Thursday, November 29, 2012

Theremin Thursdays - Iron Horse edition

There are a lot of songs in the rich repertoire of North American music that concerns Railroads (there are a lot). Not surprisingly, as railroading in many aspects is of great interest to me, this music is also of interest to me.

The history of railroading, with powered locomotives, goes back to the turn of the century, 1800.  There about, several inventions came together (flanged rails in the last century, and steam engines most recently) to enable the major developments that lead us to what we view as the classic railroad - a powered locomotive pulling cars full of either passengers or cargo.  As a brief note of interest, however, cars on rails goes back to about 1550, when rails were first built in Germany to enable cargo wagons to travel easier.

Railroading in Europe and North America grew and grew in prominence and sophistication all the way up to the point where road traffic started to supplant it economically.  Around the period of the 1930s, during the Great Depression, there is a ton of American folklore and history that has to do with railroads - it was a part of almost all aspects of life.  PBS did a very nice documentary about young hobos riding trains, called Riding the Rails, with information available here.  One of the things they did along with that was a nice article about the history of Railroad based music.

For the music selections in this edition of Theremin Thursdays, however, I am going to concentrate on some later music. First to not cover some territory already done in this area, I can point to a great article posted on the music blog, Hidden Track, called B List: 10 Best Songs about Trains.  Amongst other things, it covers two of my favorites - Casey Jones by the Grateful Dead, and Take the A Train by Duke Ellington.  As you can see, the coverage of Railroad themed music covers a lot of different genres, even in modern times.  The list at Hidden Track covers some of the greatest musicians of the pop music over the last 50 years (Pat Metheny, Gladys Night, Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, etc).

The railroad companies themselves, in the mid 20th century, started putting out videos about their history and service, and some of these (for a gamer) are very interesting to watch.  Here are two that I think are pretty neat, although a Youtube search will uncover a lot more.  The first is a history of the Chicago and North Western Railroad (C&NW), released in 1948, the 100th anniversary of their existence.  There is some (fun) dramatization to watch in this, but also a nice history of the spread west of North American railroads.

The second is a nice article about the impact of railroading on American industry and the economy.  If you play economic railroad games, this is a very interesting history worth watching.  It is from the New York Central Railroad, one of my personal favorites.

But, now to the music, and then to the games.  The first is from Gordon Lightfoot.  Gordon Lightfoot's song the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a great song, and will probably be part of a future Theremin Thursdays article. The song being featured here, of course, is the Canadian Railroad Trilogy.  What a great song, about the history of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

Another song from around the same era is Jim Croce's Railroad song.  What a great song.  There is a version on youtube, below, but it has some special effects added in for the train sounds.  Not sure I like those . . .

I could add a link to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Railroad Song, but enough with the mellow stuff.  I will end the litany of music about railroad songs with one of the most fun (if ridiculous) songs about trains.  The song, of course, is Crazy Train by Ozzy.  But, for a video, I'll post a version of the song done by Iron Horse (what a cool Train name...), in a bluegrass mode.  At least I didn't post this version.

Okay, so what about gaming and Railroads.  First, there is the immensely popular game Ticket to Ride.  But is it a train game?  There is a whole sub-hobby of railgaming purists out there who would say no (note: I gently disagree, as to me any game with a Train theme is a train game, but there are of course different types, and different levels of difficulty and degrees of simulation involved).  A fun game, and an excellent gateway game to the hobby of modern board gaming, but not a train game.  Okay, so then, what is a train game?  A future article could be dedicated to this very question, but it seems to include some aspect of rail line building; cargo delivery; be based on economics; and sometimes have some aspect of company control, or a stock market.  If we use that as the criteria, then our list is a lot shorter.

The main categories seem to be three.  First, there is the whole large collection of very nice Crayon based Train games from Mayfair.  These are so nicknamed because they involve drawing on the game board, marking up your train segments, as you build them.  This could be done with crayons or with erasable markers, on a board specially built to be easily erasable.  The first of these was Empire Builder, but there have been lots and lots of successors.  You build your train network in the first phase of the game, and then you deliver cargo in the second phase of the game.  Nice.

 The next category are games where the main action is driven by control of various train companies, through the purchase or selling of stocks.  These are chiefly nicknamed "18xx" games because many of them feature a year from the 19th century (1830, 1860, 1853, etc) in the title.  One of the main influences in this category is the title 1830: Railways and Robber Barons from Mayfair, which was recently (and beautifully) reprinted.  These games have the players building routes, etc, but the main emphasis is on ownership, for determining control and winning the game.

The third main category of train game that railgamers take seriously is the series that is heavily based on Martin Wallace's design in Age of Steam.  Successors have been Railways of the World, Railroad Tycoon (taking the name from the enormously successful series of computer based Railroad games), and Steam.  I personally have Steam and Railways of the World - both are good games, and all four of these differ in some very important ways.  These games have the player controlling one train company throughout the game, but the action of building train lines and then delivering cargo is what the game is all about.  All great games, in my opinion.  Here is a picture of Steam, one of my favorites.

Okay, so those are the big categories, and I like them all.  Of the three my favorite is probably the third (Martin Wallace) category.  I love Steam, and I don't think I could play enough of it.  There are just so many layers of strategy to be employed, and lots of decisions (both tactical and strategic) - features I really like in games.

There are, however, other games that even serious Railgamers might grudgingly acknowlede as railroad games.  Here is a nice list of shorter games.  One of the criticisms of the above three categories is that games of those types take a l_o_n_g time to play, typically.  Not as long as, say, a 6 player or 8 player version of the Avalon Hill class Civilization, but still, pretty long.

So here is the list, it is called "Train Games in An Hour or Less" with the subtitle, "Where you don't own a Company".  Well, I don't know if Chicago Express breaks that rule, but it is still a very good list.

A few of my favorites that are not in the categories above are First Train to Nuremberg (which was, btw, Dec 7, 1835);  Chicago Express (which features really cool dials on the board, but is also a great game); and Steel Driver (which involves stock shares, and line building, but is otherwise pretty benign).  One of the cool things to note about those three titles is that they all started life in different forms.

First Train to Nuremberg - has long deep roots to Last Train to Wensleydale (the new version includes the old version).
First Train to Nuremberg
Last Train to Wensleydale

Chicago Express - Was originally Wabash Cannonball from the train game specialty publisher, Winsome Games.
Chicago Express
Wabash Cannonball

The third of this trifecta of Games Chuck Likes is:
Steel Driver - Which is very strongly based on Prairie Railroads
Steel Driver (note: Rubik's Cubes not included)

Prairie Railroads (updated Cube version)
I think that in all three cases, the newer versions (First Train to Nuremberg, Chicago Express, and Steel Driver) are all very attractive games, with first rate components, but if it wasn't for the design pioneering with the originals, we might not have gotten there.

Much the same with today's high speed rails, and the debt they owe to the pioneer in self powered railroads.

Shape of the Future? California High Speed Train

An early train of the Stephenson's Rocket era

A Splendid Little War - Wargaming Rules

This week, Wargame Wednesdays presents a set of quickplay rules for the Spanish American War (SAW).  A friend of mine referred to this (lovingly) as the Spanko-Yanko war.  I don't know about that, but these rules were written to play some fun club night miniature wargames using the very nice "Rough Riders" figures recently re-released by The Virtual Armchair General.  As the website states, these were released back in the 90s by Richard Houston, and they were sculpted by Chris Ferree.
The figures nice - not up to the standard of modern figures, but certainly fine for back in the 90s.  I bought a bunch of them from Patrick at TVAG when he first released them, and I got them painted up for me by a good friend in Virginia.  Well, one thing leads to another, and before you know it - there was talk in my old weekly club about playing a game with them.  So a ruleset was needed, and for small projects like this I really like homebrew rules, so "A Splendid Little War" was born.

Get action. Seize the moment. Man was never intended to become an oyster.
- Theodore Roosevelt

A Splendid Little War

Wars for small, quick games simulating land combat in the Spanish American War
by Chuck Turnitsa
Figures and Battlefield
  1. 15mm figures
  2. Infantry stands are 25mm square (or whatever is convenient).
  3. MG and Artillery stands are 30mm square (or whatever is convenient).
  4. Units should be organized by stands.
    1. An infantry unit should have between 4 and 6 stands.  
    2. A Machine Gun unit should have 1 stand
    3. An Artillery unit should have 1 stand
  5. Each stand should have several figures mounted on it  
    1. An Infantry unit should have 3 figures
    2. A Machine Gun unit should have 1 MG and 2 crew members
    3. An Artillery unit should have 1 gun and 2 crew members
  6. The table top should be prepared before the battle.  
    1. The fighting space should have ample areas of cover (jungle), especially at the edge of the battlefield.  
    2. There should be one or two small built up areas, on a road network, in the central part of the battlefield.  
    3. Roads have no effect in the game, unless they pass through jungle, then they permit full speed movement, and also artillery movement
Game Setup
  1. Each side should have 3 or more brigades of troops.
  2. Each brigade should have a handful of units.
    1. Infantry units are from 4-6 stands of infantry
    2. MG units are 1 stand of machine guns
    3. Artillery units are 1 stand.
  3. Prepare a card for each brigade, identified on the card. Prepare 1 “bonus” card for each side.
  4. Shuffle all these cards together.
Turn Sequence
  1. Take turns flipping over a card.  When a card is flipped, all of the units in that brigade may move.
  2. If a bonus card is flipped, a Brigade that HAS ALREADY MOVED may move again. Units that contacted the enemy during the first move may not move during this bonus move.
  3. If a bonus card is flipped first, then that side may identify a Brigade of the enemy’s as “pinned” which means that it may not move that turn on its regular card. If the enemy draws its own bonus card,after it would have normally moved the “pinned” brigade, then it may moveit normally.
  4. All units move 6 inches each turn. Artillery may not enter rough terrain. Infantry and MG units move half in rough terrain (except Moro warriors and Philippine Scouts).
  5. If an Artillery unit or MG unit move, they may not shoot.
  6. An Infantry unit may charge the enemy.If this is the case, the unit gets +1d6 inches added to their basic move.
  7. See charges and responses (below) to determine what happens during a charge, and how a unit may respond to being charged.
  8. After all cards have been flipped, and all units have moved then all artillery and MG fire takes place, simultaneously.
  9. After all artillery and MG fire is done, then all infantry fire takes place, simultaneously. Units charged may fire; charging units may not.
  10. After all firing takes place, then fight hand to hand combat (see charges and responses, below).
  11. Shuffle cards and begin next turn.
Firing Sequence
  1. Infantry may fire 12 inches
  2. MG may fire 24 inches
  3. Artillery may fire 48 inches
  4. Infantry fire is done by rolling 1d6 per stand firing, and scores a hit on a 5 or 6.
  5. MG fire is done by rolling 3d6 per crewman (there are 2 crewman per MG stand, initially), and score a hit on a 5 or 6.
  6. Artillery fire is done by first picking a target point, then rolling a drift dice and 1d6 (2d6 if over half range). If the drift dice indicates a hit, then good, otherwise drift the target point the amount rolled on the dice.Roll 1d6, and any unit within 1 inch of the landing point takes that many hits.
  7. US units under cover may be fired at, but receive a save of 4,5,6 per hit scored.
  8. Spanish units under cover may not be fired at (they are adept at hiding – learned in the war against Cuban rebels – and are using smokeless powder, so are not easily spotted).
  9. Units under cover may fire out of cover, if they are at he edge of that cover.
  10. Units that lose a stand must test morale – see below.
  11. Each infantry stand can suffer three hits before being removed.
  12. Each MG stand can suffer two hits before being removed.  After 1 hit, it can only move half speed.
  13. Each Artillery stand can suffer two hits before being removed.  After 1 hit, it cannot move, but may still pivot to fire.
Charge and Response
  1. When a unit wishes to charge, before measuring the distance to the charger, roll 1d6 and add that many inches to the unit’s move.
  2. If the unit has enough move to contact the enemy, then the charge is a success.
  3. If the unit does not have enough move to contact the enemy, then it stops after moving as far as it can.
  4. The charged unit may shoot during the Firing sequence part of the turn, but only at the charging unit.
  5. The charging unit may not fire, even if it did not contact the enemy.
  6. If the charging unit loses a stand, and then tests morale, it may fail (see below).  If it does fail the morale test, then it does not make contact (but may be shot at by the charged unit).
  7. If the charged unit gets to move after being contacted, and wants to evade, it moves away 1d6 inches. If the charging unit has enough remaining movement to catch it, then it is removed from the game. An evading unit may not fire or charge another unit.
  8. If the charging unit makes contact, then both sides roll 1d6. The higher modified roll wins, the loser taking the difference in hits. The winning unit automatically takes 1 hit. The losing unit automatically routes (see below)The following modifiers affect the dice toss.
    1. Charging unit gets +1
    2. Larger unit gets +1
    3. Unit defending earth works or in a building gets +1

Morale and Results
  1. When a unit has to roll a morale test, roll 1d6, if it is Less than the number of stands remaining it passes.
  2. If a unit fails morale, it has two choices, it can route, or take 1 full stand as casualties.
  3. If a unit routes, move it 2d6" away from the enemy.  It is marked as routing.
  4. When a routing unit's Brigade is activated in the turn sequence, then roll a morale test for the routing unit, if it passes, it recovers from routing, and may turn to face the enemy.  If it fails, it continues routing (2d6").

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Traveller Tuesdays - Mercenary Encounters in Sphere Fenix

As a client state of the Third Imperium, one of the things that Sphere Fenix is well known for, is being the source of a number of very well known mercenary companies.  This is one of the few pieces of information about the economy of the Sphere that we get from the write up in the original Judges Guild publication of Crucis Margin.

As Mercenary craft are one of the possible encounters from the Sphere Fenix encounter system that has been slowly being developed here, it seemed appropriate to spend a little bit of digital ink on describing some of the main Mercenary Companies that operate both inside of and outside of the Sphere.  An actual table of encountered craft will follow in a separate article.

Excellent Hammer's Slammers painting by Shimmering Sword on Deviant Art
 When people discuss the Mercenary Companies of the Sphere, the phrase often used is "Mercenary Corps".  That is referring to any one (usually) of the Big Six.  While there are uncountless small subcontractor and independent operators (usually with not much more than a Company in strength of operatives, as well as some undetermined level of organic support - sometimes vehicles, sometimes drones and robotics, sometimes artillery, sometimes atmospheric craft, and sometimes starships), there are really on six big operators.  These corporations boast not only division strength (or much more) capability of ground forces, but also can field a full gamut of support equipment, from state of the art automaton support (robotics and drones), through atmospheric craft wings, and fleets of starships.

Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle of sci fi novels are excellent, including the novel Dorsai!

The military strength of these are usually equal or surpassing that of many planetary militias, and these organizations will often be supporting any number of contracts simultaneously.  They are not limited to the Sphere, to the Sector, or even to the Quadrant, but will take on extended long term contracts, to include extended travel time, when the customer appears.

So the mercenary companies are:
  • Black Mountain
  • Force Green, Ltd.
  • Red Flag Corporation
  • Teekl and Salan
  • Harris Rangers
  • Dover Command
A little bit about each of these companies, and the planets where they have their headquarters.

Black Mountain - This company has its HQ and its history on the Sphere Fenix world of Marada, in the Mandin Subsector.
  • Marada (0813)  A484776-E N Ag Ri
 Marada is the third world around the star Diusi Alpha.  The system features 6 planets, 2 planetoid belts, and no gas giants.  The planet has an A class starport capability, with multiple ground port locations, and the main facility being an orbital high port.  Affiliated with that high port (DeLonga high port) there is also a Sphere naval facility, called Port Marada.  The planet itself is balkanized, with a number of different nation states splitting up its population of 5 million.  There are numerous space facilities, both on the single moon of Marada, as well as on other bodies, and in the planetoid belts, of the system.  The main world benefits from being both Agricultural and Rich.

 Black Mountain as a company is headquartered in the desert nation known as the Kingdom of Erdos.  The company itself gains it's name from the tallest mountain on the planet, which is in the Kingdom.  The company recruits from the various military bodies on the planet, as well as retirees and veterans of the Sphere Fenix Navy and Naval Infantry, that are in surplus because of Port Marada.

  Many of the senior officer corps of Black Mountain were/are nobility in the Kingdom of Erdos, and largely also share the same religion/philosophy common to that part of Marada.  This is called Zen Positivism and gives warriors who follow it a sort of bushido code.

 Being as close as it is to the Mandanin Co-Dominion, the company does feature several companies of Danin infantry, taking advantage of their natural martial nature to use them as rough terrain shock troops.  These Danin Companies are all commanded, at the field level, by Danin Officers.  Together they refer to themselves as the Tooth and Claw regiment.  The Danin homeworld of Kalradin is in the same subsector, which may explain why so many Danin in the male stage of development are available for employment.

Force Green, Ltd. -This company is very decentralized, but if it has a focused HQ, then that would be at the planetoid world of Marden, in the Negoiul subsector.

  • Marden  (1208) B000663-C    As
Marden is itself a shepherd moon (although small enough to be classed a Planetoid with size 0) around the gas giant Herscheli-2.  The star, Herscheli Gamma has 3 planets, and one gas giant.  The gas giant, in addition to the moon Marden, has a very mineral rich ring.  The whole system is a captive of the socialist bureaucracy that manages the nearby planet of Lycabettus (1209/Negoiul).  That world is classified as poor, because of bureaucratic mis-management, but also is quite mineral poor.  Because of it, multiple orbital colonies have been set up around Hescheli-2 to mine the gas giant of all sorts of resources (gas and mineral) and ship them back to Lycabettus.  Force Green, Ltd has a permanent contract to the Lycabettus government to provide security services at the moon of Marden.  

Between the moon and the many orbital mining stations, there is a population of 400,000.  Locally, Force Green Ltd. has an employee force of approximately 20,000, about half of those are combat/security operatives, and the other half provide the administrative support for both the Marden contract, and other contracts that the company hires out for.  Force Green tends to prefer long term contracts, performing either training, force protection, or security.  They have a fleet of starships, of course, and many administrative operations located where their contracts are, but they do not prefer to maintain heavy support equipment.

Red Flag Corporation - This company does not maintain a planet-side headquarters, but rather has a mobile starship based HQ.  In an early version of the failed company that Red Flag Corporation formed out of (Stayne Company), a contract for the Third Imperium included as payment a certain percentage of recovered salvage.  One of the things recovered was a lightning class cruiser, Imperial tail number 6396, the Guardian Rainbow.  The ship was rebuilt by Stayne Company (one of the misadventures that bankrupted that mercenary outfit), and renamed the Hecate.  The Third Imperium required that the Nuclear Dampeners and Meson Screens were removed, as well as the facilities for maintaining fissionable and fusionable munitions for the missile racks. When Stayne failed, and Red Flag Corporation was formed, the Hecate was one of the assets that the new company acquired.

 Unlike a standard Lightning Class Cruiser, the Hecate has had half of its 800t fighter storage space reclaimed and converted to troops storage, with training and recreation facilities included.
Red Flag Corporation specializes in space based operations, preferring to provide contracts for orbital facilities, starships, airless environments, and other space based locales.  They do not maintain heavy ground equipment, or atmospheric craft.  In addition to the Hecate, the Corporation also maintains a few dozen other, smaller, starships.  In most cases, these feature (in additional to normal ship's craft) boarding cutters rather than planetary landing shuttlecraft.

Teekl and Salan - This is a mercenary organization in flavor very similar to Hammer's Slammers.  It started out as a number of officers (Jon Teekl and Lisa Salan) who had recently cashiered out of Imperial Army service took their savings, and pooling those resources, secured some work as a Security outfit.  Slowly, reinvesting their early profits, Teekl and Salan (T&S) began to grow and grow.  Today, they even own a planet, having purchased the world of Wager from the Middle Kingdom (the star kingdom of Chhung Kuo).   
  • Wager 2302 D566569-9 Ag
Wager is the second planet around the star Silla Mu, and the system has 4 other planets, and a planetoid belt.  The world only has a populatoin of approximately 10,000, almost all of which are either employees of T&S, or dependents.  The majority of the population lives in a single arcology, called Chipdown Tower, and much of the agriculture richness of the planet is harvested by robotic factories.  
Painting by Daniel Maland, that captures very well what Chipdown Tower looks like.

The government is classified as Captive, because although it is technically a company meritocracy, all of the adjudicating and validation of those who serve are subjected to oversight and approval by Chhung Kuo representatives - one of the conditions that were placed on the Company when they purchased the planet (actually, it was part of payment for a job).  The local starport is somewhat crude, and T&S do not maintain much of their own fleet, preferring to hire out ships when needed.  The world has a high law level, but that only represents the intrusion of the Chhung Kuo overseers, and also the restriction on personal ownership of firearms.  Firearms owned as part of service to T&S
Wager is in the Souris subsector, located between the borders of Ramayan, Chhung Kuo and Sphere Fenix.  Needless to say, there is plenty of local work on the many worlds, and governments, within those star nations, but Teekl and Salan is still commanded, at the top, by a number of ex Imperial officers and Nobles, so they also favor contracts for the Imperium and for Imperial worlds.

Harris Rangers - The Rangers are a land mobility based Mercenary Company.  They specialize in armored units, and supporting artillery and logistics equipment.  They are not interested in space based operations (such as security contracts on space stations), nor do they operate a lot of infantry or atmospheric attack craft units.  Because of this they almost exclusively seek out contracts where they are involved in a force-on-force conflict, and they provide the armor edge to their employers.

The Rangers are stationed on the very small and very dry world of Tarat in the Olsztyn subsector.  The world is home to a population of 3,000, almost all of whom are employees of the Harris Rangers.  There is a taint in the atmosphere that, when exposed to for a period of time, renders the human female reproduction functions as inoperable (temporarily).  This can be countered by medication, although a lot of the officer corps of the Rangers who are female find the situation to be quite desirable.
  • Tarat 1311 C441455-A Ni Po
 The world is the 3rd planet around the Ubin Rho star system, and it shares it with 4 other planets, and two gas giants.  The world is almost perfect for training, with a very light gravity field, and being extremely dry (almost a desert world).  The starport is adequate for the hired transport traffic that comes into and out of the system to service the Harris Ranger's heavy lift demands.  

Umor Downport, almost always in perpetual night.

Tarat has a very minor axial tilt, and almost no seasonal variety.  The poles are almost always very dark, and the main starport for the world, Umor Down, is located at the 'north' pole of the planet.  An enclosed maglev train provides both cargo and passenger service to the main population and work center of the corporation, somewhat further 'south' on the planet.

Dover Command - Another general-purpose, mercenary company.  Dover Command came out of the early days of Sphere Fenix, being an organization that formed out of the armed element of one of the three main factions that eventually came out of the warring period and formed the Sphere.  That organization was the Megar Brotherhood, whose capital was the world of Jipujapa in the Negoiul Subsector.  

The Megar Brotherhood was an alliance of about a dozen worlds, all of which subscribed to a philosophy of equality and personal freedom.  They had a very effective military, but in the end, could not persevere over their rivals, and so sued for peace and became part of the Sphere.  A number of Officers from the Brotherhood Defense Force (BDF) decided to stick together.   They pooled some resources that they had, and purchased Dover Island on Jipujapa, which was a state of the art training facility of the BDF, complete with an atmospheric craft base, and ample room for expansion on the island.  This became the organization Dover Command, and they started taking on contracts, and slowly grew and grew over the past two centuries into a very large Mercenary operation.

  • Jipujapa      1010 B786899-D    Ri

Jipujapa is a rich planet,  with a population of 70 million, participating in a very effective, centralized bureaucracy.  Dover Island has been granted, by historic tradition to the breakup of the Megar Brotherhood, some autonomy and independence from the rest of the Planet.  The Command operates their own starport facilities, consisting of both Courant High Port, an orbital facility where much of the operational heavy equipment of the corporation is stored until required on a contract (to avoid the expense of lifting it up out of the gravity well), and also of Japa Mountain Spaceport, located high on the flat topped Japa mountain in the center of Dover Island.
Japa Mountain Spaceport
Dover Command is known for being ruthlessly independent, a factor that has probably contributed to their long existence and success.  As they own all their own transportation and logistics assets, this is far easier for them to do, than for other mercenary corporations, as they have to rely very little on either their employer or other contractors for support or transportation out of a bad situation.

Note: There is an absolute ton of information about Hammer's Slammers (one of my favorite Sci Fi mercenary organizations) in the Mongoose Publishing Traveller Variant by that name.  See a number of cool free downloads at their website.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ticket to Ride on the iPad

Quick Review - First, Ticket to Ride is a great game, and a favorite at Gaming with Chuck HQ.  But, this is a quick review of the iPad implementation.

It is great.  Very colorful, easy to navigate, intuitive, and has a nice timing to the effects and feedback to the user.  A great game.  And many of the published boards are available as in game purchases to expand your choices.

One of the things that makes this title rise from Very Good to Great, however, is the ability to play locally over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. If you have two folks with iPads, they can both log into the game, and play if they are in the same locale.  So no sharing the device, no accidentally seeing your opponent's cards, none of that.  A great experience.

TSR? Gygax Magazine??

As many readers of gaming blogs, and gaming news in general, may be aware, a number of individuals recovered the TSR name and have reformed a company using the same.

Their first project will be the publication of Gygax Magazine.

I think that the logo alone speaks volumes about how much this is intended to resemble the (good) old days of Dragon Magazine.

If you haven't heard then here it is - TSR has reformed and will be publishing a general gaming (heavy on RPGs) magazine called Gygax magazine.  If you are interested in signing up for email notifications about publication, etc, then you can go to this website.

There are evidently some riffs in the Gygax family over who is and who is not supporting it, but it definitely seems to have the support of Gary's two brothers Sons (I mistakenly had them identified as Brothers, see comment below).

With the recent publication of the 1st Edition reprints (PHB, MM, DMG) and the upcoming reprint of the 2nd Edition books, the folks at Wizards of the Coast definitely have gotten the vibe about the Old School Renaissance that is out there.  It makes sense.  The millions of gamers who grew to love D&D in it's earlier versions, loved it as it was.  Changing it too much will lose them.
Regardless of politics about the magazine, etc etc, I just am glad that the older style RPGs are still being played by so many.  Mr. Gygax and his compadres certainly changed the world a bit when they introduced all of us to Dungeons and Dragons.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Theremin Thursdays - Thanksgiving Edition

So, I type this Thursday evening, with the Turkey having been eaten (ceremoniously, and with lots of pause for good conversation and discussion of our excellent situation here at GwC HQ - we truly are a blessed family).

In thinking of a theme for this weeks article on Music and Gaming, it occurred to me.  There is a topic that has gotten a lot of coverage in pop music over recent years, that is also a topic that segues into gaming quite nicely.

And that topic is Superman.  The Man of Steel.

I won't go into the slobbering depths of fanboy delight that I personally get from reading Superman (and related) stories, but I will point out that the man has Staying Power as a character.  I know, a lot of folks who aren't fans think that a Superman story is, well, boring.  I mean - really, he can do it all, right?  Well, the stories are good, and have stood the test of time, precisely because he can't do everything - and more importantly, he is surrounded by a cast of very, very interesting supporting characters.

But Superman, while being (arguably) the first super powered hero (although some of the mysterious and super-perfect pulp characters that preceded Superman and the meteoric rise of comic book heroes were very, very close to being super powered themselves) is today only a part of a much larger pantheon of super heroes in the line of ongoing titles from DC (Detective Comics, or at least it was once upon a time).

Those heroes, and the universe in which they dwell (and enjoy adventurous stories, in both print and film) has been the subject of a couple of gaming efforts, but currently the two main ones are a DC Heroes clix figures (not my cup of tea) and the DC Adventures role playing game.

But, for music, back to Superman.  Here are a few songs from recent years, concerning the Man of Steel.

First up, is Kryptonite by 3 Doors Down.  I like this song, the pace, and the music.  The lyrics are pretty good, and for the sake of this article, it is certainly inspired by the Big Red Cape, and of course, his green nemesis.

Next up is Superman by Goldfinger.  I'm not sure, but this may be the only Ska song about a superhero.  Long time readers of Gaming with Chuck may realize that we have a fondness here for Ska, especially Madness.  This is a pretty good song, and again - it passes the Son of Krypton test.

Okay, so the Ska song is out of the way.  The next title has got to be Superman's Song from Crash Test Dummies.  I loved these guys from when they first came out, and probably in no small way because of this song.

The Crash Test Dummies song is good (pretty solid) but it is also high on my list because it is one of the few pop culture references (outside of comic books or animated movies, etc, based on comic books) that mentions the Super Man villain, Solomon Grundy.  I like Solomon Grundy, as a villain.  A lot.  There was a two part story from the really well done DC super hero series, Justice League, that featured Solomon Grundy teaming up with some heroes (Dr. Fate, Hawkgirl, and Aquaman) to take on an extra dimensional being. 

The episode was called The Terror Beyond and is excellent on about a hundred different levels, not least of which, because it is strongly based on one of the few Marvel super hero groups I really liked, the Defenders - but with the Marvel characters replaced by DC counterparts.  Solomon Grundy was a stand in for the Hulk, but brought more interest to the story because Grundy is a bona fide villain, as well as being a misunderstood monster much like the Hulk.  In the episode, Grundy dies, and is concerned about whether he will NOW find his soul (the reward he wanted for teaming up with the heroes was to finally get a soul).  Here is the clip - note, if you aren't a super hero fan, this will be EXTREMELY campy.

Okay, put away the kleenex, you KNOW that Solomon Grundy will be back.  The next song comes from an album that was one of my absolute favorites back when I was in college (just a few years before the first Crash Test Dummies album came out).  That album was Life's Rich Pageant, by REM, and the song (of course) is Superman.

Finally, the last song about Clark Kent, err, Superman is this old gem from the Kinks - Superman.  Nice song... ("I'd like to fly but I can't even swim...")

I love super hero role playing games.  I like running the games. I like making up super heroes and villains. I like postulating what effects super powers will have on physics, and then translating that effect into game terms.  I love super hero role playing games.  However, I must admit that while I am Heavily influenced by the DC universe, I never played the older DC Heroes role playing game.  It was from Mayfair and had about a zillion products.  I read some (and even used them in my own superhero game of choice - which is Champions from Hero Games), but never ran or played the game.

The new one is from Green Ronin publishing, and is based on the Mutants and Masterminds game engine.  Not a bad choice - it is pretty easy to understand, easy to play, and is strongly rooted in the D20 gaming perspective that has dominated the gaming scene since AD&D 3rd Edition was first published (and continues under the Pathfinder umbrella).

Currently the products available are the DC Adventures Hero Book (the basic rule book).  At $26 (more or less) from Amazon, this is a nice deal for a role playing game.  It is based on 3rd Edition Mutants and Masterminds, and other than having a slight reputation for being densely packed with info (that's a bad thing?) and the info being hard to find (that IS a bad thing), it appears as if this book is very well received.  The other two publications currently in print are Heroes and Villains, volumes 1 and 2.  These are an exhaustive list of DC characters from across the decades, written up in gaming terms.  Very nice, even if you don't play DC Adventures.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Traveller Tuesday - Bonus Thanksgiving Edition

Filling in the details for the generated types of ships can be a good task for random tables, as well as an additional input vector of campaign info into the game.  Some extra tables are provided here for Traders, Scientists, and Mercenaries.

Traders give a nice selection of recurring small ship encounters that provide a source of allies, rivals and potential patrons available on all worlds in the campaign.

Scientists give a series of encounters that provide details on some of the research institutions of the campaign.

Mercenaries fill the same niche as Traders, but with a more militaristic flair.  And given the amount of mercenary training that goes on in Sphere Fenix (mercenary services to the Imperium and elsewhere is a large part of the Sphere's export economy), these encounters are likely to play a decent role in the game.

Traders are presented below, Scientists and Mercenaries will be in the next Traveller posting.


This category represents independent operators (or at most small groups, owning typically only one ship).  The following table gives some examples of those that might be encountered in or around Sphere Fenix.  To generate an encounter, roll 1d6 for column A.  Then, if the nearest world is within 1 parsec, roll 1d6 for column B, or if the nearest world is 2 parsecs away (or more), roll 1d6 for column C.

Traders in Sphere Fenix
Die ADie BDie CCaptainShip
11-Val Vondas (m)"Zorga Wayfarer"
Free Trader
2-Eelynn Javik (f)"Raven"
Fat Trader
3-Venka Jissard (m)"Broma Heavy"
In System Hauler
41-2Konia (Danin)"Mudai Express"
Far Trader
53-4Venka Brimarch (m)"Pathfinder"
Merchant Trader X
65-6Airax Haruss (f)"Stellar Endeavor"
Armed Free Trader
21-Hysio Thule (m)"Flying Squid"
Free Trader
2-Pakmi Aneen
"Valentina Tereshkova"
Free Trader
3-Iarred Bibble (m)"Solar Ranger"
Antique Trader
41-2Lantha Grandes (f)"Empress of Ventai"
Merchant Trader
53-4Arden Alken (m)"Star Samurai"
Far Trader
65-6Alam Ahdar (cyborg)"Red Robin"
Far Trader
31-Winford Sabine (m)"Mondy's Opportunity"
In System Hauler
2-Jaina Madar (f)"Blue Dragonfly"
Free Trader
3-Nolan Centrich (m)"Rani of Lahore"
Fat Trader
41-2Jesma (Danin)"Yreek Wanderer"
Fast Trader
53-4Damien Bentzen (m)"Star of Yuvek"
Far Trader
65-6Cerria Vane (f)"Celestial Trade"
Armed Free Trader
41-Merrill Sarratt (m)"Starlight Express"
Antique Trader
2-Clement Richards (m)"Waynio's Freedom"
Free Trader
3-Clara Whedon (f)"Slow Ambush"
Free Trader
41-2Meteor Smith (m)"Big Endeavor"
Far Trader
53-4Winnifred Brown (f)"Clearwater II"
Merchant Trader
65-6Nelson Quasar (m)"Fire Beetle"
Far Trader
51-Millu Sissal D7(Hiver)"Santo Envoy"
Fat Trader
2-Waymire Wilkinson (m)"Flint's Jackpot"
Fat Trader
3-Delila Quintan (f)"Yuri Gagarin"
Free Trader
41-2Dyer Carmichael (m)"Destiny of Lazarus"
Fast Trader
53-4Dia Desai (f)"Nathan's Wanderer"
Armed Free Trader
65-6Rharo Olier (m)"Jiu Wan Po"
Far Trader
61-Genko Hal (exotic)"Ariel Lift"
Free Trader
2-Rhoro Melne (m)"Slow Maser"
Antique Trader
3-Elizabet Stasny (f)"Iron Wagon"
Free Trader
41-2Isaias Zephyr (m)"Fair Particle"
Far Trader
53-4Nellie Jones (f)"Good Omen"
Far Trader
65-6Issac Klepton (m)"Harsh Language"
Merchant Trader

Here are the details on the different types of Trader ship classes:
  • In System Hauler (J0) 800T (Traders and Gunboats, p.37)
  • Free Trader (J1) 200T (Main Rulebook)
  • Fat Trader/Subsidized Merchant (J1) 400T (Main Rulebook)
  • Antique Trader (J1) 400T (Merchants and Cruisers, p.69)
  • Far Trader (J2) 200T (Main Rulebook)
  • Fast Trader (J2) 200T (Traders and Gunboats, p.42)
  • Merchant Trader (J2) 300T (Merchants and Cruisers, p.85)
  • Armed Free Trader (J2) 200T (Merchants and Cruisers, p.88)
  • Merchant Trader X (J2) 500T (Merchants and Cruisers, p.93)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Traveller Tuesdays - Encounters in Sphere Fenix (3)

This week for Traveller Tuesdays, Gaming with Chuck is continuing in a series of articles on random encounters in Sphere Fenix - a star government in the first quadrant of the Crucis Margin sector that spans approximately 15-20 parsecs across.  The reason for this approach was to generate enough background information about the organizations and ships in and around Sphere Fenix to be useful for a sandbox type game.  All of this will be gather up into a pdf once it is finished.

There are times when a random starship needs to be determined (as a floating hulk, derelict, victim of a pirate, or other reason). The following table, which is keyed to starport type (and is modified from the table found in The Traveller Book) is useful for this.

Starships, by Starport Type
dice A B C D E X
2 - - - - - -
3 - - - - - -
4 - - - - K -
5 - - - - - L
6 S A - L - -
7 A S R K - -
8 R A A S - -
9 M* R* R* SP S T
10 Y M Q A A Q
11 T R T R Q CP
12 R* C* Y M CP C
13 M* Y* A Y - -
14 C* T* S* Q - -
15 T* C* Y* - - -
DM +2 if Naval Base in system
DM +1 if Scout Base in system

A letter code indicates a standard ship class, as indicated by the following list. If a ship class is accompanied by the letter P that indicates that the ship, while not specifically a pirate vessel, is engaged in pirate activities. An asterisk indicates that there are also small craft (1d3) present. Roll for them on the Small Craft table below. A dash means something non-standard, roll on the Special table below.

  • A - Trader
  • C -Mercenary Cruiser
  • K - Safari Ship
  • L - Laboratory Ship
  • M - Passenger Liner
  • Q - Pirate Vessel
  • R - Merchant Vessel
  • S - Scout Vessel
  • T - Patrol Cruiser
  • Y - Yacht

If small craft are indicated, roll on the following table. If located in a system with a ship that could carry the craft, then it is part of that ship's complement. Otherwise roll on the small craft disposition table.

Small Craft Table
020t Launch
130t Ship's Boat
230t Slow Boat
340t Pinnace
440t Slow Pinnace
550t Cutter
695t Shuttle
710t Fighter
DM+1 if Naval base in system
DM-1 if Scout base in system

Once the vessel(s) are determined, consider the accompanying starship that was already determined. If the small craft can be carried by that starship, then that is its source, otherwise the role of those not assigned to starships in the system is determined by the following table.

Unassigned Small Craft
2Marooned Crew
7In-system Cargo
8In-system Liner
DM +1 if Pop 6+
DM +2 if TL 8+

Each one of the ship types listed above can be given more information on the appropriate subtables either already developed, presented below, or to be developed.

Pirates, for instance, have already been covered in this posting.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Theremin Thursdays - Ein Feste Berg

Another article in a series exploring the connections between Gaming and Music, and other outlets of popular culture.

So, one of the major events in the development of modern society in the Western world was the Reformation.  On the surface, of course, it was a movement to identify that the Church was not the sole authority over man's relationship with God (and by extension, in an age of pervasive religiosity, also not the sole authority over all aspects of society).  Regardless of where an individual is within the Catholic-Protestant-Other taxonomy, it must be realized that the Reformation enabled society to separate Church authority from secular authority, and also the essential roots of ideas about freedom of religion, tolerance of others, and the value of the individual versus the society.

All very important stuff.

 However, as lofty as all this is, here at Gaming with Chuck, and especially during Theremin Thursdays, we are (for the moment) interested in the effects of the Reformation on both Music and Gaming.  We will start out with music, one piece in particular, and then look at a few related games.

Approximately 10 years after he nailed the 95 Theses to the door of that famous church in Germany (actually, it was "Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences" and they were nailed to the door of All-Saints Church, in Wittenberg, Germany), Martin Luther composed the song A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (actually "Ein Feste Berg ist unser Gott").  It has been a cornerstone of protestant hymnals ever since, especially the Lutheran Church, in one form or another.  If you have never heard it, here is a version in English.  I say a version, because it has been translated into English alone over 70 times.

By the way, Luther's music was included by J.S. Bach in his fantastic cantata, BWV 80. Okay, so a great hymn, written by a great man, from a great (although tumultuous) time.  What about it's relationship to gaming?  Well, there are a couple of games that I would like to consider, two board games, and a role playing game setting.  Two of them share the name (A Mighty Fortress) from the hymn written by Luther.  The third bears a phrase uttered by Luther ("Here I Stand") during his defense before the Diet of Worms.  Here is a fantastic video, with Joseph Fiennes playing Martin Luther, giving a hollywood version of the defense (in actuality, Luther answered the first half of this scene one day, and then asked for a day to consider, before his final answer that contains the immortalized defense, "Here I stand, I can do no other").  This is from the movie "Luther" 2003.  By the way, it should be pointed out that this is a pretty good depiction of Luther, even if it is performed by Voldemort's brother.

Before getting to the game titles, and risk being labeled as being "too serious", Gaming with Chuck would like to point out that Martin Luther was an earthy fellow (despite having a PhD, like the author of this blog), and enjoyed a good beer or wine as much as the rest of us.  There is a letter he wrote to his wife on the subject (see the nice article here), once, where he claimed that the beer he was drinking on a trip was "strange to him" and if he did not get his own stock forwarded to him, he might not be able to return to home because of the new beer he was drinking.  In light of that, we present one possible vision of how Martin Luther may have celebrated Oktoberfest (with apologies to the All Saint's Church in Wittenberg).

Okay, the games.  The first (and oldest) is the (1977) SPI Title, A Mighty Fortress.  The game is a very solid, and not overly-complex design.  This was a multi-player (6 players) game about the Reformation and the Counter Reformation.

The game featured not only markers representing Clergy going back and forth to convince states to favor one side or the other (in essence, converting, or re-converting countries), but also featured some military action (the beginning of the Wars of Religion).  A reprint of the original (with updated graphics, but not much else changed) came out from Excalibre games in 2011 (available on the Decision Games website).  Here is an image of part of the map, followed by the blurb from Excalibre Games:

A Mighty Fortress: Between 1531 and 1555 the world shook to the reverberations of a struggle whose resolution was to chart the course of Europe’s religious and political alliances for centuries. It was in these years that the conflicting ideologies of Lutheran Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation inexorably drew the disparate empires, nations, and leaders of Europe into a maelstrom of religious war and dispute.

A Mighty Fortress simulates this major historical conflict on a beautifully illustrated political map of Europe. Colorful cardboard playing pieces move, position. And engage in battle upon this map through a superimposed hexagonal grid, which functions like a chessboard’s squares.
Game components include: one rules booklet, 200 die cut playing pieces, one 22 x 34 inch map, and various player aids.
Overall, a very good game, and one that was worthy of being reprinted.

Our next title is the much more modern boardgame, Here I Stand. This is a game from GMT, published in 2006, concerning similar events as A Mighty Fortress, but in a more modern design.

The game was reprinted in 2010 (with some component improvements).Movement is point to point, rather than hex map, but the biggest change is that this is a card driven wargame design.  The action, from turn to turn, is governed by card play (which grants all sorts of map based activity). Here are some sample cards.

The designer, Ed Beach has a nice web page discussing aspects of the game.  The most excellent wargaming graphics design artist, Mark Mehaffey has a very nice redrawn map, presented on his website, here.

Finally the last item to bring up this time is "A Mighty Fortress", which was a setting handbook for 2nd Edition Advance Dungeons and Dragons (or AD&D2E as the cobbler elves at Gaming with Chuck refer to it as).  This was a general handbook for setting roleplaying campaings during the Renaissance in general, and the Reformation in particular.  And why not?  As a setting, it has a lot to be desired - strong possibilities for conflict, lots of mobile classes of personages that can be used as archetypes for characters, a period when there are a lot of different nationalities and societies in contact with each other, and loads and loads of historical material about the conflict (and legends) of the time.

 This was in the REF (Campaign Reference) manual series, all of which gave insight into how to play in either Historical or Mythological settings from history.  Very nice work.  It had lots of information about the military hardware of the time, as well as the various nationalities, and ideas of how to play spies, soldiers, adventurers, diplomats, swashbucklers, and clerics from the period.

Before you say "pooh, pooh" to this idea of a setting for a fantasy roleplaying game, consider the introduction of Magic in a period where you have two very strong, and one of them very authoritarian, Religious systems in a society that has reasons to believe in all sorts of magic, supernatural, and mystical forces.  For reference, consider the fantastic tales of Robert E Howard about his hero, Solomon Kane.  That character has served as the basis not only for the Howard stories, but also pastiches from other authors, as well as comic books, and a movie.  The character travels across Reformation Europe (if stretched to include the English Civil War and the Wars of Religion in the 17th century, including the Thirty Years War), battling not only the typical bandits and vile crooked noblemen and women, but also witches, demons, werewolves and all sorts of other supernatural foes.

While that may or may not be your idea of gaming, it is out there and it is available.  Let me say, however, that despite Howard's flights of fancy, much of what he wrote about is in type, if not in instance, part and parcel of the Reformation mind.

So, from Martin Luther, through J.S. Bach, down to Solomon Kane.  That is Theremin Thursdays for this week, I hope you get to do some gaming this weekend.