Thursday, June 28, 2012


I just got word yesterday from the head halfling himself, that the hardcover softcover* version of X-plorers is on it's way to game stores! If you'll recall, John had commissioned a new cover by the talented Mr. Steve Zieser (see image) which really captures the retro sci-fi feel of the game.

The game should be at your FLGS next month (July) which is a treat for me, since my birthday is next month.

As I've stated before, I'm immensely grateful for the opportunity I had to work with John and get to know his little corner of the publishing industry.

It's great to see the game is really starting to take off!

P.S. Here's a list of X-plorers resources to get started!

*In my exuberance upon receiving John's email, I'm misread what he called "hard copies". My bad!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saturday Space Opera with Scalzi

Over the weekend I had the chance to meet sci-fi author Jon Scalzi at Uncle Hugo's bookstore and get him to sign my (just cracked-open copy) of Old Man's War and a recently purchased edition of The New Space Opera 2, in which he has a short story. He was invited to come meet folks while promoting his new book Red Shirts, about those unlucky laser-catching fodder that do the busy work of running a spaceship. Alas, the book in question was out of stock, apparently it's sold through its first printing (Hugo's did everything they could though to get copies).

The shop runners there are just great and very knowledgeable. It was my first visit and I can tell you I'll be back because in addition to newer fare, they've got PILES AND PILES of older, out-of-print books that are just tough to find these days. Though I wasn't looking for it, I snatched up a copy of Fritz Leiber's Swords Against Death.

Scalzi is of course, every bit as personable and genuine as he makes himself out to be on his long-running blog, Whatever, and so it was a pleasure to chat with him. I know he's basically "on" while he's there, which must be exhausting when touring city-to-city. So I can't actually bring myself to annoy someone who is likely a lot like myself--enjoys traveling but relishes the luxury of being a homebody.

So instead of the usual "I love your book!" chatter, we bantered about parking, and talked of nothing of importance, which I much preferred. I left him two tokens of my appreciation, members of the Galaxy Laser Team who I told him should "see him home safely". He seemed to take right to 'em.

I'm thinking this might be his next best-seller.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Soaking up the Jedi powers


How is The Force like the One Ring?

Vulcans, age 35
With mindbending, psionic Force-powers, purging emotion, and not thinking about girls for 900 years you can expect to...

...lose all sense of grammar and live in a swamp... 

Without discipline though...

You dig?


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

References for crafting your space fleet (inspiration)

Here's a few resources I've found over time (including a recently) that have been helpful in working up some believable spaceships. (If you're into that sorta thing). In no particular order....

Here's a page explaining how US naval craft are named, with each specific class of ship having its own nomenclature. For instance, subs are named for marine creatures, unless they're nuclear or ballistic missile platforms, in which case they can get presidential monikers.

The range of categories is surprising, with the usual states, cities, generals, presidents, and battles, to things like "stars", "calming words" and "comedians". The list covers both WWII and modern-era naming systems.

I like the idea of having a naming process behind the space fleet. I sort of had one going for the Omega Patrol Ship write-up I did for X-plorers, but it was more based on numbers within the series than different styles of ships.

Sometimes scale-creep can really ruin an encounter!

Making a believable ship depends heavily on scale. As with the chart from my previous post that's making its way around the interwebs comparing the Enterprise alongside several real-life spacecraft designs, it's good to have a general idea with real-world examples (if possible) on size. Well here's the ultimate sci-fi size-comparison site which allows you to view vessels from many different franchises side-by-side, plus some NASA ships and a few other examples. There's one recent omission, the Prometheus from the film's namesake. I'm still trying to figure out the scale on that baby.

Split detail image of the shuttle orbiter nose or a cutaway of a captured flying saucer? 
Looking for some quick, spaceship schematics? Done. Looking to make something original and random? Got it. Looking for the mother-of-all spaceship model sites? Uff da. There's also this awesome site by Winchell Chung that's got all sorts of calculations for building atomic-powered spacecraft.

That first link doesn't have Star Wars ships though, so try this one. It's an older site with some weird design going on, but it's got a ton of vessels.

Oh, and Gizmodo did an article a while back featuring some NICE high-res NASA schematics, like the one pictured above. These, of course, are just a few of the myriad links and sites out there. BTW, here's a previous post on the Prometheus' deck plans with a link back to a write-up I did for her.

Finally, here's a starship Pintrest board I created wherein I've pinned/repinned all manner of space craft art for your enjoyment or inspiration.

Let's get one thing straight--I'm not a math guy. So stuff like this Wikipedia article on explaining payloads for air and space vehicles is helpful. Most helpful to me are the examples for actual craft (mainly because it's easier to just skip the charts and get to the real-world stuff). If nothing else it's a jumping off point because really, the words "spacecraft payload" are a rabbit hole in Google for which it seems there are an endless amount of results.

Okay, so you're ship is built and you're ready to blast off from Earth some distant star, say Proxima Centauri. WOOOSH, you're there. Except now your Galactic Alert System has gone off and you need to rush off to Epsilon Eridani. How far is that? No, not from Earth, from Proxima Centauri. HERE. Try this calculator.

Stars in our neighborhood, click to enlarge

You can choose from the examples in the list or look up some star coordinates and plug them in. It should give you the distance between those two stars. Just remember, you need three numbers to do these calculations:

  • RA (right ascension) 
  • Dec (declination) 
  • Distance in ly (light years from Earth) 

Most star charts will have these numbers. The first two, RA and Dec are called Equatorial Coordinates. Some charts also list Galactic Coordinates, but you won't need them for the calculator listed above. Our pal Mr. Chung comes to the rescue once again with some 3D star charts resources of his own compiling.

Sometimes knowing the distance between destinations is helpful for designing spacecraft--either in capabilities or limitations--such as making craft that have limited range that the PCs will need to supe-up to make the journey, etc.

So there ya go, some real-world help (take what works for ya) for embellishing your totally-not-real space gaming!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

It's FREE RPG Day--did you get your stuff?

Today is Free RPG Day across the US so you should get out to your game store now and pick up a bag of free adventures, maps, and what-have-you. Here's what was in my grab-bag from my FLGS, The Source Comics & Games.

What did you get?

P.S. I have two of the Pathfinder adventures if anyone wants one.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

SETIcon II arrives next week to inspire space explorers and enthusiasts

Why do I hear about these things A WEEK BEFORE THEY HAPPEN? Seriously, had I known about SETIcon, I'd have been scrimping and saving all year to go. Forget ComicCon--poseurs!--this is for REALZ. From the SETIcon website:
SETIcon, envisioned and organized by the SETI Institute, is a unique, entertaining and enlightening public event where science and imagination meet.  SETIcon brings together innovative scientists, science fiction authors, space and science artists, space lovers, and the curious and adventurous everywhere for a 3-day public celebration and exploration of space, real science, technology, imagination, and science education.

There is no other event in the world like SETIcon that explores space and the human imagination through the lens of real science, attracting global interest and participation. This is not a science conference with technical lectures (SETI Institute scientists lecture all over the world). Instead we’ll bring together scientists with authors and artists to celebrate science and exchange ideas around space exploration and our place in the cosmos. SETIcon will create a new channel of discussion between Earthlings where real science and imagination will meet.
Among the speaker presentations is a keynote by Bill Nye the Science Guy! More to my interests though are several presentations by exoplanet/planetary experts like Geoff Marcy, Martin Still, and Franck Marchis.

Should someone leave me an envelope of $1,000 at my front door for airfare, reg, and expenses, (hint hint!) here's a few of the programs I'd be attending:

Sat, June 23
  • 9:30 a.m. – C1.Asteroids: Junkpiles or Resources for the Next Generation?
  • 11:00 a.m. – Interview with Kevin Grazier (science advisor for half-a-dozen major sci-fi shows, movies) and Alex Filippenko (the charasmatic scientist you've seen 100x on the History Channel's "The Universe")
    1:00 p.m. – This one's a toughie, I'm torn equally between:
    • A3. All Aboard the 100 Year Starship!
    • C3.Exoplanets – What Can SETI Learn from Kepler? (This one would likely win out)
    • And an interview with SETI director Jill Tarter
  • 3:00 p.m. – A4.The Race to Find Alien Life
  • 4:15 p.m. – C5. Do You Need Good Science to Have Good Science Fiction? and maybe sneak over to the Andre Bormanis (Producer for Star Trek and the new TRON cartoon) interview
Sun, June 24
  • 9:30 a.m. – A6.Do Any Exoplanets Have Intelligent Occupants?
  • 11:00 a.m. – Interviews with Marc Okrand (guy who invented the Klingon language!) and Debra Ann Fischer (exoplanetary science pioneer)
  • 12:00 p.m. Brunch with Frank Drake, "father of modern science of SETI"
  • 1:30 p.m. – Aw, man this one is REALLY tough. I'd flip a 1d4 and see where I end up:
    • A8.Would Discovering ET Destroy Earth’s Religions?
    • B8.Artists Imaging Exoworlds – Getting it Right*
    • C8.Citizen Science – Can Science Harness the Power of 7 Billion?
    • Kepler Planet Data Visualized
  • 3:00 p.m. – B9.The Magnificence and Majesty of the Outer Solar System* (given my recent fascination with the Kuiper Belt
  • 4:15 p.m. – B10.Gaming the Future: Science and Video Games * (I really should go to the Kepler session though) and if I can get there in time, I'd see the interview with Antarctica researcher Dale Anderson.
If you're in the Santa Clara, CA region or can drive, fly, or beam your way there, online registration is still open.

What would you see if you could go?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Two Sci-Fi Games to Kickstart

Here's an easy way to feed your thirst for some homebrew sci-fi gaming for just $20. In the process you'll help fund two retro-styled games: one pen-and-paper RPG and the other a graphic adventure video game.

I'm sure you've caught wind of the 1970s Starships and Spacemen game license purchased a while back by Goblinoid Games (publishers of the post-apocalyptic Mutant Future and fantasy Labyrinth Lord RPGs). Well now GG is hoping to update 'Spacemen to 2.0 and bring it up to code with its other two games--that is, make it completely compatible. As of this posting, the game is just about half-way to it's modest goal.

Starship & Spacemen (1978)
It would be great to round out Goblinoid's offerings with a sci-fi game that fits neatly into the universe they so deftly extracted from AD&D rules. They're keeping the classes and starship rules from the original, but updating some of the mechanics. So think of this as Labryinth Lord in SPAAAAAACE!

Learn more and become a backer at their Indie Go Go page. You can help out and get a PDF of the game for as little as $5.

Next up is a game that took me by surprise! Warbird Games is looking to produce a series of vintage styled click-n-point computer games (think, Full Throttle, The Dig, and old Space Quest games) which is "...set in an Edgar Rice Burroughs/Frank Frazetta inspired sci-fi world of bubble helmets, rockets ‘n ray guns!"

Yep. Here's the screen you can throw your money at.

Here's some art to drool over:

For $15 you get the game (DRM free!)  This is about as close as we're gonna get to a Fear Agent game.

Honestly, I can't resist project like these--that take vintage game engines and create something completely new. They affirm that classic gaming styles are still robust and flexible enough to fuel fresh creativity. I personally backed both of these and I'm really looking forward to them!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hop aboard the Omega Class Planet Skipper spaceship for X-plorers

The Omega Class Planet Skipper is primarily designed for planetary body survey and transport, but it's become the favored mission-ready conveyance of the 23rd Century. Manufactured by Hasegawa Shipyards near the Mars-Jupiter asteroid belt, the craft are known for their dependability and the ease with which they can be maintained/repaired.

Its optimal for a variety of objectives including: medium-armament gunship, wilderness patrol and rescue, and light cargo hauler on bodies with low-gaseous- or no atmosphere (when an ornithopter or rotor-wing craft would have been sufficient). It's also popular with system based privateers and freelance crews, oftentimes being favored by those with less than honorable intentions (space pirates, brigands, and the like).

Many starship captains begin their careers flying skippers on sortie missions to gain flight and command experience.

Skipper Crews
While small, the crew of a skipper is usually highly skilled and can even be tailored to the mission type. Common crew types usually consist of:
  • Pilot
  • Co-pilot (serving as navigator and communications officer)
  • Specialists (usually 2-4 crew who are trained to operate any number of technical tasks, including any of the following: engineer, mission specialist, cargo/rescue operations specialist, and any additional gunners)

Make: Hasegawa Shipyards near Martian-Jovian Asteroid Belt, designs later sold to Mongram Fleetworks on Ganymede
Length: 7.75 meters
Width: 5 meters
Height: 3 meters
Ship Class: 2
Type: Scout
Crew: 7, cockpit capacity: 3 (two seats up front for pilot and copilot, third seat mans a control panel just behind)
Hull Points: 13
No. Weapons: Varies, see below
AC: 8 (can be reinforced with armor or shields)
NPC Skill: 14/12/10+
XP Value: 90 unarmed; 190 armed
Cost (in millions): 39cr unarmed; 65 armed and fully stocked

Propulsion and Maneuverability: 4 directional thrusters (giving ship 1 extra move per round, total) and 5 main thrusters powered by Calcifer Propulsion Systems particle drive, which requires recharge between sorties. The ship is capable of delicate in-atmosphere maneuvers at high speed, as well as a range of evasive space tactics during dogfights.

NOTE: The skipper can travel between planets, moons, asteroids, and other bodies within the same system but lacks faster-than-light travel capabilities. Its function is primarily in-system missions.

Power: Power plants for weapons and shields are 1d6 x 1,000 and 1d4 x 1,000 credits respectively. Power plants are the size of a coffee table and the skipper can hold a total of four, stacked (on long edge) in the rear of the ship.

Cargo hold: The main hold can carry up to 3.5 metric tons. It also can be outfitted for passenger transport by adding a modular air-lock system that fits inside the bay door and can be removed between missions.

Armor/shields (AC): Skippers are lightly armored (8 AC) but fitted with a plasma shield generator +2 AC to any one cardinal direction at a time, when activated. Shield can be controlled by the pilot. Additional shields---such as a Holtzman Field system---will require a designated operator.

Weapons: Skippers can be fitted a variety of weapons, such as:
  • Turret mounts for energy-based cannons (360 degree firing arc; 2d8+2 dmg; requires dedicated gunner) 800 cr
  • S-foil mounts for high-power, particle cannons (linked firing, min 2/max 8; 3d6 dmg) 600 cr
  • Dual pulse cannons (fires twice per round; 2d6+1 dmg) 400 cr
  • Torpedo launch pods (sizes, ranges, and yields vary according to payload; requires gunner) 800cr per pod, pod holds 2, 4, or 6 missiles
  • Good-enough laser cannon, min 1/max 4 (single fire, 2d4+1) 200 cr
Other weapons may be used as well. Turrets must be manned to take full advantage of their firing arc capabilities. They will otherwise fire from their fixed positions.

NOTE: Energy consumption must be taken into effect for all weapons, so it's wise to counter with additional power plant.

Escape pods: None, but often carries pressurized, jet pack suits for bailing out.

Equipment: Just as with weapons, skippers can be customized quite easily to accommodate missions with an array of specialized equipment, including:
  • Sensor dishes (external instrumentation) and space telescopes (deployable instrumentation)
  • Cargo winches and hauler scaffolding (deployable from cargo bay)
  • Articulated arm instruments, including claw, drill, or other robotic fixtures (deployable from cargo bay)
  • Grapnel or tow cable harpoons (deployable from cargo bay or external fixtures)
  • Holtzman field generators for an additional +1d6 +1 AC boost (requires extra power plant, external fixtures)
NOTE: Any crew with skills pertinent to above equipment will greatly enhance the ship's capabilities during missions. Any equipment that is stored or deployable from the cargo bay will take up space, so be judicious in outfitting your craft.

Famous skippers of the CSC and their Captains:
All skippers were manufactured solely for use by Central Space Command, but over time vessels have been decommissioned and auctioned as upgraded models become available. Following are some notable craft over the last century or so.
  • CSC-10001 "Big Eagle" (currently restored and enjoys display at Central Space Command Academy back on Earth) Commanded by (then) Captain J. Jasper Allen who went on to become CSC Sky Admiral and found the first inter-species space camp for children with IQ exceeding 200.
  • CSC-10019 "Sparrowhawk" (destroyed in battle) Saw a great deal of action in the Asteroid Skirmishes of the 22nd Century (AKA, the Billiard War). Ambushed by rebel colonists. Cpt. Miles Keeney went down with the ship. 
  • CSC-10042 "Wiley Wasp" (still in service as a training craft) Cpt. Rebecca Thorne now commands the ship her grandfather Alistar once commanded (the Commodore has since retired). It's been through four major refits and lost approximately 86 crew in the line of duty.
  • CSC-10100 "Rattlebat" (sold to a private collector; not in service) Served in the Battle of Flush against the insectaur insurgency. Her captain, Zigg Zane is of course the war hero who stole that glowing hive cortex known as the HRONN, which helped us to defeat them 8 years later (once it was decoded). The ship's computer systems never quite recovered and so it was sold. Cpt. Zane's tragic suicide from the after effects of "hearing" what he called "the buzz" for years after is one of the great sacrifices of the many lost to the insidious bugs.
  • CSC-10565 "St. Bayonet" (destroyed in battle) Another casualty of the insects. Bayonet and her crew, including Colonel Lewis Nagai (called back into duty) led the charge in the final battle against the bugs. His ship was one of the last out of the asteroid hives, only to be taken down by a saboteur --a crew member who succumbed to mind control by Queen Zzkt herself.
Other famous skippers (after their CSC service)
These craft and the notable persons who commanded them:
  • "Vagabond Fox" / merchant vessel (formerly the Walcott CSC-10012; still in service) Captain Ballfour Huxley acquired it by way of his uncle's passing, who was gifted the Walcott by CSC for a lifetime of meritorious service. The only known case of a skipper ship: 1.) being given to a former captain, and 2.) later inherited by an heir. Last seen running cargo for OBT (Orion Beltway Transit).
  • "Strange But True" / private yacht (formerly the Axehandle CSC-10083; disappeared). Quadrillionaire Rex Nobel bought the Axehandle at an auction and had her customized/rechristened the S-B-T as an anniversary present for his wife (and interplanetary pop star) The Duchess. For the last 8 years they've been flying around the solar system, solving seemingly inscrutable crimes of passion for wealthy clients. The ship replaced the "Nobel Gains" his previous conveyance that was stolen near Callisto. Reports indicated that's where this ship--and her crew--likewise disappeared from.
  • "PT-099" / planetary patrol boat (formerly the Grasshopper CSC-10099; sold and recommissioned). Now in the service of the Phobos Colony Police Force, old '99 has been involved in several high-stakes collars thanks to her capable captain Melissa "The Hammer" Hamilton, including four moon heists foiled in the last 11 months and as many terrorist attacks on the space elevator, clipped.
  • "The War Witch" / pirate vessel (believed to be formerly the Warwick CSC-10074; currently sought by CSC authorities) The Warwick was one of the "hero" ships of the war with the insects, due to the valor shown by her captain Henry Mack Ellis. After the war, the captain and loyal members of the crew made off with the ship to pursue a life of piracy and spaceduggery. Since then it's been implicated in a dozen or so different illegal salvage ops and robberies. Ellis is a highly sought bounty and the Witch has a "Disintegrate on Sight" order on her file.
  • "Fortune's Fang" / pirate vessel (previous designation unknown; considered stolen; sought by CSC authorities but believed to be destroyed). Perhaps the most infamous craft on this list, the Fang first appeared (repainted with a fanged "Jolly Ranger"* decal on her hull) about 80 years or so ago. The vessel never appears on sensor scopes and attacks without warning, to maul and pillage her prey. Only a handful of survivors have ever been left to tell the tale of the faceless, unknown captain, a shadowy figure in a shredded astro-suit, peering out of a cracked space helmet with a pair of beady, purple eyes. The ship was last pursued around the Horn of Proteus** by a squad of Pegasus Class patrol ships, piloted by the Space Ranger Corps. A volley of particle beams tore through her hull and a great purple ring vented off the ship, seemingly vanquishing the rogue. But recently reports have surfaced that a dark and battered skipper bearing the skull and bubble helmet is raiding lagrange point colonies near Saturn....
*As in, space ranger
**A gravitational anomaly of Neptune's moon Proteus that juts several thousand miles out from one hemisphere of the moon and causes all captured objects to violently shove away from the planet. Think gravitational ski jump. This was of course caused by the Jumpgate Crash of 2285 which caused the moon's gravity well to become distorted from it's mass signature.

NOTE: Designations 10099 and lower are considered "vintage" serials at this point. The first 15 in the fleet (that weren't destroyed in battle or catastrophe) have been mothballed or put in museums in memory of their honorable service). Craft 10000 was a flight training ship called the Brightnoise. It was never in service and is now on display at the rebuilt Smithsonian, on Venus.

Click to enlarge

This entry is based on the Operation Omega Patrol Hopper model by Hasegawa, AKA the Eagle Lunar Explorer. The entry was loosely written using the X-plorers rules, but can be easily converted to other games.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury gone

My hometown newspaper, the Star Tribune just posted a story about the passing of science fiction author Ray Bradbury. I think it's safe to say that he was both an icon of the genre. And yet, he also did a great deal of mainstream work that continues to inspire. His writing extended into film and television, either through direct development of his work or the incredible influence he had on writers, filmmakers, and even scientists and social scientists. From the STrib:
His writings ranged from horror and mystery to humor and sympathetic stories about the Irish, blacks and Mexican-Americans. Bradbury also scripted John Huston's 1956 film version of "Moby Dick" and wrote for "The Twilight Zone" and other television programs, including "The Ray Bradbury Theater," for which he adapted dozens of his works.

"What I have always been is a hybrid author," Bradbury said in 2009. "I am completely in love with movies, and I am completely in love with theater, and I am completely in love with libraries."
His most famous work, Fahrenheit 451, was perhaps the best example of his work that straddled both sci-fi and true-to-life commentary.
"The Martian Chronicles" prophesized the banning of books, especially works of fantasy, a theme Bradbury would take on fully in the 1953 release, "Fahrenheit 451." Inspired by the Cold War, the rise of television and the author's passion for libraries, it was an apocalyptic narrative of nuclear war abroad and empty pleasure at home, with firefighters assigned to burn books instead of putting blazes out (451 degrees Fahrenheit, Bradbury had been told, was the temperature at which texts went up in flames).."

It was Bradbury's only true science-fiction work, according to the author, who said all his other works should have been classified as fantasy. "It was a book based on real facts and also on my hatred for people who burn books," he told The Associated Press in 2002.
One of his shortstories for which I'll always remember him is A Sound of Thunder, in which Bradbury used the concept of the "butterfly effect" to illustrate how small changes can have enormous repercussions in the future. A concept that's been turned into not only a well traveled sci-fi trope for time travel plots, but helped us understand how important it is to be more reflective of our impact in everything from the environment to how we treat one another.

Here's to a man who, at 91, was still writing, still active, and still making an impact in the world of sci-fi.

Have a favorite Bradbury story?

John Carter...of way of Venus?

The transit of Venus was today (or yesterday, since I'm posting after midnight) and nearly apropos to that--my copy of John Carter (pre-ordered, thankyouverymuch) arrived! I sprung for the 4 disk version because I wanted the extras. I don't have a 3D TV or player and I don't plan on getting one.

I couldn't resist popping in the blu-ray right away--it's gorgeous. Speaking of extras, Entertainment Weekly has one of the deleted scenes posted. It's an alternate opening that some have said might have helped. I'm growing weary of the hand-wringing at this point. Yeah, it's a little sad that the film didn't do so hot and it's already out on DVD, but then hey, IT'S ALREADY OUT!!

Let's just:
  1. Buy, rent, or Netflix the hell out of the movie!
  2. Tell our friends!
  3. Repeat!

And of course, take a fist full of ideas back to the game table.

Check out more about John Carter on the Barsoomiology tab above. Or click the John Carter of Mars tag below.

The Prometheus spaceship is all the reason I need to see the movie

I've been avoiding reviews, spoilers, and anything related to the film for weeks. The movie might stink, but I don't care. I'm going for the spaceship!

Check out the deck plans and my earlier write-up for X-plorers RPG.

P.S. Post no spoilers, I'll blast them into oblivion!