Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shanah Tova - Stellagama Publishing Jewish New Year Sale!

Stellagama Publishing wishes you all Shana Tova - Happy Jewish New Year. For the occasion, we offer a 25% discount off our products from now until September 24th, 2017. Setting material is at %30 discount as part of the September Setting DriveThruRPG sale!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Cepheus Engine Variant Rules: Grunts, Mobs, and Monsters


Yesterday I posted Classic Traveller variant rules for Grunts, Mobs, and Monsters and I have been requested to convert them to the Cepheus Engine. So here is the Cepheus version of these rules!

Anyhow, sometimes the Referee would want to create a situation in which the player characters face a large number of undisciplined, unskilled combatants - an angry mob of locals with torches and pitchforks, looters in a disaster - or even a zombie horde! As per the Cepheus Engine combat rules, as written, this will create much paperwork and die rolls as each member of a mob suffers wounds to their characteristics and makes their attack rolls at the DM-3 "unskilled" level.

I wrote the following variant rules to reduce that paperwork and die-rolling load and thus facilitate situations in which skilled PCs face a large number of unskilled or minimally skilled combatants. Additionally, I added rules for relentless monsters which do not easily die from accumulated wounds.

Streamlined Armor
The Cepheus Engine uses the default armor system from the 2D6 Sci-Fi SRD. That system presents armor as a damage absorber - i.e. it subtracts the target's armor rating from any attack's damage. For the sake of simplicity when dealing with the combatants presented in this blog post, I propose a simpler armor system. Under that variant system, armor does not absorb damage but rather incurs a negative DM to incoming attack rolls, as presented in the following table:

Armor TypeTo-Hit DM
Jack-0/-1*
Mesh-1
Flak-2
Reflec-0/-8**
Cloth-3
Combat-6

* The first number is against ranged attacks, the second against melee attacks.
* The first number is against non-laser attacks, the second against laser attacks.

Mobs
A mob is a number of untrained irregulars who lack adequate combat training or tactical awareness. They may be enraged or even fanatical, but will typically rush at their enemies instead of employing a more cautious tactical approach. As noted above, the classical "low-tech local peasants chasing the spacemen with pitchforks and torches" or "zombie apocalypse" are good examples of this theme.

Each mob includes up to 12 members. In many cases there will be multiple mobs involved. Do not track individual characteristics, damage, or skills of mob members. The mob moves as one unit. It makes a single attack roll per round. Make this roll at an effective "Skill-0", with DM+1 for every four active members in the mob, or part of four. Thus, a big mob of 12 members will attack at base DM+3, modified, of course, by weapon and range DMs; a mob of 5 members will attack at base DM+2. Make the attack as if the mob is one character; use automatic fire or shotgun rules as usual. While the entire gang might be unloading a hail of bullets, these shots are badly aimed and only a few have a chance of striking true.

PCs attack the mob as if it is one target. Most mobs are either unarmored or wearing Jack or Mesh armor; apply DMs accordingly. A non-automatic ranged attack which hits the mob incapacitates one member; if its Effect is +4 or better, it incapacitates two members, one from the bullet and another from "Shock & Awe". When autofire, a shotgun, or a grenade hit a mob, a number mob members equal to the attack's Effect are incapacitated. Obviously, as with single shots, "incapacitated" does not necessarily mean "killed by a bullet" but rather "out of the fight" - killed, wounded, or maybe just shocked enough to be ineffective in fighting. The latter is the reason why autofire can incapacitate above 4 mob members while a Cepheus Engine autofire burst only contains 4 bullets.

Mobs are much more dangerous in melee, with a to-hit DM+1 per 2 members rather than per 4, and making two attacks per round rather than one. When skilled characters fights a mob in melee, they "cleave" - each hit incapacitates a number of mob members equal to the attack's Effect, up to the character's relevant melee skill.

Mobs rarely fight well under fire. In any of the following cases, throw 5+ for the mob to disperse in panic and be effectively removed from the fight. This number rises to 8+ for frenzied mobs. Fanatical mobs are immune to this effect and will continue swarming the PCs regardless of death. Reasons for such morale throws include:
  • The first time the mob comes under ranged fire.
  • The first time the mob loses a member.
  • When the mob first falls to half or less of its size.
  • Each time the mob is attacked with flames, explosives, or similar shocking attack.
  • When first attacked by armored vehicles or troops in battledress.
A "Rabble Rouser" character with the Leadership skill may attempt to rally a dispersed mob by a Leadership, INT, Difficult (DM-2) throw.

Grunts
Conscripts out of basic training, as well as street criminals with some combat experience, fight far better than a mob of rabble. Whoever, they still are not a match for professionals. Grunts fight individually, as per the standard rules, including movement and attacks. However, they have a total DM+0 base modifier (from skill, characteristics, etc) to hit targets, subject to armor DMs and range difficulty. Any attack which hits a grunt incapacitates them. Grunts use morale laws as above, with a throw of 8+ (apply any sergeant's or officer's Leadership skill as a -DM to this throw); this roll refers to the grunts' unit or squad, which may be broken

The Referee might also want to consider various small-to-medium-sized wild animals, but not apex predators or particularly large animals, as grunts.

Monsters
Sometimes, felling a monster is not a simple matter of riddling it with bullets or chopping it one piece at a time - it just keeps fighting! In this case, attack the monster as per the Cepheus Engine rules, and roll damage on a hit. However, do not count accumulated damage. Instead, ignore any attack which does 14 or less damage. Any attack doing 15 or more damage kills the monster. For particularly fearsome monsters, make that 16 or less damage; this monstrosity will continue fighting even under a hail of bullets until a lucky attacks rolls 17+ damage (which is unlikely on the typical gun with 3D6 damage).

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Classic Traveller Variant Rules: Grunts, Mobs, and Monsters

Art by JoakimOlofsson
Classic Traveller has wonderful combat rules, among my favorites in the entire tabletop RPG world. They work wonderfully well when small teams of relatively skilled combatants - or predatory animals - face each other in pitched combat, with guns blazing and lasers glowing.

However, sometimes the Referee would want to create a situation in which the player characters face a large number of undisciplined, unskilled combatants - an angry mob of locals with torches and pitchforks, looters in a disaster - or even a zombie horde! In the Classic Traveller combat system, as written, this will create much paperwork and die rolls as each member of a mob suffers wounds to their characteristics and makes their attack rolls at the DM-5 "unskilled" level.

I wrote the following variant rules to reduce that paperwork and die-rolling load and thus facilitate situations in which skilled PCs face a large number of unskilled or minimally skilled combatants. Additionally, I added rules for relentless monsters which do not easily die from accumulated wounds.

Mobs
A mob is a number of untrained irregulars who lack adequate combat training or tactical awareness. They may be enraged or even fanatical, but will typically rush at their enemies instead of employing a more cautious tactical approach. As noted above, the classical "low-tech local peasants chasing the spacemen with pitchforks and torches" or "zombie apocalypse" are good examples of this theme.

Each mob includes up to 12 members. In many cases there will be multiple mobs involved. Do not track individual characteristics, damage, or skills of mob members. The mob moves as one unit. It makes a single attack roll per round. Make this roll at an effective "Skill-0", with DM+1 for every four active members in the mob, or part of four. Thus, a big mob of 12 members will attack at base DM+3, modified, of course, by weapon and range DMs; a mob of 5 members will attack at base DM+2. Make the attack as if the mob is one character; apply automatic fire or shotgun rules as usual. While the entire gang might be unloading a hail of bullets, these shots are badly aimed and only a few have a chance of striking true.

PCs attack the mob as if it is one target. Most mobs are either unarmored or wearing Jack or Mesh armor; apply DMs accordingly. A non-automatic ranged attack which hits the mob incapacitates one member. When autofire, a shotgun, or a grenade hit a mob, throw 1d6; this is the number of mob members who fall. When using a flamethrower or machine gun, throw 2d6. Obviously, "incapacitated" does not necessarily mean "killed by a bullet" but rather "out of the fight" - killed, wounded, or maybe just shocked enough to be ineffective in fighting. The latter is the reason why autofire can incapacitate up to 6 mob members while a Classic Traveller autofire burst only contains 4 bullets.

Mobs are much more dangerous in melee, with a to-hit DM+1 per 2 members rather than per 4, and making two attacks per round rather than one. When skilled characters fights a mob in melee, they "cleave" - each hit incapacitates a number of mob members equal to the skilled character's relevant melee skill.
Mobs rarely fight well under fire. In any of the following cases, throw 5+ for the mob to disperse in panic and be effectively removed from the fight. This number rises to 8+ for frenzied mobs. Fanatical mobs are immune to this effect and will continue swarming the PCs regardless of death. Reasons for such morale throws include:
  • The first time the mob comes under ranged fire.
  • The first time the mob loses a member.
  • When the mob first falls to half or less of its size.
  • Each time the mob is attacked with fire, explosives, or similar shocking attack.
  • When first attacked by armored vehicles or troops in battledress.


Grunts
Conscripts out of basic training, as well as street criminals with some combat experience, fight far better than a mob of rabble. Whoever, they still are not a match for professionals. Grunts fight individually, as per the standard rules, including movement and attacks. However, they have a total DM+0 base modifier (from skill, characteristics, etc) to hit targets, subject to armor and range DMs. Any attack which hits a grunt incapacitates them. Note that Classic Traveller Book 1 Morale applies to grunts.

The Referee might also want to consider various small-to-medium-sized wild animals, but not apex predators or particularly large animals, as grunts.

Monsters
Sometimes, felling a monster is not a simple matter of riddling it with bullets or chopping it one piece at a time - it just keeps fighting! In this case, attack the monster as per the Classic Traveller Book 1 rules, and roll damage on a hit. However, do not count accumulated damage. Instead, ignore any attack which does 14 or less damage. Any attack doing 15 or more damage kills the monster. For particularly fearsome monsters, make that 16 or less damage; this monstrosity will continue fighting even under a hail of bullets until a lucky attacks rolls 17+ damage (which is unlikely on the typical gun with 3D damage).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Quick and Dirty Classic Traveller vehicle combat- UPDATED

Eleven months ago, I posted simple Classic Traveller vehicle combat rules. Following feedback and playtesting, especially by Robert Weaver of Ancient Faith in the Far Future fame, I revised the rules and added a few clarifications. Enjoy!

I have written these rules with the typical Books 1-3 Proto-Traveller spirit in mind. That is, for the purpose of including vehicles in the various adventures and mishaps of interstellar travellers, traders, scouts, and misfits, as well as small-scale mercenaries. I did not aim in any way to simulate large-scale armored warfare but rather to provide some basic rules for what happens when your Scout empties his Submachinegun at a hovering Air/Raft or, at most when a mercenary shoots a RAM grenade at an AFV.

I drew inspiration for these rules from the Book 2 ship damage rules, the ATV rules in Double Adventure 2: Mission to Mithril/Across the Bright Face, and for a much lesser degree, the Striker wargame.

Skill Notation
For the ease of reference, "Throw Mechanic 8+" means "throw 2D and add the Mechanics skill; a result of 8+ is a success" and so on.

Vehicle Movement and Chases
Vehicle combat is either Tactical or Chase Combat. Tactical Combat is ordinary Book 1 combat with a vehicle included, usually moving at a slow pace of up to 4 range bands per round. On the other hand, Chase Combat ignores terrain for the most part and involves two or more vehicles chasing each other. This also uses range bands, though they are far wider than those involved in Tactical Combat; their exact length is abstract. Throw the appropriate Vehicle (or Air/Raft or ATV) skill at 8+ to either get further from the opposing vehicle by one range band or get closer to it by one range band. The driver or pilot may also throw 10+ once per round with the appropriate skill (DM +2 if DEX 10+) for a better position - that is, either gain DM +2 to hit the opposition or force a -2 DM on the enemy's to-hit rolls on him. Vehicles who leave the Very Long range band disengage and the pursued vehicle escapes. Particularly slow vehicles such as Tracked ATVs suffer a -2 DM to such maneuvering rolls, while fast vehicles such as Air/Rafts enjoy DM +2. Extremely fast airborne vehicles such as Speeders and Jet Aircraft use the aircraft hit rules below.

Hitting Vehicles
Hitting a vehicle with a man-portable weapon is an ordinary combat task. Throw 8+ to hit, add the appropriate weapon skill and characteristic DMs, as well as range DMs. Ignore armor DMs as I have covered the effects of vehicle armor in the tables below. Vehicle-mounted weapons use the Gunnery skill instead and the appropriate range modifiers. On a hit, consult the appropriate damage table.

Hitting a fast-moving vehicle suffers DM -2. You cannot hit fast, high-flying aircraft without specialized tracking weapons, but you can hit a slower aircraft, albeit at DM -2 to -4 (Referee's discretion, depending on flight altitude or speed).

Vehicle Damage
To keep things within a Little Black Book scope and flavor, these rules abstract the many types of weapons and armor into three broad categories each. Use the following table to see how each category of weapons affects each category of vehicle armor and choose the appropriate damage table to roll on. Each weapon his causes one roll on the appropriate damage table.

Soft SkinLight ArmorHeavy Armor
Small ArmsSurfaceNoneNone
Support WeaponCriticalInternalSurface
Heavy WeaponDestroyedCriticalInternal

Small Arms: any regular personal weapons, whether a slug-thrower or a laser. All Book 1 weapons are Small Arms, as are the various rifles and pistols in Book 4. Light and medium machine guns also fall into this category.

Support Weapons: heavier man-portable weapons carried at the squad level or light vehicle weapons - such as Book 4 PGMPs, heavy machine guns, autocannons, Light Assault Guns (AKA Anti-Tank Rifles) with High Explosive or Discarding Sabot rounds. Most grenades, whether hand-thrown or RAM, fall into this category as well, including grenade launchers.

Heavy Weapons: full-scale anti-armor weapons. This includes Book 4 FGMPs and Book 4 Field Artillery. The specialized anti-armor HEAP RAM grenades also fall into this category.

Soft Skin: an unarmored vehicle, whether civilian or military. In Book 3 terms, this includes the Ground Car, Hovercraft, all Winged craft, Air/Raft, Speeder, and Motorboat.

Light Armor: a lightly-armored vehicle such as an armored car or light APC. In Book 3 terms, this includes the ATV and G-Carrier.

Heavy Armor: a heavily armored vehicle, such as a heavy APC (or IFV) or a tank. In book 3 terms, this includes the AFV, the Steamship, and the Submersible (due to size rather than armor for the most part).

For damage, roll on the appropriate tables below:

Surface Damage
2d6Damage
2-5Bounced Off
6-7Device
8-9Locomotion
10Breach
11Weapon
12Internal Damage

Small Arms surface damage: light small arms such as handguns roll with a -2 DM on the above table, while lasers and heavy small arms such as machine guns or Autorifles roll with a +2 DM.

Bounce Off: Shot has bounced off the vehicle's skin or armor. No damage.

Device: One secondary external device, such as a light fixture or antenna, was destroyed (Referee's discretion).

Locomotion: The vehicle's locomotion, such as wheels, treads, or propeller, was damaged. Ground vehicles lose half their speed from the first Locomotion hit, and stop completely with the second hit. In case of a single-engine aircraft, this might cause a crash; throw Vehicle (Winged Craft) 8+ to land safely (DM +2 if DEX 10+), otherwise this is a crash causing a roll on the Critical Damage table. In case of multi-engine aircraft, this causes a -1 DM to all Vehicle (Winged Craft) rolls per disabled engine and will be at risk of a crash if all engines are disabled. Grav vehicles have enclosed grav-lift modules and are immune to this case of damage. Watercraft will be dead in the water and subject to currents and drift until the characters repair its locomotion. Throw Mechanic 8+ to repair damaged locomotion.

Breach: If the vehicle is pressurized, its environmental seal is breached, exposing its occupants to the environment. Can be repaired with a vacuum seal patch or a Mechanic 6+ throw.

A breached watercraft begins to leak, reducing its speed by one quarter and inflicting a cumulative -1 DM to all throws related to the vehicle's steering. Four such breach hits will cause the watercraft to take in water and begin to sink. This only applies to small watercraft; large ships such as Steamships and the larger Submersibles stay afloat from such minor breaches. Only a Knocked Out critical result (see below) will sink such large craft.

Weapon: One of the vehicle's weapons is disabled and may not fire. AFV (and other tank) main cannons are immune to this in most cases, but their secondary weapons are not. Throw Gunnery 8+ to repair a disabled weapon.

Internal Damage: Lucky penetrating hit! Roll on the Internal Damage table!

Internal Damage
2d6Damage
2-5Transmission or Suspension
6-7Crew
8-9Electronics
10Main Weapon
11Power Plant
12Critical

Transmission or Suspension: The vehicle's transmission or suspension is damaged. A wheeled or tracked vehicle is immobilized. A Grav vehicle may only move up or down. For aircraft, throw Vehicle (Winged Craft) 11+ to land safely (DM +2 if DEX 10+), otherwise this is a crash causing a roll on the Critical Damage table. Field repairs of damaged transmission or suspension are difficult and require a Mechanic 10+ throw (DM +1 for INT 10+). At a workshop, this throw is easier, at Mechanic 8+.

Crew: 1d6 crewmembers are injured at 3D damage each.

Electronics: One or more of the vehicle's electronic systems is destroyed, usually the control systems or major sensors/radar. Flying an aircraft or Grav vehicle with damaged electronics suffers DM -2. Throw Electronics 8+ to repair damaged electronics.

Main Weapon: The vehicle's main weapon is damaged and disabled. This includes AFV (or other tank) main cannons. Throw Gunnery 10+ to repair a disabled weapon.

Power Plant: The vehicle's power plant takes a direct hit and the vehicle is disabled. Each occupant must throw 8+ (DM +1 for END 8+) to avoid taking 3D damage. In case of a aircraft or grav vehicles, this might cause a crash; throw Vehicle (Winged Craft) or Air/Raft 10+ to land safely (DM +2 if DEX 10+), otherwise this is a crash causing a roll on the Critical Damage table. This cannot be repaired on the field.

Critical: Massive damage. Roll on the Critical Damage table.

Critical Damage
1d6Damage
1-2Knocked Out
3-4Crew
5-6Destroyed

Knocked Out: The vehicle is rendered completely and irreparably inoperable. Furthermore, each occupant must throw 8+ (DM +1 for END 8+) to avoid taking 3D damage. Aircraft crash, causing 6D damage to all occupants. Low-flying Grav vehicles crash, causing 3D damage to all occupants; if they are flying at a high altitude or at high speed, this increases to 6D damage. Watercraft, include large ones, suffer massive hull breaches and will sink within 1d6 combat rounds.


Crew: All crew suffer 6D damage each.

Destroyed: Vehicle destroyed. On ground vehicles, crew must throw 10+ (DM +2 for DEX 10+) to bail out with "only" 6D damage. Otherwise, they are killed immediately.

Optional Rules
The following rules are somewhat more complex than those above; the Referee should use them at her discretion.

Technology and Penetration: Higher-tech weapons tend to better penetrate lower-tech armor, and higher-tech armor tends to offer better protection against lower-tech weapons. If you use this optional rule, if the weapon has a higher TL than the target vehicle, consider it as being one "category" higher, that is - Support Weapons behave as Heavy Weapons. This does not apply, however, to Small Arms, except for Book 1 Laser weapons and the various Book 4 weapons using specialized armor-piercing ammunition. Conversely, if the weapon has a lower TL than the target vehicle, consider it as being one "category" lower - for example, Support Weapons behave as Small Arms. Weapons "shifted" above the Heavy Weapons "category" will destroy the target on a successful hit. Weapons "shifted" below the Small Arms "category" are ineffective.

Called Shots: Many armored vehicles have weak spots. If you use this optional rule, if the Referee rules that the character knows of a specific vehicle's weaknesses, the character may roll to attack at DM -2 to hit a weak spot. Characters may only do so up to Medium range unless using guided or tracking weapons. If the attack hits, consider the damage as done by one "category" of weapon higher, that is - Support Weapons behave as Heavy Weapons. This does not apply, however, to Small Arms, except for Book 1 Laser weapons and the various Book 4 weapons using specialized armor-piercing ammunition. Discovering an enemy vehicle's weaknesses may be an adventure of its own; alternatively, the Referee may call for a throw of Tactics 10+ (DM +1 for INT 9+) to discover the target's weaknesses by observation and deduction. Note that also in this case, weapons "shifted" above the Heavy Weapons "category" will destroy the target on a successful hit.

You may now download these rules in PDF format from HERE.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Happy World Lizard Day!


Today is World Lizard Day! I love lizards! A whole gang of wild Mediterranean House Geckos lives on my garden and walls, as well as a couple of Stellagama dragons!

Also, Stellagama Publishing celebrates this day by providing two of its products, These Stars Are Ours! (home to the lizard-like Cicek) and Zeta & Tuko, at a 30% discount until August 16th, 2017!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring

Stellagama Publishing is proud to present:

Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring

The interstellar transport Tallmadge's Splendor crashed on an asteroid moonlet of a remote gas giant in a barely-explored frontier system. Twenty-four years later, a belter hires some intrepid adventurers to help him salvage the wreck. Navigating and inspecting a dead ship – most of which is in hard vacuum – is not an easy job. Worse, the belter's team members have ulterior motives, and something is still alive aboard the doomed spacecraft.

Wreck in the Ring is an old-school deep space exploration adventure for 3-5 PCs, using the Cepheus Engine rules and fully compatible with any 2D6 OGL Sci-Fi game. The default setting is the Parvati system, on the very edge of Terran space, in the These Stars Are Ours! setting published by Stellagama Publishing. However, it will fit very easily into almost any interstellar sci-fi setting.

The PCs should have a variety of shipboard skills, whether they have their own ship or not. Mechanical, Engineering, and Zero-G skill will be most helpful for this job. 

Get it HERE!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

On Star Empires

So how does a Star Empire work? This question was recently asked in a Traveller-related Facebook group. For your reading pleasure, here is an edited version of my reply there.

The advantage of a hereditary ruling caste is relative stability. Sure, there are intrigues and some internecine warfare, but as a whole, the people (or aliens) who run the system have interests going many generations into the future and thus a stake in maintaining the status-quo. Plans are long-term and projects suffer from less interruptions. One stable form is the "Zaibatsu" type of system of a few large monopolist corporations run by great noble houses with hereditary managers and owners. This also stabilizes the economy as a great houses' business partners and rivals are the same families for decades or centuries - you can "pre-arrange" trade and agreements and keep surprises to a minimum.

The big disadvantage is that such a system places a ceiling to a commoner's progress in life and social station, no matter how talented or ambitious he is. When the system works well, it compensates by great house patronage of various artists and scientists, though this still offers less opportunities than a meritocracy. When it works badly, the system breeds incompetence and blocks innovation.

The most stable, but also most stagnant, system is one run by long-living nobles using anagathics to rule for centuries. Rulers plan for the very long term and act consistently for centuries, but also remain the same people with the same ideas and ways of thinking.

In These Stars Are Ours!, the Reticulan ("Grey Alien") Empire is such a polity. Nobles receive a special kind of longevity treatment which allows them to live for centuries - and in some cases almost a millennium. Competent commoners or those with psionic potential can rise to the Gentry - lesser nobility - but cannot go beyond it. The upper crust of Reticulan Imperial society is strictly hereditary and with life expectancies measured in centuries.

This system was stable for millennia. It brought the Reticulans to a stable, powerful empire with enormous TL13 wealth. The downside was that in recent centuries, the Empire ossified to such an extent that it blocked innovation and resisted change. For many commoners, this state of affairs was good - after all, thralls (such as the Terrans) bore the main brunt of fighting the Empire's enemies, while most Reticulans did not suffer from war or poverty and enjoyed an excellent quality of life. Many scientists and engineers, however, resented such a system in which their work and creativity were harshly restricted, and where the practically-immortal ruling caste was hostile to new ideas.

This gave birth to the Technocratic movement - an underground movement desiring a highly meritocratic society run by scientists, engineers, and mavericks based on competence and innovation. This ideology fermented in the shadows for centuries, but boiled into open rebellion when Terrans threw away the Imperial yoke. Now the Empire has to contend with the aggressive Terran upstarts (a republic - militaristic but quite meritocratic), as well as with the Technate created by the Technocratic Movement on Reticulan worlds conquered by the Terrans... And the constant threat of additional Technocratic revolts.

Still, the Empire remains strong and stable, even though it power waned to a certain degree after losing the War to the Terrans.

Also, when the type of Empire described above functions well, direct taxes are low. There is a certain indirect "tax" caused by Great House monopoly on certain staple good, as monopoly naturally inflates prices. However, as long as the system functions efficiently, such increased prices are still reasonable and profits allow the Great Houses to fund the functions of government out of their own pockets. Therefore, the average citizen can ignore politics for the most part - no need for any "civic virtue" or active participation in governance. The government runs itself, collects low taxes, and while certain staple goods are monopolized, many others enjoy free trade. So the citizen lives his own life and prospers, though he has no say whatsoever in the affairs of state.

When the system malfunctions, however - which is inevitable on the long run - things are much, much worse. Incompetent debutantes and playboys leaving the affairs of state to similarly incompetent toadies. High taxation to fund the good life and white-elephant projects of the Great Houses. Economy clogged by over-monopolization. In military affairs - an apathetic population lacking any desire to fight protected by unreliable huscarl mercenaries and Imperial forces led by inept nobles promoted to the top ranks by the virtue of high birth.

This is my take on Star Empires.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Even more musings on Traveller and CE skills

Back to my favorite subject!

In Classic Traveller and the Cepheus Engine, Skill-0 means basic training and literacy in the subject which is sufficient to perform some tasks but insufficient for gaining employment in the field. Skill-1 is employable and in CE can earn you very good pay in some cases.

My dear mother
For example, My mother knows how to check her e-mail, do basic Google searches, take pictures with her phone camera, type at a reasonable speed, and use KODI (and similar streaming services). However, she would be clueless in any further technical task, even installing updates on her Linux Lite machine or installing apps on her phone from Google Play. That would be Unskilled in CE terms.

The soon-to-be Mrs. Stellagama
My fiancee knows how to operate a computer, an Android phone, or an Android streamer, including updating, installing new apps, and even installing and configuring KODI extensions. She knows that the solution to 50% of basic computer problems is a restart and can also solve several other basic issues, both ones related to loose connectors and some software issues. She knows the basics of MSOFFICE use but not any more advanced tricks. That would be Skill-0 in CE terms.

Yours Truely
I have good knowledge of messing around with Windows and various Ubuntu distros, assembling a computer from parts I buy, advanced MSOFFICE functions, advanced Google search functions, and how to solve a wide range of software related issues (even a few hardware ones).  I can write simple but very readable and well-organized scripts in Python. I type at 50 or so words per minute. I use many of these skills as part of my job which combines translation, editing, content editing, and information services. That would be Skill-1 in CE terms.

This is one reason I like the Classic Traveller skill system. Skill levels are not an incremental increase in your roll bonus, but rather denote actual very different levels of skill and are quite "realistic". This is the difference between unskilled (untrained), having basic literacy in the area (Skill-0), having a baseline employable skill (Skill-1), being a lower-level certified professional (Skill-2), having a full-blown Profession (Skill-3) or being an expert (Skill-4+).

In medicine: Medicine-0 is first-aid/CPR training; Medicine-1 is a paramedic; Medicine-2 is a registered nurse (a certified professional) or a medical intern; Medicine-3 is a proper doctor (a Profession); experts have Medicine-4 or higher.

This also explains the CT training rules - which I intend to port into CE. At this scale of skills, the gradual accumulation of experience alone can rarely bring you from one level to another. You need both experience and study. You can teach yourself in some cases, but this requires dedication.

How many nurses (Medicine-2 and let's say DEX 8) gain the medical knowledge and proficiency of a surgeon (Medicine-3 and DEX 8) simply by working as a nurse for a decade or two? This requires deliberate training, as well as practice. It also takes time, and not everyone succeeds in this.

How many trained combat soldiers (Gun Combat-1) become designated sharpshooters (Gun Combat-2) or snipers (Gun Combat-3) after a tour of duty or even several tours of duty, simply by being soldiers and using their gun a lot? Again, this needs deliberate training (or at least self-training) and practice. Not everyone will be able to do so.

How many people belong to two Professions (say, Skill-3 in both Medicine and Engineering) at the same time? Some do, but this is uncommon.

Ellen Ripley. Badass with 5 skill points!
Many people will never be 'proper' high-level Professionals. Many sci-fi heroes are not "Professionals". Ellen Ripley, from Alien(s), would be (in CT) UPP 67C997 Merchant 4th Officer, 3 terms, age 30, Vacc Suit-2, Pilot-1, Navigation-1, Admin-1. In CE, she will also have several Skill-0's. Only 5 skill points, highest skill at 2. Enough for boundless sci-fi heroism and adventure!

This is not D&D. You don't go "zero to hero" in Traveller or CE. You are a skilled adult, sometimes a professional. But there is a sharp limit on what you can learn and on how far further experience and training can get you.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Holding These Stars Are Ours! in my own hands!

Nothing compared to the pride of holding your own printed book in your very own hands! Today, UPS brought me These Stars Are Ours! in all its glory! This fills me with motivation to accelerate my work on further products in this line!

It is a sensation like no other.

On to work!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

First impressions from Mass Effect: Andromeda

I have finally begun playing Mass Effect: Andromeda. I am a dedicated fan of the original trilogy. I even wrote a blog post discussing the lessons a tabletop military sci-fi RPG referee can draw from the original Mass Effect. Thus, I came with much enthusiasm. Below are my first impressions from the first two and a half hours of the game, which I played last night.

Note that I began playing for the first time only after Bioware released Patch 1.08. I am told that the patches greatly improved the game. So this post refers to the latest (June 2017) patched version.

The game runs flawlessly on High settings on my mid-range rig - Intel Core i5-2400 CPU @ 3.10GHz, GeForce GTX 960, 12 GB RAM, Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit, and running both Windows and the game from an SSD. It looks gorgeous and runs perfectly smoothly with good FPS and no graphical glitches so far.

My first impression is that Mass Effect: Andromeda is a flawed game, an unpolished gem if you wish. Its interface is cumbersome and sometimes counter-intuitive. Getting into the menus, for example, takes one keystroke. Getting out of them and into the game requires you to go through many, many screens. Or at least I did not find yet the quick shortcut key for leaving the menus. You cannot pause during cut-scenes, which are sometimes very long - though if I recall correctly, previous Mass Effect games had this issue as well. You can no longer control you squad-mates' power use, only direct them whom to attack; however, they seem to be very effective on their own (more on the combat AI later).

The greatest flaw, in my opinion, is that the plot exposition is very weak compared to Mass Effect 1. In the original Mass Effect, within the very first hours of the game, it introduces Saren. It made perfectly clear that he is a nefarious villain. He does despicable things to the colonists in Eden Prime and plots to blow up its starport. The first hour of game-play also introduces the Geth and the Reapers. Within an hour or two you know the main plot - Saren is trying to bring back a long-dead evil alien species called the Reapers using something called the Conduit, and as you saw on Eden Prime, that will be very, very bad. Therefore you have a clear motivation to pursue the plot and a strong villain established early on.

In Andromeda, on the other hand, you see some sort of alien villain whose underlings killed one of your crew-mates and beat up another one or two of them. He seems interested in the older alien technology present on Habitat 7, and that's it. It is unclear what is motivation is, what he is up to, or why you should oppose him; even the violence with his troops could be, as far as you could know in the first two and a half hours of game-play, a misunderstanding in first contact. Thus the plot starts off weak, with a weak villain. Your main motivation is exploring the galaxy to find a home for your people, but it is a much weaker motivation than pursuing Saren and his horrible plans.

The game shines, however, in exploration. I'd dare say that it does exploration better than any previous Mass Effect game. Much better. It engages your Sense of Wonder in one of the best ways I have seen in a computer game. You explore an alien world right off the bat. It is a wonderful world, full of beauty and mystery. Full of alien stuff. My favorite part so far was exploring a dead alien facility, which reminded me of the Derelict in the original Alien film, though (un)fortunately there was no Xenomorph here. The environment is incredibly detailed. It starts off linear but later allows much exploration off the beaten track. This Sense of Wonder kept me hooked into the game for two and a half hours straight, which is uncommon for me these days.

I love the Scanner. It really drives home the Exploration theme, reminding me of the Tricorders of Star Trek fame. You scan all kinds of stuff in the world and get an analysis of them. This analysis is far from generic, at least so far. Very enjoyable and thematically appropriate.

I also think that, while the game failed to introduce a strong villain, it introduced Ryder in a much better way than the original game introduced Shepard. Ryder has strong roots in the setting, hook and connections. She has family ties, a father and a twin brother on board the Hyperion. Her father is a very detailed character, up to and including superstitions such as a "Lucky Rock", which your scanner ironically presents as a simple chunk of granite. NPCs talk with familiarity about her father. She is part of a crew and of a family. Unlike this, Shepard's background came up very rarely, in one mission in the original game, a few conversation mentions, and a very few e-mails in subsequent games.

Combat is also very enjoyable, though the new cover system takes time to get used to. NPC AI - ally and enemy alike - is wonderful. Your squad-mates act very well in combat. Enemies flank you. This compensates for the fat that, as mentioned above, you have little control over your squad-mates.

All in all, mixed but enjoyable experience. I am definitely hooked to this game.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

ACKS monster: Half-Ghoul

Half-Ghoul
% In Lair: 20%
Dungeon Enc: Cabal (1d8) / Lair (3d8)
Wildreness Enc: Cult (3d8) / Lair (3d8)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor class: 2
Hit Dice: 1*
Attacks: 3 (2 claws, bite) or by weapon
Damage: 1d3/1d3/1d3 or by weapon
Save: F1
Morale: +3
Treasure Type: D
XP: 13

Those touched by the dread Lady Beneath - the Chthonic goddess Kassogtha - slowly fall into her embrace of eternal life-in-death. Dark rituals slowly turn the devout cultist into a half-ghoul - disfigured and malicious, slowly rotting alive towards death and "rebirth" in undeath. The cultist appears disfigured with lesions and blisters on his face and body; his fingers are elongated to resemble claws and his teeth grow into fangs. Half-ghouls often disguise themselves as plague victims and wear long robes and hoods to obscure their true nature.

The half-ghoul is not undead (yet) and thus cannot be turned and is still vulnerable to sleep, charm, and hold spells, as well as poison. He is, however, immune to disease. Unlike a true ghoul, he cannot paralyze with his bite, but he can still deliver vicious bites and rend flesh with his claws. When a half-ghoul dies, he will rise as a true ghoul on the next dusk unless he is decapitated, a stake is driven into his heart, or the spell bless is cast upon his body.

Half-ghouls are fanatics of their cult and much more willing to die for their rotten goddess than regular ghouls are. Kassogtha's dark blessing also imbues them with strength and resilience beyond those they had as normal men before they entered her unholy embrace.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

50 Wonders of the Reticulan Empire

Stellagama Publishing is PROUD to present:


An advanced technology supplement for the These Stars Are Ours! sci-fi setting, also published by Stellagama Publishing. It uses the Cepheus Engine rules and is fully compatible with all other 2D6 OGL Sci-Fi games.

The Reticulan Empire is the richest, most powerful political entity in known space, outshining even its mighty Chiwak rivals. Millennia old, it has reached a mature and stable Tech Level 13. This technological know-how allows the Reticulans to produce marvels of advanced science beyond anything the Terrans can reliably manufacture. This booklet provides a sample of 50 technological and psionic wonders developed and used by the Reticulan Empire, from compact handheld laser "blasters", advanced cybernetics and gravitics, to the arcane psionic devices that unleash the power of the Reticulan mind.

If you are playing in a different setting than These Stars Are Ours! this product can serve as a resource for high-tech equipment available to mature interstellar societies. All technologies here will fit – with occasional minor adjustment – into any advanced TL13+ world or polity in any setting compatible with the Cepheus Engine or the 2D6 Science Fiction SRD.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Space Patrol - now in Print!

Uphold the Law! Fight interstellar crime! Hunt pirates!

The Space Patrol now available in Hardcover format!

Print-on-Demand from DriveThruRPG!

Order HERE!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

ACKS adventure idea: The Rot Beneath

I had an interesting idea for a short, self-contained adventure module (for 3-6 characters of levels 1-3) for the Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS). It should have an "integrated design", that is that the above-ground "town" area will directly correspond to the dungeon levels beneath it and interact with them.

Centuries ago, St. Marcus of the Hammer smote down an Abomination of Desolation - an idol of the dread Chthonic plague goddess Kassogtha. Knowing that such edifice of Chaos can never be fully cleansed, St. Marcus erected a monastery ("Fortified Church" in ACKS terms) over the old Chthonic manse to guard against its corrupting influence. When neared death, he willed that his hammer be interred in a crypt deep beneath the monastery's chapel and that his skull be coated with gold and placed in a reliquary inside the chapel itself in an eternal vigil against Chaos. When his companions - a studious mage, a repentant thief, and a mighty fighter - died, the monks buried them alongside St. Marcus in his underground crypt.

Years passed. The Empire St. Marcus knew prospered and expanded and then declined and receded. What was once an important monastery declined as well, led by lesser men. Then, in the days of Imperial collapse, the Plague arrived. First came the fever, then the pus-filled blisters. For three out of four victims, death then followed. The survivors often emerged hideously disfigured. The monks of St. Markus prayed to Sol Invictus and invoked their Saint, but no help came. Even their abbot, a devout but simple man, lacked the divine grace necessary to cure disease. Instead of the Unconquered Sun, another voice answered them, whispering in their darkest nightmares. The whispers promised a respite from the Plague, as well as a road of immortality paved by embracing pestilence rather than suffering from it.

At first, the monks resisted and called upon their god to protect their souls from such creeping vileness. However, the temptation of eternal life, of an end to their suffering, blackened the hearts of weak-willed monks. The particularly charismatic, if cowardly, Brother Pavel became their leader. Under the nose of the old and unsuspecting Abbot, they dug under the monastery's cellars and broke the seals to the ancient Chthonic manse. There they found the statue of the "Lady Beneath" - Kassogtha. Enthralled by their lust for immortality, they repaired the abominable idol. At first, they sacrificed animals to it, but no answer came. Then they murdered their fellow monk, Brother Clarence, and rededicated the idol with his blood.

A blessing they received indeed - the dark kiss of undeath. In that horrible ritual, Brother Pavel became a Ghast - though he retained his Clerical abilities and insane mind. His followers became ghouls. Brother Pavel could not ascend to the surface again, lest his rotten nature be exposed. His ghoulish followers, however, could easily pass their hideous nature as a particularly dire result of surviving the Plague.

A year passed and the Plague was long gone, leaving behind disfigured survivors and the lucky few who were immune to the disease to begin with. New people moved in to replace the dead. The rotten cult, however, festered in the darkness beneath the Monastery of St. Marcus. There they used an underground stream to bring in wanton wenches from the nearby Village of St. Marcus to participate in debauched celebrations, a few yards of earth below their unsuspecting former Brothers who still kept faith in Sol Invictus.

The cult's goal is to have this underground blister of Chaotic puss burst and corrupt the entire monastery and village in an orgy of carnage to honor their goddess. However, three things stand in their way. The first is the chapel, where St. Marcus' skull resides, ever watchful against such Chaos; into this hallowed ground the ghouls cannot enter, as the fear of god drives them away. Second is Abbot Kasimir, an old but faithful man whose very presence is a thorn in Kassogtha's side. Third is The Hammer of St. Marcus, buried with his bones in the deep crypts, instilling fear in the ghoulish cult.

Thus they have formulated a plan. First, they will invite the prostitutes one final time into their warrens - this time to butcher them as part of a dark ritual. This ceremony will cause a minor tremor underneath the chapel which will shatter the gilded skull and break the chapel's sanctity. Second, they will kidnap the Abbot and murder him as an offering to their vile goddess, turning the small Shadowed Sinkhole of Chaos at the chthonic manse into a Blighted Sinkhole of Chaos encompassing the entire monastery and slowly extending towards the village. Finally, with their dark influence spreading throughout the catacombs, Brother Pavel will be able to enter the Crypt of St. Marcus and corrupt his hammer into a Chaotic artifact.

The player characters will arrive two days before the first stage of this plan. Their hook could be an urgent letter from the Abbot to the (player's) Cleric's superiors requesting urgent help as he senses a great evil shadowing his monastery. It could also be rumors of a great treasure buried in catacombs underneath this monastery. The PCs might even be local youths from the Village of St. Marcus drawn into the event when a friend or younger sibling of one of them goes missing (is sacrificed to Kassogtha by the cult).

The adventure has a timeline which will happen unless PCs disrupt the cult's activity:

Day 1 - PCs arrive.
Night 1 - PCs sleeping in the abbey will hear dire chanting come from beneath the ground.
Night 2 - the prostitutes arrive at the manse, invited for another orgy; instead, the cultists imprison them in preparation for sacrifice.
Night 3 - the cult sacrifices the three prostitutes; a tremor knocks down the gilded skull and breaks the chapel's painted glass windows. The chapel loses its sanctity.
Night 4 - Abbot Kasimir is kidnapped and imprisoned by the cult.
Night 5 - the cult sacrifices Abbot Kasimir and all hell breaks loose #ZombieApocalypse

Ignoring such clues and taking an over-cautious approach might bring bad outcomes.

The dungeon itself consists of the following:

Level 0 (above-ground): The Monastery of St. Marcus with all its facilities. "Friendly and Safe Area", at least until Night 3.
Level 1: Monastery cellars; chapel undercroft.
Level 2: Catacombs; crypts; underground waterway (the monastery's well ends here); cult quarters.
Level 3: St. Marcus' Crypt and the Manse of Kassogtha, seemingly unconnected on this level (though there is a secret tunnel connecting them).

Monsters:

Rats - no level 1 adventure in a cellar is complete without them; possibly some other vermin as well
Skeletons and zombies - animated by the cult
"Half-Ghouls" - juniour cultists in the early stages of their transformation
Ghouls - cultists
Ghasts - cultist priests
Brother Pavel - cult leader: Ghast + level 3 clerical abilities

Friday, May 12, 2017

ACKS - Clerics and Sorcery!

I was thinking about this as of late and... I came to the conclusion that the Evil Sorcerer sword & sorcery archetype, in ACKS terms, is a Chaotic Cleric.

The archetypal Evil Sorcerer wants power, he wants a lot of it, and he wants it NOW. He has no patience for study or for solemn prayer. He will pay any price he needs to pay to get power.

Mages don't have easy access to power. They must dedicate their lives to hard, patient study. This is reflected by their steep XP requirements and neglect of any other character aspect other than Arcane Magic. This is not what a Sorcerer wants.

Chaotic Clerics, on the other hand, advance quickly. They can fight almost as well as Fighters do. They get their spells automatically without having to look for a spellbook or performing research. They get all the spells and do not have to learn new ones. No restrictive repertoire to deal with. They even get necromancy better than Mages - they have Animate Dead as the reverse of Smite Undead as a level 4 spell while Mages only get it as a level 5 spell, and they also get to control (charm) undead, which no Mage can do.

So Evil Sorcerers are Chaotic Clerics!

Friday, April 28, 2017

FREE from Stellagama Publishing - A Primer to These Stars Are Ours!

Have you wanted to see what These Stars Are Ours! is all about? Now you can try it before you buy it!

These Stars Are Ours is Stellagama Publishing's space-opera setting for the Cepheus Engine Core Rules and other 2D6 OGL SciFi games. Set in 2260 AD - two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate the book it introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering, and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. The book provides all the astrography and background necessary to set a sci-fi campaign in the exciting times of the 23rd century.

A Primer to These Stars Are Ours! provides the prospective customer with a taste of the core These Stars Are Ours! book. The Primer contains an overview of this setting, its human and alien empires, the Terran Borderlands, Reticulan (Grey) aliens, a sample world, a sample Patron, and a news dispatch from February 2260 AD.

Note that this publication includes information and a character generation table for Reticulans - Grey Aliens from Zeta 2 Reticuli! Also included are small-craft Flying Saucer stats. See the These Stars Are Ours! core book, available from Stellagama Publishing, for much, much more for the Greys, from abductor saucers to Noble careers.

GET IT HERE FOR FREE!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Towards my upcoming Curse of Strahd campaign

I intend to start DMing Curse of Strahd (an official D&D 5E campaign) for my group in a month or two. Thus, I have ample time to prep.

The first thing I wanted to figure out was how to get them together and bring them to the Death House.

They will start in a normal D&D world. Possibly the Forgotten Realms. They all happen to be passengers on a riverboat traveling an infrequently traveled river. The boat has other passengers as well - possibly even a higher level Wizard and his bodyguard.

On the second day of their voyage, the weather turns uncharacteristically bad - cold, wet, and foggy. The next morning, they find themselves floating in thick fog. The navigator says that her compass went crazy, but they should still be moving down the river and the weather should get better soon.

That night, ghouls attack the boat out of the shallow river water - led by two ghasts. The PCs sleep in the common area, which is the aft of the boat which is covered by a canvas canopy against rain. They will have to fight a gang of ghouls and one ghast who attack their area. Other passengers in their area (civilian NPCs) will get slaughtered before the PCs could respond.

When they start getting the upper hand in the battle, they will hear and see an explosion from the forward part of the boat - the cabin where the crew and the better-paying passengers stay. Apparently, the wizard panicked and tried to get rid of ghouls who cornered him - and miscalculated the effects of his fireball. The boat catches fire and the players have to finish off a few charred ghouls who escaped the blaze.

Soon after the PCs win the fight, heavy rain begins to pour, soon developing into a storm. This puts out the fire, but not before it causes the canvas, as well as the cabin's roof, to collapse. The ship is leaking badly from battle damage and will soon sink to the river bottom. It offers little shelter from the rainstorm.

If the PCs search the boat, they can gather some supplies, possibly a few minor magic items and potions once possessed by the now-dead wizard. They might also pick up a few NPC survivors - all non-combatant civilians.

Now they have to find a shelter from the rain - which means going ashore and into the surrounding woods. However, the trees offer little refuge from the storm.

Eventually, they wander and reach a lone house in the fog - the Death House. In my version of the adventure, the PCs will not encounter the "children" outside but rather enter the House in search of shelter and get trapped; then they will meet the "children" and the adventure will commence...

Saturday, April 8, 2017

These Stars Are Ours! now available in Print-on-Demand!

I am thrilled to announce that Stellagama Publishing's sci-fi setting book for the Cepheus Engine/2D6 OGL SciFi, These Stars Are Ours! is now available in Print-on-Demand. Currently, we offer a hardcover option, but soon - hopefully within a week - we will also have a softcover option available.

Order it HERE!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Who's who in the Isenvale March

Here are the high-level NPCs and monsters I have in mind for the Isenvale March campaign. Note that these are faction leaders; some are dungeon level-bosses. Most creatures in this mini-setting are much lower in level and power.

Humans of Oathbridge
Castellan Edmund of Oathbridge, the local ruler, is a level 4 Fighter. He is a capable warrior, but he 22 years old and a mere five years on the throne and is not a good ruler, even though he does try to manage his manor fairly. The matters of state do not come as easy to this young man as warfare does. He prefers to spend his time hunting or sparring rather than deal with the boring and difficult burden of managing his domain. Instead, he lets Gregory, his manipulative majordomo, and court wizard, run things. Lawful.

Gregory of Zabreba, the Castellan's majordomo, and court wizard, is a level 4 Mage. Older and far more experienced than Castellan Edmund, he Oathbridge's actual ruler. This manipulative politician used his keen knowledge of the archaic and often contradictory law of the dying Empire to install Edmund on the manor's throne instead of his older, smarter sister Rowena, when their father died. This way he could get the power into his hands and also insert his fingers into the manor's coffers. He acts as a tyrant in any way he can get away with without coming into conflict with Edmund. He is Neutral, but the Aboleth is now working on further corrupting this corrupt courtier and turning him Chaotic.

Armand the Quick, Oathbridge's chief criminal, is a level 4 Thief, leading a gang of 16 thieves, himself included. His income includes all sorts of petty village crime, burglary in this valley and the surrounding areas, some gambling at the Snoring Dwarf tavern, and other mischief - and also waylaying travelers on the road, in collaboration with the Bandit Queen. He is not an evil man; he is in for the gold. The Bandit Queen is powerful and working with her pays off, so Armand works with her for the time being. He knows very well, though, that if he will be uncareful, he will hang once she takes the throne. Neutral.

Father Frederick, Priest of the Invincible Sun and Oathbridge's religious authority, is a level 3 Cleric. He is a very old, very devout man who has served in his holy post for the past fifty years. He has the villagers' respect but is well-known for being very careful and reserved with magical aid; he does not use his spells lightly and will reject such offer and the accompanying tithe if he suspects that this will serve a questionable purpose. Lawful.

The Bandit Queen is a legendary figure of peasant folklore. Stories about her surfaced a mere few years ago, but now she is a central figure in tall tales and rumor-mongering. She fights, or so the peasant story goes, to overthrow the tyranny of Edmund and Zabreba and institute justice in Oathbridge. "Justice" usually means, in such stories, a major reduction of the extortion taxes levied by Gregory, as well as hanging this rascal and his bully of a Sherriff, Boris. Some even say that she will give serfs their freedom and turn everyone into freeholders. In reality, she is Rowena, Castellan Edmund's older sister. This woman, at the age of 31, is a level 5 Explorer. She is smart, and she also believes that the end always justifies the means and can be quite ruthless. Enraged that her young and inept brother Edmund got the throne, she is determined to take what is hers by the force of arms. For this, she is gathering an army of bandits and rebels to eventually assault Oathbridge, takes its fort, and overthrow her brother. Once enthroned, she will rule with an even hand, but also with an iron fist. Lawful.

Humans of Spirngmound
Abbess Ingrid of Springmound, a level 5 Cleric of Sol Invictus, is the de-facto ruler of the Springmound domain. When she was a young nun, Castellan Ivar of Springmound died on a battlefield of the earlier Imperial troubles with his two sons, leaving no issue. His widow, Lady Castellan Irina of Springmound, ruled for another decade. When Lady Irina died two dozen years ago with no clear heir, the manor fell into disuse, its men-at-arms and servants scattering to find better jobs in other places. The newly-appointed Abbess Ingrid was the only person of authority and power to whom the Springmound villagers could turn in time of need. She is also an ambitious ruler with a desire to become Isenvale's Rectoress - and even rise further in the Church hierarchy. Lawful.

Templar Inessa of Springmound, Abbess Ingrid's mailed fist, is a level 4 Fighter. This seemingly non-impressive woman of short stature is as lethal as a serpent with her spear and legend said that she once stared down a raging bear. Her formal task is to protect the Abbey. Her actual role is enforcing the Law in Springmound - which she does in merciless strictness and a unit of disciplined men-at-arms. The Abbess, a skilled ruler who maintains a much more merciful image, keeps the Templar on a short leash but makes it clear that she will unleash Inessa on any criminal, Chaotic heretic, or threat to the Abbes' power. Lawful.

Humans of Swornwell
Tribune Richard of Isenvale, the March's ruler, is a level 7 Fighter. He is a good but weary man well past his prime. An excellent horseman in his youth, he is now occupied by the affairs of state. The latter are grim. His superiors in the Imperial interior demand ever-greater taxes and military forces for their internecine wars. Thus, he has to balance between his loyalty to the dying Empire and the needs of his own domain. Locally, the Blooded Maw Orcs continually threaten Isenvale and are too powerful for the Tribune's forces to defeat; instead, Richard tries to contain this threat and hold it at bay. Bandits and less-organized monsters are also a constant concern.

Rector Sigmund of Isenvale, a level 6 Cleric, is the March's spiritual authority. This once-ambitious young man was an adventuring Cleric, until he got shot in his leg by an Orcish archer and he settled down to replace Isenvale's old Rector who died of old age. While a more senior cleric healed his shattered knee with a powerful spell, such powerful magic was not without a cost. A connoisseur of fine wine to begin with, this brush with mortality hurled the Rector into the depth of a wine glass. His divine authority is great, but so is his tendency for drunkenness. Abbess Ingrid knows of this habit of her superior and plans to utilize it to have him ousted from his position - so that she could become a Rectoress by herself. Rector Sigmund is strictly Lawful but usually drunk.

Nicolai the Serpent, a level 6 Assassin, is head of Swornwell's criminal syndicate. This born and bred conspirator murdered his way up the old thieves' guild hierarchy to place himself on its head. A sadistic man, he does not only kill to further his end but also for the pleasure of taking a human life. Recently, the Deep God's emissaries began grooming this master criminal into their ally in Swornwell, with the intention of eventually assassinating the Tribune and installing their own puppet in his place. Chaotic.

Humans of the Wilderness
Mother Larissa. Art by Hannah "Gecko" Saunders
Mother Larissa, the Forest Witch, is a level 5 Cleric of the ancient nature-goddess Marzanna. Peasants whisper dark stories about Mother Larissa, such as that she can turn insolent people into toads (which is correct - she has such a spell in her repertoire), or that she performs blood-rites deep in the woods. There is a certain streak of malice in this old woman, especially when angered, but she is not a villain. Despite her ominous reputation, villagers often consult with her, as she sells effective potions and salves. She also casts magic on behalf of any who pays her with little questions asked, unlike the clergymen of Sol Invictus. Even the Swamp Lizardmen respect her, as they know her power very well; they occasionally trade with her as well. She has an enormous number of toads and frogs in and around her garden and has domesticated a giant toad as a guard animal. Neutral.

Swamp Lizardmen
Bleeding Talon, the Lizard Chief, is at 6+2 HD. He is a huge, fat lizardman who rules the Swamp like his ancestors did from time immemorial. He occasionally leads his warriors to raid human settlements or ambush caravans, but for the most part, he is content to stay in his village, eat fish, and mate with as many females as possible. Primitive and savage, but not evil or sadistic. Wants to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Neutral.

Burning Eye, the Lizard Shaman, is at 4+1 HD with level 3 Clerical abilities. He is as savage as his king, but wiser. He leads the lizardman religious activity - worship of totems and idols in the swamp. He knows the value of magical items and will hoard any such item he can get his claws on. Harbors burning hatred for the Lizard Cult. Neutral.

The Deep God
The most powerful creature is the nameless Aboleth itself - an 8+2 HD monstrosity, bigger and nastier than the average Aboleth, and also capable of dark sorcery as a 7th level Mage. Also capable of magical research, potion creation, and magical item creation - perfect for rewarding underlings and enticing other people to serve this fish-god. It is, of course, Chaotic and very intelligent. Its goal is to spread its dark influence across the land, gain power, and control as many minions as possible.

Lizard Cult
The Lizard Pontifex, who has long abandoned his lizardman name, is at 5+3 HD with level 5 Mage abilities. Rapidly evolved by Aboleth alchemical methods, he is a genius in lizardman terms (around INT 12). He built the Lizard Cult into a force to be reckoned with, equipped with advanced equipment looted from humans and organized into an effective military unit. He sacrifices captives to his God by throwing them down the well (which goes down into the Aboleth's lake). He is currently at war with the Goblins and Swamp Lizardmen. Communes with his God telepathically and receives gifts through his Emissaries (the Skum). Chaotic

"Tyrannus" is a monster - a 6+1 HD giant lizardman alchemically manipulated by the Aboleth. He is the cult's champion; as dumb as a rock but as tough as a mountain. Easily controlled by the much smarter Pontifex. His bite is venomous, and he wields a massive warhammer looted from the Dwarven ruins; the Dwarves built this weapon for two-handed use, but such a huge reptiloid can hold both it and a massive iron shield. Chaotic.

Orcs
Orgun the Orc Chief is at 5+1 HD, a massive old orc scarred by years of fighting for dominance against a wide variety of rivals, orcs and otherwise. He has been leading the Blooded Maw Orcs for over a decade. In that time, he built them from a regional nuisance into a dire threat to Isenvale. His greatest ambition is to take Swornwell itself. For this, he has been breeding and training his nine warbands and building weapons. The recent rise in power of the Orc Sorcerer Raznak only bolsters his plans. The orc threat is the number one reason why Tribune Richard of Isenvale cannot spare much of his soldiers to provide aid to his vassals, as this force stands guard against the Orcs. Ogrun is Chaotic.

Raznak the Orc Sorcerer, at 1+1 HD was once a petty witch doctor. However, messengers from the mysterious Deep God have taught him much in the Arcane and he has the abilities of a level 4 Mage. He secretly plots to depose the Orc Chief Orgun and turn the Blooded Maw Orcs into an instrument of his dread god. He is smarter than most orcs and even exceeds his Chief in wickedness, and has also acquired several minor magical items from the Aboleth. Chaotic.

Goblins
The Goblin King Burguk is at 4 HD - stronger than most goblin chieftains. He used to terrorize the countryside with his goblin warbands, but now the Lizard Cult has inflicted a painful toll on the goblins - only two Warbands remain. Wants to stuff his face and belly with cakes and humanoid flesh all day, as all goblin kings do, but first he has to get rid of the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.

The Goblin Shaman Nazal is at 1+1 HD, but has level 3 Clerical abilities. He wishes to sacrifice captives to the dark goblin spirits, but before that, he wants to rid the goblin tribe of the Lizard Cult threat. He will begrudgingly agree to parlay even with non-Chaotic characters if that furthers the end of combatting the Lizard Cult. Chaotic.

The Goblin Witch Urinn is at 1 HD, but has Mage abilities at level 5. She is smarter and meaner than other goblins - and even literate - and has interest in magical research. She will torture captured spellcasters to learn Arcane secrets, but will also trade in magical items and lore with strong characters she knows she could not subdue. Chaotic.