Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost

Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost is the type of rip-roaring adventure that you didn't know you were nostalgic for. A ship, a crew, a stiff upper lip, and they're off to save the galaxy for England! Well, except for the fact that it's a rust bucket, there's an air of Flashman about him, and the most dependable member of the crew is the space hamster. Yes, they went there.

The story spares no expense at poking fun at various archetypes and films, including an extended reverse Blade Runner sequence, a visit to the Matrix, and a lovely send up of the Proud Warrior Race/Noble Savage. Really, one can tell that Frost enjoyed themselves in writing this book. Without that the story itself would have fallen a bit flat, but the jokes and parodies abound and the characters are quite the entertaining assortment that's essential to these space romps. I call it that purposefully, because it's hard to call this a Space Opera, given the lighthearted tone of the novel.

The British humor and sometimes campy characters make this a light and entertaining read, while still having a nice chewy center for those wanting a space yarn in the style of say, Firefly in its less serious moments, or Edgar Rice Burroughs through a fun house mirror. The Colonial attitudes are played for laughs, the "White Man's Burden" to educate the aliens and teach them how to brew a proper cup of tea.

Now, I have to say that I quite enjoyed it, but I'm sure it's not everyone's cup of tea. And there were parts that went from delightful gag to old quick, the aforementioned Blade Runner and Matrix nods, the laughs from them were often accompanied by groans. Still, a solid book, especially if you've read all too many space operas that couldn't sit back and laugh at themselves. Pick it up for some lighthearted reading, dashing adventure, and British humor.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin

Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin

Iron Dynasty: Way of the Ronin by Reality Blurs is an oriental setting for Savage Worlds, largely modeled upon pre/early industrial Japan, with a healthy dose of fantasy tropes. The pdf version I purchased came with a very nice color map of the area in the back, but otherwise the pictures and maps were black and white art. Actually they almost felt like sketches most of the time, which may have been an effort to either keep costs low or enhance the atmosphere of the product, but in comparison to other Savage Worlds tie ins, licensees, and setting books, it suffers a bit.

This is a book I was really excited to start to get into, and see if they were able to get the feel and atmosphere of the setting down. Swords, martial arts, and the advent of machines, there's a great wealth of material there that could be used for story material. And on the atmosphere, you can tell that they tried very hard at achieving it, authentic names for weapons along with descriptions, and simply the language used to describe things and people could have come straight out of a martial arts film.

Unfortunately, the meat of the product is somewhat lacking. Not in volume, it rolls in at 284 pages, but in style. As you read through the book, you come to the inevitable conclusion that this is not really in the spirit of Savage Worlds. In fact, it reads much like a D20 product that's been converted over to Savage Worlds, or a someone writing a Savage Worlds setting, but keeping the D20 sensibilities of a plethora of tables and handholding. It does not embrace the Savage Worlds concept of Fast! Furious! Fun! Of course, for an individual who wants something like that, it may be a boon. One instance of this is in character creation, they include defining interests, which are essentially further specializations of the Common Knowledge area. It provides guidelines to using character background and giving bonuses to Common Knowledge that should be gleaned from it, but it also feels limiting, as well as creating extra bookkeeping. Another example being in the Power Edges, they make an attempt to define and limit what could have been explained as trappings and ruled loosely in almost any other Savage World setting. There are even rules of fitting armor and rulings on what to subtract when someone picks up armor off a dead enemy without fitting it. While it's a nice touch, it's also nitpicky and additional bookkeeping that doesn't add to Fast! Furious! Fun! One interesting addition is the Reputation Rules, which is nearly identical to the Fame/Infamy rules in Pirates of the Spanish Main, except that one may go all the way towards the evil spectrum without losing control.

The same sensibilities run through the adventure creation rules, you'll end up rolling D100's and D20's to determine unique monsters and adventures. Which runs pretty contrary to what most Savage World settings try to run with. In other words, it's got a quality that allows one to get very deep into detail, and yet the cost of that is increased bookkeeping, and increased time that one would need in order to set up an adventure. Again, it feels like the writers were trying to recreate a D20 or GURPS or retro experience, as opposed to embracing the Savage System.

One of the bright spots in the book is the detail afforded to the setting. In fact, it provides details upon major towns, cities, locations of power and the like. On the other hand, they missed the mark in not linking the locations to Savage Tales. The Savage Tales by the way, are not ones that we are familiar with from other Savage Worlds products, instead of being loosely linked adventures or plot points, the book provides several mini campaigns which it calls Savage Story Arcs. These are essentially linked adventure series with very little leeway for deviation, each 'adventure' being described in anywhere between two sentences to a half page long description.

Overall, it was a solid reference book, but mildly disappointing. There is certainly a wealth of things that one can take from it, but I can't imagine playing the setting itself without heavy modification, and to play a campaign would require a good deal more work than one would usually go through in a Savage Setting. I would almost say that the Campaigns are more ideas for campaigns, that a GM would have to spend a lot of time fleshing out and improvising throughout. Also providing less room for going off the tracks and then returning later than other settings usually would provide. The big impression I get is of a book more suited for a D20 derived product than a Savage Worlds book. At $15 for the pdf, I'm not terribly disappointed, but it's not the definitive oriental adventures setting book I was hoping for, and it's not one that I would feel happy with at the cost for a print edition.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Savage Worlds AAR

Just finished running a quick and dirty Savage Worlds game.

The Backstory
A lone patrol through the jungle wanders its way back to base. Two orc grunts and their Sergeant, accompanied by an Elven Ranger and human medic. The grunts are very low on ammo and the Wild Cards are down to around twenty rounds each for their respective weapons. The orc Sergeant carries a single grenade.

The opposition
Ten Lizardfolk militia members have moved into a blocking position on the ford, using the river to penetrate deep into the supposed safe zone. Nine tribesmen armed with bows and axes led by their chieftain look to take revenge on the foreign invaders of the great swamp.

[Out of character rules explanations and game developments out of character will be in brackets]

After Action Report, Elsinore Skyhawk reporting:
I was on loan from the Rangers in order to accompany a patrol on deep patrol into the Red Zone north of the great swamps. Seven days in the jungle skirmishing with irregulars, but with real engagements to speak of. The village we had been sent to clear was a dud, no such settlement on the map coordinates. Anyways, we made contact with an enemy force around 1400 hours, about a mile out from the Extraction Zone. I was on point and the rest of the squad was in wedge formation behind me. I think they were as surprised as we were because about seven of them were in the water, trying to cross. Three were stationed on the opposite bank behind a pair of fallen trees. The range was between one and two hundred feet, but closed quickly in the beginning moments. [The group of three began in the third range bracket, but was in the second range bracket for the M1's carried by the squad within the first turn. The Lizardmen on the opposite bank had less range for their bows, and would need to use every other turn to aim in order to get a -4 to their attacks)

Our medic, Corpsman Copeland was the only one close enough to immediately get to cover, the rest of us attempted to move towards a rocky area. Fortunately their arrow fire was ineffective, as only three of them were able to fire, the rest struggled to get on land. The group of four to the west was the closest, and Sergeant Barnak sprang up and raced towards them, tossing a grenade. Two of the lizardmen were killed immediately in the blast, but the others made it to shore and began returning fire with their bows. I engaged the second group of three to the east. They had made it to cover, but I managed to feather one. Privates Grumnash and Krugnar moved up to support the Sarge along the west side, as well as providing covering fire for Copeland to dart forward.

In a display of battlelust, and despite the arrows falling about them, Barnak and Grumnash moved to engage one lizardman near the center of the skirmish in hand to hand combat, they succeeded in taking it down. Krugnar was less successful, and they engaged in axe work while I attempted to keep the other group of archers that had made land at bay.

[At this point the lizardmen were dealt a Joker, giving them a bonus to their trait and damage rolls]

The lizardman in combat with Krugnar was able to slip beneath the private's attack and plunge its axe into his stomach before moving back into the water. Barnak and Pvt Grumnash elected to retrieve their rifles in favor of going in after the lizardmen. Now three were in the water, with the three on the far bank continuing to pepper us with arrows, to little effect. Copeland moved towards the fallen Private, but it was obvious he would not get there in time.[Medic edge allows him a chance to revive an extra, but only if he gets there in the same turn]

I moved forward and managed to injure one of those in the water, the rushing river carried it off, and I can only assume it dies of its injuries. Two of them made it to the opposite bank, and those on the opposite bank got their first solid hit on us. Pvt. Grumnash fell to an arrow, I laid down covering fire, and gave a glancing hit to one of the Lizardmen[Shaken, but still up]. Corpsman Copeland, displaying great bravery, ran to where the Private was sitting wounded and immediately began administering first aid[He succeeds in his healing roll, and instead of wounded Grumnash is merely shaken].

Ineffectual fire from myself and the Sergeant is met by a return volley, just as the Private looked to be getting up, an arrow pierced his eye, there was obviously no return from that.

[Lizardmen again get a joker] Copeland bravely tried again to save the Private's life but as soon as he knelt down to work, he was hit by an arrow. [A very lucky arrow, in fact causes two wounds, and he fails his soak roll] Our return fire tags one of the Lizardmen on the opposite bank, it seems our greater range has been telling.

At that point the Lizardmen fall back, fading into the swamps, while we do our best for our medic. A short run back to base brought reinforcements, although last I heard Corpsman Copeland remained in serious condition. With two of ours killed and one grievously wounded, I do not know if we can call our engagement a victory, despite having accounted for Seven of them.

All in all I move that Corpsman Copeland be given the Silverleaf Medal of Valor with Holly Clusters, in addition to any awards his own service grants, and that Sergeant Barnak be given the Oaken Star.

Post Mortem:
Little modifiers from cover and range can add up quite quickly when one only has a D6 in shooting. Only the Ranger(D10) had a better shooting die, and accounted for most of the kills. In addition the Lizardmen suffered worse from both range penalties and damage rolls as a result of having bows to combat rifles. Next time I may have them using captured rifles instead, as they were seriously outgunned. They did have some good turns of luck, with two joker draws.

The big break for the heroes was probably that early grenade, there would have been more close combat otherwise that would have helped to negate their range advantage. Also, I should have played the Chieftain closer in, as it was he was lobbing arrows from the back and not really contributing any more than the extras. Either that or changed him up for a Shaman with a power or two in order to spice things up.

All in all I think the engagement took about an hour including looking up rules we had become rusty on. A quite satisfactory little Vietnam/Fantasy mashup that took little time to set up and little time to play. We used primarily the Explorer's Edition and Tour of Darkness to set it up, with a little help from the Fantasy Companion just to add in the elf, orc, and lizardmen races.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In Hero Years...I'm Dead

In Hero Years... I'm Dead by Michael A. Stackpole

One of the latest out by Stackpole, available from amazon or his own Stormwolf store through the link above. There are two ways to look at this, as a Stackpole book, or as a Superhero book. Now don't get me wrong, I usually quite enjoy his work, but as I've mentioned before, similar themes tend to resurface. In this one we have a Revenant, a warrior who has been away for years only to find everything has changed on him, twisted genealogies, and quick witted protagonists. I kept on comparing the book to Once a Hero or Talion or the Chaos series in my head while I was reading it. But if you enjoyed those books, then it'll deliver as expected, stunning fight scenes, witty dialogue, and cunning heroes.

Now, to look at it as a Superhero book, well that's where it tends to shine. If you've ever read Kingdom Come and wished for less of a biblical feel and more of a street view, then this is for you. It delves into the mentality of being a superhero versus being a real hero, of the obsessions and problems that they face, and what the various iconic heroes represent. It's also about legacies, can a hero or villain pass the mantle on to their heirs, and if so, is that really a good thing? It is an interesting world, but not as dark as it could have been. How can someone who still believes that to be a hero is to help people-live in a world where heroics have morphed into a mix of entertainment and sports betting.

It's a unique and entertaining take on the superhero genre, the themes may not be totally new, for people who are familiar with Kingdom Come, Watchmen, or even Soon I Will Be Invincible, but the action is crisp and characters are well fleshed out, while still embodying recognizable superhero archetypes. In the end, even with all the little gripes, I can make one great piece of praise that trumps them was a one sitting book. I sat down and started reading, it wasn't until about 4 or 5am that I looked up from the ending words. I'm definitely happy to have picked it up.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Colonial Battlefleet Review and AAR

Over the holiday I got a chance to try out the Colonial Battlefleet game from Steel Dreadnought Games. Below is the After Action Report and a quick review.

Meeting at Procyon

The tensions between the Empire of D and the T Hegemony have erupted into full scale war. The trade lanes outside of Procyon would prove a dangerous meeting ground, as Hegemony taskgroup Dreadnought and the Imperial squadron led by the battleship Wisdom would fire the first shots of the war.

This was a 1200 point game, with default tech levels, the only agreement being that fighters and boarders would be avoided since this would be our first game. Oh, and we would be going into this blind as to the other's fleet composition or ship loadouts, once on the battlemap we told each other which ships were larger than the others, but that was it. I was quite pleased with how we managed to set up and play, even being so unfamiliar with the rules. We took 3 hours total, from opening up the spreadsheet to build some ships to rolling the last die and calling it quits.

Order of Battle

T Hegemony
BBD Dreadnought – 640 tons, with turreted banks of heavy phazers, mag cannons, and anti-neutron torps
BCF Archer – 410 tons. Phazers forward, and the rest taken up with two 3 launcher mounts for its 24 ASGMs
CLR Cheetah – 144 tons. Its sole armament were 3 forward anti-proton torpedo bays spread in 2 hardpoints

Empire of D
BBD Wisdom – 640 tons. A forward firing rail gun, along with turreted banks of phazers and disruptors, and a single ASGM launcher for 8 missiles
BCB Courage – 560 tons, sporting turreted batteries of turbo heavy lasers and heavy disruptors, with a forward bank of anti-neutron torpedos.

Debriefing, Commodore Nomis of the HNS Archer

With our superior command and control we would set the tone of the battle. However it became evident that they would dictate its terms. The Imperial ships started in close formation, we closed in a slightly more open one, with the Dreadnought leading the way, the Archer and Cheetah sheltering along its flank at about three combat sectors distance. The first turn is at extreme range, and we choose a tactical option, and wait for them to close. It turns out that we are in fact, within their range. A stunned shock runs through the crews as they not only fire, but hit with enough force to heavily damage the shields on the Dreadnought, the Imperial ships are running with FC4. Our reply is minimal, as we fire at the larger ship to no effect, its shields are too heavy at this range...there is only one thing to do, close the distance to bring our shorter ranged and hopefully more potent weapons into play.

We choose the tactical option again, the two Imperial ships close to adjacent combat sectors and look to be ready to cross each other next turn. The second turn sees our small flotilla accelerating, we had a delta advantage over them already, running at 5 to their 3, all of our ships increased speed to delta 6. The Imperial ships fire, a deadly volley, that smashes through the shields of the Dreadnought, damaging the heavy phazers right as they line up on the smaller enemy ship, as well as launching an ASGM. Still, the Mag cannons do a number on the enemy shields, allowing torpedoes to get through, although there is no penetration. The Archer launches a full salvo of ASGMs, while the Cheetah continues to hide behind its larger cohorts.

The phazors were quickly repaired, but the ships are crossing at speed, and although the Dreadnought penetrates the larger Imperial ship Wisdom's shields, the combined power of the two capital ships cuts through her shields, an engine room hit seals her fate. Archer fires another salvo of ASGMs, now in sprint mode, there is little that can stop them from hitting on the next turn sequence. Cheetah darts in and fires her torps, but they do little damage against the heavily shielded Courage.

The ASGM's finally come into play, damaging the bridge of Courage, and a disruptor bay on the Wisdom. But it is not enough, the Dreadnought has drifted past the battle, and both enemy ships are lined up for a strike upon her aft shields. Her heavy armor is not enough to save her from destruction. The Archer fires another salvo of ASGM's, and the Cheetah makes use of her superior speed to place herself in the aft arc of the Courage, hammering through her shields with torps. The Wisdom however, in chasing the Dreadnought, is finding it hard to close the distance and support her sister ship. It can still however, punish the Archer with its heavy armament, cutting through the lighter ships shields with ease and damaging one of the ASGM batteries. The Courage as well is able to bring its port facing turrets to bear, the Archer is now down two shield facings, and its F/P shields will be damaged for the rest of the engagement.

Our two ships continue to rake the Courage's aft shields, but a final combined salvo destroys the Courage, it is then that taking stock of the ASGM reserves on the Archer that I decide to retreat, we will use our delta advantage to escape and fight another day. I send our final ASGM stocks in their direction, if only to discourage pursuit. It does not work very well, they burn delta to increase velocity and chase, and once again that heavy long range armament aided by superior fire control comes our way. 12 hull, 10....5.... The girders creak and grown, bridge consoles show red hull breaches across the board, and it all comes down to their final shot with the single heavy rail gun. It misses, and we breathe a sigh of relief. We will live to fight another day.

Hegemony lost 640 tons
Empire lost 563 tons

Next time, I won't skimp on fire control. Two of my 3 ships had FC 2 and short ranged weapons, D had a definite range advantage that showed at both the beginning and end of the battle. I overbought on PD given that he had a total of one launcher in his fleet, and he under bought. Even with 3 and 4 PD die my missiles consistently got through, taking his defender down to half health despite my inability to pierce its shields. And having a 3 Delta ship allowed me to plant myself firmly in his rear shields at the end. I closed too fast and didn't start my turn early enough with Dreadnought, thus its early demise, taking out about two thirds of my potential firepower.

The ASGM's were surprisingly effective on my part, partly due I'm sure to the fact that his defender had 50 points of shield in its forward arcs, something that I was hard pressed to cut through, even with my Battleship. In fact, only two flights of 3 were unable to turn and reengage effectively, and even those two were able to herd his ships, if not directly attack them. It helped that they were in effect more maneuverable than his ships. And AV8 ships are very, very hard to crit against, even with 1D10+1 weapons, although I have to say that even my AV6 ship shrugged off his weapons pretty well, suffering only three criticals as it was whittled down to 5 hull, two hardpoints(one empty) and a shield. Which was quite fortunate, since I was hard pressed to repair them.

His evaluation of the battle consisted muttering about not skimping on firing arcs, as after the first two turns, none of his forward firing weapons actually had any impact on the battle. And for him, the ASGM was nothing more than wasted space, especially since he ended the battle with 5 left in the magazine, although the last few turns I think he gave up on them, as a single ASGM against 4PD is pretty useless. He also expressed disappointment on how the battleline ship performed, he may have been able to repair those critical hits easier, but I wasn't making many to begin with. I'm pretty sure he wished it was another defender or a flagship instead, because I won every single initiative roll.

Either way, I think we both agreed that the game was quite enjoyable, and one of the easiest to be able to set up and play on short notice. Being able to work with the spreadsheet and then print out the SSDs was a definite plus. Although I knew that I wouldn't snatch victory out of it once my Battleship went down, I was definitely on the edge of my seat as my fleet tried to pull out a draw, and escape. 5 hull out of my 64 hull BC before I was able to get out of range, now that's a nail biter!

Now some general notes on the rules system. Personally, at about $15 dollars, it's a bargain. There are about 60 pages of play rules, options, and an explanation of equipment, and the remaining 60 pages are split about equally between scenarios, warship construction rules and premade faction ship lists, with a few pages of counters that one can print out. The last two sections can easily be skipped however as it also comes with an excel spreadsheet that makes creating your own ships quick and easy. Illustrations are mostly functional, it's not exactly a pretty product, but they get the job done.

I mentioned before that it only took us about 3 hours to play a game. I would say that about half an hour to an hour of that was setup and creating our fleets. Although there were only a few ships in play, I feel that we could easily expand the fleet and get done in a similar amount of time, due to added familiarity.

As for the rules themselves, the first thing that comes to mind with them is that they are clean. You won't be scratching your head looking for dice, it uses D6s and D10s and that's it. The ship datacards that one can print out hold everything one needs to know about a ship, including the special roles that they can have. Those help define your ship and fleet, whether it's a Battleline ship designed to deal hurt, a light Scout, a maneuverable Rapid Deployment Force ship, etc.

The game may only use two die types, but it uses them well. For example to attack one rolls a die and adds in their fire control, which essentially allows a player to create the best engagement range for their ships. Movement was pretty standard fare, and easy to keep track of with the ship datacards. The fleet construction rules tend to favor a heavier force as opposed to swarms, and it felt a little funny that we both fielded Battleships and Battlecruisers with only my single light cruiser as backup, as opposed to a more balanced force, although this is indirectly modified in some of the scenarios. Perhaps if a campaign supplement came out then this would be addressed.

For the price, I can't say I have many complaints. Essentially this is an excellent generic ruleset for space combat, I could well see myself playing out Star Trek, B5, and other settings, not to mention the recently released Man vs Machine expansion that covers BSG. Although I'm not sure how such a fighter heavy game would play out given that ships can't be stacked.

What wins me over though, is the ease of play. Compared to say, Starfire, Battlefleet Gothic, or Battlespace for example it felt like a breeze, and there was no need to dig out the trusty ruler as long as you have a hex grid. And thus Colonial Battlefleet is liable to become my starship combat game of choice in the foreseeable future.