Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Rule and Fate of Wizard-Kings

"Wizard-Kings always fall" goes the ancient saying. A wizard who seizes secular power must give up some measure of his magical progress. His hours and days become consumed with the demands of rulership. Meanwhile, his rivals and challengers are free to redouble their research, often spending every waking hour on their studies. Eventually, one such rival will unlock enough mystical secrets, gather enough arcane knowledge, and unleash enough eldritch power to eclipse the Wizard-King in magical strength and topple him in a clash of magics, seize the crown, and fall into the same trap.

Some mystics who would walk the path of rulership seek to avoid such a fate by dividing their time, only to lose ground in both the political and magical arenas. Only so much of the work of ruling can be delegated, even if enough trustworthy and talented people could be found to take on the burden. Only so much time can be pried from other responsibilities for the research that is a wizard's passion, especially compared with those free of such burdens. Political rivals will take advantage of the Wizard-King's divided attention to gain influence. Rival wizards will focus on their researches and inevitably close the gap in magical power.

It is commonly accepted that the best place for those who follow the mystic arts is to advise and assist those who already rule. This role is relatively undemanding and the time it requires can be spared more easily. While direct rule offers more political power, the influence of a trusted advisor is considerable.

But there are always those who try to use their mystic might as a stepping stone to political power. They think themselves too cunning to fall into the same traps that ensnared previous Wizard-Kings. A few have actually succeeded.

The Wizard-King Ballantyne outlawed magic throughout the realms he conquered to prevent the raise of rival wizards. One such rival escaped his notice. She sought out allies among those without political ties in Ballantyne's realms. Outland barbarians raided those who worked to bring forth the bounty of the land and wealth of its markets. Bards labeled nobles close to the Wizard-King as depots, justifying their later assassinations. A few bold adventuring parties assaulted Ballantyne directly – they failed to kill him, but injury and paranoia hampered his activities. Meanwhile, the rival wizard used her own magics to cloud the Wizard-King's scrying and counter his spells. In the end, the Wizard-King and his base of support were so worn down that his realms welcomed a challenger – a callow youth armored against Ballantyne's magics and wielding the sword fated to pierce the Wizard-King's heart. That youth was elevated to the throne by those who thought him easy to manipulate, but they were thwarted by the appearance of his chief advisor – a woman of great beauty and insight.

There are the tales of the Lich-King Koschei, who began his rule as a mortal man, but used the rituals of Lichdom to strip the flesh from his form and gain an unholy form of immortality. Without the need for sustenance or sleep, he could rule by day and study by night, making every moment of his undead existence count. As the years wore on his studies unlocked knowledge of the outer planes. His interest in the material world declined. He was removed from power by an alliance of his treacherous apprentices and rebellious courtiers, but tales hint at his survival and eventual return.

Related in principle to the Lich-King was the Necromancer Lord. His source of power was not reality-bending spells, but his endless army of undead. His rivals, both political and magical, were simply overwhelmed by the cold, unliving hands of his followers. Shortly afterwards, those unfortunates found their minds imprisoned within their own animate corpses. Enslaved by necromancy, his former rivals knelt at his feet and offered their undying support. Only his own death ended his rule – as he found himself dying of age, he attempted the rituals of Lichdom, but his ailing body caused his spells to falter. His corpse was consumed by his own army of undead.


(This was some background for a D&D campaign that never got off the ground. I found it, dusted it off, and gave it a quick edit before posting it here.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Dungeon Origins - From Howard to Gygax to 13th Age


Dungeons. Ever wonder why? Where did they come from? Who dug out all those corridors, neatly lined them all with stone blocks, built them to be all twisty and looking the same? Underground construction ain’t cheap, even if the builders happen to be dwarves who love that sort of thing.

Origin #1: Ruins from Ancient Times

This one dates back to Robert Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien. Dungeons are a remnant of older times - when things were grander than whenever "now" happens to be in the setting. Times of vast and wealthy empires. Empires that could afford to build vast underground areas for, y'know, reasons. Maybe those empires were run by dwarves or some other folks who enjoy subsurface living. Or maybe those empires needed a place to hide from something on the surface. Flocks of dragons would be a valid reason for hiding underground, even for ancient empires. On the other hand, underground structures tend to attract the types who find it like home - goblins, demons, etc. Maybe that explains what happen to all those vast and ancient empires?

Origin #2: A Wizard Did It

Gary Gygax wrote about how the wielders of powerful, unearthly magics had nothing better to do with their spare time than screw with people. When they weren’t creating Owlbears or conducting other experiments, they built dungeons under their towers. Look at the spell list for Magic-Users in 1st edition AD&D. There are certain mid- to high-level spells intended to secure a fixed location. Name-level player character Magic-Users getting tired of the murder hobo lifestyle, settling down, and building towers with dungeon expansions was A Thing in those early Lake Geneva campaigns. I suppose it could be entertaining to watch a party of up-and-coming murder hobos try to navigate your Dungeon of Doom after a hard day of exploring the secrets of the universe. Come to think of it, I'm kinda surprised that this isn't a standard dungeon set up.

Origin #3: Dungeons as Living Entities

13th Age presents the idea that some dungeons are living things that bubble up from the darkness under the earth and slowly rise towards the surface. I kinda like it. It reminds me of the video game Dungeon Keeper where the player runs an underground structure with a living heart that can be destroyed by do-gooders and rivals. However, there is nothing in else in Dungeon Keeper that suggests that the dungeons are alive. Making dungeons malevolent beings does justify why they seem to go out of their way to kill intruding parties of adventurers.


(I wrote an earlier version of this and posted on Tumblr awhile back.)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Black Friday / Cyber Monday Haul, Part Two

This is "gaming related stuff I picked up inexpensively at recent holiday sales" part two. Part one can be found over here. My comments explain my reasons for purchasing these specific products and present my first impressions. More detailed opinions will come later, after I've had the chance to actually put these products to use. Fortunately, I've got a couple of projects in the pipeline for next year that will give me a chance to experiment.

Secret Weapon Miniatures

This is a company that's been on my radar for awhile. I backed their Tablescape Kickstarter way back in 2013. Before that, I heard positive things about their paints and washes from various sources. Their recent sale gave me a chance of pick up some of their products and try them out for myself.

So, let's see how many words I can throw up on the screen about washes and weathering powder.

Acrylic Wash - Armor Wash - W003

As the name implies, this is marketed for shading surfaces coated with reflective metallic paints. The color is a black/brown strong enough to significantly darken the surface that it is applied to. It should work well for armor plate and chain mail as well as any time a dark brown wash is appropriate - weathered surfaces, dark cloth, and leather come to mind.

Acrylic Wash - Flesh Wash - W005
This wash is a mix of orange and brown tones. Most of the flesh washes that I've tried use red rather than orange for shading. I'm not sure what effect that it would have or how it might throw things off for me. I suspect that the difference might be too subtle to notice.

Acrylic Wash - Baby Poop - W008
I'll fully admit that I got this one because I was amused by the name. It's mostly green and brown with a hint of red. Speaking from experience, real baby poop does contain these colors, but also has a strong yellow tone. Let's attribute the difference to "artistic license" and all that. I'm pretty sure that it is intended for a certain sci-fi wargame army with a green color scheme and featuring themes of physical illness, decay, and warm hugs. I'm thinking that this wash would work well for shading zombies, aliens and alien technology based on the works of H.R. Giger, swamp creatures, and adding to a corroded appearance on a metallic surface.

Acrylic Wash - Dark Sepia - W010
I've been looking around for a burnt sepia wash since my gradual return to tabletop gaming awhile back. Back in the day, my go to was Games Workshop's Gryphonne Sepia. It was handy for shading flesh tones, cloth, and gold metallic surfaces. Unfortunately, that product is long out of production. This purchase is the latest step in finding a "close enough" substitute.

Weathering Pigment - Rust Red - WP1013
I don't have any experience with weathering powders except that they seem pretty expensive for the amount that's in the container. Given this product's sale price, I decided that it was a good way to start experimenting. The strong red color took me by surprise - I was expecting something with more brown mixed in.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Star Trek Adventures - Felicity Cooke Wrestling With Moral Issues

This post returns to our computer specialist example character by examining what makes her tick. A character's Values, Talents, and Focuses reveal a great deal about that character and how they approach problems. We'll also take a look at a mechanic similar to Values, but one that effects all of the player characters - Directives.


Values

Two things that players should keep in mind when creating Values for a character:

Values describe a character's passions and drives. This goes beyond things that are useful to understanding how to roleplay a character. Values are a character's most important motivations - the things that will override other considerations for that character. To use a canonical example, Kira Neyes' dislike and distrust of Cardassians is on display during many episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine. However, it is not a Value listed on her character sheet and it shouldn't be. There are things that matter more to her, things that she cares more deeply about - advancing the cause of Bajor and the Bajoran people. In fact, the Bajoran cause takes up two of her four Values. The other two relate to the high standards she sets for herself. Her issues with Cardassians pale in comparison to these other aspects.

Values should apply to a variety of situations. Applying a Value allows a player character to spend a point of Determination. The bonuses that Determination can offer are significant, so having Values that kick in at a critical moment could turn the tide. Returning to the example of Kira Neyes, the high standards represented by her Values come up whenever things turn dire. These Values describe her approach to resolving a crisis. Given how many situations in a given episode of Star Trek can be described as a crisis, such Values come up pretty often. Her Values relating to Bajor also apply often. Bajor and issues relating to it remain significant throughout Deep Space Nine's run.

Gamemasters should carefully note the Values that players create for their characters. These are clear indicators of what themes and aspects of their characters that players wish to explore. They also show which parts of the Star Trek setting that they want their characters to interact with.

Mechanically, if a character has a Value that applies to a Task, then they can spend a point of Determination on that Task. That point of Determination can be used for a hefty bonus, to re-roll all of the dice, immediately perform another Task, or create an Advantage (a broadly applicable bonus) for the current scene. Another effect of Values can be used by the Gamemaster - when a character sticking to their guns regarding a Value would make the situation worse, the Gamemaster can offer the player a point of Determination at the price of a Complication. Finally, a Value can be challenged. If a Value would be detrimental to a Task or the situation, it can be crossed out in exchange for a point of Determination. That Value cannot be used again for that mission and, once the mission is over, the player may alter or replace that Value to represent the change in the character's beliefs.

Let's take a look at Felicity's Values and how they might be used in play:

"Nothing Can't Be Fixed"
This reflects her upbringing on a remote colony and the need to make do with what was on hand. It can be invoked anytime Felicity really needs the bonus from a point of Determination to fix something. On the other hand, Felicity's conviction that she can fix anything could be used against her.

"Call It Like I See It"
This is a commitment to honestly stating the truth above other factors, such as the authority that the other party carries. It can be used when Felicity is trying to persuade someone using the facts of the matter. Of course, she might be tempted to confront someone with facts that they would prefer to ignore - the Gamemaster could offer her player a point of Determination to have Felicity do just that. The resulting Complication may involve angering the other party.

"Something to Prove"
Felicity has a chip on her shoulder. This can be invoked when she needs to dig deep, accomplish something critical, and spend that point of Determination. However, that chip on her shoulder could provoke her into doing something unwise.

"Some Rules Can Be Bent, Other Broken"
Did I mention Felicity's issues with authority and the chip on her shoulder? Starfleet regulations, treaty stipulations, Federation law, and other rules are often treated as open to interpretation in Star Trek. Felicity is just a little more prone to using a broad understanding of such things than her fellow officers. On the other hand, ignoring inconvenient rules and taking the easier path can be enticing - even the Complication of getting caught could be worth a point of Determination.


Talents

These reflect some knack that allows a character to perform a feat over and above what most could accomplish. Like Values, Talents express something about the character. Here are how the ones I selected for Felicity may apply during play:

Resolute
This is a boring, but practical option for Human characters with a bit of gumption. Resolute gives Felicity a bonus to her maximum Stress. This is obviously a benefit, but the implementation is static. The player is unlikely to put much thought into it after picking it and adding the bonus during character generation.

Computer Expertise
This was available to Felicity because her Science was high enough at that point during character generation. It provides a bonus d20 whenever Felicity attempts a computer-related Task. An obvious choice given that she was a computer specialist at a young age.

Technical Expertise
Allows a re-roll of one d20 whenever Felicity is attempting a Task assisted by the ship's Computers or Sensors. This Talent is really handy when she is sitting at her post on the bridge. It is balanced by the fact that it doesn't apply anywhere else. This represents how Starfleet training deepened her affinity with computers.

Bold: Engineering
The Bold Talent is for characters who don't mind taking chances. It allows a re-roll of one d20 whenever Felicity is attempting a Task using the Engineering Discipline and if her player buys one or more d20s by adding to Threat. This Talent has better utility than Technical Expertise. Of course, it is balanced by the need to add to the Threat pool to use it.


Focuses

These represent a character's knowledge or experience in a specialized field. When a Focus applies to a Task, each die that rolls equal to or less than the Discipline used for that Task scores two successes rather than just one. This could potentially score multiple additional successes.

Computers
Central to the character concept and Felicity's early life.

Cybernetics
A specialty with a fair degree of utility in the 24th century considering all of the robots, androids, and Borg running around. An extension of her interest in computers.

Electro-Plasma Power Systems
Simply putting "Power Systems" might have been a more flexible choice, but this was what it was called in the core rulebook. A reflection of her early days keeping her colony's infrastructure running.

Espionage
Representing the early influence of Starfleet Intelligence in Felicity's career. They offered her training during her Academy days and her first assignments were Starfleet Intelligence operations. It applies in various ways - tradecraft, being informed about foreign organizations, encryption, etc.

Composure
Required of her during her time with Starfleet Intelligence. She knows how to keep her cards close to her chest when she needs to.

Infiltration
Ironically this was not something that she excelled at during her tenure with Starfleet Intelligence. She developed this skillset during a First Contact mission after leaving wet work behind her.


Directives

These are Values set by the Gamemaster and are specific to the mission at hand. Directives express the orders of Starfleet Command, the goals of the mission, or the how the Federation would prefer the player characters to handle the situation. They function the same as Values mechanically - if a Directive can be applied to a Task, then the player character can spend a point of Determination. Directives can be the source of Complications since they can force the player characters to act in specific ways. A Directive can even be challenged like a Value to gain a point of Determination, but there might be consequences for an officer who defies orders.

Directives help focus the players on the mission. Initially, I overlooked the impact of Directives when running the game. Directives inform the players what is important to the Federation and Starfleet. They offer a firm direction if the situation seems uncertain.

There is a Directive that is in play in all but the most unusual of circumstances - Starfleet General Order One, the Prime Directive. The Command Division supplement has a section on the Prime Directive. It seems to recommend a broad interpretation with the understanding that many exceptions exist within Star Trek canon. The main dramatic function of the Prime Directive in the various Star Trek series seems to be to frame a philosophical debate scene as the characters mull over the morals and ethics of the situation. And then they end up doing whatever the plot demands they do anyway. In the couple of sessions that it's come up so far, I was prepared to be flexible about whatever interpretation of the Prime Directive that the players ended up following.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Black Friday / Cyber Monday Haul, Part One

The short sales season immediately before and following the Day of the Turkey here in the United States has come and gone. The idea behind Black Friday and Cyber Monday is for stores to take advantage of the time off and need to do Christmas shopping that many folks have after Thanksgiving. Then there are people like me who like to take advantage of the deals to do a little shopping for themselves at the same time.


The better looking X-1 Viper Droid miniature of the two I bought. I can't decide if it reminds me more of a beetle or armadillo.

From Modiphius Entertainment

Star Trek Adventures: Voyager Player Characters - PDF

This Star Trek Adventures product was introduced at a discount on Black Friday. It's a PDF with the official stats for USS Voyager and key crew members. The release version had some issues - the math for the character stats was off and the graphics looked pixelated. Modiphius put out an updated version a few days later.

I'm not sure if I would have picked this up if it wasn't available at a reduced cost. The stats are handy for comparison when making characters, but I already own The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine character PDFs for that purpose. And Star Trek Voyager is honestly not my favorite series from the franchise.

That said, the game rules for holographic and liberated Borg player characters may come in handy. Besides, I was curious about how they would stat out certain characters. Neelix has enough useful quirks to explain why Janeway would keep him around. And, as I've long suspected, Seven of Nine could arguably do Harry Kim's job as well as he could.


From Miniature Market

X-1 Viper Droids

From the Star Wars Miniatures game published by Wizards of the Coast from 2004 to 2010. I've been considering this purchase for awhile. These are inexpensive war machine models that fit a variety of scales from their intended 34mm to 28mm to 15mm. Even though they are from the Legends continuity (Dark Empire II), they are fairly obscure and shouldn't break immersion when put on the table for a non-Star Wars game. This versatility promises to be useful in the coming year, since I'm planning on dipping my toe back into sci-fi miniatures gaming.

One is in excellent condition. The other is scuffed and was stored in a way that pushed the left arm in. This isn't a huge issue, as I was planning on touching up the paint and weathering them anyway. Or I could just repaint them - a new color scheme would help conceal their Star Wars origins.




Close up of the scuff marks on the worse off of the X-1 Viper Droid miniatures. It looks to me like it was dropped at some point. A little paint should fix it up.

Star Trek Deep Cuts Unpainted Ships: Jem'Hadar Attack Ship


From Star Trek Attack Wing by Wizkids. I got these for menacing player characters and their Eaglemoss starship in Star Trek Adventures. These scarab-shaped ships made a strong first impression by blowing up the Galaxy-class USS Odyssey in the last episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine's second season ("The Jem'Hadar" DS9 episode 2x26) and continued to threaten the Federation and its allies throughout the rest of the show. The "Deep Cuts" in the name refer to the more pronounced detailing. It looks like these models will take a wash and highlighting well. The fact that these figures come pre-primed saves a step. I just need to do a little more research for a screen-accurate paint scheme.

Star Trek Deep Cuts Unpainted Ships: Cardassian Galor Class

Also from Star Trek Attack Wing by Wizkids. The Galor-class is the mainstay of the Cardassian fleet. Vaguely resembling an ankh from the top, these ships first appeared in Star Trek The Next Generation ("The Wounded" TNG episode 4x12) and even showed up on Star Trek Voyager, but most of their screen time was on Star Trek Deep Space Nine. These models are smaller than I expected, being way out of scale with the Jem'Hadar Attack Ship.



This is post one of two. I'm waiting for my last shipment to arrive. Then we'll see how many words I can type about paint.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Star Trek Adventures - Felicity Cooke in Trouble

Let's continue with Star Trek Adventures by putting the computer specialist from a previous post into various kinds of trouble. These posts reflect insights gained from our USS Yamato campaign. I hope that passing on our impressions helps improve your experience with the game.

First, I'm going to give the "totally not a hacker" example a name - "Felicity Cooke" - and develop her from a concept into a fully playable character. A few minutes with the Star Trek Adventures online character builder gives me this:

Lieutenant Felicity Cooke

Species: Human
Environment: Isolated Colony
Upbringing: Science and Technology (A)
Assignment: Operations Manager

Attributes
Control 11          Fitness 8          Presence 8
Daring 9             Insight 9          Reason 11

Disciplines
Command 2        Security 3        Science 4
Conn 2               Engineering 4   Medicine 1

Values


  • "Nothing Can't Be Fixed"
  • "Call It Like I See It"
  • "Something to Prove"
  • "Some Rules Can Be Bent, Others Broken"

Talents

  • Resolute
  • Computer Expertise
  • Technical Expertise
  • Bold: Engineering

Focuses

  • Computers
  • Cybernetics
  • Electro-Plasma Power Systems
  • Espionage
  • Composure
  • Infiltration

Stress 14


The previous post established Felicity Cooke as having good ratings in the Engineering and Science Disciplines. Focus and Talent selection was driven by the "cyber information specialist" concept. The choice of Operations Manager as her bridge post is the closest that I could get to "information technology in SPACE" that I could get. Operations Manager does make good use of her abilities, as we will see.


Personal Combat - General Principles

So what happens when a Starfleet officer gets into trouble? Starfleet's policies usually call for deescalating conflicts whenever possible. However, Federation starships busy with boldly going and Away Teams exploring strange new worlds are routinely confronted by less idealistic organizations. Starfleet personnel are expected to be able to defend themselves in a dangerous galaxy.

Security is the Discipline that most directly determines how effective a character will be in personal combat.
  • Combined with the Control Attribute, Security determines how accurate a character is with a ranged weapon like their phaser sidearm.
  • Combined with the Daring Attribute, Security determines how often a character will land hits in hand to hand combat.
  • Combined with the Fitness Attribute, Security determines how many points of Stress a character can endure losing.

Putting a moderate number of points in Control, Daring, and Fitness and a fair amount of points in Security is prudent for a character who regularly takes part in Away Team missions. This approach results in a character who can take care of themselves without pulling too many points away from a core concept that may not be personal combat. On the other hand, a character who does have personal combat as a core concept - a Security Chief or other combat specialist - may wish to raise those Attributes and the Security Discipline as high as possible during character generation to reflect their training and experience. Finally, there are some characters who specialize in roles that keep them on the ship. This may result in a character who needs protection from others on those occasions when they do appear on an Away Team. There's nothing inherently wrong with this approach - Starfleet doesn't expect a Ship's Counselor, historian, or botanist to be a combat machine.


Personal Combat and Felicity Cooke

Felicity Cooke is an example of a character who was not created specifically for personal combat. Even so, she's not exactly helpless if a fight breaks out.

She has a Security Discipline of 3 due to some time spent with Starfleet Intelligence, who put her affinity with computers to use early in her career. Don't ask her about it, though - it's classified and she doesn't want to talk about it anyway.

Her Control Attribute of 11 makes ranged attacks her best bet for self defense. A Ranged Attack is a Control + Security Task with a Difficulty of 2. This means that she has to roll a 14 or below on a d20 to generate a success. She'll need 2 successes to hit. Since players normally only roll 2 d20s, she'll have to draw on Star Trek Adventures' metacurrencies (Momentum, Threat, and Determination) to get more dice. This is not unusual - the players should be watching for opportunities to generate those metacurrencies and the Gamemaster should grant those opportunities generously. Star Trek depicts Starfleet officers as succeeding more often than failing (to the point where failure sometimes becomes a story element) and the game models their high level of competence.

With a Daring Attribute of 9, she doesn't want to get into close quarters with a hostile Klingon warrior or Jemhadar soldier if she can help it. A Melee Attack is a Daring + Security Task with a Difficulty of 1. The lower Difficulty seems to make it a better option than a Ranged Attack, but a Melee Attack is an Opposed Task. Felicity Cooke's opponent will get their own Daring + Security Task to counter her roll. If her opponent wins the Opposed Task, her attack fails and the opponent is considered to have made a successful Melee Attack on her. Engaging a more capable hand to hand combatant is a risky move in Star Trek Adventures.

The Resolute Talent (adds +3 to Stress) means that she can tank more Stress (14) than her Fitness Attribute of 8 might suggest.

In the end, Felicity Cooke can take care of herself as long as she doesn't get in over her head. Exchanging phaser fire with Cardassian and Romulan soldiers from behind cover is comfortably within her abilities, but hand to hand combat is something she'll want to avoid.


Starship Combat

A character's contribution to starship combat depends on their post. As Operations Manager, Felicity Cooke will mainly be using the ship's sensors and minding the ship's internal systems.

Sensor Tasks

The two Tasks related to a starship's sensors that directly relate to starship combat are Sensor Sweep and Scan For Weaknesses. There is a third Task - Launch Probe - but it doesn't seem to come up all that often in combat.

Sensor Sweep

A Reason + Science Task, assisted by the ship's Sensors + Science, with a Difficulty of 0. Any successes generated by the Sensor Sweep Task are either used by the player to ask questions of the Gamemaster - fun things like "what just blew a hole through the hull?" Or they can be added to the Momentum Pool as usual.

With a Reason of 11, a Science of 4, and the Technical Expertise Talent, Felicity has no problems with using the ship's sensors to tell her what's going on outside the ship. The GM can increase the Difficulty based on conditions outside the ship - sensor interference is a common issue in Star Trek. Since Felicity is attempting a Task assisted by the ship's Sensors, her Technical Expertise Talent can be used to re-roll a single d20 (which may be the ship's die).

Scan For Weakness

A Control + Science Task, assisted by the ship's Sensors + Security, with a Difficulty of 1 that increases with range. Describing the exact effects of success involves a fairly deep dive into the starship combat rules. Since I want to keep the length of these posts down to something reasonable, I'll just say that a success here will makes the job of putting down a hostile ship easier.

Felicity's Control of 11 and Science of 4 give Felicity a good chance of rolling successes. The re-roll granted by the Technical Expertise Talent also applies, giving her player another shot with a failed die roll.

Internal Systems Tasks

The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual goes into some depth in describing the role of the Operations Manager in coordinating a starship's activities and allocating its resources on a minute by minute basis. In the game, this is modeled by giving a character like Felicity the ability to carry out the Power Management, Regenerate Shields, Damage Control, and Transporter Tasks. Most of these Tasks are actually easier (Difficulty reduced by 1) if performed in main engineering or - in the specific case of the Transporters Task - a transporter room.

Presented below is a look at how each of these Tasks work, using Felicity Cooke as an example. Before that, though, let's take a look at Felicity's Bold: Engineering Talent. It triggers when Felicity attempts a Task using her Engineering Discipline and her player buys at least 1 additional d20 by adding to Threat. If both conditions are met, Felicity's player may re-roll a single d20. As many of the Tasks described below use the Engineering Discipline, Felicity will have many opportunities to use her Bold: Engineering Talent to improve her chances of success. Unfortunately, it is at the price of increasing the danger she and her shipmates might be facing later.

Power Management

A Daring or Control + Engineering Task with a Difficulty of 2. Success means that the ship gains a point of Power, plus one additional point per Momentum spent. This Power can exceed the ship's normal maximum.

Ship's power is a critical and limited resource in Star Trek. Bypassing systems of less importance in the moment and rerouting the power that they would otherwise use is commonly seen in the various series. As a way of wringing more power out a ship in a crisis, it makes sense - things like the replicators and holodecks are rarely used when the ship is taking fire, after all.

Felicity's Control of 11 and Engineering of 4 make her a good choice to perform this Task if the Chief Engineer is busy. Making her an even better choice is her Electro-Plasma Power Systems Focus. Each die that rolls equal to or less than the Discipline used (in this case, Felicity's Engineering of 4) scores 2 successes.

This Task can Succeed at Cost - the player has the option of taking a Complication on a failed result to make the Task happen successfully. A Complication in this case likely represents the negative effects of robbing Peter to pay Paul - maybe a system that Felicity thought wouldn't be needed turns out to be critical, forcing the crew to do without it.

Regenerate Shields

A Control + Engineering Task, assisted by the ship's Structure + Engineering, with a Difficulty of 1. The Difficulty increases by 1 if the ship's Shields are at 0. Success restores 2 points of Shields to the ship, plus 2 additional points for each Momentum spent (Repeatable).

The ship's shields are another critical and limited resource in a crisis. As seen many times in the series and movies, shields rapidly deplete in a dramatic fashion as they protect the ship from damage. Pumping more power into the shield system is the usual response.

Felicity's Control of 11 and Engineering of 4 give her a good chance of getting the shields back up in a pinch. By invoking her "Nothing Can't Be Fixed" Value, Felicity's player may spend a point of Determination. This grants some interesting options: a bonus d20 that is considered to have a result of 1 - generating 2 successes automatically, re-rolling all of the dice in the character's die pool, immediately performing an additional Task as soon as the current one is resolved, or creating an Advantage applying to the current scene. In the case of the Regenerate Shields Task, the bonus d20 might be the best choice.

Damage Control

A Damaged or Disabled system must be chosen before the die roll for this Task. A Presence + Engineering Task with a Difficulty determined by how much abuse the system in question has taken. Success means that the system can be used again normally. This specifically does not remove any Breaches the ship has suffered, only the penalties imposed by that damage.

This Task involves sending a damage control team to the source of a problem with orders to patch it up. The Damage Control Task does not represent actual repairs to shot up systems - only emergency measures to bypass non-functional components and get them working long enough to get out of danger. This is why the Breaches don't go away along with the penalties. Breaches take days or weeks of repair, replacement, and rebuilding to fix.

Felicity's Presence of 8 and Engineering of 4 means that the Chief Engineering might be a better choice of this Task. However, both Felicity's Bold: Engineering Talent and "Nothing Can't Be Fixed" Value still apply, improving her chances at the cost of either adding to Threat or spending a point of Felicity's Determination. On the other hand, the Chief Engineer has resources of their own to call on, starting with the fact that they are likely standing in Main Engineering - reducing the Difficulty by 1.

As an alternate to this Task, either Felicity or the Chief Engineer can use the Change Position Minor Action to just go to whatever system is broken and fix it themselves. A Daring or Control + Engineering Task.

Transporter

Power Requirement of 1. A target (an object, group of objects, or group of people) and destination both within Close range of the ship must be selected. A Control + Engineering Task, assisted by the ship's Sensors + Engineering, with a Difficulty of 2.

The Difficulty of the Transporter Task increases depending on the following:

  • Increase by 1 if the target is not on a transporter pad.
  • Increase by 1 if the destination is not a transporter pad.
  • Increase depending on interference or other adverse conditions depending on the Gamemaster.
In addition, the target cannot be transported to or from any location with more than 0 Shields.

On the other hand, the Difficulty of the Transporter Task is reduced by 1 if performed from any transporter room. Which makes leaving it up to the Transporter Chief Minor Character really tempting.

But if Felicity has some free time while her ship is taking fire, her Control of 11 and Engineering of 4 means she's fully qualified to perform this Task. Since the Transporter Task is assisted by the ship's Sensors, Felicity's Technical Expertise Talent kicks in, granting a re-roll on a single die.


Next Time: Wrapping up things with our computer specialist by taking a closer look at her Values, Talents, and Focuses. Also, applying Directives to an adventure.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Junk Pile Corridors - When Inspiration Strikes at the Wrong Time

"Inspiration is like lightning. You never know when it will strike."

Unlike the anonymous source of the quote, I know exactly when inspiration strikes me. When I don't have the time to follow up on it.

Actually, it's worse than that. Not only do I not have the time, but I don't even know when that time is going to show up. Life's been hitting me hard lately.

Corridors and tram placeholder with Havoc Girls for scale.

So, the story:

I was scrolling through various sites, researching ideas, and I came across various pictures of futuristic corridors. Some where clean and brightly lit - inspired by the Federations and Empires that like to keep a neat starship. Others were grungy access ways lined with pipes and other industrial details. Some were computer generated, but a few were dioramas with miniatures. And that reminded me of something I had stored away in the garage. What if?

A little rummaging uncovered a box containing plastic pieces from various sources. Each piece caught my eye at some point - an interesting shape that might eventually be the basis for a project. The corridor pictures reminded me of a couple of flat pieces that originally held copier or printer cartridges. The pieces could clip into end caps which I also saved. Now I had an idea of what I could do with them.

Close up of left side end caps. The irregular shapes help convey the feel of a cut-out diagram.

I laid out the pieces on my work table. My original thought was to lay them down with the opening on top. Unfortunately, this made the sides of the corridor too short. Placing the pieces so that the openings were on the side still provided plenty of room for 28mm miniatures. The pieces could be fully detailed on the inside and stacked on top of each other as shown.

The walkways are fairly narrow and long. Some scatter terrain could break up lines of sight.

There is the beginning of a good project here. These pieces could be the basis of an interior spacecraft section or an access tunnel of some distant outpost. It is a little small for a wargaming scenario, but it would make a good diorama or terrain piece for a roleplaying encounter.


Right side view. I'm not sure how I feel about the asymmetrical look.

Trams could run through the open area on the side. I threw together a placeholder freight tram piece from some leftover Hexagon Construction Set parts to demonstrate the concept. Trams like these could provide rapid transit through whatever complex or spaceship that these corridors run through. The original Half-Life game used the concept to good effect.


Close up of tram placeholder.

It would take awhile for me to get from where I am now - the concept phase - to something complete enough to put on the table. These pieces need to be sanded down and cleaned up before I can add details. And I need to go through all my bits boxes to find enough details - doors, cardboard and plastic tubing for pipes, bulkheads, ladders, hatches, and all kinds of greebles for the those smooth surfaces. Then comes clean up, assembly, priming, and painting.

Unfortunately, I've got no time to work on it now. Nothing to do but store it for later. This post will serve as my project notes when I get the time for it.

*Sigh.*