Showing posts with label sci-fi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sci-fi. Show all posts

Friday, June 7, 2024

Kickstart Your Weekend: Last Chance to support Thirteen Parsecs!

Thirteen Parsecs

Thirteen Parsecs

We want this game to be your sci-fi RPG of choice, so help us make that happen.

This uses the same O.G.R.E.S. as NIGHT SHIFT and Wasted Lands. 

Much like NIGHT SHIFT, there are core rules for playing in all sorts of Sci-Fi genres; Space Opera, Action, Comedy, Horror (of course!), and more.

There will be "Solar Frontiers," mini-settings you can use to start your game (much like the Night Worlds for NIGHT SHIFT). My Solar Frontiers will be "Space Truckers" and the currently titled "Dark Stars," my "aliens and horror in space" setting.

Jason will provide the bulk of the core rules and his two Solar Frontiers, and our long-time collaborator (and demo game GM extraordinaire) Derek Stoelting will also add his Solar Frontiers. We are all working on adding rules and expanding what worked best in NIGHT SHIFT and Wasted Lands. We have over 75 years of game design experience for a couple dozen different companies/publishers.

Speaking of our other games, Thirteen Parsecs is 100% compatible with NIGHT SHIFT and Wasted Lands.  Do you want to play deeper, dark sci-fi horror? NIGHT SHIFT + 13P has you covered. Want to pilot your Time Ship back to after the KT extinction and find a world populated by the proto-human experiments of the Great Old Ones? Wasted Lands + 13P! Or combine all three.

I am planning an epoch-sweeping adventure that takes you from Wasted Lands to NIGHT SHIFT to Thirteen Parsecs, in the vein of one of my favorite books and movies, 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's not exactly the same, of course (I do not liken myself to a Clark or a Kubrick), but it's an echo of a time when I read both 2001 and Lord of the Rings one summer.

Help us make this a reality! We are going strong out of the gate but let's hit those stretch goals.

We are exactly the type of publisher these crowdfunding sites are really for: small professionals with grand ideas and the desire and skills to get it done; we just lack the capital for some art and printing costs upfront.

All of our and Jason's crowdfunding has met our goals, and more importantly, we have delivered on time. We are even offering some nice perks for early backers.

So please check us out!



Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Witches in Space for Thirteen Parsecs

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." 

 - Clarke's Third Law

 Come on. You knew I was going to go here.

Before I start I will say this, there is no "witch" class in the core Thirteen Parsecs book. But that doesn't mean you can add one yourself. As I mentioned yesterday, Thirteen Parsecs is 100% compatible with NIGHT SHIFT and Wasted Lands, and those games have witches and sorcerers, respectively.  Rules-wise, there is nothing at all stopping you from adding either to your sci-fi game of Thirteen Parsecs

The only thing that remains is "How?"

Well. I have you covered. SPAAACE!!

While there are not a lot of witches in science fiction, they are there and they have made quite an impact. 

Bene Gesserit

The easiest one to talk about, and the one we should really talk about first, is the Bene Gesserit Order from Frank Herbert's Dune Series.  This order of Sisters practice extreme mental control, have psychic abilities, and have secret, occult even ways. They often even play the role as witches when being set up against the "Holy Order" that Paul is trying to create. I don't pretend to be an expert on Dune at all, but it is my wife's favorite series, and she can go on and on about much in the same way I can about Dracula or Lord of the Rings. So, I trust her assessment of this. Note that we both ignore the Brian Herbert books. Me out of no desire to read them and her for "dancing on the corpse of his dead father to make a buck with high school English class level writing." 

The Nightsisters, the Witches of Dathomir

Ok. What is not to love about the force using, Dark Side, magic (or even magick) Nightsisters, aka the Witches of Dathomir? Nothing. That's what.  There is even a great meme out there for them. 


I learned about these witches, and really, that is what they are, via the Star Wars RPG. I don't recall if it was a later book in the d20 line or if it was from the Saga system. But my very first experience was getting a box of Star Wars minis from Wizards of the Coast and there was a "Dathomir Witch" in the pack. Well, you can imagine my surprise.

We finally saw some on screen in the Ahsoka series. We even got Claudia Black to play one! 


Ok...I am not really serious here, but hey, if I can have a Pumpkin Spice Witch, then certainly, space is large enough for the Bene Gesserit, the Dathomir Witches, and the Bellerians. BUT if we take the equally not-so-serious idea that Space Mutiny exists in the same universe as the original Battlestar Galactica, well, they already had Space Angels and Devils. Witches don't seem to be that much of a stretch. 

Plus Bellerian sounds enough like Raëlian for me to have some fun with. 

Occult Themes in Doctor Who

I talked at length about this in a full post. Based on a recent line dropped by the Head of U.N.I.T. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in the recent "73 Yards," supernatural elements seem to be going to become more common. 

And these are only a few easily accessible ones. I have not even gotten into books, like the Morgaine Saga by C.J. Cherryh, that have witches or witch-like characters. While Trek is notoriously light on witches, there was mention of the Wiccan religion in Season 2 of Discovery. Even Babylon 5 had "techno-mages." So yes, there is room in a large universe for witches. 

Witches in Darker Stars

While I have had witch-like characters in my play-tests of Darker Stars, there are no witches. The two starships I have been using in my games, The Protector and The Imbolc Mage, have their roots in my Witchcraft/Buffy games. But even the "witch" characters only have psychic abilities, and none to any great extent. I like to play-test with normal characters to start with, to get a feel for the game.

I do acknowledge that my own Sisters of the Aquarian Order would fit right into my Darker Stars setting and maybe even other "Solar Frontiers."  While overtly designed for the White Star system, they do work with NIGHT SHIFT and Thirteen Parsecs. But my habit is to make a new Tradition for different games. If I had the inclination to update the Aquarian Order, I might instead come up with something new for Thirteen Parsecs.  

My idea at this point? Something like the Aquarian Order, but maybe not so "light." An order of witches that began in the Dreaming Age of the Wasted Lands, part of the supernatural underground of NIGHT SHIFT, and then to the stars in Thirteen Parsecs.  An ancient, primordial witch cult that spans æons and light years. 

I certainly have my work cut out for me. 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Vampires in Space for Thirteen Parsecs

 June is the month I usually dedicate to Basic-era (B/X, BECMI) D&D, but not always. I have D&D-related plans for June, but I am not entirely done with science fiction yet. 

I have been doing a feature most nights, largely without pomp or circumstance, called Dracula, The Hunters' Journals, where I post the entries from the novel Dracula on the day they were recorded.  It has been a odd thing to post all this Dracula and Victorian content in the midst of all the sci-fi material I have been talking about all month.  But it is not unprecedented. 

Vampires in Space, via NIGHT SHIFT

Vampires in Space

What do Buck Rogers, Doctor Who, Vampirella, and Colin Wilson all have in common? They are all different science fiction media properties that have featured stories of vampires in space.

One of the strong selling points I think of our new Thirteen Parsecs RPG is it's 100% compatibility with NIGHT SHIFT.  Creatures, characters, classes, and more can be lifted whole from NIGHT SHIT and dropped right into Thirteen Parsecs.  You just need to figure out why they are there.

The vampire in NIGHT SHIFT is based on the Gothic vampire of old, which, of course, has roots in mythology, but mostly in Dracula, Ruthven, and Carmilla. It is also flexible enough to allow for various modern re-interpretations against the Gothic archetype. There is no reason why this can't be extended beyond that to space.  And like I said before, I kinda owe it to my 10-year-old self to at least try a Space Vampire. 

Vampires in Space

So, how have Space Vampires been done already?

Buck Rogers TV Series: "The Space Vampire"

In this episode from the 1979 TV series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," Buck Rogers faces a creature known as a Vorvon, a space vampire that drains the life energy from its victims. The episode blends science fiction with classic vampire mythology and powers, as the Vorvon can possess and control other beings. Buck must find a way to stop this menace before it can spread its evil influence throughout the space station. As expected, the Vorvon goes after Col. Wilma Dearing (though it does give Erin Gray a bit more to do). The vampire here can only be destroyed by flying it into a sun.

Doctor Who: "State of Decay"

This 1980 serial from "Doctor Who" features the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. The Doctor and Romana II and unknown to them, Adric, land on a planet where a trio of ancient vampire lords. These human explorers encountered the last of a race known as the Great Vampires, and have enslaved the local population. The story explores the conflict between the advanced Time Lords and the primitive yet powerful vampires, mixing gothic horror with futuristic elements.  Here the Great Vampires are depicted as an ancient race, as old as the Time Lords themselves, and their wars with the Time Lords. Again, like the Buck Rogers episode, many Vampire mythological elements are re-translated here.

Of note, well at least to me, is a line dropped by the Doctor that every inhabited planet has myths about vampires. We will later see other types of vampires in future episodes. The Haemovores in the 7th Doctor's "The Curse of Fenric," the Plasmavore in the 10th Doctor's "Smith and Jones," and the Saturnyn, another type of vampire (sexy fish vampires, according to the 11th Doctor) in "Vampires of Venice."

I discuss both of these episodes here and more about vampires in Doctor Who specifically here

Lifeforce (1985)

"Lifeforce" is a fairly notorious sci-fi horror film directed by Tobe Hooper. The plot centers on a space mission that discovers an alien spacecraft hidden in the tail of Halley's Comet. Inside, the crew finds three humanoid creatures in suspended animation. When brought back to Earth, these beings awaken and reveal themselves to be energy vampires, draining life force from humans to survive. 

The film was a minor hit in 1985, maybe not so much for the plot or story, but because it featured then-newcomer Mathilda May, who appeared completely nude throughout most of the film. It also included Steve Railsback, who would later give a strong and memorable performance as the abductee Duane Barry in the "X-Files" and Patrick Stewart who would the following year go on to star in "Star Trek the Next Generation."

This movie is, in theory anyway, based on the 1976 book by Colin Wilson, "The Space Vampires." I read the book after seeing the movie, and they have a few connections, like some vampires and character names. They are so different. I'll talk about the book separately.


Ah, Vampy. Vampirella is a character from the eponymous comic book series created by Forrest J. Ackerman and artist Trina Robbins, first appearing in 1969. She is an alien vampire from the planet Drakulon, where blood flows like water. After her planet is doomed, she travels to Earth. Blending science fiction and horror, Vampirella fights evil supernatural beings while struggling with her vampiric nature. The character has become iconic, appearing in various comic series, novels, and a 1996 film adaptation. of late she is often paired with Red Sonja in a number of reality spanning adventures. The strangest, and oddly the most fun one? "Red Sonja & Vampirella meet Betty & Veronica." On paper it should never work, yet it does.  Part of this, I think, also is due to the amazing art of Maria Sanapo.

Clark Ashton Smith's Works

Clark Ashton Smith, a long-time favorite here at The Other Side, incorporated vampiric themes into his science fiction and fantasy stories. In "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis" (1932), explorers on Mars encounter a parasitic creature that drains their life force, functioning similarly to a vampire. His works often feature otherworldly landscapes and cosmic horrors, blending the supernatural with speculative elements.

The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson

This 1976 novel is the basis for the movie "Lifeforce." It follows the story of alien vampires who travel to Earth and attempt to drain the life energy of humans. The novel delves into themes of sexuality, existentialism, and the survival instinct, blending sci-fi with classic vampire lore. 

The vampires, the almost Lovecraftian "Ubbo-Sathla," here, are more like Sex-Vampires. So that much tracks with the movie. The novel takes place in the late 21st century, not the 20th, and the discovery of the alien ship is in the Asteroid belt. 

Shambleau by C.L. Moore

"Shambleau" is a science fiction short story written by C.L. Moore, first published in the November 1933 issue of "Weird Tales" magazine. It is the debut story of her character Northwest Smith, a space-faring adventurer often compared to figures like Han Solo or Conan the Barbarian. "Shambleau" is noted for its innovative blend of science fiction and horror, as well as for its exploration of erotic and psychological themes.

The creature, Shambleau, is an exotic alien beauty with snakes for hair like Medusa. She has a hypnotic effect on those around her and, like Wilson's vampires, drains life energy. In many ways, she is a vampire, much in the same way that the Leanan sídhe is. There is also a scene in the Lifeforce movie where the female vampire (Mathilda May) is created out of the blood of two victims and she bears a passing resemblance to the description of Shambleau. 

Vampires in Thirteen Parsecs

How you do vampires will largely be up to your Thirteen Parsecs campaign. For example, I will likely not have them in my "Space Truckers" games except as a gag. But "Darker Stars" is a different story. 

I would have them as an ancient but dying race. Their homeworld orbits a "Black Sun," a Brown Dwarf star. Their planet would be the last dying remains of a great feudal empire where Vampires were all the nobility. They took to the stars to find new planets to drain, but encountering humanity from Earth, they met their first real resistance in their 10,000-year reign. Part of the Darker Stars camping mode would be this first contact.

I once saw a meme that said you can turn a Gothic cathedral on its side to make a gothic-looking spaceship. That's what the ships of the vampires look like. Something that should look ancient and like it was built as an act of worship to their Vampire masters. 

To give you an idea of what I am doing in Darker Stars, I don't even consider the Vampires to be the biggest threat. 

I can't wait to get this all to you.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Sci-Fi Month Final Thoughts

 This Sci-fi month was a lot of fun. I got to look into the history of Gamma World, reminisce a little on Star Frontiers and Star Wars, and finally spend some quality time with Alternity. 

All fun games that I enjoyed, but none really hit the mark I am looking for. Now to be fair, this is largely about me and not the games themselves.  Next year I am going to cover a bunch of d20 based games, but in the meantime I have a solution to my sci-fi game problem, and it is one I knew I had to do for a very long time.

I am just going to have to do my own. 

With Thirteen Parsecs, that is exactly what I am doing. 

Thirteen Parsecs

This game uses the same O.G.R.E.S. game system that you find in NIGHT SHIFT and Wasted Lands. Also, like NIGHT SHIFT's "Night Worlds," this one has new "Solar Frontiers."

At least for me, I want to make a game to fill the hole in my life that Star Frontiers, Star Wars, and Alternity would have filled. 

Thirteen Parsecs will be hard sci-fi for people who like that (me!), Space Opera for people who like that, and futuristic military in space. It will also fill my need for horror in space. Something that Dark•Matter was also doing. 

You can combine Thirteen Parsecs with NIGHT SHIFT for all sorts of horror in space or even just horror sci-fi.  If you also like this sort of thing, I recommend the "No One Hears You Scream" pledge level. 

We are very close to offering hardcovers and leather-bound editions, and I really, really want to see that become a reality. 

If you want to know more, beyond the funding page information, then check out this Q&A Jason, Derek, and I did with Dan Davenport. 

I can even begin to tell how excited I am for this game and to get it into your hands.

Recently I saw copies of Wasted Lands at my FLGS and they told me it was selling great. Tim Kask gave us praise on his post-Gary Con wrap-up show. We have a lot of great things for you and can't wait to get them all to you.

Back Thirteen Parsecs if you can!

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Review: Alternity Star*Drive

Alternity Star*Drive
Continuing on with Alternity, I am turning my attention to the Star*Drive Campaign Setting. Before I go too deep into it I have to say that I think TSR, before their purchase by WotC was on track to making the same mistakes with Alternity that they were making with AD&D Second Edition. That is having a core system and too many campaign settings. Now, to be 100% fair here, Alternity only has two different but linked campaign settings; Star*Drive and Dark*Matter. Two and a half if you also count Gamma World. Two and two halves if you add in the Starcraft material too. But the seeds are here. Sadly, they never fell into fertile ground, and even the ones that did were not well tended to.

Star*Drive Campaign Setting

by David Eckelberry and Richard Baker, 1998. Full-color covers and interior art. 256 pages. 

This book still features the TSR logo, but all details of the company that produces it is Wizards of the Coast. I only point this out because it is a weird transitional time for the company and I can't help but think this as much as anything else sealed the fate of this game.

As with the rest of the classic Alternity material, this is out of print and there are no PDFs availble. 

Chapter 1: The Star*Drive Campaign

This covers what this setting is about and some basics and a timeline of contact with the Fraal to the modern day of the 26th century (2501).  Interestingly we are 100 years away from constructing the first Star Drive tech. This is roughly comparable to the timeline we would later see in Star Trek.  This chapter also discusses different ways to play this game. The feel is somewhere between Star Frontiers and Traveller, with dashes of Star Trek and/or Starship Troopers added in. 

Chapter 2: The 26th Century

An aside. Are we in the 26th Century because it is not the 25th century of Buck Rodgers? 

Anyway. Here we get an overview of what our setting is like now. Science, Technology which includes cybertech and biotech, mutants and psionics, medicine, and even religion, is covered here. There is not a lot of game text here, this is all an overview.  The religion section is interesting since it usually gets ignored by most sci-fi games. Unless it is Star Wars.

Chapter 3: Stellar Nations

This takes us into more detail of the who, what and where of this campaign setting and feels most like an extension of the Alternity rules. Note, not a lot of mechanics, but more information on material presented in the core rules. All of the species from the core are here, with their home worlds. Also, the various "Nations" in space, including the Solar Union (oddly not established in 2112). 

Chapter 4: The Verge

This is the area of unexplored space and the part that gives me the "Star Trek" vibes.  We are introduced to "The Lighthouse" which I will get into more detail about later on. Plenty of new worlds and systems are detailed, but the obvious thing here is that GMs will create their own worlds and systems. Still, though, there is plenty here to keep you busy. This section is the bulk of the book; over half. Game stats are largely limited to NPCs, some ships, and planets. 

Chapter 5: Hero Creation

This is the most rules heavy section of the book, but that is not say a lot. It is largely additional information to what is found in the Core Rules. The additions here include Homeworld or Nation and a few new careers. Though there are a lot of new details here that can affect every career. 

While there is a lot of material here, it is really all "World Building" material. While it is interesting, I don't find it compelling. Chances are very, very good that if I had played this game in the late 1990s, I would have converted it all to some sort of Star Trek-like game and used that background. In truth, I also find it less compelling than Star Frontiers, which tried to do something similar 15 years prior. I mean the Fraal are interesting, but they are no Vrusk!

Still I can't fault the game for what I want it to be, only what it is. It is somewhere between a fully realized campaign setting and a toolbox. Maybe if it had been allowed to continue on we could have seen more growth. Certainly, sites like give credence to this idea. Their Star*Drive section certainly has enough to keep anyone busy for a long time. 

Select Supplements

I don't have a lot of material for the Star*Drive Setting, but I have some. Here are a few.

Alternity Star*Drive Supplements

Game Masters' Screen

This is lighter card stock. Not too different than some of the early D&D 3.0 screens. 

Gamma World

Softcover, 192 pages. Color cover, black & white interior art. 2000. This one has a TSR prefixed product code (as did Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition) but the logo and company information is all Wizards of the Coast.

I briefly discussed this one in my discussion of post-TSR-Gamma World offerings. This softcover book by Andy Collins and Jeff Grubb takes us back to Gamma World—or at least, a Gamma World. It is still Earth, and it is still post-apocalyptic. 

This book uses, but doesn't require, the Alternity Core. Also it feels like Gamma World. I think this is because the design of Alternity had Gamma World in mind. Mutants and the like are already baked in to the core so no extra rules are needed to add them, just some extra options.  

While the rules are 100% Alternity, the background sort of precludes Star*Drive. Unless of course you want the Galaxy to have moved on without humans and Earth is this wasteland, OR, this is different, very Earth like planet. Imagine the shock when space travelers from Earth/Solar Union find this planet out in the Verge and there is a colasping Space Needle in a town called Seatle. This is something that would work, and work well, in Alternity. 

I would say that if you like Gamma World and Alternity is your system of choice then this is the version of it to play. 


by David Eckelberry. 96 pages, color covers, monochrome interior. 1999.  This one has the TSR Silver Anniversary logo on the cover. Listed as copyright 1999 TSR.

This one is fun. Not only do we get some cool spacehips (always a plus in my mind) but there are alternate FTL systems listed here so you can have the kind of game you want. Me? I would have seen the section on Warp and never looked back. Though there are some other good options here including relativistic travel with time dialation effects. And get out your scientific calculators, because in relativistic flight you will need to caluclate gamma changes. Yes. This is a selling point to me. 

We cover basic spaceship operations, technology, some skill uses and most importantly Spaceships!  The last third of the books covers ships and deck plans with costs. Again, not sure how acurate the costs are, but who cares! Spaceships!

The Lighthouse

by David Eckelberry. Color covers, mono-chrome interior. 1998. 64-pages. Features the TSR logo of the late 90s. Contact information is all Wizards of the Coast. 

This is the space station mentioned in the Campagin setting. The cover come free (like the old adventure modules) and has deck plans for all (well most) 200 decks. The feel is a cross between a Star Trek Starbase and Babylon 5. 

The history of the lighthouse is discussed including why it was built. We get some details on it's various systems and who lives there. It is be necessity a broad overview, but there is enough here to let me really dive into it. 

One of the reasons I have kept this one around becuse the plans are really perfect for my various Ghost Tower/Ghost Station of Inverness ideas [1][2][3]. For this reason alone I am glad I have held on to this.


Alternity Star*Drive has a lot going for it. If you are a fan of the system then I think this is a must aquire set of books. It doesn't do anything above and beyond what we have seen in Star Frontiers, Traveller or many other games, BUT it has a great flavor and the oprotunity to add material from Gamma World, Starcraft and even their other campaign setting, Dark*Matter. 

Sadly all of this was superceded by the d20 system. Much of Star*Drive (and Dark*Matter) would go on to live in d20 Modern and d20 Future. I will deal with those in another time. Likely next May.

I can't say for sure, but I have the feeling that Alternity was never given the chance it needed to survive. Cut off early and not supported. We saw the leel of support WotC could give to d20, which was in truth their darling. Alternity was the lost and forgotten older sibling of d20.  I am happy to see it has support online and that it still has fans out there.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Review: Alternity RPG (1998)

 Here we are for the last week of Sci-Fi month, and I wanted to dedicate this week to the game I really wanted to love. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with this game; it just never had the chance to connect properly. But more on that. This week is Alternity week.

Alternity RPG Player's Handbook and Gamemaster's Guide

Alternity was a noble effort. A new Sci-Fi game that would allow you to play hard sci or science fantasy as you saw fit. It had a core system and there were supplements and campaign guides to extend from the near, and dark future (Dark*Matter) to the stars (Star*Drive).  Even Gamma World was updated to this new system.  It was, honestly, a wonderful idea. 

Sadly, Alternity suffered a fatal blow in the death throws of TSR. Published in 1998 it was the last RPG developed and published by TSR. Wizards of the Coast bought TSR in 1997 (and lets be honest, saved TSR in 1997). In 2000 the Alternity line was dropped. While you can find the Quick Starts online in PDF form, there are no legal PDFs of the Alternity game. There is an online community and a new RPG that uses the same system (more or less), the 1998-2000 version of the game is very much out of print.

For this review, I am going to focus on my print copies.

Alternity Player's Handbook (1998)
Alternity Player's Handbook (1998)

by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker. Full-color covers and interior art. 256 pages.
Art by rk post, Todd Lockwood, William O'Connor, Dennis Kauth, Rob Lazzaretti.

Released, April 1998.

Let me start with the look and feel of this game. If you are familiar with the later TSR offerings, in particular the Revised 2nd Edition of AD&D, then you will get a good idea for the art and layout here. Picking up the books they feel "familiar." Though I can't help but smile at the "lens flare" in the Alternity logo. Hey, we are all allowed to use a lens flare once non ironically and if you can't do it in 1998 then when can you? This does make me feel nostalgic for late 90s.  

Authors Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker had grand hopes for this game in 1998, and their love for it shows throughout the book. Whatever other issues I might have with this system (and spoilers: they are minor), their efforts here are not among them. They start be justifiably comparing what they are doing to Dungeons & Dragons. Rereading these rules now, so many years later, the similarities are much closer than I recalled. 

I am breaking out the chapters into sections here since they are largely mirrored in the Gamemaster's Guide.


This covers the basics. What is role-playing, what is this game and so on. Veterans can skip this, but there is some good insight here about what they are trying to do. 

Chapter 1: Fast-Play Rules

This covers the game in a very fast-paced and simplified manner. Designed to get everyone up and running right away. Personally, I like the idea, but I wonder if it is not better served with a PDF or a soft-cover freebie alone and not included in this book. Granted, in 1998, not as many people were on the internet, and freebie printed products were likely still too much for a company that had just been rescued from financial oblivion. Still, we are only talking about a handful of pages here, and it really helps set the stage for what is to come. The Gamemaster's Guide also had a free PDF.

Note: The new Alternity also offers this for free for their updated version. 

Chapter 2: Hero Creation

What is says on the tin. We have nine steps in our hero creation, which feels very, very similar to D&D. Even the six attributes are similar. You choose a concept, a species (Fraal, Mechalus, Sesheyan, T'sa, Weren, and Human), and a Career and Profession. Careers are your concept in a few words and Professions are bit like classes, but certain skills and abilities are cheaper/easier to acquire. So anyone can take any skill, some are just easier. It's a good approach. The Professions are Combat Specialist, Diplomat, Free Agent, Tech Operative, and the psionic Mindwalker. Mindwalkers are detailed later.

Ability scores are assigned, largely compatible with AD&D scores. Some species have ability score minimums and maximums. Skills are also bought/assigned. Some species lend themselves to some skill easier. The Mechalus, for example, get computer science for free. Weren get unarmed attacks.

Characters get perks and flaws, a popular game design choice of the later 90s. Choose some attributes, and complete the character sheet. I'll work through an example later this week.

Chapter 3: Heroes in Action 

This chapter covers the basic rules of the game. The basic idea here is to roll a d20, sometimes with some additional dice as a bonus or penalty, and roll under a given margin. The additional dice are called "steps" and they change based on the situation. Trying to reprogram a computer when you are at ease, have all the time in the world and it is a system you know well might be a "Cakewalk" step. So you roll your d20 and then roll a d12, you minus whatever you get on the d12 from the d20 for your final result. Remember rolling low here is good. On the other hand reprogramming the same computer in another language while being shot at might be a "Grueling" step. So roll a d20 and add another d20 to that! There are plenty of examples given in the book.

Dice Steps Difficulty

Which skills and abilities to use in what situation are also covered. 

Combat is a big one and here we have four types of damage. Stun, Wound, Mortal, and Fatigue. Anyone one can incapacitate a character. Ok four damage types is not ideal in my mind, but it works here and that is fine with me. 

Chapter 4: Skills

This covers the skills, how they work and where they are used. As expected for the time there are LOT of skills here. Of course the advantage to this is character customization is great. 

Chapter 5: Perks & Flaws

These sorts of mechanics were very popular starting in the 80s and into the 90s. These also help improve or hinder a character to some degree or provide some role-playing fodder. Many here are common ones you see in other games. Ones to make the character harder to kill (Tough as Nails), lucky (Good Luck), Ambidextrous, Great Looking, and more. These sorts of things are still popular in newer games, but to a lesser degree.  Flaws work the same way. Bad Luck, Powerful Enemy, Fragile, and so on. 

Chapter 6: Sample Careers

The flexibility of this game is baked in. Here we only get a sampling of potential careers. The various supplements can (and will add) more. Not a long chapter, but long enough.

Chapter 7: Attributes

These are character "tags" and descriptors that help round out the character. They include various Motivations, Moral Attitudes, and Character Traits. I can't help but notice that is pretty much all some new games have for their character-building. Also not a long chapter. 

Chapter 8: Achievements

The Achievement Point system works a little different than the typical XP system that many readers of this game would have been used to. These allow the character to advance skills, add a new perk, remove a flaw, and so on. 

Chapter 9: Goods & Services

Our goods and equipment chapter. Important here is the PL or Progress Level of the game and the place where the characters will be buying things. The PL of our current time is PL5 or Information Age. D&D, not counting the effects of magic, is PL 2. Star Trek is PL 7. There is a rough timeline from 4,000 BCE to 5000+ CE. 

Lots of fun things here too. I am not going to gripe about some of the "future tech" projections that are a bit off. Instead I will point out that they do a better job than many other games. Speaking of which...

Chapter 10: Computers

Covers the ubiquitous computers of all sci-fi games. There is a great little overview of Computers through the ages which is a good read. I do like how they try to get cyberware and computers right into the core rules from the start.

Chapter 11: Weapons & Armor

Again, what is says. PL values are given. I didn't see anything to adjust prices based on PL, but I could have missed it. I guess that is the biggest fiction of all here, that standard wages keep up with inflation and supply/demand. This is fine. This is a sci-fi RPG, not an econ textbook.

I am not one to get all gaga over guns, but I do love some sci-fi weapons. Give me lasers, phaser, pulse rifles, I love them all. 

Chapter 12: Vehicles

This covers both personal craft and space ships. There are more in the Star*Drive game. 

Chapter 13: Mutations

I think Gamma World was very much on their minds here. 

Chapter 14: Psionics

Ah, now I look forward to this chapter in every sci-fi game I read. This covers the powers and Mindwalkers. The idea here is to be a really good psionic character who have to train for it. This fits. The feel here is solid Babylon 5 and Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge. Mind you these are good things. 

Cyber Characters

Chapter 15: Cybertech

It has been threaded through out the game, but this chapter cover cyberware and cybertech (it was the late 90s remember) in detail. 

We end with some compiled tables, an Index and character (Hero) sheets.

Alternity Gamemaster's Guide (1998)
Alternity Gamemaster's Guide (1998)

by Richard Baker and Bill Slavicsek. Full-color covers and interior art. 256 pages.
Art by rk post, Charles Bernard, D. Alexander Gregory, Hannibal Kings, Terese Nelson.

Released May, 1998.

Notable, the authors' order is swapped on the cover. While reading this, I felt that this was a full joint effort.

The layout and organization mirrors that of the Player's Handbook. One thing is pretty clear that Game Masters should (maybe "need" is a better word) read both books. 

The Gamemaster's Guide has an Introduction, Chapter 1: Fast-Play Rules, and Chapter 2: Hero Creation, just like the Player's book, but from the Game Master's perspective. This includes what to allow (or not allow) during character creation. The same is true for Chapters 4 and 5, Skills and Perks & Flaws, respectively.  

Chapter 3 is Gamemasters in Action. This is more detail on the rules of play. The GM side of the Heroes in Action chapter in the Player's book.

The biggest changes from the format come in Chapters 11 to 17. 

Chapters 10 and 11 cover Vehicles and Spaceships, respectively. Now I love Starship and Spaceship design. So this is a chapter I kept coming back to, just like I did during my days with Traveller and Star Frontiers. Spaceship design and creation might be more fun than character creation to be honest.

Chapter 12: Alien Artifacts

This would be the "magic items" chapter in D&D-like games. There are some good background details here to add to the campaign chapters (13 and 14) that follow. 

Chapter 13: Campaign DesignChapter 14: Campaign Architecture, and Chapter 15: Adventure Design

 These chapters detail how to create your own campaigns. They are both about 20 or so pages of material. More details are given in the various campaign settings. Still, there is enough here to keep any sci-fi busy for a while.

Chapter 16: Optional Rules

Mutants, Psionics, Cybertech, AI, and FX are all covered here. FX, which is short for "Special Effects" (here and elsewhere), deals with all the other sorts of things in the game, like magic, miracles, and superscience. Normally, I don't like to mix magic and sci-fi, but in this game, I didn't mind it, really. Maybe it was more due the Dark*Matter setting.

Chapter 17: Creatures & Aliens

People who want to meet or eat you. The stat blocks are similar to PC/NPCs. They remind me a lot of Gamma World in terms of layout and presentation. There are some animals (earth standard) and some templates for alien animals. 


This fun appendix covers converting AD&D 2nd Ed Characters to Alternity and back.  It's actually kind of fun and I admit, one of the first chapters I first went to when I first started looking into this game.

AD&D 2e to Alternity

We end with an index, spaceship sheets, system sheets, and a bibliography. 


I wanted to love this game. I really did. So here is what works and doesn't for me.

I love what the developers were trying to do here, a system to cover all sorts of different kinds of sci-fi. A way to combine genres like Gamma World, Traveller and Star Frontiers. Plus I love the style of this game. 

While it has a certain "AD&D meets GURPS IN SPAAACE!" vibe, I really like this vibe. This is increased when we bring in the Dark*Matter and Star*Drive settings. 

On the downside, this game suffered from the death of TSR. While reading the history of the company pretty much guaranteed the game was doomed from the start, this was sealed when the d20 system was introduced.  The d20 system did everything the Alternity system was trying to do and then some more. This becomes obvious in the d20 Future book, which includes Alternity and Star Frontiers material.

The system itself, while it takes some of the best of AD&D, also has some of its problems. They tried to patch over them, so some degree of success, but not say as much as the d20 system would later do. 

I know that there was not a lot of love for this system back in the day. Again, I wanted to love it, and Dark*Matter in particular. Well, I discovered the WitchCraft RPG at the same time, and that was pretty much love at first sight. But like many games, I kept coming back to it and thinking, "What if..." 

Re-reading it now, many years later, I still see that it has all of the elements of things I would love. They are all here, but maybe not in the order I need them to be. But there is still a really fun game here, and I am looking forward to exploring it more.

Alternity RPG Today

While the original Alternity RPG is out of print, there are still options for players today.

There is the new Alternity RPG out. Richard Baker, who was half of the original team, worked on this version. I like it and I will try to review it at some point.

There is also a great Alternity RPG website with a LOT of material. There is so much here I might have to spend some time reviewing it as well. 

Looking forward to getting into my other Alternity books.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Review: Star Frontiers, Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks

Star Frontiers, First Edition
NOTE: This is repost from 2021. My coverage of TSR's Sci-Fi offerings would not be complete without this. Plus I want to do this before tackling Alternity later on.


Gamma World might have been TSR's first big entry into sci-fi gaming (Warriors of Mars and Metamorphosis Alpha non-withstanding), but it was not their biggest.  While I don't have any hard numbers in front of me, I am going to have to say that Star Frontiers edges out the later Alternity in terms of popularity.  It was certainly built at the height of TSR's fame with the first edition, simply Star Frontiers, published in 1982 with the new edition and trade-dress Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn and Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks.

Certainly, in terms of fans, Star Frontiers has Alternity beat.  But more on that soon.

For this review, I am considering the PDFs and Print on Demand versions of both Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn and Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks. I am also going to go with my recollections of playing the game when it first came out.

The Alpha Dawn book is designed by "TSR Staff Writers" but we know ow that a huge bulk of the work was done by David "Zeb" Cook and Lawrence Schick.  Knight Hawks was designed primarily by Douglas Niles.  The cover art in both cases was done by Larry Elmore with interior art by Elmore and Jim Holloway with contributions by Jeff Easley, Tim Truman, and even some Dave Trampier.  Keith Parkinson would go on to do some other covers in line as well.  

While originally boxed sets (gotta love the early 1980s for that!) the PDFs break all the components down into separate files. Handy when you go to print the counters or the maps.  The Print on Demand versions put all the files together into an attractive soft-cover book for each game.  The maps are published in the back, but you will want to print them out for use. 

Star Frontiers, Print on Demand

Both books are easy to read and really nice.  They have been some of my favorite Print on Demand purchases ever.

Let's look into both games.

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn

Alpha Dawn is the original Star Frontiers game.  The box game with two books, a Basic and Expanded game rules, some maps, counters, and two 10-sided dice.  The rules indicate that one is "dark" and the other "light" to help when rolling percentages, but mine were red and blue.  Go figure.

The Basic Game is a 16-page book/pdf that gives you the very basics of character creation.  There are four stat pairs, Strength/Stamina, Dexterity/Reaction Speed, Intelligence/Logic, and Personality/Leadership.  These are scored on a 0 to 100 scale, but the PCs will fall between 30 and 70.  Higher is better. These can be adjusted by species and each individual score can also be changed or shifted. 

The four species are humans, the insect-like Vrusk, the morphic Dralasites, and the ape-like Yazirian. Each species of course has its own specialties and quirks.  I rather liked the Dralasites (whom I always pronounced as "Drasalites") because they seemed the oddest and they had a weird sense of humor. 

We are also introduced to the worm-like Sathar. These guys are the enemies of the UPF (United Planetary Federation) and are not player-characters. 

The basics of combat, movement, and some equipment are given.  There is enough here to keep you going for bit honestly, but certainly, you will want to do more.  We move on then to the Expanded rules.

The Expanded Rules cover the same ground but now we get more details on our four species and the Sathar.  Simple ability checks are covered, roll d% against an ability and match it or roll under.

Characters also have a wide variety of skills that can be suited to any species, though some are better than others, Vrusk for example are a logical race and gain a bonus for that.  Skills are attached to abilities so now you roll against an ability/skill to accomplish something.  Skills are broken down into broad categories or careers; Military, Tech, and Bio/Social. 

Movement is covered and I am happy to say that even in 1982 SF had the good sense to go metric here. 

There are two combat sections, personal and vehicle.  These are not starships, not yet anyway, and were a lot of hovercars and gyro-jet guns. 

There is a section on creatures and how to make creatures. I am afraid I took that section a little too close to heart and most of my SF games ended up being "D&D in Space" with the planets being used as large dungeons.

The background material in the Frontier Society though is great stuff. I immediately got a good just of what was going on here and what this part of the galaxy was like.  While Earth was never mentioned, you could almost imagine it was out there somewhere. Either as the center of UPF (Star Trek) or far away, waiting to be found (Battlestar Galactica).  

This book also includes the adventure SF-0: Crash on Volturnus.

When it comes to sci-fi some of the rules have not aged as well. Computers still feel very limited, but the idea that as we approach the speed of light we can enter The Void has its appeal.  

Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks
Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks

Ah. Now this game.  Star Frontiers was great, but this game felt like something different. Something "not D&D" to me.

In fact I have often wondered if Knight Hawks had not been a separate game in development by Douglas Niles that they later brought into the Star Frontiers line. I also think that TSR was also suffering a little bit of what I call "Traveller Envy" since this can be used as an expansion, a standalone RPG, and as a board game!

Like Alpha Dawn, this game is split into four sections.  There is a "Basic" game, and "Advanced" or "Expansion" rules (and the bulk of the book), an adventure, "The Warriors of White Light", and all the counters and maps.

As far as maps go, that hex map of empty space is still one of my favorites and fills me with anticipation of worlds to come. 

The PDF version splits all this into four files for ease of printing or reading.  The Print on Demand book is gorgeous really.  Yes...the art is still largely black and white and the maps and counters are pretty much useless save as references, but still. I flip through the book and I want to fire up the engines of my characters' stolen Corvette, the FTL Lightspeed Lucifer. Complete with the onboard computer they named Frodo.

The Basic rules cover things like ship movement, acceleration, and turning, along with ship-to-ship combat.  By itself, you have the rules for a good ship combat board game. It works fine as long as you don't mind keeping your frame of reference limited to two-dimensional space. 

The Expanded rules tie this all a little closer to the Alpha Dawn rules, but I still get the feeling that this may have started out as a different sort of game that was later brought into the fold of Star Frontiers.  

Ships are largely built and there is a character creation feel to this.  Their 80's roots are showing, no not like that, but in that, the best engines you can get for a starship are atomic fission.  Of course, no one just gets a starship, you have to buy it and that often means taking out a loan or doing a bunch of odd jobs to raise the credits. Often both.  I don't think I ever actually bought a ship. The Lucifer was stolen.

There is also quite a bit on the planets of the UPF, Frontier Space, and the worlds of the Sathar.  It really had kind of a "Wild West" meets the "Age of Sail" feel to it. 

The last part of the POD book is the adventure "The Warriors of White Light" with its various scenarios. 

Minus two d10s everything is here for an unlimited number of adventures in Frontier Space.  Rereading it now after so many years I can't help but dream up various new adventures. I also can't help to want to use the Sathar in some of my other Sci-fi games.  They have such untapped potential.

The price for these books is perfect.  Grab the PDF and POD combo.  Get some d10s, load your gyrojet gun and get ready to make the jump to the Void. There are new planets to discover!

Parts of Star Frontiers, in particular the species, would find new life in D20 Future, part of the D20 Modern line.

Both games are fun, but suffer from and/or benefit from the design principles of the time. Newer players might find some of the game elements dated. Older players of the games will find them nostalgic.  Personally reading through them now some 40 years after first reading them I get a lot more enjoyment from the rules.  Back then I was really too D&D focused to really enjoy what I had in front of me. Today, well I can't wait to stat up a character or two and a starship.

Star Frontiers on the Web

There are many places where Star Frontiers is alive and well. There used to be more, but my understanding is a predatory grab for the trademark by another RPG company caused Hasbro/WotC to exercise their legal rights and bring the game back in-house. While that did screw over the amazing work done by the fan sites, there are still many up and providing new material for the game.  

For these fans and sites, Star Frontiers never went away.

Don't forget our campaign for Thirteen Parsecs is still going strong!

Friday, May 24, 2024

This Old Dragon: Issue #166

Dragon Magazine #166
 Dipping into the box of mildewy Dragons under my desk, I find this gem in February 1991. Ok, again, I did not pull this one out completely at random. And compared to some of the others this one is in rather great shape. Let's see. February of 1991. I was an undergrad, living in an apartment with three other guys. Graduation was still a year or so off. My computer at the time was my aging Color Computer 3 that, while I loved it, was showing me its limitations in an increasingly IBM-PC-compatible world.  The number song on the radio was "The First Time" by Surface. No I don't remember them at all. The number one movie was "Sleeping with the Enemy" staring Julia Roberts. And on tables and shelves everywhere was Issue #166 of This Old Dragon.

Again, this is a sci-fi-themed edition, so let's see what we have here.

Our cover this month is from E. M. Gooch. I admit I don't know them and my quick internet search pulled up nothing.

Letters covers the topics of the month from all over the world. An Israeli reader provides some names for creatures in Hebrew. A Canadian reader has Griffon questions. 

The Editorial by Dale A. Donovan covers a lot of good non-TSR games for various genres. 

In Time for Tomorrow is our Sci-Fi themed section. Up first is Michael LaBossiere with Wired and Ready a guide to running a cyberpunk-style RPG. The 90s were a great time for cyberpunk games. I had tried out several in the first half of the decade, with Mike Pondsmith's Cyberpunk and FASA's ShadowRun as my two favorites. Ithink Shadowrun edged it out for me since I was always a fan of magic. His 5 page article covers a lot of ground and was required reading back then. Today, well many of the things that seemed like fantasy then are all too real now. Large, above the law, corporations. Dark futures. cyber slang. All feels like history and current events instead of some future time.

Mike Speca has some BATTLETECH advice in Tricks of the Trade. Now I never played BATTLETECH though I do see the appeal. 

Up next is an article that to me at least feels like "what happens if we adapt Paranoia's biggest gag to GURPS Autoduel?" Edward Goldstein gives us A Clone of Your Own for GURPS Autoduel. It reads like one of the "Ecology of" articles; set in the world of the game and reporting what they know with game details interspersed.

Breaking up the sci-fi is TSR PREVIEWS for February and March 1991. Among the listings are The Complete Psionics Handbook, which I just dug up for my new Forgotten Realms campaign. Some Buck Rogers XXVc accessories. Ship of Horror for Ravenloft, which I think I picked up right away, and some more. 

Three pages of the Convention Calendar is next. Lots of international ones here too. The Egyptian Campaign '91 is listed for March 1-3. Despite being there, I am pretty sure I missed it. Lots of little cons back then, I don't find as many of these now.

The Lessers (Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk) are back with The Role of Computers. This time they cover Wing Commander, which they give 6 stars out of 5! That's quite a review. The requirements are also pretty high for 1991, s Roland sound board and VGA graphics. No indication on RAM but I am betting at least 8 or 16 megs, which was top notch back then.

The Game Wizards from Timothy B. Brown is up with a preview of the new Dungeons & Dragons set subtitled "An Easy-To-Learn Introduction to Role-Playing." Like all Game Wizards entries it is half sales pitch, half preview. 

Friend of the Other Side, Bruce Heard is up with another installment of The Voyage of the Princess Ark.

Superstar Tom Moldvay is next with a new game, Dino Wars! A very clever game of army men vs toy dinosaurs. Honestly, it looks fun. There is quite a lot of detail, and it looks like something everyone could play with, given how ubiquitous toy soldiers and dinosaurs are.

Dino Wars by Tom Moldvay

Our fiction section is Rest Stop by J.W. Donnelly.

Scott Waterhouse is up with Arcane Lore: More Pages from the Arch Mages. Not the subtle title change. This covers new spellbooks and spells for AD&D 2nd Edition.

Sage Advice answers our burning questions and errata. 

Jim Bambra reviews Torg and Rifts in Role-Playing Reviews. Is there any game that is more early 90s than Rifts? Almost every designer I know has developed something for it. 

Marlys Heezel "reviews" some new novels for the Novel Ideas column, which I have never seen before. Both books are from TSR Books, so it really feels more like an ad.  In fact a full page ad for them follow.

Forum covers some deeper topics from Dragons #155 and #156.

Robert Rinas gets in on the Top Gun craze and gives us The Navy Wants You! for the Top Secret/S.I. RPG. It covers naval officer training as a character creation option.

Dragonmirth has our comics including Yamara. One day I will track these all down and read them in order.  The Twilight Empire is next. The art is good and I am sure the story is too. HAve to read it from the start to be sure. 

Through the Looking Glass by Robert Bigelow has the latest on new miniatures. 

So not a great issue by any stretch, but there are some gems. This feels like a transition issue before Dragon becomes a TSR game only show.  I was hoping for more sci-fi material to be honest.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Review: Star Wars Roleplaying Game (d20)

Star Wars Revised d20 RPG
 I am bouncing around a bit here on my cruise through the science fiction games from TSR/WotC to find one that I actually rather like, even though I know many do not. I am discussing the d20 Star Wars RPG from Wizards of the Coast.

I will freely admit that I have not played a lot of the West End Game's d6 Star Wars, though I do know it is widely held in high regard. I also have never played the Fantasy Flight Games edition of Star Wars (though my son has). So, my review might be a touch myopic, and I am OK with this. 

Star Wars and D&D

Before I begin this review I have to talk a bit about my background and why I think d20 and Star Wars was a good fit.

I have talked about Star Wars a few times here, but I am obviously a much bigger Star Trek fan. I had (and still have) a good sized collection of Star Wars toys from the Kenner era in the 1980s and I religiously have seen all the movies. I enjoy the Disney+ shows and find many of the fans to be exhausting. Ok, to be fair many Trek fans are the same way. But I am a causal fan. I had read some of the Extended (or is it Expanded) Universe books and I liked many of them. I thought Grand Admiral Thrawn was a great character and getting Lars Mikkelsen to play him in live-action has to be the most brilliant, or most obvious, casting choice ever.  When the EU went away...well I honestly felt not that much. Sure lots of great stories were gone, but Star Wars had a relationship with their canon that Star Trek novels could only dream of. 

But for me, my Star Wars obsession was in the 1980s. When I had action figures and playing out new scenarios in my head. When I took a Colonial Viper model, some extra action figure guns, and an AMC (or Revel, can't remember now) 1978 Corvette and built one of my first Kitbashes. I could not afford a real Slave 1 back then (so now of course I have three) but I did build "Slave II" and it was quite literally "Fett's Vette." And I was obsessed with D&D.

I have said it before, and I will say it here again, Star Wars, aka A New Hope, is a D&D movie. We have a hero, a villain, a princess (who is also a hero), an old wizard, a rogue, an impenetrable fortress (the Death Star), war, magic (tell me to my face the Force is not magic) and a quest.  There are sword fights, monsters, and interesting locales. It is D&D in all but name. They even meet the rogue in a bar! 

I can't even begin to count the number of times we tried to do "D&D Star Wars" and our attempts were lame compared to others. Do an internet search on "D&D Jedi" prior to 1999 and see all the stuff that was out there, though admittedly not as much now as it was at the time. 

Even later on I often likened the Star Wars EU to another line of novels and quasi-canon material; that of the Forgotten Realms. 

So for me D&D and by extension d20 and Star Wars seemed like an obvious fit.

Star Wars RPG - Revised Core Rulebook

2002, Wizards of the Coast. 384 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. d20 System.

This is the revised version of the Star Wars d20 RPG, first published in 2000. 

This game is very closely related to the D&D 3.0 edition that had been released in 2000. I don't own a copy of the Star Wars RPG from 2000, so I can't comment on what was changed, but there is a "feel" to me that this might be an early draft of D&D 3.5. Much in the same way that Star Wars Saga Edition was an early draft of D&D 4.0.

The game is built on the d20 mechanics, so there are alien species, classes, skills, and feats. The book is divided into a players section and a game master section, so I guess the better comparison here is d20 Modern. Especially once we get in to it in detail.

Characters have a species and class, and the same six abilities as D&D. There are same 3.x era saves of Fortitude, Reflex, and Will. There are also Vitality and Wound Points.  If you can play D&D d20 era or d20 Modern then you know how to play this game. 

Chapters 2 and 3 cover Species and Classes. There are 17 species to choose from, including standard humans and Ewoks (!). Classes cover the expected varieties, including Fringer, Scout, Scoundrel, Force Adepts, and Jedis. There are Prestige classes covered later. 

Chapters 4 and 5: Skills and Feats look and act like their D&D/d20 counterparts. Skills are mostly the same, but the feats take on some new aspects. While there are many that are the same, there are new ones like Force Feats (which does a lot to help explain Jedi Powers).

Chapter 6 covers the final pieces of building heroic characters, including some more "Star Wars" flavor.

Chapter 7 is our Equipment guide and it is a rather fun one. Lots of gear in the Star Wars universe. 

Chapter 8 covers combat, a needed chapter since "War" is practically the last name here. 

Chapter 9 though takes us into new territory with "The Force." This is more complicated than magic, but there are some great ideas here to take back to a D&D game for Game Masters that want to use the corrupting power of magic.

Chapters 10 and 11 deal with Vehicles and Starships, respectively.  Honestly, I could spend all my time on the Starships chapter.

Chapter 12 is Gamemastering. It covers a lot of ground from how to teach the game to new players, to setting challenges, to Prestige classes (Bounty Hunters, Jedi Masters, and more). The GM Characters from d20 Modern also get ported over here as the Diplomat, Expert, and Thug.

Chapter 13 deals with the Eras of Play. Or at least how they looked in 2002 before the Clone Wars series and Revenge of the Sith hit our screens. There are hints of the Expanded Universe here, but not a lot. Now I know that Wizards, with their own Star Wars books, helped expand the Expanded Universe. We even get stats for the poster girl of the Expanded Universe, Mara Jade Skywalker. I am actually really happy about that. I have a soft spot in my heart for Temporal Orphans

Chapter 14 covers Allies and Opponents, which, of course, can vary depending on what era you are playing in. This also contains Wizards of the Coast biggest contribution to the Expanded Universe, the Yuuzhan Vong, which I always found kind of cool and wanted to port them back to D&D in some way.

Chapter 15 covers the one area where Star Wars is superior to Star Trek. Droids. 

The game really relies a lot on the players' and game masters' own knowledge of Star Wars. Yes, you can play it without that, but it certainly helps. 

Is this the best Star Wars game? I can't say. It is the best one for me. It has enough to allow me to build a game universe and play. I can add in d20 Future material as I like, including some d20 Gamma World or even d20 Traveller

The Wizards of the Coast d20 Star Wars lines are out of print. The new owners of the Star Wars RPG, Fantasy Flight Games (bought by Asmodee in 2014) have their own system. My oldest likes it and has run a few games with it. I'll try it out. I suppose I should also review the d6 West End Games Star Wars at some point as well.

Star Wars RPGs

Monday, May 20, 2024

Monstrous Mondays: Aliens, Monsters, and the Unknown in Thirteen Parsecs

Alien girl by Hernán Toro
Alien girl by Hernán Toro

It's a sci-fi Monstrous Monday and I wanted to talk a little about monsters and aliens in Thirteen Parsecs.

Like our other RPG NIGHT SHIFT, Thirteen Parsecs is a "tool kit" game. That is, we will give all sorts of rules, some sample settings ("Solar Frontiers"), and let you build your own.

Some of our settings will have aliens. Jason has a few he has been working on for his Solar Frontiers. Derek has some others. 

For my Solar Frontiers, aliens are treated very differently.

In "Space Truckers," aliens only add flavor to the game. The eponymous Dixie of Dixie's Truck Stop is described as an "attractive alien girl with blue skin and bug-like antennae."  But otherwise, she is pretty much a human. There are Ursians, bear-like aliens who make up the police force of the "Colony Hyperspace Patrol" or CHyPs. There are Porcines who control most of the Badlands where Space Truckers have their shipping lanes. And finally, there are Lot Lizards, who are lizard people. I have a chimpanzee-like species that are the best engineers on the Frontier and more. But again, these are just for dressing. They still all more or less act human. Maybe exaggerated traits, but human enough to relate to. This is part of the fun of this particular setting. It is meant to feel like a 1970s Trucker movie in space.

"Darker Stars" is very different. 

In this Solar Frontier, humankind has moved out into space and found monsters waiting for them. 

While we will have some monsters in the core rules, my goals here was to re-purpose monsters from both NIGHT SHIFT and Wasted Lands. Indeed this is the source of those monsters. Darker Stars is my "horror in space" setting.

Let's take an example of a typical Darker Stars sort of adventure.

The crew of your starship encounters a derelict spacecraft. You send a landing party to investigate only to be attacked by the crew. The long-dead crew.

Our dead crew, and they could be human or aliens, will use the Zombie stats from NIGHT SHIFT. If you think about it, what are the Borg or even Cybermen but fancy zombies? The commanding officer? A mummy or a lich.

Does this mean there is magic here? Well...I take Arthur C. Clark's view here with his Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." The captain of this ship, knowing his crew was in danger makes a radical adjustment to ship's life support and keeps everyone from not dying. "Not Dying" isn't the same as "Alive" though.

But don't worry. There will be aliens, both as playable races and as creatures to encounter.  

It will be up to you whether your encounter with them is more like Ripley's or Kirk's.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Retrospective: Wizards of the Coast's Gamma World

Gamma World for Alternity
Yesterday, I discussed the various editions of TSR's Gamma World. In 1997 Wizards of the Coast, flush full of cash from their runaway hit Magic: The Gathering, bought TSR and all their debt, becoming the owner of everything TSR had ever produced. This famously included Dungeons & Dragons, but also Gamma World. They would then produce some new editions of this game as well.

Each edition here uses a different set of rules, and are not exactly compatible with each other.

Fifth Edition (2000)

This edition of Gamma World was designed for the Sci-fi game Alternity. I'll have much more to say about that when I do my review and deep dive into Alternity later this month.

But like all the Alternity titles, this one is out of print and unavailable from DriveThruRPG. Thankfully, I still have my own copy.

This edition is notable for also (like the 3rd Edition) not being compatible with the then-current edition of Dungeons & Dragons.  This one appeared at the end of the AD&D 2nd edition era and right before the D&D 3.0 era. 

Gamma Worlds

Omega World
Omega World (2002)

This was an adaptation of the d20 rules to play a Gamma World-like mini-game. It appeared in Dungeon Magazine #94 and was a stand-alone affair. It is the odd child of the Gamma World family, and that is saying something, but it is a rather fun game in a tight little package.

This requires the D&D 3.0 game to play, not the d20 Modern Rules which would not be released for another month or so.

Sixth Edition (2003-2005)

Along with Ravenloft, Wizards of the Coast had Arthaus, an imprint of White Wolf, create the d20 Edition of Gamma World. This was a fairly robust edition with both a Player's Handbook and a Game Master's Guide. A Machines and Mutants book was also released, mimicking the classic three book format D&D has always used. 

That is not the only way it mimicked D&D. This version of Gamma World used the d20 Modern rules, making it to this point the most compatible with the then-current D&D (3.5). It also made it compatible with all of Wizard's of the Coast's d20 Future line, which included some materials from both Alternity and Star Frontiers. It was also compatible with WotC's d20 Star Wars.

The book titles are a little misleading. The Player's Handbook has the setting information. Character creation and most of the rules are still in the d20 Modern book, needed to play. The Game Master's Guide is less about running a Gamma World game and more about running any sort of RPG. The Machines and Mutants book, aka the Monster Manual, is pretty much what it says it is. 

Gamma World 6e Player's HandbookGamma World 6e Machines and MutantsGamma World 6e Game Master's Guide

Wizards of the Coast sought cohesion in the Alternity line, which they achieved by accident in the d20 era. This also means that the Omega World game is 100% (or 95-99%) compatible with this.

In truth, this is a solid edition that makes some solid attempts at updating the Gamma World mythology to better suit 21st-century technology and genetics. 

While it is not perfect, it is very playable and it was always in the back of my mind when I tried out various d20 sci-fi games.

Gamma World 7e
Seventh Edition (2010)

Gamma World came back again, and this time in-house at Wizards of the Coast. Gamma World 7th Edition was built on the same rules as D&D 4th Edition, and they are quite compatible in that respect. Gamma World characters tend to be more powerful and more random as befitting the nature of the genre. 

I know the least about this game. Though I did watch some people play it at Gen Con 2011 when it was released, and it looked fun, I'm not sure it felt like Gamma World to me. But I don't deny the people playing it had a good time. 

If Gamma World 6e was a serious grimdark post-apoc setting, then this one returned to its weird roots. I think this is one of the reasons I like 6e better than 7e. Also, I think the D&D4 rules, while I am fine with them for D&D4, don't click with me here.  The cards seemed a step too much for me.  Though I am equally certain I could mine this for ideas.


All editions though can be great fun, if you are willing to ignore the fact that levels of radiation talked about in these games would just kill everyone and not really make them mutants. But that is why they are Science Fantasy and not Science Fiction per se. None of that matters, though; the real reason here is to play a radioactive plant ape that speaks in a Cajun accent and swings a stop sign as a weapon.