Thursday, July 21, 2011

To Kill a Battleship....

So the last post resulted in some rather interesting discussion (both on this post as well as at TMP) over the differences and virtues of different damage systems.

I think I've identified the main 'types' of systems, and I've also noticed that most are actually rather similar (so yes, I do think a specific, inherent preference for one over another is somewhat silly, but its still legitimate).

1) Damage Level systems, where all ships essentially have an equal number of HP, but they are given names instead of numbers (Fine, Damaged, Destroyed, for example). Ships have different defenses by their ability to avoid changing damage levels. (Traditional THW, more or less)

2) Special Damage systems- usually combined with other systems, but sometimes IS the system, so that the way to 'kill' another ship is to knock out all of its systems (though there is usually a way to Overkill and just blow the dang thing up). (Starfire)

3) Hit Points- like damage levels, but another thing that distinguishes ships is that bigger ships have MORE damage levels than smaller ships. Number instead of names. (BFG)

4) Threshold systems, where the damage is compared to a chart, and if it gets past a certain threshold, it has certain effects (these either being Damage Levels or Special Damage). (GOPS)

Anyway, what I think I'm settling on is the following rule:

Every hitting shot has its Impact subtracted by the Armor of the ship being hit. A D6 is added to this number.

(this next bit will likely be tweaked on the specific numbers)
Every shot that is below zero causes a "Been Shot" test. (cinematically: the ship is hit, but the weapon painlessly glances off, or causes a surface blast mark, causing the crew to return fire and evade)

Shots that are zero to 3 cause a "Shaken" test. (cinematically: the crew are thrown around the deck. Perhaps a few computers explode on the bridge. Small external bits- parts of wings, tips of rockets, etc, are blown off. It is possible that more damage is caused if the Fixers onboard don't prevent that small fire from blowing a hole in the ship...)

4-6 results in Light Damage (as well as a test that can worsen the damage to Heavy if failed). Cinematically: An explosion rocks the ship! Outer hull is totally gone in the area directly hit by enemy fire. There is a breach! Fires are inside, and there are probably a few casualties. Functionally the ship is still well within the area where it can operate, however, as most crew remain alive (possibly in space suits, however), the damage is repairable (though the results may not look as pretty as the shiny white exterior previously did), and the small breach doesn't prevent the engines from pushing the cockpit and guns to where they need to go, so... fight on!

7-8 results in Heavy Damage (with a test for going to Severe). Cinematically: The ship is starting to look pretty bad. Large chunks of the ship are gone, there are either several small breaches or a single large one, multiple fires on board, multiple dead. Without the optional Special Damage rules, the ship is still functioning, however.

9-10 is Severe Damage. (with a test for going Kaboom!) The ship is effectively dead, except that it can still shoot some types of weapons and can still repair. Cinematically, the ship is a Drifting Dead. What essentially makes it different form a Kaboom! ship is that there are a few survivors on board, and possibly (depending on if you are using optional special damage rules and whether or not those have affected your weapons) a few working, smaller, low power weapons. The survivors, no doubt floating through the exposed interior of the wrecked ship, do have a chance, however; good Fixers can get power running again, and slowly fix the ship so that it may once again fly.

11+ KABOOM! Self explanatory.

Adding Damage: example: if a ship is Light Damaged, then an additional Light Damage will send them into Heavy Damage. Here are all of them:

Light + Light = Heavy
Light + Heavy = Severe
Light + Severe = Roll again for chance of Kaboom and add Special Damage Effects, if in use.
Heavy + Heavy = Kaboom
Heavy + Severe = Kaboom

Repairing Damage: it is possible to reduce your current damage level with successful repairs (based on current damage type). Pretty self explanatory. In theory this means a ship that is pretty much dead can become a working ship again, but this takes awhile, requires some luck, and is unlikely to happen, especially if you are using special damage effects.

In addition, there will be optional special damage effects, which add a random chance for special damage from ANY attack (including shots that do not penetrate, though it will be rarer for them) as well as mandatory (though the actual effect would be random, you'd definitely get one if using these rules) special damage effects for different damage levels.
These do, in effect, make damage levels WORSE than they were before, so if you are using them, you have to use them for all ships within the game.
When repairing with special damage, you must repair all special damage (not including crew damage, which cannot be repaired, or loss of fuel, which is gone for good) down to the amount that you get mandatorily for the damage level below your current damage level before repairing a damage level.

Example: I am Heavily Damaged, with 2 special damage effects. To reduce to Light Damage (which causes 1 Special Damage Effect) I would need to first repair 1 special damage effect, and then repair the Heavy Damage down to Light Damage.

This basically makes it impossible to repair out of Severe  Damage, as you are probably going to be severely damaged by being hit more than once, meaning you'll have something like 5 or 6 special damage effects in addition to the severe damage... so you'll be able to repair bits and pieces (get a gun working again, get some more armor working again, get the computers working, whatever) but it'll take longer than a lot of games last to really get back to a fully working condition.

So wait, I here the masses  cry, it is as easy to kill a battleship as to kill a fighter, if they have the same armor?


But as Hull is still an attribute used in ship design, that situation will be rare. Hull will be used to determine how many Weapons, Armor, Cargo, Engines, even Speed (though base speed is smaller as you get  bigger, if you devote enough of that space to powerful engines, you can get that ship to move faster), and to a certain extent, maneuverability (similar story to Speed), as well as 'maneuver thrusters' which can help your ship move around without turning.

In effect, very, very rarely will you see a big ship that has less armor than a little ship. Similar to how its hard to fit many guns on a little ship, while a big ship has lots. The advantages of less Hull is that you have higher starting values (which are modified by the design) for things like speed and maneuverability.

Little ships also have the advantage of usually needing less fuel (they can refuel at the carrier), not needing cargo (well, they could, but only a little... most ships of this size are just the cargo of a bigger ship, anyway), dogfighting abilities, being harder to hit, all of which free up space (in one way or another) to let them have the things they need- nice guns, maneuver thrusters, and a bit of armor.

I'm actually really liking the implications of this system... thoughts?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

5150 Space Batrep: Pushing It To The Limit

For those of you who don't know, I'm working on THW's space gaming supplement.

That makes it all the more pathetic that I'm using models from micromachines and Twilight Imperium, but, you know, just play the game and all that.

The game was initially designed with a focus on only a few ships to a side, in fact, often only one ship. The idea was to allow players to integrate it with 5150 into an overall campaign so that they could play Firefly or Star Trek esque games, with the heroes zooming around in their ship from location to locations, fighting on ground and in space for whatever it is they fight for.

A few polls and some playtesting later, and with Book 2 (formerly known as New Hope City, now New Beginnings, with New Hope City being a separate scenario book... I think) still unreleased, I got to working on the 'other' side of space combat.

See, as noted on Super Galactic Dreadnought, there are two types of campaigns/games: The Captain's Game, and the Admiral's Game.

In the Captain's Game, you control one or two ships, and are basically given free reign to interact with the universe but do not directly control the overall flow; governments, wars, etc. You might be able to change things a bit, but the focus is on your ship, its characters, and the tactics of small scale fights (although these fights are sometimes part of larger wars, especially if you work for the military).
In that kinda game, you can be a Pirate, Smuggler, Merchant, Mercenary, Military, Spy, Exploration, etc, type of ship.

In the Admiral's Game, you are given control of anything from a large fleet to the entire space forces of a nation. From there, you basically control the events of the galaxy by shooting at them, and, possibly, talking at them, if you want diplomacy to be part of the game. You might even research things, too! You might have a few characters (A few special captains, perhaps?) but overall, the focus of  any one battle is going to be large fleets slugging it out with each other. The individual tactics probably are less important, in favor of grand strategy. No more worrying about the facings of individual weapons and ships, at this point what matters is the right flank's assault on the enemy's sides, the center shooting off waves of missiles slamming into the right enemies at the right times, and the left flank's fighters sitting in the asteroid belt, waiting for any ship foolish enough to come close.

Both are very cool, but making one set of rules for both is actually quite hard, especially when you're also a fan of vector movement, missiles that you move like ships, and hit points (hull points), all of which make the really big battles a bit slower.

So, of course, I went off and did all of those things, and I'm now testing them on massive battles.

A little while ago I did a more midsized battle (A couple of frigates and corvettes against a cruiser that had some fighters on board... I think of this as a larger 'captain's battle' or a smaller 'admiral's' battle) and it went quite well took much less than 2 hours.

Today, I played the largest battle I could ever imagine being played by a sane human admiral.

The Red Fleet! I think I decided that I arbitrarily decided to call these the Earth Force side, from First Contact. But this is just a generic fleet. 

The Black Fleet! Arbitrarily called the Star Army's fleet (5150 universe).
Black has 5 Battleships and 2 Carriers (both with 12 Hull, the largest ships you can get in the game... After playing this game, I'd say that you'd probably not want to have more than one or two of these per side for most games).
Red has 2 Battleships and 4 Carriers.

Those tiny ships are the frigates, which are NOT the smallest ships in the game. Carriers, obviously, hold fighters (6 per, though you could do more or less) and absent from the game are Corvettes, which I picture as being about Millenium Falcon sized. 

The ships that look somewhat like Battlestar Galactica are cruisers.

It should be mentioned that the game has plenty of room for ships like "battlecruisers" and "destroyers" or whatever... perhaps "heavy fighters" with 2 Hull. However, this just increases the granularity of ship size, and for the most part can be represented by just having an up armored or increased hull version of some other ship (or perhaps reduced hull).

My Dining Room Table A Distant Solar System....
For such a large battle, I decided I wanted a large setting... So I took the biggest table I could get, put two planets down (made them identical in terms of gravity but opposite in terms of movement) and an asteroid belt between them.

A note on scale in this game: Some settings have space battles where distances are measured in hundreds of yards, others have battles where distances are measured in thousands of kilometers. I took the attitude that it didn't really matter; its all relative. So for this battle the scale is pretty big, but for another battle, it could be very small. Same story for ships; if you are gaming a setting where a battle between a dozen battleships with thousands of crew on each (or even more extreme, Battlefleet Gothic's tens of thousands of crew per SMALL ship), do NOT call those ships battle ships. Just say that each fighter is actually a squad, call the battleships frigates, and you are good to go. Basically, whatever is the BIGGEST thing (other than a Death Star analogue) in the game should be a Battleship, and if you need something a TINY bit bigger add a few hull and armor, but don't go and make every ship a battleship.

Anyway, to test out the strategy of choosing weapons, I had the Red focus on Missiles (their fighters, frigates, and battleships) and lasers (their frigates and cruisers). Only the Carrier had conventional 'cannons,' which had a large battery of smaller guns for taking out smaller ships. The Cruisers also had PDS's for taking down enemy fighters if they get too close. 
Their fighters were also given increased armor and slower speed, though as they weren't dogfighters but more like tiny missile boats, that didn't matter that much. 

Black had more 'conventional' fighters that were designed for dogfighting (which also means they aren't bad at strafing runs, which Red fighters couldn't do) with two small cannons, and pretty much everything else was made to be 'balanced.' So Frigates had a couple of big cannons and a small laser (as well as getting Fighterlike, a special attribute that lets larger ships behave somewhat, well, fighterlike) Cruisers with a mix of PDS, cannons, lasers, and missiles, Battleships with large "BA Cannons," torpedoes, PDS, and lasers, and, as an odd opposite of the Red Carriers, Carriers with a few large lasers and nothing else.

I snapped a few photos throughout; I took more as the game came to an end (the beginning was a bit like a mixture of an artillery barrage and ancient war's skirmishing- both sides lost several ships, but neither side took serious damage... instead, it was a time for positioning and accelerating).

Here you see Black has lost half its fighters and a lot of Frigates during this "skirmishing" phase. The Capital ships make a steady advance up the center, only moving to avoid getting displaced too much by the planet, and the remaining fighters move up towards the asteroid belt to try to prevent Red's fighters using it as cover.
Here we see Red at a similar stage in the game (I think a turn later), having lost its main line of Cruisers. A few cruisers on the left flank hand moved off to go through a small gap in the asteroid belt, which are not seen. As the frigates and battleships for this side were more or less "artillery ships," they basically aren't moving up. Their missiles have been doing a ton of damage, though. The fighters are not seen either, as they were nearing the asteroid belt at this point.
Here we see the result of the fighter war: both sides have lost some to the fighting already, so Red's numbers have given them the upper hand. However, they can't dogfight at all (weird choice for fighters), and are instead more like bombers for taking out capital ships with massed missiles. Black's fighters are making a dent, but too few of them are left to stop Red from unleashing a volley of missiles.
A few turns later. You can see Red's flanking cruisers getting close to ready to open up on Black's flank in the lower left corner.  Most of Red's fighters are dead or refueling/rearming, though a few remain locked in a defensive dogfight (they can't damage, they can just evade) with Black's one remaining fighter. Red has lost half of its carriers, has only a few frigates left (who continue to shoot a ton of missiles at Black), and has only one remaining battleship, which is damaged. Black is in worse shape, with only one frigate, two cruisers, a carrier, and a battleship all moving up in a column through the center gap in the asteroid belt. Still, the battle could go either way.

As can be seen, the ships continue firing at one another, resulting in the loss of Black's last frigates and most of Red's carriers (and a frigate or two). Black seems to be gaining an advantage.  However, Red's flanking cruisers are just paying off as this picture was taken, and destroy the two cruisers and damage the carrier and battleship while only taking one or two light hits themselves.
Unfortunately for Red, Black is going pretty fast due to a lot of acceleration, and so the Red cruisers quickly get too far away (with a belt and planet between them, too) to have an effect on the fight. Black destroys Red's last carrier, meaning Red only has his 'artillery' ships left... ineffective against fighters. Black's remaining fighter attacks Red's remaining Frigates, killing one with a few well placed shots.

Unfortunately for Black, they lose the initiative the next turn, and the carrier was going much too fast towards that planet for its slow engines to be able to get out of the way.... and with a failed piloting roll, they lose their (already badly damaged) carrier. Red's frigate is able to hit black's fighter (barely! if he hadn't, it isn't that unlikely that the fighter could've survived much longer by dogfighting the frigate and then the battleship, though the cruisers would've gotten him), and the Red battleship is able to nail the black battleship at close range with another volley of missiles, winning the game. Meanwhile, the Red cruisers are having fun using the planet movement and gravity rules to have a gravity 'add,' sending them speeding back towards Red's other remaining ships.

Altogether, a fun game. 
A cool thing about space games (especially ones that try to be somewhat physically accurate, like this one, and don't just copy WW2 naval battles) is that the strategy is something entirely new. There is no "suppress the enemy and flank him" in these games. Every tactic, every strategy, every fleet load out is an innovative new idea being put to the test. 

Another thing to remember is that fuel is a crucial element to space combat, especially in a campaign game. Red was dangerously close to running out of fuel altogether with some of its ships by the end of the game, and even though they didn't, it means that in a campaign game they'd practically be immobilized by this battle. 

Surprisingly close game, actually. For awhile I really though Black was going to be totally massacred. That was my fault: I did a slow advance, when I should have charged all of the small ships forward as fast as possible (actually, the big ships too); Red was more of the "some really close range, some really long range" fleet. Black only got into its element- Cannon range, essentially- at the end of the game, and at that point they were just too weak to win.

Now, given that this game is for Two Hour Wargames, I'd say it took too long. It was more like a Three and a Half Hour Wargame. Still pretty good for time, especially because I had to tweak some rules here and there where issues popped up and I was taking pictures and a few notes, but still, a bit long.

Here are the reasons for that:

Missiles. They are very effective (possibly a bit too effective, though they also just got pretty lucky at the beginning. and they have some disadvantages that make them VERY bad in some situations), and they don't take up that much space on the ship. I'm thinking I should either make them take more space, increase their cost in some other way, or make them slightly easier to avoid. 
The real issue is that they are each flown with velocity vectors and all as if they were (rather fast) ships. This is time consuming. In a smaller game its fun and works pretty fast, as you only have a few missiles flying around at any one time. I ended up just putting missiles in groups, just like ships, which did fudge the exact positions of missiles shot from different ships, but overall was a time saver. 

Possible Fixes: Increase their cost (probably by making them take more space) to slightly reduce effectiveness and also decrease number. Alternatively, I've been thinking that instead of having missiles flown by players, instead they could just be targeted at ships (like any other weapon) and they'd take a certain number of activations to get to their target based upon distance. Alternatively, the relative slowness of missiles could just be represented by them shooting only on activations, as they do currently, but letting them reach their target in one turn automatically.

Why I Might Not Do That: The number of missiles really had to do with having lots of big ships to put all the (fairly large) missile launchers and torpedo launchers on to. I think the problem might also have to do with how fuel checks currently work. Also, all of those solutions are okay, but they aren't as good for a smaller scale game, where the use of missiles is an important part of the game... being able to outrun (or outmanuevre) them adds a whole new element that is lost if I change the rules.

Hull Points: Each ship's hull points need to be tracked as they are lost. It is also possible to repair them, sometimes. These means you have to keep records of hull points (either on a 'ship card' or just a bit of paper next to the ship) which isn't THAT time consuming but can be a bit of a pain when you have a lot of ships taking lots of little hits. 

Possible Fixes: At one point I thought about the possibility of getting rid of Hull points altogether and instead giving bigger ships very large Armor values, and slightly changing how damage is taken. That would certainly speed games up, and make it more in line with CR3, where you are either dead, hurt, or alive- none of those "3/8 of me is dead" business. 

Why I Wouldn't Do That: Makes it very hard to do anything at all to a really big ship, and also ends up losing a lot of good that hull points brings for the smaller games. I actually do think the above idea might be good, though.... though I'm not sure. I'll need to playtest it, probably. Still, it gets rid of the difference between a small, well armored ship and a big, badly armored ship. Also means I'd have to change the way cargo and weapon slots work.

Fuel Checks. Great idea for smaller scale games. The idea is that you have a set amount of fuel, but doing things (accelerating in any way, turning the ship, shooting certain types of weapons, some other things) can cost fuel, but that your 'Engineer' (the game will be integrated with New Beginnings' stats when it comes out, but for the Admiral's Game, instead of individual characters with stats, you instead get overall Crew stats- Fly, Fix, and Fight- which represent the overall crew's ability to do things like, well, Fly, Fix, and Fight), or your Fix stat, has a chance to prevent fuel from being wasted. This is a Fuel Check. Fail and you can lose a lot of fuel for small things, do well and you can keep going for a loooong time.

The problem is taking all the tests individually for each ship and tracking fuel for each ship.
It can take time, and its another layer of note taking.

Fix: The only good way of fixing it I can see would be to just get rid of it altogether, at least for big fights. It is also possible to just roll once for all your ships, figure out which ships fail, do okay, and do well, and then have the ships just lose fuel as they do things (or not) based on those results. That might be the best solution, but it still means notekeeping. I guess this is a game where having cards with your ship's hull and fuel on it would be very useful (instead of 'templates' for all ships of the same type, as I did this time).

Some Other Things I Need to Clarify:
Movement can get a bit complicated with gravity, or accelerating while turning the ship, and stuff like that. I know how its SUPPOSED to work, I just need to make sure I write it in a way that is easy to understand.

Critical Hits: I have three competing systems right now: no critical hits (means game is a bit more like a wary of attrition, takes more hits to take out ships, and means there are no 'special' types of damage), a simple critical hit system that just allows you to keep rolling for damage whenever you roll a 6 (means the power of any given weapon is sometimes less important than having lots of dice to roll to increase chances of rolling a 6), and a 'special effects table' that is a bit slower and requires a bit more notekeeping, while not actually doing that much damage most of the time. I think I might end up including all three options (adjusted, most likely) as they are better for different styles of games.

Anyway, any thoughts on all this commentary would be great, and also very helpful to me as a writer... also, if you ever plan on getting this game, its a chance for you to influence the way it goes!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reflection on GW, My Switch to 15mm, Characters, and Setting

Full disclosure: I only switched to 15mm about a year ago now, and a large part of last year was very busy for me, meaning I haven't advanced much.

Also, this is a LOOOOOOOOOOONG 'personal tale' post, but I hope the thoughts on GW, 15mm, settings, and the 'feel' of games will interest people in a "Aha! I know that feeling!"sort of way.

If you want to skip the long history/reflection on Games Workshop, I suggest just skipping down to the part with pictures- its more to the point and probably a bit more interesting, as well as prettier!

For a long time, miniatures gaming was, to me, collecting my own chapter of space marines. I never played 40k as much as I painted models (with a constantly changing scheme... one day  I wanted each marine to have a unique heraldry, the next day i wanted to paint a whole army blue and white in under an hour, and the next day I wanted camo'd marines, and so on...), thought up my chapter's history and characters, and theorized plans for battles.

I never played 40k as much as I did that, but I definitely played in the early and final days.

You see, I can separate my 40k days into 4 eras:
1) Naive Early Days
2) Arms Race
3) Winning!
4) Rebellion

When I first started playing 40k, I bought a dozen marines, some dark eldar, and a few imperial guard... occasionally adding a few bikes, a tank, a hero. My understanding of 40k's setting was totally absent; I had been vaguely introduced by a friend (who had basically ignored the setting himself) to the setting, and my understanding was basically that the eldar were space pirates, the marines were badass, and the imperial guard were the bloody infantry.

I did not use points, battles were small and personal, and often games were played without the use of squads; with so few models, we made the game into a more one on one skirmish game. All battles were between friends, and there was a very RPGish vibe to the games, with scenarios, campaigns, and characters overruling 40k's setting and some of its rules.

Then I started going to the GW club. Suddenly my Marines (just one squad of regular soldiers) who'd been the biggest, baddest special ops team in all of our friendly scenarios, became slightly above average infantry who were easily shredded by tanks, and, more importantly, not even a large enough force (as they were always used as the command team for an Imperial Guard army) to field on its own. The Imperial Guard, who'd been lead by Marines, were suddenly much weaker feeling. And the Dark Eldar were suddenly our only option to use on the field!

It should be noted that the club was very understanding of our 'old style scenarios' type of play, and let us use a rag tag army at first. In fact, we (that is, my friends and I, who'd bought the models together to use together... we thought of it as being like a more traditional wargame at first, as that was our background) didn't even do bad- we won some and we lost some. But the point is, we were introduced to the idea of collecting your own army and pitting it against others, with points values, squads, no scenarios, and no special characters.

So the Arms Race began. We friends split it up a bit (I ended up with most of the aforementioned dark eldar, marines, and IG, as I helped fund other peoples new armies in return for the models I'd painted... most of them), and for a long time I basically didn't play 40k. I was busy building up a company of marines! No time for actual playing. I also had to learn the setting... without the sorta generic sci fi setting our scenarios had been set it, I'd felt empty just pushing those models around the table.

Even then, I often found myself overriding bits of setting to make my chapter the way I wanted. I still had a special character- Cassius- who hadn't been kidnapped at a young age and turned into a marine, but followed a more traditional military career. I still had him be old war buddies with an Eldar Ranger- don't ask- and a special forces unit of IG (mostly Catachan models) who supported my Marines when they were allowed. My marines ran a fairly nice planet (in that it wasn't grim dark), and generally weren't neofascist feudalists with an extremely xenophobic twist.

Still, I stuck with it. Before too long, I'd gotten a nicely sized army put together (though not fully painted, and with about 10 different competing color schemes...) and I started playing 40k a bit more frequently.

And I hated it.
Everytime I played with a friend, one of three things happened:
1) it was boring as hell and we were happier when it was over, so that we could focus more on talking and looking at the models.
2) We slowed to a halt as we focused more on other things.. rarely got past turn 2.
3) the game was SO bad that we both got angry at the rules (often at first 'angry' at each other over something in the rules, then realizing the real culprit) for being silly.

And when I played with a stranger, it pretty much always was just a chore I did with a somewhat fake smile on my face.

Two things changed: I started playing with the rules (also the edition had changed for the worse) in a much more stickler way... not just myself, but everyone I played with had become more of a stickler due to the influence of GW tournament style play. Also, I still imagined the game as the old, narrative RPG like game I'd known and loved. When I thought up the history of characters, it had more of that feel. Cassius and his Eldar friend chase an evil pirate through a space port fighting off his mercenaries. This marine soldier got his arm blown off, but kept fighting the hordes of orks who charged into his view. These IG are famous for their smart use of suppressing fire and flanking charges. But when I played the game, it was more of a contest of who'd brought bigger guns and who had better dice that day.

And so, despite the fact that I was actually pretty good at 40k (I'd been smart in constructing my army and knew the best tricks in the rules), I decided to try something new.

At first it was experiments in adjusting the rules, scenario based games with friends only, and less caring about points, army lists, etc.

Before too long it became clear that what we really wanted was to play Rogue Trader.

So we did.

It was great.

But it was flawed. Not so much the game, but the experience.

The thing is, I'd recently discovered Firefly at around the same time, had rediscovered a love for the original Star Wars movies (somehow I hadn't seen them in MANY years!), and started to fall in love with Traveller, which somehow had slipped by me.

At first, we loved playing Rogue Trader... the setting was not unlike the one we originally imagined, in that it had the same things (and more!) in it as 40k, but had a more generic space opera feel to it, and a lot more freedom for weird combinations (an eldar and marine fighting side by side wasn't unheard of).
But before too long I started wanting to adjust my band of rag tag marines, eldar, mercenary 'guard', and pirates into something more resembling a Traveller crew, or perhaps a small crew of Independents...
Also, as much as we tried to sort of 'interpret' RT into Star Wars terms and vice versa, that combination tended to break down as we couldn't find models (still mostly GW produced) for a lot of the things we wanted to do, and the setting ended up feeling wrong.

Slowly but surely, I started playing Rogue Trader with this weird setting that can't be described as Rogue  Trader, Traveller, Firefly, or anything else. It was this sort of mutant brew. In fact, the setting didn't exist, the only thing that existed was an Andoran Rebellion, the exact meaning of which frequently changed, and a small free trading crew who had something or another to do with it- that bit was also vague.

I didn't like that sort of vagueness.

What I started to discover about myself were the following things:
I hated mixing settings. I always felt like I was in some way 'stealing,' or perhaps 'cheating,' and at the least I always felt like the things just didn't mesh quite right.
I also hated playing a game that is based around setting in a different setting.
Rogue Trader CAN be played in any setting, and it probably works. But it ends up just not feeling right, at least for me.

Another issue was that I always felt like I had to very consciously rebel against modern 40k to be playing RT correctly, which isn't really the proper way to view it. I always feel that in life it is best not to do something just because another tells you to, but just as bad if not worse to do the opposite of what someone else tells you to do just cause they told you to do something. I think I'm paraphrasing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but its a valid point.

In addition, there'd always been the issue that even Rogue Trader was far from as good as my favorite board games when it came to the tactical and strategic aspects. It felt more like an RPG, which was fine, but I always wanted something a bit better.

So I ended up setting most of the RT models aside (I'd traded in many models for the old ones for some reason), reserving them for the rare game of RT that I get in when playing with some of my older gaming buddies, and started looking for models to represent my new, personally made setting.


The first 15mm model I ever painted... and the first picture of one. God was I bad at taking pictures waaaay back a year ago.

In this search I discovered two things that totally, fundamentally changed miniatures gaming for me.

First, I found out about Two Hour Wargames. Its games had all the soul of Rogue Trader with all the tactics of a good war simulator... perhaps Squad Leader. It also had solid solo gaming rules (meaning I could actually play frequently!), was great for campaigns, made up scenarios for you, and was vague enough about what "Rep" meant to allow easy mixing with other rules... especially for RPGs.

Interestingly, unlike Rogue Trader where I (to this day) feel weird playing anything but an RT setting, I've not had any issue with playing THW (5150 in particular) with RT models and setting. Its just that good of a rules set.

The other big change was 15mm.

After some brief infatuation with some of the 28mm manufacturers who did more 'character' models, like Reaper, I quickly realized the best way to go was 15mm. 

They had Firefly crews!
And lots of weird aliens of many types!
And too many different types of armor to count!
And civilians!
And pirates!
The second group of models I painted... this time personally converted into Firefly Browncoats. I still couldn't take pictures. RAFM
Where 28mm felt like a few large settings from which you could choose models, and a few character models and very generic (and frequently very similar to each other) model producers (who I do support... Go Reaper!), 15mm felt like an endless universe of possibilities.

After years of the large armies of uniform marines facing down one or two types of similarly uniform aliens, it was like walking into the Mos Eisley (Ahem, Mudd Eisley) Cantina and seeing Malcolm Reynolds discussing a deal with Sam Curtis as James Kirk gave a speech to a group of Jawas on why not to disassemble intelligent robots, while in the other corner bounty hunters got in fist fights with unnameable alien creatures over the beautiful asari dancers.

Basically, the perfect world for a gamer who likes the awe of a big universe through the eyes of a space cowboy.

See? Space Cowboys. GZG
Finally, time on a reflection on 15mm, Characters, and Setting. More specifically, how they all tie together.

Not only are there endless options for the 15mm gamer, but its very, very easy to modify. For larger modifications, just a little greenstuff and very simple modeling can totally change a miniature into anything you want. In addition, at this scale, how you paint something totally changes its overall appearance.

Take this next photo for example. 
Captain? You're facing the wrong way... GZG 
Here they make a somewhat cohesive free trading crew. But what if the fellow in the cap had been painted with a grey shirt (as opposed to his current plaid shirt) and grey pants (vs. fashionable desert camo) and a grey cap (a blue cap that says BS in white... what does it stand for? Blue Sun, of course ;)

Suddenly he goes from InfraRedneck to military ship's crew.

Or what if they all had green skin? Blue?

Or painted on eyepatches and pirate-y looking clothes?

See? Endless possibilities. 

And the thing is, if you are into 15mm, you're probably doing a mix of manufacturers, based on a game with no built in setting (or a very vague one that is just there as a guideline for making your own), just like myself.

So with this great freedom, you suddenly have a bit of a job to do; make it all work together.
Setting design and character creation is a built in part of the 15mm sci fi gaming experience, regardless of whether you play small skirmish games or grand scale battles.

The fact of the matter is, I don't see a lot of people with developed settings. The sci fi batreps I see tend to be rather vague on setting (I have Marines fighting Rebels) and tend to focus on one rather simplified character at most (This marine is the sergeant, he is me). There is nothing wrong with that. But I also feel that a good way for this blog to help the gaming community is to focus a bit more on developing that, and helping people find and apply their personal tastes both in the 'behind the scenes' of games-- painting, buying, sculpting-- and during games-- scenarios, effects of characters, campaigns, etc.

So, I'm going to start doing a bit of a study of my characters and setting interspersed with ideas for rules, scenario creation ideas, whatever... and posts solely for the discussion of other people's ideas for settings and such.

Rebel Minis Drop Troopers... just got them a few weeks ago and painted a few as samples today!
The fundamental thing about my setting is that it is basically a mixture of the 'feels' of all my favorite science fiction-- Firefly, Traveller, Star Wars/Mass Effect sorta stuff, Star Trek, American Astronaut, BSG, Homeworld, countless books, Alien, etc, as well as a nice understanding of the 'real world' possibilities for technology. 

The setting doesn't resemble Firefly, nor Star Wars, nor BSG, in almost anyway. Its just that a character that in all ways resembles Mal, Han, or Adama wouldn't be out of place in the setting.

I think once you have that vague feel, coming up with simple stuff- the empires, how things travel, etc- is very easy. 

For example, I knew I wanted a powerful human empire (Star Wars, Traveller) that is a powerful contender but not much greater than several others (Star Trek, Mass Effect), is rather Corporatist and flawed, but not evil per se (Firefly, Alien).

I also knew that I didn't want to have Earth (Firefly, Star Wars... almost MOST of Sci Fi, oddly) play an active role, wanted it to be a separate culture from Earth (in a BSG sorta way), and liked the general feeling of being cut off from home (Homeworld). 

The result? Many years ago, the outer Solar System gained a large wormhole, seemingly out of nowhere (still not fully understood what happened). Recognizing that Earth was running low on resources, and that space had not been properly prepared for taking on the burden of Humanity, they saw this as one chance of survival. Scientists noticed that the system on the other end appeared to have several wormholes as well, and had several planets that appeared as if they could support life... despite the fact that the system was a binary star system (which does not prevent habitability, it just changes the preferred zone).

Seeing an opportunity, Earth put its efforts into two large slowboats that could go through the wormhole (taking many generations, even then) to carry thousands of people to the two planets deemed most likely to be habitable... along with lots of gear for moderate terraforming, in case they weren't perfect already.

These pioneers clearly appreciated that they were starting a whole new civilization, or at least had a mild sense of humor. The two ark ships were named Ada and Evan, the "Twin Suns" as they came to be known are named Sumer-1 and Sumer-2, while the two habitable planets became Tigris and Euphrates. Appropriate names for the cradle of civilization, they though.

By the time they'd settled in with a few small cities in the new system, the wormhole collapsed. It had not been maintained by whoever had built it... if it was not natural.

The humans found themselves in Andromeda, in a binary system with multiple smaller wormholes leading to nearby star systems. Before too long, other races started contacting as they noticed the new radio signals coming from where the wormhole had been. 

I'll go into more detail on settings later....

For now, a bit more eye candy (I flatter my poor painting skills)
Rebel Minis
A Mass Effect inspired character (right side)... wish he was angled a bit more so you could see his arm stripe. Nice thing about a bit universe with lots of diversity is that you can fit in homages to things you like while also having the models to use for games set in other universes... see the Browncoats above, AKA the Shiloh Rough Riders (in my own setting).

Important note on the hooded Sahadeen fellow.
Inspired in part by the sorta 'ancient' feel to bits of the setting, as well as wanting nomadic space middle eastern jewish sorta fellers (Mass Effect, Homeworld, Dune, many more), while also wanting to be able to translate some of my Eldar Ranger characters, I came up with the Viatsi. They're humans, but they don't seem to be from the same wave of colonization as the main Andromedan Humans. Its unknown how they got where they are. Their culture got rather complicated, they were slaves for awhile, now they are mostly wandering with a few small worlds with settlements on them... most of them are independent travellers, but they meet at a larger fleet to support the culture as a whole. Also, they seem to have a relatively high tendency towards being psychic (that is, those who believe in psychics tend to admit that most of them are Viatsi).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Feels Like The First Time

Cause it is.

So I suppose a bit of explaining about what this blog is about is in order:

I'm a big science fiction fan, everything from hard literature to the softest space opera television series. I like hardness for its hardness, and I like softness for its freedom. 

For over a decade now, I've also been a wargamer. RPGs, grand strategy board games, tactical miniatures games, I like them all. And thats not even counting the video games. Hobby-wise, my focus has always been on Sci Fi miniatures... originally 28mm from Games Workshop, but overtime that shifted to various manufacturors, and recently my focus is almost entirely on 15mm Sci Fi and space combat wargaming... though scale is less specific and I have few actual models.

Quick note: Two Hour Wargames is what I use, now. Great publisher, if you don't know them. I suggest looking them up.

So what is this blog?
Its not Dropship Horizon. Its not Atomic Rockets (both are great, by the way, I suggest you look into those if you are not aware of them). Its more like a place for general discussion on my efforts on Sci Fi gaming, with the hope that this will inspire others, as well as offer a place for feedback.

Also, I really need a place to bounce my ideas around for games and settings and technologies.

And Batreps. 

Oh, also I'm very much into the setting that has developed over some years now and I want a place to be able to share it and get reactions.

I guess this blog is for a lot of things. 

One last thing before I start getting to the actual posts: The Ceres Crossroads is a bar on Ceres featured in the movie The American Astronaut. Its a strange, indie film, but I oddly gravitate towards it. Its almost like an old silent film, where it feels the visuals (and the soundtrack, oddly) are what's really important. At least, thats my take.  Thats where the picture is from, and I really would like to keep that name and picture as a bit of an homage to a movie that slightly changed my perspective on what a cool science fiction world looks like...