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).

Friday, June 12, 2015

Weekend Warrior: SF Knight Hawks

Another too-infrequent game that I got to play with my friend John S. the other weekend: Star Frontiers Knight Hawks, in the open-table miniature format. I'd gotten John to play this once on the hexmap a few years ago, but this was his first time playing with miniatures, ruler, and protractor (effectively a whole new game). Here I'm using my house rules (e.g., point-value setup; turning spaced out evenly throughout a move; assault scouts with 25 hull points; etc.), and custom miniature duplicates to play.

Setup -- For his ships, John picked 3 UPF Assault Scouts (cost: 2 mega-credits each), while I picked 2 Sathar Frigates. We play on a table covered in black vinyl, with rulers, protractors, and ship and game statistics on index cards. John set up his scouts in opposite corners of the table, while I put my frigates together in the center on my side (all traveling the maximum allowed initial speed of 10).

Turn 1 -- John tries to split the board into thirds with his scouts. I respond by sending my frigates together after the left-most scout, firing all weapons systems (including laser batteries, forward-firing laser cannons, rocket batteries, and torpedoes). Even though the scout gets to use evasive maneuvers to try and dodge the torpedoes, I still manage to connect with one, and this blows that first scout to smithereens.

Turn 2 --  John swings his fast-moving scouts around at me, and I slow down (partly to avoid running off the table-edge) and try to aim back at him. This turn we're out of range for any weapons fire.

Turn 3A -- John brings his scouts in two attack. Unfortunately, one of them is traveling a bit too fast and doesn't manage to get lined up for the assault-rocket shot (left-hand side in the picture). I fire defensive ICM's at the other one and avoid getting hit too badly.

Turn 3B --  Continuing to slow down, I swing my frigates around as tightly as possible to return fire. I don't get them lined up with the forward-firing cannons, but nonetheless I'm in range with laser and rocket batteries, and these mage to connect with scout #2. Below, it explodes into smokey debris.

Turn 4 --  At this point I have an overwhelming advantage. John makes one more suicide-run, and this time I can get the laser cannons lined up and take out scout #3. Victory to the Sathar!

Conclusions -- John was at a clear disadvantage here, both learning the game basically for the first time, trying to manage the momentum from movement in space, and also dice-rolls continuing to be skewed wildly in my favor. While I'm accustomed since age 13 at the SFKH movement rules, I can see from a number of new players that it can be very difficult to adjust to this mechanic (John leaned back at the end said, "Trying to manage the movement is very draining", and he's certainly not the first with that sentiment). Also, strategically it's probably not best to split up one's forces as was done with the scouts here; better to have supporting and combined fire when possible.

One other thing is that I was trying to remember most of the rules from memory (I never printed out my house rules, for example), without having played in about a year. In retrospect I glitched one thing up: My recollection was that forward-firing weapons only work in a 10° arc to either side, but looking up the rule in the SFKH Conversion Booklet afterward, it's actually a more generous 30° arc. I'm not sure if that would have changed anything noticeably here, but for next time I should have some key rules points printed out. Also: Might be nice to have a list of ship names so not everything is "Scout 1", "Scout 2", etc.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Vettweiss-Froitzheim Dice Tower

Did you know that in 1985 German researchers discovered a dice tower dating to the Roman Empire of the 4th Century? Apparently, it's true. Scurrilous dice-throwers were a problem even then, it seems.

More at Wikipedia.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Weekend Warror: Bismarck

My good friends John and Theresa S. dropped by last weekend, which provided an opportunity to play some of my favorite games such as: Bismarck (Avalon Hill, 1978). We actually played two games that weekend on sequential nights, as John was learning the game (as the German player) for the first time.

Game 1 -- (Not pictured). John made the classic run around Iceland with his two ships. The visibility from weather, basically the most important variable in the game, was very much in my favor (usually a "1", i.e., any single ship or plane can search a zone), and I found him handily. I pulled the battleships Hood & Prince of Wales into battle (just as happened historically), and John pulled a novel screening move with the Prinz Eugen. So I bit my lip and fired at the cruiser, sinking it, but this allowed the Bismarck to pull away and withdraw. Thereafter I was unable to pin it down again for the rest of the game, but at least kept him away from the convoy lines. (Turns out, John had skirted the extreme edge of the map board where I failed to search; next time I need to get in the other player's head more.) So this ran out all the time in the game, ending in a tie with 16-16 victory points, after 7 hours of play.

Game 2 -- A much more action-packed game on the next night. Here's a view of my side of the table, as the British player, with Searchboard and Time Track as of 2400 hours on May-24:

John got even trickier on this game, first by sending the Bismarck & Prinz Eugen out of Bergen separately, and then doing some back-and-forth movement in the North Atlantic instead of heading for a direct breakout. I was only able to discover where he was by (again) fortunate visibility rolls and a "general search" success on the Chance Table. (Note to German player: this can't happen if you stay north of row E on the map.) So then I could envelop him in the upper-right corner, and once again pull the Hood & Prince of Wales into combat, along with several supporting cruisers in reserve.

Here we switch to the Battleboard for combat. This battle occurred in the middle of the night, so the ships started only 4 hexes away from each other (not the usual 6). Not wanting to let the Bismarck get away like the last time, I got very aggressive -- while the Hood lost its bow turrets on the first turn and had to turn tail, I sent the Prince of Wales steaming in to point-blank range. In the next turn the German ships savaged it with broadsides and sank it (flipped blue side indicates the sunk ship). Note to self: Don't get 1 hex away from the Bismarck, that sucks. Then John tracked down the damaged Hood and sank that, too. This put me at a great disadvantage in victory points for the game: down 30-0 after the loss of those capital ships.

Again John almost got away from me by zig-zagging further northeast before turning west again. I managed to find him with a cruiser and successfully shadow him from one turn to the next (the only rolls that weren't consistently going my way). Here I pin him down with about a half-dozen ships, land bombers out of Scapa Flow, plus a squadron of torpedo bombers from the aircraft carrier Victorious.

On the Battleboard, first I hit him with 4 bomber attack runs and manage to land a midships hit on the Prinz Eugen with one of them. Then I initiate naval combat with the King George V (sister battleship to Prince of Wales) and the light cruiser Kenya (with several other cruisers in reserve). Since this is a high-visibility day turn, the ships start at the maximum 6-hex range on the Battleboard.

Now, the Kenya is a much weaker vessel than the others in this combat (I debated including it, but felt I really wanted as many guns as I could bear on the event). In an attempt to protect it, I use John's discovery of screening it with the King George V -- to no avail; John nonetheless targets it and sinks it in the first turn. Important game rule: As soon as the Bismarck goes down, the game ends and players tally victory points. So since I'm so far behind in points at the moment, I'm actually compelled to fire everything at the Prinz Eugen and get those victory points before the game ends. This is successful (thank to the prior torpedo-bomber run), and now we are left with just the two battleships facing off against each other.

Fortunately, the dice continue to be in my favor, the King George V doesn't suffer from its usual malfunctioning gunnery, and it manages to deteriorate the Bismarck's weapon systems (already somewhat damaged in prior combats) and then finish it off as it attempts to withdraw. Victory points are now close but in my favor: 44-38 for the British victory. I think I got John intrigued by the game, and if the dice had gone a little more in his favor, he surely could have won! This game took only 4 hours because it ended early on May-24, running only about one-third of the total time track for the game. As usual, this also gave me some ideas to fine-tune house rules for future play, especially considering how to ease new players into the game.

Edit: Here are my current house rules for playing Bismarck:

Monday, June 1, 2015

Monster Magnification

In D&D, players may find themselves running monster-types as a result of several causes: charm monster, polymorph other, reincarnation, special DM permission, etc. In this post we give rules for a lightweight method to "zoom in" on such characters, providing additional detail and possible advancement, if desired. Note that this assumes the basic OD&D ruleset, OED extrapolations for ability scores (9-12 average, +1 bonus per 3 points over 10), and smoothed-out attack rolls (check d20 + HD + AC 20). To give more detail to monster characters, do this:
• Take the base number of monster hit dice and call this the “level”.
• Establish average Strength and Constitution scores for each monster race, as given in the table below (for simplicity, we assume that these are equal for each racial type).
• For hit dice, roll 1d6 per level, and add the Constitution bonus to the first die only.
• For attack bonus, take 2/3 the monster level, and add the Strength bonus.
• For damage by weapon type, ogre-sized weapons do base 1d8 damage, while giant-sized weapons do base 1d10 damage; add the Strength modifier as usual.
• For individual creatures, roll 3d6 for Strength and Constitution, and add however many points the racial average exceeds 10 (for example: a stone giant adds +12 to both Strength and Constitution rolls). Calculate new hits, attacks, and damage as per the rules above. Roll the standard 3d6 for other abilities.

Interpretations: The basic idea is that monster types are, by default, unskilled brigands. They lose the Constitution bonus to hit points after the first hit die (as opposed to professional fighters who add it up to 9th level). Their base attack bonus is only 2/3 per level, the same as human thieves, but compensated by their exceptional Strength. They do not earn any special fighter features by default (e.g., weapon specialization).

Weapons: The base damage above (ogre 1d8, giant 1d10) assumes use of a weapon like a club, spear, or crude sword/axe. A light dagger-type weapon will do one die less, while a heavy two-handed weapon is one die greater. A weapon of quality (equal to human weaponsmith skill) is another die greater. Characters can generally use a weapon one size larger than themselves, but must use two hands to do so. Exchanges for equivalence of multiple dice can be made as convenient.

Examples: Giant clubs and spears are usually one-handed, doing base 1d10 damage, but one could use a two-handed version for base 1d12 (or 2d6); whereas a well-made two-handed sword for a fire giant would do 2d8 base damage (all before Strength modifiers). An ogre's club does base 1d8 damage, and can be picked up and used by a human two-handed; but humans cannot use giant-sized weapons. Similarly, an elven dagger can be wielded by a halfling as a short sword, doing the usual 1d4 damage.

Comparisons: See below for a table of comparisons between this system and statistics in the core OD&D books (mostly Vol-2, or Sup-I for the Bugbear and Storm Giant). This shows averages for hit points, attack bonus, and damage, as well as the differences between each system ("error"). Attack bonus is identical for about half of the creatures, and within 1 pip for most of the rest. Average damage is usually within 1 point of OD&D, but adds 2-3 points for some of the giant types. Hit points are nearly identical up through Troll-types, but add a small number of points for giant types (approaching the recommendation in Sup-I that hit dice be 8-sided). I think that this system provides a fairly smooth and flexible interpolation of OD&D, and the differences are "close enough" that players will likely not notice them in play (nor mind if they get a small-grained boost while playing such a creature, on average).

Advancement: Monsters are assumed to start with an effective XP score the same as fighters of the indicated level; they can earn additional experience and gain levels as fighters. Base attack bonus is always 2/3 per level, and hit dice d6; but they do gain Constitution bonuses for extra hit dice (up to 9th), and any special fighter features from advanced levels. In the rare case that one chooses to multiclass as a thief or wizard, all regular rules apply; the creature must have a score of 16 or greater in the prime requisite ability, sacrifice their top level, and then earn XP and levels as normal (maximum one per adventure). However, all thief skills are at –4 in 20 for ogre-sized creatures, –8 for giant-sized; and limits to level advancement may be set by the DM as desired.

Miscellany: One special case here is the Troll – it is the only humanoid-type in the rulebooks noted as using "talons and fangs" instead of artificial weapons; so while the first table above shows a higher-than-official amount of damage, this would only be the case when using weapons (which a Troll is unlikely to do). A second special case is the Storm Giant – above, the Storm Giant is given extra-huge weaponry, increasing another die larger over other giants; i.e., base 1d12 (or 2d6) damage for a simple club, and only usable by lesser giants two-handed.

Finally, compare this system to others such as Stephen Martin's in Dragon #109, May 1986 (which included seven different categories of weapon sizing for AD&D); 3E D&D (which added ability bonuses per die for all monsters, effectively doubling attack bonuses and hit points, and thus breaking compatibilty with earlier editions); or this author's own "Supersize Me!" system published in Fight On! Issue #8, Winter 2010 (which was somewhat more convoluted than the system shown here).