Saturday, May 15, 2021

Sword & Sorcery & Cinema: Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Something a little different tonight, an 80s sci-fi horror movie with a solid Sword & Sorcery feel to it. It's from Roger Corman, so I guess that is not a huge surprise.

Galaxy of Terror (1981)

This movie has everything! My favorite Martian Ray Walston, Erin "Joanie" Moran, Grace Zabriskie, Sid Haig, pre-Freddie (and really young looking!) Robert Englund, a space witch, tentacle rape monsters! Wait. What was that last bit again? Another Roger Corman offering. I have to admit the cast is something else really. 

The movie starts with the crew of our spaceship, the Quest, headed to planet Morganthus by the order of some mysterious dude called "The Planet Master." We never see his face due to the glowy red energy around it. He is playing some game with our Space Witch. Our pilot, Captain Trantor (Zabriskie) was the only survivor of some famous disaster that has left her a little worse for the wear.  We learn Alluma (Moran) is a psychic sensitive and she detects no life on the planet they all but crash land on.

The Quest crew investigates a crashed ship, the Remus, where all the crew seems to be dead. Soon the first crew member, Cos, is killed by some sort of monster with claws.  The crew looks for more survivors and finds a really creepy ass pyramid.  The mission Commander, Ivar, is lowered into the pyramid but he gets attacked by some blood-sucking tentacles.  Quuhod (Haig) is killed by one of his own crystal throwing stars.  Dameia (played by Taaffe O'Connell), in one of the most controversial bits in the movie, is attacked by a giant maggot/worm/tentacle beast who manages to get all her clothes off before it rapes/eats her.  

We find out that Core, the cook (Walston) is some sort of spy. He had been in the disaster the Captain had been in.  She seems to be hallucinating an attack.  We next see her trying to leave the ship but she bursts into flames.   The remaining crew regroup and head back to the pyramid.  They get separated, of course, and picked off one by one until only Kore and Cabren remain. We learn that Kore is really the Planet Master and this pyramid is part of a game. Cabren manages to kill Kore, but becomes the Planet Master in his place.

I'll give the writers credit, there is some background going on here.  I am not sure that it all translates well on the screen though. I like the idea of the pyramid causing fear, but there is no reason why The Master/Kore would actually be interested in it. 

The movie has a solid Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) feel to it. No surprise really, James Cameron served as Production Designer and Second Unit Director on the film would five years later direct Aliens. 

But, and let's be honest here, the movie is not good. I am not sure why we never saw it then but Erin Moran is terrible in this. Taaffe O'Connell is in it only so she can take off her clothes.  Even mainstays like Robert Englund and Sid Haig are wasted here.  Ray Walston and Grace Zabriskie were obviously here for the paycheck.

Gaming Content

The idea of entering an ancient and abandoned pyramid is as old as...well, the Pyramids.  This one just happens to have a sci-fi horror feel to it.  There are a lot of ideas I could steal for BlackStar. Watching this after reviewing Stars Without Number I am more convinced now that my BlackStar game must have psionics. 

--

Tim Knight of Hero Press and Pun Isaac of Halls of the Nephilim along with myself are getting together at the Facebook Group I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters to discuss these movies.  Follow along with the hashtag #IdRatherBeWatchingMonsters.

Review: Space Opera, 2nd Edition (1982)

Space Opera, 2nd Edition, 2nd cover
Space Opera has always been one of those games that I have wanted for years but never tried. Anytime I thought about the game it was usually out of print and the prices were a bit high.  Then I'd forget about it again.  Reading through all my old Dragons, especially in the 1980-1983 time frame, there was an ad for it every issue.

Since this is SciFi month I figure I should go back to this one.  Thankfully for me, it is now available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG.

Space Opera (1982)

Space Opera, 1st Edition, was released in 1980 which makes it one of the first competitions to the Classic Traveller RPG.  The 2nd Edition version, which is what DriveThruRPG has, was released in 1982.  I can't really speak to the differences.  According to a post over at Wayne Books, there are not really many differences between the 1st Ed "Blue" box vs. the 2nd Ed. "Black" box save for the art. 

There also seems to be a slight difference between the two black box 2nd edition covers.

Space Opera was written by Edward E. Simbalist, A. Mark Ratner, and Phil McGregor and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited. 

The PDF from DriveThruRPG is 200 pages split into to two volumes. There are two color pages of the box art and the rest is a very old-school style b/w text with some minimal art.   While this sounds like a drawback the game is very much a sandbox-style game. So the "Art" that would be here is from whatever your favorite sci-fi property is.  Space Opera tries to be all things to everyone and ... well we will see how well it does at this. The PDF is a scanned image, then OCR'ed.  There is no bookmarking.

Out of the box we learn that Space Opera is exactly that. A game to emulate your favorite Space Opera fiction.  This is not the hard science of Traveller or the weird science of Gamma World/Metamophasis Alpha.  This is Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers. I have heard it described as "not drama, but melodrama."

The sections are numbered like many old-school war games. 1.0 is "Space Opera" 1.1 is "Required Materials & Equipment" and so on. There are four major sections of Vol. 1, the player's book, 1. Space Opera, the introduction, 2. Character classes, 3. PC Career Experience and 4. PC Knowledge and Skills.  Vol. 2 is the "Star Master's" section.  Yes they are indeed called Star Masters.  Here we have sections 5 to 18. 5. General Equipment Lists, 6. Personal Weapons, 7. Heavy Weapons, 8. Ground Combat,  9. StarShips, 10. StarShip Combat, 11 StarShip Economics & Interstellar Comerce, 12. World Creation, 13. Cultural Contacts (aka Aliens), 14. Directory Design of Planets, 15. Habitable Planets, 16. NPC Races, 17. Beasts, and finally 18. Personal Living Expenses.

If it looks like the game is heavy on weapons and combat then yes, it is.  It is also so wonderful old school with bunches of different systems and sub systems. 

Instead of completely reviewing a 40+ year old game let through out some caveats and some points.

First, while this game was certainly an attractive alternative to Traveller at the time, we have many more games out now that do this all better and with clearer rules.

Second, if you are a fan of older games or a fan of Sci-Fi games then really is a must have for your collection.  The PDF is nice and cheap compare to the $100+ to $300 range I see copies go for online.  For $10.00 it is worth your while if you are curious about the game, the history of RPGs or Sci-Fi games.

Now some points. Or how to get the most out of the 10 bucks I just asked you to spend.

Section 1.2 covers units of measurement, all metric focused.  Many games do not have these, this is useful for anyone working in three-dimensions or needs a good idea what a cubic meter is.

Section 1.4 has good advice on dicing rolling in any game.  Don't roll unless the outcome is in question or it serves the drama. There are lots of time to roll the dice, it doesn't need to be done all the time. 

Section 2.0 covers classes. They boil down to Fighting, Tech, Science, Medical and Specialist.  We will see these in one form or another time and time again in nearly every other Sci-Fi RPG from Stars Without Number, The Expanse, to Starfinder and even Star Wars and Star Trek.

Section 2.2 is a nice overview and random tables of Planet of Birth.  They are all d20 rolls and should work with every other system out there. My back of the napkin math even tells me it would work great in such games like White Star.

Section 2.3 character races has great guidelines for just about every sci-fi race out there.  Humans, future humans, evolved apes, cats, dogs, bears, birds, lizards. All here. Again guidelines so cut and paste into what other Sci-Fi game you have going on. No giant insects though. 

Section 3.1 on covers some great guidelines on Mercenary service.  I can't vouch that the economics will transfer from game to game though. 

Section 4 has so many skills. I prefer a simpler skill system these days, but this would help you define some specialized ones. 

Section 4.10 has a lot of Psionic skills as well. Might work with Stars Without Number. This is also how you get "The Force" without pissing off Lucasfilm/Disney.

Also if your Sci-Fi RPG does not have at least one David Bowie tribute then you are doing it wrong.

David Bowie

Section 5. So. Much. Equipment!

Section 15. Great toolkit for habitable planets. 

Section 16. NPCs and sample Alien races.

I said above it tries to be everything to everyone. It does this by taking every sci-fi trope there is and giving it a home here.  Does it work?  Well...it ends up being very long, very complicated and somewhat unattractive, but I can't tell if I am judging it by today's standards, my standards for game design or the standards of the time.   This is a toolkit game with 1000s of options and you only need to choose the ones that work best for you.  

This is not the Granddaddy of Sci-Fi RPGs. That would be Traveller.  This is however the Great Uncle. He still has some good ideas and since he has no kids of his own he can spoil the grandkids as much as he likes. 

I am sure that there are groups out there still today that would LOVE this game.  Me I prefer something a little more streamlined.  That all being said, I am glad I bought the PDF of this as opposed to spending $100s on eBay for it.  

Friday, May 14, 2021

Review: Stars Without Number, Revised Edition (2017)

Stars Without Number: Revised Edition
A few years back I reviewed Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number.  At the time I said:
The game is beautiful and there is so much going on with it that it would take me a number of games with it just to get the right feeling for it. The overall feel I get with this game is that it is the perfect child of Basic D&D and Traveller. So much of what made both of those games so great is here.

Is Stars Without Number perfect? No, not really. But it is really, really damn close and even from a short distance I could not tell it apart from a perfect game.

Recently I went back over the game and still found it to be nearly perfect. But I had not played it all that much since then.

So on a whim really I picked up the newest Stars Without Number: Revised Edition and I figured I would grab the Print on Demand as well.  I just go it in the main this past week.

Wow.

That is really the only way to describe it.  Any of the reservations I had about the previous edition evaporated with this edition.  

I am considering the PDF and the full-color Print on Demand version. 

Written by Kevin Crawford, art by Jeff Brown, Christof Grobelski, Norah Khor, Aaron Lee, Joyce Maureira, Nick Ong, Grzegorz Pedrycz, Tan Ho Sim. And what fantastic art it is too!  All pages are full color and each one is evocative and eyecatching.   324 pages. 

Character Creation art

Chapter 1 covers Character creation.  We have seen this all before, but perfect for people new to RPGs or sci-fi fans new to the Classic 6 Attributes and level/class systems. The feel here is solid old-school and SWN:RE wears its old-school and OSR cred proudly.  BUT they are also a new game with new design sensibilities.  For example, character creation is broken down into easy steps.

Stars Without Number PC Sheet
You can determine your character's skills (and these can be from a number of sources).

There are background packages that can be added to classes to give your character more depth and determine some of their skills.  There are also training packages to further define your character.

The classes are the three "archetypes" that you can find in other games, The Expert, The Psychic, and The Warrior. This edition also has The Adventurer which does a little bit of all the above. 

Character creation is a breeze and no one seems to die while doing it. There is even a quick character creation method on pages 26-27.

Chapter 2 covers Psionics.  Psionics are rather central to the background fiction of the SWN:RE universe, so they get special placement.  There are quite a lot of psionic powers detailed here.  So first thing, if psionics are something you must have in your sci-fi game then please check this game out first.  Psionic points always give the powers a different feel for me than magic, so this is another plus really.  These powers are not merely reskinned spells, they have been redone to fit within the mythos of the game better.

Chapter 3 is the Systems chapter.  It includes the expected combat, but also a new twist on the skill checks with Target Numbers.  Useful if you are using the skills as described here, but its real utility comes in how flexible it can be.  I would have to try it out more, but it's close enough to other skill + die roll + mods vs TN that I can see its use in a variety of situations.  What I like about these skills is they are a 2d6 roll resolution system and not a d20.  Sure makes it feel a little like Traveller. TRhis chapter also covers all sorts of actions, like combat (regular d20 vs AC here) and Saving Throws; Physical, Evasive, and Mental. Hacking also dealt with here since it is most similar to a skill check.

This also covers Character advancement.

Chapter 4 details all the equipment you will need including the Technology Level of the equipment.  D&D would be tech level 1 (or so) while we are at TL 3.  The game is set at TL 5 with some artifacts at TL 6.  Time Lords are hanging out at 7 or 8 I would say.  D20 Future and Traveller also use a similar mechanic, so if you want to see how they can also work, checking out those games is advisable.

The standard batch of weapons and armor from sticks and stones all the way up to energy weapons are discussed.  AC is now ascending.  What is really nice about this game is in addition to lasers, energy swords, and computers it also includes Cyberware, Drones, Vehicles, and "pre-Silence" artifacts. 

Chapter 5 gives us Starships. Everything on size, type, and costs to ship-to-ship combat.  

Starship art

 Chapter 6 covers the History of Space of the default campaign setting.  Even if you don't use it there are some great ideas here. 

Chapter 7 is Sector Creation which is just FULL of material for any game.  While this game has a lot going for it, this is the real gem in my mind. This chapter is long, detailed and honestly, it makes me want to create worlds.

Chapter 8 covers Adventure Creation. You have characters, you have created all these worlds. Let's get them together. 

Chapter 9 is the Xenobestiary. AKA the Monster Manual.  Again we are given a lot of detail on how to make alien beasts and then a listing of several samples.  Given the old-school nature of this game you could grab ANY old-school monster book for ideas.  Yeah...doing Space Orcs could be boring, but Warhammer 40k has been doing them for so long and if you wanted to do them here, well the rules won't stop you. This chapter also covers the creation of alien species. First, the hows and whys of aliens are discussed; what to use, where, and why to use them.  Some of this is situated in the campaign setting, but there is some good advice here even if you plan on using your own background/campaign or not even have aliens. 

Factions art

Chapter 10, Factions.  Factions are important groups.  Say a group of allied pirates or smugglers, a government or a band of plucky rebels.   Several key factors when creating a faction are given and there is a huge list of sample factions.

Chapter 11 is Game Master Resources. It talks about character death and when to roll for skills. How to build a galaxy and conversions from First Edition Star Without Number.

Game Master Resources

Chapter 12 covers newer material, namely Transhuman stories.  Or what I call the Altered Carbon chapter.  The ability to move on to new bodies.

Chapter 13 has my undivided attention since it is Space Magic. That's right magic and wizards in space. Not psionics, but real arcane magic. 

Chapter 14 covers heroic characters.  These are not your Traveller grunts or even characters from Star Frontiers, these are your Luke Skywalkers, your Buck Rogers, and more. 

Chapter 15 is True Artificial Intelligence. 

Chapter 16 covers Societies.

Chapter 17 gives us Mechs. 

There is a fantastic Index (sadly lacking in many books).

SWN:RE ups the game in every possible way over SWN:1st Ed.  

Print on Demand

I said this book was gorgeous and I meant it.  The print-on-demand copy I got is sturdy and heavy.  It is also the closest thing I have seen to offset printing in a POD product.  You would have to look hard to tell difference. 

I described the previous version as "nearly perfect." Reading through this version I am only left to say that is one pretty much is perfect.  It does everything a sci-fi game should. I mentally slot different sci-fi stories, tropes, and ideas in while reading through it and I could not find something that didn't have a fit somewhere.

I have read a lot of sci-fi games this month, but this is one of the best.  

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review: Mutant Future (2010)

Mutant Future cover
I reviewed 1st Edition Gamma World which got me thinking about Mutant Future. I was surprised to discover I had not written a review for Mutant Future. Well, today seems like a good time to do that. This review will cover the PDF and the POD versions from DriveThruRPG.

Mutant Future (2010)

Not to start with, Mutant Future is not really a Retro-clone, near clone, or anything like that.  The closest game it is like is Gamma World.  Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Gamma World has its roots in the dawn of the RPG age and D&D in particular. Filled with mutant animals, plants, and humans of all sorts.

While Gamma World has its own near-D&D system it is not 100% compatible.  Maybe 95%.  Mutant Future doesn't have that issue. It is the exact same rules as its sister game Labyrinth Lord. Plus Mutant Future is not trying to emulate Gamma World exactly.  Mutant Future then is a new game that feels like an old game that never really existed.  Mutant Future does have some differences from Labyrinth Lord. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth much like Gamma World. 

Section 1: Introduction

This covers the basics. What this game is and what to do with it.  A brief overview of dice and common abbreviations is covered.  This largely the same as what we see in many games and in Labyrinth Lord in particular.  Mind this is not a drawback to this game. There is a strong implication here that anything made or written for Labyrinth Lord is also good for Mutant Future. 

Section 2: Characters

Again, there is familiarity here, and that works to Mutant Future's advantage.  The ability scores are the same as Labyrinth Lord/D&D and are generated the same way. The various species or types you can play are also here. Characters can be an Android (basic, synthetic, or replicant), mutant animals, mutant plant, mutant human, or the rare pure human, also like Gamma World. Abilities can go as high as 21 and there are a different set of saving throws, but the basic rules are the same as Labyrinth Lord.  The types also list what HD each character has and how many mutations you have.  

This section also covers gear. It uses a coin system much like D&D and Labyrinth Lord as opposed to the barter system of Gamma World. Either works fine.

Section 3: Mutations

This covers all the mutations that all characters, NPCs, and creatures can have. In true old-school fashion, these are all random tables. 

Section 4: Adventuring Rules

This covers the rules of the game and what characters are likely to do.  Again these are replicated (but not cut and pasted) from Labyrinth Lord.  Mutant Future sticks with feet and Basic movement as opposed to Gamma World's metric and more AD&D-like movement. 

Section 5: Encounters and Combat

Combat and weapons of all sorts are covered. Also covered are damage from stun, paralysis,  diseases, radiation, poisons, and more.  This is one of the bigger departures from the Labyrinth Lord core, the saving throws are keyed for Mutant Future damage types. There is also a mental attack matrix here much like Gamma World.

Section 6: Monsters

This section covers all the sorts of creatures you can encounter. It is fairly expansive and since the format is the same as Labyrinth Lord creatures can be used in one or the other or both.  40+ pages of monsters is a good amount. There are also plenty of detailed encounter tables. 

Section 7: Technological Artifacts

This would be the "Treasure" section in a fantasy game, but this is highly appropriate since the world of Mutant Future is supposed to be littered with the technology of past ages.  This includes non-playable robot types, vehicles and things as mundane as protein bars.

Section 8: Mutant Lord Lore

This covers how to run a Mutant Future game. Not just how to run their own but how to build your world.  Unlike Gamma World which has a sort of baked-in setting, Mutant Future is more open. The Mutant Lord (and I think an opportunity was missed in not calling them Mutant Masters) gets to decide how the world is the way it is.   Advice is given on how to run adventures and a sample setting is provided. 

Section 9: Mutants & Mazes

While it might not really be needed, this section discusses using Mutant Future and Labyrinth Lord together.  The rules are remarkably similar, like 99%, so there are only minor pieces to consider. Though this section does expand mutations to the standard D&D tropes of race/class.

All in all this a fine game. It is not exactly like Gamma World, more was it trying to be. It does however give that Gamma World feel in an OSR ruleset.

Print on Demand

The PoD version of this book is a sturdy hardcover that compares well to my Labyrinth Lord books.



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Review: Star Frontiers, Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks

Star Frontiers, First Edition
Gamma World might have been TSR's first big entry into sci-fi gaming (Warriors of Mars and Metamorphasis 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.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Cover to S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
One of the first adventures I ever bought via mail-order was S3 The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I had already latched onto the idea that the S series of adventures were going to be mine to run in our extended group of players that crossed many DMs and groups.  I grabbed it without really knowing a lot about it.  I knew there was crashed spaceship central to the adventure and I knew that it was a larger adventure.  Since I was spending my limited paper route money on my new D&D addiction I had to make every dollar count.   S3 had two booklets, at 32 pages each, and color inserts. There were two covers with maps. So even my young mind all of this was more valuable than a simple adventure that only had half that material.

I got it in the mail one summer and took with me on a family trip to the fish fry my parents loved to go to every year.  It was hot, and July and all I wanted to do was sit in our van and read my adventure.  This was also the first time that I encountered what I would later call the "Gary Gygax" effect. This would be the "E.G.G." on the map of Level II.  I remember not liking it at the time because if this was a real spaceship then why was that there.  But more details on that later.

Sci-Fi gaming was not new to me. I had picked up Traveller and I knew about Gamma World. I also had learned that Gamma World and S3 had a shared parentage in Metamorphasis Alpha, though I will admit I wasn't 100% clear on what that meant at the time.   Without knowing much about the size of the Warden (MA) we always assumed this was the Warden.  Given the shape of the ship that landed on Greyhawk and it's size this was more obviously some sort of smaller scout ship with a prison or brig.  One thing everyone in my groups agreed on was this is how Mind Flayers came to Greyhawk.

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

For this review, I am considering my printed copy from 1982 or so (not my original sadly, lost that one years ago) and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  This adventure was written by Gary Gygax himself and was the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Tournament scenario at Origins II in 1976.  The adventure was updated and published in 1980. Cover art and art book art by Erol Otus, interior art by Jeff Dee, David "Diesel" LaForce, Jim Roslof, David Sutherland III, Gregory Flemming, and Erol Otus.

The adventure comes in two 32-page black and white booklets. The first covers the adventure and the second covers all the weird animals, plants, and gadgets found on the ship.  There is also four pages in the center of book two with full-color art of the animals.  I have one copy where they are glossy and another where they are matte. I have no detail on what the differences mean.  

Glossy vs. Matte art in S3 Book 2

Book 1 covers the adventure.  The preface sets up what this adventure is about and gives some background on how this adventure came to be.  The rest sets up the adventure, placed in the Grandy Duchy of Geoff in the World of Greyhawk.   There is a bit of explaining the nature of this "dungeon," really a crashlanded ship, and how to read the maps. 

While one could call this a funhouse dungeon it is a bit different than the other Gygax funhouse, Tomb of Horrors.  There are a lot of new and weird monsters here and some older ones (like the Mind Flayer) that are given a new life so to speak.  What is most interesting to us, and to the players, were the new tech provided.  The tech items were designed not really to be functional, but to confuse the players as much as possible.  There really seemed to be a fear that D&D characters would run around with laser rifles.  Of course the design makes no sense from a human perspective, so we tried to figure out how they might been created.  One idea was that these make sense if you are a Mind Flayer. 

The adventure itself is a pure dungeon crawl into an unknown structure. 

Book 2 covers all the visual aids for this adventure.

The adventure is a must-have really to say you have had the complete D&D experience.  My oldest hated it though, saying he hates mixing sci-fi with his D&D.  My youngest loved and wanted lasers for everyone.

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

There are 5th edition updates via Classic Modules Today by Todd Bergman and the 5e Conversion by Michael "solomani" Mifsud. Each goes for $1.00.

Goodman Games also offers their massive Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, with introductions and background details from author Michael Curtis, Tony DiTerlizzi, Erol Otus (with some new art too!), and an interview with Diesel LaForce by Tim Wadzinski.

Two versions of the classic adventure are given to represent the seven different printings the adventure went through. These are covered on page 21 and largely deal with the various TSR logos used. Given this information, my copies seem to be later printings.  Corrections to errors found are presented in the 5th edition version of the adventure. 

In the last pages, Appendix G, covers the relationship between Metamophasis Alpha and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  IF they had included Gamma World then the trinity would be complete.  Goodman Games still publishes some material for Metamorphasis Alpha.

Goodman Games and TSR's respective Barrier Peaks adventures

The Warden Campaign

I can see an entire campaign built around this crashed spaceship and the mutants it has let loose in the area.  A great way to introduce the ideas of Gamma World or even Mutant Future or Mutant Crawl Classics to your game.  You can expand it with ideas from Mark Taormino's Secret Machines of the Star Spawn.  It could even lead to a Spelljamming campaign.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

AS&SH already has things from the stars and even lost technology, so adding this adventure to it is not just a no-brainer, I have a hard time justifying why you shouldn't give it a try. 

BECMI/Mystara

While the Barrier Peaks is firmly rooted in the realm of Greyhawk, there is no reason why it can't be moved to Mystara.  There is already a solid history of magic and technology in Mystara. Not just from the Shadow Elves or Blackmoor, but also the curious connections between these two maps.

Here is Mystara's North and West hemisphere.


Here is Gamma World


Rotate the top map by about 45 degrees counter-clockwise and you get the map below.  No shock since both maps are based on North America.

What happened to cause the world of map 1 to become the world of map 2?

Maybe the reactor of the crashed spaceship went critical, blew up, shifted the world axis (something that did happen in Mystara), and created a bunch of weird mutants.  Unless of course the characters can go on an expedition to some mountains and stop it from happening. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Review: Gamma World, 1st Edition (1978)

I had not planned this, but DriveThruRPG is having a Sci-Fi sale now.  I had mentioned that May had a 
"soft-theme" of Sci-Fi.  It is very likely I knew this in the back of my mind.  So while their sale is going on I want to look at various Sci-fi games in my life-long quest to find the perfect one for me. 

I am going to start with some that I have played and see where these reviews take me.


Gamma World 1st Ed
There is an important piece of my 40+ years of D&D anniversary that I have neglected and I thought I must rectify that as soon as I can.  

1981 was a banner year for D&D.  I FINALLY got my real copy of the game, the Moldvay D&D Basic Set which I have talked about ad nauseam here for years.  Within that "Gateway to Adventure" catalog there was another game that I knew a little about and would also soon be part of my ever-growing desire for a good sci-fi game.  That game was TSR's own Gamma World.

Over the next few years, I'd spend time with this game and other editions of it, but it was this first edition that really grabbed me like no other.

I am going to review Gamma World here and talk a little about what I did with it and what I will do in the future.  For this, I am considering my original Gamma World book (the box and dice are long gone), the Print on Demand version, and PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

Gamma World (1978, 1981)

Living thru the Nuclear Scare was an interesting time.  I vividly recall having conversations with kids my own age about how they saw no future because the Russians were growing to blow us all up any day.  Regan was president and I was convinced he was going to do something stupid to get us all nuked. Instead, he just destroyed the middle-class.  But the threat was there all the time.  The news, the movies, even all the music videos, to quote Frank Zappa, used all the same cheesy atom bomb explosions.  Yup we were going to all die and the world become a nuclear wasteland where people drove around Mad-Max style in supercars and fought for the remaining resources. 

I suppose then given that environment a game like Gamma World was inevitable.  Gamma World was our world, but very different. It is always interesting to read an older game describe how the world of their future and our present would turn out.  Gamma World paints a nice picture of the early 21st century as a time when we stopped polluting the Earth and taking resources from it.  Science Fiction indeed.  With that, let's delve into this book.

Gamma World original print vs new PoD

Introduction

There is a lot of interesting thing going on here. We know this is a (maybe even THE) Post-Apocalyptic game.  This said apocalypse began in 2309 going to 2322.  We get some world-building here with various wars leading up to the attack against a group known as The Apocalypse by what remained of the various governments and groups and The Apocalypse fought back. While it is not said to be a nuclear disaster, that is certainly how it feels.  We know that due to this event that some life-forms were completely wiped out and others were mutated into new and strange forms. It is stated that many of the weapons were biological in nature too.  So we have a heady stew of alchemical death raining from the skies.  The year is now 2471 (450 years from now). There are humans and other things here and that is where our adventures begin.  I can't help but draw parallels between this and the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV series which came out at the same time.  Gamma World predates the TV show, but not Buck Rogers. The TV series takes place in 2491, so 20 years after GW. With TSR's later dangerous flirtation with Buck Rogers, I wonder if any attempt was made to bring the two lines together?  I certainly would have tried if I had been into GW as much as I was into D&D.

How to Use This Book & Designing Gamma World

An overview of what this book is about and how to use it.  If you ever played an RPG then you know what is here. If you ever played AD&D then you might even have this section memorized. Gamma World uses the same dice as D&D.

The designing part covers what you are likely to encounter in a typical Gamma World setting. It is a broad overview meant only to introduce the players. Details will come later.

Creating Characters

If you can create a D&D character then you can create a Gamma World character; they are largely the same and makes you wonder why there was no unified game system used at TSR.  Well...I have my guesses. You have three "races" Pure Strain Humans, Humanoids, and Mutated Animals. Your attributes are Mental Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity, Charisma, Constitution, and Physical Strength.  I am sure these are recognizable. Pure Strain Humans are just that, but Humanoids and Mutated Animals can have mutations. These are rolled randomly of course and some are beneficial others are defects. You can have a physical and/or a mental mutation.  Mental ones can even include psionic abilities. Plants can also have mutations.  This covers quite a bit of the book, but that is not really a surprise I suppose.

Since the tables in the game are based on various ability scores they are more important in normal play than they are in (A)D&D.  Levels and experience points use does not even come up until page 42.

Play of the Game

This covers the rules of the Gamma World game. We start out with what happened a lot in GW; moving from place to place and searching for things.  Combat is the next section with weapons from clubs all the way to fusion rifles. We get some combat matrices that look like they were cribbed from D&D Basic. This is a good thing.  There is even something here that I always an improvement, the Mental Attack Matrix. I mean this could have, should have, been ported back to AD&D and been better than the psionics system used there.

Encounters

Gamma World is a Gygaxian fun-house dungeon writ large.  That doesn't mean everything you encounter will try to kill you, but that is a good assumption.  The creatures are not as evocative as say the creatures from the Monster Manual but they are compatible with each other so if your really want an orc in Gamma World game it is easy.

Also presented are various alliances. These are the groups, factions and tribes you can encounter. Only a few are presented here and the Game Master is encouraged to make more.

Artifacts and Equipment

Maybe more so than D&D there is a good reason for all these "treasures" to be laying around.  But there is always the chance that something will fail. Gamma World takes the device flow charts from Expedition to Barrier Peaks (it's "cousin" adventure in AD&D) and dials it up to 11. 


This section also covers trade, the value of goods, and robots. I wonder how many Gamma World games changed the importance of robots after the Terminator movies came out?

The last few pages cover an example of play and there are some charts (random encounters) and hex grids that can be removed for use.  They look right at home next to my D&D charts of the same period.

Print on Demand

The Print on Demand version might be one of the best ones yet.  Yes, the maps from the box set have to be printed out, but that is not a big deal.  The new PoD is clear and easy to read.

Nothing is lost in the translation.  Plus the new pod uses the box art for the front and back covers so everything is here.  All that is missing is dice.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Sword & Sorcery & Cinema: Rogue One (2016)

So I heard that not a lot of people like this movie. Which I find confusing.  I saw it the theatres and it was a fun popcorn flick (which is what all Star Wars movies should be) and I enjoyed it.  So I decided to go back and watch it again. This is the first time since it was out.  I figure since "This is the May."

Rogue One (2016)

So this is taking place just before the events of A New Hope.  We are introduced to Galen Erso played by the always wonderful Mads Mikkelsen. He seems to be on the run from the Imperial Army, but they don't want to kill him.  He hides his daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones) but the stormtroopers kill his wife.  Jyn is later found by Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker who it woefully underutilized here.

Fast forward a few years and work continues on the almost complete Death Star.  Orson Krennic, who grabbed Galen, is the Director of the Death Star development and it seems that Galen is head of the weapons division, the Death Star's super laser.   Saw Gerrera is now a rebel extremist (I think his name is supposed to be connected to Che Guevara).  There is an Imperial cargo pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who has defected and is looking for Saw. He has information about the Death Star from Galen and he is trying to get it to Saw on the Jedi holy planet of Jeddah. 

The rebels hear of this and decide they need to get to Saw themselves but they need Jyn Erso to do it. Jyn, now a young adult, has been arrested for a number of petty crimes and is currently on a prisoner transport. She gets busted out by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2SO (played wonderfully by lan Tudyk) and they head to Jeddah to talk to Saw. 

Lots of things happen including shooting up a bunch of Stormtroopers, finding Saw, running into a blind Force monk (Chirrut Îmwe) and his blaster rifle-wielding best friend (Baze Malbus) played wonderfully by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen respectively.   They all get together, learn of the plans for the Death Star and of the secret weakness planted there by Galen Erso.  The same weakness that Luke will exploit in A New Hope.  I actually think it is rather brilliant.  Plus it does something truly great. Anytime you see Mad Mikkelsen in a movie you naturally think he is the bad guy, and he could have been here, but instead, he is a flawed man trying to do something good.

We get to see the Death Star operate on low power when they destroy the temple on Jeddah and even a CGI Tarkin played by a CGI Peter Cushing.  It's a little jarring, but not bad.  The one of Carrie Fisher seemed more unreal to me. 

Really that is the best part of Rogue One, everyone is a little bit flawed. Saw is an extremist, Jyn doesn't care, K-2SO is an asshole, Bodhi is kind of a coward. But they come together wonderfully to get the Death Star plans and transmit them to the Rebel Alliance.

They get to the base with plans, the attack goes south of course and everyone gets killed, even our stars.  Though that is not where the movie ends. We now follow the plans as they are transmitted from the communications tower by Jyn, to a rebel ship where they are downloaded onto a disk and everyone is running away from the oncoming attack by Darth Vader.  Vader proves here why he is the most feared person in the Galax by mowing through armed rebels like they were nothing.  We would later see Luke do the same thing to Death Trooper Droids in the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian.  The moral of this? If you are in a hallway and there is a Skywalker at the other end you are doomed. 

The movie ends just as a New Hope is about to begin.  All our heroes are dead which makes for a downer for a Star Wars film, but the perfect lead-up to the "new hope" the Rebels now have. Plus this movie is every bit like the Magnificent Seven or the Dirty Dozen.  This reminds us that war is going on and not everyone will survive.

What I don't get is why do people not like it.

I think it is great and enjoyed even more on my second watch. There are lots of fun Easter Eggs like the two aliens that accost Luke in the Mos Eiley bar, to Donnie Yen as one of the Guardians of the Whills, to Anothy Daniels and James Earl Jones doing the voices of C-3PO and Darth Vader. We even got Genevieve O'Reilly back as Mon Mothma. She played a younger version in Revenge of the Sith and now 11 years later she looks even more like Caroline Blakiston in Return of the Jedi.

Star Wars Novel

The above was written for the Star Wars novel back in 1977.  I remember reading it and wondering what the hell "Whills" were.  Thanks to Rogue One I know a bit more.  Also, I feel that the last line, while about Luke, Han, and Chewie could have just as easily been said about Jyn and Cassian. 

So I wonder why it is that people didn't like this movie.  

You can't blame the plot holes (every Star Wars movie has them) or the fact that everyone dies.  No I think it is, and this is because I see Star Wars fans online, because the hero of this tale is a woman.

There are a lot of misogynistic Star Wars fans and they just can deal with characters like Jyn or Rey.  

But that is a discussion for another day.

Gaming Content

I have heard it said that Rogue One is an example of everyone's WEG Star Wars RPG game. The characters are all practically RPG characters really and the situation; break into an Imperial data storage and steal some plans, sounds like an RPG session. 

--

Tim Knight of Hero Press and Pun Isaac of Halls of the Nephilim along with myself are getting together at the Facebook Group I'd Rather Be Killing Monsters to discuss these movies.  Follow along with the hashtag #IdRatherBeWatchingMonsters that is if I can get my co-admins to agree this is the best hashtag for this!


Friday, May 7, 2021

Kickstart Your Weekend: We Got Movie Sign!

Let's Make More MST3K & Build The Gizmoplex!

MST3k Kickstarter

I am a HUGE MST3k fan.  Back in the early days of the show, my cable provider did not offer The Comedy Channel/Comedy Central.  So when I would go visit my girlfriend in the Chicago area I discovered it and was completely hooked.  Fast forward 30 years that girlfriend is now my wife and our oldest son also loves MST3k.

We watched all the VHS tapes she had made for me and now we catch it when we can on the various streaming services we have.

So yeah, you know I am excited for this one!  I loved Joel and Mike and I think Jonah has been a great new addition to the team. I am not sure who the new host is (she will appear in a couple of episodes) but I am excited. AND Joel is back for two episodes!

We are in the Final Sacrifice Countdown now!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #20

Dragon Magazine #20
This issue has been on my want list for a very long time, well this weekend I finally got a copy and I could not be happier.  My copy is a little worse for the wear, but still I am happy. So let's get right to it!

This issue comes to us from November 1978, exactly one year before I would discover D&D.  The cover is a Halloween-inspired one, and frankly, I think it is great. It has a Ravenloft feel to it, five years early.  It's one of those that rewards you the more you look into it. I can't tell who did it though. I want to say Tom Wham. 

I also should point out that this isn't "Dragon #20" this is "The Dragon #20".  

We learn from Tim Kask's editorial that the price of The Dragon has gone up to $2.00 per issue. Plus they are going to a new printer for color, things look better, but there is a cost.  Out on a Limb is coming back and I guess it was "controversial."  

Up first Marc Miller talks about his game Imperium, described as "1977's Game of the Year."  He gives us a bit of history of how the game was created and it completely invokes all my Traveller Envy.  Marc follows this up with some rules addendums. 

Some reprinted editorials from Gygax; Dragon Rumbles #19. Largely about Gen Con and Origins. Gen Con is expanding and having growing pains. 

Speaking of expanding, TSR is looking for a new assistant to Gary Gygax.  You need to have good typing, spelling, and proofreading skills.  I wonder who got the job?  I have my guesses.

Job ad, be Gary's assistant.

Mike Crane has a nice random table of various Eyes and Amulets for Empire of the Petal Throne. Easily adaptable to D&D of course, if I knew what any of them actually did. 

Nice big ad for Star Trek minis, 75mm versions at $10.95 each. 

Jerome Arkenberg is up with a great one, The Mythos of Polynesia for Dungeons & Dragons.  The format is similar to what we find in "Gods, Demigods, and Heroes."  It is detailed enough for me to do a One Man's God for it but I know so little about these myths. The gods themselves are an interesting lot. Of them all, I knew Pele and Tangoroa the best. 

Wormy is next and in full color. 

Ah. Here is the reason why I bought this issue. 

Another Look at Witches and Witchcraft in D&D by Ronald Pehr.  This article is a sequel to the article from Dragon #5, and the prequel to the ones in Dragons #43 and #114. This one is more detailed than the one found in TD#5.  This one still has the disclaimer of an "NPC Class" but offers it as a potential PC class for some DM's games.   This one also makes the connection that witches are to magic-users as druids are to clerics. The author does point out that a witch is typically neutral although individuals can be good or evil as they please.  They are not Satan/Devil worshipers even if they can summon supernatural assistance. The author points out that Cleric, Druids, and Magic-users can summon the same sort of aid.   He also dismisses the stereotype that all witches are solitary old hags indicating they need to be to work with others and in harmony with nature so a Charisma of 9 is needed at the minimum.

Presented here are 18 levels in OD&D format. They have saves and attack rolls like that of the Magic-user but require more XP, 3,000 points needed for level 2 and it scales on from there.  This witch gains several powers per level as well.  Why making a Bag of Holding comes before the more stereotypical Brew Love Potion I don't know, I do know that even I think this witch is pretty damn powerful.  

This witch also has spells up to the 8th level.  This has always felt right to me as being between the Cleric and the Magic-user.  Even in modern games where every spellcasting class has access to 9th level spells I still like the idea that Wizards/Magic-users have access to greater magics, even above my beloved witches.  She may be limited to "only" 8th level spells here, but some of these spells...damn.  "Destroy Life Level." "Wither," "Circle of Distegreation."  I don't recall if all of these made it forward to issues #45 or #114, but they are some pretty powerful spells. 

The first part covers two pages then it is continued on for a quarter page later in the magazine.  What strikes me the most is not how really overpowered this class is (it was toned down in #45 and #114), or the casual sexism in the presentation ("it provides a very viable character for ladies," it was 1978 after all), but the fact that this was the headlining article and there is no art associated with it. 

This version of the witch is the one I have typically associated with Holme's Basic set. Mostly because they share a publication time. This fits since the witch from The Dragon #5 is very obviously an OD&D witch and the one from Dragon #45 is connected to the Moldvay Basic game. Also because of the time of publication and because Tom Moldvay did a bit of the editing on that version.  This leaves the obvious connection of Dragon #114 with AD&D 1st ed.

I suppose my collection of Dragon MAgazine witches is complete, more or less. I do not have a copy of The Dragon #5, the first witch, but I do have the reprint in Best of the Dragon Vol. 1 which is identical to what was in #5.

Dragon Magazine covers featuring the witch class.

The second reason I wanted this issue, Demonology made easy; or, How To Deal With Orcus For Fun and Profit by Gregory Rihn.  This article also calls back to The Dragon #5, in particular the article on Spell Research in D&D (also in the Best of Vol. 1).  The editor reminds us that the author, Gregory Rihn also gave us a great article on lycanthropy (again, in the Best of Vol. 1) so they feel this is a worthwhile article.  This article is good. It covers the reasons why a magic-user might want to summon a demon in D&D and then how to do it!  Take a moment to breathe that one in. The Satanic Panic was just about to happen.

There is a lot of detail here and a lot of really awesome role-playability.  I mean really if your wizard or witch hasn't tried summoning some evil from the deeper dark are they REALLY living?  There are even guidelines to what needs to be in the rituals (new vestments, items, even sacrifices) and what sort of tasks of the demon can be demanded.   

This article, plus the witchcraft one, when combined can be used to add a lot of flavor to the Warlocks of D&D 5.  

Halfway, we get some photos of the various winners of awards for 1977 at Gen Con XI. Pictures of John Holmes, his son Chris as well as awards presented by Elise Gygax to Marc Miller and Tim Kask among others.

See Africa and Die! Or, Mr. Stanley, Meet Dr. Livingstone comes to us from none other than Gary Gygax himself providing a review of the game Source of the Nile.  IT is not only a pretty detailed review but also suggests some rule corrections.  The review does make the game sound fun but this is the problem in reading 40-year-old+ game magazines. All the great stuff is long out of print and expensive as hell to find. 

William B. Fawcett gives us a Traveller variant/addition in The Asimov Cluster.  Traveller! Why must you haunt my every step! But seriously, this is the exact sort of thing I would read back in the day and make Traveller feel like this epic sweeping Space Opera.  I am sure it is. I am sure there are people (and I have read their blogs) that are just obsessed with Traveller as I am with D&D who would read the D&D articles and wistfully say "someday. someday I'll play that game and it will be as epic as I imagined."   I did play some Traveller, but mine never got epic.  I don't even know which Traveller system to start with now if I wanted to get back into it.  This is my "Sci-Fi" month. I should figure this one out.

Anyway, this article provides details on the Asimov Cluster with a lot of planets here to provide points of interest for your Traveller game.

A really cool ad for the D Series modules from TSR.  I bet these will be cool.  Followed by a preview of the Ralph Bakshi "Lord of the Rings" movie.

The Drow series and Lord of the Rings

Lyle Fitzgerald gives us a breakdown of character death in It's a Good Day to Die (Death Statistics of D&D Players).  I should note that these are statistics only from his local gaming group. And it is not Players that are dead but rather Characters.  Though props for using this as a title 10 years before Worf would utter the same words.  Though like most things it is better in the original Klingon.   It's an interesting read and might even be a good snapshot of the times.  Maybe I'll create a poll one day to get some more data.  Not that I honestly care much about character death, I just like statistics.

Allen Hammack, a very prolific Dragon writer back in the day, has a rule variant for hidden movement in the War of the Ring game.

Finieous Fingers is up. People talk about being able to judge the generations of games by their feelings on Tracy Hickman. I also say you can make the same judgment on the generations just prior to that on their opinion of FF.  It's fun, but does not fill me with nostalgia.

The Convention Schedule fills a quarter of a page. In a couple of years, it will expand to several pages.

Our last article is about Demonic Possession in the Dungeon from Charles Sagui, a name I don't think I have seen before.  It's a good guide and, as the author points out, something not used enough in games with demons. This article presents demonic possession as sort of a trap to be found in dungeons (well, that is the title after all) and a good use of it. Reading this it is easy to expand on it a little more and get your Regan and Captain Howdy types. 

A nice big ad for the new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

Back cover is an add for the Space Gamer magazine. 

Ad for the Player's HandbookAd for the Space Gamer

Counting covers a total of 36 pages, but a lot has been packed into these pages.

It is interesting to read a Dragon from this time period when I was imprinted on Dragon from the Kim Mohan/80s period.  This one feels a little more like a White Dwarf magazine to me.  If you are curious, White Dwarf #9 was published around the same time.  

Also there is a feeling of embracing more games here.  It feels like gamers were far more open about trying out other games than with what some of the older gamers today would lead you to believe.  This is also consistent with how we all played back then.

So yeah. I paid a lot of money for this issue and I don't regret it at all really.  I still have my Dragon CD-ROM with all the PDF files, but having this in my collection is still worthwhile in my mind.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Everything Old is New Again: The Original Known World

 The original Known World by Tom Moldvay and Lawrence Schick. 

The Known World
The Known World Replica Map by James Mishler

It's no lie. I love maps. As a kid, I would read over maps, follow roads to see where they lead. I had a map of the city of Chicago hanging up in my room that I would just stare at and imagine what those streets were like from hundreds of miles away. I still have a map of Victorian-era London in my office that I still stare at.  Just the other night I spent hours pouring over a map of Westeros which has put me into the mood to reread A Song of Ice and Fire. 

So while back there was some new discussion about the Orginal Known World from Tom Moldvay and Lawrence Schick, the one that was the precursor to the World of Mystara of later BECMI use.  James Mishler, who also knows a thing or two about Mystara, put together a hex map of this world and I just can't stop reading it.  Such tantalizing treasures here.  Demi-orcs? So many Orc clans! A city called Keraptis? Tharks!  So many familiar names all in different places.

I know I talked about this one before but it still fascinates me.  The map covers an area about 2,400 miles east to west and 850 miles north to south. OR, about the same size as the continental United States (2,800 miles from furthest points east and west, 1,500 north to south).  

While I enjoy all of this it was largely academic interest. I mean after all I have plenty of worlds. Come Endless Darkness takes place in Oerth/World of Greyhawk, the Second Campaign is primarily a Mystara one, and Into the Nentir Vale is a solid Toril/Forgotten Realms campaign.  So my players are used to the idea of multiple universes and worlds. The characters of War of the Witch Queens are now beginning to learn about this.   So adding a new world only makes things difficult for me and really, it's not all that difficult.

Since "War of the Witch Queens" is my ode to both Basic-era D&D (currently using B/X as the rules base) AND to the many wonderful products in the Old-School scene I always felt I needed an old school world to fit the bill.  I had thought about using the BECMI "Urt" which gives me the same Mystara maps but make it a little different. Mystara we would later find out is hollow. Urt is a living planet akin to Mogo.  I do have a living planet I use in my Sci-fi games, Gaia, so I don't necessarily need another one.  Though Gaia is living in the sense there is a planetary wide consciousness as opposed to a living being.

While Urt, or even Urth, is fine, it isn't really what I want.  I want something old, or at least has a proper pedigree?  Why?  Because this campaign is not really about what I can make up. I have dozens of worlds, places, maps, you name it, but I want something different than what I can do.  

It was while reading a series of posts (links below) from Jonathan Becker on B/X Blackrazor that gave me an idea. 

Why not use this Moldvay/Schick Known World as the PC's world in War of the Witch Queens?

Sure. I should really use Mystara or Mystoerth for a proper B/X feel, but yet this map calls to me. It begs me to explore it.  It isn't the whole world, of course, it is just the known world.  Sure it's not my world.  But I also had no say in being born in Illinois and as a longing for a magical place called Chicago.  BTW Chicago did in fact live up to (and down to) my dreams of it.

Glantri and it's surroundings, 500 miles

I get some familiar names, remixed in new ways.  I already established my East Haven and West Haven towns and how East Haven in my "world" is in the same spot as Haven on Krynn. West Haven of course is West Haven in every world; it is a Nexus Point.  

There is a lot going on this map and it really works for me.  It comes from a time period I really want my Witch Queens campaign to be all about.   Plus it makes Glantri (and Darokin) into a Welsh-like kingdom (and BEGS me to make the ruler King Llywelyn the Great).  Gorllewin even means "West" in Welsh.  This really appeals to me. Glantrin as a Welsh city instead of a faux-Italian one?  Yeah! That sounds fun. I get to use Glantri again, but this is a very different one that the Glantri of Mystara run by xenophobic mage-Princes.  

Then there are all these other details in a map that is just 200 by 200 miles. Deep Ones living nearby? Hell yeah! Again I could spend hours on this map. I mean what the hell is Nanq-Rubbob?? I must know! Looks like some sort of Russian/Slavic Empire to the northeast. Fallen Thyatis to the west. Welsh halflings? Sounds like hobbits to me! Malpheggi Clans? Sounds like swamp hags live here next to the Deep Ones. There are those demi-orcs again. What are they? I don't know but I can't wait to find out!

And really that is it isn't it?  What is out there? I don't know, but I can't wait to find out!

Links