Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Future Armada

Way back in March I mentioned Future Armada in a post about the Fate system. With the demise of the d20 license the creator of the series, Ryan Wolfe, emailed all of his customers to let them know that he was uploading new versions of the older ships minus the d20 logo, and with a few minor corrections where errata had been found.

This prompted me to take another look at my collection, and I'm still amazed at the quality of the product. The ships are beautiful and the deckplans are both beautiful and well thought out in terms of what humans would actually need on board a starship. For example, far too many deckplans tend to leave out rather essential plumbing fixtures. Passengers and crew aboard a ship from the Future Armada won't have to search frantically for a restroom that doesn't exist.

The ships themselves all share a common backstory in the form of the so far minimally detailed "Future Armada" universe. This lets the ships be described with a story and crew, but the universe itself is generic enough that they can easily be adapted to other settings. Prime candidates would be Star Wars Saga Edition or Serenity (the latter of which already features deck plans designed by Ryan Wolfe). They work less well with systems that feature strict starship design rules, such as Traveller, but could be used in those kinds of games if the GM is willing to be flexible in interpreting those rules, or just decides to set them aside for the campaign.

The scale of the ships range from tiny one man fighters and small Millenium Falcon style freighters to the giant 2400ft long Invictus carrier and the Argos III deep space port. They also have a nice mix between 'practical' and 'adventuring' ships. The latter are suitable ships for small adventuring parties to have while the former are things like the Prosperity class modular container freighter and the already mentioned Invictus. Ships that fill obvious roles in a science fiction setting, but which aren't likely to be owned by the players.

Every single one of these designs provides inspiration for adventures, if not entire campaigns, set around them.

For example, the latest release is the Misfortune Container Ship. The Misfortune is an aging Prosperity class container ship officially named the Fortune, but which has had a long history as a hard luck ship. A few paragraphs go into the history of the ship and the very real reason behind why it has had such an unfortunate history (I won't spoil it by saying what it is). This seed alone could easily make for an interesting adventure set aboard the ship, but there's also a few more paragraphs that work up a specific scenario that the ship could be used in.

The Misfortune product also shows one of the other strengths of the Future Armada series: modularity. Almost all the larger ships in the series use modular floor plans that can be combined in different ways to make different ships. The Misfortune includes three layouts. The basic Prosperity class container ship, the Prosperity Alpha that replaces the containers with regular cargo bays, and the AJAX military transport that radically shortens the ship, adds basic weaponry, and makes other changes to better suit the design for transporting cargo to the surface of a planet in the midst of military conflict.

One final strength of the line represented in Misfortune is the extra attention to detail. In this case the Sherpa class freight hauler stands out. Detailed in the product because it happens to be carried as a shuttle aboard Prosperity class ships, this little ship is essentially a one man cockpit and set of engines arranged in a framework designed to match up with a single modular cargo container. They're basically space semi-trucks, especially when the long haul option is added to the package that includes a little extra storage and a restroom (a bed is included in the basic package). The ship isn't just mentioned, it's given a complete set of plans including ten different modular containers running from the basic freight container to a specialized bounty hunter layout with holding cells and work areas.

The result is a ship that could be used for any number of NPC encounters or as a 'starter' ship for a small adventuring group or solo player, and this wasn't even the main feature of the product!

I just can't get enough of the Future Armada sets and highly recommend them to anyone running a space based science fiction RPG.

The only thing that would make them better for me would be if someone would put out a line of miniatures based on them.

Edit: I forgot to mention that the ships all come as pdf files, usually at least three separate ones: an overview file with the background text layouts and pictures, a full color deckplan file, and a more printer friendly black and white line art deckplan file.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Despite all the plans I had for things to do while my wife is off visiting her family, I've found myself mostly sitting in front of the computer playing video games. I currently am subscribed to three MMOGs (yes I'm sick, but I also plan on canceling two of them soon, I'm just not sure which two). I thought I'd go ahead and give my impressions based on my dabbling.

World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Liche King: It's WoW with more levels. Nothing really new here. That's not to say that the expansion is bad. It's actually quite good, just nothing much to talk about in terms of gameplay if you are already familiar with WoW. One of the reasons I upgraded my computer was that I was running into problems trying to run my Priest in the new areas, so I haven't had a lot of experience with the post-70 game yet. I have spent some time playing a Death Knight and they are fun, if only for the fact that they're a bit overpowered, at least in PvE. I've been blowing through quests that my Priest struggled with at the same level.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning: WAR is the main reason I upgraded my computer. I actually bought the game before I could run it. I love the setting, and it's great fun to see a lot of the Warhammer world come to "life" in the game.

The funny thing is that I don't generally like PvP, and WAR is all about PvP (or RvR as Mythic likes to call it), yet I still really like WAR. I even created a new character specifically to PvP as much as possible. Jumping into the instanced PvP battles is easy to do, although the waits are sometimes long, and while they're mostly just wild melees they are still good fun. Unlike in WoW where if I go into a pick-up group for PvP I can expect to lose 99.9% of the time, in WAR my win/loss ratio has been around 2/3.

The couple times I've tried open RvR it's been fun too, but these areas are where the guilds are dominating. If you aren't part of a team you get slaughtered. The trick though is just finding a team, even if it's just a one time deal. The couple of pick-up teams I've joined have held their own. People seem to have a pretty good idea of what their role is. I'm not sure if this is because of the game, the players, or me just being lucky, but so far I've been impressed.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures: This game wasn't even on my radar. A license I'm only a moderate fan of, a release that was very buggy, and system requirements that are so high that even with my new system I have most settings turned down pretty low. I only picked it up because it was in the bargain bin for $10. Natually, it's the game I've been playing the most.

I've gotten to Level 32 and so far it's been an excellent single player game. Seriously, I've grouped twice and both times were merely to be polite to people who invited me. I've turned down multiple grouping requests at other times because grouping seems to just slow things down. Based on in-game global chatter this must change as you reach the higher levels, but for now I'm just enjoying following the story as I play through my single player game that other people keep wandering in to.

There is actually a story here too. You start the game having lost your memories and gained a strange mark on your body. You then spend the game searching for your lost memories, learning the meaning of the mark, and attempting to stop a great plot that is behind it all. You don't spend all your time following this specific story, in fact you only have about one quest per 10 levels that specifically follows it, but it's always there in the background.

You spend most of your time following other side quests. There are a lot of side quests, and most of them are parts of chains that make up mini stories. Unlike most of the chained quests in WoW, many of these chains are completeable within the level you start them at, so you can run through the complete story in one session instead of having to stop and find some other way to gain XP because the next step in the chain is too hard for you to attempt.

There are so many quests available that you can do some picking and choosing, either based on the offered rewards, or on your roleplaying preferences. For example, I see my character as someone with a few morals, so I pass on the more morally dubious quests. I still have more quests than I can accomplish before outlevelling them.

The only bad thing is that everyone has the same basic story, so I can see where levelling up a second character could be a lot less entertaining than the first time through, even with all of the available quests to choose from.

Despite spending all this time with it now, I'm almost certainly going to cancel AoC in January when my free month is up. As fun as it is now, there simply doesn't seem to be an end game that I'd have much interest in. The team based PvP of WAR and WoW interest me more as an end game.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

To the 3.5 Diehards

If I play D&D it's going to be 4th Edition, but if you still prefer 3.5 then you should check out Monte Cook's Collected Book of Experimental Might. Previously available as a pair of PDFs, this is a collection of house rules by Monte Cook that could arguably have become 4.0 in an alternate universe.

I have the first of the PDFs which I bought as a hard copy from a print on demand service. It does a complete overhaul of the magic system while still retaining the Vancian core. As I understand it, the second PDF did something similar for the non-magic classes by revamping the feat system. If it was half as well thought out as the magic then the combined book should be extremely useful for anyone who didn't get what they were looking for from 4th Edition D&D. At $29.99 it's not a bad deal either. I paid that for just the first half of it! If I thought that there was any chance I'd ever want to run a 3.5 game I'd buy it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Uncharted Seas

A picture of my Uncharted Seas Dragon Lords and Iron Dwarves straight out of the box. I haven't even put the sails on the Dragon Lords yet. For scale purposes, the islands are Gale Force Nine islands for WizKids Pirates game and the dice are 1/2" dice. You can see representatives of all three classes of ships for both races in this picture as well as the frigate turning and arc of fire template.

In one of my posts about podcasts I warned about listening to This Week In Wargaming if you valued your wallet. Naturally, I didn't take my own advice and the result is that I decided to pick up the rules and a couple of starter navies for Uncharted Seas from the Warstore.

The guys at TWIW have been pretty enthusiastic about this game, and after getting a chance to read through the rules and push the models around the table a bit I have to agree. Uncharted Seas is a set of fantasy naval rules. Amongst truly old school Games Workshop gamers this will immediately invite comparison to Man O' War, GW's fantasy naval rules from back in the day. My opinion is that if you still miss Man O' War, then this game could very well scratch that itch.

First, the background. So far it's fairly minimal, but gets the job done. The initial four navies are the Imperial Navy (humans), Iron Dwarves, Orc Raiders, and the Dragon Lords (Melnibonean style elves). The story is that all but the Dragon Lords originate from the Old World and have fairly recently discovered and begun to colonize the New World. In doing so they have encountered the Dragon Lords who already claim dominion over the New World. The background allows for conflict between all four races as well as internal conflicts between different factions within the same race.

Unlike the Old World, which is one big continent, the New World is made up mostly of island chains with a few larger land masses. This explains why naval warfare has come to be the dominant means of power projection in the region.

The rulebook mentions plans for further expansion, both for the existing races and the introduction of new races, including more traditional Elves.

The rules are simple, but capture most of the feel of age of sail style fighting. Turns begin by rolling initiative and then players take turns activating squadrons of ships in initiative order.

The wind is handled simply by it not having an effect unless you are sailing directly into it (actually within about a 45 degree arc of directly into it), at which point your movement costs are doubled as long as you do so. There's also a chance once per turn of the wind shifting.

Turning is handled using three templates, one for each class of ship: frigate, cruiser, and battleship. This makes movement a simple affair.

The same templates also show arcs of fire for the three classes, which brings us to line of sight. In the basic rules frigates do not block line of sight from battleships, otherwise everything blocks line of sight, both ships and islands. Ships firing broadsides basically have two 45 degree arcs to trace line of sight from, one at either end of the ship. If both have line of sight, then the ship gets full firepower against the target. If only one has line of sight then firepower is halved. This makes it a little more tricky to maneuver the larger ships to bring their full firepower to bear since the two arcs are spread further apart.

Damage is handled by rolling a number of d6 equal to the firepower of the attack. Generally 4s and 5s are single hits, and 6s are double hits that get rerolled for the possibility of even more hits. This can be modified by various factors so that 3s can be hits, or 4s can be misses. This system makes it possible, if unlikely, for a lucky shot from a frigate to sink a battleship if the shooter keeps rolling 6s on the rerolls.

The total number of hits are compared to the damage value and critical value of the target, if they equal or exceed the damage value then the target takes one damage point. If the total hits equal or exceed the target's critical value then the target rolls on the critical hit table instead of taking a damage point. If the shot was so good that the number of hits was twice or more the critical value, then the target has to roll once for each multiple of the critical value done.

Damage is handled in the same way when handling ramming, collisions and boarding actions. The only differences being how to determine the number of dice to roll. The result is an easy to understand and use system that should be fast playing. Most record keeping can be handled on the table with tokens, although some paperwork may be necessary, especially in larger games, to keep track of critical hits taken.

There's one further factor that adds more depth to the whole system: the card decks. Each player gets a 26 card deck. Thirteen of the cards are common to all decks, and the other 13 are specific to the race being played. Each player gets to draw a number of cards equal to the number of squadrons in their fleet, up to a maximum of five. The cards are played during the game to give advantage to certain rolls, or to cast special magical effects, and are refreshed at the end of each turn. Depending on the nature of the card they are either played at the beginning of the turn, when activating a squadron, when attacking, or in reaction to another player's action.

Between the ship stats and the race specific cards there seems to be enough differentiation between forces to give each navy a distinct feel without requiring a lot of special rules.

The basic game includes stats for three ships for each navy: one frigate, one cruiser, and one battleship. Spartan Games has already released stats for new ships for each navy, including a dragon carrier for the Dragon Lords that introduces air power to the game, heavy cruisers for the Dragon Lords and Iron Dwarfs, a new battleship class ship for the Orcs, and a troop transport for the Imperial Navy that gives them marines. Other units that have been mentioned for the future include submersibles and further air power.

There's also a set of sea monsters to use as random encounters in some scenarios. The rules for all the new units have been offered as free pdfs at

The game has an affordable entry cost. The book itself is about $28 at the Warstore. Starter fleets range from around $40 to $45 for all but the dwarfs who are only around $25 because they don't need the white metal sails that the other forces use. Starter fleets give you six frigates, three cruisers and a battleship, plus the card deck for that race. Enough to play the scenarios from the rulebook and get a good feel for the game.

If you pick the dwarfs as one of your navies you can get into this game with two complete forces for less than $100! I can't think of another miniatures game that comes in at that price point.

The miniatures themselves are single piece resin hulls with white metal sails for those ships that use sails. Quality is good with some minimal work needed to clean up the bottom edge of some of the resin pieces. Detail is good without going overboard. Painting up a navy should be a quick process. I plan on just spraypainting a basecoat, picking out a few details and then hitting it with a wash before sealing it with a clear coat and calling it finished.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Quick Impressions

I've been glancing through a lot of RPG stuff recently, but haven't had the time to go through any of it with the level of detail needed to do a full review. Instead I'm going to give a few comments here covering things I noticed so far and wanted to share.

King of the Trollhaunt Warrens: It's not set in the Nentir Vale, and doesn't make any effort to connect to the H series of adventures. I expected the H, P, E series of adventures to be more of a level 1-30 campaign, not a set of largely unconnected adventures that just happened to go from levels 1 to 30. There's at least a suggestion of what direction the setting lies from the Nentir Vale, but I think more could have been achieved here.

Martial Power: Rangers rock. I was already a big fan of the Archer ranger and they get some interesting new paragon paths, but the Beastmaster ranger is going to make my choice difficult if I ever get to actually play. The only drawback to this book is that by adding even further options for Defenders, Strikers, and Leaders, it makes the Controller role look even more straightjacketed. Hopefully the Arcane Power book will give Wizards at least a couple of new builds, if not a completely new Controller Class or two either there or in the PHB2.

High Guard: I open the book and the table of contents is for Mercenary. Come on guys! You were doing so well, don't pull a Mongoose and blow it. Your brand is rapidly becoming synonymous with poor quality control, whether it's in editing or production.

It's a shame, because the content seems pretty good (aside from a good deal of further errata). The deckplans for the capital ships are interesting and something that has been largely missing from Traveller, but why change canon unnecessarily? There's already an established set of plans for the PF Sloan, yet someone felt the need to completely alter the shape of the ship and create new ones.

It was nice to see the plans for a superfreighter included. Hopefully we'll see more of that if there's ever a Merchant book done.

Scum and Villainy: I think that Star Wars Saga Edition may be the most consistently good RPG product line out there right now. Although it got a slow start due to the resources being devoted to the launch of 4th Edition D&D, every release that has come out has had something for everyone, players and GMs alike. Even the weakest book, Threats of the Galaxy, still had a number of new talents, equipment and playable races scattered through the book. It may be a good thing that I'm not running a Star Wars campaign, because each book that comes out makes me want to run a campaign based on it. So far we've had the Knights of the Old Republic setting, the Dark Times setting in the Force Unleashed, and now the Fringe setting in Scum and Villiany.

I haven't had much time to actually read Scum and Villainy yet, but among other things it's got rules for smuggling, bounty hunting, equipment modifications and Jawas. I am so playing a Jawa if I ever get into a game.