Thursday, February 11, 2010

Moon Wagon Train to the Stars!

Part of my original purpose for the Exonauts! blog was to give some inspiration for early space pioneers and the type of gear that they'd need to employ. I remember reading recently (somewhere I can't recall at the moment) that the originally Star Frontiers didn't have spaceships. This, to me, is ridiculous. Apparently they introduced actual starfaring craft in the Knight Hawks expansion.

How you can you not have space travel in a space opera RPG? It's THE basic element that all space-RPGs require! What do you mean you need to get the expans--wha? What's that on the cover?

And then I saw it, and immediately I was in love...

Huminna-hummina! It's called the Explorer, and it's basically a futuristic monster truck. Sort of like the A-Team van but with bigger wheels and lasers! And who can resist the striping?!

I immediately saw potential here for a class of ground vehicle that was more robust and rugged than an ordinary rover. I did some digging and before long I'd come up with not one, but TWO concepts for non-hovering, heavy ground vehicles. These are rough concepts at this point, so I won't go into stat specifics in this post.

So, I think the Explorer is a good start, but I see it belonging to a bigger family of planetary excursion vehicles. Something monstrous, but still dedicated to it's primary purpose: exploring. I call it the Moon Wagon.

The primary mission of a moon wagon is exploration. It may also serve scientific, reconnaissance, and survivalist missions. They provide excellent protection from harsh planetary environments and are considered a cross between a mobile headquarters and the Conestoga wagon of yesteryear. Moon Wagon's are built to endure harsh climes and terrain and come in a variety of configurations employing either axeled drive (two wheels per axel), can be fit with independent wheel drives so each wheel moves independently, or a combination thereof. In addition, MW class vehicles adhere to the following criteria:
  • General purpose and complement: exploration, scientific, and engineering purposes; boast scientific instrumentation, cargo/personnel focused
  • The fewer the axles, the bigger the tires
  • If axel powered, Moon Wagons have a minimum of 2 axles (with a 2-wheel minimum per axel), however 3 axels (with a 6-wheel minimum) are more common
  • Moon Wagons must always have some wheels, caterpillar treads are okay, but at least one axle or wheel pair is required to keep classification
  • Moon Wagons often employ external accessories like robotic arms, construction implements (buldozer blades, drills, etc.) sensor modules, communications arrays, etc., or combination thereof for general use in many mission types
  • Moon Wagons may have some external weaponry, but they may not bristle with weapons as warfare is not their primary function

The other main ground vehicle type is, as you've probably already guessed, the big guns. No reason to be coy here, it's a @#$! Space Tank!

Heavily armored and armed, Space Tanks or "Spanks" as they're called by the grunts who operate them, are ground force artillery vehicles dedicated to offensive/defensive campaigns. Strictly speaking, spanks "bring the pain" on a given battlefield and adhere to the following guidelines:
  • UPDATE: Built for heavy combat situations, Space Tanks are always equipped with two pieces of equipment: an obvious, primary weapon and extremely durable--if not outright heavy--armor plating
  • Spanks have limited space for cargo and crew, most interior space is dedicated to housing artillery, ordinance, and mission critical personnel 
  • Spanks must always have treads, an axle  or use of independently powered wheels are acceptable, but at least one caterpillar is required to keep the classification (BigTrak would seem to break this rule! Also, the Mako from Mass Effect is quite obviously a tank, where it had previously been classified as a Moon Wagon)
  • UPDATE: Space Tanks may be wheeled or use treads
  • Obvious communications and sensors are kept to a minimum, but a variety of defensive accessories such as bulldozer blades, drills, etc. may be added as long as they serve the vehicle's primary mission



Both Classes:
  • UPDATE: Both vehicle classes must be able to operate in an absence of atmosphere (vacuum), hence required pressurized/sealed life support systems
  • Cross-over designs should be avoided to alleviate any confusion
  • Either class may use a variety of chasis sizes and power plants to serve their specific mission types
  • Either may have on-board robotic pilots, and may be controlled remotely, but should not act as unmanned vehicles or robotic rovers (these are separate classifications)
  • Both Space Tanks and Moon Wagons may act as personnel carriers or increase cargo space, but sacrifice some of their primary components to do so (i.e., a MWs carry lighter, scientific equipment, STs carry less ammunition and possibly fewer weapons).
  • All ground vehicles will have 1980s color-coordinated striping, this is non-negotiable
Neither Class:
Neither class includes the following vehicle types:
It's likely I'll revise this in an ongoing fashion--including a growing gallery of images for inspiration--so expect a fair amount of updates/edits. And yes, I'll get to spacecraft in a future post. ;)



  1. Nice post and some cool vehicles. I should note that Star Frontiers was not without space travel and ships, it just assumed they were more of a background element until the Knight Hawks box came out.

    The focus of Star Frontiers was originally the adventuring and much like a fantasy RPG wouldn't have a lot of time and space devoted to conveyances in its core system, nor did Star Frontiers.


  2. Thanks for the background Eli. That jives with my initial impression from reading the manuals. FWIW, I think Star Frontiers did a fine job with the adventuring part--I just want to add a little off-road fun to the mix!

  3. The artwork on the cover of SF4: Mission to Alcazzar features another cool image of one of those explorer vehicles. If memory serves, the vehicle is statted out in the module.

  4. Ahh. I drove that Mass Effect buggy around for hours. Too bad it got dropped (ok destroyed) in the sequel.

  5. Rog, thanks for the info--I've got that as a PDF but haven't cracked it open yet. I'll probablly post it and the X-plorer's version soon.

    I'm already thinking about revisions for these (tweaks really).

    And that Mass Effect vehicle (called the Mako) is a sight to behold. It's supposedly modeled off of the BigTrak, which I have and LOVE.

  6. You're welcome. That particular image is by Larry Elmore, probably as important an artist for TSR products in the mid-80s as Erol Otus was in the late 70s.

  7. Rognar beat me to mentioning Elmore's painting on the Alcazzar cover--it's a nice image.

    To echo Eli's comment about Alpha Dawn: In a lot of ways the game's focus is like that in the Alan Dean Foster Humanx novels, where ships are mostly a way to get to the meat of the on-planet adventure.

  8. Actually, Eli's comment has me thinking that there's a vague corollary between B/X and AD/KH, kind of, if you like at it sideways...

    Sort of...

    Also, I had one of those Varitanks with the pincer claws. That takes me back.

  9. A White Big Trak?! I never saw one in anything other than slate grey. Awesome. It looks so Saturday-morning-live-action-sci-fi-show.

    The Explorer or Rover, as we called any heavily armed and armored ground vehicle designed primary for exploration on alien worlds, is a cross between the two vehicles you describe and eventually made it way into nearly every sci-fi RPG we played.

    The Star Trek version my friend and I designed was a lot like the bastard offspring of a wheeless Big Trak and the Maco from Mass Effect. I remember it was a grav/land speeder type vehicle. I wish I could find the old drawing but I'm sure its long gone.

    Cool blog man. Please come check out mine when you have the chance.

  10. Barking Alien, thanks for stopping by! I've seen you on a bunch of other blogs and I'm now a follower of your blog.

    Yeah, the Big Trak is full of win. I've got some big plans for adapting it. You're land-speeder tank sounds intriguing. I've been knocking around ideas for hover vehicles for a future post, so I'm sure I'll get to it eventually. If you find that drawing let us know. :D

  11. Holy crap! I forgot all about the Shogun Warrior Varitank toy until I saw that pic. I had it when I was little - and pinched the crap out of army men and Micronauts with its red claw arms. Plus I remember the red thing at the front-bottom opened up - forget what was inside. Can't remember if it shot something. The whole thing was die-cast metal and plastic - weighed about the same as a brick.

    Thanks Jay - great memory jog!

  12. Erin--the Varitank shot tiny red missiles. I bought one off of ebay that was all played-to-hell a while back. It makes for a nice vehicle for minis!