Saturday, March 17, 2018

Khurasan Miniatures Parasachnid Warriors

Carnivorous space critters out for a snack.

These are the Parasachnid Warriors of the 15mm Feral Parasachnid "Bug" line from Khurasan Miniatures. Sculpted by Aaron Brown. These little guys get through life by swarming with their buddies and skittering around for a bite to eat.

This batch of freshly painted space critters are long time residents of my lead pile. I honestly have no idea when I bought them. These got pulled out of storage when I realized that I needed some kind of alien carnivore for an upcoming game.

The Parasachnid Warriors come in two pieces - one for upper body and one for the lower body/legs. The two piece construction offer the option of mounting the lower body/legs lengthwise or widthwise. Lengthwise offers the narrow appearance of a creature built for speed. Widthwise gives a wider look resembling that of a spider or crab. I choose the widthwise option.

I went for a simple paint scheme dictated by what paints I happened to have on hand. My paint collection survived my years-long illness induced gaming interregnum mostly intact. However, I am trying to use up certain lines and products before they degrade. The base coat is Formula P3 Menoth White Base, which is actually a light tan color. Highlights are Formula P3 Morrow White. As the names imply, Formula P3 is produced by Privateer Press for their Warmachine/Hordes line. I bought the two paints some time ago simply because I heard good things about the line and wanted to it a try. The quality is impressive, especially since they have been in storage for years. Two thin coats were all that was needed to provide good coverage with no separation or uneven patches.

Next, I applied Citadel Ogryn Flesh Wash to the bodies. Well out of production, Ogryn Flesh provides a middle ground between Devlan Mud and Gryphonne Sepia. The result is a reddish brown glaze that pools in the details.

Half of the Parasachnid Warriors were modeled with open mouths. I applied Citadel Baal Red to imply the softer flesh of the little guys' gaping jaws. The teeth were highlighted with Formula P3 Morrow White. The red flesh and white teeth contrast nicely with each other. I'm sure my players will appreciate that level of detail. Speaking of detail - the eyes were picked out in Citadel Chaos Black.

Ain't it the cutest little critter? Just begging for a treat!

None of the bases I had on hand would fit well with the figures. I ended up using some circular plastic pieces I salvaged from elsewhere. The basing material is the sand/brown craft paint/glue/water mix I use when I can't think of anything better to do. I drybrushed some light tan on the basing material after it had dried to bring out the texture.

The Parasachnid Warriors are scaled for 15mm - one Warrior is about the right size to consume a 15mm human figure without too much trouble. However, they are suitable for use in 28mm games as creatures about the size of a large dog. The eight figures that come in a pack are enough to menace a party of space adventurers, but more would be needed to threaten a formation of infantry.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Star Trek Adventures Character Generation

My group dove into character generation for Star Trek Adventures recently. Every one of us is a Star Trek fan and we're excited about revisiting the setting as role players. A science fiction RPG would also be a welcome change of pace for some of our players.

Star Trek Adventures assumes that the player characters will be the bridge officers of a Federation starship. The character generation system creates characters comparable to the main characters of each TV series. They are highly capable in their area of expertise and competent in a range of other skills. No character is going to be good at everything, but with each player character occupying a different bridge position, a variety of specialties will exist within a given group. This will tend to insure that everything is covered.

The game uses a lifepath system as a possible nod to FASA's Star Trek: The Role Playing Game. The system takes each character from early life through Starfleet Academy and their pre-campaign Starfleet career. Players can choose or randomly determine the results of each stage of their character's development. Questions are posed about each stage to develop the details needed to flesh out the character's background. For example, it turns out that the character's ship was destroyed earlier in their career. The obvious questions are which ship, what were the circumstances of its destruction, and what role did the character play in those circumstances? The combination of a lifepath system for inspiration and questions to provide details helps to avoid characters who are fully defined mechanically, but are blank slates for role playing.

The lifepath system can create characters ranging in experience from a fresh-from-the-Academy Ensign to a seasoned officer to a veteran Captain. All of these characters will be built with the same number of points - the main difference will be in role playing opportunities and specializations. The Ensign will be pretty good at a variety of things, but not as good at what a seasoned officer has years of training and experience in doing. Likewise, their Captain is better at leading and inspiring others than any of them.

The core book provides a diverse selection of species for players to pick from. Each species has a set of bonuses that give them a slight bias towards a particular role - it should come as no surprise that Vulcans gravitate towards Science. That said, the bonuses are small enough to be easily overcome during the rest of character generation. Humans have the advantage of being able to pick what bonuses they receive, allowing them to boost themselves towards whatever role they wish to fill.

The species available in the core book cover a range of Star Trek eras. Many species are available in all eras of play - Humans and Vulcans are always going to be around, even as early as Enterprise. Other species are only available in later eras - Trills show up during TOS and Bajorans during TNG/DS9/VOY.

The group's starship can also be created during character generation. The players select a ship class and various options to customize their specific vessel. These options include mission packages, additional equipment, and - for older ships - refits.

The ships available in the core book offer a variety of choices from different eras and intended roles. Each ship class reflects what the source material established about it - a Defiant punches way above its weight, but isn't exceptional in any other category while many of the cruisers are jacks-of-all-trades. Newer designs are naturally more technologically advanced, but refits help longer-serving starships to stay viable decades after launch.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Effigy Miniatures' Havoc Girls

Three sci-fi adventurers just arrived at a busy spaceport? Or three figures taking their place in my display case?

These are the Havoc Girls, a set of 28mm figures individually called the the Pilot, Recon, and Hacker from the now-defunct Effigy Miniatures. I'm not sure if the sculptor - Tom Mason - was going for a sci-fi version of "Charlie's Angels" when he created these figures, but I have strong suspicions. These were the first figures available from Effigy Miniatures' initial Kickstarter and later the company's online shop. They later become part of Effigy Miniatures' Havoc Protocol line – a series of miniatures with a similar futuristic aesthetic. In 2013, a career change prompted Tom Mason to close down Effigy Miniatures. To the best of my knowledge, these figures are no longer available for sale, even at the new company that Tom Mason started up.

These long-term residents of my lead pile finally made it to the work table early this year. I decided on a darker color scheme than the one used in the original artwork for greater contrast between the bodysuits and the accessories. The accessory colors on each figure are based on the Starfleet uniform colors used in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the 24th century Starfleet, Pilot would be in the Command division and wear red. Recon would be in the Security department and wear gold. I decided that Hacker would be in the Sciences division and wear blue for variety, but an argument could be made for her to be in Engineering. The uniform color choices were made with an eye towards using them in a future Star Trek Adventures campaign. The hair colors are the result of me being unable to decide what natural hair colors to use and picking the three brightest paint colors to catch my eye.

The bases are from a Warsenal Tracking Beacon 3-pack that proved a little too fragile for my fumble fingers during assembly. The remains of that project found a home in my bits box. The bases are assembled from two pieces of plastic and create a layered effect. They are available separately from the Warsenal Tracking Beacon 3-pack as Tunguskan Bases.

I'm not entirely happy with how the paint jobs worked out. The base coating and highlighting went fine. Unfortunately, the washes broke after I applied them, leading to uneven coats on the figures and the bases. Still, given that this is my first painting project in a long while, I'm willing to live with a "tabletop as long as nobody looks too closely" standard.

Improvised light box on the kitchen table. It has the advantage of folding up for storage.

The initial set of photos that I took in my improvised light box were also disappointing. None of them turned out well. I resorted to snapping a shot of the Havoc Girls in my display case with my phone. The results were a pleasant surprise – not perfect, but better than the ones I took earlier. If this keeps up, I might make it my standard practice – it would certainly be easier!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Star Trek Adventures - First Impressions and the Default Time Period

Really liking the LCARS look.

Finished up my initial read-through of Modiphius Entertainment's Star Trek Adventures last month. Our group's other GM ran an outstanding short campaign just before the holidays. I ordered a copy as an early Christmas present for myself. The next step is to go through the book in more detail and make myself some notes on how the game works mechanically. After that, it will be time to pitch the idea for a campaign to our group and go from there!

The designers put in the work to make the 2d20 system fit Star Trek rather than the other way around. The game play reflects how things are seen to work in the various Star Trek television series. Too many licensed games try to make a given peg fit through whatever shaped opening they have handy.

Time Period

The time period that Modiphius Entertainment picked for the default in Star Trek Adventures was a little curious to me. In series terms, it's just after The Next Generation finale, in the middle of Deep Space Nine, and just before the premiere of Voyager. Significant amounts of canon haven't happened yet. Enterprise-D is still kicking around, but her days are numbered. The renewal of the Federation-Klingon conflict is right around the corner. Both the Dominion War and all of Janeway's Delta Quadrant odyssey are down the road. That struck me as quite a bit of story potential to omit.

Then again, setting the default any later has its own problems. Does Star Trek really need another post-Nemesis time line? Star Trek Online and the novels each present their own versions of events tailored for their own purposes. Setting the game during the Dominion War means that it will tend to dominate story telling. Even if not every session deals directly with the war, it's always going to be there, just barely in the background. And there just doesn't seem to be much going on in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants between the end of Deep Space Nine and Nemesis.

The default time period of Star Trek Adventures allows for a full range of plots against the widest possible variety of adversaries. Want the classic episodic problem-of-the-week set up for your starship crew? Perfectly plausible without having to explain why a powerful ship is not on the front lines while the Federation is fighting for its existence (see: Insurrection). A colony or station on the frontier? Fine. Hunting outlaws in the Badlands? The Maquis are still around. Facing a straightforward military threat in a scenario short of a shooting war? The Romulans and Cardassians are available as opponents. Thorny political situations? The area near Bajor is still as troublesome as ever. Plenty of possibilities for player characters to get into trouble while tugging down the front of their uniforms.

Monday, November 6, 2017

A Look Back at The Keep on the Borderlands

Let's take a look at a classic D&D adventure module - B2 The Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax. I'm not sure if this is a review with a healthy dose of nostalgia, a retrospective, or something else. In any case, I'm not even going to pretend to be impartial as I examine the module's place in gaming, it's effects on me as a gamer, and take the module apart to see how it works.

Dungeon Module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands was the first RPG adventure module I owned. It came into my possession the same way it did for so many others - it was part of the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set. My set was the victim of too many moves from place to place in my youth. The rulebook, dice, and cardboard box are long gone. My current copy is second hand from Half Price Books.

The Keep on the Borderlands was intended as an introduction to D&D. Space is given to advice aimed at new players and DMs. Much of Gygax's advice still holds up decades later - things like "be fair" and "read the module before running it". A few pieces - like designating a "caller" to act as an intermediary between the DM and the other players - reflect practices specific to the time or to Gygax's gaming group.

The titular Keep is detailed enough to support adventures by itself - rob the bank, recruit some NPCs to help the party, or maybe even try to impress the person who runs the place. Curiously, the Keep is presented in much the same fashion as the module's dungeon - the Caves of Chaos. There are combat statistics for the Keep's inhabitants and notes on how they will respond to threats. A modern presentation might omit these details on the assumption that nothing would happen to the party's home base. One wonders if Gygax had players who were inclined to just straight up assault locations like the Keep for one reason or another. Another curiosity is the lack of names for the NPCs of the Keep. Each is referred to by their title - the Jewel Merchant, the Curate, the Castellan, etc. This gives the Keep a generic feel and places the burden of coming up with names for the NPCs on a DM running an introductory adventure.

The map of the area around the Keep and the Caves of Chaos places the two locations within a few thousand yards of each other. However, Gygax presents the Caves as something the party needs to search for, despite the presence of a road that runs close by it. The inhabitants of the Caves do not seem to be engaged in hostilities with the Keep or any traffic using the road. Otherwise, the garrison at the Keep would have already been deployed to neutralize the nearby threat. The Keep's garrison also seem to be content to leave the handful of wilderness encounters described in the module for the adventuring party to deal with. Why the Keep and the Caves of Chaos are located so closely to each other is never explained.

The majority of the module presents the Caves of Chaos. The dungeon is not a linear series of static encounters. The players are free to choose the cave entrances in any order they wish. However, knowledgeable players will generally opt to tackle the lower caves first, since they contain less challenging monsters.

Each of cave entrance leads to an underground area inhabited by a specific group of monsters - kobolds, goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, more orcs, gnolls, etc. Gygax includes notes on how each group will react to invading adventuring parties. It was not Gygax's intent for the monsters to stand around while a battle rages within earshot. The monsters sound alarms to bring in reinforcements and employ various tactics to counter those of the player characters. There are even notes on how each group of monsters will behave if the party leaves any survivors behind, but this is rare in my experience.

While there are suggestions of conflicts between the different groups of monsters inhabiting the Caves of Chaos, it is still difficult to imagine all of these monsters co-existing in such a small space. The space occupied by the Caves of Chaos is comparable to an apartment complex. Perhaps the evil cult exerts some influence on the other groups? In any event, internal politics exist in Caves of Chaos and can be exploited by the player characters. However, Gygax provided no mechanism for the DM to use to pass this information on to the players.

The Keep on the Borderlands may have prompted the earliest arguments about alignments and morality within the D&D setting. The various groups of humanoid monsters contain family units, including children, living with them. Their fate is entirely up to the players, but the module provides no advice to the DM on how to resolve the issue.

The module's text and art evoke strong imagery. Gygax's description of the party's journey to the Keep conveys the sense of leaving the safety of civilized lands behind for a dangerous wilderness. Erol Otis' piece on the back cover of the Keep - standing tall atop a hill as the party approaches it - suggests its role as a solitary bastion of law on the wild frontier. The Keep on the Borderlands has a raw quality found in many early RPG products. It lacks even a hint of professional polish, relying on unrefined energy and amateur enthusiasm to carry it forward.

There's no way I would run The Keep on the Borderlands for my current group of players. They are mostly veterans to the hobby and have been through it far too many times not to have it memorized. I've run homages, borrowing elements and breathing a little nostalgia into newer systems, but I haven't run the module directly for many years. If I ever had a group of players fresh to the hobby, I might run it. Maybe. It no longer holds any surprises, secrets, or lessons for me. It's place in my collection is as a touchstone to days long gone.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Some Thoughts on Knight Hawks and the Second Sathar War

This is another article from my older and even more defunct gaming site from the early 2000s. It is essentially an analysis of the space combat system packaged in Knight Hawks, the second boxed set for TSR's Star Frontiers RPG. The first boxed set for the game - Alpha Dawn - lacked any details for starships, only including rules for booking passage on starliners. I found this to be a curious omission for a space opera themed game clearly intended to compete with Traveller.

Reading the article now, I realize it has significant flaws. It could really use some editing to weed out redundant words. If I wrote it now, I would have stronger things to say about defensive fire, balance issues, and the light cruiser - a ship that combines the strengths of the heavy cruiser and the destroyer with none of the weaknesses. A little more description of Sathar retreat conditions would help in examining the Sathar player's strategy. And the whole thing just cuts off after the ship descriptions. However, I'm going to let it stand as it is, warts and all.

An Overview of the Game

Knight Hawks is an expansion set for the Star Frontiers role playing game, published by TSR in the early 1980s. It covers all aspects of space travel within the Frontier, including starship combat. The starship combat rules were designed so that they could be used independently of the role playing game. This separate wargame is refereed to as the "UPF Tactical Operations Manual" and includes ship designs and scenarios. However, the Knight Hawks role playing supplement also contained a campaign using the wargame rules.

The campaign, called the Second Sathar War, is an invasion of the United Planetary Federation. Little is known about the Sathar invaders, except that they are a worm-like alien race and are not willing to accept peaceful coexistence. The only option for the UPF is war. Unfortunately, the UPF Spacefleet and the various planetary militias are not fully prepared. The outcome of the resulting struggle is uncertain.

Oddities in the Second Sathar War Rules

Knight Hawks dates from 1983 and reflects the limitations of that period of gaming. Do not misunderstand, it is a quality product. The rules are simple and contain no game breaking loopholes. This is evidence of good playtesting, something that is sometimes lacking in later games. However, there are editing mistakes and a few exploitable quirks in the rules. This is true of nearly every game before and since Knight Hawks.

The biggest exploitable quirk in the game is defensive fire. This allows the non-moving player to fire at his opponent’s ships after they have completed their movement. The volume of fire that a stack of ships can produce is enough to stop most close range attacks cold. This is not an issue for larger ships, who have the weapons to fight at longer ranges for a few turns before closing on their weakened opponents. However, fighters and assault scouts have to get close to use their assault rockets. Defensive fire makes an assault rocket attack against an opponent not softened up by long range weapons very costly. Even worse, the militias are mostly made up of assault scouts and often face superior Sathar fleets. Even approaching from the sides or rear (where forward firing weapons cannot be used), militia assault scouts can be wiped out before they can use their assault rockets. Overall, defensive fire reduces fighters and assault scouts to running down damaged opponents, instead of being a decisive arm during the early stages of combat.

The rules for militia ship movement on the strategic map have a few minor loopholes. Militia ships are required to move towards their home system when Sathar ships show up within it. The militia ships are only able to move freely when the stations in their home system are destroyed. Militia ships are also required to make at least one attack (defined as firing one weapon at one enemy ship) before any attempt to disengage. This means that a militia force is required to send one of its ships within weapons range of an overwhelming Sathar force before retreating. It is also possible for a Sathar fleet to force a militia to "yo-yo" by exploiting the movement rules for militia ships. The militia force moves into its home system, sends one ship to attack the Sathar fleet threatening the system, and breaks off. The Sathar fleet then disengages without destroying all of the stations in the system. The next turn, the Sathar move to attack the system again. This forces the militia to go through the whole process of sending one of their ships to attack the Sathar all over again. Eventually, the militia will get worn down to nothing. Note that this is not a practical tactic, since it ties down a Sathar fleet for several turns as it moves into a system, attacks, and breaks off. It is an interesting loophole, though.

There is an error in the UPF Spacefleet Order of Battle. "1 Minelayer" is listed twice under Task Force Cassidine. It is unclear if this meant that there are two minelayers in Task Force Cassidine or that something else was supposed to occupy one of the spaces. A quick check of the Dragon Magazine Archives revealed nothing useful, so we decided to treat it as a printing error and simply delete the extra minelayer during our campaign.

Errors also appear in the section describing the counters and on the printing of the strategic map. Some of the colors listed in the rules for the militia forces do not match the counters. Also, the rules state that the planets are labeled on the map, which is not the case.

The Misjump Probability Table lists a safe jump probability for battleships crossing three transit boxes per day. The problem is that battleships have an ADF of 2, which limits them to moving no more than two transit boxes per day while risk jumping. However, the ship modification rules do allow for increasing a ship’s ADF, so it is possible if modified ships are used in the campaign. In fact, a "fast battleship" would be a significant UPF advantage.

Comparing the UPF and the Sathar Fleets

The differences between the UPF Spacefleet, planetary militia, and Sathar forces reflect the background of the two civilizations. The UPF is slightly more technologically advanced and their personnel tend to be well trained. Each Planetary Militia benefits from the same technology as the UPF, but their personnel are not up to UPF standards, especially in the area of navigation. The Sathar lag behind in technology and training, but have an advantage in numbers.

The UPF Spacefleet possesses the full range of ship types. It operates the only battleships in existence. The rest of Spacefleet are made up of fairly light ships. The most common ship types are frigates and assault scouts. However, its light cruisers add considerable strength to its forces.

The planetary militias only possess the smaller kinds of ships - assault scouts, frigates, and the occasional destroyer. They are only intended as patrol forces and rely on Spacefleet to reinforce them against the Sathar. The main weakness of the militias, other than their limited firepower, is the high chance of failure when risk jumping.

The stations throughout the Frontier are both a blessing and curse for Spacefleet and the militias. They serve as a source of supply and can add to the firepower available to a defending force. On the other hand, they are targets for Sathar attacks and need to be defended. The fortresses, in particular, are both the centerpiece of a system’s defenses and the focus of an attack.

The Sathar has a wide range of ship types, but lack battleships, minelayers, and assault scouts. They make up for the lack with large numbers of heavy cruisers and destroyers. The Sathar can deploy eight heavy cruisers against Spacefleet’s three battleships and one heavy cruiser. Sathar destroyers can form the core of strike groups that perform the same mission as the UPF’s assault scouts - hitting ships bigger than they are.

UPF Strategy

The strategy of the UPF player must, by necessity, be defensive. However, this does not mean placing units on the board and waiting for the Sathar to attack. The UPF player must make taking every objective as costly as possible for the Sathar while preserving his own forces. Unfortunately, this may mean fighting a series of hit and run battles while falling back to the fortresses.

Placement of the units in the non-attached ships pool is the first chance to alter the outcome of the campaign. The UPF player puts his forces on the strategic board first, with the exception of Strike Force NOVA and any non-attached ships assigned to it. The placement of stations, militia, and most Spacefleet forces are dictated by the rules and cannot be altered. Placement of the non-attached ships is entirely up to the UPF player.

As a whole, the non-attached ships represent a powerful force. They are not the equal of the UPF Task Forces or Strike Force NOVA. However, putting all of the non-attached ships in a system that is certain to be attacked will stop or slow the Sathar advance.

On the other hand, the non-attached ships could be split up and used to correct weaknesses in the various Spacefleet forces and militias. The non-attached destroyers can be used to strengthen Task Force Cassidine and Strike Force NOVA, which are short on lighter ships. Task Force Prenglar has no fighters or carriers to support fighters, so adding the non-assigned assault scouts would give it a workable substitute. The light cruisers can significantly strengthen a militia. The minelayer is best placed in a system with a fortress, since such a system will be attacked to satisfy the Sathar player’s victory conditions. The fighters are best split up between Task Force Cassidine and Strike Force NOVA.

Once the campaign starts, the UPF player should keep in mind that the victory conditions for both players depend on the survival of the fortresses. Defending those fortresses is a top priority. Note that this does not mean parking ships in the fortress systems and waiting for the Sathar to come knocking on the door. Any opportunity to defeat a Sathar fleet away from the fortresses should be taken, as long as the fortresses are not at risk. Note specifically that the Prenglar system should never by uncovered as long as the Sathar player has ships he has not yet placed on the board.

A particular weakness of the UPF is how the militia is scattered all over the map. The rules only allow them to move one system away from their home system at the start of the game, but they can still reinforce important areas. For example, the militia in Theseus can move to White Light to protect the fortress there.

The UPF player should study the possible Sathar retreat conditions carefully and try to figure out which one the Sathar player has chosen. Triggering the retreat condition could win the game for the UPF player.

Sather Strategy

The Sathar player decides the tempo of the game - he decides how his forces are split up and where they attack. The UPF player must respond to the Sathar player’s action. Unfortunately, the Sathar player is limited by the Sathar victory conditions (destroy twelve stations, including all four fortresses) and the secret retreat condition. The UPF player knows that the Sathar has to attack the fortresses at some point to win and that certain things will trigger an automatic Sathar retreat. However, when the fortresses come under attack and what triggers the retreat are up to the Sathar player.

Because of the number of alternatives, this section will outline a few broad early-to-mid game strategies for the Sathar player. These describe which start circles to use and what targets to attack. After that, the Sathar player will be reacting to how those first few attacks went and the mid-game will begin. The number of variables to consider during the mid-game carries it outside the scope of this document. The end game will be simple - kill all of the fortresses that are left and make certain that the Sathar destroy a dozen stations total.

Above all else, the Sathar player must remember that his objective is to destroy stations. The ships that the UPF and the militias will put in his way are nothing more than distractions. Do not get caught up in hunting down ships. Go after the stations and the UPF ships will have no choice but to defend them.

The Zebulon Entry Option

The Sathar place a fleet in the start circle leading to the Zebulon system. The attack fleet moves through Zebulon and attacks the fortress and armed station in the Truane’s Star system. Destroying both stations would put the Sathar player closer to achieving his victory conditions. The Sathar attack fleet would then proceed to Dixon’s Star and Prenglar.

There are two major possible obstacles to a Zebulon Entry. First, the UPF player may reinforce Truane’s Star with ships from his non-assigned pool. This can be countered by simply waiting until all UPF forces are on the board and strengthening the attack fleet enough to assure victory. Second, Truane’s Star is a possible start location for Strike Force NOVA. Make the attack fleet powerful enough to take on both the militia and Strike Force NOVA.

The Prenglar Assault
This is a "go for the throat" option. The Sathar places as large a fleet as the rules allow on the start circle leading to the Prenglar system. This forces a showdown with Task Force Prenglar and gives the Sathar a shot at both stations in Prenglar.

There is considerable risk in this plan. The UPF player could try risk jumping Task Force Cassidine to Prenglar. He could get lucky and Strike Force NOVA could show up at Prenglar. The worst case scenario is facing all three major Spacefleet formations in the Prenglar system. The only way to mitigate the chance of failure is to make the attack fleet as strong as possible. If defeated, the Sathar fleet should try to link up with any other Sathar forces on the board.

The payoff of a successful Prenglar Assault might be worth the risk. It is fast enough to catch the UPF player off guard, especially if he has already started moving his ships around. Smashing a major UPF Spacefleet Task Force and killing two stations (including a fortress) will seriously weaken the UPF player. This is too big of a threat for the UPF player to ignore.

The Fromeltar Entry Option

This is not quite as exciting as a Prenglar Assault. The Sathar place as large a fleet as possible on the start circle leading to the Fromeltar system. This positions the Sathar fleet to attack Fromeltar, Dramune, Cassidine, and Prenglar. A successful drive through all of these systems will put the Sathar player close to achieving his victory conditions.

Unfortunately, there are some powerful obstacles in the way. Fromeltar, Dramune, and Prenglar are all possible start locations for Strike Force NOVA. Drumune has a fairly powerful militia, which Task Force Cassidine is likely to reinforce. A worst case scenario has both Strike Force NOVA and Task Force Cassidine reinforcing Drumune. The Sathar attack fleet should contain as many ships as the rules allow to counter this possibility. Still, such a battle could easily go either way.

Successfully attacking Fromeltar, Dramune, Cassidine, and Prenglar will kill off eight stations, including a fortress. It is an ambitious plan that involves facing the most powerful forces that the UPF player can field, but such a showdown is inevitable. Even if a Fromeltar Entry gets stalled or driven back, it will put the Sathar player closer to achieving his victory conditions.

The Outer Systems Gambit

This plan addresses a problem with the Zebulon Entry Option, the Prenglar Assault, and the Fromeltar Entry Option. All of the other plans focus on attacking the fortress in Prenglar to the point of ignoring most or all of the other fortresses. A Sathar attack fleet sitting in Prenglar is in a poor position to attack the remaining fortresses in Madderly’s Star and White Light. The Outer Systems Gambit is designed to supplement other plans by killing off these fortresses.

The Sathar place a fleet in the start circle leading to the K’tsa-Kar system. After destroying the station there, the fleet moves to attack White Light and Madderly’s Star. This puts the fleet in position to attack Cassidine.

There are a number of things that the UPF player can do to counter this plan. Moving the militia in Theseus to White Light results in a fairly strong blocking force. The White Light militia can also be strengthened using ships from the non-assigned pool. Task Force Cassidine could move in to support the fortress at Madderly’s Star, but only by uncovering the Cassidine system or splitting up. Of course, a lucky roll by the UPF player could have Strike Force NOVA showing up in time to save the day. The best way to addresses these concerns is simply to make the attack fleet powerful enough to fight off a combined attack from Task Force Cassidine and Strike Force NOVA.

Combining Options

The rules allow the Sathar player to put no more than half of his ships in a single starting circle. This forces the Sathar player to divide his forces. Each of the plans above were designed to be combined with one other. Note pursuing three or more attack plans at the same time invites defeat in detail.

The Prenglar Assault combines well with either the Zebulon Entry or the Fromeltar Entry. Such a combination would pin down Task Force Prenglar and complicate planning for the UPF player. Task Force Cassidine would either have to move to block the threat from Zebulon or Fromeltar, reinforce Prenglar, or split up to do both. Even if the Prenglar Assault fails, the surviving ships can still link up with the other Sathar fleet.

The Outer Systems Gambit works best with a Fromeltar Entry. Combining it with the other plans exposes both fleets to defeat in detail. The UPF player could, for example, use most of his forces to defeat a Sathar fleet threatening White Light and Madderly’s Star while keeping a Sathar fleet coming in from Zebulon at bay. The UPF player can then turn his ships around to destroy any Sathar ships left on the map. The key to a successful Outer Systems Gambit is keeping Task Force Cassidine from reinforcing Madderly’s Star or White Light. The Fromeltar Entry is perfect for that.

Knight Hawks Ships

The game provides a variety of ship types. In general, larger ships carry more weapons, but are less mobile than smaller ships. Likewise, smaller ships need to use their mobility advantage to survive against the firepower of larger vessels.

One unusual feature of the game is that the ships on all sides are identical. A Sathar frigate is identical in performance to a UPF Spacefleet frigate or a militia frigate. This simplifies the game, but deprives it of a certain amount of atmosphere. Instead of different ships, the UPF and the Sathar are distinguished by giving each side a different fleet mix. The UPF possesses battleships, minelayers, and assault scouts. They favor frigates over destroyers. The Sathar rely on an older fleet of heavy cruisers and destroyers. Also, if skill levels are used, the UPF are better trained than the militias. The militias, meanwhile, are more skilled than Sathar (who are rated the same as pirates).


Strengths: Most mobile unit in the game. Can use evasive maneuvers against torpedoes. The assault rockets it carries gives it firepower out of proportion to its size.

Weaknesses: Most fragile unit in the game. Carries only three assault rockets and no other weapons. Must be supported by a carrier or base.

Comments: The assault rocket is powerful, but short ranged. This forces fighters to close through defensive fire. Always approach enemy ships from the sides or rear, which limits defensive fire to battery weapons. Always operate fighters in groups to spread out defensive fire. Expect to lose fighters before they get in position to attack.

Assault Scouts

Strengths: Almost as mobile as a fighter. Can use evasive maneuvers against torpedoes. The assault rockets it carries gives it firepower out of proportion to its size.

Weaknesses: Fragile.

Comments: Assault scouts do the same job as fighters and do it better. Assault scouts use fighter tactics, but will tend to survive longer. The laser battery is a good backup weapon, allowing assault scouts to use defensive fire and as a long range option.

Frigates and Destroyers

Strengths: Large enough to take damage and still fight. Mobile enough to avoid the forward firing weapons of heavy cruisers and battleships.

Weaknesses: Relatively fragile compared with larger ships. Only carry a small number of ICMs, making missile weapons a serious threat. Frigates lack long range particle weapons, while destroyers only have an electron beam battery.

Comments: Frigates and destroyers are very similar. They can either be used for fighter-style attacks or to escort larger ships. A group of frigates and destroyers is mobile enough to attack heavy cruisers or battleships from the sides or rear. These attacks can be devastating if the group can get close enough to fire torpedoes. While on escort duty, a frigate or destroyer is mobile enough to intercept a threat before it gets too close.


Strengths: Carries a large number of mines and seekers, which can be placed on the map prior to a battle using the campaign rules.

Weaknesses: Lightly armed for a ship about the size of a destroyer. Carries only a limited number of ICMs, making missile weapons a serious threat.

Comments: Minelayers are specialized ships. Once the mines are laid, the wisest thing to do with a minelayer is to keep it out of the way. This is especially true during a campaign, since a minelayer can escape to reload and participate in a later battle.

Light Cruisers
Strengths: Best mix of firepower, mobility, and hull strength in the game.

Weaknesses: None.

Comments: Light cruisers are almost as tough and well-armed as heavy cruisers, but are also almost as mobile as destroyers. Adding light cruisers to a group of frigates and destroyers will slow the group down a little, but the increase in overall firepower is worth it. Light cruisers should not be forced to move in formation with heavier ships, since this will rob the light cruisers of their mobility advantage.

Heavy Cruisers

Strengths: Durable and well-armed.

Weaknesses: One of the least mobile ships in the game.

Comments: Most other ships can literally fly rings around heavy cruisers, but their firepower earns respect. Heavy cruisers are best used as the core of a fleet. They advance towards the main target while smaller ships maneuver around them. The seeker missiles are useful against ships that try to get behind them. A heavy cruiser can be very useful while defending a station. The heavy cruiser can orbit with the station and fire on any attackers. The heavy cruiser’s lack of mobility will not longer be a factor. Even better, the station and heavy cruiser can support each other with ICMs.

Assault Carriers

Strengths: Can rearm fighters. Nearly as tough as a heavy cruiser.

Weaknesses: One of the least mobile ships in the game. Lightly armed for a ship nearly as large as a heavy cruiser.

Comments: Assault carriers are essential to using fighters offensively in a campaign. Without carriers, fighters are limited to defending stations. The campaign rules clearly state that fighters without a carrier or station to use as a base are destroyed at the end of a campaign turn. This makes carriers prime targets. They should be escorted by a small strike group of frigates and destroyers at all times. More importantly, carriers should stay clear of close engagements.


Strengths: The biggest and best armed ship in the game.

Weaknesses: Rare. Only a little more mobile than heavy cruisers.

Comments: Like heavy cruisers, battleships from the core of a fleet. They essentially do the same jobs as heavy cruisers, but are better at them.

Armed Stations

Strengths: As tough as a heavy cruiser. Can support fighters, if available.

Weaknesses: Limited to orbital movement. Lightly armed. Limited number of ICMs make missile weapons a serious threat.

Comments: Alone against a large attacking force, an armed station is a sitting duck. It lacks particle beam weapons and will be outranged by fleets containing ships larger than frigates. Even worse, its best defenses are masking screens, which render its own laser battery useless. It does have rocket batteries, but an enemy fleet has no reason to get within range.

Fortified Stations

Strengths: Tougher than a battleship. Can support fighters, if available.

Weaknesses: Limited to orbital movement. Lightly armed.

Comments: A fortified station is better armed and more durable than an armed station, but this is not enough against an enemy fleet. A fortified station lacks particle beam weapons and will be outranged by fleets containing ships larger than frigates. It also suffers from the same problems as armed stations concerning its masking screens and rocket batteries.


Strengths: Most durable unit in the game. Well armed. Can support fighters, if available.

Weaknesses: Limited to orbital movement.

Comments: Tough, armed with a good mix of weapons, and carrying a variety of defensive systems, a fortress is a hard target for any fleet. The only flaw in its defenses is the lack of a stasis screen. Even alone, a fortress will inflict some damage to an attacking fleet before being destroyed. However, it is unlikely that a fortress would be caught alone in the course of a campaign, due to its importance to the victory conditions.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My TimeWatch Resource List

“TimeWatch, by Kevin Kulp, is a GUMSHOE game of investigative time travel. You are a defender of history, an elite TimeWatch agent plucked out of your native era and trained to stop saboteurs from ripping history apart. Your training allows you to diagnose disruptions in the time stream and track down the cause, making conclusions that less capable investigators might just guess at. The TimeWatch rules presume that you are a highly competent badass. Who are you to prove them wrong?”

- Description of the TimeWatch RPG from Pelgrane Press.

I backed the TimeWatch RPG Kickstarter in 2014.* Time travel hi-jinks and the GUMSHOE system made for an appealing combination. The latest series of updates include electronic versions of the finalized game materials and news that the books are going to press soon. Which gives me a deadline for getting ready to run the game if I wish to wait until the physical copy of the rulebook arrives. My knowledge of real and alternate history isn't something I can rely on to launch a TimeWatch campaign without research. To that end, I put together a resource list after a quick pass through my personal library.

GURPS Time Travel. Steve Jackson and John M. Ford explore the concept of a time travel RPG. Plenty of ideas to mine here. Pity that the timeline in the back ends in 1994, but that can't be helped. Copyright 1991, 1995.

GURPS Alternate Earths. Kenneth Hite, Craig Neumeier, and Micheal S. Schiffer present a number of alternate histories for the Infinite Worlds campaign frame from GURPS Time Travel. Some of the alternate histories don't stand up to close inspection, but whisking the player characters in and out of them fast enough should help prevent awkward questions. Copyright 1996, 1998.

GURPS Alternate Earths 2. The sequel to GURPS Alternate Earths. Copyright 1999.

GURPS Who's Who 1 and GURPS Who's Who 2. These anthologies complied by Phil Masters presents figures from throughout history. More importantly, those figures are presented from a game perspective. Information on how they might react to the player characters and notes on how they might impact a time travel game are the focus. Copyright 1999.

Suppressed Transmission and Suppressed Transmission 2. Anthologies of Kenneth Hite's column of the same name which ran in Pyramid Magazine during its years as a website. In particular, the essays on history and alternate histories promise plenty of ideas for the borrowing. Some of the concepts here are more thoroughly explored in Kenneth Hite's later works. Copyright 2000.

What If? An anthology of essays describing turning points in military history and the alternate worlds that could have resulted from changes to that history. Copyright 1999. Edited by Robert Cowley.

What If? 2. Editor Robert Cowley casts a wider net for the essays in this sequel to What If? The book is not exclusively focused military history. Copyright 2001.

With all this, I don't have to come up with my own ideas for TimeWatch. I can just borrow from the hard work of others!

* The fact that I'm getting my backer rewards two years later doesn't surprise me. My previous Kickstarter experiences have turned me a little cynical and I regard the delivery dates given for backer rewards as fictional. I have to credit Kevin Kulp with keeping up excellent communications and updates for TimeWatch's backers. Not every Kickstarter goes to that much effort to maintain goodwill.