Monday, August 3, 2015

Lou Zocchi at Gen Con 2015

A video from Lou Zocchi from Gen Con this past weekend:

(Tip to E. Gygax Jr. for posting this on Facebook.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Alternate Turn Undead Mechanics

I got a great question from commentator Nathan Jennings the other day (in the "Best Combat Algorithm" thread; link). Definitely not something I'd considered before, so it intrigued me. He wrote:
Question (perhaps worthy of a blog post?): I know you don't like clerics. But, for the sake of a nice reader like me, can you imagine how the turn-undead mechanic could be cleaned up?
Let's look quickly at the Turn Undead table in OD&D Vol-1:

Notice that the places where the results are numerical are very narrow; just 3 cells long/wide. These values can be modeled with a table-free mechanic of rolling 2d6 + 2(Cleric level - Undead hit dice), needing a total of 9+ for success. (Recall that in OD&D skeletons are 1/2 HD [treat as 0], zombies 1 HD, ghouls 2 HD, etc., adding 1 for each type.) If we extrapolate this, then the "T" values in the table effectively get replaced by 5's and 3's, easy but not automatic success, and when the roll is automatic then you get "D" results.

If I used clerics in my games, then I might consider taking out the unnecessary multiplier of "2" throughout this formula, and simply roll 1d6 + Clr level - Undead HD. Success, as usual for 1d6 rolls, is 2-in-6; that is, a total of 5+ indicates success. Impossible results are "N" and automatic results give the "D".

But here, let me meta-turn Clerics themselves: I get "D" and the problem disappears. :-)

I love questions like that; thanks, Nathan!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Completed X Series

I finally completed my collection of the X-series modules for the D&D game (at least, the part of the series that I care about). Sweet!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Grimm Legacies

A nice review of various recent books considering the legacy and evolution of the original Grimm Brothers books of fairy tales. I particularly like the call for a "tone licked clean", especially in the context of an Original D&D style game, where the raw material is very curt, and the work is given life through live play and story-telling. (Thanks to Jonathan Scott Miller for the link.)

Rescuing Wonderful Shivery Tales


Monday, June 22, 2015

SFKH Scenario Table

One weakness of the Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game is that it comes with a very small number of set scenario games (4), with no guidance as to how to go about setting up or balancing new games. I've tried to partly address this with point-value costs for the different ships in the game (link). Here's another step in that direction: a short table for random scenarios.

First decide which player has UPF ships, and which Sathar (the Sathar has more limited strategic options; so either dice or give UPF to the less-experienced player). Then players privately buy their fleets by point values -- use 6 points for small game, 12 points for a medium game, or 24 points for a large game. Finally, roll d10 and consult the following table for scenario setup. (Note that simpler scenarios appear first; you may want to play them in order once before using the random method).

Star Frontiers Knight Hawks Scenario Table

1-2: Empty Space
3-4: Rocky Planet
5-6: Space Station
7-8: Gas Giant
9-0: Black Hole

Empty Space

Choose who is the attacker by random method. This player must place ships on the near board edge and make the first move; maximum initial speed is 10. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Rocky Planet

The UPF player sets a rocky planet (1½" diameter model) at least 12" away from any board edge. Ship are set up the same as "Empty Space" above. Ships moving within 1" of the planet get an extra 60° turn towards the planet at the point of their closest passing. A ship can enter orbit by reducing speed to ½ within 1" of the planet; thereafter the ship orbits at ½" per turn, and can pivot freely. Ships moving directly into the planet at speed are destroyed. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Space Station

The UPF player sets a rocky planet (1½" diameter model or roughly so) at least 12" away from any board edge, along with an orbiting Armed Station. Sathar ships are the attackers, and set up first on one board edge; then UPF ships may be set up anywhere at least 12" away from any board edge. Movement of ships and orbiting station around the planet is as per the prior scenario. Once one player has no ships remaining on the board, add the point value for all enemy destroyed ships (the Armed Station is valued at 6 points for this purpose). Victory goes to whichever player destroyed the greater value of enemy ships.

Armed Station: HP 80, ADF 0, MR 0; Weapons LB, RB (×6); Defenses RH, MS (×2), ICM (×6).

Gas Giant

The UPF player sets a gas giant planet (12" diameter model or roughly so) in the center of the play area. Ship are set up the same as "Empty Space" above. Any ship moving with 3" of the gas giant can take an extra 60° turn towards the planet at the point of their closest passing. Ships may reduce speed to 1 and enter orbit at any location on the table, moving at a speed of 1" each turn at a constant distance from the planet. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Black Hole

The UPF player sets a small black hole (1" diameter model or roughly so) in the center of the play area. Ship are set up the same as "Empty Space" above. All ships on the board must maintain a minimum speed or are presumed to fall uncontrollably into the black hole and be destroyed; see the following table. The indicated speed is also the speed for orbital insertion; ships at this speed can be treated as in orbit and pivot freely. Ships must have a higher speed than listed to increase distance from the black hole. Ships orbiting within 3" of the black hole may be placed at any location and orientation within 3" of the black hole on their turn (this represents multiple, unpredictable orbits in a single turn). Ships ending a turn pointed directly at the black hole fall in and are destroyed. Victory goes to whichever player is last with ships on the board.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Weekend Warrior: SF Knight Hawks

Game 2 of a pair of Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks battles with my friend John S. Having gotten an idea of the mechanics in Game 1 (where I handily fended off his 3 Assault Scouts), John went in the other direction this time. In particular, he took note of the SFKH rule that a ship with speed zero (0) can pivot to any desired facing within a turn, irrespective of MR (maneuver rating). This makes for a pretty attractive strategy of taking a single, slow, high-value capital ship and letting it be a stationary, rotating gun platform (even though in other situations the big slow ships are a bit devalued). So giving a budget value of 6 mega-credits to both sides to buy ships, this was exactly enough for John to purchase the big Sathar Heavy Cruiser, while I picked a UPF Assault Scout and Destroyer in response (price 2 and 4 respectively). From John's perspective, the added value was that he wouldn't have to deal with momentum and turning issues so much.

Turn 1-2 --  John starts in the center of his side with a speed of 3. While seemingly minimal, this itself was nearly a misstep, as the big Heavy Cruiser only has an ADF of 1, so it's going to take 3 turns to come to a stop and pivot at-will. At the end of turn 2, I've got my ships positioned together for an attack run from the left side (and I like having my bigger ship ahead to attract and shield any weapons fire).

Turn 3-4 --  I make my close-up attack run, and the dice go very well for me. In particular, I get tremendously lucky with a nuclear torpedo sneaking in through his defensive ICMs and the 4d10 damage dice come up: 10, 9, 9, and 7 -- so there goes 35 of his initial 80 hull points. John targets all his weapons at my scout, looking to score the first casualty; I take evasive maneuvers to get away from his torpedo-fire. However, the zig-zag flight path doesn't allow me to get much distance from the cruiser, so on the next turn John comes to a stop, lines up on my scout, and blasts it out of existence with laser-fire. Meanwhile, my destroyer has come back around for some long-range cannon fire (which misses).

Turn 5-6 --  My destroyer makes another strafing attack, as we trade rocket and laser fire. The cruiser pivots after each of my attacks to shoot with its forward-firing cannon and sequence of 3 laser batteries. At the start of this turn sequence we're about even on hull points, with 40 each; but the fact that he's getting more cannon shots lined up is a bad deal for me. (Generally I get 1 or 2 laser attacks on my turns, versus 4 on his.) Still, I get some very lucky hit rolls and both of our hull points tick down together into the single digits. At this point I'm out of rockets and torpedoes, but the opponent is not.

Turn 7 --  Realizing that I can't afford to give him free cannon-shots while I'm trying to maneuver, I bring my destroyer to a stop, facing off cannon-to-cannon against the much larger ship -- and at just the right distance so I'm out of range of his remaining torpedoes and rocket batteries (which probably a new player would not be able to arrange on the open tabletop play area). Chances are against me here -- he has more guns and I've only got a 20% chance to hit with lasers from this range. But...

The dice come up 19% for a hit, and the Sathar Heavy Cruiser explodes into a ball of flame! Victory to the UPF this time.  John says: "Yeah, that's about what happens with the dice when you play Dan."

Conclusions -- I felt a bit sorry at the end of the weekend for the completely absurd run of luck I had through all of our games for about 72 hours; I wound up winning all 4 games that we played. John played very thoughtfully and absolutely deserved to head back home with at least 1 or 2 victories under his belt, but the dice were just crooked in my favor for some reason. The strategy of the stationary Heavy Cruiser was totally solid (especially for a lone vessel, and a new player wrestling with the movement rules), and while not a lock, he really deserved to win this game more than any other. Better luck next time!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pole Arms Through the Ages

A graphic found in "A Critique of the Theory of Evolution",Thomas Hunt Morgan, 1916; therein shown as Figure 2 and noted, "Metropolitan Museum. After Dean."

Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for making this image available (link).