Wednesday, May 29, 2013

From the Attic: Secrets of Traveller's Jump Drive

Part of the genius of Traveller is that it leaves a lot of room for the referee to explain why things work. It also helps personalize your Traveller Universe.

Coming up with explanations for the various piece of Traveller Tech is a favorite pasttime for many Traveller Referees including myself.

One thing I messed around with is how Jump Drive works. It doesn't have much in the way of rules but what I like about this explanation is that it boils all of Traveller's super tech down to one difference in what we know about the universe. The ability to control gravity.

Many people don't realize this but a lot of the far out stuff like Time Travel, FTL Drives, are possible in our universe. However they require extreme manipulation of time-space i.e. gravity and tremendous amounts of energy. A daunting engineering task by any standards. However if somehow you found a efficient way of controlling and manipulating gravity then a lot of these things become possible aside from nifty grav belts and speedy air/rafts.

It turns out that there is one theory out there that can serve as a explanation of Jump Drive and explain why the control of gravity is important to it's discovery. Let's take a jaunt to the last 21st century and see how it happened.

Kaukji Hyperspace Shunt Drive aka the Jump Drive
(Excerpted from Omnipedia on June 7th 2148)

Kaukji Hyperspace Shunt or KHS Drive is an outgrowth of continuing research into control of gravity. When manipulation and control of gravity became possible in 2071, researchers realized that several avenues of achieving Faster Than Light (FTL) speeds became possible. In the late twentieth first century several FTL theories emerged that remain consistent with Einstein's Theory of Relativity. All of them had massive engineering problems to overcome or required the generation and control of massive gravity fields. See

With the discovery of how to generate and control gravity fields several groups launched research programs to investigate intense gravity fields. By 2085 many of these research groups relocated to stations built in the asteroid belt as gravity field strengths were too dangerous for planetary surface or near orbit.

A group, sponsored by Japan's Institute of Technology, was involved in the investigation of warping time-space. This group was lead by Dr Fawzi Kaukji. On March 16th 2087, Experiment Sled #13 was enabled. A malfunction caused a field to be generated to be a 100 times stronger than planned. Space was folded around the Sled and it disappeared from the sensors of the Kaukji's group. 170 hours later it reappeared 1 AU near The California University Research Consortium Station where its telemetry signals were picked up. Its travel path (if it could be called that) cut a chord across the orbit of the asteroid belt. It traveled over 3 au from JIT station to .25 au off of the CURC station.

While it didn't travel faster than light, analysis revealed it was 8 times faster than best drive at the time. The research program of Kaukji's group was altered and the next six sleds were devoted to the exploration of this effect. Experiment Sleds #15, #16, #18,and #19 all disappeared without a trace. #17 reappeared 160 hours later in the same location with its structure shattered.

Note: Sled #18 was found in 2142 in Jupiter's trailing trojan point by a GsBAG mining ship.

Experiment Sled #20 activated on July 16th and reappeared 180 hours later. It was found 1 au near the Earth/Moon system. CURC began a parallel research effort beginning in May and recovered its first experiment sled on July 28th.

By the fall of 2087 several additional research consortium's were able to replicate both the CURC and JIT results. However the CURC efforts stalled when they moved their main research operation to Earth Orbit. For six months they experienced no successful recovery of experiment sleds. Meanwhile Kaukji published two important findings. The first that successful recovery always occurred between 150 to 185 hours, and second by varying the initial field configuration; direction and distance can be controlled.

In November of 2088 JIT awarded Nissan Space Inc. the contract to build a craft capable of carrying a man. In April 2089 the Sunrise, folded at the Nissan Station in the asteroid belt and reappeared 172 hours later 200 diameters outside of earth orbit. In August 2090, Kaukji announced that KHS field decay was constant +/- 15 hours regardless of distance traveled. In addition a successful fold could not reliably occur within 100 diameters of a massive object. This opened the possibility of Faster Than Light Travel.

This is based on the Alcubierre drive specifically a variant where space is folded so that only a narrow neck connects the bubble with the real universe. This reduces the energy needed to "charge" the warp field by several order of magnitude. This neck is microns in diameters.

The big problem with the Alcubierre drive is controlling speed and direction. What science discovered that there are 15 possible configurations of Alcubierre fields that are stable enough to initiate travel. If you setup one of these 15 fields properly you will go in a particular direction faster than light. The fields will naturally collapse 150 to 180 hours later causing the ship to emerge into normal space. This also explains why in some versions of Traveller you have the issue of Jump Shadowing. If the straight line path comes within a 100 diameters of a massive body your fields will destabilize and pop you back out.

However only the six fields are dynamically stable corresponding to Jump 1 to 6. Think of the fields as being at the bottom of a valley. If you get the parameters slightly wrong you naturally slide to the bottom into the most stable configuration.

However 7 to 15 are like being on a top of a hill. Even the slightest deviation from the ideal parameters will cause your fields to destabilized. Which why canon Traveller stops at Jump 6.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Some excellent Memorial Day Gaming at CoGS Con I

CoGS I? Tim, Dwayne and myself have been gaming forever experiencing a huge variety of gaming together. One time we set out to create our own RPG until we realize how much of a pain in the ass it was to get it to a quality we felt it would be acceptable to publish. For a brief time the rules were named the CoGS system for Conley, Gillingham and Shorts. After seeing the price on renting conference rooms here in Meadville we just might add running a small OSR/gaming con to our list.

So for CoGS I there was only one event, Dwayne of Gamers Closet completed Keep. Beforehand Dwayne told me to make up some character. I must have been tired or something because I thought he wanted a dozen instead of 5.

I figured that it was some type of battle scenario and pressed for time I relied heavily on DF Adventure 1, Mirror of the Fire Demon; Henchthings chapter. The downside of that is that the characters had little in the way of non-combat skills. Something that generated considerable amusement and frustration later.

However inspired by the campaign Dwayne ran I scoured the internet for suitable pictures to use as character portraits. That was well-received. Not so well-received was the use of random Anglo-Saxon and Viking names. Particularly all the Athels (Athestan, Athelbert, etc).

Here is a PDF of what I created. They are designed to print out on 4x6 index cards and have both GURPS and Swords & Wizardry stats.  Yeah I drew some of the vikings pictures from the recently concluded Viking series. Which I highly recommend by the way.

So with the preliminaries out of the way, Saturday came around and we all gathered there by the early afternoon.

This is the Keep before the adventure started

The roster was as follows
Me - Sir Ellestan, a foot knight
Tim - Elder Athelstan. a priest of Mitra.
Josh - Athelbert, a yeoman fighter.
Ken - Belafore a priest of Thor and whose name we could never remember.
Kelly Anne  Alia Juliet Rose, a (cough) scout.
Gregory - Cutie, another yeoman fighter and represented by a lego figure.

The journey to the keep was pretty eventful with a jerk captain foisted on us at the last minute by my commander's rival at court. Then later he wound up dead seemly by my hand until Belafore used his magic to figured out it was another, an assassin with legendary powers.

Finally as the nominal "leader" of the party I got to carry around this figurine of a sleeping man which allowed me to communicate with the King's Archmage in the dreamworld. The main catch being that he could draw me in at anytime. And apparently time doesn't flow normally so something a long meeting occurs in a short amount of real time, and other times, like with the assassin, a short meeting can take a long amount of real time. After the assassin I took it off my person and stowed it despite the ramifications of pissing off the Archmage. I didn't need a summon in the middle of combat! Especially with GURPS and 1 second combat rounds.

Finally we arrived at the Keep and went to an audience with the Baron. This barony is one of the newest to join the Great Kingdom and its culture is very much like our vikings. However the Baron has jumped into assimilation with the Great Kingdom in a big way with the keep as the centerpiece.

During the audience we are invited to feast that night and were given lodgings at the Inn

At the feast we found out that many people have disappeared from town including the Baron's niece. Unfortunately the Baron's brother is a hardcore viking traditionalist so we didn't have any luck getting any information from him. After doing some investigation, Tim, playing the priest Athelstan, found out there was a nearby oracle; the Blood Oracle. During this the lack of non-combat skills became apparently which was the source of much mirth directed at me and many blown rolls as various skills were attempted at GURPS' default vaue.

On the way to the Blood Oracle we ran into Orcs.

Athelbert, the guy circled in red, decided to ignore the advice over on Dungeon Fantastic and runs ahead of the party. It hard to see but there is a fallen tree marked on the map between him and the orcs. That and a +1 bless amulet saves his bacon. Although I had to stop him later from proving Newton's First Law of Motion by hanging onto him when he went over the cliff on the right of the map. One thing I did was take the time for my character and to get the other characters to shoot the  long orc archer on the upper slopes to the left of the map. That could made the fight much worse if the party left him unchecked.

Finally we made it to the Blood Oracle.

Cue ominous music.

A statue in the temple tells us that we have to overcome the guardians before our questions would be answered. And just like an old Harryhausen film the skeletons rise.

I wasn't much use during this fight as I mistakenly thought that I couldn't effect the skeletons. I spent much of the fight avoiding being engulfed by these moss creatures. Only at the very end I was any use to the party by shield slamming two skeletons and stomping on one until it stopped moving. One of the virtue of GURPS that visualizing the actions becomes very natural.

The party just after defeating the guardians.

The party venturing into the rest of the temple.

We finally got our questions after Athelbert answering the riddle, and Belafore flaming the Water Elemental. Of course with the water elemental, we only needed to toss a coin in but the flaming did the job.

From the Oracle we got enough to believe that the missing people were in the crypts of the Keep. So we headed back and explained our finding to the Baron. His brother didn't want us southerners to defile the crypts of his ancestors with our presence. His argument was inconsistent with his traditionalist stand and in retrospect we should have hit that angle harder than we do.

As it was we standing at the crypt's entrance when Belafore, the Baron, and his brother entered the Crypt. When of course both groups get attack. Apparently the brother had enough of the Baron and the Grand Kingdom and made a pact with the Lord of Darkness to gain the Barony and expel the Great Kingdom. Along with this he had allies from the mysterious east to help. Several samurai attacked in the Crypt's Entrance.

I wish that I can say the ensuing battle was a masterpiece of an adventuring group turning the odds and winning the day. Well we won the day but it was more of seeing who can emulate the Keystone Cops the least. I fumbled spectacularly on a sure shot and found myself on the ground. Alia Juliet Rose gets hammered and taken down. Elder Athelstan decides he doesn't need a weapon after all and throws his mace at the samurai, and the list goes on. But the opposition doesn't do much better. As one samurai was about to teach Sir Ellestan, my character, the lesson of why you don't do an all-out attack on a fully capable opponent, he wrenches his right arm and drops his sword.

In the end we did win, kinda of.  Despite her character going down I think it was my wife's lucky D20 hairstick that provided the edge.

The game was a lot of fun and the work that Dwayne put into the Keep and other models was simply amazing. I hope we will be able to this next year with something similarly spectacular and perhaps get it setup to have others join in the fun.

Until then Fight On!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Alia Juliet Rose, a Swords and Wizardry NPC.

Kelly Anne, my wife, drew this for the Saturday get together.

Swords & Wizardry/Majestic Wilderlands

AC 1[18]; 8th level Burglar; HP 17; HTB +2; Atk 1 Dmg 1d6; Move 120'; Save 8;
ABL Climbing +5, Eavesdropping +3, Legerdemain +8, Perception +2, Stealth +8;
Posses:  Leather [+1], Shortsword (1d6)  Dagger (1d4) (15 ft), Shortbow (1d6), 20 arrows, Broom of Flying, Portable Hole, In Portable Hole [One Petrified Orc, A iron door], five throwable Hairsticks (1d3), one throwable hairstick inscribed with a Fireball Rune*, Two Arrows with Lightning Bolt runes on arrow head*

*In the Majestic Wilderlands, Runes are created the same way as scrolls and work the same. They can be inscribed on any surface. When inscribed on a weapon the rune will activate where the weapon hits.**

**Runes have the range of the original spell but only when a Runecaster activates it. For everybody else activating a rune makes it takes immediate effect centered on the rune. The use on hairsticks and arrows allow the user to activate it from far away.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What coming to me in the Fall; Dwarven Forge

So I got confirmation of my order from the Dwarven Forge Kickstarter. So here what coming to me in the fall.

First off I ordered five sets plus the stretch goals. I looked at the various layouts and my experience with the stuff that my friend Dwayne made me to figure this is where I should go in at.

I get a tote bag although I think it will be to small for all that I ordered.

Most of my pledge went into getting the add-ons, unique pieces that I find valuable to use and wished I had with my existing stuff.

1 Diagonal Wall Pack. Hopefully they will sell this later if I find I need more.

1 Curved Wall Pack: Same as above. While I had a little more money for this kickstarter there was a limit so I only got one each of Curved and Diagonal hoping that I can pick up more later if needed.

2 Floor Pack: by far the biggest I ran into was making big rooms. This should fix that issue. The downward stairways is cool as well.

2 Dungeon Dressing Pack. I can use this with the dungeon tiles or with dry erase so definitely got two of these.

Chamber of Sorrows. Probably will be the least used of all the stuff. But since I am getting unpainted Dungeon Gray stuff I can decide how to present the pieces for my own campaign.

1 Grand Stair Pack. This will also be useful even if I use just dry erase.

2 Castle Wall Packs - I will be definitely using this as a lot of adventuring takes place in regular buildings in my campaigns.

So I got Dungeon Gray to keep it within budget. So which means I have a lot of painting to so. Fortunately it look like it mass painting techinques are easily used from the DF Video on Youtube. I will let everybody know in the fall how everything turns out with the stuff.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A cool map

One of the sections of Columbia Game's release of the City of Cherafir is a description of the city's Alienage Quarter where foreigners and ships are allowed to freely enter and trade. What made this quarter unique in the product was every building was described.

In the most recent release of the City of Cherafir it is obvious that the maps of the Alienage was cropped from a much larger map. I found the previous releases of Cherafir Alienage very useful over the years as a template for my own cities.

Now Columbia Games has released a combined map of the Alienage for free! While it doesn't have any descriptions it would be useful in a campaign as a reference or a fleshed out addon to an existing city.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Three City Books for your campaigns

City-State of the Invincible Overlord 
Necromancer Version 
Revised Version 
Original Version 

 The granddaddy of all RPG cities and holds up well over the decades.

Cities of Harn 
Proof that a complete cities can be done in a dozen pages or less.
The newer versions are longer but are still have the smallest page count of any city supplement out there. 

Cities by Midkemia Press
The best random encounter table ever written for city adventures. Also has a nifty Catchup table for what your characters does between adventures and a random settlement generator.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Revisiting Rulings not Rules

In Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old School Gaming the first zen moment is Rulings not Rules. He describe how in the absence of mechanics or guidance the referee has to rely on his common sense and experience to come up with the mechanics to adjudicate the actions of  a character.

Since I started actively refereeing Swords & Wizardry several years ago I come up with some handy concrete guidelines that help make up a ruling without staddling the game with overly complicated mechanics.

First off I look at Swords & Wizardry and the classic editions to see what tools I can come with.
  1. There is the to hit roll.
  2. Saving Throws
  3. Modifiers 
  4. Some type of roll based on a characteristic.
  5. A skill roll.
The To Hit Roll
This is best used when the ruling involves throwning, swinging, or hitting something. If it is just about hitting the target with no real damage I usually set the target number based off AC 10 (or 9 depending on the edition).  The same with targeting a piece of floor or a specific section of a wall. If just hitting a large building, wall, rock, etc. Then I will add +2. I will also use the range guidelines for darts and other thrown weapons as a guide to when to impose range modifiers.

Saving Throws
I use saving throw to resolve actions where player is attempting to have his character do something non-lethal to another character. A character wants to do disarm or trip an opponent. I will generally say he needs to hit the target and the target gets a save. If the save fails then the character is successful in his action.

The implication is that it harder to do certain things against higher level character or monsters. I feel this is OK as in my mind higher level or HD represent characters/monsters with more points or build in other systems.

The benchmark I go by here is that it is -4 to hit an invisible opponent or to fight in complete darkness. Generally this means modifiers range from +4 to -4.
There is also the issues with modifiers granted by characteristics. Some editions like ADnD have extensive modifiers while other don't. I found I was happy with this chart.

18 +3
15-17 +2
12-14 +1
9-11 +0
6-8 -1
3-5 -2

Some type of roll based on a characteristic.
I don't use this a lot myself but other referees. The basic options are
1) Roll under the characteristic with a d20
2) Roll a d20 add the characteristic and get 20 or higher
3) Multiply the characteristic by 5 and roll under the number with percentile dice.

A skill roll.
With the introduction of the Thief class skill rolls became part of DnD. The original class used percentile dice modified by race and dexterity. This is something I never really liked.  I preferred something similar to 3rd Edition version which is a d20 roll and beat a target number. I consider skill rolls valuable because they allow the creation of character class that are better at various non-combat things. Ultimately what I adopted was roll a d20 and equal or beat a 15 modified by the relevant characteristic and any bonus given to you by your class.

However the spirit of the oldest editions make for a game where characters can attempt anything. So instead of skill I added abilities. That way anybody can still try to pick a lock but burglars are better than anybody else.

By combining these various elements I can come with the mechanics needed to adjudicate just about any a players wants to do in my campaigns. With the virtue of still making the game feel like you are playing a classic edition.

Monday, May 13, 2013

This OSRCon is on!

OSRCon is on for 2013!  It going to be held at the Manulife Centre, August 3rd and 4th (Saturday & Sunday). They are also welcoming dealers this year. Good to see that it is on.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Scroll of the Beginning and commentary

I have written a lot of personal material on the Majestic Wilderlands over the past thirty years. Most it is in note form or half done articles. One of these is the creation myth of the Majestic Wilderlands.

Recently I upgraded my CorelDraw to version X16. This is the software I use to create my maps and other graphic material. So I decided to try it out by turning my creation myth notes into what it would look like in-game.

You can download the result from here.

Now it not the most original myth ever written as it heavily inspired by Tolkien's Simarillion. But it is not a straight copy either.  My main objectives in writing this was to

  • To have absolute evil. Demons who are the enemies of creation and want to reshape it to their own whims.
  • Leave open shades of gray.  Basically the gods with extreme philosophies as a result of the Uttermost War. Yeah they hate demons too but what they preach is not exactly pleasant.
  • Explain the multitude of sentient races. The Demons mutated human using magic into the hundred+  races of the D&D Monster manual and most fantasy RPGs.
  • Explain the origin of magic.  Low level magic was part of the creation of the Wilderlands but the act of creating the Abyss focused the ambient level of magic and allowed spells to be used instead of only rituals.

The scroll I created only goes up to the start of the Uttermost War. I have projects to complete for various folks so I didn't have a lot of time to format the full story.

What follows is a short Uttermost War story for each of the ten major gods of the Wilderlands. Revolving around how they rallied the survivors of the sack of the First City to fight back. Eventually liberating the Demon's slaves and finally defeating the demons on the island of Tiranog.

The story concludes with nine of the gods creating a crystal of power each of a single color. Veritas uses the Chromatic Crystal to create the Abyss and the Nine Crystals are used to seal it imprisoning the Demons until the final battle. A side effect was that magic became potent enough to used in spells instead of long rituals only.

In-game The Scroll of the Beginning is one of the seven scrolls that make up the Chronicles of Mitra, the holy books of the Ghinorians who believes themselves to be the holy people of Mitra. The other scrolls are the Scroll of Exodus, Scroll of Judges, Scroll of Kings, Scroll of Prophets, Scroll of Hymns, and the Scroll of Palanon.

The last one was supposedly written by the first Imperial Prince of the Ghinorian Empire, Palanon the Great. It provides a crucial but controversial piece of theology that transformed the Ghinorian Church of Mitra from a parochial religion of a specific tribe to a universal religion where anybody professing belief in Mitra is considered Ghinorian. And as critics note aided Palanon and his successors to successfully weld the disparate peoples they conquered into a single empire.

Yeah there is a bit of heavy adaptation from the structure of the old testament.

So I hope you enjoy this and I hope it inspires you to write your own legends for your campaigns.

Note that Inkscape does everything that I use CorelDraw for. The reason I don't switch is because of the volume of stuff I have in CorelDRAW but for somebody starting out using vector graphics for mapping Inkscape is the way to go. Plus it is free!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Basic Outline of Ur-Dungeons & Dragons

Here is something I think that will be useful for folks writing supplements and/or retro-clones. It was adapted from Matt Finch's Swords & Wizardry Core Rules

Chapter 1: Introduction
  • The Dice
  • Creating a Character
  • Character Sheet
  • Roll Ability Scores
Chapter 2: Character Classes
  • Choose a Character Class
  • Choose a Character Race
  • Choose an Alignment
Section 3: Items and Equipment
  • Buy Equipment
  • Starting Gold
  • Calculating Armor Class
  • How Much You Can Carry
  • Movement
Section4: Playing the Game
  • Gaining Experience
  • Time
  • Saving Throws
  • Combat
  • Damage and Death
  • Healing
  • Morale
  • Magical Research
Section 5: Spells
  • Cleric Spell List
  • Magic-user Spell List
Section 6: Monsters
  • Monster List
Section 7: Treasure
  • Magic Potions
  • Protection Scrolls
  • Unusual Armors
  • Unusual Weapons
  • Wands
  • Rings
  • Staffs
  • Misc. Magical Items
  • Cursed Items