Project 1701b – pre story from the Nar side

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shootDr Porsuk was annoyed to be disturbed when he’d left specific instructions that nothing of the sort should happen.

“But, doctor,” said the nurse, “It’s Squirrel. You must come see immediately.”

The doctor made a mental note to have the nurse’s pay docked if the news she’d brought turned out to be routine as he followed her through the corridors.

Squirrel, or ‘Miss U Squirrel’ as she was known in the register, was found six months ago in an abandoned quarry with severe head injuries. She was unconscious. There were no forms of transportation nearby; the nearest town was several hour’s walk away. Her identity tattoo had been lazered off and she carried no electronic devices . The only clue to her origins or identity was a charm bracelet with only one charm remaining, a squirrel, and that was how she became Unknown Squirrel. The authorities placed her in the care of the hospital while investigations continued. For every day of those six months she had lain in a coma, breathing but unresponsive. Until today.

Even before he entered the room Dr Porsuk could tell that something miraculous had happened. Squirrel lay as she had lain every other time the doctor had done his rounds. She was remarkably healthy, except for the cranial injuries and these had healed themselves fairly well. Her eyes were closed; her arms collapsed and impassive as ever, but she was speaking.

Her voice was clear and precise, as if she was repeating a checklist, “15 degrees azimuth. Level at 35,000. Burn rate 68 over 440. Open shutters 10, 10, 23. Refab. 11cc’s per MCU. Don’t forget to breathe…”

Her voice droned on, barely pausing for breath. She was unresponsive as the doctor pried open her eyelids and flashed light into the empty space beyond.

“What does it mean?” he asked no one in particular.

“She was giving the weather report a few moments ago, doctor. That’s why I called you. Today’s weather: I remembered from hearing it on the way in this morning.”

Irritated, the doctor waved the nurse to silence and concentrated on the coma patient’s monologue. After another minute or two his eyes widened. He reached for his phone and stroked up a recorder. Holding it to squirrel’s mouth he captured what she said for another five minutes and then dashed from the room.

Dr Porsuk’s brother-in-law was settling in to a quiet afternoon of paperwork at the 64th Flugzeugbatterie where he commanded the group with calmness and patience. Protecting the capital was a great honour, but unlike many of his compatriots did not relish the idea of having to fire his missiles in anger. Let the alien-lovers stay on their side of the border and we will stay on ours, he thought. These thoughts were shattered when his phone hummed.  Thumbing the answer he was confronted by the outpouring of the agitated husband of his sister.

“Honestly, Lothar. You cannot be serious. I cannot go to alert on the hearsay of a vegetable.”

The blood drained from his face as he heard the recording the doctor replayed.

At 10:04 Inguhaut Central time the 64th Flugzeugbatterie battery sprang to life in what the crew thought was a live fire training exercise. At 10:16, 10:17 and 10:19 hypersonic Bloodhound missiles shrieked from their housings and arced northwards, matching pace and then pursuing a tracer blip that had not been there at the moment of their launch. At mach 7.5 the missiles had a hard chase after the black shielded raider, but their pre-emptive launch gave them enough of an edge. Detonating almost at the moment they ran out of fuel, fragments from one missile peppered the spy plane.

The Rabbit engine stalled, smoke trailed, and the spy plane lost speed and fell towards the arctic north.

Project 1701b – the pre-story from the ManDanin side

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Pressure suitManDanin Security Intelligence Bureau (SIB) sector headquarters in the Accra subsector was located on Tsavo (1125). Almost all acts of intelligence gathering and coordination of the ‘cold’ and proxy wars along the border with the Crucis Union were overseen there. The planets of Daboya (1321), Narok (1122) and Tamale (1323) continued to be zones where both sides tested each other in providing ‘advisers’ to the local forces in endless bushfire wars and revolutions all of which were orchestrated to try to bring the planets on to one side or the other.

Away from the neutral worlds, the heavily policed border worlds of Sba (1523), Adrar (1624), Aoulef (1728) and particularly Guerzim (1626) were of continuing interest to the ManDanin Co-Dominion. They were the planets from which the aggressive Nar launched their invasion attempts a century ago. All indications were that the Nar leadership and people, even though currently held in check by their membership of the Crucis Union federation, still harboured expansionist dreams and chaffed at the defeat Co-Dominion forces had inflicted on them.

Airspace over the Nar border worlds was aggressively policed; unauthorised shipping was impounded, but there had not been any exchange of fire between Nar vessels and Co-Dominion traders for decades. System Defence boats and Customs vessels always searched the ManDanin ships thoroughly: smuggling equipment in and data out was exceedingly difficult. Because the airspace over the former starport on Guerzim was electronically shielded, only limited information could be gathered in the conventional way. Spies on the ground and even public broadcasts provided a lot of information, but questions still remained. For example, had the Nar rebuilt the Class A starport that had been glassed during the last war?

Out here, beyond the borders of the Third Imperium, actual Imperial law counted for very little. The reality was however that Humaniti sensibilities were still very strong, especially since nearly every polity out here had some cultural memory of their migrations during the Long Night. Therefore, even though the prohibitions against psychics were not enshrined in law, most civilisations shunned research along these lines. In such an environment, research was limited to shadowy Psionics Institutes funded and operating in secret.

One such facility was located on Lodwar (0926). The outwardly modest facility was set up to mimic an engineering research outpost but was equipped with the best technology available to explore psychic potential in both humans and danin of all castes. The program had mixed success, producing many disappointments and charlatans. But an extreme minority of results were encouraging. Miss Mole (codename) was one of these success stories. Born almost blind, she displayed from an early age an ability to ‘see’ at great distances, often with astonishing accuracy. Her clairvoyance brought her to the attentions of the facility on Lodwar, where she was trained for intelligence gathering work.

It was with these considerations in mind that the Sector Chief of the SIB on Tsavo, known in offical communications as Master Hedgehog, authorised a daring mission.

A ship was prepared, outwardly resembling a trader but with many stealth features. The majority of interior space was filled with gigantic engines and fuel tanks. What was left of cargo space was filled with a KuV-401 (Crucis Union identification: Rabbit) atmosphere reconnaissance plane. Minimal space was allowed for the two man ship’s crew, and the pilot of the spy plane. And finally a platoon of marines was included, though not expected to be awakened, in the worst case scenario of needing to fight their way out.

The ship, temporarily named the Anxious Sandstorm, was to make a circuitous approach to Guerzim refuelling in open space from waiting tankers. It would arrive in the target system from a non standard entrance window and immediately go dark. IFF transponders were to be shut down; energy emissions of all kinds to be damped; the crew in cold sleep, and the Anxious Sandstorm would tumble as if it were no more than a common asteroid on a gentle six month curve towards the planet Guerzim. With its external configuration and minimal energy signature it would appear no larger than a small ground car.

Once in an inconspicuous orbit the robotic systems would wake the crew. Miss Mole would be helped into the gel tank of the KuV-401 where she would be protected from the G-forces coming, and the plane would be launched. After screaming in at a steep angle the KiV would level out and streak over the target zone at a leisurely Mach 5+, where the clairvoyant Miss Mole, now narcotised with Slo-Mo to stretch her time perspective, would reach through the electronic shielding of the Nar facilities and narrate her experiences.

After a single pass that would take in most of the continent the KuV-401 would accelerate up and out of the atmosphere to dock with the waiting Anxious Sandstorm. By the time planetary defences had registered that an unauthorised hypersonic flight was occurring the plane would already be over the horizon and climbing away. And in the time taken to rout pursuit ships toward the raider, the Anxious Sandstorm would already be powering out system under a constant 6-G’s. The use of a psychic in an active spy mission was a first for the SIB. Not only was it hoped it would yield great results, it was also a potentially explosive diplomatic disaster if ever revealed due to the general prohibition against exactly that kind of thing.

It was an audacious plan with many moving pieces, each of which had dozens of failure possibilities. The catastrophe, when it befell, took participants on both sides of the conflict by surprise.

Project 1701 nearly ready for play

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Scen1Here is the nearly completed set up. The table is a printed mat originally designed for Frostgrave. I’ve decided that my implementation of the Tomorrow’s War scenario Lost & Found occurs in the snowy north of planet Guerzim. Buildings are Metcalf N scale. Trees from Aldi.

The fireteams are mounted on group bases. TW advises that this works well enough since groups move together anyway. This should speed up play as well.

I’m still not completely happy with the set up. It’s still a bit too open so I’ll need to get some more clutter happening. But overall, I think the general set up is similar to the book recommendation.

Project 1701b – the scenario

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qrescu1Sources supplying the Mandanin intelligence community had painted a picture of enhanced activity by the Nar of the Crucis Union on Guerzim. This planet was only one of the many kept under close observation following the Nar’s invasion and subsequent defeat. Agents placed deep in the Crucis Union, both as active information gatherers as sleepers, allowed the Mandanin a good view of their perennial foes. But no amount of smuggled rumour could substitute for trained professionals with eyes directly on specific locations.

In order to gain more specific information the mission was created. A small ship, unmarked and with a falsified IFF beacon, dropped in system at Guerzim well of the established routes. With its power functions set to minimum, the crew in cold-sleep and the IFF off it tumbled gently in a six month arc that it was hoped would mimic an asteroid. When close to Guerzim the dedicated medical robot revived the crew, a platoon of marines, a pair of spy plane pilots and the three person main crew.

The spy plane detached and swept low over Guerzim, photographing and gobbling up data transmissions. On its third sweep as it passed over the Northern hemisphere it was either detected and successfully engaged, or a fault occurred. The tiny plane suffered a catastrophic failure and crashed.

One of the pilots survived to advise the main ship. Immediately the marines were prepped and dropped to rescue him. By good fortune the spy plane came down on the polar land mass where population was slight and only token militias would be encountered. The pilot made for the nearest habitation and took shelter.

The nearest Nar militia platoon was roused and dispatched to capture the spy, or at least hold off the rescuers until a regular unit can arrive to take the situation in hand.

This is the background story for my Crucis Margin setting to the Lost & Found scenario in Tomorrow’s War.

The units statted for the USMC are taken by the Mandanin marines. The DPRG forces as described in the book are played by the Nar faction militia of the Crucis Union. All stats are exactly as they appear in the book. The only changes I’ve made is to mount the 15mm figures in their fire teams on group bases.

Update for project 1701c

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IMG_0868Figures for the Tomorrow’s War scenario Lost & Found are now complete.

On the left we have the Marines of the Mandanin Co-Dominion, dropped onto Guerzim to rescue a downed pilot. And on the right are a local militia group of the Nar faction of the Crucis Union. In all ways these models conform to the descriptions found on pages 98 and 99 in Tomorrow’s War – just in 15mm and on group bases.

Mandanin troops, I’ve decided, have equipment broadly similar to Eastern European, and the Crucis Union has equipment broadly similar to Western European.

I’m not real happy with the basing and may pop them off and redo them. But they’ll do for now. In reality, at eye scale, it’s not that noticeable.

Disease for 5e D&D

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wax-sculpture-black-deathThe characters in our Parsantium campaign recently came into contact with a disease bearing agent and I realised that I had addressed this issue many times before for many different game systems.

D&D 5e is a bit quiet on this topic and that’s OK: I’m happy with a more world-designer-friendly approach. Searching the interweb I found several useful ideas. And as a result here are my modernised house rules for dealing with disease.

CONTRACTING a (mundane non-magical) DISEASE

A character can be exposed to disease in many ways. Giant rats are consistently carrying one disease or another, and some areas such as swamps and some old ruins are plague spots. During wars, long sieges provide breeding grounds for disease.

When exposed to a source of disease (specify the generalised type ahead of time), the character must make a CON save against the DC of the disease (all the normal rules of thumb for deciding DCs can be applied here: 10 for weak, 20 for pretty bloody serious). All normal penalties and bonuses can be applied to this roll.

If this roll is failed the character has contracted the disease. The incubation period of the disease is d6 days (make a note of this period – for example 3 days). At the end of this period the character suffers 1 level of Exhaustion.

Every ‘period’ (for example, the 3 days found in the initial contraction) thereafter he must make a new CON save using the same DC as the initial contracting level. If successful the disease does not progress. If failed the character suffers an additional level of exhaustion. If the save is failed with a critical (1), the specific disease also reduces the relevant characteristic by one point, with all the attendant knock on effects.

EXHAUSTION

Level Effect
1 Disadvantage on Ability checks
2 Speed halved
3 Disadvantage on Attack rolls and saving rolls
4 Hit point maximum halved
5 Speed reduced to 0
6 Death

GENERALISED DISEASE DESCRIPTIONS

Use these as both general descriptors of the effects of the disease and also specific pointers as to the deleterious effects on characteristics if critical failures are rolled during progression/recovery.

  • Wasting Disease – steals Strength
  • Brain fever – reduces Intelligence
  • Soul Waste – saps Wisdom
  • Creeping Chills – saps Constitution
  • The Shakes – steals Dexterity
  • The Pox – ravages Charisma

RECOVERY

To reduce the levels of exhaustion a character must first stabilise: save and therefore not progress, and then save again the next test. On this second test the Exhaustion is reduced by a level. The next level must be saved against twice: once to stabilise and then to reduce.

If a character makes his save when on level 1 exhaustion he has reduced this to 0 and has therefore recovered naturally from the disease.

EXAMPLE

  • A character fails his saving roll against Soul Waste
  • The DM rolls d6 and discovers the incubation period is 3 days
  • Three days later the character makes a CON save roll and fails. He gains 1 level of Exhaustion, suffering a Disadvantage on all Ability checks and notices that his judgement seems to be impaired (role playing opportunity)
  • Three days later he rolls again, failing with a Critical (1). His Exhaustion is now level 2. His speed is now halved and his Wisdom is reduced by 1
  • Three days later he rolls but this time he saves. The Soul Waste does not progress but he is still suffering Disadvantage on Ability check, still suffering half speed and is still at -1 Wisdom
  • Three days later he rolls and saves again. His Exhaustion is reduced to level 1. He can now move at full speed but still has a Disadvantage to Ability checks and is still -1 Wisdom
  • Three days later he rolls again and saves. The disease does not progress.
  • Three days later he rolls again and saves again. His Exhaustion level is reduced to 0 and his Wisdom returns: he has spontaneously recovered! The natural course of the disease was 18 days.

N1. Reptile god. Session 5

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fumbleAfter the battle in the first level of the implausible dungeon beneath the swamp, the elvish boys had a good long rest in a barricaded room. When they re-emerged they completed the sweep and headed down, encountering and defeating troglodytes, crocodiles, giant rats, killer frogs, ghouls, and a particularly effective (though unlikely) harpy.

The standout events from this session were not the achievements of victory, but in the way they happened. There were a lot of ‘1’s’ rolled.

As more of a story-game guy rather than a rules guy I could not let this pass, and these critical failures became interesting and sometime funny events. Storm the sorcerer seemed to suffer quite a few of these. When they were fighting in a boat he rolled one on his attack, then failed a Dex check, and fell into the water. Later, when trying to shoot at a ghoul, another critical had the crossbow break – no doubt because of the moisture.

Octavius the paladin was actually charmed by the harpy, and was actually hit and took damage from a ghoul.

My favourite was when Arius the monk was attacked by a ghoul, was hit, and failed his save to become paralysed. Another critical failure later and we declared that he had lost something – his choice – but it would only be noticed later. This is straight from dungeon world and is an excellent way of inserting some story into the game. He fell, dropping his staff into the mud. It only makes sense that it could become lost or forgotten in the bid to get away.

This is something that is going to pay off later.

Project 1701 c01 & d01; Traveller Tomorrow’s War

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Every time I write 1701 I have a little chuckle, and now 1701c is just too auspicious… at least it is for any dyed in the wool Trekkie.

Anyway, planet Guerzim is part of the Crucis Union, a political body that sounds a bit Federal, that has at least four different political factions. I’ve decided (since I like to base both fantasy and science fiction on historical models), that the Union is roughly analogous to NATO. This means that their equipment will be Western European and American inspired. The Mandanin Co-Dominion, the Union’s most obvious foe, is therefore going to be based on Soviet equipment.

With that in mind I have decided the figures that need to be painted. This is a 15mm exercise, with the resulting squads being mounted on FoW bases. The figures shown are a mix of FoW guys I picked up on sale – I’m pretty sure they were designed for the Arab-Israeli conflicts: but importantly some of them have AK’s and some have the typical M16/SLR look. To fill the specialist roles of SAW and SLAM I’m using some of the excellent Eureka Miniatures Soviet and Australian troops. They really are superior to the FoW guys: not that the FoW guys are bad, far from it, but there is a surprising amount of detail on Eureka for 15mm. Here they are divided into the squads.

I’ve also built some N scale buildings from Metcalfe Models. There was some interesting chatter on the interweb about scales for 15mm. There seemed to be a strong body of opinion that going down a scale (from 15mm 1:100 to N Scale 1:150) was a good thing to do. There were also many contrary opinions. So the experiment has to be conducted and we can see how it all looks when it comes together. The buildings themselves were a delight to put together. Honestly, I could just make them all day.

When it comes to buildings in a science fiction setting we really at at the mercy of other people’s imaginations as there is no reference work. We’re not talking about hasty Mars-Habs here, this is Traveller: people have been living full and productive lives on planets for many hundreds of years. And with that in mind I decided that technically there is no reason why something could not be made of locally made bricks and morter. There was no reason why it couldn’t look like and ordinary house. It also fits my theme of basing the future on the past.

Project 1701

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nick_g_02When I got back into miniatures after a long break of working and making a family, I started with 15mm. Way back when I thought 15mm was where the action was and I bought a complete painted army of the Sudan (1890’s). Pretty soon I found that a group of 12, 24 or even 36 figures shoulder to shoulder does not look like a battalion, even though that’s what they were supposed to represent. I tried to rectify this by going to 10mm and making the groups bigger. This still did not work and the abstractions of ‘battlefield intelligence’ (I’m the general on a hill but I can see absolutely every man in this battle and I can command groups individually to change formation) took a lot of the fun out of it. I turned to 28mm and skirmish and have generally never looked back.

However the 15mm urge has always been there and I was momentarily tempted by Flames of War until it became painfully obvious that it was just a set of rules for Ancients, and the cavalry were models of tanks. My painted Falshirmjagers and support never saw action.

And in another corner of my mind was science fiction. Over the ears I have been on the search for a set of rules that would allow me to play ‘reinforced platoon’ level games (like Crossfire and Poor Bloody Infantry did for WWII). Most rulesets I have read do not really cover the kinds of advancements and therefore changes in tactical doctrines that I want to see. No one knows what the future will hold and new technologies will make old tactics futile and present new ones unimagined today. However you can be pretty sure that enhanced battlefield surveillance (drones, possibly robotic, with live feeds to command posts), guided and precise range detonated munitions, and improved communications are going to play a part.

At present Tomorrow’s War by Ambush Alley Games seems to have all the elements I need. The models shown in the book, and most of the games I see in other people’s blogs are 28mm. However, no model moves in isolation: they are all part of a fireteam. And as it says on page 55, ‘Many Tomorrow’s War players may already have figures based on multi-figure stands for use with other games. This basing method works perfectly well with Tomorrow’s War, so there’s no need to rebase your existing armies or replace them with new figures. Simply treat each stand as a fireteam and keep track of how many casualties it has taken.

This is the green light to proceed with Flames of War basing techniques in a sci fi setting. And so we get to the first project of 2017:

Project 1701 – Lost & Found

Overview: I don’t know if 15mm figures based in fireteams is actually fun to play. I don’t know if Tomorrow’s War is fun to play. This project is about testing those two unknowns.

Goal: to play out the scenario in the book from page 96, with as much as possible following the example, in solo mode.

Project elements:

  • 1701a – develop enough of big picture backstory to allow a more specific story to be built
  • 1701b – develop the scenario story to breathe life into the game
  • 1701c – identify, paint and base figures to populate the sides in the scenario
  • 1701d – build terrain for the game arena
  • 1701e – play the game
  • 1701f – after action report

N1. Reptile God. Session 4

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dqccvcwChristmas seemed to have taken longer this year with us all having a busy time, consequently stretching out the space between sessions. We were over half way through N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God and were determined to fish the whole adventure. To bring us back into the swing of things I recapped the world, referring to the Parsantium map and refreshed everyone’s memory with brief descriptions of the prevalent cultures and major tensions that they would be aware of. With that out of the way we went to the specifics of the scenario.

At the end of the last session the party had cleared out the temple and returned to town. Rather than pick up directly from there I simply told the story of what happened over the next few weeks. They regrouped, recovered and learnt what they could. They met and exchanged info with the hermit magician, and as the mood of the still-charmed population started to turn ugly again, they headed off.

The path to the supposed centre of all the trouble lay to the West along the northern banks of the Istra. On their four day trek they found sign of a large hobgoblin raiding party, but luckily avoided contacting them. The land gave way to a diseased forest, that in turn dissolved into swamp land. Following the path through the swamp they were assaulted by the usual range of annoyances such as mosquitoes and leaches, and suffered from the damp atmosphere. Finally they reached a low circular embankment that kept the waters a little back, and in the centre lay a hole in the ground… and then the adventure started.

Why would you build a dungeon in a swamp?

Questions like this came up many times, and we talked about the old-school dungeon design that didn’t really think about ecology or basic engineering.

In any case, as they stood discussing what to do about the swamp dungeon: break the dike and flood it, or get smouldering logs and smoke it out, a snapping turtle lurched out of the swamp behind them and attacked. Storm deftly froze it with a ray of frost and this galvanised the elfish boys to enter the dungeon without further delay.

The first level of the N1 module dungeon is sparsely populated and serves more as a way of introducing the environmental problems. These include constant cloying wetness, mud that sticks to boots that slows down movement and reduces stealth bonuses, and the effects the wetness has such as swelling doors and squeaking hinges.

Very soon they found, successfully silently approached, and cold bloodedly murdered several guard/cult members. With the way open they then systematically explored the ground floor, squelching through mud. Several large and suspicious rooms were identified and then left for later more detailed investigation and it was not until it appeared that floor had been totally mapped they came across some higher level and more dedicated opposition. These three assassins were obviously the lieutenants in charge of the guards. Their quarters were more luxurious, but only marginally.

Arrius the Monk kicked in their door, knocking one of the assassins back off balance.  Casius the thief cleanly and spectacularly nailed the second assassin in the throat with his hand crossbow, Storm the Sorcerer fried the third with an electrical bolt, and Octavius the Paladin calmly beheaded the fourth. The combat was quick and brutal: effective and cinematic… which was lucky for the elfish boys because these particular four, had they taken initiative, might have exacted a fearful toll.

In that small group of rooms that could be barred and defended and they searched everything, finding an above average sword and shield. The final action of the night before we packed up involved opening a chest that was guarded by a glyph of warding. Reluctantly, Arrius admitted he did not think of such a thing when he flipped open the lid. A paralysing blast threw him back, and the rest of the party barred the doors and decided to take a rest while they waited for him to recover.

So ends the next part of N1.

In general book-keeping we decided to do away with tallying XP in any form, simply agreeing that after a completed ‘adventure’ they would all go up a level. This is a recognition that modules are usually designed to do exactly this, with the XP awards adding up to the right amount.