Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sludge Fox #4 - Tearcoat Swamp


Game 4 of the campaign was another attack on a Crown position, except this time there were no defensible features for my troops to hide behind.

The Rebels came at the Crown forces from two directions; in retrospect I should have concentrated all my units on one side and dealt with the attacks in detail, but I hesitated, and allowed the tactical initiative to pass to the Rebels. To make things worse, FG won initiative rolls on all but one of the turns, which allowed him to fire on my units before I have a chance to do so. My commander barely escaped with his life, and all supplies were lost to the Rebels.

I continue to be impressed by the scenarios in the campaign. So far all the scenarios offer tactical options for both sides with some elements of randomness to keep things unpredictable. The Sludge rules are rather unforgiving, and losing the initiative roll at a critical turn can really send your forces into a death spiral.

We are now just a third way through the campaign, so hopefully my Crown forces can make a come-back.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Deepnight Revelation #14

Captain's Log - T345

Deepnight Revelation avoided a disaster today, yet despite my relief I make this log entry with a heavy heart.

While Deepnight was refueling at the gas giant, the Amelia Earhart, under command of Chief Operations Officer Lieutenant Sequera, traveled to Prospect to prepare a camp for shore leave for the crew. With just two weeks before we reach the wormhole, I had expected it to be a time for the crew to celebrate our mission and reflect on our time together in the past year, but...

Lieutenant Sequera sent Dr Balilaika, Sergeant Ahab, and crewman Ajax on a shuttle to scout out a plateau near the landing zone as a potential site for a camp, but this turned out to be a ruse. Some 40km from the landing zone the crew received a transmission from Corpsman Wootue urging them to land the shuttle immediately. The crew did, and the engine exploded shortly after.

Corpsman Wootue explained that he, Lieutenant Sequera, and the members of Engineering team Six had decided to stop Deepnight Revelation from returning to our galaxy by destroying her and her entire crew along with her. They had taken this course of action as they believed that Deepnight's return, along with the news of the relatively lower technology of the species in this galaxy will lead to an invasion by the United Confederation, the Tazanian Empire, or both. But before that could happen, there would have to be a war for control of the wormhole. The consequence of our return, they believed, would be war that will result in millions of deaths across two galaxies.

On account of their friendship, Wootue had decided to spare Dr Balilaika and crewman Ajax, but the mutineers had taken Lieutenant Xebec (the pilot) and Technician Talon-Var, who were not party to their plot, as hostages, and they warned the crew of the shuttle to not return to the Amelia Earhart or attempt to stop them. They then cut off the crew's communication links.

Based on the information they had, the crew surmised that the mutineers were planning to disable the safety features on the Jump drive of Amelia Earhart and turn her into a nuclear bomb. This task would take many hours, which meant that the mutineers would most likely not change their location in the 16 hours before Deepnight would make rendezvous. The crew decided to travel back to the landing zone and retake the ship.

Utilising the survival equipment on the shuttle, the crew traveled through the night on the river that led to the edge of the plateau on the emergency life raft, and then improvised a balloon-glider using the life raft, hydrogen from a fuel tank, and a survival tent to make the descent.

It was dawn when they neared the landing zone, and when they encountered a spider-drone used by the mutineers as a sentry. Through the drone Corpsman Wootue once more warned the crew not to intervene, or he would kill the hostages if they approached any closer.

The crew arrived at the landing zone to find it guarded by more spider-drones. Using his psychic abilities crewman Ajax caused a herd of the native large herbivore to stampede into the landing zone, and when two of the mutineers disembarked to investigate the crew sneaked onboard and overcame the mutineers. Technicians Trevor Beal and Scott Zane and Utility Droid HE-54 were killed during the action.

The crew confronted Lieutenant Sequera and Corpsman Wootue at the bridge, and were able to persuade them to release the hostage and surrender, on the promise that they would help them receive a pardon. They did so, and then Sergeant Ahab shot and killed them both.

The Amelia Earhart had been made safe and had been recovered. Mutineers Petty Officer Milo Deems and Technician Lydia Torrent, as well as Sergeant Ahab are now under custody, pending court martial.

The command team and I now have the delicate task of dispensing justice and maintaining morale and indeed control over the crew in the final days before we reach the wormhole.

Prepping and Running the Game

The final session of the campaign was based on the classic Star Frontiers module 'Mutiny on the Eleanor Moraes' - I had planned this months in advance, and had named one of the scout-ships Amelia Earhart in preparation for this.

As I mentioned before, I intended for the session to serve as a bridge to the Season 4 of the campaign, which I have tentatively named The Wormhole Wars. It seems pretty obvious that the return of Deepnight Revelation to our own galaxy will tempt the superpowers to try to establish a foothold if not a new empire in the new galaxy, if only to prevent the other side from doing so. Will the stakes be high enough for either side to break the peace and invade the Neutral Zone, where the wormhole is located. I think we all know the answer.

In a couple of weeks we will begin our next campaign using The Art of Wuxia rules. Stay tuned for a post about that soon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Deepnight Revelation #13

Captain's Log - T283

We have made rendezvous with Commander Khomen and his team. Our mission has been successful, but it came at a cost I am not sure we ever imagined would be exacted.

Mr Khan and crewman Ajax and a small team had traveled to the city on Terminus where, crewman Ajax, following the call from the K'ul, they entered the largest of the pyramids east of the city. Here, descending to the core of the pyramid, they came upon a large chamber whose floor was covered with Gren biomass.

The Gren entity then communicated with the team telepathically, through crewman Ajax. The entity gave an account of itself as a benevolent protector of the planet and its people. When confronted with the fact that members of its species had consumed several systems in this galaxy, and had invaded our own, the entity admitted that once it too was an unthinking, all-consuming being, but had over the millions of years of its existence had learned to control its hunger and create a harmonious ecosystem that benefited all lifeforms on its planet. When told about the infected specimen of the space creatures we encountered, it offered a solution: that it, or rather a part of it, be brought into proximity with a specimen, with the hope that it can then attempt to use its psychic powers to bring it under control. The team was naturally skeptical of its offer, although professor Tsoukalos was enthusiastic about the prospects.

The team returned to Deepnight where the Mission Command Team met to discuss our next move, while we sent Commander Khomen and a team to take a scoutship to the edge of the system and await our instructions, in case Deepnight did not survive our upcoming confrontation with the entity. But our deliberations were cut short by news of a brawl having broken out in the mess area. Professor Tsoukalos had told some of the crew about the entity's offer, and while some agreed with his point of view, the Rakashans among the crew were derisive of the idea, and a fight broke out.

While some members of the command team went to break up the fight, we were informed by Helm of an unauthorised shuttle launch. Dr Cho Sen Wan and Lieutenant Nidesh had taken one of the boats and were headed for the city. Mr Johnson, Dr Balilaika and Trooper Blick took another boat in pursuit. I ordered Helm to take Deepnight out of orbit but found that the ship appeared to be held in place by some gravitic force.

On the planet, Dr Balilaika and Trooper Blick pursued Dr Cho into the pyramid. Mr Johnson attempted to gain control of the boat, but was attacked by Lieutenant Nidesh and unfortunately had to defend himself by killing him.

Inside the pyramid, Dr Balilaika and Trooper Blick were able to stop Dr Cho from reaching the core by shooting him in the leg, but before they could exit the pyramid they were attacked by what appeared to be infected specimens of the local deer. Dr Balilaika was able to carry Dr Cho out while Trooper Blick held off the attack.

Once they were outside the pyramid, the team prepared to return to the ship. With only one pilot among them, they were unable to recover both boats and Mr Johnson made the decision to set the remaining one on self-destruct. As they were taking off the team noticed that the populace were approaching the pyramid en masse.

At the same time, sensors on Deepnight revealed that massive swathes of forests were turning sickly and herds of animals were rushing to these diseased areas, and the populace of all the villages were also heading for the forests.

Surmising that the entity was consuming the lifeforms to generate more psychic power, Mission Command team decided to launch a nuclear strike on the planet. A 1 kt device was detonated over the pyramid and then ten other sites where the feeding was seen to be taking place. Then a 10 Mt device was launched into the crater where the pyramid once stood.

The attack seemed to weaken the entity, as it allowed Deepnight to break orbit and also dodge an asteroid flung at us. The nuclear explosions were insufficient to create a nuclear winter that will ensure the entity's extinction, so we further drove an asteroid into collision with the planet.

During the time we were traveling to meet Commander Khomen we were able to learn that Dr Cho, Professor Tsoukalos, and many of the crew members were in fact under the influence of the entity when they acted in the uncharacteristic manner.

Mr Ajax tells us that he is no longer sensing the entity now, and our sensors likewise do not detect any psychic emanations from the planet. The surface of the planet is still too hot for us to make a landing and determine if any of the entity survived; even if it did, it will have nothing to feed upon and it will not be a threat again for perhaps millions of years. Mission Command is satisfied that our mission is completed, and I agree with the view.

Prepping and Running the Game

After more than six months, our campaign has come to an end. Well, there is still an epilogue session to be played, but the main mission has been completed.

Due to covid restrictions, Ajax's player attended this session via zoom, which was not optimal, but I am glad everyone was able to be in the session.

Again, most of the session was role-playing, with the first hour spent making contingency plans before the crew went to meet the entity, and the second hour spent talking to the entity and then discussing with the mission command team. It was a difficult role-play for me, as I had to make the players think that I am a benevolent entity with the best of intentions - I am not sure I managed to keep a poker face when I asked them to take part of the entity to their ship. 

Much of the discussion was between the players as they tried to figure out the true nature and intentions of the entity. While a couple of players started out thinking it could be a benevolent being that has learned to curb its instincts, eventually they all agreed that it could not be trusted, The discussion then turned to how to destroy it without killing the other inhabitants of the planet. For a long time they were unable to come up with a solution, so I set in motion the events that would simultaneously cause chaos onboard the ship and force their hand.

Over all I am happy with the way the campaign went and ended. It was a difficult decision to make, and I think in the lead-up to the final confrontation I have managed to have the players see and interact enough with the people of Terminus to give a face to the decision.

I think there is still enough leg in this setting for us to play another season/campaign, and the next session will be a sort of a teaser to what it may be about. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

A Song of Dice and Buyer

No? OK, I tried.

Anyway, the idea for this post came when I received the faux jade polyhedral dice set that I ordered for our upcoming Art of Wuxia campaign.

I am usually a dice snob and I am an advocate of Gamescience dice, but as this would be the first time we are playing a wuxia campaign, I thought I will steer fully into it and get a set of dice that look the part. Perhaps I will save them for only the boss fights.

Several years ago I decided to cull my dice collection and use only Gamescience dice as much as possible. When I bought the new set of dice, the idea came to me to do an audit and see how far I have deviated from that goal.

These days, for the RPGs that use polyhedrals I use the Gamescience sets pictured above. You will notice that there are 2 d20s for each set to allow for advantage/disadvantage in 5E. Actually, the light green set hardly sees any action as I made the mistake of using blue crayons for the numbers and they are impossible to read against the green felt base of my dice trays.

For games that use only d6s, I have three sets of six d6s. Except one of the red d6s is missing... I am sure it will turn up soon...

Of course, some games require more of one type of dice, such as Horizon Wars, which uses only d12s, and a lot of those. I bought twelve of these, which cost quite a bit, and which is made worse by the fact that we have decided the rules aren't for us.

Then there are rules that require specialty dice which Gamescience do not make, which are:

Blood Bowl. I got these block dice many years ago, and it's a testament to the design of the game that they are still used in the current edition. The d6s have a scarab for the '1', which was something I thought fit my Khemri-themed team. I was tempted to get a set of the new GW dice for my Skaven team, but that would be wasteful.

Gaslands. I normally avoid games that require proprietary dice, especially those that are expensive (see the next entry...), but Gaslands just looked so fun I decided to get a set.

Forbidden Lands. The problem with the Forbidden Lands dice was that not only were they expensive, they were out of stock most of the time. I decided to re-create them by getting cheaper skull dice and other dice in the appropriate colours. They are not a perfect replica, but since the higher dice are not used often, the set was adequate. In retrospect I went overboard and bought more dice than I needed in my attempt to imitate the colour scheme faithfully, since I already owned...

The (not) Dice of Rolling. I posted about these before. The idea for this set of dice is that each die type was of a different colour, so it is easier for the user, particularly players who are new to polyhedral dice, to quickly identify the dice they need. The number of dice and the use of two colours for the d6s were based on the rules which I use for my convention games, which were where I expected to use these dice. I should have bought two more d20s of a different colour though.

There are some other dice in my collection which don't see a lot of action or any at all, but which I still decided to keep. They are:

The original Fighting Fantasy Heroes dice. I got these in around 1986 when I started my GMing career. As you can see the years have not been kind to them and the three are the only survivors from the original set of six.

Specialty dice. A slightly different perspective in this photo. The top row shows a d3 and two Average dice, and the bottom row shows an Artillery die and a Deviation die from GW. These hardly see any use, but are useful to have around in case you ever need them.

Gifted novelty dice. Here are three dice given to me by my friends: a home-made glow-in-the-dark d10, a d6 with Roman numerals, and a d120. The last one is pretty impractical as it rolls for a long time and is difficult to read. 

Finally, like most wargamers, I have a lot of Chessex d6s. These are useful as casualty and status markers. I got a brick of the green dice for my Night Goblin army, and the blue one for my WOTR/Empire army.

There are a few more polyhedral dice which I did not show, and which I think I should give away in the future.

What does your dice collection look like?

Thursday, January 06, 2022

ZOD Tank Company and Pendraken Sci-fi Marines


Even though I already own a small quad mecha force in the form of my Heavy Gear Caprice mechs, and a "Mad Max" style force in the form of my Dropzone Commander Resistance force, I have always wanted a Cold War era style mechanised force with tanks and IFVs.

I looked around for a long time, and eventually I decided that the best way to get the models I wanted in the smallest numbers of deliveries was to get a ZOD tank company off ebay and two packs of Pendraken's sci-fi marines.

The ZOD models are cheap "scale-less" models sometimes advertised as 15mm, but as you can see from the photo above they are closer to 10/12mm, with the vehicles being much wider than they should be "in real life", although the aspect ratios look fine for tabletop models.

For the camouflage I used a "bands and wedges" pattern, which I created by spraying the models with brown primer, then putting masking tape over the models, and then spraying a sand colour, and removing the masks. They are obviously not practical in real life, but at this scale, when looked at from certain angles, they do break up the shape of the vehicles.

Monday, January 03, 2022

Deepnight Revelation #12

Meeting the natives of Terminus

Captains Log - T277

The Medical Division has completed their analysis of the creature that attacked our ship during the refueling operation two days ago. Our initial suspicion of the creature being an infected specimen of the same species which we encountered at DSA-1 was proven correct. The tissue specimens acquired from the dead creature and its juveniles will allow Medical Division to conduct further tests on the experimental counter-agent which they have derived from the Biologics.

That the Gren are capable of infecting a space-faring creature is indeed a worrying thought. This means that even if we are able to locate the homeworld of the Gren and destroy it, there may already be any number of creatures carrying its spores throughout this galaxy.

Captain's Log - T278

We have arrived at the system where the sensors and Mr Ajax have both identified as the source of the Gren psychic emanations, which Astrography had optimistically named Terminus.

Initial scans of the system showed only one planet capable of supporting life. Indeed with the exception of the polar regions, the planet's continents and islands and its oceans are teeming with life, although there are regions where the vegetation appear to be sickly, and some which are barren of all life. There are many settlements spread throughout the continents, with one large settlement on the main continent, and one on the polar continent.

In view of the possibility of infection by Gren spores, Mission Command has decided to minimise exposure to the crew by sending just one small team to the surface. I have asked Mr Khan to lead the missions.

Captain's Log - T282

Mr Khan's mission had given us a lot of information about the planet and its people.

The dominant species of the planet are a sentient humanoid species that calls themselves simply "the people" in their own language.

Our team made contact with two separate populations, the first of which lived in a port city in the polar continent which is now in ruins. It appears that this was once a thriving port city with a mid-level technology, but now the city is in ruins and its populace consist of rival bands of scavengers. Mr Black was able to make contact with one of these bands and trade some oil for food and furs, and from this contact they were able begin analysing the language of these people using the software from the Haix.

The second contact the team made was with one of the settlements on the main continent. This was a farming community whose people spoke a language related to those in the polar continent. Curiously, the people here were not surprised by the team's arrival, even though it was obvious they had a pre-industrial level of technology and had never had contact with an alien species.

The people were friendly and welcomed our team to their village. Here the team were able to learn a lot about their civilisation. It appears that long ago the people did possess and industrial level of technology, but had given that up to return to a agrarian lifestyle. The lands are fertile and the climate stable and the people had no difficulty growing enough food and keeping enough animals to feed themselves. The attribute all this to the K'ul, which seems to be a benign force which protects and looks after their people, and also tells them how to live their lives.

Consequently they have little desire in material goods beyond what they need for their work and lives. Everyone partakes in the work needed in the community, each doing what he is best at. They have no money, and those with surplus of food and goods merely bring them to the marketplace where others can freely take what they need. They do however wear jewelry, which they do not buy for themselves, but which are gifted to them by others as a sign of esteem.

Mr Ajax was able to discern that the people are receptive to psychic energy, although they themselves do not emit any. Here in the village he felt a call for him to visit the main city, although the suggestion came not in the form of words, but in vision and intuition.

Mr Khan's team also investigated the regions where the vegetation are sickly, and also those regions which are barren. In the former the team found that the ground was overgrown with what can only be described as Gren "vegetation" which are consuming the plants, while in the latter the ground was devoid of all biological material.

The team also discovered several abandoned cities on the main continent which have been overtaken by forests.

At the same time, Life Sciences and Geology Divisions have reported phenomena that corroborated the people's account that the K'ul takes care of them: the planet has an absence of seismic and volcanic activity, and its weather systems are unusually mild and not in keeping with what is expected based on our simulations. At the same time, plant and animal growth on land and in the oceans are at a much higher rate than expected, yet in most regions the ecology seem to be in balance.

More disturbingly, Astrography reported that an asteroid that had been on a collision course with the planet had deviated from its trajectory just enough to avoid striking the planet.

I will be meeting with Mission Command Team to discuss our next step.

Prepping and Running the Game

After some six months and 12 sessions, we have finally arrived at the last planet in the campaign.

Except for the first part of the session where the crew fought an infected "space whale", the whole session was just role-playing and exploration, with the PCs making first contact (twice) and slowly trying to piece together what the planet was all about. At the same time, I fed them information which the other Divisions have learned,

At the end of the session they had some idea of what they are facing. Deliciously, some of the players are entertaining the idea that this particular Gren might indeed be a benign entity and that its destruction may not be the only solution. This will make the finale session a lot more interesting.

The next session will see the crew traveling to the main city and meeting the Entity. I am a little nervous about role-playing the Entity, since it will be a delicate balance of trying to appear like the good guy while trying to gain information from the crew, while at the same time giving off enough creepiness for them to realise that something is off. I also have no real plan of how I can make use of the crew to get myself off the planet, so that is something that I will have to 'wing'.

Crucially, the players have made sure that they have some sort of protection against infection from the Gren, even if this only lasts 12 hours or so; but the Gren does not know that, so that adds another aspect to this whole encounter.

The finale session will be in a week - hopefully restrictions are eased by then and I can have all five players at the table.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

2021 in Review and Looking Ahead

It's been another loony year, but to be fair it wasn't as crazy as 2020.

Despite the frequent lockdowns and disruptions, we managed to soldier on through our Space Opera campaign, and are now on the verge of completing it.

The terms of the lockdowns were such that in those weeks which we could not meet in a large enough group to play RPG, we could meet in smaller groups (sometimes just FG and myself) for wargaming, so over all it was a good year for wargaming compared to previous ones.

Over all, we played roughly 25 sessions of RPG and 14 of wargames, which isn't too shabby.

What I did a lot more of this year was building and painting terrain, as well as rounding out my armies, such as more terrain for my sci-fi WW1 armies, archers for my Uthuk warband, a few more units of men-at-arms for my 15mm Wars of the Roses armies, more figures for my 10mm Arab Revolt collection, of course figures and terrain for our Sludge project, and finally, one more unit of Night Goblin archers and three fanatics which you see above.

What I did this year was also to more or less decide on what rules to use for the respective armies. The lack of a satisfactory set of rules has always been a barrier when it comes to playing with the figures I already own. This year saw me try out a few sets of rules using the existing figures I own, which are: Contemptible Little Armies for 10mm Arab Revolt, Trench Hammer for my WW1 sci-fi figures, and Never Mind the Billhooks for my 15mm Wars of the Roses figures. Now these are truly "complete" projects for which I have figures for both sides, enough terrain to populate a table, and a set of rules which I know and like well enough to spend a weekend playing.

As usual there are unplanned projects which came out of nowhere. One was Never Mind the Billhook, and the other was Sludge. I suspect these two sets of rules caught many wargamers out of the left field this year, so I count myself in good company. The Sludge campaign had to take a pause when RPG became possible again, but I plan to see it through during the coming year.

Likewise, we were not able to complete our Blood Bowl league. Blood Bowl Thursdays were very social occasions for us, involving more alcohol and trash-talking than in my other sessions, so I look forward to picking it up again.

Another wargame I look forward to playing more of next year is Kings of War. Adrian and I joined a local KoW group, who seem really friendly and active, so my Night Goblins may be seeing a lot more action in the near future.

In terms of "new" project, FG and I have been buying and painting up models and terrain for a 10/12mm mecha project. I already have a bunch of Heavy Gear Caprice and Dropzone Commander Resistance figures and models painted, as well as some terrain, but the arrival of his Battletech kickstarter has spurred us to getting more - a lot more - terrain, as well as look into rules. I am in the process of painting up a more conventional force with armoured vehicles instead of mechas, and we hope to be trying out CAV and Alpha Strike next year.

For RPGs I think we did remarkably well, completing two campaigns and playing most of another. The Deepnight Revelation campaign will likely end in January next year, and the campaign to follow will likely be a Wuxia campaign using the The Art of Wuxia rules. Despite all of us being Asians (and most of us being Chinese) we have never actually played a wuxia campaign, so I am looking forward to this one. Following that, and if the kickstarter delivers on time as promised, we will probably play the Blood Sword campaign.

That's more or less it then. Lots of plans to play with the toys we already have, but no doubt over the course of 2022 some cad somewhere will come up with some fun set of rules that will sweep through wargame-dom and make us all go out and buy new figures. Let's hope it's not something that requires a high figure count...