Friday, June 29, 2012

What's your (character's) name?

In a thread over at Dragonsfoot, people are talking about some of the goofy names they gave their player characters.  I chimed in with a character I created with the name of Urban Renual, and his cousin, Urban DeKay. 

There's also the names I gave my characters for Unlimited Adventures, the D&D computer adventure creation engine: Aiyre Bourne the ranger, Sir Guudeguye the paladin, Heppmi Meddick the cleric, Wylie Sneak the thief, Faye Lanks the magic user and the elf F/M/C Jack (later Jill) 'Voltraydz.

What are some of the goofy names you gave your PCs back in the day (or even more recently)?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What I learned from playtesting Star Navy

Fighters on the board slow things down.  A lot
So does rolling for 20 separate damage locations after a successful attack. 
More streamlining is called for.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Coming this August ...

... the second South Texas Mini-Con.

UPDATE:  The event will take place Saturday, August 18, from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m. at the New Braunfels Convention Center.  Additional info at the Hill Cantons.

That's right, after last year's premiere of our miniature summer gaming convention, we're gonna put on another one here in New Braunfels.  Like last time, this will be a one-day event with several games going on at the same time. Nothing's set in stone right now, but I'm sure we'll have some Dungeons & Dragons, something fun from Two Hour Wargames, other minis games, and probably a spaceship game run by yours truly.

More details soon.  I hope y'all can make it.  Who's interested?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another Stronghold!

No, not one more fortress for playing Hordes of the Things, but another blog about playing Hordes of the Things

Major Diz Aster, commander of Starbase Ares, has started another blog, this one devoted to HotT, which he intends to start playing.  On it, you can see the genesis of the Earth Elemental army he's building.

So visit the Stronghold of Maen Ddrwg, and encourage the Major to get his army built.  You see, Maj. Aster lives not too far away from your humble Scribe, and the more HotT players I can find around here, the better.  I usually meet up for HotT at the local game store in SA.  There are some good gamers in San Antonio, but gasoline is expensive these days.  So I'm looking forward to playing more Hordes of the Things with less driving.

Where do the rest of y'all do your gaming?  At a store or at someone's house?  Is there much travel involved?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rules-lawyering Holmes D&D

I'm a lawyer in my day job, and one of the things I do when I read legal documents is look for what they say--not for what the author might have meant.  It's hard to stop thinking like a lawyer, and I often find myself in that mental state when I'm reading game rules.

Looking at the Holmes version of the Dungeons & Dragons basic rulebook through the eyes of an attorney, I noticed something interesting--reading the rules as written, there are no express upper limits to ability scores! 

Under CHARACTER CREATION, the book tells players to roll three 6-sided dice for each characteristic.  Dr. Holmes then states, "18 is as high as one can get with three dice, so a character with a strength of 18 would be super-powerful, one with a strength of 3 (lowest possible dice roll) would barely be able to lift his sword off the ground."

No big deal, you think--the Good Doctor doesn't have to expressly limit your character's abilities, the dice and mathematics do it for him.  However, take a look at the next section, ADJUSTING ABILITY SCORES

Characters can raise their prime requisites by lowering their scores in other characteristics (for example, a fighting man can trade 2 points of intelligence (or 3 points of wisdom) to raise his strength by 1 point.  And while the rules say you can't lower any ability below 9, the book does not impose an upper limit of any sort.  So say you roll a character with an 18 for a prime requisite and some good scores in other abilities.  Drop 2 or 3 points in some non-vital characteristics, and you can push that prime up to 19, 20, or even more depending on how high your other scores originally were.

You say that was an oversight; there's a hard maximum.  But if Holmes meant ability scores to have an upper limit, he didn't share that with us.  For example, the second-level magic-user spell Strength increases a fighter's by 2-8, a thief's by 1-6, or a cleric's by 1-4.  Nothing in that description about up to 18.

The only mention of 18 as an upper limit for ability scores can be found, oddly enough, in the description for the Ring of Weakness.  Describing the effects of how this magic item sometimes works in reverse, the text states a ring occasionally will increase the wearer's strength, "up to the maximum of 18, naturally."  However, I could argue that this maximum only applies to the Ring of Weakness--otherwise the limit would have been mentioned elsewhere.

Of course, this is all pretty much a moot point, since most ability scores don't make that much difference mechanically in this set of rules.  But still, by the book, Holmes basic D&D allows ability scores higher than 18.

DMs, what do you think?  Would you allow 18+ ability scores it in your Holmes basic game?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Starships: Armored Pursuit Ships

I painted my remaining Dauntless-class star armored pursuit ships, in non-Fleet colors.  Instead we have one SAPS in the Boeing factory markings, another that was appropriated by the Capellan Raiders, a third in the colors of the Vogon Construction Fleet, and the last, an unarmed model in the livery of the New Austin Emergency Services.
Also, I finally assembled the rest of my escape pods, which my wife generously donated from her beading supplies.
What have you been working on this weekend?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Half-Price Books has a Dungeon!

... boardgame, that is.  My weekday commute takes me past a Half-Price Books location, so I like to stop there on my way home every Friday.  The past couple of weeks I found nothing of interest, but this week my excursion paid off with a copy of the Dungeon! game from TSR.
It's not strictly OSR, as this is a later edition of the game from 1989, and it includes monsters such as "Karth, Evil Warrior of Zhentil Keep."  Still it seems to have all the pieces and cards--even the dice--and the board itself is in good shape.
I never played this game as a kid (never even saw it in person until now, in fact), so I look forward to playing it.  It seems like it will be fun.  And that game board has already got me thinking about what that map would look like in 3-D.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Another 5150: Star Navy playtest

I got together with Ed the THW Guy to playtest the latest version of 5150: Star Navy, the fleet battle game (go here for the EFP report on the battle).  This time we used actual fleets--he had 15 ships and I had 17 (but he had more of the larger ships than I did).  It was nice to be able to actually use such a large number of my starship models in one battle.  I took my favorite fleet, the red Terrans, to play as a Free Company.  Once again, Ed took the Avarians as models for the Hishen.
We rolled our reps and allocated weapons to our ships.  At the admiral level, you're concerned about the amount of guns, missiles, AA, shields, and hangars you can have on a vessel.  And this time we tested out the fighter rules.  Also, since some people had voiced concerns about making each ship fire at the closest enemy that hasn't been targeted, we deep-sixed that rule and said any ship could shoot at any other ship.
Ed had about 20% more ships than me, but those are the breaks in space battles.  We finished the game in a little over two-and-a-half hours, which included a lot of discussing and rules revisions.   
By the end of the game, Ed had only destroyed three or four of my ships, but others had been driven off because of all the fire they received.  I like the fact that starships don't remain on the board till their last hitpoint.  Instead, engine damage, seeing a sister ship or flagship destroyed, or even getting a hull hit can cause a ship to flee. 
The damage rules are based on the class of the ship that's firing, not the specific weapon.  So while a starship can put a whole lotta hurt on something its own size or smaller, attacks on larger ships won't do as much damage.  A lucky shot still has a chance of wreaking havoc, however, and might (on rare occasions) be enough to take a larger ship out of the game.  And larger ships can still withstand a lot of fire, even from ships of the same class.
The lethality of weapons and their interactions with defenses will hopefully make it apparent to players that they must bring a variety of ships to the battle, but they can create specialist craft to fill certain roles. 
After the game, we decided to institute some weapons ranges and tweak the fighter rules.  I still want to work on the movement system, to offer more tactical choices (and to make those choices meaningful), but I like where we're headed.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More forces for Muspel

It seems like I've been on a Hordes of the Things kick lately.  I have been thinking about expanding some more of my armies from 24 army points to 48 AP, for those big battles.  So I picked up a few more prepaints from ebay.  Actually, these Zzzax (Marvel Comics bad guy) figures aren't from a minis game, but are toys from the Marvel Universe Handful of Heroes line (a style sort of like those plastic army men) by Hasbro.  Still, the translucent orange material makes them ideal additions to my fire army.
In the same vein, I snagged a bunch more Magma figures.  Unfortunately, the seller threw them all into the same bag when he mailed them, so the arm got broken off the one in front on the right.  Still, I was gonna try to modify some of them anyway, so this just gets me a little bit ahead.
I think I will use these to make some Hordes elements for Surtr and the Sons of Muspel.  Justified as the fact that the flames just keep coming back after you think you've put them out.  As you can see, they fit pretty well on your standard 60mm by 40mm base for Hordes.
I've also got some figures to serve as Lurkers for the fire army.  More on that later ....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


It's not much, but it's home: I finally finished a stronghold for my Surtr and the Sons of Muspel army for Hordes of the Things
This volcano came from an aquarium decoration I picked up at Wal-Mart nearly a year ago.
I brushed white glue and sprinkled sand on the base (a wooden panel from Michael's), then glued on the model.
I added more glue and sand to fill in any gaps between the volcano and the base, then covered the top two-thirds of the model with aluminum foil and spraypainted the bottom part black.
After that, I drybrushed the bottom part gray, and blended it in to the blue-gray drybrushing that the manufacturer had painted on the model.
Here's a shot with the owner and one of his sons for scale.  Now the fire giants won't have to borrow the skeletons' house every time they defend a battle.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Scenes from a solo game of HotT

Although I couldn't find an opponent for Hordes of the Things this weekend, I went ahead and got out my armies for a solo game.
Defending their Skull Castle, my favorite army, the Nightmare Legion.
Attacking through ruins and forest, my first-ever HotT army, Surtr and the Sons of Muspel.
Because he had nowhere to recoil, this fire giant that dared venture into the ruins was taken out by a lowly lurker.
The main battle was a series of lengthy shoving matches between the fire giant behemoths and the the undead spears.  The fire warbands and skeleton shooters also went back-and-forth.
Eventually, the giants lost half their army, giving victory to the skellies.
Not as fun as a game against an actual opponent, but an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Real-world OGRE/GEV maps

The discussion in this thread on the Steve Jackson Games discussion board for OGRE/GEV turned to suitable city maps for the game.  This reminded me that over the years, several OGRE fans have used satellite imagery to create maps of real-world locales in the game's 1500-meter-per-hex scale.  Interestingly, even though most OGRE scenarios take place in Europe, these are all cities in the United States.

NOTE: In order not to bloat my file limit, I shrunk these maps before uploading them here.  The originals are very high-resolution; click on the city name for links to the original files.

I've never used any of these maps in play (because I'm cheap and don't want to waste my printer ink or pay a copy store to print them out), but I bet it would be fun--and brutal, what with all that city fighting.  I wonder if anyone has created such a map for the city of Houston ....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sunday Starships: Playtesting 5150: Star Navy

As you've probably gathered from the cryptic hints here at SGDN and over on the Two Hour Wargames blog, Ed the THW Guy is working on a set of rules for large-fleet space battles called 5150: Star Navy.  What you don't know is that I'm helping him write the game. 
I took a force of Free Company mercenaries hired to protect a remote planet.
This is a separate game from 5150: Fringe Space and 5150: Wing Leader.  While those games are aimed at ship-to-ship and fighter operations respectively, Star Navy is meant to be an admiral-level game in which you put dozens of spaceships on the table for your battle and still finish in a couple of hours.  So far it's been fun, bouncing ideas off each other and cutting away the complicated rules we started with to create the game we want to play.
Ed fielded a group of Hishen ships on a so-called "mercy mission."
After a brief playtest the previous week that resulted a little dice rolling followed by a lot of rewriting, and more rolling and revising, etc., this week we decided to complete a game using the rules in their current state.
In the opening round, I got some lucky hits in and destroyed the smallest Hishen ship.
We each took roughly equivalent forces: a Class 3 vessel (destroyer), three Class 4 craft (cruiser), and one Class 5 ship (battleship).  However, we each allocated components (guns, shields, missiles, AA) how we wanted to; the bigger classes have room for more systems.  (There are also rules for hangars and fighters, but we didn't use them in this playtest.)
I then began maneuvering in an attempt to get in the Hishen's blind spot.
Shields protect against guns, but not missiles, while AA stops missiles but not guns. Hits can reduce your number of shields/guns/AA/missiles, or force a reaction test if they hit other systems, like engines, life support, or the bridge.  Passing 0d6 usually takes the ship out of the fight, while passing 1d6 can reduce the spaceship's efficiency.  Also, if a starship takes enough hits to its hull, the ship goes boom.
The two forces ended up mixing it up at close range.
We also rolled randomly for each ship's Rep (here, as in most Two Hour Wargames, this value stands for a figure's quality, morale, toughness, training, or experience).  We don't use vector movement--for that, you want to look at Fringe Space.  At this level of play, movement is best represented by cinematic-type rules, although there is a nod to conservation of momentum. 
When I destroyed another Hishen, one of its companions failed a reaction test and followed it off the table.
Since Star Navy is a big-picture game, players usually won't micromanage their ships' targeting--it's closest ship that hasn't been targeted, reasoning that the captain will want to shoot at the nearest threat.  This also saves time by preventing player dithering over which enemy to attack.  It also means that you don't have complete control over other actions--a ship that takes too much damage or sees its companion destroyed might decide that discretion is the better part of valor.
The Hishen flagship carried on the fight in a brave, but futile effort.
The playtest game went really well, and we were both happy with what we have so far.  The game still needs more tweaking--and more playtesting--so it's far from ready for the market.  We'll continue working on it, and next time we plan to play a game with at least a dozen ships on each side.  As regular readers know, I've got plenty of minis for just that purpose, and I can't wait to use them.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Battletech bonus from NTRPG

While I was taking part in the never-ending Battletech game, one of the players showed me a bunch of his 3025-era mechs that he'd brought, including plenty of the Unseen--models with copyright issues that forced the publisher to stop using those images.
As a Battletech fan, I always preferred the designs taken from Japanese animation--the models were more aesthetically pleasing and more plausible from a design and engineering standpoint (as far as it goes when we're talking about giant stompy robots)--so it was a treat to see all these old minis.
My favorite, however, has to be this ginormous version of the Demolisher tank.  It's twice as big as a battlemech in the same scale, the four tread units come as separate pieces, and the model takes up two hexes on the BT gameboard.  
I used to have one of these bad boys, but I have no idea what happened to it.  Although it's too big to really work on a Battletech hex map, it would make a great cybertank like an OGRE or a Bolo in other games.  Turns out this tank is still available from Ral Partha Europe.  Maybe I can acquire another one of these someday.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Endless Battletech at NTRPG Con

Strolling through the convention Saturday morning, I came across a guy (whose name I have forgotten) looking for players for a game of Battletech.  He had a verrrrrry long board set up, and needed at least three players to start the scenario.
The map had elevations up to Level 44 (most BT maps have maybe a Level 3 or 4 hill at the most) and represented a peak with a crashed starship at the top containing valuable technology.  Of course, each player starts with his forces at the bottom of the mountain.
I asked how long the game would take, and the game master, a nice guy who drove into the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Lawton, Oklahoma, told me twelve hours.  I told him I would stick around for maybe half that.  After a couple of other players showed up sometime past noon, we picked our starting forces (all 3025 era mechs, for you BT fans) and rolled for where we came onto the map.
By luck of the rolls, the other guys came on first and started shooting at each other.  I entered the board in my black-and-white mechs after everyone else--and ended up right between the two factions.
Luckily for me, the red player left his Battlemaster (a big, bad model that's one of the more powerful units in Classic Battletech) all by itself, facing away from where I could enter the battle.  Feeling mean, I put all my units right behind him and attacked from the rear.
My combined fire blew off the mech's arm and knocked it over, but it wasn't out of the fight.  Having a feeling I might need an ally, I proposed a truce with the Reds as we decided to join forces against the black mechs.
Good thing we did, because as we made our way up the board (and up the mountain), the GM popped up a fourth set of combatants that had been hidden on the hillside.  All three players called a ceasefire among each other and united to take on the green menace.
Although I enjoyed Battletech back in the day,  I'd forgotten how damn long it takes to play the game.  Factor in new players, house rules, and questions to the referee about lines of sight between Level 11 and Level 0 hexes, and the game starts to slooooow dooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwn ....
When I finally left the table, after more than five hours of play, our mechs had barely made it one-third of the way up the map/mountain.  I left to do other con things (we had other players show up to take over my mechs), and when I wandered back by around 11:30, they were still playing--but they had not progressed much further than halfway!  All in all, it was a cool idea for a scenario (and I hope the GM eventually makes a 3-D version of that map), but I'm too old for marathon game sessions like that.