Friday, February 22, 2013

Rad Astra: PC Sartorial Bonuses!

Looking to inject a little more gonzo-wahoo-ism into the game? Then crank the dial to 11 with CAPES! Yep, classic science fantasy is ripe with 'em. But now they're more than just a cool accessory--they're functional too! Just stop off at your nearest Mega-star Mall and find this millennium's latest fashions!


"Just because you drive the fastest hunk-a-junk in the galaxy, doesn't mean you have to LOOK like you do!"

PCs can don the following items for attribute or encounter bonus modifiers.
  • Spaced Cape - Dare to leap higher, dodge farther, and make a BOLD entrance in any non-metallic cape grants the wearer +1 PRE. Cost: 200 cr.
  • Spaced Cape To-the-Max! - You old smoothie! Any metallic colored cape (the outer fabric, inner lining, border, or design) shall grant the wearer +2 PRE. Cost: 300 cr.
  • Baller Collar - Fine threads for the discriminating narcissist. Add a collar to any cape and gain an additional +1 PRE. Collars are definitely a fashion statement--any time you enter a room all eyes are on you (no sneak attacks, ever). Cost: 100 cr.
  • Up-to-No-Good Hood - Looking to bring a little mystery into your relationships? Turn your cape into a cloak and earn +1 to your Sleight of Hand skills OR become unnoticed for 1d4 consecutive rounds per game session. Must choose at time of purchase. Cost: 100 cr.
  • Bootylicous Bodysuit or Bikini- Those gymkata lessons have to payoff somehow! Try this skintight getup on for size. It grants wearer +1 AGL and a quick-draw bonus of +1 To Hit when you add straps! Prerequisite: PHY 8 or higher (not everyone can pull off a skintight suit!) Cost: 300 cr.
  • Cosmic Cowl, Skullcap, or Circlet - Tired of not being taken seriously? Cap your credibility gap! Wearer gains +1 INT due to keeping the bean clean and warm. Separate headpiece (i.e., cowls not attached at the neck). Cost 250 cr.
  • Shoot First Vest - This one's a classic! Lots 'o pockets and perfect for when you're stylin' next to your first mate or goin' Solo. +1 AGL in ranged combat (+2 in ranged combat 2 or less areas away!)
  • Dauntless Gauntlets - Are you an archer? No? Do you want to look like one? Elbow-length gloves grant a dashing +1 AGL in melee only. Protects against chafing.  Cost: 100 cr/pair.
  • Go-Go Galactic Boots - Kick-off your next interstellar adventure in these knee-high or higher boots that provide a fashionable +1 PRE, and +1 to roundhouse kicks but -1 to move. Cost: 250 cr/pair.
  • Without-Fear Bandolier - Shoes? Pants? Deodorant? These are merely "options" to a brazen beast like yourself my friend! Let your hair hang out au naturale and get a FREE re-roll when you do something brave and fate fails to recognize! Also comes in Big and Tall sizes. Cost 200 cr.
  • I Got My Aye-Eye On You Patch - Look like a real space pirate and intimidate your foes with your one good eye with this +1 interrogation eye patch! It's see-through so don't even worry about any AGL penalties! Cost: 50 cr.
  • Harness of  Heft / Galactic Girdle - Show off the work you put in with free weights and pad your PHY with an extra +2. Unfortunately only shoulder pads or a helmet are the only other armor you can don. PHY 10 or higher required. Cost 350 cr.
  • Swash-belt-buckle - You're one of a kind with this giant, WWF-sized, shiny belt buckle that gets you a "Look here!" opportunity, once per game. Just say the phrase when you approach your foe in melee combat. Your opponent has to make an INT check. If they fail, you get in a sucker punch at full melee damage. 250 cr. 
FIRST-TIMER SPECIAL: Take a 10% discount when you add any two items in a single purchase!


"I was always getting mine caught in the jetpack--they took it in a few inches and now I can fly straight again!" NOTE: We do complimentary tailoring, just ask!

"You should get down there--they're running a White Sale. Though I'm more into Basic Black myself."

"They didn't charge extra for the peek-a-boo panels! " NOTE: Space Helmet not included 

"GRAAAWWAAAU!" <TRANSLATION: "Finally, a tailor who understands me and my post-modern, deconstructivist tastes!">

"Lando's wide selection means I can go formal, for raids on Imperial fortresses...."

"...or I can go casual for date night!"
"A career change for both of us meant new wardrobes on the double!"

"I only need one eye to command the respect of my crew!"

"These gloves have 'heartthrob' written all over them--thanks Lando!"

"Finally, I can skip laundry day! (Let's be honest, I was doing that before.)"
"Don't see anything you like? Let us take a look at our stockroom or we can even special order."

"That Lando is one SMOOTH salesman!"

"I saved 10% on my first visit to Lando's House of Capes--and you can too! Tell them Ming sent you!" 

NOTE: These are ballpark costs. Quick reminder about attributes in X-plorers:
  • PHY - Physique
  • INT = Intelligence
  • AGL = Agility
  • PRE = Presence

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Con of the North: The One That Got Away...

Spotted this last-minute add to Saturday's game roster. So bummed I missed out!

Con of the North: LEVEL 1

This past Saturday I enjoyed my first venture to Con of the North, the big gaming convention here in the Twin Cities. I've been to many a comic convention and Convergence (the geek culture con) but this was my initial foray into the gaming crowd's natural territory.

Saint Dave of Blackmoor
If you weren't aware, Minnesota--and particularly the Saint Paul/Minneapolis metro area--has a thriving game community. I'm sure some credit goes to Dave Arneson (Saint Paul's patron gaming saint) for his involvement/innovation in the early days of wargaming and roleplaying.

Whatever kept the die rolling in this town has really taken permanent root.

The con was Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and I'd signed up for a few games on each day, but I didn't get to any of them. Both as a consequence of an unusually hectic work week and the fact that I wanted to polish the Rad Astra adventure I ran for X-plorers on Saturday night.

But I didn't miss out on gaming.

Gaining XP as a First-time Con-goer
One of the great things about Con of the North is that everyone is gaming everywhere--including the hallways! One game I stumbled upon was a tricked-out version of Aliens!

Now, I'm not even a huge fan of the film (I like it just fine, but I'm not an Aliens fanboy, per se) but this was not to be missed. It used 6" action figures for the marines and aliens and a TON of scratch-built debris as the terrain.  See if you can identify all the sci-fi references built into the game (click on pics to embiggen):

Everything from Star Wars to Doctor Who action figures were used--in some creative way to be in scale. The gameboard itself was at least 6 feet long and each space about 3"x3" (possibly larger).  

The guy behind this fantastic setup is Steve Bauman--he built the game and drew up his version of the rules. I don't know if playing with action figures as pawns is a relatively new thing at cons, but this was just pure fun. Steve called his version "Aliens: Escape from the Robotics Lab".

There was another game with a different board set up going on at the same time and due to a mix-up (that there were two of these Aliens games going on simultaneously but in different locations) Steve's players all ended up at that other game table. So I got to join in along with a few other passerbys. 

It's been a few days since the con, but I believe the gameplay went something like this:

The objective is to get at least 7 of 9 marines across the board, regardless of whether they're healthy, wounded, or incapacitated (carried by other marines). Sequence of play (as best I can recall):
  1. Aliens move (they move 4)
  2. New aliens appear (always 3)
  3. Aliens attack (they "grab" prey, leaving them unable to fight)
  4. Marines move/attack (up to 3 actions, depending on character)
  5. Repeat!
Each marine has a card with the number of actions they can take and their weapon determines their range. So Apone has the flamethrower (I got to play him!) and he can fry aliens without dealing with splashback from acid, but the fire only goes up to 4 squares away. Meanwhile Hicks (has, I think a pulse rifle? shotgun?) can hit foes even farther away.
 Apone and his flamethrower! 


"I' from behind!"

The game uses d10 (10 = zero) and you want to roll lower (generally). It's based on line-of-sight and they even had laser pointers to help judge angles. 

Seriously, without exaggeration, this was one of the coolest games I've ever played!

Sadly, I didn't get to finish since I had to get to my table for the game I was running. But Steve didn't let me leave without a parting gift. See, we here in Minnesota, live in the Land of the State Fair (our largest, longest, and most fattening tradition).

So, of course, I took home one of these:



(Pics were kinda' fuzzy, sorry about that!)

There also was one game I didn't get to play but looked amazing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Con of the North: X-plorers Play Report!

I ran my FIRST EVER con game Saturday night at Con of the North and (I think) it went really well. But, I'm not taking credit for running a great game--I'd say it was great because I was fortunate to a group of players who were:
  1. Allowing of my naive, baby-deer-learning-to-walk referee skills, and-- 
  2. They were really good roleplayers. I had a full table too--six of six players showed! 
John Till from Fate SF was the first to arrive and we chatted a bit beforehand. He did much to bolster my confidence. I ran the X-plorers Box Set (Limited Edition) rules, sans the corporations-in-space setting. I also threw out quite a bit of the regular rules (Basic Hit Bonuses and the four-phase space combat rules) just to make things go faster (we only had two hours!). The game ran from 8:00 pm to 10:00 pm, which was perfect for a wooly, space adventure. For some players, this was the last game of the day. Now on to the highlights as best I can recall.... 

Note: In a completely boneheaded move, I forgot to take actual game-play photos. So here's a few images from the campaign...

Character Generation Made Easier
Right now is also a good time to thank John Adams for creating X-plorers Players Guide pamplets because those TOTALLY saved my bacon. Character generation goes a lot quicker with a bunch of these and some pre-printed character sheets handed out at the table. They rolled up 2 scouts, 2 scientists, and 2 soldiers. I had them roll 4d6 and throw out the lowest. I think John had one attribute with a 4! By in large, I think the PCs ended up overpowered on skills, mostly because I let them...but then I threw a LOT of adversaries at them, so it evened out in the end.

Nicodemus Hasselfury!
Return...or Revenge?
Not wanting to repeat my earlier adventure, I ran a new one that I'd dashed off mostly Saturday morning (the day of!) having had the rough outline in my head for barely a day before that. Basically, it was "Return to the Forbidden Planet," but since Altair IV went ka-blewie at the end of that movie, I assumed the Krell had been a spacefaring race and made another base on Aquailae Gamma. So I called it "Revenge of the Forbidden World." That all made for some confusing backstory--but, on the upside it didn't matter once the group got into some action encounters.

The Black Rider (like this--but, er, black...)
One thing I didn't change too much from the previous game I ran was having the PCs wake up from cryo-stasis aboard an already enroute ship, The Black Rider. That trope seems to work well in moving things along. The ship's butlerbot, JV-3Z, or "Jeeves," tells the PCs they've been selected from the infantry inventory (grown and stored in a giant underground warehouse on Earth) for a black ops mission. Handpicked by Captain Nicodemus Hasslefury himself!

Stiletto fighter
Hasselfury turns out to be useless to them--disappearing whenever things get rough and the boys had their hands full. Having just woke up from cryo, the proximity alarm went off and they ended up fighting off two wings of Drukhar starfighters (single-pilot, Stiletto-type, 6 total). 

After hailing and bluffing failed (they had to at least try to keep their cover) they engaged, and took out, half the enemy ships (the others bugged out). 

Arrival on Aquailae Gamma
Recon, Intel, Telemetry Automaton (RITA)
After landing, Hasselfury, true to his nature, punked out and stayed behind on the ship for repairs while the grunts took to seeking out the MacGuffin--a psionic amplifier capable of weaponizing the user's own consciousness into a--we'll get to that in a second. 

Jeeves stayed behind with Hasselfury to work on the ship, but they did take another robot companion with, RITA (Reconaissance, Intelligence, and Telemetry Automaton). She's got one up on RIGB-E from the last game in that she's armed and she can hover over rough terrain (something with which RIGB-E has a lot of difficulty). 

The ship was already low on supplies (thanks to an in-flight encounter when the crew was in cryo), so the heaviest weapons available were a few laser rifles.

Hasslefury dug out something special for each party member: a small stim capsule (a fluid stimulant/mutagenic agent delivered via chapstick-sized capsule with hypo-needle). He ordered them not to use them unless they really needed them. Then everyone "turned the capsules over to read the label" (rolled 1d6) and this is what they were given:

  1. Extra arm (extra attack)
  2. Tail with bony mace at the end (extra melee attack)
  3. High Kicks (kangroo legs - double movement)
  4. Quils (fire 1d6+1 poison tipped)
  5. Space Yeti!
  6. No effect, dud
The rolls went: one tail, a couple a' extra arm stims, and not one but THREE SPACE YETI stims! I really had no clue how I was going to make that work.

Flashback to Saturday afternoon: while eating a terrible turkey sandwich in the hotel restaurant (should have known better!), I thought I should include something that could turn out to be completely up-ending for both me and the players. It would give them the chance to ham things up and me the opportunity to roll with their ideas. So with hours to go, I added it in.

It worked TOO WELL. More on that later.

Doom Squad Warriors

Using her sensors, RITA pinpointed the Krell compound where the weapon was located--and a Doom Squad of Drukhar warriors behind a nearby bluff. The bogies that fled the space battle had already alerted their companions on-planet, who were now on the lookout for Hasselfury's squad. 

And from the frying pan into the fire, they stumbled on to a pride of Aquilan Land-Mantas. Basically bed-sized manta-crabs with stinger-armed tails. 

My strategy was to get them to split their offensive, which they did eventually, but to their credit they handled it well. A well-aimed shot took out one of the mantas. But in its death cry--it shrieked and alerted the Doom Squad--blowing the party's position.

This encounter was likely the hardest for me as a more novice GM--not knowing how long to let the encounter last, while still remembering that they had a lot of plot-relevant stuff to get to. So I let the mantas retreat so the PCs could focus their firepower on one enemy. I don't think I'd do it again, but I was keen on them getting to, at least, the big baddie stage of the game. There was plenty of laserfire to come and nobody seemed to even notice.

Every Yeti for Himself
Space Yetis!
For some reason, about this time, one of the scientists in a rush to--I don't know what--make something happen (?)  STABBED A TEAMMATE WITH HIS MUTAGEN STIM! That guy grew a tail. Instantaneously.

The next round the same "mad" scientist (there's always one!) decided he needed to have more armor and tried to pry the controls to RITA away from the other scientist, so he could get his hands on a fallen Drukhar warrior's combat suit. RITA, operates mainly under single-operator remote control and she's got two hip-mounted, quick-shot lasers, but she's meant to be more of floating tricorder and my way of giving the PCs important info. 

With the two science officers now in fisticuffs over the controls, the rogue scientist won out and used RITA to loot a downed enemy of his armored suit. RITA managed to survive this ill-conceived row. The other scientist, understandably anxious at this point, took matters into his own hands and stuck himself with his Space Yeti mutagen. I was certain this would escalate, but to his immense credit, he ran into the compound instead to secure the Krell weapon--which triggered the final phase of the game. 

Lord Zathar of the Drukhar Empire
Now that the PCs were entering the base, the Drukhar's commander, Lord Zathar--wielding a sonic sword and leading a second squad--made an appearance. He'd arrived to reinforce the Doom Squad that the PCs had cut through (a little too easily for my tastes, BTW).

As it turned out, a lucky roll and fate intervened. One of the soldiers got off a shot with his laser rifle and winged the evil warlord quite severely (note to self: that dude's AC needs adjustment). Seeing imminent defeat, Zathar called for a full retreat of his forces--but not before leaving a present behind for the heroes.

Zathar had been on the planet long enough to play with the Krell weapon before the PCs arrived. Through an amulet slung around his neck, activated a giant energy wraith, containing his angry subconscious--our heroes now trapped by it in a narrow hallway inside the compound. 

Giant Energy Wraith, a psionic/electrical monstrosity!

You can't make this $h!t up!
Miraculously, they were able to hold off the creature while they looked for the power feed (it was energized a la wireless Tesla power).  The luckiest roll in the game arrived just in time to save one lucky bastard (one of the scouts) who took a full-frontal electric blast and SURVIVED his saving throw with a NATURAL 20. The only explanation was that the blast was somehow grounded. He was reduced to zero HP, but he lived to fight another day. Once they cut the power, the wraith winked out of existence like a cathode ray tube television signal.

X-plorers Players Guides make for great freebies!
XP You Can Take to the Bank
With the heavies vanquished and Krell tech intact, Hasselfury shows up just in time (natch) to pick up the boys. They've saved the galaxy from a Drukhar superweapon and survived! From the beginning I wanted to reward great roleplaying (with moxie and flourish) handsomely with XP, and they walked away richly compensated. I let all the players keep the players guides, plus a colorful, golf ball-sized 1d20 they got to use during the game. 

So how did I do?
Well, I'm positive I played too fast and too loose with the rules (I will be re-re-re-reading the space combat rules, ASAP), but everyone were great sports and just went with it. My overly ambitious adventure seemed to be a crowd pleaser. A few said it "went really fast" which is exactly the opposite feeling I had--probably because I constantly felt the need to keep things clipping along. (Is it normal to feel exhausted afterwards?) But thanks to fantastic players who were willing to just go with the flow, they really did seem to enjoy themselves--can't ask for better than that.

If I get to run this as a campaign, I'm interested in using the new classes I'm working on (and other surprises) in the full-fledged Rad Astra setting.  I've got contact info from some of the guys and I'm seriously considering starting a regular X-plorers game at the Source.

And there's room left to continue with Zathar's end-of-the-game getaway. Alas, we've not seen the last of him--he will have a major role in the overall saga of the Rad Astra space opera...

I have one more post to do on my con experience (mainly another game I played) so stay tuned!

Monday, February 11, 2013

X-plorers still set for Con of the North

Con of the North is this weekend! I'm super excited, but also nervous at running a game at a con. I've been working up monsters, aliens, encounters, and more to get ready. It'll be in the Rad Astra setting* using the X-plorers rules. I'll have several copies of the players guide portion of the manual for people to use, and they'll get to keep it as well--plus a few other surprises!

Oh, and I'll definitely be taking advantage of "GM's perogative" in playing loose with said rules. I'm planning to devote more energy to making it fun than rules lawyering.

When? Where?
It looks like the game is set for Saturday from 8pm- 10pm. It's at the Holiday Inn St. Paul East--no word on what room yet. It's a short session, but I'm kind of glad about that. I think I can pack in about 2 big encounters, along with a decent amount of time to introduce the game to players and roll up PCs.

I don't see it listed on the Con of the North site yet, but I have a request in about that. Hopefully, they'll either get it up online or there is some sort of insert put into the programs at the con. As soon as I have more info, I'll post it.

Come out and play!
If you're thinking of going, you can still register on-site. I hope to meet some local gamers and have a blast!

*We'll be using standard X-plorers classes, but will have some Rad Astra-y skills from which to choose.

Monday, February 4, 2013


You have no idea how long I've waited to write those words! With Con of the North just a few weeks away, I desperately needed to get a game together to flex my woefully under-practiced GMing skills. So I conned my wife and two friends to be guinea pigs for my Rad Astra campaign setting for X-plorers box set.

But only one of them has ever played an RPG before, so I stripped down the adventure and threw in some newbie-friendly pretext to get the adventure rolling. Once they rolled up characters (a scout, a soldier, and a scientist) I told them they wake up from cryo-sleep aboard a shuttlecraft.

A message appears on screen telling them they've been expelled from the space academy (for reasons they can't seem to remember) and are sent back to a central space station with the rest of their tuition (about 150 cr for each of them). Oh and a "Good luck suckers!" farewell from the chancellor.

The scout gets an interstellar text from a school pal letting her know to check in with "Karlo", a pawn shop owner on the space station. He can hook them up with some freelance work.

Alien medallion of unusual origin
Karlo a fat, cigar-chomping T-rex-like alien who uses his tiny claws to control prosthetic arms with joysticks. Think of him as J. Jonah Jameson crossed with Jabba the Hutt, and you'll get the idea. He's a blowhard and a scoundrel, so the scout has her hands full negotiating for their first job. "So you're a couple a 'beauty school' dropouts from the academy, eh?" They were lucky to get laser pistols!

After giving them grief, Karlo loans them some basic gear, weapons, a rickety class 2 scout ship, and a banged up robot to act as their sensor pack to find an alien artifact.

Karlo's muscle, a space yeti by the name of Bema (who provided some comic relief), gets them set up and off they go to some hole-in-the-ground planet. I took the role of the droid, RIGB-E (Roving Intelligence Gathering Bot, E-CLASS) so I could give them hints via his sensors, readings, and memory, etc.

That worked out quite well, I must say--they really like interacting with him. I dropped a few hints that RIGB-E's previous owner was after the same artifact and never returned (to be continued?) and Karlo wiped his memory regarding that incident. So they found themselves both having to trust the robot, but suspicious that he may be Karlo's snitch.

As far as getting to the planet--they NEVER got there. Instead, they have to drop out of hyperspace to avoid hitting an object that wandered into their trajectory.

The object is a 15 mile in diameter space hornet nest. After fighting the tractor beam that's sucking them in (and a few school bus-sized hornet bugs) they are captured. Then the real roleplaying took place.
Soldier, scientist, scout and robot.
I was so impressed that, given their scant experience, they really threw themselves into their roles. They had to deactivate the tractor beam (The Kenobi Maneuver ) in order to free their ship. To do that they had to navigate a series of hex-shaped (in 360 degrees) hallways filled with robotic bugs (cleaner bugs really--hey, I was going easy on them!) and hook up their robot to the main computer to find out where the tractor controls were.
A menace in numbers--but easy-to-blast, Volkswagen-sized, worker bug.
A tactical error on the part of one of the PCs left the party split (!) if only by a few meters, but it was enough to frustrate them. The soldier (the one who was supposed to blaze a trail for the robot) was on one side of a VW-sized bug, and the droid on the other. Eventually, they had the robot disengage it's wheel servos and just pushed it like a shopping cart as fast as they could run past the bug. Brilliant!

Fighter-sized hornet bugs attack the shuttle.
Later on, they stumbled upon a much bigger find--a chamber filled with human and alien prisoners! Some of them dignitaries--definitely worth something to a skeevy wheeler-dealer like Karlo. They also caught a glimpse of the queen herself and the scout snapped some photos of her to sell to Karlo. The scientist downloaded the full schematics of the hornets' hexa-nest, which turned out to be built from composite material that was made out of space junk.

After a space battle with some hornets outside the nest, they escaped back into hyperspace. On the way back to the station, they wiped RIGB-E's memory about the inside of the nest--downloading it to a personal hard drive that they would hold hostage to Karlo.

Upon arrival, the scout player was now filled with confidence, having navigated the earlier obstacles in the game and really gave it to Karlo. They didn't give him all the info--instead bargaining for pieces in order to get an upgraded spaceship and better equipment to complete their mission. They negotiated a hefty line of credit, plus bonuses if they succeed, in addition to some decent hardware.

So how was the game?
The game ran for about 3 hours, including chargen--which seemed like the perfect amount of time for a first session. By the end, the team had racked up a healthy amount of XP for besting in-game foes, traps, and for some really great roleplaying. I was pleased to hear afterwards that they had a lot of fun.  All three asked to play another session sometime soon. When I heard that I felt a lot better about running it at the con. I know I've still got to practice GMing though--gaming with strangers who aren't novices is a much different bag!

Still, if I can get the group together for regular sessions, I dropped enough hints for future plot points through Bema and RIGB-E to keep them busy enough for an entire campaign. Not bad for a trial run!

Here's the stats for their ship, which is basic enough to convert for use in just about any sci-fi RPG:

In the end, they had the opportunity to name vessel, which I'm still waiting to hear...

Sparrow Type - Scout Ship
CREW: 2-7
WEAPON DAMAGE: two 1d6 front-mounted lasers; one pop-up 1d6 laser (swivels 360 degrees)
AC: 10
XP: 50 (this is more than a scout in X-plorers because of the enhanced weaponry)
COST: 30 million (this doesn't really matter in our game, it was on loan to the PCs)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Want a custom pulp magazine cover for your campaign?

YOU GUYS! Go RIGHT NOW to Bradley W. Schenck's  Thrilling Tales Pulp-O-Mizer like I did!

You get to choose from a wide variety of zany magazine titles, enter your own text, choose a hero or spaceship for the cover, set the background, and more. You get save a JPG of your cover for free or you can order a print, mug, etc. Seriously, what GM wouldn't go nuts for something like this, either to bring to the table or as a memento of a past campaign?

The art style may look familiar to you--Schenck is the same talented artist who created Retropolis, the lavish illustration series that's set in a gilded art deco city of the future. I'm having such a blast making covers that I don't think I can stop.

Seriously, I may never leave my computer!!

Via io9.