Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Less Travelled Road: The Three Creeps

By Omer Golan-Joel

During the development of Traveller as a game, there were three slow, somewhat unintended, but certain nonetheless currents of development from the three little books of Classic Traveller to the massive electronic (and soon physical) tome which is Traveller 5. I call this kind of development "creep" as it was, as far as I can tell, unintended, and usually quite slow, but it did change the game considerably.

The first creep, and the only one with relatively undebatable detrimental side effects on the game, was the Modifier Creep. You see, Classic Traveller (like most editions of Traveller) uses a 2d6 curve for task and combat resolution; this kind of curve is far more sensitive to modifiers than, for example, the 1d20 curve used by the D20 family of games. A +1 modifier influences the 2d6 curve in quite a significant way, and higher modifiers have much more effect than the simple incremental effects they have on 1d20. A big enough modifier would "break" the curve - that is, force either an automatic success or an automatic failure, which is an undesired result in an RPG, where "swingy" mechanics are usually preferred.

So Classic Traveller, very reasonably, kept skills very low - to an average of 4 skill points per character and usually no more than 1 point in each skill. Skills of 2 or 3 were uncommon and skills beyond that were rare. Also, the combat modifiers were, for the most part, quite modest. But Book 4: Mercenary and the books that followed, as well as later Traveller products, started adding more and more skill points to characters and more powerful weapons with bigger to-hit modifiers. The end result was a "broken" 2d6 curve and less interesting mechanics.

A second type of creep, which is more a matter of taste, is complexity creep. Classic Traveller was a very simple game, where a character can be described in a few rows of text and a starship in a single paragraph; character generation and ship-building were very simple, sometimes too simple, and very quick (about five minutes per character). Book 4: Mercenary and Book 5: High Guard added many more details, including a much more cumbersome character generation system, as well as much more technical ship design rules. While the High Guard design rules were excellent, they started a trend in Traveller which led to more and more complex design rules up to the highly technical Mega Traveller and Fire, Fusion and Steel design systems (and Traveller 5), which were very detailed and very complex. That's not a bad thing in itself, mind you, but a major departure from Classic Traveller's simplicity nonetheless.

A third type of creep is scale creep - the gradual change from pocket empires or a loose Imperium as implied by the first three books to a much grander, more secure and much more powerful Imperium as implied by later products. I think this trend started with Book 5: High Guard. While I love High Guard, I think that it started a chain reaction which made Traveller extremely different from what was apparent from the original three little black books. HG did two main things: 1) it increased the size of military starships, as well as they costs, by one or two orders of magnitude; 2) it changed the focus from small civilian and paramilitary ships with light weapons to big naval engagements.

The result was, of course, a VERY expensive navy - not 4x 1,200 dton cruisers per subsector, but rather multiple 30k dton cruisers. This costs a lot of money, and a loose Imperium or pocket empires as implied by books 1-3 can't finance and maintain such an expensive fleet. So then came a huge, powerful Imperium of 11,000 worlds with strong Imperial rule and large interstellar military presence making piracy and smuggling much less feasible. A large, powerful, stable Imperium became, at one point, a bit boring, so they started a Rebellion, which, due to the huge ship sizes, was mostly fought above and beyond the players' level. Because it involved such huge fleets and empires, it eventually fell into stagnation and the slate had to be cleaned by the Virus. But the Virus was controversial and so fractured the fan base.

Now, MT and TNE aren't necessarily bad, but they do have a completely different tone than LBBs 1-3 and the first few adventures. The same goes with the two previously-discussed processes.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The War Room: A Review of USE ME 15mm sci-fi wargaming rules

By Omer Golan-Joel

I came across USE ME (which stands for Ultra Simple Engine for Miniature Engagements) quite accidentally, while checking the 15mm.co.uk site for new miniature releases. However, as I am quite interested in fast, rules-light games - both RPGs and wargames - USE ME caught my attention, especially since it seemed as a promising candidate for a mean through which I could introduce my spouse (already and RPGer) to tabletop wargaming. Also, the price was right: 6 UK Pounds including shipping, which is about $10; so, even if I would've ended up with a ruleset I didn't like, the risk of purchasing it wasn't THAT significant. So I ordered it.

This is a tiny, thin booklet of 32 A6 pages, out of them the basic rules take only 14 pages (introduction included!). And the rules are as simple as promised on the site, using only a single d6 for each roll and having a very small number of tables.

The rules themselves are very simple and straightforward. Each unit (called "character" in USE ME) has a type (infantry, light vehicle, heavy vehicle or super-heavy vehicle), a weapon type (sidearm, rifle etc) and an ELAN rating. The latter (ELAN) is a simple rating going from 1 (bad) to 6 (great) denoting the character's overall quality - encompassing things such as training, morale and so on into a single digit. ELAN influences a lot of things in USE ME, but first and foremost the order in which units are activated - they are activated from the highest ELAN to the lowest, with initiative (1d6 vs. 1d6) determining which side can activate first at each ELAN rating present on the table. Characters can act twice per activation, and can choose freely between action types for each action (for example, move and shoot, shoot and move, move and melee, shoot twice or move twice), with double actions of the same kind (e.g. shotting twice) incurring a minor penalty. Note that all unit types - infantry to super-heavy tanks - use essentially the same rules in this game, which is a good thing.

Ranged combat is simple as well - the attacker rolls 1d6 (plus or minus modifiers for ELAN, range and so on), and if the modified result is 4 or more the shot hits. If it hits, an opposed roll of 1d6 by the attacker vs. 1d6 by the defender is rolled for penetration, modified by the attacker's weapon and the defending unit's type; units can also be armoured for added protection. Depending on the penetration roll, the target could be unaffected, winged (i.e. lightly wounded), struck (i.e. severely wounded) or killed outright. The two wound types can be marked with markers placed on the table next to the miniature or on its base. Melee uses the same procedure, but hits are automatic (i.e. you only roll for penetration) and the defender gets a free counter-attack.

Characters could also be grouped into squads, which makes their activation, movement and targeting a bit simpler when using a large number of miniatures in the same scenario. Squads have a squad leader, and all movement and targetting uses the squad leader instead of measuring the distances for each and every member of the squad.

Simple rules for off-table support (including ortillery, that is, orbital bombardment of your gaming table!), for multi-battle campaigns, for snipers and drop-troops and for solo play. A simple (two A6 pages) point-buy force-building system is also included.

All in all, USE ME feels quite completely, especially when you consider its size. While I haven't tried it out in play yet, I get the feeling that it lives up to its promise of being a simple, fun, straightforward ruleset for miniature games.

There are a few drawbacks to USE ME, however. First and foremost is the lack of any morale system (though ELAN is said to encompass morale, among other things); characters will fight to the death no matter the odds, which is not very realistic unless you're using armies of robots or bugs. Also, the system seems to be geared towards typical, rifle-centric troop engagements, lacking specific rules for more unique weapons such as flamethrowers, submachineguns, shotguns and man-portable rocket launchers (you can find rules for all of these in later supplements such as the Modern Warfare one). But the good thing is that, with such a basic, generic framework of a system, you could easily solve this problems with a few very simple house rules.

So I fell in love with USE ME, and actually wrote several of its supplements, from a WWII variant to post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk rules. I think that this is a cool little rule engine that can find use in any quick, beer-and-pretzels miniature engagement, sci-fi or not.

Score: 5/5

Stars Without Number: Solo-Play Rules

by Dave Cooper

 Art by David Reddington

This is a solo system I developed several years ago to play Traveller. Originally written for Classic Traveller, I’ve updated it for Stars Without Number.

Fairly straightforward to use; generate a set of characters and start at point one. Follow action, then throw 1D and go to the appropriate section. Each run through the chart is approximately six days of time. However, the results are designed to make you think, the tables will not provide all of the answers for you.

Some comments on individual areas: -

10cr x (Total Level of group)2 . This accounts for day-to-day living expenses

You can expend Skill Points to initiate training, although you will have to cycle through the chart for the required length of time to complete it.
Note: New psionic disciplines can only be aquired via (8) Options.

(3) Buy one item or group of related items. Means exactly that, you can buy one length of rope or 20 rounds of ammunition etc. It’s designed to stop the ‘we’ll replace everything we used on the last adventure and buy everything we need for the next one’ syndrome. Now you have to choose between replacing the monoblade or the survival pack you dropped in the swamp on Pavonis II. You can’t buy again here unless you are directed back.

(8) Options: A very versatile section. You can choose any Action, or seek a job, seek a new PC/NPC, court someone; whatever you like.

This can be expanded as needed: -
e.g. : Take a job. (Make up a table.) Now I’m working helping to build the new terminal building at Proxyon spaceport. After rent, living, local tax etc, I end up with 100Cr per month. Throw 2D each month
2          Fired/lose job (why? Maybe a short adventure?)
3-4       Promoted/Pay rise: Pay goes up 5%
5-10     Work goes on. Roll again next month. Mark passage of time. Or you can pack the job in and return to main flowchart where you left it.
11-12   As (5-10) but option to take redundancy. Get bonus of 25Cr for each month worked. Return to main flowchart where you left it.

Years later I can look at the terminal building and think, “I helped build that”.

Keep notes and try and maintain continuity. For example, on Cubro, I got into a fight with three thugs and one was injured. Sometime later, back on Cubro, I’m jumped by three thugs; one is missing an eye. I might be in trouble here.

I write things up in as much detail as possible; this is your story you’re writing here, and it’s good to read back over past history and events. I developed this system some years ago, when I had a fair bit of time on my hands but no players. The Free Trader ‘No Strings Attached’ spent several years wandering around the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants of my Traveller Outreach campaign. Final tally was six crewmembers still on board, four dead, one insane, one missing and one retired (but somewhat eccentric).

Off-Time Flowchart: Chart 1

1. Start. Assemble Characters
            Go to (2) Upkeep

2. Sell Cargo, pay Ship costs, pay Crew wages. All characters pay Upkeep
            1-2       (3) Buy Equipment
            3-4       (5) Healing
            5-6       (4) Sell Equipment

3. Buy Equipment. Each PC may buy 1 item or group of related items of equipment
            1-2       (4) Sell Equipment
            3-4       (5) Healing
                5      (7) Event
                6      (3) Buy Equipment

4. Sell Equipment. PC’s may sell any surplus equipment and/or curios they have collected. Equipment may be sold at 50% of base cost. Rare items, curios etc. throw 9+ to find a buyer then negotiate.
            1-3       (3) Buy Equipment
                4      (5) Healing
            5-6       (6) Event

5. Healing. Recover Wounds or pay for Medical Aid. May also purchase medpacks, drugs etc.
               1       (7)   Event
            2-3       (10) Seek Patron
            4-6       (8)   Options

6. Event. Roll on Event Table. Events may affect the whole group, or just an individual. Some have long-reaching effects, see Table for details.
            1-3       (8) Options
            4-6       (9) Healing

7. Event. Roll on Event Table. Events may affect the whole group, or just an individual. Some have long-reaching effects, see Table for details.
            1-2       (8)   Options
            3-4       (10) Seek Patron
                5      (12) Expenses
                6      (3)   Buy Equipment

8. Options. May take any Action, initiate new project, take a job etc.
               1       Generate Adventure seed
   2       (11) Hear Rumour
            3-4       (13) Buy/Sell Equipment
                5      (10) Seek Patron
                6      (14) Encounter

9. Healing. Recover Wounds or pay for Medical Aid. May also purchase medpacks, drugs etc.
            1-3       (13) Buy/Sell equipment
            4-5       (11) Hear Rumour
                6      (8)   Options

10. Seek Patron? (Choose or Roll 1D: 1-4 = Yes  5-6 = No)
            If Yes, generate Patron and go to Chart #3
            If No, or when Chart #3 finished, go to (11) Hear Rumour

11. Hear Rumour. Roll on Rumour Table with appropriate mods.
            1-2       (8)   Options
                3      (14) Encounter
            4-5       (9)   Healing
                6      (13) Buy/Sell Equipment

12. Misc. expenses. An unforeseen expense that must be paid. Roll 1D:
1-3       Cr100
4-5       Cr1 x Level2
    6      Cr5 x Level2
                Level is total Level of characters in group. This can be expensive!
1-3       (14) Encounter
            4-6       (16) End

13. Buy/Sell Equipment. Group may buy/sell as much equipment as is desired.
               1       (14) Encounter
            2-6       (16) End

14. Encounter. Group may encounter NPC’s, Law Enforcers or even creatures.
1-2       No Encounter
    3      Law Enforcers.
4-5       Roll on Encounter table and check reaction / outcome.
    6      Animal. Roll on Animal Encounter Table for area

            1-4       (15) Healing
            5-6       (16) End

15. Healing. Recover Wounds or pay for Medical Aid. May also purchase medpacks, drugs etc.
            Go to (16) End

16. End. Either repeat cycle from (2) if more time on planet is necessary, else roll for Cargo availability, passengers etc.

Chart #3          Patron
1. Roll Patron / Friend
2. Generate Stats (if required), plus tags etc. See Patron / Friend Creation
3. Generate mission (or select one,) decide if PC’s will accept it (or roll 1D 1-3 = Yes  4-6 = No)
4. Return to Chart #1 (10)
Events    Throw d66

11 Meet generic NPC
12 Meet new PC (a way to introduce new characters)
13 Legal encounter, throw Luck to avoid
14 Gambling. Roll Gambling DF 8, win/lose 1d6 x 100cr
15 Misc. expenses. Pay 50cr x 1d4
16 Receive a message from….

21 Patron encounter
22 Random encounter
23 Hear Rumour
24 Get involved in a brawl (fight it out with 1d6 thugs)
25 Shot at by accident  (Fail Luck to be hit for 1d6 damage)
26 Meet a Friend

31 Opportunity to buy exotic item
32 Close relative dies (who?)
33 Inherit Cr100 x 3d6
34 Weapon jams irreparably, is useless (pick at random, could mean sword breaks etc.)
35 Legal encounter, throw Luck to avoid
36 Opportunity to buy property (may be worth rent etc.)

41 Hear some news about….
42 Opportunity to make TAS application (open entry)
43 Receive information about…
44 Encounter an Enemy
45 Robbed/burgled. Lose 50% of possessions (divide into 2 piles, roll randomly for which one was lost.)
46 Mistaken identity (roll reaction)

51 Meet alien or group of aliens (appropriate to current setting)
52 Civil disorder on planet (why?)
53 Planetary event (volcanic eruption, earthquake, giant asteroid strike etc.)
54 Hear rumour
55 Patron encounter
56 A piece of equipment breaks down and needs to be fixed.

61 Papers/documents not in order. (xref Exit Visa)
62 Complication with cargo (sb)
63 Special charter (transport to…, act as bodyguard to…., etc.)
64 Asked to carry message to...
65 Gain a Contact or Favour owed by NPC (who, why and what)
66 Offered Illegal weapon/Black market goods/drugs/Maltech etc.

Complication with cargo; There is a potential problem with any cargo that will be picked up in the End Phase. Once cargos are generated, throw 2d6 each, 9+ to have a potential problem. Then roll for where the problem is, this end or at the destination. If this end, then roll 1D to see what it is. If the destination, then do not roll until you get there!

1. Needs special import/export licence (see (8) Options.
2. Damaged. Real value reduced by 10-30%
3. Offensive stench will permeate LS system and make passengers unhappy. Needs full overhaul to remove
4. Hazardous cargo, throw 2d6:12+/day in transit to leak/explode and damage cargo area
5. Customs believe it is contraband and cargo is impounded
6. Shipping manifest was wrong and half/double (roll) agreed amount has arrived

The Manufactory: Team Insertion Boat

By Jonathan Sherlock

The Manufactory: Starship Vehicle Fittings

By Jonathan Sherlock

Art by David Reddington

Starships can carry smaller vehicles to assist the crew in accomplishing their mission. Look HERE for detailed rules about carrying vehicles aboard starships in Stars Without Number.

A Less Traveller Road: Abstract Book 2 Space Combat

By Paul Elliott

Art by David Reddington

There was nothing really like Traveller’s original ship combat rules, with its acceleration vectors and computer-programming-on-the-fly. For me, though, the novelty was soon replaced with the burning desire to get on with the story and find out how it all ends. One screenwriter in Hollywood is a critic of the car chase, describing it as a gap in the plot, a gaping hole that leaves the audience waiting for the outcome. I’d been wanting to plug Traveller’s ‘plot gap’ for years, but only recently come around to the task when I decided to jump into a Book 1, 2 and 3 only, universe.

The system I developed is an abstraction of the Book 2 space combat rules as they stand. An important point to make is that it leaves the starship construction rules unchanged; any book 2 design can participate in these abstract combats quite easily. I wanted to know very quickly, 'who wins?' without deciding which programs to feed into the computer, or which turrets should fire on which targets. There involves a short assessment procedure for any participating craft which assigns each a number, a Combat Rating (CR).

Download the complete rules HERE!

Dawn Sector: The Hippaflicks

By Brian Pichelman

The Hippaflicks are the pacifist fish-people of Flicker. They are very cumbersome on land, but not in the water. They move up to 100 meters/minute (3mph) on land, and 360 meters/minute in water (20mph). They also speak Bladish, and many also speak English.

Appearance and Biology  

Hippaflicks are usually 5' long and have huge flat palms with almost immoveable fingers, which they use for paddling. Their feet are short and flat, because their hands reach to the ground. They have 2 antennae with glowing pink bulbs at the end. the glow is equal  to a flashlight. Their gills are at their sides. They are very streamlined.

Hippaflicks have lungs, but they also have gills, and spend most of their lives underwater.

Unusual Biologic Abilities

Hippaflicks have an armor class of 7 due to their thick skin and cannot wear armor due to their physical oddities. Hippaflicks have a minimum Strength requirement of 14 and minimum Intelligence requirement of 12.

They are the most intelligent race on Flicker, having invented antimatter drives and the theoretical concepts that lead to the development of the wormholes.

They have two glowing pink bulbs on stalks coming from their heads. This provides 10 meters of illumination in all directions. These bulbs can be turned “on” or “off” at will.


The Hippaflicks are the newest intelligent race to emerge on Flicker. They stayed “hidden” from the semi-aquatic Bladish for many centuries because Hippaflicks lived in the trenches, a place not many Bladish dare to go. They live in cooperation with the Bladish, on account of the fact the Hippaflicks cannot make tools on their own. They are the only race that spends the majority of their life in the water.

 They travel off-world less often than the Bladish. Most Hippaflicks are Psychics; they developed their mental powers to overcome their physical limitations.. They live in the deep oceans, and so the Bladish are not concerned with their powers. Their Psychics emerged around one hundred years before human contact, so while Flicker was never hit by the Scream, the Hippaflicks haven't gotten much of a chance to develop their powers (about postech level Psychics).

 They are the smartest race on Flicker, but they require the Irons to manufacture their technology. Hippaflicks gain a +1 DM to their Intelligence characteristic.


Hippaflicks are a pacifist race, and their religion reflects that. The Gilled God represents the peace that must be, no matter what (many non-Hippaflick historians believe this to be because of their complete hopelessness in a fight). The Shark is the opposite, being like a... shark.

 Other Notes

NPC Hippaflicks with have 8 h.p. and a AC of 7. Randomly encountered Hippaflicks have a 50% chance of being a Psychic, a 35% chance of being a Expert, and only a 15% chance of being a Warrior.

Hippaflicks are of  fish decent; i.e. they are more closely related to lungfish than to a dolphin. 

Hippaflicks live a mostly hermitic existence in relation to other races. Their cities are ruled by singular leaders, considered some of the smartest beings in the known universe. Each City-Leader is part of the Council of Flicker. (There are 13 cities).

Hippaflick as Player Characters

Due to their bulkiness and inability to function well outside of water, I would not recommend them as viable PC.