Showing posts with label Mars. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mars. Show all posts

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Reviews: OSR Mars

I have always been fascinated with Mars.  Not just the Mars I used to look at through my telescope as a kid, but also the worlds of Burroughs, Wells, Smith, Heinlein, and more.
I have often, very often, wanted to run an OD&D game on Mars, or rather a mix of Barsoom, Wells, and the Mars of DC Comics.

So one of my "Holy Grail" items has been Gygax & Blume's Warriors of Mars game. Though every copy I have ever seen is so far out of my price range.  Usually over $1,000 and one I have seen for $4,000!

I like Mars, but not that much for something I am also going to house rule a bit on. 

Thankfully, we have many talented people in the Old-School games scene that can help me with my Mars obsession.

Warriors of Mars - Barsoom by "Doc"
Up first is a fan reproduction of the Warriors of Mars book.
This is from the OD&D Forums by a user named "Doc".  The PDF was reformated by Jason Vey and done up to look like an OD&D book with permission from Doc.   The book also called Warriors of Mars uses the art from the original and naturally feels like an OD&D book with better typesetting.  At 28 pages it covers the basics and the focus is more on D&D than the original 56 pages TSR Warriors of Mars which also used a lot of Chainmail rules.  I am happy this one is out there since it gives me a basis of comparison for future books.  Plus it lets me know that I really don't need to spend 1000 bucks.




Now getting to ones you can buy.

Warriors of the Red Planet
by Al Krombach with art by Thomas Denmark and published by Denmark's Night Owl Workshop.
The PDF is digest-sized, single column, with black & white art from Denmark (so you know it looks great). At 128 pages it is a good-sized volume.  And all for $8.00.  They could have made it $10 and still it would have been a great price.  Overtly the book is for Swords & Wizardry.
This game is more inspired by Burroughs than actually being Barsoom.
There are five races to play, Ancients, Elevated, Exotic, Humans and Unliving. And four classes, Fighting Men, Scoundrels, Mentalists, and Scientists.   Each class goes to 10th level.
Mentalists have powers, Scientists have gadgets and they both work roughly like spells.
There are rules for character creation, equipment (including swords and rayguns), and several examples of play. 
While I said it is overtly for S&W, there is Ascending and Descending AC and "Basic-like" saving throws.
There are some great monsters added to this as well.  Any of which can be ported over to any OSR games if you wish.  Many are recognizable from Burroughs, but there are plenty more as well.
Some of the races get more detail in the appendix.  While an Exotic can nearly be anything (with random tables to boot!) some of the more common types are listed here. As per Burroughs we have Red, Green, Black, White and Yellow Martians.  Earthlings on Mars are also discussed.
Appendix A covers all sorts of random terrain, building, missions, and the unexplained along with weird science artifacts.
Appendix B adds the eldritch to Mars with the Sorcerers of the Black Gate.
Appendix C adds an optional skill system.
Appendix D covers ship to ship combat.
And finally, Appendix N (yup) covers suggested reading.
Again, this is a great book and 100% compatible with other "old-school" books from Night Owl Workshop. And easily worth twice the cover price in my mind.

BX Mars
This is a newer book from Michael Gibbons who also does the illustrations.  Here we get a full (8.5" x 11") PDF at 104 pages with Black & White art.  The author makes a note that the B&W art fits the mood of the game and I can't say I disagree.
This book also is more inspired by Burroughs, but the DNA is a little more obvious here.  Also, the book is designed to be used with B/X style games, this also goes to level 10 (not level 14 as some B/X games).  That's also great by me. 
The classes and these are race-classes, are Princess, Warrior, Thark! (no idea why the ! is there), Menton and Terran.  The classes are pretty much what you think they are. A couple of points. Princess is only open to Red Martian women; there is no Prince class (and sadly no Purple Martians).  The Menton is a psionic using class with powers detailed in the book.
There is also something called "Mastery" which works a little like Feats from 3/4/5e but has a solid B/X/Old-school feel to them. They work quite well here.
There is a Campaign/World-building history here.  It is some good background and fun to add to any game whether you are playing as straight-up Barsoom or something else.
This book has a completely different feel than the other Mars books out there.  While all the books I have looked at list mostly the same sources as inspiration, this one comes closer to Heavy Metal than most.  Also if I ever wanted to play a Herculoids game this would be the first book I'd grab.
The art has a really cool style that I don't often see in modern RPG books, but it fits this one perfectly.

If I wanted to describe the differences between WotRP and BXM, I would say WotRP was later Led Zeppelin and BXM is Blue Oyster Cult.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BlackStar: The Influence of Clark Ashton Smith

For the past month, I have been reading all the stories of Clark Ashton Smith in roughly chronological order.  In many ways, I like his works more than I do of H.P. Lovecraft's.  I find CAS easier to approach and his protagonists more relatable. '

Recently I just finished Marooned in Andromeda first of what is commonly called "The Captain Volmar Stories". The next one was A Captivity in Serpens and a third, which I have not gotten to yet, The Ocean-World of Alioth.  What struck me was how much they were like Star Trek.  Add in the Lovecraftian like horror of Marooned in Andromeda and you practically have a blue-print for what I want in BlackStar.

Indeed, the Trek connection has not gone unnoticed.  Ronald S. Hilger and Scott Connors the editors of the Night Shade collection in which all three stories appear make not of the similarities between Captains Volmar and Kirk.  Captivity in Serpens presages the Next Generation episode "The Most Toys" with it's crew member in captivity for a personal collection.

While doing some research this morning I came across the beginning of an adventure I had started back in the late 80s / early 90s for the then Next Generation version of FASA's Star Trek RPG.

I mentioned this last month as the adventure "Ghost Ship".  As time went on it was the Enterprise B (lost according to my notes in 2329, the Enterprise C was launched in 2332), but before that, it was the USS Excelsior.  In my document here it predates even that and it was the USS Necromancer.   Astute readers might recall that the NX-3113 USS Necromancer is one of the "Ships of the Line" of the Mystic Class.   The Necromancer seems to be a bit on the nose for this.  Instead given the writings of CAS and the main representative of his work in the OSR world,  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, it seems best to call the ship the NX-3102 USS Sorcerer.

I was thinking that maybe I could use the events of the CAS Capt. Volmar stories to give my Horror Universe a bit more of a backstory. Volmar's ship was called Alcyone.   The Alcyone system is about 445 light years from Earth, so not sure if I could say Volmar is from Alcyone. So I going to say that the Alcyone was his previous command.  His name is Howard Solomon Volmar since he has been compared to Robert E. Howard's creation, Solomon Kane.

There is so much more here too.

Seedling of Mars deals with an alien craft that lands in California in 1947 (the future from CAS' then perspective) that carries a group of scientist to Mars where it's one lifeform is a planet-wide hybrid of plant and animal that is near god like.  While CAS' martian is a benign entity, it does have the look of a Lovecraftian monster.  One could imagine a great Cthulhuoid beast in its place.  The deal that makes with humanity is less for their benefit and more Faustian in return.  Indeed in CAS' tale, the being wipes out much of the Earth's population but it's ok since those are the ones that were not scientifically minded.  The rest of humanity is relocated onto Venus. Still, while this story is more Science-Fantasy it just needs a nudge to push it out of the light and into the dark of Horror.

Clark Ashton Smith in My Games
It is fair to say that CAS has had more influence on my games than Lovecraft has, save for the effect Lovecraft had on CAS himself.
In my regular D&D 5 games (and before that) CAS has had a huge effect on my game universe as detailed here:


For these, I made a special effort to reread or in other cases re-read all the Averoigne stories to get a good feel of Medieval Horror.  It was great.

These days the Atlantis and Hyperborea tales of CAS are well handled by Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.   Actually, I would love to use AS&SH as the system for a Zothique game.  I have already taken ideas from it for BlackStar and plan to have the PCs travel to Yamil Zacra: The Infernal Star.

Depending on how my BlackStar game goes I could conceivably pull another "Where No One Has Gone Before" and send the poor crew of the Protector to Earth, 250-300 Million years in the future.

I could combine this with the "Ghost Ship" idea above. Though that might be too much.
Alternately, I could alter my Starcrash on Hyperborea adventure idea to Starcrash on Zothique.  I kinda like that idea. Shades of "The Time Machine" here too.  It would also give the option of something I wanted to try in some other games.  I have wanted the PCs to run into their future-incarnations; their reincarnated souls as it were in new bodies.  The excuse I would give is that the Earth is so old now that old forms are being reused.

If I wanted to bring in some Atlantis I could just use some of my ideas for Doggerland.

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ubiquity Month: A Tale of Multiple Mars'

One of the reasons I was so keen on doing an in depth review of the Ubiquity system was to look at both Revelations of Mars and Space: 1889 in depth.  In particular I wanted to look at both versions of their Mars.

Both have some very fun and very interesting ideas for their Mars.  I think if I were to merge these into one game, say my "1901: An Æther Space Odyssey" game, I would have to make some choices.

For starters I might jettison BOTH sets of Martians in favor of something more Barsoomian.  Why?  Well a couple of reasons.  I really enjoyed the John Carter novels and liked the Martians in those books.  The Revelations of Mars book is the closest to that. Don't me wrong, I like the Space 1889 stuff too, but even back in the GDW days it didn't grab me.  Now the Space 1889 Venus, that is something I can get behind.

As interesting as I find the Space: 1889 Martians, the Revelations of Mars Martians seem to fit the idea of "Barsoom" better.

Martian Princesses

Also the other reason is that I have ALWAYS wanted to play a pure Sword and Planet game on Barsoom using either OD&D or Spellcraft & Swordplay.  It would be nice to fully develop one Mars than to do two half-developed ones.  I have toyed with the idea of playing one using Castles & Crusades too, mixing in bits of Amazing Adventures, but I think I owe it to myself to play it under OD&D.

I would also love to figure out a way to get "War of the Worlds" mixed up in this.  The Martians of that book are very, very different than any of the above.   I could take a page from Mars: The Home Front on how to mix them.  Though I like the idea of the Therns using the Sarmaks (the creatures from H.G. Wells Mars) as advance troops for the conquest of Jasoom (Earth).
I also like the idea that the dwarf planet Ceres is somehow involved.

In some ways I like Space: 1889's solar system better and RoM's Mars better. I have not gone over the histories of both with a fine tooth comb, but I can say that mechanically they will work with each other rather nicely. There is more to the solar system than just Venus, Earth and Mars.

I think I would also want to have a Moon more similar to H.G. Well's moon than to  Edgar Rice Burroughs' Hollow Moon from the Moon Maid.  Though it would be the natural choice given the parallels to ERB's other works (Pellucidar and Barsoom).  Heck, I could almost lift Space:1889 Martians off the planet and replant them on Venus/Amtor.  That would work for me.

I have not given much thought to the other planets yet.  The four large Jovian moons are a good place to start, as is Titan.  I think I am contractually obligated to use Pluto and make it into Yuggoth.

It's nice to have so many options really.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Revelations of Mars

Ubiquity month continues with a return to Mars in Revelations of Mars.

Revelations of Mars (RoM) is the newest book in the Ubiquity universe and the newest from Exile Game Studio. Like Space: 1889 I got in on this one via the Kickstarter.   I am going to spend some time looking at both games, but today I want to focus on RoM by itself.

Revelations of Mars is a nice thick tome.  Or it will be when my hardcover comes in next week.  The PDF is a healthy 224 pages.  Color covers and inserts, but mostly black and white interior.  Like it's older brother, Hollow Earth Expedition, this works well for the style and feel of the book.  What is that style?  Overtly it is Pulp Action, like HEX, but there is a good helping of "Sword and Planet" and "Planetary Romance" action here as well as, and this is fun, 50s sci-fi mentality.  In fact while reading this I kept thinking more and more of the staples of 50s UFO invasion movies.  I am not sure if that was the author's intent, but it is what I got.  I had ideas for this game, but now I am thinking "Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Journey to the Seventh Planet" (ok that was early 60s). The Mars of RoM is closer to the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs than say War of the Worlds.
This book is also a sourcebook for Hollow Earth, so you will need the Core HEX book to play.

Chapter 1 covers Characters which gives more material for Mars based and Mars travelling characters.  We get the expected run of Martian nobles, nomads and even robots.  There are plenty of new Talents and Flaws.  Everything from four arms, dual brains, Vrii-based talents and more Atlantean-based ones.  Looks like we are in for a treat here!  There are also Robot and Alien creation templates.
The Sample Characters/Archetypes are in beautiful full color and done really, really well.

Chapter 2 Supernatural Powers is another chapter I was eager to devour.  This covers psychic powers. Everything from psychic healing, precognitive powers and pyrokinesis.  Mix in with the Hollow Earth books and you have quite a bit of psychic powers to cover most situations.

Chapter 3 details more Equipment and weapons.  For you fantasy role-players out there here is your list of swords, maces, flails and spears.  Everything required by a Sword and Planet story.  Not to worry, there are still "blasters" and "ray guns" to be had as well. Naturally.   There is even Martian Red Steel that can be used in some weapons.

Chapter 4 Vehicle Combat covers all the new craft one can find on Mars.  My favorite are the sky ships.  Not a huge fan of pirates, but these are cool.

Chapter 5 is all about Martian Natives.  Several races are covered. There is the expected four-armed "green" Martians (the Dheva) but there are plenty of others. There are insect-men (well, beetlemen), Grey Martians which do remind me of "Greys",  Apemen, Purple Martians (that new!), dinosaur men, the Vrii, which are like giant crystal formations and finally the Red Martians.   In a interesting choice the Red Martians are related to Atlanteans.  There is a lot here and I am not doing it justice by any means.

Chapter 6 follows with The Red Planet, background on Mars.  Mars is very much a dying world.  That is the same story we get in the Barsoom books and even in DC comics, so that much is familiar.  There is also a feel of Vance's "Dying Earth" here too.  First we cover how to get to Mars.  There are your standard weird science rockets, but also projection from the Astral Projector, Atlantean Portals (which I rather like to be honest) and the good old fashioned abduction.  The bulk of the chapter details various locations on Mars and the inhabitants.  Very nicely detailed.

Chapter 7 Atlanteans details these ex-pats on Mars.  Not only their involvement on Mars, but also their involvement in the greater Solar System. Even if you don't want to play on Mars but want more information on the Atlanteans for your Hollow Earth Game then this is a great, must read chapter.  Several Atlantean "Gods" are also detailed and how their affairs affect Mars.

Chapter 8 Friends and Enemies covers the various peoples of Mars and what Earthlings can expect. Several unique characters are also discussed.

Chapter 9 Bestiary is exactly that, the beasts and monsters of Mars.  We have a number of "Earth-like" creatures, some different sorts of Dinosaurs and lots of insects. There are some near-humanoid creatures as well. There are even "sand worms".   There is some more modern influences here as well. The bestiary is more "Avatar" than it is "This Island Earth".  There is nothing wrong with that, though with the lack of water and plants I don't see many of these creatures, save the bugs and scavengers, living long at all.

Next is a Sample Adventure, Revelations of Mars.  I won't say much (spoilers!) but it is for human characters coming to Mars.  That makes good sense really.

The appendix covers some inspirational books of the Planetary Romance sort.  The usual suspects are here; Herbert, Vance, Howard, Burroughs, Zelazny and Wells.  But there are others worth looking to.  Comics, movies and TV shows are also mentioned. As with the other games in this line books are given the most attention.

There is a good index and list of Kickstarter backers.
A few full color "ads" and a full color map of Mars.

Honestly there is so much in this book that you could easily make a completely Mars-based campaign.  Just traveling from city to city would be adventure enough.  Thankfully the book covers more than just that.  Exile really has something nice here and I hope to see more in this line.  Could a Venus book be in the future?  Hope so.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

1901: An Æther Space Odyssey

All month I have been talking about Ubiquity and all week about the ether space of Space: 1889.  But while I am off in a world of fantasy the real world of science and space has done some really great stuff.  Below are some artist renditions of the recent New Horizons photos of Pluto.

http://timsbrannan.tumblr.com/post/124151141014/homostook-hungry-for-change


Then combine that with this video that appeared on my feed today showing the Magnus Effect.




Which lead me to read about the Rotor Ship. All of this has combined to produce something new(ish) in my mind.

1901: An Edwardian Æther Space Odyssey

January 1901. Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, Jedak-Regent of Parhoon, Mars has died.  Her son Albert Edward, now Edward VII, has picked up production of the empire's fleet.  He has decreed the 20th century to be the new dawn of the "Space Age".
Aiding this is a new invention by Nikola Tesla, the Tesla-Magnus Rotor.  This new form of ether space propulsion threatens to make the Edison engines obsolete.  They offer better maneuverability in close quarters to smaller celestial objects and now thanks to super conducting magnets found in the asteroid belt they can be pushed to speeds of up to 4.5 mm/d!

The first of five new ships, The HMS Victoria, has been equipped with this new drive and it will begin the race to the outer planets.  Now the fabled diamond mines of Jupiter and the cloud cities of Saturn are within reach.  Even the mysterious planets of Uranus and Neptune are now within a two year journey.  Who knows what lies beyond? A ninth or even tenth planet!

The Victoria is a long range ship with a crew of 50 and supplies for 2 years.  The ship features 12 Tesla-Magnus rotors. Two each on the fore (bow), aft (stern), dorsal, ventral, starboard, and port sides to affect three dimensions of movement. It is also equipped with a main sail and two secondary sails for normal ether flight.

I never claimed to be an artist.
Now if Tesla can only figure out how to make the radio work at the same time the engines are going.

What is "Space 1901"?
Well there are some very, very obvious things going here.
First off it is a nod to the classic Arthur C. Clarke book 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Like that book, this will deal with mankind's first attempt to reach Jupiter. Though this time with a background of Imperial Colonialism.
Also as much as I enjoy the Victorian setting of Leagues of Adventure and Space: 1889, I wanted to move out of the Victorian setting.   I also was not overly wedded to the Pulp action of Hollow Earth.
The Edwardian period of 1901-1910 seemed like an untouched area in gaming.
And of course Tesla.  How could I not do something with Tesla?
There would be a bit of "Star Trek" to this (strange new worlds) and "Space: 1999" (cut off from Earth).
I am sure I will have more ideas when I am done reading Revelations of Mars.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review: Space 1889 - Red Sands (Savage Worlds)

Another very quick side-step from Ubiquity to look at another version of Space: 1889.

Space 1889: Red Sands

This is the Savage Worlds update to the classic Space 1899. Like it's fore-bearer this is a game where brave men and women from Earth brave the Ether to travel to a dying Mars or a Venus covered in lush jungles and dinosaurs. Loosely based on the works of Burroughs and Verne this is a space travel game with a twist. There is plenty of room for adventure and the opportunity to plant the flag of the British Empire on a new world or even find adventure of your own.

It is the Savage World rules and you need the core rules to play this. It is great fun and it is to date the best reason given to me to play Savage Worlds.
The only downside to this is that there is no conversion notes from the old Space 1899 to the new system. But that is minor compared to all the material you get here.

The book itself is 193 full color pages.
The "value add" for this book is that it focuses completely on the Space: 1889 universe.  The character creation rules, combat and the rest are all in the main Savage Worlds book.
This leaves room for the "Savage Tales" chapter which is full of adventure hook, ideas and mini-scenarios. Note: There is nothing stopping you from using these with any other edition of Space: 1889 you might own.

This is also a time to address the Pachycephalosaurus in the room.  Why choose Ubiquity over Savage Worlds?

Ubiquity vs. Savage Worlds

Both systems are designed to "generic" systems.  I also associate both system with Pulp-era action.  In fact I might have even said here at some point in the past that Savage Worlds was my "go to" system for Pulp Era Action, but I think I have to give that nod to Ubiquity now.

Though both seem, on paper anyway, of handling the the type of adventure found in Space: 1889.  The Space: 1889 - The Strange Land adventure even comes in both flavors, Ubiquity and Savage Worlds.
I suppose then it is a matter of taste.  Savage Worlds gives you access to things like Rippers and Gaslight.  But Ubiquity gives you access to things like Hollow Earth Expedition.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Review: Space 1889 - GDW Edition

Not taking a break from Ubiquity month here, but I am taking a side step.  I want to look at the the other version of Space: 1889 and talk about their utility with the new Ubiquity version.  Plus there is a lot of material out there that can be found in book stores and at DriveThruRPG for the original version that can, with some tweaking, be used with the new version.

So like the song says, let's start at the very beginning.

Space: 1889 was originally released in 1988 by Game Designer's Workshop.  I am reviewing my old GDW hardcover from the time and the new PDF by Heliograph, Inc..  The are identical in most respects, save for copyright information.
The book is 225 pages with covers, ads and maps.  The maps are also really nice featuring the three faces of Mars and of Venus.

The book lacks proper chapter numbers, but instead goes with titles.
The Introduction covers the basics of what Space: 1889 is all about.  This includes a brief history of the last few years and some of the events of the modern day of 1889.
Characters covers basic character creation.  Today a point-buy system is the defacto means of character generation for most games, but in 1988 it was a new-ish idea.  Characters have six attributes, Physical attributes of Strength (Str), Agility (Agl), and Endurance (End). Psychological attributes are Intellect (Int), Charisma (Chr), and Social Level (Soc).  Like Ubiquity and Unisystem these are ranked 1 to 6.  Characters are given a total of 21 points to distribute among these attributes.
Characters also have 24 skills they can train in either via Careers or training aka purchasing extra skills.    Also detailed is Wealth, which is a function of Social level and what career you may or may not have.
A few guideline careers are offered with suggestions on what attributes they should have.

Up next is the Victorian Age.  While I didn't get to play this game much back in the day, I devoured this chapter. It is the Victorian age, but not exactly like the one we know from history.  Afterall the British were not fighting on Mars back then.
The chapter is largely Anglocentric, which is to be expected really.  There is not a lot here we have not seen before...except that this is one of the first Victorian Sci-Fantasy games on the market.  Even Masque of the Red Death would be another year off and Cthulhu by Gaslight was still not everywhere yet.
Note: Those three games, Masque, Cthulhu by Gaslight, and Space: 1889 made up a sort of holy trinity for me back in the late 80s and early 90s.  So much I wanted to do with them all as one campaign.  College though got in the way...

The Referee section covers basic rules, NPCs, adventures and experience.  The system is largely a Attribute/Skill Dice pool vs a Target Number.  Not too difficult really, and in fact still playable by today's standards.

Equipment is predictably a large chapter.  More so than the Characters and Referee chapters combined. But it also has nice illustrations of various equipment including weapons.  Heck it is worth looking just for the picture of the rail gun! This is also one of the chapters that has utility for other games.  I have not compared the prices or other stats of the weapons with other versions of the game, but they seem consistent.  Indeed, the prices and stats (range, rate of fire) are useful for plenty of other games too.   I have not run down the lists in all the games, but it looks like there are more weapons in this version.  The PDF and the hardcover includes the original color inserts.   I love the designs of the Martian ships. Wery cool.

The follows right into the Science chapter.  This one is of course just fun.  Flying through the ether and other weird science.  This covers building your own equipment and inventions.

Combat covers... well combat.  All sorts of conditions are covered, ground, aerial, missile, melee, and heavy weapons.   There are even sections on explosives and animal combat.  Color inserts here too.

The next two chapters cover Travel.  The first is Travel and Exploration and Space Travel.  Personally the meat of these two chapters is the Space Travel.  Several points of interest in the Solar System are discussed, mostly the inner planets and the asteroid belt.

The next chapters cover the various locations in the Solar System. Luna, Mars and Venus. Each deals with the unique flora and fauna of the planets. The most detail goes to Mars of course.

We end with some useful charts.

The art throughout the book is a mixed lot.  Very much a part of the times of the late 1980s.  Though I noticed some good Jim Holloway and Jeff Dee illustrations.  Judging it by today's standards though isn't really fair.

The game is still surprisingly playable today.  Though in my heart the newer Ubiquity version has eclipsed it.

I have not come up with a conversion between this and the Ubiquity one yet, but it looks like it would be pretty easy to be honest.  They are roughly scaled the same, skills might be a problem but for the most part it seems pretty easy.  The nice thing is reading this version (again) I can take adventures and supplements designed for it and use them with Ubiquity easy...or rather, easier.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Space 1889

Space: 1889 was always one of those games that I wanted to play, but never found the time or the group to play it.  I remember picking up a copy back when I was in college and was...well odd to say the least, but still I loved the idea.  It was very much Jules Verne meets H.G. Wells meets Nikolai Tesla meets Weird Science.   The book sat on my shelf for years though unplayed.

Fast forward to Summer 2013 and there is a new Space: 1899 in the works, this time as a Ubiquity game. At the same time the makers of HEX are giving us a Ubiquity-based Mars game.  Seemed like a good time really to jump onto the Ether-ship to Mars.

Space: 1889
This review covers both the PDF and the hardcover book.  The book is 260 full-color pages, with some black & white art.   The hardcover comes with a ribbon bookmark.

It is a gorgeous book really and one that really captures the feel of the original GDW game.  For the first time a Ubiquity book (this time published by Clockwork Publishing) breaks with tradition and gives us some of the background and setting first.

The first few pages, Prefaces, The World of Space: 1889 and  Storytelling in Victorian Space, cover a bit of background and set the stage for what it to come.

Now. Let's be fair.  While this is a science-fiction or science-fantasy game, a lot of real science is ignored to make it work.  Just go with it.  Think about this from the point of view of the Victorians. Many who thought electricity still had "divine" attributes.

Earth (there are no proper chapter numbers) covers Earth. In particular it covers the space exploration of the time and the Alt-Victorian timeline.   If you are using League of Adventure with this, then you will need to figure out which alternate timeline you want to use.  Or just make up your own.  It also covers a little bit on adventuring on Earth. But with all this I am sure you are not going to stick around.  Stats for various creatures are presented throughout.

Mars is next.  This is not Barsoom but the Mars of Space: 1889.  It has influences from various Sci-Fi stories, but this is all new to many.  This chapter covers Martians, the lands, flora and fauna.  I have toyed around with the idea of scraping this Mars in favor of a John Carter version of Mars, but that would really be wasting a lot of good material here.

Venus is our next chapter.  This Venus is the lush, tropical jungle filled with dinosaurs. Not the planetary hellscape we know it is today.  This I am inclined to keep as is.  I read a lot of sci-fi from the 60s and 70s that still described Venus like this, complete with dinosaurs and too me that is just too much fun.  Something like Jurassic Park meets King Kong only on a planetary scale.  The day of Venus is modified to fit more Victorian understanding of science and is not the 117 day long days we know it to be now.

Mercury is not very long, but still a fun read.

The Ether might be the funnest, and most important, chapter in the book really.   This deals not only with the mechanism of space travel, but also the medium.  Here we really get into the Jules Verne-ieness of it all.  This is fun chapter for me because I can see uses of this in other games.  For it's also about having my cake and eating it too.  I love RPGs, but my first love was and still is hard science.  I think that is one of the reasons I have trouble finding a good Sci-Fi game but can play any fantasy game. The Ether is a way for me to hand wave all the scientific inaccuracies and just focus on the fun.

Next we get into the "rules" section of the book.

Characters covers character generation.  This is pretty much the same as other Ubiquity games and that is a nice plus.  I know my League of Adventure characters can now travel to the Moon or Mars.
Now the nice part of this chapter, and something that can be used in other Ubiquity games, is the "Variation on Starting Points".    Your core-book standard is known as a "Promising Character" now. But you could also start as an "Unlucky Fellow" with almost half the starting points or as a "Veteran" with a few more points.  This is something that the Unisystem game system does in all their games and it works out brilliantly.  I expect it would work just as well here.
The Archetypes section includes a nice variety including a couple of Martians. There is no special Talent to buy to be a Martian. Nice change of pace really.

Rules covers rules.  Combat, Damage, and Healing cover that as well.  Again this is a Ubiquity game so these rules are not very different than other Ubiquity games I have read and played.

The main differences in these chapters is the focus on space travel and the planets characters can travel to.
The Equipment chapter should be noted for the shear number of new items this adds to the Ubiquity body of work.

One of the funnest chapters is the Inspiration one.  This is no mere list of Victorian era sci-fi.  Books of fiction and non-fiction alike are listed, with an accompanying paragraph on why they are inspiring. Even a handful of comics are discussed.   TV shows and movies are just listed.  This is afterall, a literary time.

The Glossary is rich and very useful. The Index covers topics and rules.
We end with one of the best looking Ubiquity character sheets I have seen.

In the hardcover the maps of Mars and Venus are on the liner pages.  In the PDF they are seperate wide pages.  In both cases the maps are gorgeous.  They would look fantastic as framed art prints.

This game is a guilty pleasure and I wish I could play it more often.


I might spend some time this week discussing the other versions of this game.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

July is Ubiquity Month

This July I want to spend some quality time with the Ubiquity system.  This is a "generic" system that goes after the same sort of games and crowd that Savage Worlds and Unisystem target.
I tend to like Ubiquity a bit more than Savage Worlds, but a little less than Unisystem.

The Ubiquity System was created by Exile Game Studios for their Hollow Earth Expedition game.  It has since been used in other games by other companies.

These are the games I am going to be looking at in detail:
Hollow Earth Expedition RPG (Exile Game Studios)
Hollow Earth Expedition: Secrets of the Surface World (Exile Game Studios)
Leagues of Adventure (Triple Ace Games)
Space: 1889 (Clockwork Publishing)
Revelations of Mars (Exile Game Studios)

I am also working on a couple of NPCs to help feature some of the game rules.  A few I really want to do are Dracula and Sherlock Holmes.



When I first was getting into Ubiquity I started with Leagues of Adventure, which is like an alternate universe "Ghosts of Albion".  While in GoA magic is supreme, in LoA it is weird science and steampunk.   I like to think that every character in GoA has an LoA counterpart and visa versa.
In fact I ran my Ghosts of Albion: Dinosauria adventure under Leagues of Adventure with no problems.  I had to fudge the magic a little, but now I think I could a much better job.

I will talk more about Leagues later in this week, but suffice to say I am rather fond of it.

Hollow Earth Expedition is a game I knew I was going to love, but one I did not buy till very recently.  I was working on a Hollow Earth book for Battlefield Press and I didn't want it to enfluence me.  I am happy to say that the HEX book I picked up was both similar and very different than what I did.  It was obvious we drew from the same sources but went in different ways.

Space 1889 and Revelations of Mars were both Kickstarters I gladly backed.  I am not getting the PDFs buy am missing the hardcover of Mars at the moment.

All of these games together have given me a lot of ideas on various games.  One is one I have mentioned before, "1901: An Æther Space Odyssey".  HEX is firmly Pulp Era but LoA and Space 1889 are Victorian science fantasy.  I am going to take the median here and go with the dawn of the Edwardian Age as one of Space Exploration.  Despite the implied settings in Space 1889 and Revelations of Mars, I am likely to go more Barsoom with my my Mars; though I am leaving War of the Worlds open.

Looking forward to it! Hope you are too.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Night Videos: Space Age Love Songs

Welcome back to Friday Night Videos! Sci-Fi Edition.

All week I have talking about Sci-Fi games and sci-fi themes.  All of this has sent me back to the late 70s / early 80s when I was hard core into scifi and playing Traveller.

I had so many ideas back then for games. Most I'd never use or even admit to today.  But back then they were awesome. You just have to take my word on that!

Again. This time was ripe for ideas in gaming. Anything seemed possible.  I was already associating D&D and Star Wars together so when the 80s dawned, I threw MTV into the mix.

No one (except one other artist on my list tonight) looked more like a futuristic alien than Mike Score of A Flock of Seagulls.  "Space Age Love Song" was a lesser know, or at least lesser charting, song from their self titled album.  But I always thought it was a great ode for the classic space age hero like Flash Gordon or John Carter.



Who was my idea of a Space Hero?  It varied, but I knew his name.  Major Tom.

Here is the other Alien artist on my list, David Bowie, in his Ziggy Stardust best, singing about our hero Major Tom in his "Space Oddity". This song appeared on his 1969 album of the same name. It was written as an homage to both Apollo 11 and 2001 A Space Oddity.




German born artist Peter Schilling heard "tell my wife I love her very much" and took his own stab at the story of Major Tom in "Major Tom (Coming Home)".


Major Tom finally made it into my games, but not till much, much later and as a riff on the movie "Lifeforce".  Major Tom comes home but he is carrying a virus that starts a zombie plague in All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
You can also here/watch the original German version, Völlig Losgelöst and the really-cool-even-though-it-is-a-commercial version by Shiny Toy Guns.

Back to Bowie for bit.  The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars just BEGS to have a game made from it.
Ziggy played guitar...




Call me crazy. But I always wanted to write a game called "Space Truckers". It would be the unholy fusion of late 70s sci-fi and late 70s "trucker chic". It has not been an easy sell. Regardless of how the game comes out in needs to play like Deep Purple sounds.




Few rock acts can speak credibly on matters of scifi, let alone science.  Few acts are Queen.
Brian May, the lead guitarist, writer and sometimes singer of Queen is also Dr. Brian May. He has a Ph.D. is astrophysics.  "'39" from 1975's A Night at the Opera is song that grabbed me from the first time I ever heard it.  The story of the song is that a man and 19 other astronauts leave on a spaceship to discover a new world.  They return with good news of a new world. For them it's only been one year, for the Earth and his family it has been much longer.  His wife is dead, his daughter is an old woman and his own grand children are there to meet him.
"Ne'er look back, never fear and never cry."



Thursday, February 26, 2015

1901: An Æther Space Odyssey

I got to click another Kickstarter off my list!

New and Original

The new Ubiquity version of Space 1889 is now in my hands!
It is a great looking book. I really enjoyed the original Space 1889 (also available in PDF).

This new book captures the feel of the original rather nicely and the Ubiquity system is easy to use and adapt.  The book itself is gorgeous and well worth the wait to be honest.  It really envokes the feel of the original which was quite an original idea back in the day.

New and Original
I love Victorian games, weird science and space exploration.  So this really is right up my alley.
At first I have to admit I didn't like Space 1889, but as I played it I really began to enjoy it.  Once I started doing research on what the Victorians believed about space and the solar system then I REALLY started enjoying it.

For me then this new version is distillation of everything I enjoyed about the concept.

Recently I went on an "Appendix N" bender and read everything I could get my hands on from the pulp era.  So I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books, the Pelucidar books, and the Moon Maid series.  I still want to read the Venus books.  I also read years ago Jules Verne, so the idea of a Scientific Alt-Victorian Time really appeals to me.


The best thing about Space 1889 is that the Ubiquity system that powers it is the same as Hollow Earth Expedition and Leagues of Adventure.    So you can pull them together for a high action Victorian fun.  Throw in Revelations of Mars (when it is done)  and you have a Solar System spanning game of adventure.

1901: An Æther Space Odyssey 
The idea behind this game is to split the difference between the Victorian period and the Pulp Age.  Still focus on adventure, or more to the point, Adventure! and space travel but shake it up a bit.

Set it in the Spring of 1901. King Edward sits on the throne and he has declared that explorers of all sorts must head to the planets for the glory of the British Empire.  Adventures run into Barsoomians, Selenites and giant reptiles and snake men on Venus.

Not sure when I'll work it in, but it will be a blast!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

PWWO: Calidar

Calidar is out and I reviewed the PDF a couple of days back.  It really is awesome, but I am struck by how well it can be used pretty much anywhere.

Plus look at these awesome maps.




So for this edition of "Plays Well With Others" I want to focus on what you need to do to make Calidar work for your current favorite system.

Calidar and D&D 5
This is kind of a cheat really. One of the implicit design goals of D&D 5 was "D&D your way".  So given that Calidar works well with Pathfinder, working with D&D is not a stretch.  Plus the "default" world of D&D 5 might be the Forgotten Realms, but enough Greyhawk, Dragonlance and even Mystara names are thrown around  it should be obvious that you can play this  on any world.  D&D 5 does a much better job of capturing that high fantasy feel than previous edition's "Points of Light" or "Dungeon-punk" attitudes.  So does Calidar. Plus both D&D 5 and Calidar are new and can "grow up together" in the inventive mind of a DM.

The best thing about this marriage is you don't even the "full" version of D&D 5!  You can use the free D&D 5 Basic edition. The races are the basic four (human, elf, dwarf, halfling) and the basic four classes (cleric, fighter, wizard, thief).  This stripped down version of D&D5 works perfect with Calidar.  The races all have their own respective planets and the classes cover all the bases.

Calidar and Original D&D
Or you could go the other direction and use the original D&D rules. The same reasons apply from D&D 5, but I have something specific here in mind.  I would play Calidar more as a Planetary Romance.  One thing I always to do was play OD&D as a Barsoomian game.  I loved the Edgar Rice Burroughs books and I always felt that OD&D and Barsoom would be a perfect fit.  Calidar would be the glue that holds it all together.
Plus Calidar has a Mars-like planet now, but sadly not a Barsoomian one.  Barsoom would be a nice fit and give the Calidar game something a little bit different.
Here are some links I have been using to get my Mars/Barsoomian fixes.

Looking forward to trying this out with my current game.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Calidar, In Stranger Skies

Calidar, In Stranger Skies is the latest gaming product from former TSR writer Bruce Heard.

If you have been on the internet or follow any of the news surrounding Kickstarter or Mystara then you should have certainly heard about Bruce and Calidar.

If not here are two brief introductions:
http://bruce-heard.blogspot.com/p/a-word-about-calidar.html
http://bruce-heard.blogspot.com/p/where-can-i-get-calidar.html

Calidar is exactly what I expected it to be.  Thankfully I expected it to be awesome. It is a real treat reading this.  In a sea of "grim dark" settings Calidar brings back magic, fantasy and adventure to "D&D" and any game you care to use it with.

But that is getting ahead myself.

This book is designed for Pathfinder, at least is says so on the cover, but please do not let that stop you from using this with any other "D&D"-like game/system you own or play. In the majority of the book is system neutral.  The book is even a fair amount setting neutral, which might sound odd about a setting book, but you could put The Great Caldera on any world's polar region and then drop that world into the Calidar Universe with only a little work.  But that would get rid a lot of great stuff...

The first 40 or so pages set the stage of what is possible with this game with some game-related fiction. Now normally I dislike game fiction and tend to ignore it.  But this one deserves a read since this is different than what you might be used to doing.  A large part of the sense of wonder for this new universe is setup here.

Up next is the Calidar Universe.  Oh where was this book 25 years ago!  Immediately I am taken back in time to my aborted attempts to bridge Traveller and D&D.  This book does it and does it so well.   The "Solar" system of this universe is the Soltan Ephemeris. Nice!   Mine was Sol Invictus.  Not a surprise really. I loved Bruce's work back in the day and I am certain we drew on similar sources.  But alas that is as far as I got and Bruce kept on going at, well, light speed.  Other planets are detailed such as Draconia (wonder who live there?), Lao-Kwei (a Mars-like planet), Canis Major (no relation to the Constellation) home of the Dog Headed people,  Felix Major (Cat heads of course) and Ghüle, a Pluto like dungeon planet of alien creatures and gods (ie mostly Orcs).  Calidar also has three moons where humans, elves and dwarve comes from respectively.  There is also an Asteroid Belt (The Fringe).

In addition to the normal races we have the aforementioned Dog-folk and Cat-folk and the Starfolk.  Starfolk are a catch-all race of aliens from other galaxies.  Little is know about them.  There are also the Fellfolk, or the natives of Calidar (aka Halflings).

Some Gods are also presented and I am sure there will be more.  Gods are manifestations of the souls of the heavenly bodies.   Interestingly enough there is an "American Gods"-like version of Odin. Here he is native to Calidar, brought by a group of Vikings stranded here. I like it.

Next Chapter deals with the World of Calidar itself. Various lands and countries around the Great Caldera.   Several countries are covered in a familiar Gazetteer style.  There is also a great historical timeline that helps set the stage for this world.

One land is covered in detail, the Kingdom of Meryath.  I can't help to feel there is a bit of "Glantri" in the roots here.  Nothing specific, just a feel.  Though I have to smile that name of the main island is the same as my current hometown ("Palatine").  Also detailed are the various NPCs you are likely to encounter; both heroes and villains. I do like that no race in particular is designated as a "heroic" or a "villainous" one. With the exception maybe of the orcs.  There is certainly a swashbuckling, high seas feel to these NPCs.
Guilds are detailed, and are likely to be more important in future works; books and adventures.  Finally we end the chapter with the largest city in the Kingdom, Glorathon.

Creatures of Calidar deal some of the unique creatures we can find here.  Mostly this is background text, no stats.

System Conversion covers the Pathfinder rules stats for both the characters and the new creatures.

Skyships of Calidar cover the ships of various sizes more moving about the universe.

The PDF has a few nice features.  The Maps are all index via bookmarks as is all the art.

Let's talk about the maps and art.
Thorfinn Tait is one of the main people behind the maps and cartography of this book. Thorf has been one of the big names in maps for sometime now. He has done a ton of work of the maps of Mystara, which is certainly how he and Bruce Heard know of each other.  The maps are a work of art and I love how planets and other objects are listed in "days of travel" on hexes instead of miles.  A nice little change that means a lot really. Great from a DM's perspective and easier to adjudicate from a narrative standpoint.

The art is also fantastic.  A nice cross between the style of Planescape, Spelljammer and 7th Sea.  Which, if you think about it, also describes this book pretty well too.

Calidar, In Stranger Skies is an awesome product.  It grabs you and makes you want to play in this world.  I am not sure what the plans are, but certainly I can see an OSR version getting produced or even a D&D 5.   But if not you could do it on your own with just a little effort (less if you know Pathfinder really well).

If you liked Spelljammer, the Known Earth Gazetteer series or the Voyages of the Princes Ark, then this is a must have. Really.

Personally I can't think of a single reason NOT to buy this.

I hope to post more about this in the future.
I have a strong desire to write something about a coven of witches that operate in Meryath.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Kickstarters go to Space!

Two new(ish) Kickstarters head out to Space with the Ubiquity System.  The same found in Hollow Earth Expedition and Leagues of Adventure.

First up is Revelation of Mars
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2085348754/revelations-of-mars

I didn't get on this one fast enough but it looks AWESOME.  I love the John Carter of Mars stories and I loved Pelucidar.  I am hoping that these games combine nicely (they should).  And honestly have a look at this Green Martian Princess.

Martian Princess by Will Nichols
Not exactly Edgar Rice Burroughs idea of a Green Martian, but I say this is an improvement.

Next is Space: 1899
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/440453703/space-1889-sf-role-playing-in-a-more-civilized-tim

I mentioned this one before.  But it looks really, really awesome.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

N is for Nergal

Nergal comes to us from Mesopotamian mythology, the same that gives us Pazuzu, Tiamat and Lilith (after a fashion).  He is an old god of the noon day sun, war, pestilence, disease and the planet Mars.  It could be said that he even symbolizes the worst aspects of the god that would later go on to become Ares/Mars.
Like most old gods he was later demonized by Christian authors.  He even appears in the Hebrew and Christian bibles as one of the few named demons (2 Kings, 17:30).
Christians would equate him with the Devil.  Earlier Zoroastrianism would connect him with the Angra Mainyu, or their evil spirit.

In many of the myths/stories of Nergal he is the lord of underworld, but not the sole lord.  It is a task he shares with his lover Ereshkigal, or as I like to call her, the world's first Goth chick. Depending on the story Nergal either rapes Ereshkigal, she tricks him into staying in the underworld or they have a loving relationship.  All could be true.

In various games Nergal usually gets demoted. In AD&D 1st ed and D&D 3rd ed he gets only a mention as being one of the Rabble of Devilkin.  Again this is unfortunate since it lacks a lot of what Nergal interesting.  He gets a much better writeup in the 1st Ed Deities & Demigods and his girl friend is central to many adventures and games.  I used her in my Army of Darkness/D&D mash up and again in my current 1st ed game with my kids.



Nergal

Alignment: Neutral Evil
Movement: 120'
Armor Class: -3
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 110 hp (19 HD)
Attacks: Rod (x2)
Damage: 1d8/1d8 +save vs. death on critical hit
Special: +1 or better weapon to hit, command undead, immunity to fire, electricity and poison, regeneration (1 hp/round), see in darkness, magic resistance (55%), telepathy 150 ft.
Save: F19
MORALE: 11
XP: 13,000


Nergal is the Lord of the Underworld.  While his origin is more closely aligned to the Baalseraph, he is closer in nature to a Demondand or Shedim.  He is a demon that had been a god, but was killed and returned.  He shares this quality with a number of other demon lords including Orcus.
He appears as a tall, older man with thick black hair and beard.  He stands 7' tall, but can appear taller.He wears clothing fitting a king of his time (ancient Babylon) and carries a long rod that he uses in combat.
Like most kings he prefers to stay out of combat himself.  Instead he can summon up to 4 dead enemies from a person's past to fight on his behalf.
He can also command any undead as if he were a 19th level evil cleric.
When angered his countenance changes to that of a lion with a long black mane and skin pocked as if with disease.
Nergal prefers to stay out mortal affairs except in times of war.  Other powerful demon lords (typically Shedim and Baalseraph) employ him as a general or war marshall for their wars against each other.
While Nergal has lost much of his former power he still considers himself a god and not a demon.

Links
http://www.gatewaystobabylon.com/gods/lords/undernergal.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nergal
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ereshkigal
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nergal_(Dungeons_%26_Dragons)
http://forgottenrealms.wikia.com/wiki/Nergal_(deity)
http://zyntara.com/VisualAstrologyNewsletters/van_April2006/VAN_april2006.htm

Monday, August 6, 2012

Mars

Ever since I read the War of the Worlds and Princess of Mars I have wanted to have a D&D game based on Mars/Barsoom.  This was heightened when I later read the Martian Chronicles.

It turns out that the real Mars is far more interesting.

The latest Martian rover Curiosity has landed successfully on the Red Planet. The stated goal of this little robot is to see if Mars was ever capable of supporting life or even had life at one point.

I should not have spell out the ramifications of a positive discovery would have in both science and religion.

Till that happens you can follow Curiosity's Twitter feed. https://twitter.com/MarsCuriosity
And it's official site here: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/


While Curiosity roams the face of the real Mars, you can roam the face of the Mars that never-was with these games.

Mars
Savage Worlds Edition
d20 Edition

Adamant Entertainment distilled some of the best features of the Planetary Romance/Sci-Fantasy genre into their Mars books.  The lineage is obviously Edgar Rice Burroughs, with Green, Red and White (Ape) Martians.  There is also a fair enough amount of H.G. Wells, but I have a hard time seeing this dying Mars invading Earth.  As they advertise this is not the Mars of reality, this is the Mars that never was.  This is Barsoom as it were.  While not "John Carter of Mars the RPG" it can be played that way.   There are even some surprises in the form of the Grey Men of Mars.  Hint, they are not the "Greys" of later UFO mythology.
There are plenty of options for characters with an emphasis on high heroism and great feats.   Imagine all the adventure of Victorian Times and the Pulp Era with the feel of a Space Opera in a D&D campaign then you get an idea of what Mars can do or be.  This all reminds me a bit of the "Dying Earth" genre as well, since Mars is dying.  Maybe that invasion of Earth is not too improbable after all.
NOTICE: Adamant Earlier today decided to offer these at half off!

Space 1899: Red Sands
This is the Savage Worlds update to the classic Space 1899 series.  Like it's fore-bearer this is a game where brave men and women from Earth brave the Ether to travel to a dying Mars or a Venus covered in lush jungles and dinosaurs.  Based on the works of Burroughs and Verne this is a space travel game with a twist.  There is plenty of room for adventure and the importunity to plant the flag of the British Empire on a new world or even find adventure of your own.
It is the Savage World rules and you need the core rules to play this. It is great fun and it is to date the best reason given to me to play Savage Worlds.
The only downside to this is that there is no conversion notes from the old Space 1899 to the new system.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oh the Places You'll Go!

I love maps. Old maps, new maps, maps that never were.

Here are few that catch my fancies, and fantasies.

I'd love to plan a game sometime for the far future of Earth.  Maybe something along the lines of Dying Earth or Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique cycle.

(image from here, http://www.scotese.com/earth.htm)

Given my love for the roots of D&D, Victorian adventure and weird SciFi I have also had a desire to play on a Mars that Never Was, a Mars with oceans.




Likely using some of the Warriors of Mars ideas from Jason Vey's site.

The Places I Could Go, indeed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review: Bounty Head Bebop

“You know the first rule of combat? Shoot them before they shoot you.” - Faye Valentine, Cowboy Bebop.

Back in 1998 a new Anime appeared on the scene, something new called Cowboy Bebop. It dealt with the lives and misadventures of a group of bounty hunters in the solar system of the future that looked more like the wild west. There were guns, and terra-formed planets, a corrupt government, the mobs and of course lots of criminals. The crew of the Bebop spent their time doing jobs, keeping their ship together and avoiding starving. While this made for a great show in and of itself, the really cool thing about this were the characters. Larger than life, with secrets, agendas and a history of development that lead them to where they were at that point.

In other words a perfect setting for a Role Playing Game.

The game, Bounty Head Bebop, obviously takes some cues from the series. (AN ASIDE. I understand that this game was supposed to have been an officially licensed product, but I do not have anything to support that with. So instead of explaining all the time why they are the same, let’s just say they are cut from the same cloth and move on from there.)

Bounty Head Bebop (BHB), is a game where you can spend your time flying around a terra-formed solar system hunting down “bounty heads” for fun and profit. The game itself is a slick little RPG with a fun cinematic feel to it. It does what it says on the tin, and does it well.

BHB uses a system called the Inverted 20 system. Basically you have a Target Number (often set by the GM, with guidance), that is modified by ability, skill and or difficulties, your job is to roll that score or under (and different things happen if you hit the number or roll under). The die mechanic is really that simple. Anyone familiar with d20 will catch on fairly quickly despite the roll under mechanic. Now I will be honest, I am not a fan of roll under systems, but I think it works here. To me it seems that Anime based games work best as roll-under. Maybe it is all of those years of BESM or maybe it because it just provides me with a different feel.

Like other d20 games you attributes that despite the name changes look familiar, skills, various edges and flaws, all which work like GURPS. No need to reinvent the wheel, they work fine. Everything is point buy and you spend XP to raise them, like Unisystem.

Details
BHB does something REALLY nice here. Puts in a Character Creation Summary so you can get an overview of everything you need to do. Figure out everything in order.
Attributes look familiar if you have been playing any game at all. They are scored from 1 to 5 for starting characters, but can go up.
Imitative and Movement are derived. As are Saves, Wounds and Vitality points. All pretty simple to figure out.

Skills are next and they are divided up into General, Combat and Specialty. General skills are your everyday skills and like d20 are tied to a specific attribute. Combat skills allow you to fight. Want to be better at aiming or hitting with your fists, then improve the skill. Specialty and Advanced skills are those that you can’t do unless you have a level/points in them. Advanced skills are like advanced sciences.

Edges and Flaws work like GURPS or any other point buy system, though there are no points. You start out with 3 Edges and get up to 6 with 3 more Flaws. Edges can be bought with XPs and Flaws bought off. The list is pretty typical, your Hard to Kill, various “Gun Fu” moves, various pilot and criminal related Edges too. The list looked good and nothing jumped out at me as not being there. There are also various new Psychic/Feng-Shui powers too (details in a bit). And some computer related ones, with the promise of new book dedicated to hacking and the net (for your own “Radical” Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky the IV). Now you don’t need to take any Flaws at all if you don’t want, but I think that might be missing the point of this game really. These characters are yes over the top Anime characters, but they also have issues.

Feng-Shui gets it own chapter and it is the province of the Inuit Indians (yeah, that confuses me too, but I’ll go with it). None of the powers seem out of control, so no anime style Ki based special fx here, but a lot of good solid powers. Danger Sense, Locate Objects, manipulate objects, things like that. More power masters can influence minds or regenerate their bodies. There are seven areas of power (spheres) you choose one and you progress through it. It reminds me of the pschic powers from AFMBE’s “Enter the Zombie”. Given that, an ability to bend bullets might be cool in this game. Of course with power comes psychotic episodes. Do it too much and you WILL go crazy, just like they said.
Given this chapter I can see, and hope that the cyber book works the same way.

A money and equipment chapter follows. Money, though very important to the focus of the game, is game mechanic rather than collected. Similar to D20 Modern in a way. And of course lots of guns, spaceships and other things you need, like food and permits. While money is always going to be an issue, since that is the primary motivation of the characters, doing the system like this was a nice cinematic way of dealing with things.

A chapter on “doing things” follows after that. It is your basic rules chapter, but most things are handled with the same mechanic, so this chapter breezes by. I appreciate transparency in my games. “You can do this and this is how you do it.” BHB takes the basic d20 system and really streamlines it to it’s barest essentials (even more so than True20) yet nothing seems lost. Thus this chapter is very short.

Combat is more involved, since the bounty heads aren’t likely to go quietly. The combat chapter is again, easy to read and uses the same simple mechanics. Skills and your rank in them are what is important here. This sets it off from the d20 crowds and puts it back into GURPS/Unisystem territory. In a neat twist you can use the same “to hit” roll as a damage roll, thus speeding up your games. There is logic in this and I like the effect.

The Setting Chapter both pleased me and irritated me. The solar system is the setting with a nearly uninhabited Earth and terra-formed planets and moons. Briefly object hits the Moon, destroys it, sends Earth into chaos where meteors rain every day. But some of those rocks were used to jump gate tech to allow quick travel throughout the solar system and was a key element in terra-forming.

Now humanity is all over the system. There is a real wild west feel to the plaents. Mars is the center of human population now, Venus is like a giant mob controlled Vegas, the moons of Jupiter have food production and so on and all have their own hazards. There is a Solar System wide police force, but they are few, overworked, underpaid and spread too thin. This gives us lots of crime and the opportunity for bounty hunters (like you!) to capture bad guys and bring them in for fun and profit. Mostly for profit.
What irritated me was that this chapter was so short. Sure, I know it is so I can later buy the Mars book or the Io book, but it just touched the surface. Yeah I could go back to the anime (or other shows, Blake’s 7 comes to mind) for ideas. But I was enjoying reading when it was over.

The book has a very nice index, a character sheet that looks familiar to us all and a summary page on how to spend XPs. But the coolest thing is the included adventure in the back. Gets you and going on your first Bounty Head hunt in no time. The adventure itself is good, and even shows you what can be done with the system in terms of story. Sure this could have been a simple bounty hunt, but this one has moral layers and corruption and the hosts of a “Big Shots” like show (nice touch).

What Did I Like?
Simple system, very easy to figure out. Plus it was also easy to figure out what to do with the game. Concepts came with every page (more or less).
The book itself has a nice simple layout and it is easy to find everything. Plus it “reads” well too. The text is concise and gets right to the point.
I also like the Luck and Surge points, which are basically like Drama Points or Hero Points.

What Didn’t I Like?
Still not a fan of roll under mechanics. They seem wrong to me. Would have loved more setting information and some basic computer hacking rules.

Other Notes
Art. The art is nice, but a lot of it is used again throughout the book. Pictures of some of the planets would be nice, what does Venus Vegas look like? How about the domes of Mars? That sort of thing.

What Can I do with This?
Well there is basic premise, go out and hunt bad guys. But there are plenty of other ideas.

The Stainless Steel Rat: Play the bad guys. Sure hunting them is fun, but wouldn’t it be more fun to be the bad guy or the mobsters avoiding the SSPB and the Bounty Hunters?

Reservoir Dogs: You get pulled into a heist gone really, really wrong.

The Usual Suspects: You bring in your small fry bounty head only to uncover that maybe, maybe the most notorious criminal mastermind might be involved or even one of your marks.

Witch Hunter Bebop: Let’s combine Sunrise’s two best anime ever, Cowboy Bebop and Witch Hunter Robin and make a game where you need to hunt down marks using their Feng-Shui powers illegally.

Firefly: Yeah it has a game and I really like Cortext, but I’ll be blunt here. There is nothing in Firefly that Cowboy Bebop didn’t do first and better and with a better soundtrack. You can do the same here. Plus the solar system of BHB makes more sense.

Who should get this?
If you like Anime or space adventures with bullets rather than lasers then this is your game. If you want to do something like Traveler but don’t want the overhead of the system or the mega-plot then this is your game. You might be able to do “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” but we have better choices for those games. This would be perfect for “Buck Rodgers” or “Flash Gordon” though and of course “Cowboy Bebop”.
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