Tuesday, December 13, 2011

First Ship Designs for Starmada: The Next Iteration. Also Battlefleet Gothic Parallels

A few more points of Starmada news:

First public and official starship designs released (these images full property of Cricket / Dan Kast at MJ12):

As you can see, they're much stripped down from AE designs.  The attack dice chart, while space-consuming, is fairly simple once you know what you're looking at.  Also note the fixed size of systems damage tracks (only thrust here, but always 5 boxes regardless of hull.  Surprised the weapons track was omitted).  Also, 'shields' here are actually armor.  Finally, no point values yet.

Underling also released a small fleet of point-costed ships built using playtest ship construction reviews, but accidentally created a fighter scare.  He'd put weapons that launch Seekers on his ships and called them 'fighters', and there was much concern that this was how fighters were implemented by default in the new edition.  Fortunately, this is not the case; fighters "will work much as they do in AE."  I'm happy that seeker-launching will be an available weapon trait, though - it's something I've always wanted in AE.  Other traits of note from Underling's stuff include Gid - Guided?, Exp - Expendable (yeah, ammo...), Pwr - Powerful?, Acr - Accurate (hits on 4+ rather than 5+, I suspect), Rpt - Repeating.  As for ship traits, Marines look very similar to AE, but Escort and Scout are now also traits.  Not sure what they do just yet.  Anyways, the mods pulled his ships from the forums because they weren't technically rules legal (had some arc stacking and things, nevermind the fighter confusion), but if you want a look, I've re-hosted them here (likewise, property of Underling).

Finally, some data on Stealth.  Stealth n will operate the same as ECM n (applying a column shift of -n to incoming fire), except that it is not subject to systems damage, but also costs more.

One thing that keeps striking me as I read some of the new Starmada material is how similar some of the changes are to Battlefleet Gothic's rules.  Grouping of weapons in particular arcs into single banks of given firepower?  Check.  Firepower column shifting on a giant table based on situational modifiers?  Check.  Non-plotted movement?  Check.  Systems damage checks every so often based on fraction of hull destroyed?  Yep.  Armor and shields as separate defenses?  Flipped from BFG where shields are HP and armor is saves, but essentially the same.  Increased support for ECM, Stealth, and other holofieldy defenses?  Awesome.  Their fighter implementation is different, but for a sec there when I saw Underling's seeker-fighters, I went "Aha!  Another similarity!"

Not accusing of borrowing; just kind of amused.  I believe that MJ12 actually did develop a lot of this independently with Fleet Ops and Grand Fleets, but it's neat to see things converge.  Should also make my BFG conversions a little bit easier...  Heck, Underling mentioned playtesting using converted Eldar from Battlefleet.  Support straight out of the box!  Granted, he also mentioned that mobility-based fleets are rather weak currently (though that was true in AE too)...  Challenge accepted.

On a completely unrelated note, no confirmation yet that Cloaking will still be a thing...  I hope it's still a thing, for the Eldar's sake.

Friday, December 9, 2011

More Starmada Next Spoilers

Some new details from the forums on the next edition of Starmada for those of you who haven't been getting emailed every time it updates.

On movement:

"Each game turn you can only do one of three things:
1) Move straight
2) Make one 60 degree turn somewhere along your move
3) Turn up to 180 degrees worth (two or three turns) somewhere along your move.

How fast you're going when you make these turns determines your end speed for the turn.

If you're moving faster than your thrust rating, all you can do is move straight, accelerating or decelerating up to your thrust rating.
If you're moving your thrust rating or slower, you can choose a single 60 degree turn, and an ending speed of from zero to your thrust rating.
If you're moving your thrust or slower, you can choose 180 degrees' worth of turns, with an ending speed equal to your thrust rating minus your current speed."

On defenses:

"ECM removes attack dice. Weapon banks do NOT have a separate ACC value, but traits can have the same effect.  Shields pretty much the same as before.  Armor is "hit points"."

There were also some statements in ADB Captain's Log #44 (which was actually the first source announcing the new edition) expanding on these "weapon banks":

"Weapons are now grouped into “banks” which represent one or more individual weapon mounts that can fire into the same arc(s). Each bank is then assigned a starting number of attack dice. For example, in The Admiralty Edition, a ship might have had four weapons in the [AB] firing arc, each with a ROF of 2 and an ACC of 5+. In the new edition, these weapons would be combined into a single forward-firing bank with eight attack dice.

The number of dice rolled in a given attack is then modified based on factors such as range, target defenses, etc. For example, the weapon bank in our above example would roll 11 dice at short range, eight at medium range, and six at long range."

So, more details, and things do indeed look faster.

(Also, whoo got a review copy of the new core, and it looks very, very good.  Fast, simple, easy to teach, fixes several complaints with AE (fighters, arcs, rolling too many dice).  Not leaking any details, but I can confirm that the above statements are correct.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mongoose Traveller - Scoundrel Review

I picked up a copy of Scoundrel over the weekend, and am pretty impressed with it.  138 pages, including front and back cover.  No bookmarks in the pdf, which is a definite strike against it, but made up for with content.  A quick skim of the table of contents shows 30 pages of new careers, 6 pages on criminal organizations, 14 on piracy, 18 on heists, 7 on smuggling, 3 on fences and illegal goods, 7 of new equipment, 24 of new ships, 3 on belt mining, 10 of "odd jobs" (patrons), 2 on scavenging, 4 on gambling, and 4 on 'lost worlds' as origins of barbarian characters.  Thus, while the book claims to be for both rogues and drifters, the rogues definitely get the lion's share of content.  Here's the play-by-play:

Careers: In general, the part of these Mongoose supplements that I'm least happy with is the new careers.  I kind of feel that they're largely unnecessary.  Expanded events and mishaps for the Core careers, like they did in Mercenary for Army and Marines, are wonderful, but some of the distinctions between new career specialties are splitting hairs, if that.  Blockade Runner vs. Smuggler Crew and Hitchhiker vs. Vagabond are the worst offenders, with Corsair vs. Jumpcusser being a third, weak example.  That said, the expanded events tables could be really useful for the corebook Rogue, having a Hacker specialty is nice if you want to play "the computer guy" (similar for Assassin, possibly), and the Pirate Vessel benefit is just awesome; 2 ship shares towards any ship, and you can outfit it with up to 3Mcr of weaponry on purchase.  This sounds like a wonderful replacement for the Scout ship, per my complaints here.  Also, the Incarceration table and rules for going to jail in past terms are fairly entertaining.  Not a fan of the new Security skill; it's interesting, but it feels like feat-based design from d20, more than standard Traveller.  I think if it sees play (ie, somebody rolls up one of these careers and gets it), it'll be useful for task chaining with other skills for security-related tasks, rather than used as a stand-alone skill.  Likewise, Forgery seems awfully specific for a skill; this feels like it should just be chained Deception and Languages + Edu (for the record, I also feel that Recruiting from Mercenary is just a use of Leadership, and Interrogation should probably be Deception + Str, Soc, or Int.  Combat Engineering and Instruction are kind of their own things, but also things that people will hopefully never roll up).  Also, one further minor nitpick was that the careers were listed out of alphabetical order, with Barbarian coming last, Intruder first, and things all jumbled in the middle.  It's really somewhat bizarre.  So, a rough start - I'm glad I skipped these during my initial readthrough.

Organizations: Rules for membership of criminal organizations, as well as a few samples ranging from standard mafia-type organizations to crazy cults.  I really could've used the Ine Givar entry in my last game, when the PCs were contacted by / contracted with a rebel group to divert a firearms shipment...  The Trust mechanics make decent sense, but this section is mostly fluff.  Fortunately, it's fairly good, useful-looking fluff.

Piracy: We start to get into the real meat of the book here.  Flavors of pirates, rules for finding targets, intercepting targets, called shots in space, looting times, response times from local naval forces, the works.  It's good crunchy stuff, and looks pretty usable; very much a "Damn, wish I'd had this last campaign when they were trying to hijack that ship..." chapter.  There's a little weirdness in terms of initial encounter distance, but I imagine that could be resolved with a little more thought.  Also some sample pirates with bounties and a couple of sample freighters with cargo for when your PCs decide to loot some hapless sod and you don't feel like rolling.

Heists: This is the longest text chapter in the book, and I'm sad to say that I haven't been able to give it a thorough enough read to do it full justice.  Opens with a list of actions relevant to scoping out targets and planning heists, then splits into two sets of rules - the first is an abstract system for running heists in low detail, while the other is a full system for when you feel like running at a dungeon crawl level of detail.  The abstract rules fit on a single page and look solid, and cover casing, planning, execution, and conclusion of the heist.  It vaguely resembles D&D4's skill challenge system, in that you want to avoid accumulating failures on relevant skills, but it's also very flexible about what skills you can use.  The full rules go into a variety of security measures ranging from walls to NAS sweeps to guard dogs and sentries (complete with sample equipment loadouts) and laser tripwires, as well as rules for 'alert level' which is increased by doing unsubtle things.  It's pretty much the whole shebang, and includes some good advice for refs looking to run heists (namely "Keep the time pressure on the PCs" and "There's always a complication".  Good advice in general, really).  This is followed by computer hacking rules which look pretty usable, and are also reasonably close to what I'd expect real hackers to be able to pull off, both in terms of time and difficulty.  Well done there; most hacking systems tend to be terribly unrealistic in regards to one or more of those.  Here it's all about elevating your clearance / user privilege level, which...  is kinda how it works, really.  Also provides a sample target / dungeon for a heist, which looks workable (but pretty damn secure...  eesh).  This chapter gets another "Wish I'd had this last campaign for when they broke into that corporate building..." rating.

Smuggling: This one is mostly rules for customs checks, and man oh man are there a lot of them.  My PCs should definitely have been caught carrying that alien artifact under these rules...  problematic.  Likewise trying to smuggle those guns to the rebels on Novo Rio.  Interesting rules, and handy to have around for those kind of situations.  Also some sample smuggling jobs.  One minor point is that here, we have another "Trust" score, on a per-system basis representing how well-known you are in the system (and hence the likelihood that customs officials will ignore you).  This is something of a namespace collision with the Trust scores maintained with criminal organizations.  A minor point, and I don't really have any suggestions for improvement, but just a little niggling as I was reading.

Fencing Illegal Goods: I think this was actually the one thing in here my PCs didn't try last campaign...  The short version is "They get 10% of the value of the goods stolen," while the long version is very similar to the trade rules for determining selling price of speculative cargoes, with some new DMs for 'hotness' of the goods.  I'm glad they included the short version, since that's what my players will likely want to use...  The random fences table also looks entertaining; always good to add a little flavor to NPCs.

Equipment: Lots of fancy new intrusion gear, intrusion-specialized computers, spydrones, sensors, crowbars (with upgrades!), a few boarding weapons, and some starship upgrades.  Painkillers look...  very powerful.  They're very cheap and serve as a means to prevent penalties which are caused by damage, and unlike most Trav drugs, they have no side effects.  These are definitely getting nerfed (dependency and tolerance, likely) if they see play.  Many items are flagged as 'suspicious', in that authorities will tend to take note of civilians buying them, which is neat - any reason to sic the police on my PCs is good (I kept failing my law level rolls last game...  they didn't get investigated even once, despite doing the most suspicious things ever.  Poor policing IMTU...).  Also a fan of the Cargo Waldo - powered exoskeleton that lets you carry more things.  Cue Ripley from Alien.  They're a mite expensive, though.  New weapons look reasonably balanced to possibly a little weak; I'm OK with that.  Rules for ceramic composite weapons are also very nice for passing metal detectors...  The ship upgrades are mostly 'ways to move cargo'.  The standouts are hidden compartments and grappling arms.  Overall, a pretty decent selection, and looks fairly balanced; I'd be much less concerned with allowing Scoundrel equipment than I was with Mercenary's gear.

Ships: Not much to see here.  They're mostly either refits of common classes with a few new features, or really big, expensive things that PCs might encounter but will likely never own.  The standouts here are the smallish, potentially hostile ships like the Pirate Interceptor, Pirate Carrier, and Customs Patrol Boat.  I could see these shaping up into interesting space combats.  Also amusingly, the 600-ton Customs Patrol Cutter looks disturbingly like the Reaver ship from the Firefly pilot...

"They'll rape us to death, eat our flesh, and sew our skins into their clothing...  Standard customs check procedure, really."

Belt Mining: Finally a Drifter chapter!  But it's kind of disappointing.  The rules are pretty cursory, with the notable omission of any rules for actually finding suitable asteroids.  Basically, this is just a pointer to Beltstrike; it actually opens with "A full discussion of belt mining, including a full adventure and the Belter career, may be found in Adventure 1: Beltstrike! For those without access to that book, this chapter provides a brief overview of asteroid mining."  Sadly, brief is something of an overstatement of its treatment.  First really disappointing part of the book for me, but then again I'm something of a belter fan, and it's not something that ever came up in-campaign.

Odd Jobs: A chapter of patrons, of mixed quality.  They're billed as things to do when you're without a starship, so again, drifter-focused.  Mostly entertaining, with some notable homages (Dune, Road Warrior / Fallout and similar, Soylent Green, and possibly The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress).  The standout to me is TAS Correspondent - TAS wants the PCs to write articles on their travels, at 5000 Cr a pop.  If this isn't the most cunning scheme to get players to write campaign journals incentivized with in-game currency, then I'm a scruffy nerf herder.  Totally seeing use next game, and hey, journalist characters are suddenly a bit more useful.  An excellent chapter, even if some of the ones towards the end get a bit silly (Game Designer for Lizard Games, paid .005 Cr per word, with complications 1 through 6 being "Deadlines"?  Curious...).

Scavenging: Another short drifter chapter, with rules for exploring dead / ruined things and prying up whatever isn't nailed down.  The "deep-space hulk" situation came up in-campaign, but the guidance is pretty much exactly what I did anyways.  Also a kind of post-apoc feel from the 'exploring ruined worlds' section - could be useful for running a game of that kind.

Gambling: Hm...  looks like my handwaved gambling rules from last campaign were a bit lenient.  Kind of makes sense; participating in high-stakes, world-class poker tournaments does require a bit of reputation and seed money.  Reasonable rules for resolving games of chance, including some options for player action (cheat, bluff, and use psionics), and then a list of a couple fictional games and some space-age cons / swindles.

Lost Worlds: On the source of barbarians.  One page of text discussing different reasons worlds are technologically backwards in a science-fiction universe, a page of equipment, rules for gaining technological familiarity, and adventure ideas for lost worlds.  The equipment looks kind of questionable...  I like the addition of a "Melee (Spear)" range class, but really don't buy that light maces should have higher heft than heavy maces, nor that morningstars should necessarily do equivalent damage to broadswords.  And what is up with these shield rules...  ?  Aren't shields just supposed to provide a bonus to parrying?

Conclusions: Overall, a pretty damn good book.  The organizations, piracy, heists, and smuggling rules were all things that I could very much have used in my last campaign, and probably in future campaigns (given my players and their tendencies...).  As I was reading, I kept going "Damn, could've used that last time."  Overall well-edited, and things looked pretty well thought-out for the most part (except painkillers, the weirdness in the barbarian weapons, and the significantly higher survival DCs on the new careers).  A significant increase in quality from Mercenary, the other MgT supplement that I own, which really put me off from buying more of their books.  There were a few disappointing sections, but overall, I give it a 4/5 for content, especially for pdf prices.

I did, however, locate several editing errors (Investifate in the Enforcer table on page 13, Vaganbond on page 25, Bandit instead of Shaman on the Barbarian table on page 29) in the Careers section, as well as a few in the Equipment (Smartrope Str 8 listed as +1 DM, should be +0) and Smuggling (Note on Starport Security table referencing Page 70 should reference Page 74) sections.  The art quality was pretty decent / up to snuff, but not fantastic either.  The pieces that really stuck out at me were the Barbarian career art, the Customs Patrol Cutter art, and some Vargr pirates in manacles in the law enforcement section.  I'm significantly disappointed with the quality of the career art (with the exception of Barbarian).  The three-man montages for the Careers take up a lot of page space, are very 'busy', and it's sometimes unclear which part maps to which specialty within the career (Random lady with a gun in the pirate art, I'm looking at you).  Unfortunately, this seems to be the way Mongoose is going with career art for the supplements.  Between the lack of bookmarks, editing errors in careers, and meh art, I'm torn between a 2/5 and a 3/5 for production value (I've seen much worse, but I'm disappointed that as established a company as Mongoose is making these kind of 'rookie' mistakes).  Overall, though, I'm pretty pleased with this purchase.  If Scoundrel is indicative of the quality in current Mongoose Traveller products, I may have to pick up a few more in the near future.

High Points: Piracy, smuggling, heists, rogue events.
Low Points: Lack of bookmarks, a few editing issues, careers chapter in general, belt mining, painkillers.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

New Starmada Edition Announced for Release Jan 2012

Wandered by the MJ12 forums today (hadn't been there in a while) and was very surprised to see a topic announcing a new edition of Starmada.  Data's pretty vague so far, but selling points include:
  • Simpler vector movement system.  Sounds nice, given that we never did manage to grok the vector movement in the Admiralty Edition...
  • Less dice rolling per turn of combat.  Halle-freaking-lujah.
  • Three layers of defenses - ECM, Shields, Armor.  This is the change I'm most conflicted about, but very little detail on how these work yet.  It seems a sad departure from effects-based gaming ("I don't care whether it's fancy hyperdense neoadamantium armor, bolted on scrap armor, void shields, or close defense weapons - just give it a shield rating and be done"), but it does provide some excellent possibilities for modeling different fleets and sources.  Eldar (oh, my precious Eldar...), for example, might have very good ECM, but no shields and weak armor, while Chaos and Imperial have decent shields and good / excellent armor respectively.  This differentiation of defenses also provides a counterbalance in terms of options to the huge array of offensive traits - every weapon in S:AE has four stats (range, accuracy, impact, damage), plus usually some traits, while each ship has, defensively, only two relevant stats (hull and shields) and maybe a trait or two.  Providing more defensive stats may make things significantly more interesting.
Anyway, I'm going to see if I can score a review copy.  Anybody up for a second season of Starmada if it ends up looking good?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Miscellanea 2: VBAM Race Updates, a Return to Traveller, and Space Hulk Meets Alien Swarm

It's another light, mixed post like the first miscellanea post back in September.

Got some good feedback on the proposed trope-based VBAM races from the VBAM yahoo group, so here are the updates on those:

Bugs: Swapping out Stalwart Defenders for Aggressive (all owned ground units gain +1 attack) and Hungry Hungry Hydralisks (when genociding enemy census, you gain 20% more EPs than normal).  This generates a much more offensively-scary, all-devouring species of bug, rather than the turtling-type bugs in the older version.

Bots: General consensus on the yahoo group is that Robotic is overpowered as a result of being able to build lots of census wherever they want.  Thus, probably swapping in Cybernetic (like robotic, but can't build census, lower population maintenance, and not collective-only government) and some other small bonus...  not sure what to do for that yet.  Possibly Efficient Industry (+10% construction capacity on all owned planets), something military, or a social trait like Closed Society.

Savages: Only suggestion on this one was to allow varying of the military traits to differentiate different savage empires.  Easily done on the fly.

Puppeteers: Agreed that these are probably nerfed, and suggested adding a small bonus to Sneaky like ability to modify scenario length up or down by 1.

Merchants: Not much here...  suggestion to add non-player empires for the Puppeteers and Merchants to spend their free diplomatic intel on, and for the Merchants to trade with, but that's not really a species trait change.

So that about covers the VBAM stuff...  unfortunately, the more I think about VBAM-Traveller integration, the more issues I run into, particularly with economic and planetary scales.  Traveller population, for example, grows exponentially, while VBAM population grows linearly, and then there's the ugly question of "How many megacredits is an EP worth?".  These issues, combined with trepidation on Matt's part with regards to reading all of VBAM's rules, suggest that maybe a straight Traveller game would be a better plan.  I've had a premise for such a campaign on the back burner for a while, so maybe that'll see play next semester (with prep and handout construction over winterbreak).

Finally, I was thinking about Space Hulk and Alien Swam in the shower today.  Space Hulk is a classic Games Workshop game which pits a squad or two of marines with guns against terrifyingly fast aliens who are deadly in melee.  The game is heavily skewed in favor of the aliens, but this means that when the humans do win, there's usually a hell of a story to go along with it.  Alien Swarm, on the other hand, was a short-lived freebie game from Valve which pitted four human players of marines with guns against a swarm of mostly-weak melee aliens, with a few special / scarier genotypes around to mix things up (parasites.... urrrrgh...).  It was a significantly less lethal games than Space Hulk for the humans, but was a lot of fun.  The multiplayer community has mostly died off, though, which is sad, so I'm kind of curious if I can tweak Space Hulk / 40k to run something similar to Alien Swarm without getting bogged down in massive complexity like Deathwatch did.