Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ashen Stars - Reflect, Reorient, Reboot

Our group's Ashen Stars game went on hiatus earlier this year. After running two published adventures, something felt off. That unease grew as I read through the other published adventures. Unable to put my finger on it, I put the game on pause while we tried other games.

But that feeling didn't go away.

There was the potential for a good game in Ashen Stars. One that I wanted to run. A better one than I had been running. Where was it?

There could be no ongoing story if I was running a series of unrelated published adventures. I knew that going in. The whole point was to test-drive the game without a major creative commitment. That wasn't the issue.

I had a hard time working the characters arcs into the game. The first two adventures I ran had no room for them. The ones that were in the pipeline didn't either. That bothered me.

I talked about it with the players. They pointed out that, of the two adventures they played, neither had a conclusion that flowed from what the player characters discovered before. They felt that there were no real hints to what the ending would reveal. The solutions felt outside the context of the adventures. From their perspective, it would be like Sherlock Holmes find out that the criminals were the Martians from H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.

It was good feedback. The issue may have been with those two specific adventures or my handling of them. But that explanation didn't satisfy me.

I thought it over some more. Then it hit me. There was a core issue that I needed to address.

Our group restarted the campaign. A complete reset with new characters and character arcs linked to an ongoing plot. That would provide a solid narrative structure that the previous campaign lacked. The first session was right before the holidays.

More importantly, I dumped the game that I ended up running for the game I wanted. I didn't want space police procedurals of the week with the player characters as interstellar private eyes poking around for clues, finding bodies, interviewing witnesses, and getting in over their heads. In particular, reading through Ashen Stars' attempt at noir left me cold.

Ashen Stars and GUMSHOE should be able to handle more than space cops.

There is a cycle that exists in most TV space opera stories. Star Trek, Babylon 5, classic and reimagined Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly all use it to some extent.
  • The crew gets involved in a situation.
  • The crew gathers information and takes action.
  • As a result of that action, the crew gather more information.
  • Now better informed, the crew takes further action.
  • This cycle continues until the crew has enough information to take actions to resolve the situation.
In these stories, the crew is not explicitly looking for clues to solve a mystery. (Unless the episode is a mystery story this week.) They are getting information and working out how to solve a problem with that information. A key difference between a mystery and a space opera story is when the action takes place. A mystery is about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened. A space opera story is about what is happening, why it is happening, and how to resolve it before past tenses are used to describe it.

What I want is a space opera game. What I was presented with was a mystery game. Fortunately, Ashen Stars and GUMSHOE can do both.

Looking at the published materials with new eyes, I can see the game I want there. It is supported by some of the published adventures. Unfortunately, those adventures are not enough to hang a campaign on. An ongoing plot of my own devising was in order.

And so, a casting off of baggage, a break in continuity, and a fresh start for a game with a little less Mike Hammer and a little more Mass Effect.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Workbench #7 - Hexagon Construction Landing Pad and Industrial Spire

These are a couple of new terrain pieces built from a pair of Hexagon Construction Sets. The sets are currently distributed in the United States by Pegasus Hobbies. These have been available for awhile, so you likely have seen them before in some form.

A Large and Small Set caught my eye back at Millennium Con. I've been interested in picking them up for awhile now, but not enough to place an online order. But with two of them sitting right there with some cash burning a hole in my pocket, well...

...I've been playing around with them ever since.

My understanding is that the Hexagon Construction Sets were originally made for a Russian wargame scaled for 25mm. They comfortably scale for anything from 15mm to 28mm with a little management of details like ladders. The doors are undersized for 28mm, assuming that the doors are intended to be walked rather than crawled through.

The parts are well detailed with high tech looking greebles. The overall appearance of a finished assembly tends towards unrefined and functional. A terrain piece made from these sets would fit in well with a gothic or steampunk aesthetic.

All of the parts are made of plastic and are held together by plastic clips. Different clips allow for the parts to be assembled at different angles. I did run into an issue with flash on the sprues gumming up a few of the clips. However, the large number of clips available on the sprues make this a minor concern.

Landing pad ramp-side view with two Titan Marines (15mm) and a Sky Scorcher for scale.

This piece fills a hole in my terrain collection - a landing pad and ramp. The design is based loosely on a couple of pieces I saw at Millennium Con 12+1 in 2010. The pad itself is built from 1 half-hexagonal and 6 hexagonal parts. It is supported by 6 rectangular parts. 6 parts originally intended as 25mm scale handrails act as buttresses to reinforce the whole structure. The ramp is built from 2 rectangular parts reinforced with 2 smaller "handrail" parts. The structure is quite sturdy and lightweight. Unpainted.

Landing pad alternate view with Sarah Blitzer (28mm) for scale.

The landing pad is ideal for 15mm. Every 15mm-compatible flying craft in my collection fits on the pad with plenty of room to spare. Of course, that might change if I ever buy some behemoth of a dropship. Using the pad for 28mm scale is a little more problematic. A small shuttle or flying car would fit, though.

Industrial Spire with a Titan Marine (15mm) and Sarah Blitzer (28mm) for scale.

This industrial looking piece is an exercise in what I could make with a bunch of triangular parts. It could be an atmosphere processor, a solar power station, or a widget replicator, However, I think we all know its main job is to block lines of sight. The piece is intended to work with 15mm or 28mm scale figures. Unpainted.

I'm still playing around with the considerable amount of parts still in the sets. The large square parts look handy for a larger structure. The smaller parts have possibilities for scatter terrain once the bigger ones are used up. Overall, I'm glad I picked up these sets.