Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Star Control: Map of the Galaxy!

Here, have a massive star map depicting the explored universe in Star Control II! Makes for handy game aid for your favorite space opera RPG, I'd imagine.

Click to embiggen.

Image via

Friday, November 22, 2013

FROM THE ZONES 4 of 4: Galactic Outfitters reverse-engineered alien tech

Click image to learn how to participate! 
Preamble, taken from the FROM THE ZONES kick-off post at FATE SF:
A black market for recovered artifacts began to grow in the towns outside the Zones. Various governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals put together their own covert shopping lists

Looking to upgrade your planetary excursion gear? 

The Amalgamated Conglomerate Mercantile Exchange company is proud to partner with these fine manufacturers who have ingeniously reverse-engineered alien technology found in The ZONES. Order now and we'll throw in a free static window cling so you can show off your "FOUND IN THE ZONES" pride!

Xenothalent™ Artificial Biologic Immuno Response Engine from Blommkampe Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

These cute little nanobot buggers are what
make Xenothelent possible. Ah, the
 miracle of technology!
Heading into a warzone filled with xeno-derived toxins and environmental biohazards? Consider getting a booster of Xenothalent™, the most adaptive artificial immune system on the market today!

You need only stick yourself with the handy, 30 centimeter needle directly into your abdomen to administer your booster shot. In mere seconds you'll be up-and-at-em, ready to take on any biohazardous environment with nary a symptom (see below for possible side effects).

Health Benefits of Xenothalent™

  • Immune to alien pathogens for up to 1 year
  • Melanin in skin turns blue when pathogens are present in atmosphere, color shade corresponds to parts-per-million in the air
  • Blood brain barrier develops resistance to mental attacks, reducing any damage by half
  • Increased healing factor (2 Hit Points per round)

Specimen shown at 3 meters in diameter!
WARNING: Early research findings indicate that due to the experimental nature of Xenothalent™  the following conditions (1d12) may occur 4 rounds after inoculation:
  • 1) Xenothalent™ breaks down into poisonous byproduct (Save Vs. Poison)
  • 2) Host experiences mutagenic transformation into biologic anomaly, taking on properties based on whatever hazard was encountered
  • 3) Inoculated individual's own immune system is sent into overdrive, Physique/Strength increases by 2d6+1 points and begins to run down to normal at -1 point per round afterward*
  • 4) Antibodies mutate and burst out of host and grow to 1d4+1 meters in diameter, bent on eradicating "intruders"
  • 5-11) Immune system works as intended, fighting off any diseases, pathogens, environmental biohazards during session (see Health Benefits above)
  • 12) Booster fails completely, no benefit gained, no side effects

*One in 100 individuals (roll 00 on percentile dice) who are inoculated with Xenothalent™ system that encounter "overdrive side effects" are left with permanent Physique/Strength attribute changes, however Intelligence drops by 4 points.

Retail price: 3,000cr, system in packs of 12 syringes
Discount price: 500cr, comes in 12 syringe pack, some may have been opened/tampered with

Note: Written for X-plorers ruleset, but easily convertible to other games.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Teaching kids RPGs, sounds a lot like the OSR way of play

Image copyright: Hero Kids RPG by Justin Halliday
Just saw this article by Ryan Carlson on GeekDad about teaching his 5 and 6-year-old girls to play Hero Kids, an RPG for little folk. There's some talk about crunch up front, but then there's this bit:
It was great fun; they always got rewarded for coming up with creative ways to problem solve throughout the game. In fact, I wish my regular RPG players would think outside of the box as much as my kids did that afternoon (I’d reward them just as well).

So my advice for parents wanting to run role-playing games for their kids is to keep an open mind and use the game for a teachable moments, not to teach combat tactics. I use the game to help reinforce simple math, teamwork, and problem solving.
Two take-aways here. The first being the creative play aspect and focusing on solutions to problems rather than combat (or at least, rather than solely relying on combat-based solutions). That seems like the old-school DnD way of thinking your way out of a mess (which I appreciate).

That's not to say that solutions can't be action-based. Indy wasn't packing dynamite when he entered that Mayan temple to steal the gold idol. He used his bullwhip and his own two feet! Or Luke shooting the control panel for the blast doors in Star Wars.

The other noteworthy point, is in rewarding players for thinking that way in the first place. Yeah, you can hack monsters and take their stuff, but what if you actually conned Smaug out of his horde--keeping the spoils! That's definitely worth a good-sized reward in experience points.

Anyway, it's nothing new to the OSR crowd, but still good advice to remember while I'm thinking on teaching RPGs to my kid one day. And if anything, it's nice to see that philosphy of play carried on outside what we think of the old school blog-o-verse.

FROM THE ZONES 3 of 4: Galactic Outfitters reverse-engineered alien tech

Click image to learn how to participate! 
Preamble, taken from the FROM THE ZONES kick-off post at FATE SF:
A black market for recovered artifacts began to grow in the towns outside the Zones. Various governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals put together their own covert shopping lists

Looking to upgrade your planetary excursion gear? 

The Amalgamated Conglomerate Mercantile Exchange company is proud to partner with these fine manufacturers who have ingeniously reverse-engineered alien technology found in The ZONES. Order now and we'll throw in a free static window cling so you can show off your "FOUND IN THE ZONES" pride!

Parry Shield™ Adaptive Deflection Screen Generator™ from Gurney Space Defense Conglomerated

Alien tech recovered: Personal-sized solid-energy emitter recovered after firefight with extraterrestrials.

Engineered into: Pretty much the same thing but with a lot more power added. Green Lantern's energy ring or a Holtzman field generator refitted for your vehicle or spacecraft.

Are you constantly getting flanked by your enemies in space combat? Tired of catching laserfire on your back quarter during dogfights? Oh, the pedantry of having to "come about" to face your foes
Throw those manual deflector screen controllers away!
during ship-to-ship combat--just because your shields happen to be stronger at the bow than the aft!

Now you can modulate your shields AUTOMATICALLY without the need to allocate power from other shipboard systems. Gurney Space Defense's latest offering, the ADSG Parry Shield™, manifests a solid wall of energy between you and harms' way that deflects all matter and energy-based attacks! Where does it go? Who cares, as long as it's not rending your ship into atomic dust!

Powered by that miracle product DynaQuark™, the generator both powers and computes the neccessary defensive placement and power output to protect your vessel.

WARNING: Should two objects with active Parry Shield fields come in contact they will both be instantaneously vaporized.

Two test subjects fist bump moments before being vaporized during trials for a personal-sized version of Parry Shield™.
WARNING: Under the Space Consumer Act of 2360, we are legally obligated to inform you of the following potential mishaps that may occur during operation of your Parry Shield™ module (1d20 for every round shield is active):
  • 1) Upon activation, shield completely sheers away hull plating, leaving starship totally transparent as a cutaway diagram, with only the Parry Shield left in place to protect against losing atmosphere/outside threats
  • 2) Shield doesn't turn on, but instead, power plant begins meltdown cycle with complete overload occurring in (1d8+1) rounds
  • 3-17) Parry Shield operation is perfectly normal, deflecting 1d10+10% of any enemy fire.
  • 18) Parry Shield works only in opposite mode, parrying at the exact wrong time--shield is up when you fire from your ship, deflecting damage back at you--and shield is down when enemy fires upon you
  • 19) Shield frequency out of phase, vibrations cause unbearable "warble" sound; will cause hearing loss of all passengers for rest of the session if not powered off in 1d4+1 rounds. Note: If #2 (above) has already been rolled, Parry Shield cannot be turned off
  • 20) When ship lands, Parry Shield cannot be turned off for 1d6 rounds, trapping crew inside
Retail price + installation: 15,000cr, system comes plug-n-power-up ready, includes six pack of DynaQuark
Discount price: 11,500cr, system comes unassembled and requires someone with expertise in starship repair, level 6 or higher and 2 weeks in drydock

Note: Written for X-plorers ruleset, but easily convertible to other games.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

FROM THE ZONES 2 of 4: Galactic Outfitters reverse-engineered alien tech

Click image to learn how to participate! 
Preamble, taken from the FROM THE ZONES kick-off post at FATE SF:
A black market for recovered artifacts began to grow in the towns outside the Zones. Various governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals put together their own covert shopping lists

Looking to upgrade your planetary excursion gear? 

The Amalgamated Conglomerate Mercantile Exchange company is proud to partner with these fine manufacturers who have ingeniously reverse-engineered alien technology found in The ZONES. Order now and we'll throw in a free static window cling so you can show off your "FOUND IN THE ZONES" pride!

Voice-activated Auto-Ration Delivery System, a.k.a. PHLORP™

Alien tech recovered: Nanite-based, bio-gel printing device. Recovered inside extraterrestrial craft medical laboratory and/or mess hall.

Engineered into: Mostly accurate, all-purpose, industrial-grade nutritional system.

So you've woken up from cryo-sleep and slipped on your own biofluids--what's the first thing you look for? Breakfast! Insert credits, speak your portion size, (e.g., "one bowl" or "two cups") and The GLORP spurts out a glob of nano-organic sludge onto your serving tray. It appears as grey-blue, grey-green, or pink (Roll 1d6: 6 = it's full-on red in color. You should ask for a refund and discontinue use immediately).
PHLORP™ prior to being loaded into auto-ration printer
Named for the sound the sludge makes when it hits your plate, just speak aloud your desired dish and your food will blossom into it's nearest grade-school equivalent right before your very eyes!
  • Asked for sirloin? Salisbury steak it is! 
  • Make-your-own-pizza? How about garlic cheese bread with a side of ketchup! 
  • Dreamed up a banana split? Banana pudding with chocolate swirls--MMMMmmm! (We think it's chocolate....).

Don't be afraid though, PHLORP is a highly efficient and stable platform for nutritional and disbursement and absorption. Once extruded, the nanoparticles detect what nutrients you need for the day as soon as it hits your lips and synthesizes the appropriate proteins, vitamins, and minerals with the necessary fiber-to-grinder ratio to keep things moving. Just don't count on your dish to wow the senses.

This is Steven. He heard what you said. He wants you to apologize immediately.
WARNING: Occassionaly, PHLORP outputs a substance that refuses to auto-morph into any nutritional substance (1d12) but will instead artifically reconstitute into what could be classified as a "lifeform". In such cases, if consumer should (Result know only to GM):
  • 1) Back away slowly, never turning back on PHLORP (Fireball, 2d6 damage, 10 meter diameter)
  • 2) Try to talk your way out of situation, maybe pay it a compliment (If successfull, becomes consumer's familiar, but reeks to high heaven of rotten fish)
  • 3) Stab with utensil (Utensil is imbued with indesctructible coating for 2d6 rounds, will not harm PHLORP; also, PHLORP angered)
  • 4) Put in microwave for fired upon with energy weapons (PHLORP will grow in size 3d10 meters, absorbs/consumes all in it's path, seems upset when mocked)
  • 5) Fired upon with convential weapons (PHLORP appreciates your attempt at humor, becomes caustic sludge [2d6+1 damage] that moves at 2d4 spaces per round)
  • 6) Attacked with sonic weapon (PHLORP shatters into 4d8 pieces, becomes less friendly)
  • 7) Targeted by psionics (PHLORP communicates on 5-year-old level, throws tantrum, re-roll 1d6 above results)
  • 8) Yell at it (re-roll 1-6 on 1d6, modify result by +1dX; i.e., if you rolled fireball, it's now 3d6+2 damage)
  • 9-12) PHLORP does not mutate, is perfectly edible, add 1d4+1 to your Hit Points for the rest of the session (not a permanent bonus)
WARNING: Some mutation may occur. Consult your mission physician in case of spontaneous genetic malformation. Side effects include, but are not limited to (1d6): monstrous devolution, rabid zombification, radioactive lycanthropy, instantanous appearance of vestigial limbs, and scabies.

Retail price + installation: 1,500cr
Discount price: 990cr minus spice rack replicator, food smells like week-old refried beans

Note: Written for X-plorers ruleset, but easily convertible to other games.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Machete Kills just as effectively in space...

Faux trailer that played in theaters with Machete Kills. This is grindhouse space-ploitation at it's grittiest!

FROM THE ZONES 1 of 4: Galactic Outfitters reverse-engineered alien tech

Click image to learn how to participate! 
Preamble, taken from the FROM THE ZONES kick-off post at FATE SF:
A black market for recovered artifacts began to grow in the towns outside the Zones. Various governments, corporations, and wealthy individuals put together their own covert shopping lists

Looking to upgrade your planetary excursion gear? 

The Amalgamated Conglomerate Mercantile Exchange company is proud to partner with these fine manufacturers who have ingeniously reverse-engineered alien technology found in The ZONES. Order now and we'll throw in a free static window cling so you can show off your "FOUND IN THE ZONES" pride!

REM NarcoPod™ from The DreamSkil Institute

Alien tech recovered: Wireless psionic discharge module. Discovered amongst what appear's to be the torture chamber of a crashed alien craft.

Engineered into: REM-cycle re-education unit combined with long duration spaceflight sleep container, cartridge-based video game system.

Chet's had no game when it came to displaying sick skills in disc golf--but then he found NarcoPod!
Need something to do on those looooong outer-rim excursions? You've got nothing but time on your hands on those deep space sojourns into the black so why not cool your heels--and your neurons--in this state-of-the-art, single-occupant, skill-building hypersleep unit.

Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced skills in a variety of fields are available under the following matrix:
  • Dexterity/Agility-based skills - advance 1 level - 1 month
  • Intelligence-based skills - advance 2 levels - 1 month
  • Charisma, Wisdom/Presence-based skills - advance 1 level - 1.5 months
Strength/Physique and Constitution-based skills not eligible. Check with your local ruling space authority to see if restrictions apply. Skills programs can be downloaded via interstellar WiFi service to DRM-laden, proprietary cartridges. Skill cartridges are sold separately (see pricing below). The NarcoPod™ can only add or improve one skill at a time.

WARNING: Check to make sure carts are properly seated before operating. Due to unforeseen circumstances in development funding, modifications to the skill cartridge interface were made using re-purposed aftermarket entertainment modules.

Dammit Jerry, I told you not to pound a Red Bull before hypersleep!
SIDE EFFECTS: The following side effects have been found to occur in 1d12 individuals once they awake from hypersleep.
  • 1) Skills atrophy after 1d6 rounds
  • 2) Sleeper suffer unexplained handicap of -2 for 2d4 rounds when using skill
  • 3) Skills gain unexpected bonus of +3 for 1d4 rounds or if more than one bed is in use on a trip, 4) skills are given to the person sleeping in an adjacent pod
  • 5) Psychic storm occurs, sleeper loses control of conscious self for 1d4 rounds and attacks friendly crew members with mental blast which lowers any Intelligence or Presence rolls for team by -1 for rest of game
  • 6) Dreams intrude on reality, roll for 1d6+1 number of random monsters created from sleeper's consciousness
  • 7) NarcoPod copies consciousness of sleeper, using it to overwrite ship's artificial intelligence persona, synthezoid individuals, or onboard robotic staff, with malcontented version
  • 8-12) Nothing...nothing at all--really!
BONUS: Unit comes with one free gallon of bio-coolant for icing your hopeless meatsack!

Retail price + installation: 3,150cr
Discount price: 2,900cr, skills
Skill cartridges: 2,200cr ea., some restrictions may apply

Note: Written for X-plorers ruleset, but easily convertible to other games.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

5 reasons Star Control was the best video game ever!

As a college sophomore, I spent a not-so-small-part of my free time killing hostile alien invaders and scooping up iridium on distant planets in one of my favorite computer games--Star Control II.

A friend had turned me on to the expansive and richly detailed universe in what was one of the more ambitious PC video games produced at that time. It was partly a point-and-click adventure where your decisions affected your future in the galaxy, but it had plenty of arcade-style gameplay were your skills with a gamepad were just as important.

Here's a few reasons I loved (and still do) the Star Control universe. For the purposes of this review, I'm basing my opinions on the second game in the series (as it's the one I played the most).

Note: This post will kick off a new series here on Exonauts: Saturday Star Control! Who wants SC aliens for X-plorers, raise your hands?

1. HUGE Roster of Alien Races

Few computer-based games had the incredible variety or sheer quantity of aliens populating their virtual universes as Star Control. By the time the third game in the series arrived, the SC cosmos was home to nearly 40 unique species with which to converse and combat. Throw in another dozen or so minor races to fill out the expansive storyline and you've got yourself an in-game pantheon that most pen-and-paper RPGs would blush at. :

2. Fun and Fully-developed Story 

Star Control II may have had the benefit of relying on a storyline set up in the previous game, but it expanded on the background to great effect. Before your adventure even begins you learn that the universe was explored early on by a race known as the Precursors. They're the "ancient ones" in the game and while they no longer exist, they've left traces of their technology behind--even allowing you to build your starship (we'll get to that in a minute).

The precursor tech turns out to be fortuitous for a group of Earther colonists who happen to crash land and find....a starship factory!
Look! An entire underground starship factory! What are the chances?!
But the real story takes off when you begin traveling to distant stars and running into aliens. There's a dizzying amount of backstory about how some races just don't get along. Each race had a cast of characters, and while the interactions within those clans didn't vary too much, it was a sound attempt at trying to make it feel like you weren't just dealing with a single monolithic civilization that only had one spokesperson. These were races with people (or at least semi-solids) dammit!

Finally! A game where making nice with old girlfriends is a good way to build alliances.
Weave in some broken alliances, feuds between planets, and lost or forgotten homeworlds and you've got yourself the makings of a genuine space opera sandbox. And the whole misbegotten adventure started back on 20th century Earth with a used car salesman!

3. Explore Planets, Mine Resources, Get Cool Stuff

Raise your hand if you want to explore strange new worlds! Star Control II had VERY detailed star map, based on our own constellations, with planets that could be plundered for their  natural resources. You'd send a probe module down to the surface to sniff around for goodies to extract and those findings varied in value (just as in a pen-and-paper RPG) and could be used to upgrade your own ship.

It would have been really easy for the game developers to just hand-wave this portion of the game without including an actual joystick controlled rover, but to their credit they turned the boring (ha!) chore of finding resources into something more tactile and fun--you had to survive hostile environments, seismic disturbances, and a slew of hazards before your little vehicle gave out. And you only had a finite number of probes to begin with. It all made for a harrowing experience--exploring strange new worlds is dangerous!

4. Upgrade Your Starship, Grow Your Fleet!

I think my favorite part of the game was that you got to build your starship. You began with just a skeleton for a flagship built from ancient Precursor technology--just a bridge with some nacelles, strung together with a what literally appeared to be a spine.

That's as factory "stock" as it gets!
Remember those resources you plundered while exploring the galaxy? Well here you make use of them by upgrading your weapons, sensors, shields, armor, and more so you can explore, extract, and exterminate more efficiently.

Imagine if James Kirk had been given the bare minimum of superstructure for the Enterprise and then granted agency from Starfleet to upgrade as he so chose, and even acquire new ships to help their mission. That's the kind of game I want to play in--regardless of it being computer-based or one where funny dice are rolled.

5. Arcade-style Space Battles

Probably the thing that put Star Control over-the-top in terms of gameplay was it's arcade-style space combat. Let's face it, turn-based combat is interesting on a "I'm being strategic and using my mind to outsmart the enemy" type of fun. But in this game, you're careening wildly across a battlefield in space, frantically blasting away in panic-inducing ship-to-ship combat at the end of a joystick.

There are basically two sides: you lead the Earth Alliance, a fleet made up of alliances you've made during the game. The opposing side is led by The Ur Quan, who command a fearsome armada. You're the underdog (in case you haven't figured that out).

The ships themselves are as unique as the alien races that built them. Every class of ship has two weapons, a primary and a secondary, and it takes skill and patience to master them all. The modes of attack vary: laser blasts, particle beams, missiles, fighter squadrons, explosive circle bursts, giant flying death disks reminiscent of the glaive from Krull--you name it. There's even a "Super Melee" mode where you can practice with ships from both sides of the war and build your own fantasy fleets!

Sure, it'd be fun to control your entire rag-tag fleet of alien allied starships in some big single-battle, a la Homeworld. But the sheer lunacy of gladiatorial combat in space--to the death, BTW--is what makes this particular game so memorable. It's essentially fusing fanboy fantasies of Luke Skywalker's X-wing pilot skills to the Captain Kirk's style of adventuring in the rest of the game. Best of all, you can fight head-to-head against the computer or one of your buddies!

A Legacy of Space Gaming Fun

It's hard to believe even now how the makers of Star Control got so many things right--throwing in so many aspects of space exploration and battle--without it ever feeling bloated. It's a testment to the developers and their obvious love of science fiction and space opera that the game is so fondly remembered by gamers today.
"Jim, I'm a doctor, not a firefighter!"

The last official release of a Star Control product was back in 1996, and the game was later codified into an emulator of sorts. Sidenote: if you think pen-and-paper RPG simalcrimum are confusing, wait until you try sorting video games variations! The port is called the Ur-Quan Masters and it's literally the same game, but playable via Windows and touchscreen devices. Sequels and revivals of the series have been rumored for years, but it wasn't until this year that, I think, a true heir apparent of sorts arrived: Star Command.

Star Command is more of a pastiche of click-and-point amd simulation-style games games (Master of Orion and X-Com come to mind) it's infused with a great deal of DNA from Star Control. It features an impressive gallery of alien races to encounter, a much more customizable build-your-ship aspect, and incorporates the use of arcade-style mini games during combat. It's a fun game that probably emulates the Star Trek-style of adventuring better than anything to date. I'll get to reviewing it someday soon.

One thing's for sure, it owes a lot to games like the Star Control series!


Star Control images from, some are of the Ur-Quan Masters version of Star Control II

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Community Setting Project: FROM THE ZONES!

Click image to learn how to participate! 

Exonauts pal and Radstronaut John Till over at FateSF is leading the charge for new cross-blog extravaganza called FROM THE ZONE. This is an OSR community project to create material for a post-apocalyptic setting inspired in part by the Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker (1979). 

If you've never heard of the film, he's written a great primer and set up some participation guidelines. This is open to anyone and you don't need a blog to participate. It looks to be a blast so put on your thinking caps and get writing! 

From FateSF:

FROM THE ZONE is a cross-blog project about the Zones. Here are the details:
  1. Write something about the Zones for the system of your choice. Describe a specific Zone, or an artifact, or a location within the Zone, a strange threat or phenomenon found in the Zone, a Zone scenario, a table of encounters, a Stalker character class, or something else.
  2. This project is cross-system. Write for a system you love. I'll be writing for Fate Core/FAE, but you may want to write for a different system, such as Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future, X-plorers, Diaspora, Stars Without Numbers, WaRP, Open D6,  or something else. System-neutral is also fine!
  3. Post your content to your own blog. You own whatever you write and post to your own blog.
  4. If you don't have a blog you can write a document in Google docs. 
  5. Download the Hereticwerks Zones logo; use it in your blog post or Google doc! We will post the link to download the logo HERE as soon as it is up and ready.
  6. Leave a comment in the comments section of this post (see below) with a link to your blog post or Google doc
  7. We will create a table with all the links and a brief/title description of each item here at FATE SF
We'll start the table collecting the links as Thursday's FATE SF post. This will be an ongoing project, so share a link to your blog post or Google doc whenever it is ready.

Monday, November 4, 2013

STUDY: 1 in 5 stars like our sun have planets in a habitable zone!

NASA recently completed analysis of Kepler telescope data and findings form the Keck telescope in Hawaii, examining  stars similar to our sun (G and K type). They were looking for candidates that might have planets in habitable "Goldilocks" zones.

Scientists focused on 42,000 stars and found more than 600 planets--10 of those are Earth-sized in habitable zones! From Universe Today:
Since there are about 200 billion stars in our galaxy, with 40 billion of them like our Sun, noted planet-hunter Geoff Marcy said that gives us about 8.8 billion Earth-size planets in the Milky Way.

“For NASA, this number – that every fifth star has a planet somewhat like Earth – is really important, because successor missions to Kepler will try to take an actual picture of a planet, and the size of the telescope they have to build depends on how close the nearest Earth-size planets are,” said Andrew Howard, astronomer with the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii. “An abundance of planets orbiting nearby stars simplifies such follow-up missions.”

While it's true not all are likely to be hospitable to life, this gives researchers a specific pool of candidates to examine for further study. Looks like more great news for exoplanet research!!

Read more at Universe Today