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 Swarm 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.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

VBAM Aliens Follow-Up

So instead of doing homework for the last couple days, I've been working on some balanced, trope-based races for Victory By Any Means.  Here's what I've got so far:

  • Adaptable - Raises carrying capacity of all owned planets by 20%
  • Fast Gestation - Check for population growth every 6 turns rather than 12
  • Hive Mind - +20% construction capacity, but limited to Collective governments
  • Incomprehensible Language - All treaties have a 50% chance of failure
  • Subterranean - Increases dug-in bonus when defending, halves enemy bombardment points when bombarding owned planets
  • Stalwart Defenders - Each owned planet generates militia units to defend it when invaded.
These guys are very good at filling planets with population and at holding on to worlds, but quite bad at diplomacy.  Tactically, they have no particular strengths or weaknesses.  Collective government is pretty strong (+intel defense, +construction capacity, immune to morale, -science, no elite officers), but in a game with elite officers, that penalty is actually a penalty.  Basically, they're all about the macro advantage afforded by high population.  I'm sad that I didn't find a way to work in the "nomnomnom" aspect of the trope - perhaps a special trait that increases EP yields from eating civilians and/or liquidating infrastructure is in order.  I'm also kind of considering building a trait that gives all this race's ships the Biological special ability from the CMC; not sure whether this should also increase maintenance costs of their units, but I don't know by how much.

  • Advanced Weaponry - +1 Anti-Ship and Anti-Fighter on naval vessels, +1 attack and defense on ground units, +5% military maintenance
  • Environmental Tolerance - +2 carrying capacity on all owned worlds, 10% discount on infrastructure purchases
  • Predictable - -1 penalty to surprise rolls in space combat
  • Robotic - No natural population growth, can artificially build census, 1/3 maintenance on census, +20% construction capacity, Collective governments only, lower difficulty for stealing tech
  • Superiority Complex - Until roll a 10 on 1d10, cannot conduct diplomacy with newly-met empire.  Roll each month; declarations of war and hostility unaffected.
Very similar on a holistic level to the bugs - definitely have a macro advantage for booming econ between being able to control population growth and the discount on infrastructure, but bad at diplomacy.  While the bugs have strong defense, the bots have strong offense, but suffer from high maintenance costs (both on military units and on their own populace), and since robotic census is pretty expensive, you're paying economically for your versatility.  I'm most worried about balance on these guys, but I think I hit the main themes of the trope well.

  • Combat Respect - Treaties with any given power have a 25% chance of failure until you've met their forces in battle
  • Honorable - All bonuses and penalties to breaking treaties are doubled
  • Maneuverable Ships - Increased control over scenario length
  • Martial Prowess - All owned ground units gain +1 to attack, attrition, and d-factor
  • Poor Spies - One point of intel per intel mission is 'lost' and generates no benefit 
  • Professional Armies - Ground unit maintenance costs are reduced, and military elite officer XP costs receive a 10% discount
  • Skilled Commanders - All owned naval units gain +10% command rating
  • Warmonger - +20% bonus to declaring war, 15% chance to refuse any off of armistice
In stark contrast to the bugs and the bots, the noble savages have basically no macro advantages, but are very strong in combat, both in space and on the ground.  They're bad at spying, but OK for defense against spies, and suffer from some diplomatic restrictions.  They're mighty good at declaring war, though...  Also, while the bugs and the bots are restricted to Collective governments, the Savages can choose any flavor of government they like (Military Meritocracy, for example).  As far as the tropes go, I probably could cut out some of the naval bonuses, but they're rather nice.

  • Corrupt - -5% GDP, easier for underworld empires to gain power in owned systems
  • Cunning - +1 bonus to surprise rolls in space combat
  • Elite Diplomats - 10 free intel points per turn which can only be used for diplomatic purposes, and elite diplomat XP costs gain a 30% discount
  • Sabotage Experts - All sabotage missions gain 1 point of free intel
  • Shapeshifters - -25% to failure rate of intel missions, but enemies gain a +15% bonus to break treaties
  • Slow Gestation - Check for population growth every 18 months rather than every 12
  • Sneaky - Reduce the length of pursuit scenarios by 1 turn, pursuer must use one fewer squadron, -10% to chance of being discovered if using stealthy movement
The puppeteers have some serious macro penalties, but gain excellent spies, excellent diplomacy (not only no restrictions like the previous three races suffer from, but bonus intel for diplomacy), and a few tricky tactical bonuses to space combat.  Not a race for a stand-up slugging match, but in a 5-person game, a little plausible deniability could go a long way.  I'm a bit concerned that they might be underpowered, but that's something only playtesting will tell.  I considered the Telepathic and Espionage Expert traits, but I'm not sure hidden forces will be a thing, since we're going to be playing face-to-face / board game style.  If playing by PBeM, substitute Espionage Experts for Sabotage Experts to taste.  There's also no 'dark X' side of the coin here, but I'm pretty OK with that.  Elsewise, hits the tropes fairly well.

  • Efficient Operatives - Maintenance on Intel points if 1/12 rather than 1/10
  • Expert Scientists - -5% to tech investment threshold
  • Friendly - Other powers take -15% to break treaties with this power, -10% to declare war against
  • Gifted Negotiators - 3 free intel points per turn for diplomacy only
  • Logistics Experts - Supply range of 3 starlanes instead of 2
  • Mercantile - +20% commerce income
  • Open Society - All intel missions against this power are at -1 difficulty
  • Unprofessional Armies - Ground unit maintenance increased by 1 per denominator
The merchants are kind of a happy middle ground.  They've got some economic stuff going for them in terms of EP generation, which serves similarly to the macro advantage of the bugs and the bots, but they also have small diplomatic bonuses and a choice of governments.  They have the strategic advantage of long supply lines, but suffer from weak defense against spies and from expensive ground units (justified as having to pay mercenaries).  Think the Italian states of the Renaissance period.  I'm concerned that, as with generalists in many games, the merchants will get stomped by specialists (namely everybody else).  It would be possible to specialize them further, but I'm not sure trade / civilian fleets / supply are a particularly strong thing to specialize in.  Also weird is that they kind of have two cross-purpose traits - Efficient Operatives makes it cheaper to hold on to lots of defensive intel, which is then rendered less effective by Open Society.  Not entirely happy with that; could swap Efficient Operatives for another 'spy' trait of the same price to put a particular spin on them.  Mission Specialist: Assassinate Officer significantly changes the way the race feels, for example, from a bunch of merchants to a race of mercenaries, while Insurgency Specialist puts a more social / cultural powerhouse spin on things (a bit more like modern Japan, perhaps).

So, that's what I've got.  In a five-player match, one of each species, I'm really not sure how things would roll out.  I think the puppeteers and bugs would get along great, as the 10 points of free diplomatic intel can be used to counter the language barrier, allowing treaties with no chance of failure.  This leaves the savages, the bots, and the merchants to kind of hack things out amongst themselves...  That could go quite poorly for the merchants, leading to possibly a "Poland between Germany and Russia in World War 2" situation, or to a small, staged engagement between the merchants and the savages in order to satisfy the savages' combat respect and allow an alliance with the machines...  Really depends on the players, there, and possibly on the order of contact between species.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

VBAM, Aliens, and Traveller

So I've been reading lots of VBAM source, and came across some interesting options between the Campaign Moderator's Guide and the Menagerie.  First, from the Menagerie, custom alien races built on a point-buy system.  I really like the idea of differing alien races, but the issue is that as we saw in Starmada, when you let players customize all of their stuff, you end up with some players having very broken things and some with relatively weak things.  This is pretty OK in RPGs where all the players are working together, but much more problematic in more competitive / PvP games like VBAM.  Thus, I would like to design a set of kind of 'canonical' races which are 1) fairly balanced against each other and 2) ideally representative of standard tropes in science fiction, in the same way that humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, and half-orcs more-or-less represent standard tropes for fantasy demi-humans.  To this end, I've been trying to figure out what those standard tropes are.  Here's what I've got so far, along with examples (I have more examples on a whiteboard at home, but I'm out of town currently, so these lists are not complete):
  • The Bugs - Just what it says on the tin.  They will eat you in the most painful way possible, often with lots of body horror.  Typically can't be communicated with, often have a hive mind.  Examples include the critters from Alien (and their descendants, the Tyranids and the Zerg), things from the Cthulhu mythos, the Vong from Star Wars, the Ithkul / Harvesters from Master of Orion, and the Shadows from B5.  The bugs from Starship Troopers and Ender's Game fall here to some degree, but not perfectly - they're not using people as a growth medium.  Infiltrators, along the lines of 40k's Genestealer cults or Duran from Starcraft, are not unheard of for the bugs, so their Intel probably shouldn't be terrible.  Oh, and they breed like maggots.  They often waste lots of bugpower just to run their enemies out of ammunition, though, so that might need to be modeled...
  • The Scary Robots - Again, a straightforward name.  The Borg, the Drakk from Unreal, the machines from the Matrix, the Cybrids from Starsiege, and the Necrons of 40k all clearly land here.  Additionally, when we look at the psychological workings of these species, we tend to see relentless efficiency combined with a superiority complex.  When we look at it this way, we can also add a number of humanoid societies here, such as the Peacekeepers of Farscape and the Imperium in Star Wars.  Unlike the Bugs, in general people aren't useful to the 'bots in a biological sense - "Exterminate, annihilate, destroy" is the motto, or at best "Domesticate the inferior fleshy creatures", rather than "We will lay our eggs in your spleeeens".  The Scary Robots can often be communicated with, but most of the time they don't care what you have to say (meatbag).  Spying is something they often neglect, due both to their overconfidence and their issues communicating with lesser species.  Some 'religious zealot' cultures may also fall here.
  • The Noble Savages - Warrior cultures, typically with some sense of honor.  Canonical examples include the Niven's Kzin (and their Aslan successors from Traveller), the TNG Klingons, the Luxans of Farscape, the Wookies from Star Wars, possibly the Skaarj of Unreal, and, to take things perhaps a little far, maybe even the Orks of 40k.  The distinguishing rule here is "If you challenge one of these guys to single combat, will they play fair?"  These aliens often lack respect for non-warrior cultures, which they see as soft and decadent, but can come to respect other powers who have proven themselves on the field of battle.  They tend to disdain spies and diplomats, but often breed quickly and are excellent individual combatants, though sometimes poor tacticians.
  • The Puppeteers - Taking their name from Niven's Pierson's Puppeteers, these aliens manipulate other species, time, and space in order to get what they want.  They tend to be introspective, and may also be psychic.  In addition to Niven, the Eldar of 40k provide a good example.  Star Trek's Vulcans also fall here, as well as the Protoss, and the Delvians of Farscape.  One interesting note is that most puppeteer species seem to have a dark side; the Eldar have the Dark Eldar, the Vulcans have the Romulans, and the Protoss have the Dark Templar.  This suggests that the Jedi / Sith duality might also fit in here.  Puppeteers are generally fully open to communication from other species...  but they're likely to get the better end of the deal.  These guys probably also have excellent spies / good intel - it models the "Farseer" aspect nicely.  However, these species also tend to breed slowly, and may be susceptible to corrupting influences, as with the Eldar and the grasp of Slaanesh.
  • The Unscrupulous Merchants - It's said that money makes the galaxy go 'round, and the Merchants are out to make sure it turns their way.  Example species include the Hutts, the Bothans, the Ferengi, the Hynerians from Farscape, and the Bentusi of Homeworld.  While these may seem initially similar to the Puppeteer species, the difference lies partially in the means by which they operate - no supernatural powers here, and while the Puppeteers are likely to have massive, century-long and galaxy-spanning plots backed by prophecies, the Merchants tend to think on much shorter scales and have more modest aims.  They're also very open to negotiation, and are probably decent at Intel; sometimes corporate sabotage is the right tool for the job.  Not particularly warlike or adept at the art of conquest, though very likely to cohabit space with other species.  'Pirate' species might fit here too, just by the cohabitation condition; I feel like Traveller's Vargr are likely here, though Homeworld's similarly-named Vaygr are probably  Savages.
So those are the five archetypes I've identified so far, in addition to vanilla Humans; I've got a couple square feet of mappings of species to categories back home, but this is all I have for now.  So the next step is to develop a mapping from these classifications to VBAM Menagerie traits, and to balance them (update here).

The second topic of interest is the Elite Officer rules in the Moderator's Companion.  These feel like something which could be integrated with an RPG (say...  Traveller) to great effect, which led me to the idea of running a combined VBAM and Traveller game in the same universe at the same game-time.  Probably the best way to run this would be to have one set of players, each of which runs both an empire on a galactic scale and a single character in the crew of a small, Travelling ship.  This creates some really interesting metagame issues, but frees the CM (moi) from having to come up with an over-arching plot, since galactic events will likely be decided by the agendas of the various player-run empires.  Further, since a turn of VBAM is nominally a month of game-time, and the standard unit of time in Traveller is a week, this gives about four Traveller operations per VBAM operation, which would keep the game Traveller-centric, but allow things to unfold on a galactic scale.  Having the second, longer-term game in place also frees up the Traveller characters to do long-term things that they normally wouldn't consider, like spending lots of time training, doing research, or in jail.  On the flip side, given rules for translating Traveller and VBAM Elite Officer statistics, it would become possible for Traveller characters to influence events on a galactic scale as well.  So it'd be a very, very interesting way to run a game, and quite possibly worth the little bit of extra paperwork that it would generate.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Belated OSRIC Playtest Report

So, I ran OSRIC about a week and a half ago now.  It went...  interestingly.  We had 6 players, all from a mostly 3.x background as far as D&D goes, with one having played AD&D at some point, one with Baldur's Gate experience, and one with Nethack experience.  Character generation took a looong time - about two hours.  The issue there was primarily a focus on all the effects of every choice made; "what makes a fighter different from a ranger?", "Can I assign my scores in a way that will let me play a gnome illusionist?", and "What do all of these table entries for ability scores mean?"  We ended up with a half-orc cleric, a human ranger, a half-orc assassin / fighter multiclass, an elf assassin, an elf fighter, and a half-elf MU, I believe.  In retrospect, I really see where the "roll-in-order" rules would've been really practical - such a rule would have greatly narrowed the decision space for the players (by a factor of at least 6 factorial, plus limitations due to racial and class ability score requirements).  Gear went pretty swiftly, thanks in large part to BtBG's adventuring kits, which left the PCs to choose weapons, armor, and hirelings (and chalk.  Lots of chalk).

Having gathered their many porters, the PCs set out for the Deephalls north of Ironbridge.  They arrived, and tracked a party of berserkers who had been out hunting into the dungeon.  The berserkers engaged them, but were slain to a man.  The two assassins scouted ahead, finding first bats, then a pair of rust monsters.  Having never deployed rust monsters before (but having rolled them on the inhabitants table), the looks of sheer horror on the faces of the players were...  pretty priceless, actually.  They managed to block off that part of the dungeon, and turned their exploration in other directions, where they found giant spiders and beetles.  Highlights of this part: the half-orc assassin was poisoned, then told that poison was save-or-die.  He made his save, and his response was "Oh!  That was exciting!"  There's just something about mortal peril that makes life a little sweeter when it continues...  They found their first real treasure webbed up by the spiders, in a trapped stone chest containing a mix of gold and copper pieces.  The assassins went scouting again, with the (still-injured) half-orc failing at his Hide in Shadows and being gored by a pair of giant fire beetles, putting him at -7, but not before he assassinated one of them.  The rest of the party came to his aid, however, and he survived, but had to be carried out of the dungeon.  They found their second treasure in a pile of beetle dung, consisting of a mixture of electrum and silver pieces, but that was where we ended the session - the half-orc's going to be out of action for a week or so, and the rest of the party considered pushing forward without him, but decided against it.  This decision was complicated by the elf fighter, who had rolled lower ability scores than the rest of the party and is out to get them due to envy.

So, mechanically, the game went pretty OK, mostly...  it was very assassin-and-fighter focused, with the cleric and the MU doing very little.  That this changes at higher levels was no consolation to the caster players, who were greatly disappointed with the system.  The assassin players both seemed up to play again, as did the ranger.  The elf fighter was initially offput by his low scores and remained as a 'rearguard' for most of the combats, but later mentioned that he was interested in playing again, if only for the party conflict RP angle.  He also mentioned hirelings as greatly appealing.  So, I'm calling it a reasonable success; 66% of participants responded positively.  As a result, I'm keeping the dungeon around and will restock the parts they cleared out.  I should probably also design level 2 at some point, but they seem unlikely to find a way down any time soon.

Unfortunately, I've become distracted by Victory by Any Means.  It looks like to scratch my Master of Orion and Fields of Blood itches, if I can find time and players...  Maybe I'll get to test it out over winterbreak.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

That is not dead, which can eternal lie...

And in stranger weekends, even PCs may die.  I'm planning an OSRIC dungeon exploration game for next weekend; I've been rolling random dungeon bits in my scraps of spare time for the last week or so.  The first level is built, with monsters, treasure, and room contents rolled, so now I just need to assign that content to rooms (stocking, if you will).  Also been working up a pile of rumors in town regarding the dungeon, but I still need a name for the hellhole...

So, content!  I guess I'll go through some interesting rules differences between OSRIC and the 3.x that I and most of the people are know are used to playing.  Not going to hit all the rules differences, obviously, just some of the more curious ones.

Ability score bonuses are must more spread out; it seems to take a score of about 15+ to start getting any real bonuses, and a score of 6-7 or lower to start taking any penalties.  This is kind of interesting, and reminds me of Traveller's wider ability score bonuses brackets (3-point increments, rather than 2-point increments as in 3.x).  This also means that a significant range around 'average' still pretty much functions as average, and that ability scores play a much less important role than they do in 3.x.  I rolled up a couple of sample characters and about the only thing ability scores influences were race and class selection (yeah, classes have minimum ability score requirements to enter.  See here for why).

There's a lot of save-or-die.  All poisons for example.  Fail a save against poison?  Toast.  This actually makes some sense...  if you get bitten by a spider the size of a horse and it injects you with 100ccs of neurotoxin...  you're not just taking 2d4 int damage.  Falling damage is much increased; it still caps at 20d6, but only from a 50-foot fall rather than from a 200-foot fall as in 3.x.  If you're polymorphed, there's a chance based on your Con that you just die of system shock.  If someone tries to resurrect you, there's a chance based on your Con that you don't make it back.  Also, elves have no souls and cannot be resurrected.  I think this is actually a pretty neat rule; they live a long time, but can't come back if they screw up.  It also reinforces the 'fey' / otherworldly nature of the elves (reminds me of the Eldar soulstones, too...  maybe it's not that they don't have souls, but that Slaanesh eats them?)  Death and dying of damage are pretty normal; die at -10, lose 1 HP per round between -1 and -10.  However, a few interesting things:  No chance to stabilize yourself, but any other party member can automatically stabilize you; no skill check required (since the only classes with 'skills' are the Thief and the Assassin, and heal sure isn't one of them).  Also, any additional damage dealt to an unconscious character is lethal; no special coup-de-grace rules.  Finally, there are longer-term consequences for being beaten unconscious; it takes you 10-60 minutes to wake up even after being stabilized, and then a week of rest before you're able to resume 'strenuous physical activity'.

This ties in nicely with the dungeon exploration rules, which are one of the neater things in OSRIC (from a new-schooler's perspective).  The passage of time is much more of a thing here.  A turn is 10 minutes of game time, and can be used to move through the dungeon map, search rooms, try to break down locked doors, and similar.  Wandering monsters are checked for each turn, and one in every six turns must be used as a short rest / breather, or you start to take fatigue penalties.  A round is a minute, and is the unit of combat time, more-or-less equivalent to a round in 3.x in terms of what you can get done.  The round is subdivided into 10 segments of 6 seconds each, with different sides acting on different segments of the round depending on their initiative rolls.  The cool thing here is that spells have casting times measured in segments; you start casting on the segment where your side acts, and then the spells goes off n segments later, giving the opposition a chance to interrupt it while you're casting.  Similarly, if you get iterative attacks, they're spaced out by segments, so you might get to attack, then the enemy attacks, then you again, rather than the "Aha, we won initiative, eat a full attack before you get to act" kind of thing that happens a lot in 3.x.

Some other interesting notes on combat: in melee, your attacks target a random adjacent hostile target.  Firing into melee, your ranged attacks target a random combatant without regard to hostility.  And no, there is no such thing as precise shot (well, except magic missile).

XP: Different classes require different amounts of XP to level.  XP for slain monsters is a function of how many HP that particular monster had, as well as species, with the assumption that you're rolling random monster HP.  You also get 1 XP for every GP that you manage to get out of the dungeon.  Treasure is not important, but so is encumbrance, since there are 10 GP to a pound.  Fortunately, carrying capacity is 150 lbs for all characters, plus or minus a bonus based on strength.

Spells: A lot of them are pretty much the same, though I guess 'more random' would probably be a good descriptor.  Some are much stronger than in 3.x, some are much weaker; skimming the spells, there were several times where I went "That's a 4th-level spell?"  Fireballs expand to fill volume, lightning bolts bounce off of non-conductive surfaces, haste ages the users, and bull's strength grants a larger bonus to fighters, paladins, and rangers than to other targets.  Curious indeed.

Magic items: They don't have market prices.  No buy, no sell.  Use what you find.

That's all I've got for now.  Back to work.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

N-Shots, With a Side of Minion Design

With my gaming time seriously curtailed, I've been thinking about short campaigns.  I ran a one-shot and found the form rather dissatisfying; it was, essentially, a series of short wargame scenarios plus a few puzzles, with very little character development or exploration.  Granted, part of the problem was that I made a few mistakes in terms of monster design; just because manufactured and natural armor stack does not mean that one should stack them.  Likewise, I dropped a solo hydra on the PCs during the finale, and found two problems.  First, Trailblazer's combat maneuver rules mean that hitting a hydra's neck is much, much harder than hitting its body.  This should not be; in theory I could've altered it on the fly, but I missed my chance.  Secondly, when you upgrade a critter to solo, you quadruple its HP, which in turn quadrupled the neck HP, making sundering the heads extra difficult.  In the end, the PCs just ended up damaging the body to death.

Trailblazer's short rest rules allowed the PCs to absorb absolutely tremendous amounts of damage; I estimated that the party took in total about 300 points of damage during the course of a single adventuring day, with no character falling unconscious at any time, minimal expenditure of permanent healing resources (cure wands, for example), and, the kicker, without a cleric.  These were 7th level PCs we're talking about...  maybe 70 HP tops on any given character.  It was just nuts.  The action points really saved their butts a few times, though, so that was interesting...  likewise, the party sorcerer built for ray usage and didn't cast a restricted spell the entire game.  A change of pace from the usual fireball storm.  We also had a glaive paladin / fighter specializing in sunder, a greatsword critical-hit fighter, and a bard / fighter archer.  The greatsworder had very very swingy damage; when he really hit, he killed opponents outright, but he also missed a lot.  The glaive paladin got pretty reasonable performance across the board, through sundering the hydra turned out to be a bad idea.  The archer was less than perfectly useful...  I attribute this largely to the high-AC monsters.  Ranged combatants need to be using rapid shot and similar to do decent damage, and the high-AC critters really shut that down.  Sorry, Tim.

This has led to some speculation on "mook design", if you will, where by mook I mean what 4e or True20 might classify as a minion.  They're weakish monsters who are fairly easy to kill, but are still a threat to the PCs.  I've employed mooks as such on two occasions; here in the mountain fastness of the lizard men, and in my TB Bloodsworn Vale game two summers ago.  Here, they had high AC but low HP, and were not fun.  In Bloodsworn, the zombie gnoll servants of Golgorroth had low AC, but took about two hits from the party monk or a good hit from a holy greatsword to take down.  Effectively, I conclude that 'fun' mooks should be easy to hit, and should take about two hits to kill.  This gives the satisfaction of hitting reliably and doing damage, and also makes clearing them out so you can get at their leader straightforward, but not trivial.  Missing is frustrating, but hitting and doing damage, even if you don't drop anything, is satisfying.  Ergo, even if the same number of expected hits are required to kill a mook, one with low AC and higher hit points is preferable as far as fun goes.

But back to one-shots.  I had never DMed a one-shot before, and my only experience playing in one had accidentally turned into a medium-length campaign of about 9 sessions in a single world because it ran long and we did a few unexpected things.  I recently, however, stumbled across a blog post by the Angry DM which effectively advocates picking up a new system with a new GM and playing a three-shot.  I find this to be a really good idea...  The human mind loves threes, and this allows a much less rushed storytelling structure along the traditional lines of beginning, middle, and end, with gaps in time and space in between the segments.  It doesn't have to be combat-combat-combat, and player choices other than strict combat-resource allocation start to matter, but can still be kept reasonably simple; putting a decision point at the end of each of the first two sessions creates four possible outcomes, which is relatively easy to manage compared to a full "go anywhere do anything kill anyone"-style campaign.

I don't know that I'll have the time to run a three-shot...  but it's something I'd like to keep in mind for the next time I get the itch, but maybe don't have time to run a full campaign.  Hell, a three-shot would be the perfect length for gaming with my family over the holidays.  Hmmm...

Friday, September 16, 2011

On Hiatus... again...

Greetings, gentle readers.  I apologize for the lack of updates; the semester got me, and then I ran a one-shot, and it went OK but was quite savage actually due both to system changes, a few miscalculations on my part, and some player mistakes, and then I got owned by the semester, and both of my laptops died.  So now I've got Ubuntu running on this one, but I really don't have much to say other than "Hopefully Alex will run a game sometime soon, because I sure won't be..."  :\

Friday, September 9, 2011

Miscellanea: Traveller Trade, GM Screens, and Upcoming Game

Nothing groundshaking today, but a couple small things:

First, trade in Traveller has always bothered me because it's kind of a pain to actually do.  Too much bookkeeping for not a whole lot of raw fun.  I recently found this pdf full of commodity cards, though, which looks like it might improve play considerably, both by speeding up random cargo generation (draw a card, roll tonnage, roll type, go) and by kind of concretizing them (players buy cargo?  Give them the card).  These kind of seem like they'd make Traveller trade bearable, which is a Good Thing.

Along a similar line, I've been thinking about how convenient the Stargrunt reference card makes the game, and it's inspired me to build a Traveller GM screen covered in handy tables of things I often forget, like weapon range modifiers ("What's the mod for an assault weapon at 50 meters again... ?"), law levels, radiation effects, and things like that.  Alternatively, I might build a series of reference sheets for different parts of gameplay; a combat card with actions types, cover, ranges, autofire, and similar, a "Crime and Punishment" card gathering the government, law level, sentencing, and starship loan default rules, and so forth.  These would be damn handy, and also useful on the player end of things.  So that might be worth the time to put together if I end up playing or running Trav...

But, this weekend, I'm running a Trailblazer one-shot of a stripped-down version of one of the Dungeon Crawl Classic modules that I played through once.  The intent is to test TB's action points and short rest rules, as well as to game for the first time in a good while.  So the rest of my afternoon is going to be prep for that, interspersed with homework.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Traveller Ramblings: Of Guns, Gear, and Starships

The semester is well and truly upon us, and my weekends this month are pretty filled, preventing much in the way of gaming :(.  My discussions with my roommate Alex have actually kind of increased my level of indecision in regard to what, if anything, to run this semester.  We've been talking mostly about Traveller, and he's considering running a Stargate-inspired Traveller game as well.  We've been discussing a number of things with Trav, and here's what we've come up with:

The lack of small automatic weapons irks me.  There's the gauss pistol, but it's TL13 and does significantly more damage than other pistol weapons in addition to being autofire.  Ergo, the following:

Machine Pistol: TL7, Range Class: Pistol.  Damage 3d6-3, Auto 4, Recoil 0.  Mass 1 kg, Magazine 24.  Cost 300 Cr, Ammo cost 15 Cr.

Submachine Gun: TL7, Range Class: Assault Weapons.  Damage 3d6-3, Auto 4, Recoil 0.  Mass 3 kg or 3.5 kg with extended magazine, Magazine 36 or 50.  Cost 500 Cr, Ammo cost 15 Cr or 25 Cr.

The first statblock represents modern fully-automatic pistols like the Skorpion or Beretta 93R, while the second represents larger weapons like the MP5 or P90 which have longer barrels and shoulder stocks for greater accuracy at range, but are still chambered in pistol calibers.  The larger magazine flavor represents drum or helical-style magazines which are often available for such weapons.  I'm also tempted to do a conversion of the Colt-Calico Mini-Gatling from CyD20, but that might be a Bad Idea.

Point the next is that armor-piercing weapons just don't exist.  There are weapons that do a lot of damage, and they are good for taking out enemies in armor, but they are also good for insta-killing people not in armor.  There is no equivalent to steel-core, high-velocity, or other specialized anti-armor rounds, which go through armor nicely but do less damage to the target's physiology than usual.  The problem with implementing an 'armor penetration' mechanic is that it adds an extra lookup, subtraction, and ceiling operation to each attack that hits.  One simple option is to halve armor against armor-piercing weapons, much as armor is doubled against buckshot, but that gets brutally effective against heavier armor types.  More study of this problem is required.

Idea the third is that I realized that I really dislike the Scout Ship entry on the Scout mustering-out benefits table.  It's not that I dislike the notion of the party having a ship; quite the contrary.  A ship is freedom to jump the rails and go somewhere interesting, a place to hide smuggled goods and stowaways, and an extra target for me as a DM that the entire party has a vested interest in protecting.  But a ship with no cost is a problem, because then when the PCs get money...  the credits just pile up until they find a high-TL world to spend some of them on.  The monthly payment on a starship is kind of the whole reason for wanting money in Traveller without a scout ship; it's a little bit of constant pressure on the players to take that extra-risky job because it pays more and will help pay the bills.  I know last game with the scout ship, money was basically a non-object; the PCs had enough to buy grenades and ammo, spare parts and repairs when they needed them, and life support, and that was all that mattered.  It was kind of unsatisfying.  So if I run another one, I may need to replace the ship entry on the Scout table.  Maybe it's a big pile of ship shares (like...  3d6.  Something bigger than other classes get, and unrestricted).  Maybe it's shares that are multiplied for getting a scout ship, as is normal for specific kinds of ships on the tables.  Maybe it's an extra 'upgrade' for a ship, rather than shares; choose a component, and upgrade it, or install a laser turret or someaught.  But no way is it going to be just 'a ship, with minimal organizational obligations attached.'  Plus, having a scout ship makes everybody else's ship shares kind of useless, which is frustrating...

And so after all that Traveller talk, it seems I'm likely to run Trav.  I've got a plot, I've got a subsector...  now all I need is time, players, and characters.  Or I could run TB/LL Kingmaker in the Great 3.5 Derivative Smackdown...  it's hexcrawly enough that it might get the Wilderlands out of my blood.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Games I Want to Run 3; also, Why Traveller Psionics Are Better Than d20 Magic

School starts up again tomorrow.  This may or may not mean the death of this blog, since free time is about to get a lot scarcer.  I do still intend to run Wilderlands or something along similar sandboxy hexmap lines, but at this point I'm looking primarily at systems.  Here are the contenders:
All three of these have features and bugs.  Here's the rundown:

Trailblazer is already known to the folks I've been playing with, and is well liked as 'fixing most of the problems with 3.5'.  On the DM side, I'm still itching to try out their monster upgrade rules and possibly their simplified encounter budgeting as well.  A previous post of mine proposes a magic item replacement that would work nicely for TB in the Wilderlands.  The main issues here are that it's a heavy system, with kind of slow combat, complex monster statblocks, and NPCs that take a while to assemble.  There's also my lingering trepidation over their action points and rest rules; on the one hand, APs are a balancing factor for casters, but on the other, they introduce per-level resources, which I really hate, and the rest mechanic is terribly suited for overland travel where random encounters are fairly frequent (in that those random encounters don't actually cost anything in terms of party resources due to rapid rest availability).

Justin Alexander released the L&L Beta a few days ago, and my copy came in this morning.  I've given it a skim, and there are some good things and some bad things.  The design goal here was a very stripped-down 3.5 derivative that remained backwards compatible.  The monster design rules are a real standout; I am fairly confident I could put monsters together during play with it, and that they'd be about right in terms of CR.  That's an awesome thing in a 3.x derivative, and while I'll still probably buy the TB Monster Book when it comes out (hopefully soon...) for what I imagine may be a better-researched monster design system along with a pile of 'Trailblazered' classic monsters, this one has the speed for use in play.  The hazard design system is also very cool, providing a quick way to generate CRs for all manner of traps, perilous crossings, and environmental hazards.  The stunt system provides a mechanism very similar to Traveller's task chains, as well as flexible combat options; I wasn't impressed on first read, but going back for a second, it actually looks pretty slick.  The skill system is kind of nice and simple; you're considered at max ranks for all of your class skills.  If you have a low Int, you choose a number of class skills equal to your penalty to not know.  Very straightforward, and it means that you're good at the things your class is supposed to be good at; similar to Iron Heroes' skill groups in that regard, but a damn sight less complicated.  Other highlights were some notes on wilderness adventures, good rules for hirelings and henchmen, and a number of unusual slimes and molds which didn't make into the 3.0/.5 DMGs (think along the lines of green slime, but different).

On the other hand...  man, when he said he was going to strip down the classes, he really, really stripped down the classes.  Only Barbarian, Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, Wizard, and Sorcerer made the cut, for one.  Feats are gone, but at levels where you would get one, you get a pre-selected one based on class (for example, Barbarians get Power Attack at 6th).  He seems to have dropped the first-level feats, though...  likewise, humans kind of got the shaft and stepped on the half-elf's toes, since that bonus feat got converted into a racial bonus to Diplomacy and Sense Motive.  I'd be happier with a +3 to any one skill.  This solution would be on par with 3.5 Skill Focus, works with whatever class you might happen to be, and reinforces the 'versatile' nature of humans.  Finally, he doesn't appear to have really touched the balance issues underlying 3.x; Clerics, Sorcerers, and Wizards will still dominate, since casting still works as normal, unless he nerfs the spell lists pretty hard (updated spells aren't in the beta).  Granted, this move makes sense in the light of his stance on balance in general.  Iterative attacks are still at the old -5, and rogues are still running at 3/4 BaB, so they're going to have a rough time hitting, especially since they never get Weapon Finesse (though they do get Vigilant Shot, which allows readied ranged sneak attacks under some circumstances, making ranged rogues much more viable).  The feat selection on some of the classes is...  questionable, with Rogue being probably the best example.  No finesse, no TWF, just ranged feats.  Barbarian also picks up Expertise, which is an unusual choice for Barbarians in my experience...  I guess as long as one keeps in mind that those feat selections are really just suggestions, and could be swapped out for other 3.5 feats, things should work OK.  Otherwise, I would foresee rioting.  Likewise, while multiclassing is still around, the problem of base save multiclass stacking persists.  At least this time there are fewer classes to multiclass between...  It also doesn't address caster multiclassing like TB did.  I guess the thing here is that if I decide to run L&L, I'd have to Trailblazer it (yep, it's a verb now).  This would basically entail switching iteratives to -2/-2 with decreasing penalties later, chosen good saves at character creation, combat reactions rather than stock AoOs, Combat Tactics for the rogue, upgraded turning on the cleric, BMB for casting...  I think those'd be the big ones.  And allowing players to choose their feats, too...  the classes with pre-chosen feats seem to be primarily a resource for new players and for DMs who need an NPC in a hurry.  Used with that understanding, I think the system in general would work pretty nicely.

Finally, there's the black sheep, Adventurer, over at Crawdads and Dragons.  Adventurer is basically the Classic Traveller rules converted to run OD&D.  This has the advantage of being pretty rules-light; statblocks are small, simple, and easy to assemble.  It also avoids the 'ever upward' problem of D&D in all its incarnations, where the numbers just keep growing, because skill training is still fairly slow (they do introduce some faster rules for it than Mongoose's version, though).  Being essentially Traveller, it has a number of random tables for things like dungeons and areas of wilderness, which goes beautifully with the style of Wilderlands.  But...  on the minus side, it's a conversion of one old, quirky, non-standardized system to run another old, quirky, non-standardized system.  There are tables of attack DMs based on your weapon type vs. your opponent's armor type.  That kind of thing.

Likewise, there's a whole book devoted to spells.  Part of what I liked about Traveller was that its psionics served an essentially different purpose from magic in D&D.  In D&D, magic is the main and exclusive activity of many characters, and the system encourages this by making spell slots readily available at mid-to-high levels, and by providing mages with very little else to do.  In Traveller, while it is possible to try to make psionics your sole activity, it is neither efficient nor necessary.  First, the resource behind Traveller psionics is distinctly limited; the more you use, the lower your psi score drops, and the harder it is to use more of it.  This is in contrast to d20's magic, where you know exactly how much magic you can put out per day, and running low on slots doesn't make any of your remaining slots less effective than they were at the beginning of the day.  Thus, Traveller's psionics are categorically weaker than d20's magic in this 'declining ability' sense.  Further, Traveller's psionic recovery mechanism is non-boolean; rather than resting for eight hours and then being fully recharged, psionic strength recovers gradually across hours as long as no further powers are used.  This again encourages conservation.  Finally, when you look at the things Traveller psionics can do, and the prices on them, it becomes apparent that they fill kind of a 'special projects' role; they can do things that you just can't do otherwise, but it's hard to pull off and expensive.  Further, most of the Traveller psionic powers seem to be intended primarily for non-combat use; sure, you could teleport in combat, but it's really expensive and the benefit is probably minimal.  They're not built with combat as the first consideration, whereas most d20 spells definitely are.  d20 mages are multibarrel weapons platforms that carry loadouts specified at the beginning of the day, while a Traveller psion is more like a solar-powered multitool.  However, the need for psions in Traveller to be able to rain hellfire and lightning down on their enemies is significantly less than that of their d20 counterparts for two reasons.  First is that it's really hard to generate a Traveller character with no other combat-useful skills, both given the skills on the tables, the group skill package, and the connections rule.  In d20, if your wizard is out of magic, he's stuck with a crossbow and an abominably low base attack bonus.  In Trav, if you have Gun Combat 0 and a decent Dex, you're in reasonable stead for combat as far as offense goes, and then it's just a question of keeping your head down.  Second, Traveller in general places a lower emphasis on combat than modern d20 does, meaning that combat prowess is less necessary, and therefore characters who aren't focused on combat are significantly more viable.

This all kind of leads up to the implicit fourth option: hack my own system together based on Mongoose Traveller, with a similarly 'fuzzy' magic system.  The things necessary to achieve this task would be:
  • Updated (er, downdated) skill list.  Remote operations and astrogation aren't really things in fantasy settings.
  • New background term tables and careers.  3.5 has 11 core base classes, which would fit roughly into 4 careers of three branches each with one new one.  The expanded education column might be used for a prestige class relevant to each branch.  I think Warrior (Barbarian, Fighter, Paladin?), Thief (Rogue, Bard, Ranger?), Priest (Cleric, Druid, Monk), and Mage (Sorcerer, Wizard) would be traditional ways to split things up.  Alternatively, ditch D&D classes as specialties and make things more interesting.
  • Races should be very straightforward.
  • Medieval-era gear selection would need expanded significantly, as well as rules for magic items.  To be honest, a lot of magic items could just be standard Trav gear - a potion of Cure Disease is not so different from a Medicinal Drug, for example.  Likewise magic weapons could be modeled as weapons with expert computers.  This may not be the best course, but it's an option.  The other would just be to cook up magic gear, hand it out, and see what happens.  Naturally, that sounds more fun.
  • Magic proper is the hard part.  I need maybe 3-5 'schools' / skills for each of arcane and divine, each of which has about 4 fuzzy, non-combat-centric effects of varying difficulty.  Tricky.  I'm actually tempted to go with the four classical elements, plus life and death, and nix the arcane / divine divide, but then things like summoning and teleportation get lost in the noise.  Alternatively, the five colors of Magic the Gathering might work very nicely...  They're familiar to a lot of gamers, sufficiently general that I only need the five of them to cover most any effect that could come up, and reasonably clear-cut in most cases.  Heck, I was going to have four caster specialties already; it's trivial to map each to a color and its two allied colors, and to introduce a fifth specialty for that last one.  Cleric gets white, druid is green, sorcerer is red, wizard is blue, and necromancer is black.  Then it's just a question of intuiting difficulties and mana costs for each attempted effect, which is not significantly harder than assigning difficulties on the fly to tasks run by other skills.  Boom magic system complete.
So, with those points in mind, I do believe it's time to hack together a system.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Starcraft Stargrunt Playtest Report Part 2: Stuff We Did Wrong, Reprise

So at the end of the playtest report for the Stargrunt game I ran last night, I mentioned that I was concerned on a number of fronts, in that close combat, artillery, and possibly anti-air fire all felt just a little bit 'off'.  Went and re-read the rules this morning, and here's what I'm seeing:

First off, close assault.  The biggest thing, looking back at the rules, is that initiating a close assault takes two actions; thus, we can't do that thing we were doing where we make a non-combat move six inches towards the target, then initiate close assault, guaranteeing that you'll get there in one combat move.  This makes final defensive fire a lot more likely to happen, which is great for Terran.  On the other hand, it really exacerbates the problem with Zerg being suppressed - if you have to spend an action to try to break suppression at the beginning of your activation, there is no way you can close assault.  I really think a free suppression removal attempt at the beginning of Zerg activations at morale levels where they have to close is probably a good plan.

The other thing we did wrong with close assault was casualty resolution with regard for stunned troops.  The way we were doing it, we were resolving the status of casualties at the end of each round of close combat.  This in incorrect; the book states that a casualty is out for the rest of that "close combat resolution".  We interpreted this to mean that round; however, the Ending Close Combat paragraph opens with "After the first round of close combat resolution..."  Thus, a 'resolution' is the entire process from charging to one side breaking and abandoning an objective, while a round is the process of pairing off and making opposed rolls for each pair.  Therefore, casualties aren't resolved until one side breaks, and stunned individuals on the losing side may 'come to' out of unit coherency and surrounded by the enemy.  Thus, 'stun' isn't just "Oh hey, the squad leader's fine."  It's roughly on-par with being an actual casualty.

Finally, there's an important line in the close assault modifiers table that states that if in cover, the defenders get a 1-die shift during the first round of that close combat.  Oops.

As for artillery, I found a very important line in the artillery rules that the spotting unit must have line of sight to all three points nominated (the two dummies and the actual incoming).  This makes overlords and other aerial units excellent spotters, and also gives hills some value (besides as places to sit at the bottom of and fire up at the enemy who are trying to take it...).  However, we did do it wrong last time.  Still couldn't find a mention of the Observe action, though, outside of the list of actions at the beginning of the book.

Finally, I screwed up the firing at the overlord, in Terran's favor, actually.  We used the rules for firing on point targets with heavy weapons from page 39 and the guided missiles section on page 41, which seemed like the right thing at the time...  but we should've been using the "On-Table Anti-Air Fire" rules from page 49.  Under these rules, Terran would've needed a roll to acquire the overlord as a target.  Then the overlord would've had a chance to take evasive action, allowing it another chance to avoid the fire, after which Terran gets a chance to actually fire the missile, and has a third chance to miss.  It's kind of ridiculous really.  Terran gains two things from this: first, if an aircraft takes a hit, the pilot has to take a confidence check at +2 TL or decide to purple and GTFO.  This means you could potentially drive the overlord off the table, denying the Zerg their command squad, transport, EW, and artillery support.  The other thing Terran gains is that when hovering in place, the overlord suffers a negative die shift on its ECM roll.  But the Terrans now need more successful rolls in order to actually take a shot at it, so this is a really bad change for them.  Considering that their AA fire was already horrifyingly ineffective, we might not want to change the way we played it to this rule.

Starcraft Stargrunt: Playtest Report

Got together this afternoon for two games of 'grunt with Glisson, Matt, and Jared.  Glisson brought the paper rulebook this time, which was immensely helpful; I should probably print and bind my own copy from the pdf if I intend to play on a regular basis.  Glisson also brought a bag of green army men and a bag full of the original counters for the game, which were likewise wonderfully convenient; being able to mark the LD, quality, and morale status of a squad all on the board with the squad was a great improvement over tracking those things on a whiteboard, nevermind other things like In-Position and Suppression which were really problematic last time.

The first game we played was a straightforward battle between two forces of two platoons each of non-Starcraft units.  The game kind of dragged on, with units in cover remaining in cover and kind of poking at each other ineffectually, and with units who ran out of cover being mercilessly gunned down.  We did have a few rounds of close assault in some woods, and likewise managed to deny the enemy the hill on the south side of the map, but in general, it was a very entrenched kind of warfare.  On the plus side, we didn't see the kind of squad-wiping fire that we got in the previous game, but it was pretty slow and static, centered around defensive positions, nonetheless.

Not so the game with Starcraft Terran vs. Zerg.

There are several reasons that I believe this game went differently.  The first and most obvious was the availability of off-map artillery support to both sides.  This meant that sitting in a single defensive position the entire game was a recipe for attracting high explosives.  Second, the Zerg were compelled to close to melee by their morale rules.  The Terran player exploited this to great effect by putting a squad of firebats in the front, and managed to annihilate 8 zerglings with only two casualties.  Third, the general lack of support firepower meant that sitting and hammering at range was very difficult; the only unit with a SAW or SAW-equivalent on the map was the goliath.  Since ranged combat was relatively hard, we saw a lot more close combat, which required movement.  Fourth and finally, the availability of higher-mobility units, namely the overlord, goliath, and zerglings, encouraged players to make use of that mobility.

The game ran somewhat like this - a Terran force was set up on a hill on one side of the map, with the Zerg behind a hill on the other side, and a ruined town in the middle of the map (complete with hostile but terribly-ineffective villagers).  Zerg objective was to capture the Terran supply depot on their hill, while Terran's was to survive / prevent this outcome.  Both sides rapidly ran for the town, taking cover in the buildings, but quickly abandoning and hopping between buildings as the shells started to fall.  The goliath was primarily concerned with firing missiles at the overlord and suppressing two squads of zerglings, but the overlord's EW capabilities really put the nix on the missiles.  The firebats engaged and destroyed two squads of zerglings before being stomped into the ground by the hydras in melee, and the marines suppressed some zerglings before coming under murderous deviated artillery fire that they really shouldn't've survived - about 12 rolls between all three shells, impact d8, armor d8 should've been almost a complete wipe.  They took one casualty; Jared had some simply stupendous luck there.  However, that casualty was their squad leader, and when they were then close assaulted by zerglings, they broke and routed and fled off the map.  We finished with the hydras going up against the goliath and the last zergling squad being carried by the overlord towards the depot to assault Jared's command squad, who were holed up in the vicinity; they had been driven out of the depot proper by a dummy artillery marker.  We called it about then; it looked like the hydras would probably disable the goliath, and we ran the close combat out between the command squad and the zerglings; the zerglings took 50% casualties, and the marines were wiped.

Overall, we came away with one primary concern and two secondary concerns:

1) Hydras as powered armor are brutally overpowered in melee.  Matt and Jared agreed that they should not have been able to just stomp through the firebats like they did.  Solution: downgrade to normal armor (d8).  I'm still not convinced they shouldn't be considered armed with a close-combat weapon, but that's probably pretty acceptable.  Also considering upgrading their weapons to d12 impact to keep things on par with marines, but I think d10 impact and a CC weapon is probably a reasonable place to be.  Hence, Hydra 2.0 looks like normal infantry with d8 armor, 6" move, FP2, Impact d10, and a close-combat weapon for a 1-die shift in melee.

2) Goliath vs. overlord balance, and by extension electronic warfare.  The EW system was very dissatisfying, in that it ended up creating these ridiculous EW 'stacks' of Jared trying to counter Matt's counter to Jared's counter to Matt's jamming of the guided missile, which was annoying.  Then, had the missile actually hit (which it never did), it would have either totally obliterated the overlord or bounced off harmlessly, neither of which is a terribly satisfying outcome (in that squads, when hit, will likely survive to some degree.  Vehicles just go "Boom" or keep running fine).  There were also complaints regarding the infinite range and infinite movement of the GMS and the overlord; not sure what to do about these.  On the one hand, reducing speed / range is certainly an option.  On the other hand, it kind of sacrifices realism and breaks strongly from the SG standard of "VTOLs come in, drop off troops wherever, get out in two turns.  You need that infinite range to be able to even get a crack at 'em."

3) Zerg morale and suppression issues.  Zerglings, when suppressed and running on low morale, are a special flavor of hosed - even if they break the suppression, they have to keep running straight into the guns that suppressed them, whereupon they get suppressed again and eventually casualties add up and they just die off (whereas a normal squad might get a chance to break suppression and then fire back, suppressing their suppressors, or if morale got bad enough, it might break and run away from the suppressing squad, and then get far enough away to avoid being suppressed).  Matt proposed a rule similar to one by the Warbard for Xenomorphs, a similarly all-melee army, that each activation, a Zerg squad of a low-enough morale that it can't be in cover gets a free attempt to break suppression.  This seems fairly reasonable, but plays into the second concern that Jared had about Zerg morale, namely that as a Terran player, it was dissatisfying to watch the Zerg get bonuses for failing morale rolls.  On the one hand, yeah, they get bonuses to morale checks to enter close assault...  but on the other, they also have to close the range and try to get in close, even if it's a really terrible idea (one zergling vs. a squad of firebats for example).  I guess the thing was that while Jared was dissatisfied with the morale situation, he also used it to great advantage by provoking a squad of zerglings to engage (and be toasted by) his firebats, and was never really negatively affected by the changes, except possibly when his marines were assaulted by a squad of steady zerglings.  Since steady doesn't impede actions and grants a bonus to attacking in close assault for Zerg, it was actually strictly better than Confident for Matt (except in that it was close to Shaken, Broken, and so forth).  Not sure it's really a problem, but it was a concern which might need addressed.

But, other than those issues, the game went really well.  It was agreed by all sides that unit balance felt pretty right except on the hydras and in the overlord vs. goliath pairing, and the artillery kept the game moving quickly.  While artillery and close assault both involved a lot of rolling, neither side was bored during the process; with artillery scatter, it's always a "oh god oh god is it going to land on me?" type tension, and melee has many hand-to-hand opposed rolls.  It seemed to me that Jared and Matt became significantly more excited during close assault than during shooting; not really sure why that was the case, but hey, I'll take it.  I suspect that only having two players (I was reffing / advising, basically) improved gameplay because subsystems involving many rolls weren't horribly dull for the remaining players.  I do think we played CC wrong, in the handling of stunned units - we should've counted them as casualties for morale / withdrawing resolution, but didn't.  Likewise, I suspect there's something buggy in the way we played artillery, but I'll try to hunt it down later today maybe.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Starcraft Stargrunt, Part 2: Zerg

So last time, I talked about converting Terran to Stargrunt.  This time it's Zerg, and it's going to have to break from canon a little more to make it work within the system.

Morale and leadership are the hardest part of alien species in SGII, because we humans don't really have a particularly large dataset of real examples to draw from.  So this is where we have to make some assumptions.
Proposition 1:  Zerg battle-units are bred for killing.  They're hungry.  Their instincts tell them to go forth and devour, even without any mental urging from the hive mind.
Proposition 2:  The Overmind exerts its influence over the swarm through overlords, giant flying psychic transport whale-bugs (kind of).
Proposition 3:  Zerg units of the same genotype do vary to some degree in maturity / quality.  Ex: Devouring Ones vs. adrenal zerglings vs. zerglings.  All the same breed, more or less, but of varying quality.

These propositions suggest or imply the following:
  • A zerg squad's leadership value is a measure of how strong its link to the hive mind is (receptivity, if you will).  Note that there is no single 'squad leader' element; leadership measures the reception each individual in the squad gets.  As a result, you never lose the squad leader (but you also never get leadership upgrades by replacing poor leaders).
  • If a zerg force has a command squad, it's an overlord (which basically operates as a tank-sized VTOL vehicle with EW, transport, and command capabilities).
  • Zerg units do have unit qualities just like human units, but based on the quality of their genetics.  Hunter-Killers are elite, upgraded grooved-spine hydras are veteran, bog-standard hydras are regular, and perhaps 'rush-job' hydras are green; the Overmind sacrificed quality for rapid growth, resulting in a wide variety of negative mutations which impede performance.
  • As a zerg squad's morale deteriorates, they become less cautious and prone to close-assaulting the enemy against orders.  When they would be broken, they may turn against their own kind.

Morale is really the only complicated thing there.  Below I propose a modification of the Warbard's rules for Kra'Vak morale.
At Confident and Steady, or Calm and Irked, a Zerg squad may take any action normally available to it.
At Shaken, or Mad, a Zerg squad cannot enter cover or retreat from the enemy unless it passes a Reaction test.
At Broken, or Angry, a Zerg squad must spend one of its actions per round advancing towards the nearest enemy unit, and may not go in-position.  If fired upon, they automatically become Routed.
At Routed, or Furious, a Zerg squad must spend both of its actions per round either advancing towards or close-assaulting the nearest enemy unit.  If they attempt to rally and fail (or are passed an action by a unit up the chain of command, use it to try to rally, and fail), they fall to Berserk.
At Berserk, the squad must spend both of its actions per round either moving towards or close assaulting the nearest other unit, with no regard for side.

When making reaction rolls to initiate a close assault, Zerg units invert the normal modifiers; they take -0 at Confident, -1 at Steady, -3 at Shaken, and automatically make the reaction test at any lower morale level.  They do not modify the morale test for defending against close assault; it's an unexpected and scary situation, for the hunter to become the hunted.  Note, though, that even if you drive the Zerg from a hilltop when they fail their morale save to hold their ground, they might charge right back at you next turn...

Now I know what some of you are saying...  "But the Zerg want to be in close assault!  This just makes them do what they were going to do anyways!"  As Heavy would say, "Maybe, maybe...  but I have yet to meet Zergling that can outrun Bullet."  Put your marines on the other side of difficult terrain before enraging the Zerg.  Put firebats between your marines and the Zerg before enraging the Zerg.  Minefields are wonderful things.  If the zerglings want to remain in cover, make 'em mad and make them come to you.  Those hydras want to sit at range?  Make 'em mad and then they can't.  I think it may be workable.

Oh yeah, burrowing and regeneration.  Burrowing's easiest - it operates similarly to In-Position.  A Zerg ground unit may choose to Burrow as an action.  While burrowed, it cannot move or fire any weapons, but it gains a 1-die shift to its range die and its armor die, as if in soft cover.  These die shifts stack with bonuses from actual cover.  For purposes of spotting hidden burrowed units, a burrowed unit applies a two-die shift to its range roll; see Hidden Units, page 26.  A reaction test is required to Burrow successfully; the difficulty of this test is at +0 in reasonably-soft ground (most terrain, but definitely mud and swamp), but at +2 in areas which are more difficult to burrow into, such as concrete or through the root webs of trees (so in woods, inside buildings, on roads, and similar).  Moving out of Burrow operates exactly the same way as moving out of In-Position.  A unit may not be both Burrowed and In-Position simultaneously; they're mutually-exclusive states.

Regeneration's slightly tougher.  On the scales involved in a typical SG2 game, regeneration is completely ridiculous, so I intend to ignore it.  If, however, you wanted to apply a +1 bonus to casualty resolution rules in some circumstances to model regeneration and make up for the Zerg's lack of medics, go for it.  Alternatively, you could resolve all Zerg casualties immediately, rather than requiring a Reorganize action, but at no bonus.  Also, just for shits, the Zerg take the same penalties for leaving behind injured squadmates as injured humans do; those are their pack-brothers, of one mind and one flesh!

And so, without further ado, on to stats!

Zerglings are light / scout infantry (speed 8") with light armor (d6 armor value) and a close combat weapon (+1 die shift in close combat).  Simple, but dangerous in numbers and in close.  Note also that they're technically inferior to Firebats of the same quality in close assault, because flamers give a two-die shift.

Hydralisks are slow light powered armor units (speed 6", armor d10) armed with a biological equivalent of an advanced assault right (FP2, Imp d10).  Powered armor makes sense here, because they're twice the size of a man, and while they don't have specialized close-combat weapons (arguably...), they have raw mass and brute strength, as modeled by PA's melee doubling.  Compared to Terran marines, hydras under this conversion are tougher (d10 armor vs d8 for marines) and meaner in melee, but slightly less punchy at range (Imp d10 as opposed to Imp d12 for the Terran gauss rifle), and use twice as much transport space.  So the trouble with hydra deployment and use is that, on the one hand, they're pretty strong in melee, and tough enough to probably get there, but on the other hand, they're also all the ranged fire support your zerglings get.  Choose wisely.

Overlords are Size 3 vehicles with Armor 2, carrying capacity 8, and command capabilities.  Additionally, they carry an enhanced EW suite (3 EW counters per turn, d8 on EW rolls) and Basic ECM (1d6 on rolls against guided missiles and similar).  Movement is where things get really tricky.  On the one hand, they're probably best modeled as VTOLs like dropships.  On the other hand, they're also slow as anything in SC, which causes problems with SG's aeospace rules, namely that an air unit can move to anywhere on the table as a move action.  I'm kind of OK with that for overlords as a concession to reality - air transports should probably be reasonably fast, and they're still countered by guided missiles, which have "Anywhere on the table" range as well.  The real question is "Why is the overlord hanging out on the table at all?"  There's an essential conflict in its two roles of 'dropship' and 'command unit'.  I think a compromise position is this - feel free the move the overlord off-table, but you can't activate off-table units, which means you can't use its command capabilities to transfer actions.  So you can protect it, but you lose a hefty chunk of the benefit of having one if you do.

Most of the other Zerg units are just too damn big to have in SG...  Guardians are artillery support firing medium-caliber shells (4" blasts).  Mutalisks might qualify as gunships, but I never did understand how they actually flew...  I'm writing them off just like I wrote off wraiths for Terran.  Devourers and Scourges, as with Valkyries, just contribute to the Air Defense Environment.  Lurkers are an interesting problem...  I'm kind of thinking that unburrowed, they're mid-sized vehicles with no weapons, but when burrowed, they radiate a large minefield that doesn't attack friendlies.  Call 'em Size 3, Armor 2, walking propulsion with a speed of 8", and they radiate a 6" radius Mixed AP/AV minefield when burrowed.  Great for holding a position, and vehicle armor means that you might actually be able to get up near an enemy unit and then burrow.  Rather scary, really.

So that leaves us with Queens, Defilers, Ultralisks, and Infested Terrans to deal with.  Infested are probably easiest; they're Independent Figures (per page 27) with d8 armor, 6" speed, and the ability to detonate the equivalent of a Command-Detonated Mine (page 56) centered on his own position at any time, after which he is destroyed.  To model the effectiveness of Infested against armored targets like buildings and bunkers, we may want to let them apply 1d10 doubled against the armor of buildings and vehicles within the blast.

So we're down to Queens, Defilers, and Ultralisks.  Spellcasters and the superheavy tank.  The spellcasters I think could be modeled as variant off-board artillery; Dark Swarm, for example, might be a variant artillery shell type that creates a zone of soft cover in a radius about where it lands, Ensnare creates an area of difficult terrain, and Plague could do something interesting like inflict a penalty on casualty resolution rolls for units that were caught in it (or go with the simple solution of "It's a general-purpose artillery barrage, screw the flavor text.").  Battlefield control via unusual artillery, basically.  So that pulls those guys mostly off the table...  Parasite and Spawn Broodling are odd, in that they're single-target...  maybe light artillery?  Or just leave 'em out...  It also just hit me that I left out Science Vessels last post.  Off-board EW capabilities with Enhanced sensors, and whatever Plague ends up doing, Irradiate should end up doing something fairly similar.

And the ultralisk.  These should pretty much never be on the table, unless it's like the only unit the Zerg have.  You want to play the tank game, you're welcome to...  but use Dirtside and keep it out of Stargrunt.

So there are the Zerg...  thoughts?

(Proposed modifications following playtesting are here; this version is preserved in its original state for reference purposes)