, where Astrokan studies it to unlock its mysteries. Unknown as yet, new Abyssal Galleys of the Nether have manifested, as the Star Crystal was the device which held back the Nether in the Fallen System, and now that it is gone the demons are once again able to force their way into reality.

Drytanis – The core world of the lashunta race, Drytanis is third of the Star Empire worlds, even if they don’t always trust Astrokan. Their world is known as a harsh and deadly environment to most beings not gifted with psychic talent, and the lashunta themselves dwell in carefully cultivated arcologies and orbital cities these days.

Horav Dain – The lead world of the Vesk and fourth in the Star Empire, Horav Dain was an ancient vesk colony world which grew in prominence and threatened all neighbors in its region known as the Burning System. They conquered two dozen worlds until they encounted the techomancers of Corgastin Prime, and were conquered. They now swear unending loyalty to Corgastin Grace, worship the AI god, and comprise the bulk of the Star Empire grunts in the military.



Friday, November 24, 2017

Death Bat's Twenty Questions on Choosing the Right SF RPG for Your Game


Answering these twenty questions might help establish what SF game is right for you! I'm making suggestions based on games currently in print or easy to get. There are quite a few I like that are impossible to find anymore without combing ebay and old bookstores, so I will leave most of those off this list.

Q: I want a hard SF game which pays attention to real physics and near-future scientific probabilities.

A: You need GURPS Space 4th Edition, for sure. You can also pull this off with Traveller (MGT 2E) with a bit of work and the right source material. If you don't mind horror in the mix then also try Shadows Over Sol. 

Q: I want a toolkit system that lets me build the unique SF vision I want.

A: You need Star Hero, GURPS Space, or the Savage Worlds Sci Fi Toolkit. You could also pull this off with Basic Roleplaying with a bit more work (it's got all the rules, just no specific "SF setting toolkit" book supplement).

Q: I want Science Fiction with Horror.

A: You need Cold & Dark (Aliens meets Event Horizon and Dead Space), or Shadows over Sol, which manages non-mythosesque horror. If you don't mind Cthulhu in the mix, you will want to look at Void Core or it's Traveller version, Cthonian Stars. Call of Cthulhu also has sourcebooks on horror in space, such as Jupiter Rising. 

Q: I want transhumanist science fiction.

A: You need GURPS Transhuman Space, or Eclipse Phase, or Exilium for sure. You can also accomplish transhumanism with certain FATE Core Products or just a bit of creative effort.

Q: I want evocative space opera SF with a retro seventies vibe.

A: Classic Traveller is still in print at several locations, in different editions. You might also like Strange Stars, which comes in both OSR and FATE flavors. You should also look at the reprinted Star Frontiers and the newer FrontierSpace. Also, White Star and Stars Without Number. There's always the latest edition of Star Wars RPG, but for the closest to that seventies vibe look for the soon to be reprinted special edition of West End Game's original D6 System Star Wars RPG. FInally, check out Retrostar, the definitive game of 70's sci fi.

Q: I want lots of space fantasy in my games.

A: Depending on your interpretation of space fantasy, Star Wars RPG may fit the bill. Then there's Starfinder, which is about as "you got your D&D in my SF RPG" as you can get. Space: 1889 does this with a Victorian Steampunk flair, too. Several setting published for FATE Core are definitively space fantasy as well. Shadowrun fits this genre, but without the space part.

Q: I want soft SF and lots of it. I want blasters and FTL drives that don't require lots of pseudo-scientific explanations, or if they provide such it's all just flavor.

A: Then the Star Wars RPG or Star Trek Adventures RPG is definitely for you. Traveller does this, and so does White Star. Stars Without Number fits this bill to a tee. Making these universes is easy enough in Star Hero, and GURPS Space can do it too, if you ignore all the complex math in the book for realistic ships. I think River of Stars would fit well here, too. Hyperlanes is  D&D 5E hack that does this well.

Q: I want a game that takes the singularity and the threat of ASI seriously.

A: If you want this then the closest you're gonna find right now is Eclipse Phase and Exilium. I don't know of any other game out there right now that treats this subject with the seriousness singularity apocalypticists like Elon Musk have bestowed on it.

Q: I want Cyberpunk in my game. Either pure Cyberpunk or just fully supported cyberware.

A: Traveller MGT 2E has augmentations. GURPS and Hero System both provide the tools to build the stuff. Cyberpunk 2020 and it's 3rd edition sequel that we don't talk about are 100% about this. Shadowrun does this, but with elves. Savage Worlds SF Companion provides tools for this sort of setting, but also have Interface 2.0 which is a full Cyberpunk setting (also available for other systems, I believe, including FATE). Most of the good old days Cyberpunk is currently out of print or hard to find, unfortunately.

Q: I want to create a game that feels like Flash Gordon.

A: You want White Star or Strange Stars, and after that think about Star Hero, too. GURPS could do it, if you use lots of the cinematic rules options. I imagine you could derive this sort of setting from Starfinder or Hyperlanes, too. Retrostar would also work.

Q: I really like Guardians of the Galaxy, and want a game that supports that sort of universe.

A: Get Mutants & Masterminds with the Universe Sourcebook expansion, or Hero System's Champions lineup for their universe. If you just want simple rules and the feel of superheroes in space but not the baggage, maybe try a hybrid of the Guardians RPG from Night Owl Workshop and White Star. Hyperlanes also purports to be inspired by the movies, but lacks the sort of powers you'd need without blending in core 5E magic.

Q: I want Military SF, and lots of it.

A: Traveller is your baby then. GURPS Space can do this too on the more complicated end, and for simpler you should think about Colonial Troopers RPG (Night Owl Workshop) with a Starship Troopers vibe, or Star Wars Age of Rebellion RPG with a hard focus on the war aspect of the Star Wars universe. 

Q: I want an evocative rule set and universe to explore that is unique, or close to it.

A: I suggest Coriolis from Modiphius, which is as evocative as you can get and is described as "Arabian Nights in Space." Fragged Empire, too, with the caveat that I had a hard time getting in to the rules for that one but loved the setting. Also, Exilium, which is D6 System powered and a beautiful setting of transhumanist ascended being forced to live among the biologicals again for heinous crimes.

Q: What about Post Apocalypse?

A: Then Mutant Epoch, Mutant Future, Mutant: Year Zero and GURPS Wastelands series have you covered. Post-Apocalyptic Hero for Hero System is also a very fun book to own. There's also a spin-off post-apoc game for Stars Without Number called Other Dust that lets you play on post-apoc worlds in the SWN universe. There is a 4th edition of Morrow Project floating around, too.

Q: I want a game that is really well illustrated and helps inspire me as a result.

A: Coriolis is beautiful. The old Alternity RPG from WotC is out of print but was a hallmark in good graphic design. Starfinder is indisputably pretty. Cold & Dark is evocative for its setting (hell, any Modiphius book, such as Star Trek, is amazing). Traveller MGT 2E is actually very well illustrated, such that every piece of equipment in the Central Supply Catalog has a full color illustration (it's utilitarian, but looks good). 

Q: I want a game that evokes old school (OSR) sensibilities.

A: Then you can choose from White Star and Stars Without Number. Strange Stars provides a sourcebook conversion for use with SWN. Colonial Troopers RPG also fits the bill.  Or just find a copy of Classic Traveller.

Q: I want a game that gives me the best and easiest range of toolkit options as a GM to make games quickly and efficiently, no muss and no fuss.

A: Then you really just need Traveller (MGT 2E), but I'll suggest that FrontierSpace is designed to do this as well, and quite well. Mutant: Year Zero is designed to provide lots of out-of-the book utilities for the harried GM (if you don't mind post-apoc). White Star's Deluxe edition is a shoe-in for this as well. Of all of these, the one I like the most because it is both a quick toolkit and also gives you the most flexibility in universe design is Savage World SciFi Toolkit. The only problem it has is an issue of granularity.....Savage Worlds doesn't need as much fine detail for what it does as, say, Traveller.

Q: I don't mind the crunch; I'll take a complicated toolkit system, too.

A: Then enjoy GURPS Space or Star Hero, they've got it in spades! 

Q: Of all these games which one do you think would keep me covered for the next decade of gaming, or longer?

A: Traveller is proven to do this for a lot of people. I'd venture to say FrontierSpace manages to be robust enough for lengthy multi-year gameplay right off the bat. GURPS Space and Star Hero are both capable of indefinite campaigning with no shortage of future potential. Savage Worlds, too.

Q: I want a BRP driven SF game.

A: Mythras has good SF potential, as demonstrated in The Mythras Imperative and a couple modules, but like BRP it suffers from a lack of direct sourcebook support. Two 3PP have put out D100-based SF games: River of Heaven is a setting-specific book but pretty well designed. M-Space is more generic (slightly) but also lacks a lof of crunchy tech detail that most SF games need. BRP itself has some now harder to find monographs with SF themes, and while you can technically build SF from the gold core rules it has no direct sourcebook support. Call of Cthulhu has three sourebooks I know of with SF content in them that can help world-build a mythos future.

Bonus Question! (Because I just asked this one to myself):

Q: I want SF which evokes the kind of aesthetic set by video games like Halo, Destiny and Gears of War; military, but with an emphasis on the powered armor guys.

A: Right now, the idea is that games which support elaborate armor details and also lots of illustrations are what help here. The systems that do this best currently are Traveller MGT 2E, Savage Worlds SF Toolkit (lots of armor details, not as many illustrations, but I've actually used it for this kind of campaign a lot), Mutants & Masterminds 3E (the power armor archetype, but thematically maybe not ideal for this genre), and of course GURPS and Hero System if you're willing to do a lot of work (I'm not, not anymore). Starfinder gets a nod because it has tons of armor, with mod options, but the armor level method is kind of strange and YMMV on how you like it. Plus, you can't do hard SF with it without cutting out like 60% of the game.




If you don't see a favorite mentioned....odds are I don't know about it, or have never owned and read it...sorry!