Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ashen Stars - Dead Rock Seven

Recently ran another Ashen Stars adventure.

Got mixed feelings about it.

The adventure in question is Dead Rock Seven, from the adventure collection of the same name. It wasn't my first choice. I planned on running the group through the adventures in the collection in order, but ran into issues with the first adventure - The Pleasure Bringers. The noir feel that it tries to evoke fell flat for me. Also, The Pleasure Bringers is set on a pleasure planet with human male-oriented descriptions of what pleasure is. Kind of problematic for a player character group of two female humans and an insect-like male. After wrestling with the amount of rewriting it would take to make it work for our group, I set it aside and went looking for a better option. Dead Rock Seven seemed promising. It starts with a murder mystery and takes place in a remote asteroid mining outpost. Best of all, it has a pretty straightforward structure.

I know what you're thinking. "This is the part where I read about how it all crashes and burns." And you would be wrong.

There were, however, a couple of near-misses.

The are several NPCs in Dead Rock Seven, which took some getting used to on my part. These weren't just "stay in the background" NPCs either. They all had things to relate to the player characters. Of the eight NPCs in the adventure, I only managed get six into play. One got himself killed before meeting the player characters. The other never got on stage at all, but did get a mention here and there. Of the six that got screen time, one got dropping from a potentially major role into a bit part. The five remaining NPCs did get good scenes interacting with the player characters. This points to an area that I need to strengthen as a GM. I generally don't have more than three or four "speaking role" NPCs in an adventure.

Keeping the game going was a challenge. Our group tends to be goal-oriented problem solvers with a strong tactical sense. They nearly short-circuited the adventure by driving straight for the solution. This would have left them without information they needed to resolve the climax. I reacted by throwing in a couple of things from a little later in the adventure to slow things down enough to get the information in the player character's hands.

Keeping the game short was also a challenge. Ironically, after stretching out the adventure a but, I had to shorten the end and cut short the after game wrap up to finish at a reasonable time.

Our group is starting to settle into Ashen Stars. The players are adapting elements of their more tactical play style to an investigative game. We're all still climbing the learning curve, though.

There was some good background bits presented in Dead Rock Seven that I would like to see expanded a little. The outlaw planet presented in some of the NPCs' backgrounds sounds like a good place for some player characters to find trouble.

Overall, our group is having fun with Ashen Stars. The differences between it and other games make it interesting, but also add to the difficulty of picking it up. I'm still struggling with it, but I can't put my finger on why.

I'll have to put some thought into it.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Magnetic Vent Covers - A Revised Storage Solution for 15mm Miniatures

New fix for an old problem.

Old fixes sometimes stop working. It almost always happens at the least convenient time. Like when other things are demanding attention and money.

This time around, the old fix was the storage solution for 15mm miniatures I settled on awhile back. With my collection of painted 15mm metal men growing nicely, I needed more storage space. "No problem," I thought, "I'll just throw together another container and move on to the next project."

The first sign of trouble showed up when I inspected the container I magnetized earlier for reference. The strips of magnetic material showed clear signs of damage. Even the limited wear and tear from figures coming loose and bumping into the edges was enough to cause chipping. This sparked some concerns about the durability of the material.

My concerns grew deeper when I took the roll of magnetic material out of storage. It was even more damaged. Granted, I look through my storage bins fairly often, but the roll was placed to avoid knocking into anything else.


Worse, when I started to cut strips of material off the roll, I found that the stuff would not uncurl. Even laying the strips flat overnight under some books was not enough to remove the curl. I tried using the strips anyway, but they would start curling up in the container. Even gluing them down with super glue failed to combat the problem.

In the end, I had to start over from scratch. Researching a new fix was not something I wanted to spend time on, but I was out of options. I had to find a solution that would fit into a limited budget and would avoid the wear and curling issues.

I found out about magnetic vent covers after a little time with Google. This stuff is normally used for sealing up unused metal vents in a central air system. A set of three 8x15 inch sheets is less than $5 (US). Cheap enough to justify picking up a pack to experiment with while keeping other options open.

Sheets cut to fit.

The material comes in smooth sheets. One side is colored white to blend into walls. The business side is a dark brown. It cuts easily with a good set of scissors.

Seems to be working alright.

Multiple layers are ideal. A single layer produces a fairly weak magnetic field. 15mm miniatures based on steel washers will tend to slide around and come loose. Laying down additional layers on top of each other increases the magnetic attraction, but the sheets have poles like any other magnet. Laying down a sheet in the wrong direction will weaken the overall strength of the magnetic field. A little trial and error is enough to work out the best placement. As a bonus, the additional layers do not need to be glued down. They stick to each other on their own.

Overall, this looks like a winner. It is as effective as any other fix I have seen. The cost is very modest. And, since the sheets are easy to cut, it is simple to customize to fit the container I have available.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Matchbox Finds for 15mm #3

Sky Scorcher

An aggressive looking attack helicopter, part of Matchbox's Sky Busters line. The design is well suited for a near future setting. The weapons load out is impressive - missiles, rocket pods, and twin chin guns. The scale might be better suited for 10mm than 15mm judging from the two seats in the cockpit. My plans are to use it to represent off-board air support for games like Tomorrow's War. It looks pretty good right out of the package. I might not even bother with a complete repaint. Covering up the markings, a quick wash, and touching up some of the details might be enough for the tabletop.

Blade Force

I couldn't resist picking up this cargo helicopter with the Sky Scorcher. It's also part of the Sky Busters line. The overall look fits in well with the Sky Scorcher and some of my other Matchbox aircraft. Not visible in the picture is a cargo hook between the rear landing gear. This piece is not likely to see much use on the board except as an objective parked on a landing pad. Of course, a scenario where cargo has to be moved off the board using this as model might be workable.

SWAT Truck

A fairly generic looking armored truck, not based directly on a real world vehicle as far as I know. A repaint in a more realistic color is definitely required before these pieces hit the table. They could be handy as battlefield taxis or vehicles in a civilian security force. Adding a weapon to the top would complete the look.

Oshkosh M-ATV

This little guy is based on a real world vehicle. The long version of the name is the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle. MRAP itself stands for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected. Basically, its a utility vehicle armored against the kinds of conditions found in recent conflicts. The top is almost ready-made for a support weapon. There is some nice detailing, but much of it is obscured by the paint job. The doors make it a little small for 15mm modern, but a repaint would make it well suited for 15mm sci-fi gaming.

The Bat

This is obviously a licensed product. Part of the Sky Busters line. The tiny seat in the cockpit looks like a very tight squeeze for a 15mm figure, but covering the canopy with paint will go a long way in concealing the scale.. A repaint could turn it into an alien gunship or armored anti-grav vehicle. The main reason I picked these pieces up was to make up for my current lack of alien vehicles. I'll have to keep an eye out of suitable flight stands.