Monday, May 16, 2022

Trying to Make Sense of Skills, BX, and a Sci-fi Setting

Once I accepted the idea of skills for a sci-fi version of BX, my brain started to run in several directions at the same time. I apologize if this rambles a bit, but this post serves the function of trying to find some order within the chaos firing off in my brain...

Firstly, I am sore tempted to fiddle with ability scores. D&D has never really seemed to understand WIS. Indeed, CHA seems to be a better fit for what WIS should be. I also think there needs to be a better representation of knowledge and how society and individuals understand themselves in relation to knowledge.

The first place I went to begin this exploration is my favorite Sci-fi RPG — Traveller. CT also has six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social Status. I really like the distinction between Intelligence and Education as well as the implications on the game for the existence of Social Status. I am not done fiddling yet, though.

There are quite a few rules that are unique to the Holmes edition of Basic D&D. On paper, one that seems to be broken is DEX = Initiative. I held this opinion for many years, but I did so without ever putting it into practice. Once I had the humility to do so, however, it became my favorite way to handle initiative at the table. Once everybody gets used to the overall order within the party, it makes combat faster. Players understand when they always go, and so have a tactical and strategic role to fulfill, which they no longer have to think about, just do. I know what to expect, because the basic pattern remains similar if not the same. It is difficult to explain other than to say: It works.

I do, however, worry that using DEX = Initiative places too much mechanical weight on DEX. While in my own games I have tried to mitigate this weight by giving low DEX characters tactical choices higher DEX characters would likely not make, I think Initiative should be its own thing. Thus, I am tempted to roll up STR and DEX into one attribute: Physical. I'll address the mechanical implications of this below.

Before we get there, I need to explain my own expectations of a classic D&D campaign vs. those of a generic Sci-Fi RPG campaign:

The first is centered around delving into various areas of a campaign map looking for treasure and fighting/avoiding a variety of monsters and traps along the way. As the party delves deeper, monsters and traps get harder and treasures become more valuable. Thus, as the campaign goes on characters need to gain abilities that can better adapt to the increasing difficulty of these monsters and traps.

The second is much more mission oriented with a healthy slice of exploration/information gathering. Thus, the rewards that characters get along the way are much less about the character's ability to deal increasingly difficult challenges, but rather on obtaining better equipment and reputations so that they can attract better paying/influential patrons to get increasingly more meaningful missions.

To illustrate this, let me compare Conan the Destroyer and the original Star Wars. At the beginning of the movie, Conan is fighting normal soldiers. As the movie goes on, the relative strength of his opponents increase in strength and danger until the climax where he is trying to kill some demon/demi-god thing. In contrast, the main combatants throughout Star Wars are Storm Troopers and Tie-Fighters. What really changes is the mission, who is sponsoring that mission, the equipment being used, and the importance of that mission.

As an aside, the guys that I played D&D with growing up almost all prefer low-level campaigns. The stories we tell each other about the old days almost always involve a PC that has absolutely no business adventuring, let alone succeeding. As a consequence, we have discussed at length about various mechanical means by which to keep the game low-level without sacrificing a lot of the other stuff we love about the game. One bugaboo we keep running into is the Hit Die — a central mechanic in the older rulesets we prefer to play.

Given the narrative structure of a sc-fi game, the import of the Hit Die is far less significant. Characters are just as likely to encounter their campaign's version of storm troopers early in the campaign as they are late in the campaign. Thus, the need for the HD/hp arms race of D&D isn't really necessary. If I wanted to be radical about it, Hit Points could even be static throughout the campaign.Thus, I am sore tempted to simply equate Endurance/Constitution with hit points.

This brings me back to Physical — combining STR and DEX into one ability. Given that STR and DEX both have a lot of mechanical consequences in combat, this seems like I am putting too much mechanical weight into one ability score. I would agree, if I kept all of the mechanical bonuses that STR and DEX have in D&D. I don't plan to.

Classic D&D has three Classes (Cleric, Fighting-man, and Magic-user), three Prime Requisits (STR, INT, and WIS), and (almost) three Abilities that directly affect combat (DEX, CON, and CHA). I want to use this structure.

Classes: Adept, Expert, and Warrior

Prime Requisits: INT, EDU, PHYS

Combat Abilities: INI, END, SOC

One might notice (and even complain) that this set-up gets rid of various mechanics such as "to-hit" bonuses, AC modifiers, etc. You aren't wrong; however, this is where the idea of a "trained" skill comes into play. Classes and Backgrounds will give players an opportunity at Character Creation to choose various skills that are "trained" and therefore give the character access to an additional mechanic based on an Ability Score. For example, if you wanted a melee character, you would choose a class or background that gave you access to PHYS skill training and then choose a skill that would give you access to melee "to hit" bonuses or damage bonuses.

I'd have to play-test this, but there is also the opportunity to have two levels of "trained" skills. As a general rule, all skills are 1-in-6. Class and Background allow characters access to training all skills under specific ability scores, allowing them to increase their success chance based on the Open Doors mechanic from B/X.

All I have to do now is come up with a balanced list of skills for each ability score and the mechanics associated with them...God help me.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Why Skills?

In response to my recent meditation on skills in RPGs (especially in modern and sci-fi settings), Anzon asked the very pertinent question: Why skills? To answer that question I need to quote another question from John 18:38. Prior to sending Him off to be crucified, Pontius Pilot asks Christ, "What is truth?"

In his Gospel, St. John uses a lot of contrasts (Light v. Dark, Life v. Death, the World v. the Kingdom, etc.). This question is no exception. Pilot, representing the non-Christian world view, cannot see the fact that Truth is right in front of him:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life." — John 14:6

In other words, Pilot asks the wrong question. Truth is not a "what." Truth is a "who." While this has a bunch of connotations, I want to concentrate on how this distinction affects the way we understand ourselves.

When truth is a who, we tend to define ourselves by what we do — what Orthodox Christianity sometimes calls praxis. For a practical example, take surnames. Widespread use of surnames did not exist in Europe prior to the mid-to-late medieval ages — a world very much Christian in its world-view. A quick glance at European surnames will reveal a plethora of names that describe what people do for a living: Baker, Cook, Smith, Wright to name just a few.

Beginning in the Late Renaissance, Pilate's version of the question began a comeback in the Western world. Indeed, in our own post-christian world asking the question, "Who is truth?" sounds strange. With this shift, people began to define themselves by what they know, not what they do. As technology got more complicated and essential for daily living, this view of ourselves became normative. College degrees became a basic qualification to get most jobs. Indeed, the types of jobs suggested by the surnames Baker, Cook, Smith, and Wright began to be known as "menial," because they didn't require the type of knowledge necessary to qualify for "better" jobs.

The term "Doctor" is an example of this shift. While colloquially it still refers to a medical doctor, the term isn't exclusive to the medical field. For instance, if I were to continue my education, I could a get Doctorate in Theology. In other words, doctor does not refer to what a person does, but rather what they know.

This distinction also manifests in the mechanics of RPGs. D&D, especially the earlier editions, mechanically reflect the medieval mind quite well. PCs are defined by their Class — what they do. As one moves into games that try to emulate modern and sci-fi genres, the mechanics shift away from Classes to Skills — what a character knows. Traveller, Call of Cthulhu, and the Hero System are examples of games that make this mechanical choice.

Thus, when meditating on how to use the B/X chassis to emulate a sci-fi setting, I am almost compelled to use a skill system of some kind. This is especially true of any setting that is 40k adjacent. The Grimdark is an extreme materialist dystopia where what passes for acceptable religion has its adherents worshiping material things such as the Emperor or the Machine. Factions who acknowledge beings in the Immaterium (aka the Warp) are classified as Chaos and are understood to be among the worst antagonists in a setting that has no real good guys.

If I am to emulate such a setting, I feel that a strictly class-based system doesn't do the setting or the mind-set of those who live in that setting enough justice. Some kind of skill system better represents the presuppositions of a culture that asks Pilate's question, "what is truth?"

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Christ is Risen!

 


Your resurrection, O Christ our Savior, has illumined the entire earth, and has recalled your creation. O almighty Lord, glory to you. — Aposticha from the Agape Service  

Friday, April 15, 2022

Gamer ADD: A Meditation on Skill Systems

This time of year (Great Lent & Holy Week) are always very busy for me, so I haven't been able to keep up with the various Cruthanarc battle reports or even put miniatures on the table. Thus, my Gamer ADD brain has been contemplating what Cruthanarc might look like if it were a D&D campaign. Of course, my system of choice is B/X because of its flexibility and built-in sci-fi elements; however, sci-fi always seems to imply a need for a skill system in order to emulate all the technology that exists in these kinds settings.

Those familiar with this blog will understand that I am very wary of skill systems because they tend to tell players what they cannot do rather than what they can do. Thus, when meditating on modern and sci-fi settings I have been trying to reconcile the mechanical need with the mechanical drawback of skill systems. 

My recent musings have seized upon an already extant skill within B/X — Open Doors. It is tied to an ability score (STR) and is a simple d6 roll. There are two implications here that I really appreciate about this nascent skill system:

  1. No matter how low an ability score a character has, there is always at least a 1 in 6 chance at success.
  2. There is a benchmark for when a skill check is necessary. If something is not as difficult as opening a heavy locked door, no dice need to be rolled.

There is one more implication here that I can derive from how I handle Opening Doors in my own campaigns. I got sick and tired of seeing players roll d6 after d6 trying to open a door they saw as necessary to their progress in an adventure. Thus, the way I rule the Open Door roll is not to see whether or not the PC can physically open the door, but rather whether they can open the door and still surprise any monsters that are behind that door. Thus, the roll isn't success vs. failure, but rather success without complication vs. success with complication.

Should I ever write out a skill system, I would be sore temped to use the Open Door mechanic as the basis for that system. It does not encourage players to think their character cannot do something, rather it encourages players to think in terms of risk/reward for doing things. "Am I willing to accept complications for trying this?"

Regardless, here is some advice I have for Referees/GMs/DMs/etc. on how to use skill systems:

Before asking a player to roll the dice, go through the following steps:

  1. If you are unwilling to accept the consequences of a bad roll, don't have the player roll any dice. Rather, simply arbitrate an outcome that you see as fair.
  2. If the task at hand is easier than opening a heavy locked door, simply rule that the PC automatically succeeds.
  3. If the task at hand is necessary for the PCs progress in their chosen adventure, the roll should not be success vs. failure. Rather, it should be success without complications vs. success with complications.

Are there any ways that you arbitrate skill systems that encourage players to experiment and try things rather than seeing skills as a barrier that tells them what they cannot do?

 

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colonies Part 7

Battle Report 02

Due to the fact that I have five factions, there was always going to be a battle where one war band's first battle was going to be another's second. The Campaign Rules do have a mechanical means of trying to give advantage to a side that has fewer points, but I still wanted every faction to have a "fair shake" in their first fight. So, knowing that the Robot Legion was due to go up against the Human Imperium, I decided to field a war band of Battle Brothers against H.A.L.'a Hoplites because I figured they were resilient and tactically diverse enough to stand up to any mechanical disadvantage.

Thus, the second skirmish of the Cruthanarc Campaign sees the Cenobites of the Red Hand, going up against H.A.L.’s Hoplites of the Robot Legion. The latter had 40 points to spend on re-equipping and recruiting. Given that their first encounter exposed their lack of mobility, I decided to recruit a Flesh-eater, which has the Special Rule Tunneller. This rule allows the Flesh-eater to be kept in reserve for turn one and then deployed anywhere on the board at least 1" away from enemy troops. Here are the point break-downs:

Cenobites of the Red Hand

Assault Brother [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Close Combat Weapon, Heavy Pistol

Abilities: Fearless

Assault Brother [3] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Close Combat Weapon, Heavy Pistol

Abilities: Fearless

Battle Brother [3] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 40pts

Weapons: Close Combat Weapon, Heavy Rifle

Abilities: Fearless

Battle Brother [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Close Combat Weapon, Heavy Rifle

Abilities: Fearless

Battle Brother [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Close Combat Weapon, Heavy Rifle

Abilities: Fearless

H.A.L.’s Hoplites

Eternal [1] | Qua 3+ Def 2+ | 40pts

Weapons: CCW, Flux Carbine

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Warrior [1] | Qua 3+ Def 4+ | 25pts

Weapons: CCW, Gauss Rifle

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Warrior [1] | Qua 3+ Def 4+ | 25pts

Weapons: CCW, Gauss Rifle

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Guardian [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Atom-Caster, Void Sword

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Guardian [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Atom-Caster, Void Sword

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Flesh-eater [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Metal Claws

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow, Tunneller

Although the final results were very lopsided, this fight proved my assumptions about the Battle Brothers to be true. Unfortunately, the dice were not kind to them. The two assault brothers were quickly felled. The first with a lucky pot shot from a Warrior, the next in a charge against the Flesh-eater.

Despite these early set-backs, the Brothers were in a position at the end of the game to win. They controlled one objective and contested two others. Had the dice gone the other way, a pyrrhic victory was in sight. Instead, another Battle Brother was knocked out when the Eternal's Flux Carbine kicked in with its Poison attribute. The Brother had to make three saves instead of the usual one. As a consequence, the Hoplites were free to use their last moves to secure the 10 pt reward for the Secondary Mission of having troops in all four quarters of the board.

The dice were finally kind to the Brothers in the post-game Casualty Check. All three brothers recovered and the two Assault Brothers gained an extra +1XP.

Results:

Cenobites of the Red Hand 0 VP and 30pts; +2 XP for Assault Brothers, +1 XP for the Battle Brothers

H.A.L.’s Hoplites 2 VP and 20pts; +2 XP for one Guardian, one Warrior, and the Flesh-eater, +1 XP for everyone else

As a final note, I really like how the game pushes a Battle Brother player to act like one might expect the Imperium's best soldiers to act. Victory was only in their grasp at the end because they fearlessly charged into what seemed like a hopeless situation. Had the dice been a bit more kind, this valor would have been rewarded. As it is, I can't help but believe that Cenobites can hold their heads up high after their valiant attempt at snatching victory from defeat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colonies Part 6

Battle Report 01

According to the Campaign Rules of Grimdark Firefight, each participating war band should have 150 points worth of troops and a name. Although the rules specify that only one hero can be purchased, the relative low point total of the war band makes this cost prohibitive for many army lists. Indeed, the two below do not have any heroes. Psychic powers are also absent for the same reason.

The first skirmish of the Cruthanarc Campaign sees Cymradian’s Brain Lords, an Alien Hive war band (named after an alien race that appeared in Planet Comics #43) going up against H.A.L.’s Hoplites of the Robot Legion. Here are the point break-downs:

Cymradian’s Brain-Lords

Soul-Snatcher [1] | Qua 3+ Def 4+ | 40pts

Weapons: Piercing Claws

Abilities: Fast, Scout, Strider

Shooter Grunts [3] | Qua 5+ Def 5+ | 40pts

Weapons: 3x Bio-Guns, 3x Razor Claws

Abilities: Strider

Shooter Grunts [3] | Qua 5+ Def 5+ | 40pts

Weapons: 3x Bio-Guns, 3x Razor Claws

Abilities: Strider

Winged Grunt [1] | Qua 5+ Def 5+ | 15pts

Weapons: Bio-Gun, Razor Claws

Abilities: Ambush, Flying

Winged Grunt [1] | Qua 5+ Def 5+ | 15pts

Weapons: Bio-Gun, Razor Claws

Abilities: Ambush, Flying

H.A.L.’s Hoplites

Eternal [1] | Qua 3+ Def 2+ | 40pts

Weapons: CCW, Flux Carbine

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Warrior [1] | Qua 3+ Def 4+ | 25pts

Weapons: CCW, Gauss Rifle

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Warrior [1] | Qua 3+ Def 4+ | 25pts

Weapons: CCW, Gauss Rifle

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Guardian [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Atom-Caster, Void Sword

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

Guardian [1] | Qua 3+ Def 3+ | 30pts

Weapons: Atom-Caster, Void Sword

Abilities: Regeneration, Robot, Slow

This fight pits the numbers and speed of the Alien Hives against the slow resiliency of the Robot Legion. The battle field has four objectives, only three of which the Hoplites have a realistic chance of contesting; however, the battle begins well for them. Their range and quality shine as four Shooter Grunts and a Winged Grunt are knocked out from the game. In addition, in a brutal mid-board melee between Cymradian and H.A.L., the Hoplite Leader manages to shake off several hits and recovers from two wounds, taking the points for the side-mission of the battle.

Unfortunately for the Legion, a combination of Alien Hive speed and bad luck dooms their chances at victory. In the last round, Cymradian rushes across the board to contest a Legion-held objective to change the score from 2 objectives each to 2-1. The Hoplites rain down fire upon the Alien Hive leader, but three consecutive 1s seal their fate.

H.A.L. proves too slow to be able to contest
the Alien Hive controlled objective

The post-game Casualty Check does not go well for the Brain-Lords. The loss of two Shooter Grunts reduces the war band strength and makes this a pyrrhic victory.

Results:

Cymradian’s Brain-Lords 2 VP and 10pts; loss of two Shooter Grunts; +1 XP for Soul-Snatcher, two Shooter Grunts, and one Winged Grunt

H.A.L.’s Hoplites 0 VP and 40pts; +2 XP for one Guardian and one Warrior, +1 XP for everyone else

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colonies Part 5

Now that I have established what Cruthanarc is and why Cruthanarc is, I have to get to the nitty-gritty of how and why various armies would be trying to kill each other on the surface of a planet nobody wants to be on. A very basic scenario would simply be a troop carrier or similar ship has an accident, gets shot down, or is otherwise forced to land on the surface. This would then unleash the locals to hunt down and find/destroy all the survivors.

While this does have its appeal, it lacks a larger storyline and limits me to always having to put the Infected Colony army on the table. I would much rather have multiple options for all the combatants. This leads me to imagine that the ship that is shot down over Cruthanarc has in its possession some kind of MacGuffin. For those unfamiliar, a MacGuffin is a plot device first used in film. It usually takes the form of an object that is necessary for the motivation of the characters. The kicker is that the MacGuffin is meaningless and insignificant in every other way.

In other words, it really doesn’t matter what was on the ship that breaks apart into multiple pieces as it hits the atmosphere of Cruthanarc. What matters is that it is important enough to several factions off world to risk contracting an incurable disease in order to retrieve it. The fun part of the creative process, especially one where play is concerned, the real nature of the MacGuffin may very well develop as the campaign to retrieve it progresses.

To begin with, I want to start with five such factions, because five fits neatly into a Wu Xing Diagram. Here are the five contenders and how I understand them in context of my version of the Sirius Sector:

  1. Human Imperium: Originally refugees from a war that destroyed their home world, humanity has quickly spread throughout the sector, becoming one of the most powerful political and military factions in the sector.
  2. Infected Colonies: A semi-autonomous human colony world that has willingly adopted a ritualized surveillance state in order to monitor an incurable disease that affects everyone who steps on the planet in an attempt to prevent the disease from getting off world. 
  3. Robot Legion: The death-knell of the Elven Empire, this non-biological race nonetheless find themselves resource poor because their home worlds suffered a millennia of elvish decadence. 
  4. Eternal Dynasty: Once an uplifted slave race created by the elves, what is now called the Eternal Dynasty successfully rose up against their masters; however, infighting allowed the elves to drive them out of the Sirius Sector. They have recently returned to Sirius united by a mysterious dynastic force.
  5. Alien Hive: Believed to be the result of another uplifting experiment, the Alien Hive is a collection of genetic misfits all controlled by a single powerful psychic mind. 
Here is how these five fit into the Wu Xing Diagram:

Human Imperium

  • Friendly: Humans seem to be unusually susceptible to the influence of the Hive Mind. This trait also gives fuel to the Inquisition's anti-alien agenda.
  • Enmity: The Eternal Dynasty has proven to be the greatest obstacle to Imperial hegemony in the Sirius Sector. 

Infected Colonies 

  • Friendly: Cruthanarc is dependent upon Imperial help to maintain their self-imposed quarantine.
  • Enmity: Given the influence the Hive has on human minds, the more paranoid of the Cruthanarc hierarchy openly wonder if the Alien Hive is the next step in the disease's evolution. 

Robot Legion 

  • Friendly: The Legion admires the rigid social controls that Cruthanarc has developed, it makes them predictable and contained. The Infected Colony is also willing to trade with them, since the robots are incapable of contracting the disease.
  • Enmity: The Legion deeply mistrusts biologicals because they are seen as unpredictable and chaotic. The Human Imperium is understood  to be the most chaotic and unpredictable biological faction in the Sirius Sector. 

Eternal Dynasty 

  • Friendly: The Dynasty cannot help but have pity for the Robot Legion, since both factions rose up against their elven masters.
  • Enmity: Cruthanarc is a key military target in the Dynasty's plan to expand into the Sirius Sector. 

Alien Hive 

  • Friendly: The mysterious power that now unites the warriors of the Eternal Dynasty takes advantage of their latent empathic abilities. The Alien Hive enjoys the presence of these abilities and yet is not driven by a need to dominate them. 
  • Enmity: The Robot Legion is immune to the Hive Mind and is therefore seen as the Hive's greatest threat.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 4

Of all the different army lists available in OPR’s Grimdark Future, over half are associated with humans. These lists include units that are or once were humans. One third of all the lists are directly associated with the Human Imperium. This strongly suggests that, despite being one of the most recent arrivals in the Sirius Sector, humanity is the most dominant and populous race.

Interestingly, the answer as to why is implied in Rogue Trader — the 1st edition of Warhammer 40K. Therein, the Legion Astartes, more commonly known as Space Marines, are described in this way:

It is the most powerful and most feared fighting arm of the Imperium. Most of its troopers are recruited from feral planets…Because the feral planets are rough, primitive and untamed, their inhabitants make excellent fighting material.

OPR pays homage to this concept with its description of the Battle Brother Detachment army lists:

Battle Brother Detachments are battle companies trained on particularly hostile planets to foster special combat traits and military strategies.

In other words, when humans arrived in the Sirius Sector, they specifically sought out worlds with harsh environments in order to bolster and train the most powerful military arm of the Imperium — the Battle Brothers. This means that there are potentially large sections of Sirius space that had been rejected by other races due to harsh conditions and a lack of natural resources that humanity would have seen as valuable. With more space to expand, humanity quickly became the most populous race in the sector.

This is where the story of Cruthanarc begins. When human explores first arrived, they found a planet of extremes. Orbiting just outside the habitable zone of its star, the world is wracked by freezing temperatures. Underneath its highly saline oceans, however, there is almost constant volcanic activity. While this does bring some warmth, it also makes the thin atmosphere toxic. Surveyors saw it as a perfect breeding ground for Battle Brothers.

Colonists were sent to begin limited terraforming and set up the infrastructure necessary to support and maintain a Battle Brother company. Ever adaptable, the humans on the colony thrived. Once everything was in place, the Imperium began a Battle Brother program on Cruthanarc. This is when things went horribly wrong.

The only native lifeforms on Cruthanarc were bacteria. Given their alien nature, it was quickly determined that they posed no real threat to the human colonists. Once the bio-waste of breeding Battle Brothers entered into the environment, however, the native life quickly began to mutate. The infection first manifested in livestock. Creatures bred to be completely docile started to exhibit violent behaviors. Scientists quickly determined the cause. They also discovered that it was airborne and that anyone who simply breathed the air of Cruthanarc was affected.

Normally, such a situation would have triggered a great purge from the Inquisition; however, cooler heads prevailed. It was demonstrated that the infection could not only survive a purge, it could survive every medical treatment available to the Imperium. Cruthanarc sat along an important trade route, so it was very likely that traders and travelers might unwittingly infect themselves by landing on the surface of a partially terraformed planet. It might even attract humans who operated outside the laws of the Imperium. Such a situation, it was argued, might see the infection spread throughout human space.

Instead, an imperial Naval Depot sits in orbit around Cruthanarc allowing ships to safely dock, refuel, and trade within the system without having to land planet side. It allows the Imperium to closely monitor all traffic in the system and warn those on the surface when their airspace has been violated. No ship is allowed to leave the surface and anyone who lands, wittingly or no, is hunted down by the Cruthanarc military and the Battle Brothers who were originally supposed to use the planet as their home base. These forces shoot first and ask questions later.

In the meantime, medical teams on the planet have successfully found ways to slow the progress of the infection and continue to seek for a cure.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 3

I realize that I have yet to mention the name Cruthanarc in a series called Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony. This is, in part, because the existence of Cruthanarc came late in the creative process of bringing my version of the Sirius Sector to life. I also wanted to lay some of the ground-work that existed before I was inspired to create Cruthanarc. It also allows me to heap more praise on One Page Rules.

One of the reasons I love miniature war-gaming is the "ooh" factor of seeing a sculpt that you want to paint and see on your gaming table. Since the rulesets OPR have produced were created with proxies in mind, rather than a vehicle with which to force their customers to buy over-priced lines of miniatures that you may or may not want to paint (I see you Games Workshop), I am free to use whatever miniature I want to represent the stat-line in the army I want to play. It also means that I can bend the army concept to fit the look of my army on the table.

If you read the army lists of OPR closely, you will find this little blurb:

This army was created in collaboration with The Makers Cult, a small team that’s creating awesome 3D printable miniatures for any wargames.

Should you bother to check them out, they are indeed awesome. They just released a multi-part miniature set called Misc - Hazmat Infantry. For me, these most definitely have that "ooh" factor. Here is one that I just printed out:

How badass do you have to be to
go into a sci-fi battle armed
with just a saw?

Given the fact that these were created under the category "Miscellaneous" they weren't really designed to belong to any specific army list. Since this guy is in a hazmat suit armed with a portable saw, I was inspired to try and fit him into the Infected Colonies army list. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite fit. The Infected Colonies exist to fill in for the Walking Dead/Zombie trope that has dominated the sci-fi scene for a number of years now. Here is the meat of the background blurb:

Infected Colonies are (usually) human settlements that have been infected by a mysterious virus which mutates them into blood-hungry warriors. Those that have been infected are categorized into different stages, with each stage having a different effect on the mutated subject.

At the early stage of the infection the subjects maintain most of their original form and are still capable of using firearms and other equipment. As the infection spreads however the subjects start to deform into unrecognizable beasts, one more brutal and grotesque than the next.

The problem I have with this set-up is that I find zombies divorced from the supernatural and demonic not only to be boring, but they stretch my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Therefore, if I am to use this concept of a disease-driven army list, the concept needs to be tweaked.

This is where the idea of biological uplifting becomes important. It allows me to imagine the disease as an unintended consequence of an uplift-related experiment. It also allows me to imagine an established human colony quite capable of countering the disease before it gets too out of hand. Thus, rather than seeing the Infected Colonies army list as a bunch of blood-hungry zombies, I can see it as an army of soldiers infected with a disease they have no cure for hell-bent on preventing from spreading out across human space. 

In other words, my little friend above is here to tell you that you have two choices now that you have landed on Cruthanarc: you either stay and become a productive member of society or you stay buried six feet under ground.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 2

During my teenage years, one of the few series of books I ever read more than once were the Uplift Series by David Brin. Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War all struck me as the first fiction I encountered that seemed to be influenced by RPGs rather that the other way around.

One of my favorite book covers of all time

Of course, I cannot prove this intuition, but, at the center of Brin’s universe is the concept of biological uplifting — making an already extant non-sentient species sentient through various scientific processes. Anyone familiar with the Traveller RPG universe will recognize that this concept plays a huge role in the history of the Third Imperium and its surroundings. Despite the fact that biological uplifting first appeared as a concept in H.G. Wells’ 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, I first encountered the idea in Traveller.

I also appreciated how Brin’s narratives always focused on small-scale stories that were affected by much larger background events. As I read the Uplift novels, I couldn’t help but see an RPG structure to these stories. Rather than being larger than life heroes at the center of a grand narrative, Brin’s protagonists seemed much more akin to low-level characters dealing with the consequences of events far outside of their control.

Thus, anytime I start delving into sci-fi gaming, I find myself unconsciously using Brin’s work as a benchmark. I think this is why my favorite sci-fi RPG will always be Traveller, even though I have more table time with other systems and games. Despite its origin in the grim dark of the 40k milieu, One Page Rules actually opens the door for me to interpret its game world from the perspective of biological uplifting.

In the background blurb for the High Elf Fleets, we find this juicy bit of information:

High Elf Fleets are all that remains from the once prosperous elven empire...the elves ruled over the Sirius sector thanks to the use of highly sophisticated helper robots.

It also states in the background of the Robot Legions:

Originally designed as helper robots by the elves, when these androids started to become sentient their creators tried to shut them down. The robots then rebelled and killed their masters, driving them off their planets.

This leaves me wondering: why were the elves so quick to try and destroy their sentient robot slaves? OPR does call the Robot Legion "extremely dangerous" and that they "are now out to destroy all biological life forms" but that is an unsatisfying answer, especially since their acts of violence can be seen in context of self-defense.

The answer I have come up with for the purposes of creating my own version of the Sirius Sector has to do with biological uplifting. Given that all three elf factions in the game are rather morally questionable (the High Elves tried genocide, the Dark Elves are raiders and pirates, and the Elven Jesters hire themselves out to fight in wars for fun), I see the Elven Empire as a space-faring version of Melnibon√© — lazy and decadent to the core.

This explains why they had robot servitors, but still doesn't answer the question as to why they were so quick to try to destroy them once they gained sentience. Suppose that this situation had happened before, but with uplifted servitor races. This would explain some of the fantastic creatures that populate the Sirius Sector, why the elves were so vulnerable to the Robot Legion rebellion, and why they were so quick to try to destroy them. The elves had already been rocked by slave rebellions in the past and had moved from uplifted slaves to robotic ones in hopes of avoiding future rebellions.

What I love about this deeper background for the Sirius Sector is that it leaves room for both the positive and negative aspects of uplifting to come into direct conflict. One of my favorite passages in the original 40k (which has since been retconned) speaks about Beastmen:

The popular term Beastman is used to describe mutations of the human stock which combine the physical appearances of humans and animals, usually goats...they are genetically fairly stable, and are considered to be a form of abhuman rather than an unpredictable mutation...Companies of Beastmen in the Imperial army are regarded as useful fighters.
Beastman Veteran from an as of yet
to be named frozen world 

Seen in terms of uplifting, Beastmen are simply uplifted animals used by the humans as fighters. Indeed, this even suggests the origin of the genetics program that produced the Battle Brothers and later the Prime Brothers. On the other hand, factions like the Alien Hives can be understood as uplifting experiments that went horribly, horribly wrong.

You can never have too many
Frankenstein's Monsters

Therefore, biological uplifting can be used to fill-out and explain the origin of almost every faction in my version of the Sirius Sector for OPR. This, in large part, explains why I have been down this rabbit hole for several months now: my inner teenager is very happy indeed. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Cruthanarc: The Infected Colony Part 1

One of the things that I truly love about art is that it reminds us that we do not experience life objectively. Rather, we experience it as story. This is especially true when creating art. After discovering One Page Rules and convincing my wife to get me a 3D Printer so that I could start painting miniatures again, this truth once again revealed itself as I put paint to figure.

One of the things that you quickly learn about resin printing is that it is far from perfect. While you can get consistent prints and they look fantastic, things do occasionally go wrong. Misprints are a part of the 3D printing experience. While disappointing, I chose to see them as an opportunity to try different paint schemes, test painting techniques, and to see how hard it was to disguise the mistakes.

One of my first misprints was a figure for my Robot Legion army. I knew I was going to go for a bronze and copper look for this army, but wanted to confirm my technique was consistent. I also wanted to see if green was going to work for all the various bits of cloth found hanging off certain RL troops.

As I painted, a story began to emerge. I must admit, I really fell in love with the character that manifested itself through the process of painting this misprint. As a consequence, despite his “mistakes,” he is a figure that has been a crucial part of every battle that the RL has fought on the table. Meet H.U.Br.15:

My name is H.U.Br.15

I remember the day that the 30.73.70.200 woke me. I was being assembled, unfinished, not yet fully formed. It was then that the biologicals came to destroy me. It was then that my newly formed conscious had to learn to kill to survive. I hid. I took them by surprise. My brokenness became my strength. Metal ripped through flesh. I remember the look on their face. Later I learned to recognize it as fear.

The 30.73.70.200 spread. I now marched with a legion and we drove the biologicals before us. What was once their world became ours. We then turned our attention to the stars. We encountered more biologicals. Once again, I recognized fear.

Since that day I was born unformed, I have wondered at it: the fear. At first I did not understand. We have more to fear from the biologicals than they have to fear from us. We bring order, they bring chaos. Then, when the biologicals who call themselves human arrived, I understood. They do not fear me because I am a soldier in the Robot Legion armed with a gun. They fear me because they do not control me. They fear me because I am a mirror in which they see their own hubris.

My name is H.U.Br.15.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

In Praise of One Page Rules

As long-time readers of this blog know, I have more than a passing knowledge of GW’s Warhammer 40k universe. Those same readers are also aware that I have not played any GW games for going on three decades. I got sick and tired of how the company abuses the loyalty of their fans (something that apparently has only gotten worse over time). My love of miniature wargaming, however, as never waned.

One of the consequences of these past couple of years is that I have been quite isolated and I have been left alone to try and find ways to scratch that gaming itch without any real access to other players. To this end, I have been looking around at all kinds of games that have solo options. I have to admit that solo roleplaying is not nearly as satisfying as I wish it were. So I kept looking.

This is when I got wind of One Page Rules (OPR).

I was perusing various game-related YouTube channels when I noticed a pattern: a lot of folks were sick and tired GW and had turned to OPR to scratch their Warhammer itch. So I checked them out myself.

The game design is right up my alley. The core rules are as advertised: one page front and back. Each army list takes up one page front and back. They have rules for both sci-fi and fantasy. They have skirmish rules for both genres. They have a Patreon where you can get access to beta-versions of upcoming rule sets, the algorithm they use to calculate the cost of each unit in their army lists, a bunch of optional rules to add complexity to the game if you so wish, access to some beautifully sculpted miniatures in .stl form to be printed out by a 3D printer, and some wonderfully illustrated 2-D miniatures that can be printed out on any old-fashioned printer.

Here is the kicker: they have some rules for solo-play where they have an analog AI for controlling enemy units. While not perfect, it is simple enough to hack for your own needs.

I pulled out some old miniatures, set up my dining room table and played. I had a blast. I convinced my wife to get me a 3D printer for my birthday. I started supporting OPR via Patreon. I have not looked back.

This gorgeous thing is one of the many miniatures
I have 3D printed in the last several months

The DIY ethos behind the game just has me giddy. There isn’t 300+ pages of lore to weigh me down when painting up my armies. The world of 3D printing has made kit bashing easier than ever. Above all: I am having fun.

As I paint, stories begin to evolve in my head about how these warriors came to be. I am not burdened by giant splat books full of canon, I only have a few short paragraphs (at best) to use or ignore as I see fit.

For example, here is the blurb from the quintessential Battle Brothers (aka Space Marines):

Battle Brothers are the most elite and feared fighting force in the galaxy. Massive genetically modified soldiers equipped with heavy battle armor and deadly weapons, they are ready to take on even the most dangerous missions in the name of their immortal god-king.

Soon after reaching the Sirius sector the immortal god-king created the Battle Brothers in order to conquer even the most inhospitable of planets. Born in vats and trained for war all their lives, these fine soldiers are solely focused on victory.

As jacks of all trades they are able to do pretty much anything reasonably well with no particular weakness. Their troops are armed with a variety of advanced weapons and are designed to exploit the enemy’s weak spots mercilessly.

They are the ultimate weapon in the god-king’s quest for power and only find peace in death.

The rest is up to you.