Friday, July 19, 2019

Historicon 2019

2019 saw a big shift for Historicon, away from the Fredericksburg location into the new digs at the Lancaster Convention Center. My impressions and some pics after the jump.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Star Schlock: Bad 80's Sci-Fi Movies as a Tabletop Skirmish Game

After receiving a batch of brand new command cards for my sci-fi game Star Schlock, I was eager to get a some figures on the table to run them through their paces. My son and I only had an hour to spare between chores, but that turned out to be plenty of time to see how the latest version of the rules fared.

The Combatants

I fielded the heroic Doctor Owens and his Space Cadet daughter who were once again aiding primitive furry locals in throwing off the shackles of enslavement at the hands of the Totalitarian Dominion.

My son ran the 'that floating fat man', Totalitarian Overlord, and his right hand man Captain Vrok. They'd be supported by white armored dronetrooper lackeys.

The Battle Begins

My heroic freedom fighters, picking their way across the desert barrens, hoping to avoid civilian casualties.

My force consisted of three squads (15 figures total), the doctor, his daughter and two helper droids (a total of seven units). My son and I each drew a hand of command cards and secretly chose one, revealing them simultaneously. With a higher initiative for his chosen card, my son was able to activate his dronetroopers who rushed out to secure one of the objectives.

The Totalitarian Dominion deploys, ready to seize key objectives from the rebellious aliens.

My alien rabble, the furry krogloggs, loped forward and opened fire with their long range neutrino rifles.
Blistering neutrino bolts crackle across the desert landscape.

My son rolled poorly on his defense dice, losing two troopers and suffering two "pins". The pins would keep his dronetroopers from moving and susceptible to further attacks.

To keep the pressure on, during the next initiative I activated one of my support droids, the stalwart R-TOOT. Trundling forward the little fella used his special skills to provide ammo to one of the krogloggs. With their weapons reloaded, they'd be able to attack again.

The feisty and indomitable R-TOOT.

On the other side of the battlefield my son's dronetroopers were able to capture their first objective. While not an optimal choice, I decided to activate my krogloggs again. Since they'd already activated, I'd only be able to give them one action (rather than the usual two actions).

Command cards used to activate units are kept in play, functioning as an additional pool of resources to aid a player's units.

To make my single action have the biggest impact possible I played one of the command cards from my hand for its command effect. My "Furious Attack" card would add three additional dice to the attack.  I'd also be able to add a few more dice to the attack since my target was pinned down.

Zap zap!

While not great shots, the command card and bonus dice from pins gave my krogloggs a pretty strong fusillade of fire to pour down range. With a crack and the sharp smell of ozone, neutrino bolts lanced towards the dronetroopers.

In response my son played a "Collateral Damage" card, gaining additional defense dice and panicking nearby bystanders (here represented by some 1/72 Airfix Germans until I can sculpt some proper panicked bystanders).

A bad day in the Totalitarian Dominion.

After totaling up my hits I'd eked out just enough pins to send the surviving dronetroopers in the unit hustling back towards their own lines.

The Dominion Strikes Back

With things swinging in the heroes favor it was only dramatically appropriate for the Dominion to unleash a devastating counter attack.

The dronetroopers on my left flank that had been advancing unscathed saw their opportunity. With most of my forces bunched up my son readied a heavy weapon attack (some sort of shoulder mounted ordinance launcher no doubt) and played an "Explosion" card, dropping an enormous blast right in the midst of the bulk of my forces.

The heroic R-TOOT was obliterated by the blast! Doctor Owens and his kroglogg allies were flung from the impact site, stunning them for the rest of the turn.

The doctor laid out by the explosive attack!

My Desperate Ploy

On the following turn, with the smoke from the explosion clearing,  I took a gamble by sending Space Cadet Owens rocketing forward on her jet pack. Unfortunately, while she landed close enough to the objective I had squandered too many of my command cards and didn't have the ones I needed to capture the objective. My only hope was for her to hold off the approaching Totalitarian horde until I could draw the proper command.

As they approached, the dronetroopers opened up with their laser rifles. Luckily Space Cadet Owens' training along with a "Stray Shot" command card I played granted her enough defense dice to escape with a light wound and a few pins. The stray shot also ignited a nearby cargo container, the resulting fire granting me the chance to draw additional cards at the end of the turn (more mayhem = more bonuses).

Fire erupts from an ignited flammable cargo container.

The villainous Captain Vrok saw his opening. Striding forward he sent Space Cadet Owens fleeing with deadly fire from his fletchette rifle. With the Dominion poised to take a second objective I rushed my space mercenaries into the gap.

As the next turn began my luck began to change. Drawing "The Duel" card, I saw an opportunity to put the hurt on the nefarious Captain Vrok if I could only get into hand to hand combat with him.

Knowing the fate of the krogloggs was on her shoulders, Space Cadet Owens rallied and jet pack jumped back into close range of Vrok. During his activation, Vrok unleashed his fletchette rifle again but a timely use of 'free ranged attack' resource saw Space Cadet Owens return fire. Deadly laser blasts erupted between the two at point blank range!

Pew pew!

My forces on the flank were recovering from the shock of my son's explosive attack and were readying a new assault on the enemy held objective. With "The Duel" in hand, Space Cadet Owens only needed to hold out until the following turn before she'd bring Vrok to grips.

As we drew our cards for turn four, an alarm beeped. The hour I'd allotted to test the game had run out, and the annoying digital beeping reminded me I had lawns to mow, dogs to walk and groceries to buy. *sigh*

To Be Continued

While I had to cut the play test short I was pretty happy with how the game is shaping up. Heroes and villains duked it out out, squads of mooks maneuvered and traded laser fire, and neither type of unit dominated the other. The cards add a layer of complexity and additional tactical decisions, but I don't think they are overwhelming the actual table top play (after all this is a table top wargame, not Magic: The Gathering). The battlefield was rocked by explosions, raging fires and panicking civilians, and ran along at a good clip. I'm looking forward to running the game with one of my regular game groups to get more feedback, and eager to refine Star Schlock's scenario rules and vehicles.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Keep on the Borderlands: Nuthin' But Goblins

The last two characters painted up for the players, my son's fighter and my wife's magic user.

After escaping with their lives from their first aborted attack on the hobgoblin halls, the party (a gaggle of PCs and NPCs being run by my wife and son) resupplied at the Keep and then headed back to the Caves of Chaos.

My wife's halfling thief hireling investigating the ogre's cave.

Deciding to pursue a more cautious infiltration, they scouted a lower cave they'd bypassed on an earlier excursion into the ravine. Within the natural cave mouth, thick with a sour stench, their halfling thief spied a slumbering(?) bear. Curious, they investigated and discovered it was simply a bear pelt thrown over a pile of leaves as a makeshift bed or nest. As the party gathered in the cave to search the area they alerted the denizen of an adjoining cavern, an enormous ogre who fell upon the intruders with club and fist.

The ogre, surrounded and cut down by my son and the party's meatshields.

Despite his great strength, the ogre was nursing fresh wounds from a recent battle leaving him vulnerable. Coupled with the weight of numbers on the party's side the adventurers slew him quickly.

The party recovered treasure from the creature's lair and then ascended a hidden natural stairway at the rear of its cave, popping out in the middle of the familiar goblin warrens.

I expected my wife and son to either dispense with the goblins quickly or head off to their real objective, attacking the hobgoblins. What ensued was an hour and half of my wife interrogating, negotiating and belittling the poor creatures. She's always declared she doesn't like role playing, but she has really latched onto playing her snotty, haughty, 7 Charisma magic user to the hilt. Her halfling thief is great, but this wizard is the most annoying character I've DMed for. Really looking forward to throwing her into a nest of rot grubs.

Eventually the party was blamed by the goblins for inciting the hobgoblins into attacking the tribe (the hobgoblin attack was repulsed by the goblin's ogre ally, the only protector the tiny creatures had, now dead by the party's hand). A power struggle ensued between goblins who wished to ally with the party for protection and those that wanted to turn them over to the hobgoblins as a peace offering. Naturally, it came to blows, all centered around controlling the goblin chief's sacred shield, a symbol of goblin authority and "chiefhood" of the goblin clan.

Taking on the goblin chief while his bodyguards head for an exit on the opposite side of the room. Those bodyguards couldn't possibly be trying to flank the party, could they?

The players were astonished when goblin reinforcements appeared from a flanking tunnel.

When the halls of the goblins finally fell silent nearly the entire tribe had been wiped out, but the party's magic user had claimed the goblin shield and with it a loyal tribe of the four remaining goblins.

With the hour growing late, low on spells, unconscious party members and packs full of ogre loot, the party decided to head once again back to the Keep, admonishing the four remaining goblins not to go anywhere and not to steal any of the chief's stuff that now belonged to the party. Certainly four injured goblins guarding the wealth of their chief will go unmolested within the Caves of Chaos until the party comes back.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Once More Unto the Keep: Another expedition into the "Keep on the Borderlands"

When we rejoined our merry band, they had retreated from the Caves of Chaos to the Keep itself to rest and claim the bounty on "goblin heads" posted by the Keep's bailiff. While he scoffed at their initial report that hobgoblins were lurking in the caves, the hard proof of hobgoblin heads was enough to convince him that the militaristic humanoids had made a foothold in the caves.

The bailiff suggested further scouting into the caverns, as the position of "Chief Scouts of the Keep" had recently been vacated, (the previous holder's of that office having encountered and been slain by DOOMKNIGHT, a terrifying undead thing that lurked in the woods to the north.)

With blades sharpened, torches purchased and loins girded, the party set off once again into the wilds beyond the safety of the Keep's walls. Join them after the jump.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Summer Vacation to the Keep on the Borderlands.

Some classic 25mm scale figures finally painted after spending 20 years, untouched, in the lead pile.

Last summer I took a brief break from working on my sci-fi game to play through a short Battletech campaign with my son. This summer I figured he was ready to tackle some Dungeons and Dragons, but I wanted to start him the with the classic edition I grew up with.  I've been noodling around with some OSR variant rule sets and picking through the classic Keep on the Borderlands module in preparation. With the end of the school year in sight I was looking forward to rolling some dice and killing some orcs with the boy.

My wife must have picked up on my plans, because a few weeks ago when I suggested we pick a movie for our family's traditional Friday "wine and pizza night" she suggested "Why don't we play D&D?" 

She didn't have to ask twice. (Thank you wine, ur the best)

So with five minutes of prep and only half remembered rules my wife and son each rolled up a pair of characters and were dropped unceremoniously at the mouth of the ravine that played host to the Caves of Chaos. (pretty sure the wine's effect would only last 1d4 hours, and I needed to get to the Good Stuff).

Light a torch and kick in the door with us after the jump.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Star Schlock: First Look

Joe's wife Ellen Levy shot a ton of great photos of the game. The crappy ones are mine. Anything good in this battle report is her work. Thanks Ellen!

I've been working on a set of sci-fi skirmish rules for a few years, and finally brought them to test with the Scrum Club. The rules are still in an "alpha" state and I'll be posting about them more as they approach a publicly available "beta", but I thought I could share this battle report so you could see what I've been up to.

An innocent bystander gazing off into the distance, little heeding the terrible peril into which she'll soon be thrust. Heed the peril, Dawn! Heed your ass back inside where it's safe!

Star Schlock is designed to simulate the low budget, forgotten sci fi films and tv shows produced between 1968 and 1988 on the tabletop. I've got a soft spot for such gems as Starcrash, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Robot Jox, but Star Schlock should work for getting high brow fare like Battlestar Galactica, Planet of the Apes, Dune and Star Trek on the table as well.

For this game, four players would face off divided into two allied teams. Rich and Josh took the sinister forces of the Totalitarian Overlords while Walt and Joe commanded an allied native resistance and a stranded Baroness caught in the crossfire.

The battlefield, quiet before the storm.

Each force had their own objectives, unique to them. The asymmetric goals for each player are intended to capture the battles from sci fi movies which aren't always evenly matched set piece battles.

The Baddies

In this matchup, the white armored soldiers of the Totalitarian Dominion were intent on conquering the rebellious locals, with the detachment of their force under the alien Captain Vrok leading the assault.

The Totalitarian Overlord and his white clad dronetroopers

Captain Vrok, outfitted in his dashing red uniform. 

The Goodies

The Baroness, stranded on the planet after her starship came under attack by Dominion forces, was intent on escaping the battlefield.

The Baroness, her trusty robot companion R-TOOT, and her personal guard preparing for battle.

Aiding the Baroness were a collection of primitive alien rabble led by Doctor Owens, an anthropologist who came to study them but instigated their insurgency to resist Dominion rule instead.

The alien rabble gawk as the Baroness' personal guard rush into battle.
Doctor Owens, xeno-anthropologist

The key to their victory would be Doctor Owens' daughter, Space Cadet Owens who knew of a vital weakness in the Dominion's forces that could swing the tide of battle.

Space Cadet Owens. Probably joined the Space Rangers because she loves a man in a uniform.

The Battle

As battle was joined, both sides surged towards the objectives essential to securing victory. The  red clad personal guard of the Baroness dashed through the native village to capture the communication objectives so the Baroness could call in an escape vessel to escape the Dominion's clutches.

Darting through the village towards the communications beacon.

Charging forward the Dominion quickly claimed a number of important battlefield objectives: energy picket towers on the outskirts of town.

Captain Vrok's flanking force moving into the hills to meet the alien natives.

First Fire

That Baroness darted towards her landing zone, while her valiant defenders attempted to hold the line against the Dominion assault.

Josh's pic of his terrifying dronetroopers.

With the Baronesses troops dug in around a central objective choke point, the vile Overlord of the Totalitarian Dominion floated forward on his hover throne to direct an orbital bombardment from his personal cruiser hovering in orbit.

PEW PEW! A furious firefight breaks out as blaster beams lance between opposing squads.

The vile Overlord floats into battle with his dronetrooper guards to break the stalemate.
The orbiting Dominion starship fires. An explosion rocks the battlefield!

With a hole in the line, a second squad of guard took a building overlooking the Dominion advance, while the Dominion dronetroopers pushed into the newly opened gap.

The natives exchanged intermittent fire with Captain Vrok's force.

The Overlord slipped into the guards's line, unleashing a one-two blow of noxious fumes that overcame all units within short range, as well as calling in another orbital strike on the native resistance.

The Overlord unleashes a Vile Cloud.

...and unleashes a second orbital bombardment.

That one dead ewok. You know the one.
With the Dominion closing in on the leaders of the resistance, they make a last ditch effort to secure a victory. Having called in an escape vessel, the Baroness braves a hail of fire to reach the landing zone.

The Baroness reaching the edge of the battlefield.
Space Cadet Owens, having used her rocket pack to move around the flank of the Dominion forces strides out from cover.

She cries out to Captain Vrok, begging him to abandon the Dominion cause and join her. "You can't deny it Vrok! You love me, and I love you! We can make it together, we just have to try!"

Tragically Walt's dice failed him and he was unable to secure the Forbidden Love objective. Vrok rejected Space Cadet Owens' plea, "It could never work between us! Bumpy forhead, smooth forhead, our differences will always tear us apart!"

Dominion forces push the guards back.

With the Dominion forces slaughtering the resistance and capturing a number of objectives, they were able to force the end of the battle. Both sides totaled victory points, the Dominion scoring a total of 23 and the allied resistance scoring 19. Had Walt's dice been a bit hotter and Space Cadet Owens able to convince Vrok to admit his love for her and join the resistance, the Goodies may have been able to squeak out a win.


And that was it! Teaching a new system, especially one that's still under construction, is always bumpy, but overall I was pleased with how the game turned out. I still have more refinement to do on Star Schlock, but I can sense that these rules are starting to gel. I was happy to see players having to make challenging decisions, planning and executing strategies several turns ahead, and delivering at least a handful of memorable highlights. After working on them for nearly three years I was worried I'd start getting sick of them, but I'm honestly jonesing to play again immediately.

There's more work and play testing ahead, but I do want to give a shout out to the Second Saturday Scrum Club, my Monday night game crew, my family and my patient ex roommate Mark and his wife who have already helped me get this far. Thanks play testers! I couldn't have done this without you!

A third faction of alien horrors would have appeared in this battle as well, but a player dropped out at the last moment. Next time!