Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Chronicling My Star Trek V/VI Communicator Build

So this Halloween, my intent is to go as a Starfleet officer from the Star Trek V/VI era. As a cosplayer, I tend to take pride in my costumes and try to get them as close to accurate as budget and time will allow, but I try not to be elitist, and I try to keep in mind that it's not always feasible to be 100% accurate.

To that end, I've acquired a Playmates Assault Phaser, which will do nicely for the phaser prop, though it's got red LEDs instead of blue and no cricket phaser. Alas, acquiring a truly accurate (Master Replicas) one costs around $800 and I'm not about to drop that on a prop.

I have uniforms on order made to my specs. The first one came and was so far off from the photo used, I'm currently arguing with the seller trying to get a refund--it's not even wearable. Hopefully I won't have to get eBay involved. The second one is still en route and I'm hoping it's better. Worst case scenario, I think at least the one I got can be modified, but it's more time and effort than I was hoping to spend.

Now onto the point of this blog: the communicator. The only toy communicator props that have been released are the classic TOS communicator, and the two used in Star Trek II. There are vendors online who sell kits to build Star Trek III and V/VI models, but again, they're very expensive.

For reference, this is what the screen-used props for Star Trek V and VI look like:


These were wired so that the screen would light up when active.

For more images, check this blog entry (you'll need to scroll down a bit to see them).

Back in 1989 or thereabouts, however, Colgate as a promotion offered a set of walkie talkies that are around 75%/80% accurate reproductions of the V/VI communicators. Here's images of the unmodified walkies:



Photo from YourProps

As you can see, there are a number of differences. Beyond the extending antenna, large side button and on/off switch on the back, there's a plastic lid with clear sides, front and hinges and a golden grid painted on top. The speaker grid is black instead of solid white, and there are differences in the "buttons," which are molded in rather than being functional buttons. There's also that big silver UL sticker on the back.

There is one vendor online who sells electronics kits specifically for the Trek V communicators, which consist of an LED and a "chirp" sound...and nothing more. And he wants $80 for them. The same guy sells metallic grid lids for $35. Unfortunately, he and I had an unpleasant encounter, so I can't deal with him. He also told me that I had "no prayer" of getting anything accurate from an "inaccurate walk-in [sic] talkie," while advertising his $300 kits.

The best way to push me into doing something is to tell me I can't do it.

Frankly, it's not worth paying $80 for such a simple sound setup when you can get an old Playmates TOS communicator for much cheaper online, and just gut it. The chirp is the same, and it also has LEDs built into it. The grid becomes a problem, so my first step was to start with a paint job. Here's mine as they sit today.




I'm pretty pleased with myself for mixing an almost perfect color match for the gold. They look quite like metal unless you look at them very closely. I painted the grille silver because my original intent was to leave it function as a walkie by replacing the antenna with a metal grid and doing some other wizardry, then installing an LED under the grille, but it turned out not really feasible, so I went through sourcing sound board-based electronics.

My plan at this time is to install the guts of the Playmates communicator. All are button-based, but I feel confident with the existing holes that I can place the various buttons in ways that will be inconspicuous. I'm going to use a dremel to cut off the majority of the grille, and epoxy a plastic screen with diffusion material over top and sides to create the proper screen, under which I'll place an LED light. I am leaning towards a velcro patch on the back instead of a belt clip, which can be cut to cover up the UL sticker.

As for the buttons, there's nothing much that can be done about the left-right triangles instead of up-down, but it should be mentioned I've seen photos that purport to be of screen used props that do have left-right ones. The three "printed" buttons below them, I'm debating. I may just leave them as they are, as they're close enough for government work. I can also print and laminate proper patterns, and epoxy them on for a slightly raised, more accurate look, and I may go that route.

Next step, however, is getting the electronics in and installed. I have one Playmates communicator on the way for gutting. If it works out well, I'll probably order a second and have two props.

Until then, I look forward to your comments below.

Friday, August 3, 2018

On Negative Reviews

Negative reviews are a very complicated thing in the arts community. On one hand, I understand that it's very important to have balance; on the other hand, I'd call upon people to think very, very carefully before you lambast someone's work online. Your words have power, and here's the thing: art--all art--is subjective.

You don't have an obligation to somehow save other people from wasting money, and honestly, that's not what you're doing when you post a negative review of someone's work. In truth, what you're doing--and I'm speaking both as a creator and a reviewer, here--is sabotaging somebody's career. The more negative the review, the more damage you're doing.

Is a Negative Review Really Deserved?

There are certainly negative reviews that are deserved. Let's say you buy a product that you're using exactly as the directions state, exactly as it's intended. Something in the product itself goes wrong and you suffer an injury because the product itself is flawed. The battery explodes while you're holding it, for example. In this case, you're warning other people of an actual danger in using the product.

In other cases, however, it simply comes down to a subjective issue. If you read a novel, and it's just not to your tastes, it's not an objectively bad novel. You just didn't enjoy reading it. What is it helping by ranting about all the things you hated about the book on a public forum? Did the writer actually come to your house and threaten your family? If not, then what reason do you have to actually torpedo their career?

It's Broken!

We've seen this with Star Wars lately, and with other elements of fandom. I've had it happen once or twice with things I've authored, and I have a lot of colleagues who have seen it. Someone buys a new gaming book, and it doesn't work for their campaign or style of play, so they post a review decrying it as, "completely broken," or "unusable." In truth, it's just not their bag. But that review will see other people go, "Oh, well, if it's broken, I won't bother with it." Many of these people might actually have really enjoyed it. So what you've done is not only robbed others of a potentially solid work for their game, you've torpedoed the efforts of a hard-working designer.

I've had people attack books I've written as broken or unusable based on a read of a single chapter dead in the middle of the book, when, had they bothered to read the entire thing, they'd notice that everythng they claimed wasn't there, was actually right up front in chapter 1. Yet, my sales suffered greatly because of that review.

I Have a Responsibility!

Look, everyone feels like they have some sort of responsibility to uphold the quality of art, but sadly, it's not that simple. Really, in the end, negative reviews are almost always nothing short of self-serving, self-aggrandizing, and harmful. They almost never help anyone. Yet, there are inevitably those out there who like to hold themselves up as the arbiters of quality, and who (I'm sorry, but very arrogantly) believe they have a right and responsiblity to "force creators to produce better material" with negative reviews.

I'm probably not changing anyone's mind with this, and certainly someone's going to show up to defend their right and responsibility to post hateful things, and to argue that they can back up the objectivity of any negative review they post. Fine. Whatever.

There's this strange thing about the Internet where people have been trained that they cannot walk away. They cannot back down. They cannot let things pass without a comment. And it's created a negative, toxic environment under which I think a lot of people don't realize the harm they're doing (and sadly, far too many don't care).

Be Balanced

What I'm really saying here is before you post a review destroying something that someone else worked very hard to create and put in the world for the sheer purpose of entertaining others? Step back, take a breath, and ask yourself: why are you tearing it apart? What will it accomplish? Is your problem with it based on the simple fact that you, personally, weren't crazy about it? If so, I suggest stepping away.

At very least, try to find something positive to say about anything you review. Maybe you didn't like it, but you can see why someone else might. Be sure to mention that as well. A good (read: well-written) review is not totally negative. It's not just a rant intended to tear something down. It's balanced in all ways.

As a reviewer myself, I stopped posting negative reviews a long time ago. I realized that I'm not holding anyone to a higher standard, because really, what is it about my personal standard that makes it a high standard? All I'm doing is hurting them, and really, what did they ever do to me other than produce a novel, gaming supplement, or film that I didn't enjoy? Yet, my negative words aren't just hurting feelings (if that was it, people just need to cowboy up and get over it) but I'm hurting their actual career. Every single sale I cost them hurts.

In the end--and a lot of people just don't want to admit this about themselves, and I'll wager I get at least one guilty conscience reply here (which will insist it's not such a thing) that vehemently denies it--negative reviews designed to tear down a product are nothing short of cyber bullying, and they're some of the most effective, hurtful forms of cyber bullying there are.

All I'm really asking is that you stop and consider that before the next time you hit "Submit."


Monday, July 23, 2018

New Fifth Edition Campaign Setting with Extensive Support!

Just taking a moment to let everyone know I have a new Kickstarter in process for Troll Lord Games!


The Fifth Edition Player's Guide to Aihrde is now live!


The Fifth Edition Players Guide to Aihrde is far more than an introductory book to Aihrde; it is a game book designed for players! This full color, hardcover book is presently set at 128 pages (but is likely to be longer). It is absolutely jam-packed with information to take your Fifth Edition Fantasy game to the next level, regardless of whether you adopt the campaign setting of Aihrde. We’re confident, however, that the world will win you over just as it has so many others…

CHARACTER RACES TIED TO THE WEAVE OF THE WORLD


In the Players Guide we bring a complete write-up of the history and background of each of the races within the context of the world. No longer is your dwarf, elf, halfling, gnome or other character a generic fantasy stereotype; they are given a broad treatment that ties them directly to the weave of the world and the Arc of Time within. Each of these demi-humans offers new sub-races for your Fifth Edition game, as well as new class archetypes based on the cultures of these races. In addition, we present a brand new race: the goblin as a PC, with a special Eldritch Goblin (reborn) sub-race!

NEW CHARACTER CLASS OPTIONS


Not only will you get new sub-races in the Player’s Guide to Aihrde, but new archetypes, paths, oaths, colleges, domains, arcane traditions and more. All of these have a deep connection to the campaign setting, some to individual PC races and others to the guilds and orders of Aihrde, but can easily be translated to your 5e game of choice.

NEW RULES FOR YOUR GAME


The Fifth Edition Players Guide to Aihrde offers far more than just demi-human classes, however. Within its pages you’ll find more spells, equipment, fast paced combat rules, as well as learn the secrets of rune magic, including the dreaded Blood Runes, those ancients magics that allow one to pass through time as a shadow. With the Blood Runes comes a discussion of time travel in game context.

There are rules for class skill checks—never worry about your Cleric not being proficient in religion or forgetting to take proficiency in survival for your Druid! Rules for critical misses, crushing blows, bonus languages literacy and more! The rules section culminates in rules for inspiration points—no longer do you simply have inspiration or not. You gain points that you can use for far more than just gaining advantage on a roll. This optional subsystem allows for a greater degree of drama and player agency within the context of the game.



OF THE COSMOS AND THE WORLD


Next up are the gods, with each major deity of the world outlined for the players use. Clerics dedicated to a given deity find that beyond their domain, they get additional cleric spells or special, albeit minor, powers to further enhance their character’s role in the game. For instance, those who worship Wenafar, the goddess of nature can gain the ability to wild shape as a druid once per long rest.

After getting familiar with the gods, you’ll see a complete primer on the setting. The world of Aihrde is laid out before you, including the peoples, kingdoms, geography and the guilds and orders of Aihrde.

APPENDICES


From there, you’ll see appendices on the economy of Aihrde, and rules for bringing black powder firearms into your 5e games. Finally, for our SIEGE engine game fans, we haven’t forgotten you, either. The final appendix includes guidelines for adding elements of Fifth Edition Fantasy into your C&C games.

The Players Guide is a small resource with a massive amount of gaming material. It’s everything you need to get started in a rich setting that encompasses over 10,000 years of history, without being tied to metaplot or someone else’s epic hero NPCs. This world is dark, epic, gritty, dramatic, and best of all, it’s yours to make of it what you will!

WHAT IF I DON'T PLAY IN AIHRDE?


Aihrde is a giant setting and a world rich in detail. The Players Guide helps to bring the world alive at the table. But it stands by itself. Even those who do not play in the world of Aihrde can use this book and its basic classes and magic to bring a whole new feel to their own table or even their own world.

I hope you guys will take a look, consider pledging, and please, by all means, share the link anywhere and everywhere! I'd love to see it all over the blogosphere, social media, forums, everywhere. This is an important one for me. Thanks for your support!

For more information, see:

The World of Aihrde Homepage


Friday, July 6, 2018

Game Design and Re-Inventing the Wheel

Continuing off of my most recent blog on re-skinning AD&D, I'd like to look at the core philosophy behind the stance I took in that blog. I've been designing games professionally for about 19 years, starting with Palladium around 99 and having done projects since then for Misfit Studios, Eden Studios, a brief stint for ICE (which to my knowledge was never released), a few other small publishing companies, and most recently, Troll Lord Games and Goodman Games.

Over that time I've explored a range of different ideas in game design and something keeps coming back to me: I firmly believe in the KISS Principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! I think as gamers we've all been conditioned, especially in the last 20 years or so, to look for the next new, "innovative" system. We've been told you have to design a specific system for every genre. We've been told you can't handle every situation with a given system.

I could rant for pages about the concept of "innovative" RPG design, but that's not the subject of this blog. Suffice it to say I abhor that word and that idea.

In any case, in some situations it's true that while re-skinning works just fine, a game can work better if you design a specific sub-system when it's needed. On the other hand, as designers, I think we rush to build new systems and tinker far too often, when it's not necessary. In fact, it's become so common that people have started to have knee-jerk reactions when someone suggests otherwise. I've had a number of such reactions to my last blog (most over on Facebook). Some have even taken the suggestion that a simple re-skin is functional as some sort of personal attack on their gaming sensibilities, which is just weird to me. But that's social media, I guess.

Re-Inventing the Wheel

Folks, when you engage in complex redisgns of something that you don't need to redesign for it to work in a different context, this is called "re-inventing the wheel." When you take something that works just fine, and create an often-overcomplicated solution to change it for a single, specific situation, it hurts the overall play experience. It becomes a slippery slope (a term people hate these days, but bear with me) where once it's done, people tend to do it more, and more, until the system becomes weighty and bloated. 

I go out of my way not to re-invent the wheel when I design. Before I dive into any project, I look carefully at the existing system and options. Is there a way I can accomplish what I need with the rules that are already there? If so, that's a bonus to both the GM and players of the game. They don't have to learn a new rule. There's fewer bells and whistles to muck things up and clog the system. 

An Example of Design Philosophy

Once again, let me go back to Amazing Adventures. When designing that game, I wanted to include a gadgeteer class. I pored through over a dozen different pulp and other games and supplements to look at a dozen different ways that people handed gadget creation. All of them were neat and fun, but most were incredibly complex and I could see how they could slow down or bog down games to the point where it would quickly become inelegant and irritating. 

Finally, I said, "is there a way I can accomplish this that it'll just work within the current context?" Yes, there was. I realized that most gadgets were created based on what they do, and I already had a few hundred effects right there in all the spells. Why not just buy a spell and re-skin it as a technological gadget? A few guidelines for handling the re-skin later, it was done. It playtested brilliantly and has been one of the more widely praised elements of the game. 

Likewise, even supposedly new sub-systems like the psionics really are specifically designed to work within the existing framework of Prime checks. When you use a psionic power, you simply make an ability check with a CL set by the GM, based on what you want to do. It's not remotely new or removed from the way the rest of the game works. This enables it to be dumped into ANY SIEGE game with no modifications, and it adds a new option without bloating the game. 

From https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tabletop_role-playing_game_icon.svg
By User:JohnnyMrNinja, Sabine MINICONI & http://openclipart.org/user-detail/yves_guillou [LGPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/lgpl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Is There an Easier Way?

In the end, I think the question we should always be asking in game design, and what game masters should ask themselves while planning campaigns from a rules standpoint is whether there is an easier way to handle something than what they're currently doing. Simple is almost always better in game design. After all, this hobby is about collaborative storytelling, and complex rules that force you to step out of the game and consider the mechanics rarely accomplish that end. The best game systems, in my opinion, get out of the way and let you tell a story. 

The easier your solution is, the better your game will run. It'll be smoother, your players will be more engaged, and the story will flow much better. At least, that's been my experience without fail. If I can get by without extra dice rolling, that's the best result. I'm not a diceless guy; on the contrary, I think dice are essential to task resolution in a game. I just like to minimize their effect when I can...but I guess that's a subject for another blog. 

It's Okay if You Disagree

For a large subset of gamers out there, this very idea is anathema. They prefer a rule for everything. They prefer mechanically-detailed characters with a laundry list of skills, abilities and the like. They prefer tactical combat with detailed planning and movement. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this. 

I'll repeat that in the vain hope that someone won't call me out on it, anyway: There's nothing wrong with this. This whole thing is just about my personal philosophy towards design, and my personal preferences in game play. As long as you and your group are having a good time, keep on keeping on, regardless of whether or not we agree. 

I'm not a one-true-wayist, and to be honest, I have little patience for those who are. This blog is just my thoughts and philosophies on gaming and design. Take them for what they're worth, which is words on a screen. I only bring this up because it seems to be a theme on social media these days, to take things personally or to feel that people have to argue every point. 



Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Sci-Fi with AD&D, or, Re-Skinning Your Genre

Introduction

We've all been conditioned (since day one, actually) to accept the idea that if you want to play a different genre of game, a different rules set is necessary, or at very least major changes to your existing rules set. From the earliest days, if you wanted to play a science fiction game, it was Gamma World or Metamorphosis Alpha. If you wanted Wild West, it was Boot Hill. Even the first edition Dungeon Master's Guide suggested converting your game if you wanted to do this (and gave solid guidelines for doing so), though it did provide baseline suggestions for importing, say, firearms into AD&D.

In the second edition era, we got Spelljammer, but those hoping for a science fiction game using the AD&D rules were disappointed: this was AD&D in space (sort of), and not true sci-fi. Instead of starfighters and nebulae, we got floating galleons in a strange sort of aether-filled realm. When it came time for sci-fi, we got Alternity, which was again its own system.

In later years, Wizards of the Coast gave us D20 Modern, which purported to use the same system as D&D to present other genres of play, and to a point, it did. But it changed the entire approach to character generation, introducing the concept of talent trees and character classes based upon ability scores. Again, it was a major shift and a wholly different approach.

Something that seems to have been missed all these years is that none of this is necessary. It's possible to run a pure sci-fi game with the AD&D rules as they sit, just by shifting a bit of terminology and imaginative approach. I call this "re-skinning."

What Is Re-Skinning Your Game?

I took the re-skin approach on a small scale with Amazing Adventures for the gadgeteer class, using spell effects to represent gadgets rather than creating a complex gadget-building system, and it has been very well received. Before I go further, let me address the fact that AA is at its core the same kind of shift as D20 Modern was, when compared to its C&C roots. It does include new character classes. It does include new rules approaches and assumptions. And it's true in many ways that a game specifically designed for a purpose will generally work better than one adapted to that purpose. 

The point of this blog is not to disparage new approaches, new systems or the like. It's simply to point out that if you love your AD&D game, there's no strict need to seek out a science fiction rules set if you don't want to. 

Re-skinning simply means taking what you've got already and describing it differently. Any tweaks to the rules should be minor at best--of the "house rule" variety. 

Character Classes

Exactly zero changes need to be made to any character classes in AD&D to play a science fiction game. If you choose to do so, you can re-name them (a cleric could become a templar; a wizard a techno-wizard; an illusionist a holo-technician, for example), but if your players are okay with simply calling them by their classic names, their function still works fine and no changes to class abilities need be made, save those related to equipment (as discussed below). 

This could, however, be an outstanding opportunity to adapt the Paladin to a fighter jockey type character; instead of a mount, they get a vehicle--a starfighter, speeder bike, or whatever else the DM deems appropriate. The "unusual intelligence" of the mount applies to an AI or advanced sensor package in the vehicle itself, and the paladin (or cavalier, if you're allowing Unearthed Arcana) applies their mounted combat bonuses to vehicle-based combat instead. 

Speaking of UA, barbarian characters would be those who are luddites, approaching technological gadgets as D&D barbarians do magic items.

Magic: The Elephant in the Room

Perhaps the biggest hurdle one might face in regards to AD&D character classes in sci-fi games is their reliance (save the assassin, fighter, monk and thief) on magic. If you're looking for a "pure" science fiction game, there are two approaches you can take. The first is to simply restrict character classes to these four and remove magic entirely. 

I, however, am a fan of a different approach, and this is where re-skinning really comes into play. It's what I did in AA--magic simply becomes technology. As Arthur C. Clarke said, after all: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."



Your wizard, illusionist and cleric, for example, function exactly the same as they always have. Instead of spells, however, they have equipment packs full of technological gadgets which happen to function the same as the spells do in the core game. Instead of "forgetting" the spells they cast when they do, their technology only has so many uses before it needs to recharge for several hours: They've got only so many universal batteries on hand, and are always working towards building more, represented by additional spell levels as they advance. 

Even rangers and paladins can skin their spell abilities as technological gadgets that they construct as they advance in character level. 

This approach can even be applied to clerical "turn undead" abilities. If you're looking to remove mysticism from the game, traditional undead are re-skinned as a specific variety of extradimensional alien species, and turning is the function of an antipathy field the clerical character can generate via a technological device they wear or carry. 

Creatures with Spell-Like Abilities

There's also the question of creatures with spell-like abilities. Rather than simply applying these as magical spells, they can be biological abilities inherent to specific species, or again, they can be technology possessed by that species. 

Magic Items

Magical items, likewise, take on a technological aspect, generating protective fields, using nanotech to achieve wondrous effects, or the like. Artifacts are just that: artifacts of lost alien civilizations whose technology may not be fully understood, but produces incredible power, often at a corrupting cost. 

Roles in Play: How to Pilot a Starship

How about adapting the existing character classes for specific roles in play? How, for example, does one deal with star pilots, engineers and the like? This can be handled simply by adopting a version of the DMG "Secondary Skills" rules (page 12). Simply have each character select one or two secondary or background skills that define their role: "my character is a pilot," "my character is a career officer." "My character specializes in communications," etc. The Secondary Skills system in AD&D is exceptionally freeform and left to the DM to determine how and when such skills come into play. 

Alternately, the nonweapon proficiencies rules introduced in Oriental Adventures, Wilderness Survival Guide and Dungeoneer's Survival Guide can easily be adapted, by re-skinning existing options: "ride" can become "pilot" or "drive." Repair or craft-based nonweapon proficiencies can be applied to mechanical, elecrical or other technological enginnering.

Personally, I favor the earlier system because I prefer a more freeform style of play, though adopting the attribute check method of task resolution from later AD&D books is an attractive all-purpose approach to determining what can be done and when. 

In the end, the goal is to simply have your players decide which character does what, aside from their character class. It requires no new rules systems; just a base description. Given the technological approach to magic, this actually can make wizards and illusionists outstanding engineering characters who apply their "techno-wizardry" to keeping the ship running and bypassing security systems (Knock, for example, is the perfect way to represent hacking a security door). 

Equipment

What about equipment? Once again, everything you need is already there in your base weapons lists. Just re-skin light, medium and heavy crossbows as energy pistols, carbines and rifles. Alternately stats for firearms and technological armor can be found in the DMG, pages 112-113, and these can be simply dropped in and altered to be energy weapons, if you so choose. Simply apply the classic weapon proficiencies to the re-skinned varieties (any class with access to a pistol crossbow would have access to an energy pistol, for example). 

Wizards with their very limited equipment lists could pose an issue, here; it's recommended that darts be re-skinned as a lesser energy weapon, a palm pistol, taser weapon or the like. Alternately, wizards could have access to proficiency with an energy weapon based on magic missile, though it merely does 1d4 damage and requires a ranged attack roll to strike.

Starships and Space Combat

When it comes to starship combat, the "Waterborne Adventures" rules on pages 53 to 55 can be adapted on the fly for use in outerspace, by adapting the stats for naval vessels to various classes of ships, from small shuttles (rowboats) to capital ships (warships). Speeds can be dealt with simply by changing the units: the DMG lists speeds of various ship sizes in mph--change the units to light years, parsecs, warp factors, light speed multipliers, or whatever other unit you prefer in your game, and go. 

For starfighters, apply the "Adventures in the Air" rules, adapting the various statistics therein for flying creatures to your starships. You can even maintain designations by creating classes of starships (The Efreeti Class fighter, the Dragon bomber, etc.). Alternately, take the smaller ship values (rowboart, small or large barge, galley) and assign maneuverability ratings (A, B, C, D, E).

For weaponry, again, use spell effects (or monster attack types if using flying monsters to model starfighters). Fighters could use cannons based off of magic missile, able to fire once per round. You might determine that the effect is equivalent to 3rd level, granting two bolts per use. You could grant larger ships particle beam weapons based on lightning bolt, or torpedoes based on fireball or ball lightning. 

It's suggested, however, that you require an attack roll for using such armaments in ship-to-ship combat, rather than having them strike automatically. Simply treat them as a standard ranged attack roll, using the hit dice of the vehicle as the reference on the Monster combat table, and adding the Ranged Attack modifier for the pilot's Dexterity. 

Source: http://www.desktopimages.org/wallpaper/73517/e-wing-escort-starfighter-star-wars


Ground-Based Vehicle Combat

Again, the rules for aerial combat can be used to mimic ground-based combat simply by removing the 3-dimensional aspect (ground based vehicles move only in 2 dimensions: forward/backward/right/left), applying a speed value and hull rating to the vehicle, and getting with it. No new complex rules systems are required. AD&D has always handled chases with hand-waving and abstraction anyway; vehicle battles should be no different. 

Psionics

Psionics tend to be part and parcel of science fiction gaming, and the rules in the AD&D PHB and DMG suffice just fine as written to adopt them into your game. They have a reputation for being arcane and difficult to grasp, but if one takes the time to carefully read both the PHB (pp 110-117) and DMG (pp. 76-79) sections, the rules aren't all that difficult to parse. A quick preview of OD&D Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry can also add a degree of understanding as to the intent behind the psionics rules, and a simple approach to implementing them. 

Economics

Another big hurdle is economics. AD&D games tend to be about killing things and taking their stuff. A science fiction game should be less focused on economics, but if one feels they need the monetary system from AD&D, it can be as simple as changing the gold standard to "galactic credits" or whatever other monetary standard you adopt--again, it's a simple re-skin.

Conclusion

The above guidelines touch on the major re-skins needed to use AD&D first edition as it sits to run a classic science fiction games. Certainly it's not an exhaustive list of SF AD&D, but it shows that there are no new systems required and no major changes to existing character classes or systems. All that is required is re-imagining, or re-skinning the way things look in game. Certainly it requires buy-in and imagination from DM and players alike, and the DM must be willing to make decisions on the fly and adjustments and prep-work as needed, but isn't that the heart of any role playing game? 

Certainly it requires divorcing ourselves from some core assumptions we've all come to live with, and embracing a more open, less simulationist approach to gaming. Still, most rules in classic RPGs are highly abstracted to begin with, so it theoretically should be a small stretch to take that leap of faith. 

I've chosen Sci-Fi here because it requires the most broad approach. Doing a modern urban fantasy game with AD&D is as simple as changing the era in which it's set, for example, and dropping in firearms and modern tech like cell phones, which don't require game mechancis at all. The monetary system can be altered by simply using dollars, Euros or whatever currency you like and applying modern prices (which most of us already know off the top of our heads). Starting funds can be as listed, simply converted to your existing currency. If you want to give more, multiply existing starting funds by 5 or 10. 

Have you tried this sort of approach to genre-gaming? How did it go for you? Let's hear about it in the comments below!


Friday, June 29, 2018

Revisiting the Wasted Lands

Been doing some cleanup and review of the blog recently. A few of you have doubtless noticed that I've begun posting again, though a bit irregularly. I'm trying to pick that up and get back into a routine. To that end it's also time to start moving away from calling out the assholes in our culture on their douchebaggery, and get back to talking about old school games.

After all, there's always going to be jagoffs, and calling them out on their crap isn't going to make them change. It's really best just to sigh, roll your eyes at them, and move on.

So, I originally started this blog to post thoughts and notes about a house sandbox setting I was putting together called The Wasted Lands. While I never got for with an actual campaign of it (it was supplanted by my Age of Conan Hyborian Age game), there were some really cool ideas in there and I'd like to revisit it.



To do that, however, I had to make it easy to sift through these posts and find the stuff. I was surprised that apparently I had no idea how to use tag labels back in the day. So I spent about an hour and a half this morning digging through all my old posts and adding tags. Now if you want to go back and see the Wasted Lands notes, just click the "Wasted Lands" tag, over on the left, or at the bottom of this post. I can't promise they'll come up in order, but they'll all be there.

At some point perhaps I'll go through and do an index for them, but that's going to be an herculean task and I'm not up for it right this minute.

Anyway, my plan eventually is to get back to working on WL, which will form the campaign setting for the next edition of Spellcraft & Swordplay, which has been in (very slow) development for awhile, now. The new ORCS system will look a lot different than the current version; I'm combining the 2d6 task resolution with a die pool mechanic, and working on point buy for characters instead of class and level.

This may elicit gasps of horror from some of my old school fans out there, but I'm working hard to keep an old school feel in place despite the different approach to character build. I've had some solid comments from my "in house" playtesters, so we'll see what happens.

Wasted Lands itself will also likely undergo a few changes--specifically, there won't be elves, dwarves and hobbits; it's going to be a humanocentric swords and sorcery game. In addition, I may be ditching the concept of gods in the various cultures in favor of the idea that you will be playing the legendary warriors that create the later myths. That is, you'll be playing a northern warrior named Wotan, whose exploits will one day form the myth-cycle of Odin for the Norse people.

Finally, I'd also like to get back (yet again) to my exegesis on AD&D. People seemed to enjoy that and I was enjoying it as well, demonstrating how the original AD&D rules were not as complicated or arcane as people remember them to be.

So there you have it. It's going to be slow in development because between my writing for Troll Lord Games, Goodman Games, and others, plus my day job as a web content writer, I have a great deal on my plate. Bear with me, though, and keep it here. I've been missing the blogosphere lately and am looking forward to diving back in!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Fandom and Arrogant Entitlement

So there's been a lot of talk lately about the racist and sexist assaults on cast members of the new Star Wars trilogy. In particular, one witless coward who runs a Star Wars hate page on Facebook (but of course claims to be a "true fan") has taken credit for driving Kelly Marie Tran off of Facebook, and for orchestrating the bot hacks and review bombs on Rotten Tomatoes that subverted the ratings for The Last Jedi. Of course, he doesn't have the balls to post under his real name, because that's how Social Media works. Say whatever you want and hide behind a false name so you don't have to suffer consequences for it.

He also, incidentally, stated that John Boyega and Kathleen Kennedy were next because, "it's time to restore straight whit males to prominence in science fiction and fantasy," and that "We will force Kathleen Kennedy and her feminazi agenda to step down," and "...force Disney to restore Legends to its rightful place in canon."

I don't even have words for that. It's...wow. Yeah.

People like that need to be removed from the gene pool, that's all I'm going to say.

The Culmination of a Problem 


But honestly, this is only the culmination of a problem that's been going on for quite some time in fandom across the board. A recent meme went up that went something along these lines (bear with me: I'm paraphrasing, here):

The Stages of Fandom
1. I love this!
2. I own this!
3. I must control this!
4. I cannot control this; I must attack this!
5. I hate this!

Certainly this is a generalization and given how much money the current Star Wars and Marvel films are making, the vast majority of people are loving what's going on with it. Still, there's this sense among a vocal sect of the fanbase that is not only making the entire experience of fandom toxic, they are giving the rest of us a bad name.

A friend of mine from the Rebel Legion costuming group recently opined, "Nobody hates Star Wars like Star Wars fans," and he's so right. It's even bled into the groups themselves, which has led more tha a few people to walk away. I myself let my membership in the RL lapse, but there were a wide variety of reasons, and cattiness was only a small part.


The Arrogance of Fan Rage

The worst part about this is the sheer, arrogant, self-importance of a lot of these people. I had a discussion recently online about fan rage, and I pointed out that someone said to me, "Why don't I have the right to rant about how much something sucks? Why is your love of it okay and my disdain wrong?"

I responded, "Because we live in a world that's already too negative, angry, and toxic. My love is bringing positivity into the world. Your negativity and inability to let other people enjoy things is only making the problem worse, darker, and more negative."

This is where it gets good. Someone actually responded with the following:

"That's bullshit. I'm not just some butthurt fan hater. I have fifteen years of experience in film, and I could spell out a well-argued, well-thought-out argument about why these new Star Wars films objectively suck. I'm not just whining, and it's my responsibility to do just that, because it's time we stopped standing for the culture of mediocrity that Hollywood is forcing upon us, and in turn force them to start producing reasonably good films."

I'll be honest: That's some self-important bullshit right there. If you actually think: 

1. That your Facebook post is going to "end a culture of mediocrity in Hollywood,"
2. That your fifteen years of experience in film outweighs the literal decades of experience held by the various people making these films.
3. That your Facebook post is somehow going to get to Disney and make them go, "Holy SHIT, that guy's right!"
4. That there is any such thing as an "objectively" good or bad film

Then quite frankly, you're a self-important asshole who might have the right to a social media account, but you don't deserve the voice it gives you. That shit is the height of hubris and arrogance.

I saw someone else claim that the "failure" of Solo: A Star Wars Story is "what happens when you piss off the entire fan base."

1. Solo isn't a failure. It's broken even and made a profit. It just hasn't made a billion dollars. Funny thing about this--the media "benchmark" for it breaking even keeps getting raised higher, every time it meets the prior benchmark. For example, originally it had to make $300 mill to break even. As soon as it hit $300 mill, these sources all suddenly went, "Oh, no, it has to be $500 mill!"
2. Once again, given the sheer numbers that TLJ pulled in, Lucasfilm and Disney have absolutely not "pissed off the entire fan base." Just a few people who think they're more important than they are. 



Shut up and Move the F*** On

Look, nobody's requiring you to love everything that comes out. Nobody's even requiring you to like everything that comes out. But when your reaction is to take to social media and attack the people who are enjoying it, attack the cast and filmmakers, and pump yourself up with importance and power that frankly, you don't have, you need to take a long, hard look in the mirror. 

It's not your "responsibility" to point out to Hollywood why their films are bad. It's not "within your power" to end a "culture of mediocrity." When you make stupid statements like, "making a billion dollars does not equate to a good film," you're showing your naivety, ignorance, and arrogance. In point of fact, by the only metric that counts, making a billion dollars does equate to a great film. Your personal assessment of its artistic merit...wait for it...doesn't matter. At all. 

If you don't like a film in a franchise, don't go see the next one. It's that simple. Vote with your wallet. That's the only way to show Hollywood their movies aren't good. It's not bitching on Facebook. But for Chrissakes, shut your goddamn mouth about it. Do you have the right to your opinion? Yes, absolutely. Do you have the right to express it? Yes, absolutely, and I'll fight for you to keep that right. 

But just because you have the right to something, does not mean it's a good idea to exercise that right. What you're doing? It's not exercising a responsibility to communicate with Hollywood. 

It's bullying. Pure, and simple. And that shit is unacceptable. 

If you don't like the latest movies in the franchises, guess what? There's literally dozens of sci-fi and fantasy films released every single year. Walk away and go find something that does appeal to you. You'll be much happier, and you won't infect everyone else with your toxic brand of fandom. 

In other words, Star Wars, Marvel, and DC aren't for you anymore. Suck it up, cowboy, and move the fuck on.