Friday, January 22, 2010

Coming up for air

Between work, a frustrating insurance company, allergies and planning for my trip to South Dakota, I haven't had a lot of time for the 'ol blog. This is actually a bit ironic, because I actually have all kinds of things to talk about now—most of them revolving around the ideas I've come up with while brainstorming for my upcoming game in South Dakota. Since some of my players read this site, I can't really go into any detail about these ideas...yet. I am in an amusingly frustrating position, actually. I think I have TOO MANY ideas to fit into one weekend's worth of gaming. Oh sure, maybe if we pulled a couple all-nighters, but honestly? I think all of my crew is just too old to do so anymore (heh). So now I am left with the unenviable task of editing down the epic scope of my ideas into something we can realistically hope to accomplish.

Whatever we /do/ manage to accomplish, however, I'll be sure to post here. In fact, I'm going to throw out a few snippets right now. Teasers if you will:

...a rogue covert operations team?
...the death of a planet?
...a secret heritage is revealed.
...a fifth-column in the heart of the enemy?
...biological warfare.
...the capture of a world-ship?
...the enemy's secret.

As you can see, there are a lot of different threads opening up. That's the good and the bad of a campaign you only get to play a couple days a year. Lots of fresh ideas. Not enough time to do them all. Better than the alternative, I suppose. In any case, I'm looking forward to refining the ideas and to reporting what happens when my players come into contact with them! Should be exciting! Stay posted.

Oh. And p.s., I have been working on the revised YT-1300 in those few spare moments I do have. Drawing for fun is a great stress reliever for me. I'll post the results soon, but I have to say that I am very pleased so far.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Speaking of player character ships...

Mine was just destroyed. Or nearly so. My car got crunched by a redneck in his F-150. Poor Sadie the Saturn. Between that and work, my posts have been—and are probably going to be—light for a few days.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Revised YT-1300

The YT-1300

For those who aren't as big a geek as I am, the YT-1300 is the fictional model number of space-ships like the Millennium Falcon—i.e. it encompasses ships that have the saucer-shaped body with the two bow-mandible dealies and the cockpit (usually) set off to the side. I have always been a big fan of the design because it is such an oddball looking thing. Prior to Star Wars most space ships were either flying saucers or long, sleek rocket-looking things with fins—or at the very least, they were symmetrical. The first time I saw the Millennium falcon, I remember actually being confused by it—how the heck was it even oriented? And it looked so old and junky and...very very cool.

In the Star Wars roleplaying game, the YT-1300 was described as being one of the most common freighter designs—and indeed it turned out to be in my campaign. One odd thing, however, was the lack of information regarding the internal layout of the craft. In the Star Wars sourcebook (put out in 1988) there was a deck-plan for the Falcon. But some parts of it didn't QUITE jive with what was seen in the movies. Since that time, quite a few alternate deck-plans have surfaced, many of them with widely different details. As far as gaming is concerned, this can all be explained away by the ubiquitous nature of the craft—it was made to be modified, thus it makes sense there would be a lot of different configurations. I'm okay with that, I guess.

But what I've slowly come to realize over the years is that the YT-1300, while cool looking, seems to be a horribly inefficient freighter design. The YT was designed to be a 'light transport', so it was never supposed to carry huge cargos or anything like that... but in pretty much every iteration I've seen of the deck plans of the Falcon or other craft of this type, the cargo capacity seems extremely limited when compared to the size of the rest of the ship and its systems. I mean, when you look at a Semi-tractor-trailer as an analogy you see that the cargo capacity is at LEAST twice the size of the equipment used to drive it. A more 'realistic' (I hesitate to use the word in this regard) analogy might be small(ish) cargo planes, like the DC-3. Even there, when you factor in wings/control-surfaces and engines, it looks like at least HALF the size of the craft is dedicated to cargo.

In it's most 'stripped down' version, the YT can maybe claim this 50% cargo to 50% machinery, but even then, the cargo is divided among 3-5 small bays, and very few provisions seem to be made for any cargo larger than your hand-carried crate. Carrying a landspeeder onboard, for instance, seems to be an impossibility. Even if one of the bays could fit it, there is no ramp or hatch large enough (or well enough positioned) to get it in and out of the craft. It's just a.. peeve of mine, I suppose, that none of the deckplans put forth so far—even the ones that are supposedly dedicated to cargo hauling—really answer this glaring problem. Thus, as with many things, I am left to my own devices—tinkering and trying to figure this out.

I have also come across a slight size discrepancy. The stated length of the YT-1300 (in the RPG) is approximately 26+ meters—which would give the saucer-part of its frame roughly a 20m diameter. Considering the rather 'sleek' profile of the ship, this just doesn't seem to mesh with the ceiling heights we see in the movie—nor the machinery 'depths' that seem to exist beneath the main deck. If you increase the saucer size to 26+ meters, and the overall length to about 34 or so, however, you get something more in tune with the size of the craft as shown in the movies.

And finally, there is the issue of escape pods. In the initial version of the YT-1300 (from the SW Sourcebook) the large, circular port-and-starboard hull protrusions were identified as Escape pods. But in later iterations, they were supposedly cargo loading ports. The movies seem to suggest the latter, in that the Imperials note 'several of the escape pods have been jettisoned' from the Falcon. Since we see the two large 'pods' both still in place, it would seem to suggest that the escape pods are located elsewhere.

But does any of this discrepancy really bother me that much? Nope. Not really. Still love the design and still have the gumption to 'make it work' on my own terms.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One year ago, in a living room not so far away...

Hard to believe it's been a whole year since I started this Blog. And you know what? It's doing pretty much exactly what I hoped it would. It's a great place for me to vent and rant and think through all kinds of ideas about the setting and the game. It's also been awesome to put down so many of my memories about my gaming experience- in a way, it's been like re-living them. With work as busy as it has gotten in the latter half of this year, I'm surprised I've been able to keep chugging along (okay, so maybe I've sputtered a few times). Though there have been moments when I was afraid I would 'run out of things to say', I'm coming to the realization that that is probably impossible—because new stuff keeps happening for me to talk about. I'm looking forward to continuing—and to reporting on my new gaming experiences and projects as they happen. Ironically enough, I don't have much to say today—still doing some re-reading of stuff for future reviews though, so as soon as my photo-shoots are done this week (I'm an art director) I can hopefully get back on it. Until then? May the Force- nahhhh, too cliche.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Adventure Idea: So you wanna be in pictures...

My recent post on Player Character ships got me thinking about one of the adventures I had written up to cover one of those times where an Adventure Module mandated that the characters' ship had been lost. In this case, it was after the Starfall Adventure (where the PCs are taken prisoner onboard a Star Destroyer). Though never specified, it was always my assumption that the PCs' ship would have been impounded by the Empire after the capture of the party. Thus, when the group escaped, they had to try and track down their ship again.

I wanted the recovery of the ship to be more than just breaking into an impound yard, however. Thus I came up with the idea that the Empire actually SOLD the ship to a holo-movie production company who were making a (propaganda) film about the heroism of the Empire in it's struggle against the Rebellion. The PC ship was going to be used as the base of the 'evil' Rebels—in fact, the director of the film thought it was a real coup to get an actual Rebel ship for this role (it adds to the 'integrity' of his work, afterall). Unfortunately for the real owners of the ship, the script calls for it to be destroyed spectacularly in the final scene of the film.

The adventure began with the PCs poking around the impound yard and finding out what happened to their ship. From there, they had to infiltrate the filming site—setting up all kinds of opportunities for encounters with egotistical directors, self-absorbed actors (including the hero and heroine of the movie), touchy special effects guys, suspicious security guards, etc. Through bluff or force, the PCs finally make it onto their ship—only to find it rigged with demolitions charges and pyrotechnics. It's main engine systems have also been disabled to prevent a more serious (and less cinematic) explosion.

In my running of this, the adventure climaxed with a chase scene as the PCs lifted off right from the location shoot (with much fist-shaking from the director!). Flying with repulsorlift only (thus very low) they escaped down a local freeway, wreaking havoc with commuters as studio security (and eventually police) gave chase. Meanwhile, folks inside the ship were frantically disarming explosives and trying to get the main engines back online. After much chaos, the PCs escaped with their ship and a story to tell.

It was a fun little twist on the 'stealing your ship back' scenario and if anyone wants to use it in their own games—feel free! If I had it to do over again, I'd actually set the whole things in a major movie studio—imagine a ship plowing through different sound-stages, each with different films in progress (and different obstacles to face—think Mell Brooks' Blazing Saddles ending). Fun fun.

Tinkering and Vacillation

At the end of the month, I'm heading off to South Dakota (via Colorado) to hang out with some of my buddies from college—and to play some Star Wars (just like last year)! Unlike last year, however, I also want to run an event at the game convention (Vermincon) that'll be going on (yes, I am a geek). In this instance, I want to 'return to my roots', as it were, by running one of my favorite Star Wars adventures—Tatooine Manhunt. In a way, it's like going home for me, because this was the first adventure I ever ran at the first convention I ever went to—which just happened to be the first Vermincon ever! It was also the adventure that kicked off nearly two decades of my Vermillion campaign.

Though I've run Tatooine Manhunt many times now (at least 3-4, for different groups), I'm still putting some effort into my preparations for it—most notably into the stable of pre-generated characters I have prepared for it. About a year or so ago, while perusing the Star Wars Artist's Guild (an AWESOME Star Wars art site), I found a whole bank of great images from an artist named Stirzy. These were illustrations of all the 'Character Templates' from the original Star Wars D6 rulebook (Brash Pilots, Smugglers, Failed Jedi, etc.). While I usually go in for more 'realistic' artwork, I found myself loving the hint of 'cartoonish' sensibility in these pieces. I loved them so much that I decided to base my pre-generated Characters on them.

And that (finally) is what brings me to the subject of this post. One of the things that first drew me to the Star Wars D6 system was it's simplicity. The skill system was detailed enough to offer a lot of variety, and yet simple enough not to be 'cumbersome'. Starting with Second Edition, however, things began to change. A lot of more specialized skills began to appear. Instead of 'Starship Piloting', for instance, you had: Starfighter Piloting, Space Transports and Capital Ship Operation (or somesuch). While it makes sense that these would be different skills (as the handling characteristics of the vessels in question would be very different), it also added another layer of complexity to the system.

The increased number of skills sparked my own thoughts—and started up a lot of what I call 'Tinkering' on my part. As of last year, I had pretty much decided on a 'final' skill list. I wasn't entirely happy with it, but it was the best I'd come up with so far. In making up the Pre-Gen Characters for the convention, however, I began to have doubts—again. In other words—I began to vacillate. I marveled again at how 'simple' the character sheets were for first edition, compared them to my greatly expanded skill lists and...well—was adding so many different skills REALLY necessary? Why did Survival have to be broken down into Survival AND Orienteering. Couldn't Tracking ALSO have 'hunting' lumped in with it? GAH!

So here I am again, considering revamping the skill list AGAIN—paring it down to something closer to the original game. I know I don't want things to be exactly the same as the original. But I also don't want the unwieldy list I have now. So once more I am searching for that magic 'middle ground'. I imagine a lot GMs go through the same thing, no matter what system they use. I know for a fact that various Game designers certainly do—witness the increasing layers of complexity from Original D&D to it's current incarnation. Maybe it's a cycle all GMs and designers have to go through before they accept it—tinkering with rules until they finally realize that what they started with was not that far off from the 'optimal' way to play the game.

Anyway, in looking over my current skill list, I am pleased to see I am not TOO far off from where I want to be. In fact, it looks like I had already started downhill from the precipice of INCREDIBLY detailed skill lists to something more manageable. Hopefully I'll only have to tinker a little bit now.

Heh. I'm sure my players will be happy when I finally stop the madness ;)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Hobby Shops

I am often accused of being (overly) sentimental. And I just as often admit that I am. So, fair warning, this is going to be a sentimental post.

I got into gaming in the late 70's, in the hey-day of the hobby—when it was (almost) a legitimate (socially accepted) thing. Though my first gaming books were most likely purchased at a Pamida or K-Mart or Waldenbooks or some such, it was not these stores that I most readily associate with the hobby. Rather, it is two very special hobby stores that helped to form the emotional and even aesthetic 'feel' that I will forever associate with gaming. As I've mentioned before, growing up in the middle of South Dakota wasn't especially conducive to gaming. So it was that my only real encounters with hobby shops happened only a few times a year, and quite far from home. I imagine this day-to-day separation is what made the experience of visiting these stores all the more enjoyable and memorable—almost like a holiday.

The first of these memorable stores was Who's Hobby House, located in downtown Rapid City South Dakota. This venerable storefront (one of those cool, old, brick 'row-house style buildings) had actually been around since 1950. It sold (and still sells) all manner of hobby materials—from modeling, to rockets to radio-controlled stuff to model railroads. And in the 70's and 80's, it also sold all manner of gaming books and miniatures. Compared to the (relatively) meagre selection of stuff at the stores I usually frequented, this was like a 'Mecca' of gaming to me. Considering my youth, I was actually surprised my mom agreed to take me to this store, after all, it was a special trip downtown instead of to the 'big' mall that we usually went to. But then, my mom was (and is) awesome like that. Beyond just the selection, though, the store itself was awesome, with tall ceilings, creaky wooden floors and all kinds of cool eclectic stuff either hung from the ceiling or situated on the tops of tall shelves.

The second, and even more memorable of these 'landmark' hobby shops (at least in my opinion) was Cobblestone Hobbies, located in Holland Michigan. My grandparents had a home in Holland and my older sister and I would often spend at least part of our summer there. When I was younger, I'd work chores around the house to earn a little money. When I was older, I had a summer job slinging fast-food. In both cases the majority of my hard-earned money was gleefully spent at Cobblestone Hobbies. Even when I didn't have any spare money, I'd walk down just to browse.

Like Who's, Cobblestone was an awesome little store—again a downtown rowhouse-type building—and again, it covered all kinds of hobbies (models, RC, rockets). But in comparison to Who's tall ceilings and big glass windows, Cobblestone was a lot more 'cavelike', with window displays blocking off the exterior light and rows of shelves dividing the somewhat cramped space into a maze of rows and sections, each one seeming to have a slightly different floor level. Again, all kinds of odd things adorned the walls and ceilings—including a lot of very intricate Star Wars models! And beyond just the 'major' games (like D&D) there were all the more obscure games and lots of older wargames as well. It is hard to describe the feeling I got when I went to this store—that is until I saw the first Harry Potter movie and they went to Diagon-Alley. THAT was the feeling I got, especially when I was younger (9-10). This magical little nook full of cool stuff, right smack dab in the middle of a seemingly normal downtown.

In reading the above, you can tell just how sentimental I am. But I feel even more so now, looking back on it. What makes it all the more poignant is the fact that you can 'never go back'. Though both stores still exist, the magic is largely gone now, except in my memory. Who's is still there, but it has gone back to being mainly just a model/rc store. Cobblestone moved into a different building—a modern (and undoubtedly cheaper) pole-barn type storefront that just feels so...generic. I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me sad, but that's the way things go. Nothing ever stays the same. It makes you wonder where the hobby of gaming is going in the long run. I'm not really 'worried' about it dying out or anything like that. If it does, it does—but it won't while I'm alive at least. I just feel that it really DOES have a lot to offer and I'd hate to think nobody else would ever get to experience the kind of wonder I did all those years ago.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Projects

I am constantly working on various gaming projects (as I have detailed before), but this year I actually want to set a few goals for myself and see if I can't complete them before the end of the year. These are as follows:

1) Force User Handbook. I see this containing details on the 'Core' force powers (as I see them) with an appendix for lightsaber forms and maybe even some dueling rules. I want this to fit in a 'mini-book' format (5.5" x 8.5") for ease of portability and use.

2) Star Wars D6 Handbook. I want this to be a condensed version of the rules—again in the mini-book format. It should have all the basic stuff like Attributes, Skills, Difficulties, Combat Rules (personal and vehicle), etc.

Those are the two main projects I would love to finish this year. If I get time, however, I would like to build upon this library. I'm not quite sure what the best format would be, though, as I can think of quite a few booklets I would like to product: Equipment, Droids, Starships/Vehicles, Alien Races, Galactic-Geography, NPCs, Organizations, etc. Making 'mini books' of all of these would defeat the whole portability aspect, as I'd have to carry around a half-dozen of the little buggers. Maybe once I get the two 'reference' books done, I can make a large compilation and maybe even get that bound somehow. We'll see. Start off small and manageable—then shoot for the stars.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Player Character Ships

For me, the Star Wars movies really set the tone for what I want a Star Wars campaign to be like. And in the original trilogy, one of the main elements in the Saga was the Millennium Falcon. From her first introduction on Tatooine ("What a piece of junk!") to her trials and tribulations on Hoth and Bespin ("Would it help if I got out and pushed?""It might!") to her ultimate triumph at Endor ("Yeeehooo!") the Falcon was every bit as much a 'supporting character' as the droids and 'NPCs' surrounding the heroes. So when I started my campaign, I really wanted there to be a central 'ship' for the party.

In the case of the Vermillion crew, that central party ship was (initially at least) the "Lightblade", an ex-smuggling ship owned by Marko Razmussen (an ex-smuggler). It was a YT-1300, just like the Falcon. In fact, it was pretty much identical to the Falcon (except in it's initial stats). But so what if it wasn't terribly original, it was a great base of operations and saw the group through many of it's early adventures. What I quickly discovered, however, is that many of the adventure modules had scenes in which the party ship is either captured or crashed or (in come cases) outright destroyed. That just irked me. Still does. It also made me have to modify quite a few adventures to give the Lightblade a fighting chance to survive rather than have it meet yet another 'scripted' demise.

Later in the campaign, as the players got more money (and began to branch out a little, mission-wise), another ship came into the fold. Again, it was a YT-1300, but this one with the cockpit on the port-side (again, I know, real original, so sue me). This, however, was the 'Stormbringer'—a freighter that gave up all pretenses at being 'legal'. It was a gunship, pure and simple, and was also outfitted for bounty hunting (which makes sense considering it's captain, Oman, took up the trade for a time). The group would vary which ship they used based upon what mission they were going on—Lightblade if they were trying to pretend legitimacy or the Stormbringer if they were going 'fangs out'.

A third ship entered the family much later on, but really played no major part in the adventures. This was a luxury yacht called the "Starlight Express" (as I recall), purchased jointly by Oman and Harold Hugganut. And strangely enough, it was just that—a luxury ship, with little emphasis placed on combat capability. Kind of an oddity for my group, but an interesting one. The ship was of a deign stolen from another game book (Worlds Beyond), so it wasn't part of official 'canon'. I guess that makes it one of the more 'original' ships in my games.

Other notable ships that have appeared in my campaigns at various times are:

The "Trivial Pursuit". This was a big Barloz freighter owned by Adren. Over the years of playing, this one took as much of a beating as its owner—at one point being nearly destroyed. It was rebuilt, however, with the engines from a Guardian-Class customs cruiser—making it a very FAST flying brick.

The "Lame Duck". This was only BRIEFLY used in one of my short-lived side campaigns. One of my friends (Eric Meldstadt) drew it during my first year at college and I was so intrigued I just had to make up stats. It was this oblong, asymmetrical monstrosity of a ship—and I love it still to this very day.

The "Handree". This was a Corellian Gunship—in fact the ship featured in the adventure module The Isis Coordinates. It was rescued by the PCs in this adventure, and was later commanded by Arianne during the Battle of Endor. Unfortunately, the bathroom humor my group (and myself) was so fond of soon gave this ship the unfortunate nickname of the "Handjob". Ahem. Yes. Moving on.

The "Taking Care of Business". This one I had forgotten about entirely (Thanks Steve2 for reminding me). When Todd retired his Wookiee character, Ruukhan, he started a freight-hauling business and this was his personal ship. I believe it was a Ghtroc-class ship. And once again, the 'humor' thing came into play—the TCOB was soon known as the TCBY.

But anyway, this thinly veiled excuse for me to reminisce about our party ships did have kind of a point—and that is this: Ships in the Star Wars universe should not be any more 'disposable' than any other character. By keeping (and developing) a single (or couple) ship(s) you can develop a lot of 'character' with them—give the group a bit more depth and attachment. And if/when the ship is ever destroyed (or severely damaged), there will be some level of emotional attachment to it—it becomes dramatic rather than just "Oh well. I'll get a new one."

Happy Life Day! Happy New Year! Etc. Etc.

Finally back from all my vacation stuff—and looking forward to a great year. No better way to kick things off than spending time with family and friends. Plus I'm coming up on my big one-year anniversary for this blog! I know my posts have been tapering off towards the end of last year, but believe you me, that's because of business at work, not lack of enthusiasm. I mean really—how can you NOT be enthusiastic about Star Wars (and Star Wars gaming). In any case, this is just a post to let folks know that I am still alive and kicking—and getting ready to thrill your cortexes with amazing new posts...or something to that effect.