Thursday, 10 January 2019

Product Review: The Traveller Companion (Traveller 2nd Edition, Mongoose Publishing)

The Traveller Companion is the latest release for the 2nd edition Traveller RPG from Mongoose Publishing.
Having had the chance to go through the PDF I'll break down the contents of each chapter and discuss how useful it is to me when running my Traveller campaign.

Strap yourself in as this is going to take some time.

Introduction

A brief introduction to let us know that everything in the companion is optional, although some of the chapters contain some great stuff they should be considered almost essential to most campaigns.


Chapter One: Characteristics

The chapter opens with an expanded table for characteristics outside of the human norm, usable for large creatures or robots for when stats are needed.

Next up is new optional characteristics: Wealth, Luck, Morale, and Sanity as well as an alternative take on social standing.

Wealth (WLT): A way to keep track of credits without the nitty gritty of costing up everything but  is only recommended for personal items only and not for when the become millionaire pirates. The score determines how many credits a character has on hand with a check needed when a character want to purchase something more expensive.

Luck (LCK): Used to decide who is hit by random occurrences, can be used to increase your roll or decrease that of an opponent and can be used to determine if the character survives a major catastrophe like a starship crash.

Morale (MRL): Can be used to see if a character can overcome their fears as well as stick to a significant task long enough to be successful.

Sanity (STY): Not SAN, as in some other game of mindbending horror. Useful in games that have a supernatural element or for showing the effects of cyberware on the human mind this characteristic can be used as mental "hit points". Traumatic effects or exposure to jumpspace can reduce this characteristic, with the character driven insane when it reaches 0.

The Social Standing (SOC) section expands on what the characteristic means in societies that don;t have the same ranks of nobility as the Third Imperium. Characters can take SOC damage from smear campaigns or rumors or if the planet they are on even acknowledges their nobility.  

Out of all of these the Social Standing stuff seems the most useful/ Wealth seems to add an additional layer of complexity that may be made redundant once the PCs become millionaire pirates.  Luck checks are nice but I'd probably use the idea without the characters having it as a permanent stat and Morle seems to be good for use on battlefields or when the PCs outclass their opponents. I'm likely to give this stat to most NPCs from now on, or at least use baselines for their profession such as all security have a Morale of 10. Sanity is a good way of limiting cyberware similar to Cyberpunk 2020 or even Vampire's Humanity score. So far I've not come across a player that wants to go that far down the cyberware road.

Chapter Two: Alternate Traveller Creation

This chapter contains different way to create characters, the iron man option & solo creation, options for alternate skill selection, determining characteristics, maximum terms, as well as package based and point based creation.

Iron man brings back classic Travellers possibility of dying during character creation.
Solo creation is used for single players and gives options or connections and skill packages.
The skill selection option allows you to pick career skills rather than roll.
The alternative characteristics determination gives you different methods to roll up the character sometimes resulting in stronger than normal PCs.
Maximum terms imposes a limit a character can spend in a career
Package based creation gives you a list of backgrounds and careers and a full list of accompanying skills so all the randomness is removed topped up by skills or benefits at the end.
Point buy creation breaks character creation down to buying up stats and skills and gives a player a little more control over what they actually want from that PC.

Oddly enough, a new minor race, the Bwaps is introduced in this section with no fanfare. The little lizard guy on the cover is one of them.

All in all this chapter provides the  "official" inclusion of a lot of stuff some groups include as house rules such as picking skills rather than rolling. So far the most useful part to me has been the package creation as it has allowed me to put together some quick NPCs with only minor tweaking.

Chapter Three: Allies, Contacts, Rivals and Enemies

This chapter adds an entire sub-system to flesh out a PCs contacts etc by assigning them an affinity and enmity score that shows how much they can be relied upon or just how much they hate the PC. Another sub-system determines the contacts power and influence to see just how much they have in the universe and a list of characteristics add a few twists and modifications to the NPC so that they are unique.

This chapter will likely be used in every character creation session from now on. Very useful stuff,

Chapter Four: Pre-Career Options

Five new pre-career options to add to character creation so that university and military school are not the only ones. These include colonial upbringing, mechant academy, psionic community, school of hard knocks,  & spacer community. Each one adds skill or stat boosts similar to those in the core book.

This chapter provides another set of options that I'm likely to give to my players during their next character creations. 

Chapter Five: Additional Careers

This chapter details the Truther and Believer careers. While they are similar the Truther seems to be a leader of a religion or cult that gains followers as they progress while the Believer seems to be those followers.

Both seem to be interesting options but I was hoping for a few more careers, even if it was to represent stuff from 1e. The Believer careers would be great for religious fanatics such as those of the Shield Church of Neaumann detail in the Pirates of Drinax campaign. This makes them useful to me at least depending on how much the PCs interact with that whole organization and I can see them being a good way to detail other religions or beliefs systems found on a variety of planets.

Chapter Six: Training and Experience

This chapter presents a simple experience point system withe rewards at the end of each adventure and gained through study. The time it takes to gain skills seems longer than the standard skill improvement system but does away with the Education check so the time isn't lost. The most interesting part of this chapter is a cost for improving characteristics and I'm probably going to use that section as "improvement points" to let my players alter the stats of their characters.

Chapter Seven: Broad Skills and Specialties

This chapter addresses the Art, Profession and Science skills breaking them down into smaller specialties with a good list of professions and what they actually can be used for as a skill roll. The section then moves on to Melee skills including grapple, strike and fencing strategies.

Again some useful info in here for every game.

Chapter Eight: Alternative Play Styles

This chapter gives a few alternatives to the standard way Traveller is played. The first of these is a narrative resolution for skill and ability checks.These effectively allow the character to succeed at a number of task associated with the characteristic or skill but the biggest flaw seems to be that a particular nasty GM could just keep throwing one type of check at a group until all their successes are used up and then present them with something major they have no chance to prevail against. A careful balancing act would need to be done here to sop everyone failing near the end of each adventure. 

The next section addresses mundane tasks that aren't covered by a skill and pretty much boil down to a 2d6 check. Nothing amazing but again just a good idea finally written down.

Recognition of competence covers just how much a character knows based on their skill level and give some fairly firm info on just what a medicine/3 doctor may know.

Chapter Nine: Combat

Admittedly the first chapter I read in the book, this section presents rules for ammunition expenditure that alters shot by shot tracking to a  rules where multiple shots are fired with each attack and a weapon may run out of ammo at any time modified by its rate of fire with higher rate weapons running out of ammo quicker. 

I've actually found ammo is fairly easy to track with small arms so my players know that if they are carrying one spare magazine they will hold attacks until they have a good chance to hit. This system is obviously more random and it seems only fair that a GM would use this for NPCs too meaning the big bad guy may run out of shots half way through his big standoff. 

The next section gives several uses for Endurance. First up is Natural Resilience, which is using END as armor. The Knockout Blow rule which allows characters to be KO'd when losing their total END in a single attack. Then the Random First Blood rule damages a random stat during attacks rather then END first. The Knockout Blow rule is one I'm likely going to adopt.

Next up is an Alternative Initiative system that has all a rounds action happen simultaneously, Effects happen in order and actions may be interrupted or negated but everything happens all at once. I kind of like the step by step initiative so I'll stick with that.

The next section details Material Destruction which gives "hit points" for regular items, something that's going to be useful when your Travellers are hiding behind a brick wall while bad guys shoot at it.

The Additional Wound Effects section a quick rule for possible negative effects from sever wounds then its onto Combat Mishaps for a fumble effects table. Hit Locations comes up next with random location rolls and details on wound effects from those big hits Travellers alway seem to get.

So far all good with the Material Destruction rules probably being used the most.

The next section details Weapon Scanners and Searches and gives a very good breakdown of how to sneak weapons past security modified by their size and even goes into detail about detailed "on hand" searches and technological scans and then tells you what happens when your Travellers get caught. Again a very useful section if your players are anything like my players.

The next few chapters give a lot of world building information which I'm going to be used a lot.

Chapter Ten: Gravity and Related Effects

This chapter gives a very helpful list of different gravities that can be found while adventuring including their effects on a character, fallingm collisions, and having object fall on the character. This section made me want to add more gravity varieties in my game rather than the standard 1g.

Chapter Eleven: Atmosphere and Vacuum

The chapter does for atmosphere and vacuum what chapter ten did for gravity detailing the various pressures, breathing difficulties, decompression and exposure. Another great chapter that gets me wanting to use more diverse worlds in my game. 

Chapter Twelve: Diseases, Toxins and Chemicals

This chapter gives us poisons and agents that players may come across and their effects and  detection. It then moves onto diseases and biological effects with a list of 6 nasty diseases the GM can inflict on his players.Acids and other corrosives round out the chapter. Another chapter that is going to be used at some point.

Chapter Thirteen: Starvation and Thirst

A small chapter detailing what happens when you run out of food and water.

Chapter Fourteen: Effects of Temperature

What happens when Travellers are exposed to heat or cold environments including rules for hypothermia and heatstroke.

Chapter Fifteen: Terrain, Conditions and Movement

This chapter opens with the effects of hazardous terrain on vehicles along with mishaps that can occur. Flying through cluttered airspace is next which is great if you want to run a scene like the one in Serenity where the ship flies through a gazillion ships as well as jus dodging mountains and trees. 
Next is landing in difficult terrain, which is quickly detailed but also going to show up at some point in most peoples games. 

Chapter Sixteen: Animal Encounters

This chapter opens with a list of new animal traits before giving us a list of 28 creature from different environments. Another useful chapter to either add a bit more variety to GM creatures or just some new animals to hassle the PCs. 

Chapter Seventeen: Vehicle Damage

A single page that gives rules for making vehicles more resistant to hand held weapons.

Chapter Eighteen: Refereeing Traveller

This chapter gives the GM lots of ideas in what to include in their Traveller games, including societies, adventure themes, and encouraging heroics. This kind of chapter may not be anything new to old timer GMs but reading it still sparks a few ideas for stuff to include in adventures.

Chapter Nineteen: Interpreting UWP Data

This chapter great breakdown of what that fancy code on the Travller system maps actually mean with details on exotic, habitable, hazard and hostile worlds. It then goes into technology distribution and what the TL of a world may actually mean before going into a few ideas about fleshing the whole thing out.

Chapter Twenty: Travellermap and the Wiki

Now this was the biggest surprise in the book as both the Travellermap and the wiki aren't officially anything to do with Mongoose and cover some content that actually belong to other versions and time periods of the game. The companion warns about this right away saying that the wiki especially can be edited and may not be the official version of the world they they may use. The chapter then goes into a good overview of the various empires in the Third Imperium in a lot more detail than the core book does, and does so with accompanying pics from Travellermap.

Once we get down to world scale it talks about the system information, and the world map builder, neither of which I knew about. While I've been reluctant to use everything from either the map or wiki these tools make it seem even more useful, the only thing I wish they could add would be a full system map with travel times to the various bodies, but then I guess I'd have nothing to do to flesh out all those systems.

Chapter Twenty One: Starports and Spaceports

This is an excellent chapter. It reveals just what a class A, B<C. D. E and X starport may include along with their accompanying starports It then goes on to a table of random events that can make the port a little more unique before going on to freeports, ruins, specialist ports and trade nexuses, detailing the difference for each one. A random features table gives a list of circumstances that may effect the port temporarily so that each journey there is not always the same.

The chapter is rounded out by a discussion of starport law and defences to show just what security the place can throw at the PCs when they get into trouble there.

Chapter Twenty Two: Lawbreaking

Another great chapter abut what those Law Level codes mean and what happens when they are broken. What response is given and mentions the possibility of extradition treaties between worlds. Weapon related crime is then give a huge breakdown details the various categories of weapons and what formal training and certification may allow a character to use that weapon on a world. It then goes into how to obtain blackmarket weapons, what streetwise rolls are needed to do so and a quirks list for GMs who like to give their player not quite what they are looking for.

Chapter Twenty Three: Slower-Than-Light

A page in various version of slower-than-light travel that could be found in the game usch as using robotic or sleeper ships.

Chapter Twenty Four: The Jump Drive

Now this is one of the chapters I was most interested in wen the contents were revealed and I wasn't disappointed. The chapter goes into detail about fuel usage, the 100 diameter restriction on jump drives, a new set of tables that can make every jump a little more different and just what happens if the astrogation and jump drive check are a little low.  It then goes into a bit more detail about misjumps, what jumpspace really is and even a few variants on jump duration that may effect local regions of space, which reminds me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where they discover that warp drive has been messing up space.
Two alternate jump systems are then given to make Traveller a little more like Star Trek or Star Wars should the GM wish it. 

This chapter didn't disappoint and I'm going to be throwing a lot of this stuff into my games to make jumps a little more interesting and potentially dangerous. 

Chapter Twenty Five: Travelling in Normal Space 

A lot of detail here about travel times once a ship get in system, average distances they may encounter. Good information for something that may be ignored in some games with just a narrative "you arrive at planet X" and therefore a good opportunity to add more detail to these travels. 

Chapter Twenty Six: Mine Warfare

I initially glanced over this chapter as huge space minefields have not come up in my game just yet. It goes into types of mines, how useful they are and how to evade them. I can see my players wanting to put nuclear mines around their home bases.

Chapter Twenty Seven: Gas Giant Operations

A good chapter about refuelling at gas giants, how far into the atmosphere you can go and what effects that has on the speed in which fuel is gathered. Coupled with a section about using gas giants in combat situations and this may help you try a Wrath of Khan at some point in your games.

Chapter Twenty Eight: Transponders, Registry and Mortgages

Now this is the chapter that made me decide to buy this on day one as transponders has frequently been an issue in my Drinax campaign and for just two pages it doesn't disappoint. It details the transponder setting used in the Third Imperium and how to modify them and how they are tied into ship mortgages where the place you got your ship from may be many parsecs away. Great info that will be used a lot.

Chapter Twenty Nine: Missiles and Torpedoes

Two pages are given over to missile. missile defence including two new types. More weapons are always good.

Chapter Thirty: Starship Automation

A single page on the costs of automating a vessel and the problems in doing so. Having just introduced an Aslan with an automated ship this actually proved useful.

Chapter Thirty One: Gravitic Shielding

A new type of shielding that becomes available at TL16 and improves all the way up to TL21, so not something that is going to readily available in many campaigns unless Ancients relics of something similar play a part. Only a page but I'm a little surprised by it's inclusion.

Chapter Thirty Two: Starship Weapons

Three new starship weapons are introduced here, the antimatter streamer, the plasma/fusion carronade, the hullcutter, the disintegrator, ground defence guns and a general-purpose mass driver. The ground defence guns start at TL 4 and are probably the most likely to be encountered. After the carronades at TL10 and 12 a lot of the other weapons are TL17 or so meaning once again they are the upper edge of Third Imperium tech levels and may not be of use to everyone. Three new weapon traits round out the chapter.

The index rounds out the book.

So all in all the book is a bit of a grab bag. There are a LOT of things in here that I would have loved to have seen in the core book as I've had to puzzle them out over the last few years, a lot of stuff that expands on what we've seen before in much greater detail and then it's topped off with a few chapters of stuff that just seems to be a random subject that up until now has not yet found a book to go into. All of the good stuff by far outweighs the chapters that may crop up once in a billion times so all in all I'm very happy with the companion and if a second volume were to be published I wouldn't hesitate to pick that up as well.

 Review Score: 5/5




Friday, 4 January 2019

New Year, New Update, New Series

A new series of sidetrek adventures has just been released on RPGNow, Ruins & Adventures, for B/X Essentials, WOIN and 5e rules sets. The first release, the Welcome Repose Inn is available now.
https://www.rpgnow.com/browse/pub/2938/Mesozoic-Press/subcategory/5221_31788/Ruins--Adventures

(B/X Essentials ©Necrotic Gnome, WOIN ©EN Publishing)

Monday, 25 September 2017

Star Trek Discovery: Trek is Back on TV!! (kinda)

So for once being in the UK has actually been beneficial for TV as the new Star Trek Discovery series is being streamed on Netflix. Today I got to watch the first two episodes and I have to say that I liked what I saw. I won't be doing a scene by scene breakdown here but rather address some of the memorable points.

There are spoilers ahead.

The episodes opens with the Klingons, so lets start there. I did't really like the redesigns of the Klingons, the same way I found the Kelvin-Verse redesigns unnecessary. They did grow on me as the episodes progressed. There is one Klingon. Voq, who is houseless because he has been abandoned seemingly for being paler than his Klingon brethren and this coupled with the main bad guy T'Kuvma seems to be bringing the Klingons together for fear that they will be tainted by the Federation races. Is this a cultural taint he is talking about or is he actually meaning a alteration to the Klingon race? We've already seen some Klingon genetic manipulation in Enterprise in order to explain the TOS and other Klingons is this going to be something similar?

Another piece of Klingon-ness is their cloaking technology. Discovery seems to suggest that this is the first time they have seen the Klingon ship cloak so did they do their deal with the Romulans between the Enterprise-era and now?

We also see a redesign of the Bat'leth that seems to stay similar to the original but with more fancy twiddly bits, but this seems to be the thing with all modern day movies and TV where "flat" is a bad word because of HD tv.  Just look at all the texture added to superhero costumes in the movies rather than flat colors. The Klingon space suit did look great though. A first of it's kind here?

Oh and they spelled Qo'noS correctly here!

So to the credits. A nice no here to the TOS credits, so much so that I thought they were going to use the thing in it's entirety.

Now onto the federation characters. Michelle Yeoh is a great Captain Phillipa Georgiou. I've been a Michelle Yeoh fan for a while so was really happy to see her in Star Trek.

Saru: Played by Doug Jones Saru is going to become the Data, Doctor and Phlox character of Discovery. The alien race he plays, a Kelpien, is the first time we've seen them and they look good, not going down the traditional Trek route of slightly knobbly facial features. Even over the course of just these two episodes I hope we see more from him, maybe his own episode, although I'm not sure Discovery's story structure is going to be handled the same way as the older series.

Michael Burnham: So Sonequa Martin-Green plays the main focus of Discovery and she does it excellently. She was a favourite in Walking Dead (while I was watching it) and once again, when I heard that she had been cast in Discovery I had high hopes. Once again i just a few flashbacks we see an evolution of her from a Human attempting to mimic her Vulcan peers to a Human with a logical approach to problems, taints by her own emotions. We may see more of Burnham's outbursts as she struggles with the suppressed emotions during her time on Vulcan.

My only fear with Burnham is that the whole "caught between two worlds" thing was already done with a few characters, most notably with Spock and this one even has Sarek and his family as well. I'm not sure this was a great idea, but it may prove to be the opposite of Spock's story as Spock struggled to be more Vulcan, Whereas Burnham seems to be more Human.

I like the character and look forward to seeing how she develops over the series. I love how she was taught the Vulcan Nerve Pinch!

Other stuff: We have Phase Cannons rather than Phasers in another call back to Enterprise with a mention of transporter technology development.

Hologram communication seems to be included here so that the characters can march around and react rather than be stuck on a static screen.

The flashback to Burnham's arrival on the ship had lots of classic Trek noises on the bridge which was great.

There are a lot of slanted shots here mimicking the Kelvin-verse movies rather than the original series. I suppose this is just modern TV now....

Why did they not send a security team when Burnham and Georgiou boarded the Klingon ship? I know Kirk was always beaming down to danger but they had plenty of time to gather a few "red shirts" and help out. Maybe this is the reason, as they didn't want to go the whole "Red Means Dead" route and maybe killing a number of them during this scene would just reinforce that.

All in all, I liked Discovery and am looking forward to seeing a lot more, especially Harry Mudd!! Finally a good reason for Monday.












Saturday, 22 July 2017

New BAMF Podcast. Talking to Dan Abnett about the 13th Doctor, Aquaman and Captain Chronos (among other things)

Here is the link to the new BAMF podcast

https://mikelaff.podbean.com/e/dan-abnett-talks-dr-who-aquaman-captain-kronos/

and the YouTube video can be found here

https://youtu.be/KV64__Q4xjo

An Interesting thing came up during this discussion. I said that it would be interesting to see if the new Doctor being a woman will steer more girls into watching the show, but steer more boys away from it. Dan Disagreed and said that he thinks the will be virtually no loss.

Now I'm getting old, back when I was a kid it seemed to me that boys were marketed He-Man and Transformers and girls were marketed My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake. I never even considered that because Doctor Who was a sci-fi "boys show" that girls would even be interested in it, but we didn't have the internet back then and pretty much your whole observation of a shows fandom was "if your friend liked it".

This changed throughout my life when I started to meet women who loved Farscape or Buffy or anime with as much passion as I did for Doctor Who but even now I'm still only learning 24 years after leaving school that there were girls that loved Star Trek: the Next Generation as much as I did.

So now I'm hoping I'm wrong. I'm hoping that kids these days just see that the Doctor offers them adventure and excitement and tells them about understanding and tolerance and everything else the Doctor stands for whether he is currently in the form of a male or female.



Sunday, 16 July 2017

The New Doctor is...a woman??

So today we just had the reveal that Jodie Whittaker is going to be the 13th Doctor and my initial reaction was...hmmm. I'd seen the shortlist and no one on it jumped out as being particularly favorable but then I had no particular opinion about Eccleston, Tennant, Smith or Capaldi when they were cast because I'd not seen them in anything else. Whittaker is a regular in Broadchurch but I avoid crime series like the plague so I have no preconceived idea of just what she is like. Fundamentally anyone playing the Doctor has to have good stories and I'm hoping that Whittaker has the Matt Smith effect of immediately winning me over before the last episode was over.

In universe the idea that the Doctor could be a woman has obviously been touched on before. The Corsair had female regenerations, Missy was the last iteration of the Master and Romana effectively got to "try on" here regeneration before settling on the one she stayed with. My take is that when the 12th Doctor said at the end of episode 10 that if he couldn't be himself he didn't want to be anyone he effectively let go and allowed for the significant change as if starting again from scratch.

In the real world we have a bigger problem, anyone not liking the casting is immediately framed as being sexist or worse still misogynistic when maybe all they thought was that they didn't like her in Broadchurch. Women viewers are being told that they should be grateful that finally they have a female Doctor in some bizarre reverse sexism that just because she's a woman it guarantees that the show will be any good. I'm sure the argument that all women should like Theresa May or Thatcher just because she's a woman would work just as well.

What Whittaker needs is some bloody good stories that can prove that the show can be great whether the Doctor is male or female because if that's not there and viewing figures drop off the BBC are going to get he "I told you it wouldn't work" message when her casting may not be anything to do with the problem.

So here it is. I'm going to stay as balanced as I can be. If you've decided that the Doctor being a woman is not for you then I'm not going to rant, you have every right to have that opinion just as the casting of Capaldi or whoever may have put some people off. Just as I'm going to say that just because the Doctor is now a woman that the series is going to be the best thing ever,  because for as much as I've liked ever Doctor there have been some horse shit episodes in there that makes their runs imperfect.

All I know is that I'm as willing to give Whittaker a try as much as I did Tennant, Smith and Capaldi and I hope that the show flourishes and we get some great sci-fi tv out of it.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Star Trek Adventures has arrived!!

The new Star Trek Adventures RPG, of which I made a small contribution to, is now available. The book looks gorgeous and should easily be able to fulfil your 24th century adventure needs. The PDF can be found at RPGNow and the book for pre-order at Modiphius' own site.


http://www.rpgnow.com/product/214552/Star-Trek-Adventures-Core-Rulebook

https://www.modiphius.net/collections/star-trek-adventures

Thursday, 8 June 2017

First page of a so far un-named manga-esq fantasy comic.

Here is the first page of a new fantasy comic book that I've been working on. I plan on releasing stats and background material for M&M as it progresses.