Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Some good news is that RPGbomb has added a forum devoted to Greg Porter's RPGs. Greg is the talented indie game designer behind one-man operation that is BTRC. He's best known for the parody RPG, Macho Women with Guns, and the generic RPG supplement, 3G3. His current RPG effort, EABA, can be described as combining the substance of GURPS with the simlicity of the D6 System. You can download the free EABAlite rules from Greg's site. Greg treats his customers right, and if the EABA rules are every updated you receive the new version at no extra cost.
As for RPGbomb, it's a really good community site. It may be overshadowed by major hubs like RPGnet and theRPGSite, but it has plenty of content. More importantly, they seem to like the same games I do. Even Fuzion, which usually either gets ignored or comes in for unfair criticism, has it's own forum there. So now that they're giving EABA it's a good reason for me to spend more time there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

T&T was old-school...

...before old-school was cool.

The old school movement among RPGers echoes the retrogaming trend in video games. It's trying to get back to a simpler, less complicated time in the hobby. As TSR's D&D evolved it took on evermore bizarre forms. Basic D&D, Expert D&D, and AD&D were rival and incompatible rules sets that competed with each other. Then came variations like Dragonlance, which some say recast the game into a novelistic form far removed from it's improvisational beginnings.

Meanwhile, there was Tunnels & Trolls.

Appearing in 1979, T&T 5th edition seems to anticipate and accommodate the discontent of the old-school gamers. While D&D was transmogrifying into the dense edifice of AD&D, T&T reveled in its simplicity. You didn't even need a set of polyhedral dice to play it. If D&D was treating PCs as protagonists in an epic narrative struggle between the forces of White Hattery vs. the Le Chapeaux Noir , T&T was celebrating the dungeon crawl. Characters are rolled up half a dozen at a time, with the assumption that the GM is going to do his best to kill off the pesky dungeon defilers. Character "sheets" are nothing more than 3-by-5 index cards. Hell, the game even bills itself as a dungeon crawl, the back cover proclaiming, "The fundamental framework for adventuring in Tunnels & Trolls is the concept of an underground tunnel complex wherein dangerous traps and deadly monsters guard undreamed-of treasures..."

But mostly T&T encouraged players to rewrite the rules to suit themselves. Whereas the D&D rules scowled at players with confining proclamations, T&T insisted that the rules were no more than suggestions and recommended that players change any rules they didn't like. GMs were free to let their imaginations run wild, and rules lawyers were nipped in the bud.

For decades T&T maintained the simplicity and emphasis on players creativity that seemed to be getting lost in the commercial juggernaut that D&D had become. But T&T languished in obscurity. Overshadowed by the numerous boxed sets and horse-choking hardbound rules of its predecessor, shunned by system snobs at conventions, it found a place for itself mainly in the byways of colorful but isolated solo dungeons. In 1999 it received some belated appreciation when Pyramid magazine named it as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games.

So to all you old school gamers out there, I'd like to remind you that the solution to all your complaints was there all the time. Even as you weave complicated magics to resurrect your favorite games, the magic potion that is T&T sits dusty on the shelf waiting to be quaffed. I hope you don't fail the saving throw.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

MZST Starship Update

MZST: メクトン Z 宇宙大作戦

"What if Star Trek were an anime?"

The redesigned ships, now with more FASA.

The options, Sensors, Transporters, and Tractor Beam, are freebies that don't take up any space or add to the ship's cost. A roll on the Ship Hit Table (MZ, pg. 108) of "CIDS" hits either the Transporter (1-5) or the Tractor Beam (6-10), automatically knocking them out until repaired. Sensor hits are as normal. Below are descriptions of these systems from the FASA RPG. Rules for use with Mekton Zeta are in brackets.


Reliable sensor data can be obtained by most sensors to distances of 160,000 km, with sketchy, less-reliable data available to about twice that distance. Sensor scans are blocked by large amounts of rock or water, extremely thick atmospheres, electromagnetic interference, and certain dense or reflective materials.

[New Skill: Starship Sensors (INT): This skill involves operating a starship's sensor probes to gather data for interpretation and storage in the ship's computers.]


The tractor/pressor beam is an electromagnetic beam allowing an item of smaller mass to be drawn toward, anchored to, or pushed away from the object controlling the beam. Many larger ships are equipped with these devices, which can be used carefully in pairs to manipulate objects at a distance. Maximum range for tractor/pressor beams is about 160,000 km.

Tractor beams can put quite a bit of strain on an object, especially if the object is trying to break away. A delicate structure such as a small vessel could suffer damage as a result of resisting their use.

[May be used an unlimited number of times, but only on one small craft at a time. It effects its target as an Epoxy Gun (MZ, pg. 59), but only for as long as the beam is maintained.]


The transporter is a matter/energy scrambler, capable of recording the molecular and sub-molecular pattern of an object, disintegrating that object, and beaming it across space to be reformed at another location as far away as 26,000 km. Both living and non-living material may be moved great distances at the speed of light in this manner. The transporter can also lock on distant items and beam them back to the transmitter station. No receiving station is necessary for use of the transporter if reliable data can be obtained about the destination via sensor readings, or if a communicator can be used to provide a target signal. Transporters are blocked by large amounts of rock or water, extremely thick atmospheres, electromagnetic interference, and certain dense or reflective materials. In addition, transporters cannot beam through deflector shields because the shields absorb energy discharges.

Transporter usage does not occur instantaneously. It takes time to set up a transporter procedure on the console before the transporter can be energized. After the slide has been moved and the energizing has begun, it takes several seconds for dematerialization to be completed. During this time, the objects or persons being beamed cannot move or communicate. They are invulnerable to most normal harm during this time, though they can be seen while dematerializing. Transportation takes place at the speed of light, but materialization takes several seconds, during which the objects or persons being transported may be seen.

[It takes one Round (10 seconds) to complete a transport. New Skill: Transporter Operations (INT): This skill involves the use of transporter devices, whether they be personnel transporters or cargo transporters.]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Prime Directive RPG

The other day Robert Saint John had a good post about ADB's Prime Directive RPG on his blog. I can't find anything to disagree with in what he said, but I thought I'd share my own approach/avoidance feelings toward the Star Fleet Universe. Despite enjoying starship combat games I was never into Star Fleet Battles, although I knew some people who played it regularly. It has such a reputation for complexity and slow play that I steered clear of it, although I have played a game or two since. Well, sort of. What I played was the free introductory Cadet's version. It's meant to ease you into the full rules, but if you stick to the basics it actually makes for a great rules lite game on it's own. And you can even find extra SSDs on the web.

Robert's right that it would be hypocritical to condemn SFB just because it's a wargame. As a kid when I drew pictures of spaceships they were usually blasting each other with ray guns. I've had fun playing FASA's STSTCS and even statted up some Star Trek ships for Starmada to use the Starline 2400 miniatures. (There's now an upcoming official SFB supplement for Starmada.) And of course Mekton Z has a large wargaming component to it, and it's one of my favorite games. So it's not fair to dismiss Prime Directive out of hand. And while I've never actually played Prime Directive, I have looked over the rules and I think they have an odd, and to me at least, off-putting tone. Nevertheless, there are some good points.

One is the aliens. Star Trek takes some heat for having aliens that are nothing more than SAG members with a few latex bumps glued to their faces. Sure, it's largely the result of budget constraints, but it is pretty weak. And in Prime Directive most of the aliens are still humanoid, but kind of interesting. There's the Rigellians, who are like space-Maoris, and the Alpha-Centaurans, who are like space-Amazons. But they also introduce some decidedly non-human aliens, like the Hydrans and Seltorians. They do get a little furry, with three different types of cat-people, but it's no worse than most other space opera games.

Another aspect of the game I like is the Prime Teams. These are specially trained landing parties made up of the PCs. Each member would ideally be trained in a different specialty, giving the group a good balance. Not only is this a great way to get the players into action, but it avoids what I think was the nonsensical way the TV shows had the senior officers constantly running off and leaving junior officers in charge of the ship, usually in the middle of a crisis. Unfortunately the Prime Teams in the game seem to focus on marines, making them more like outer space SWAT teams.

And that militarism does permeate the whole thing, as you might expect from a wargame. Whereas people like me tend to criticize Star Trek for having some goofy science, others criticize it for it's lack of military realism. Apparently the authors of Prime Directive are the latter type, because the they put a lot of emphasis on military rank and seniority. Not out of place, but it totally overshadows any sense of scientific exploration. There are no rules for exploring strange new worlds or seeking out new life and new civilizations.

And whereas the Cold War politics of The Sixties informed the Original Series they dominate the Star Fleet Universe. In this game the Federation is the U.S.A., and the Klingons are the U.S.S.R. They got so carried away with this that when they Star Wars-ized the game by adding space fighters the Federation fighters were named for U.S. jets and the Klingon for Soviet jets. That's just too much for me.

To be fair, Star Fleet is portrayed as paragons of virtue who never fire first and never start wars. And there are nice touches like the Federation Creed which would compliment any Star Trek game. But ultimately Prime Directive is very much a mixed bag. You probably won't want to dump it all out, but you might want to reach in and pull out a few things you like.