Category Archives: Role-Playing Games

Diving Into D&D 5E: Lirhanir, Half-Elf Paladin

This pandemic has everyone social distancing (if you’re not, you should be), which means sitting around a gaming table has been a thing of the past lately. Ironically, it has contributed to me playing MORE games than usual, especially RPGs. As some of you may know, I have managed to run several legs of a Star Trek Adventures campaign this year over Discord, pretty much weekly. It went well, and the write-ups of the sessions start here, if anyone’s interested. I have yet to post the conclusion, but that’s coming soon. I’ve been busy with Monster May(hem), real life, and now Forgotten Heroes…but rest assured I haven’t forgotten about the crew of the U.S.S. Adventure.

That being said, tonight I get to play in a game rather than run it. We’ll be playing Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, which is new to me. The version I last played was 3.5, and that was years ago. (I skipped 4th Edition altogether, which most folks agree was a good thing.)

Anyway, by far, one of my favorite things to do in any RPG setting is create a character. I figured I’d document the creation of my first 5th Edition character here: Lirhanir. (I’m going to jump around a lot and not necessarily go in order, as it makes more narrative sense. Don’t worry…it’ll all make sense in the end.)

Class and Race: I decided I want to play a paladin, which is a class I have never found particularly interesting. (In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever played a paladin in all my years of roleplaying.) I’m not at all interested in playing a stereotypical “holy knight”; someone who fights with anyone who doesn’t adhere to the same code he does, even his own party members. That evangelical bullshit is depressing enough in the real world. Lucky for me, in 5th edition I don’t have to.

My Dungeon Master is setting the game in his own world, and he’s starting us out at level 3. Humans are the dominant race, and demihumans are relatively uncommon. I decided I want to be a half-elf, which in this setting is considered a second-class citizen almost everywhere. Elves consider them an abomination, and humans generally ignore or ostracize them.

So, being a half-elf and a paladin (plus some additional perks my DM has granted) gives Lirhanir familiarity with all weapons, armor and shield types, as well as proficiency in the following things: Athletics, Insight, Perception, Persuasion, Performance and Deception. Lirhanir can play the lute fairly well, although he’s no bard. He does this to make others happy, and chase away the darkness (see below). It also gives him a bunch of paladin abilities, none of which are really worth getting into here.

Background: In 5th Edition, you choose a background for your character which gives them proficiency in skills they would have learned during their upbringing. I don’t envision Lirhanir had much of an upbringing, so I chose urchin. Lirhanir grew up on the streets of a city, Riften, scrounging and surviving however he could. (This is in-line with being a member of a disadvantaged class.) It also gave him proficiency in Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Thieve’s Tools, and Disguise. Not exactly on the path to paladinhood from the start, but it sure explains why he is also skilled in Deception. It also confers the feature “City Secrets”, which gives Lirhanir an instinctive familiarity with all urban environments that allows him to move at twice the normal travel rate between two points in any city (he knows which alleys and rooftops to traverse to get from point A to point B fastest).

My DM has also made half-elves in his world “prodigies”, which gives him expertise in one skill, as well as another language. His languages are Common, Elvish, Goblinoid, and Sylvan (the language of fey creatures); not bad for a guy with average intelligence. I chose Insight to be the skill in which he has expert proficiency; growing up on the streets, you get a feel for people pretty quick.

Attributes: In 5th edition, you have the option to either roll dice or buy your attribute scores with points. We opted for point buy. My attribute scores (including racial bonuses) are as follows: Strength 16 (very strong), Dexterity 12 (above average), Constitution 12 (above average), Intelligence 10 (average), Wisdom 13 (above average), and Charisma 14 (significantly above average). This means Lirhanir will usually have attribute bonuses in addition to proficiency bonuses for most of his skills.

Oath: In 5th edition, paladins can take various oaths to better fit their concept. (The stereotypical paladin takes the Oath of Devotion, but he’s not that kind of paladin.) I chose the Oath of the Ancients instead, which essentially means Lirhanir reveres life and goodness and strives against darkness and evil. He holds good to be paramount, far more important than any concern of law or chaos. This gives him spell lists and abilities more in line with a traditional ranger or druid, not really a former street urchin; but…it’s going to work out. Trust me.

Equipment: Paladins start with chain mail armor and a shield, but neither one fits my character concept. Instead, Lirhanir wears a chain shirt under his tunic. It provides less protection than a full suit, but also doesn’t hamper his movement at all. To compensate somewhat for not using a shield, he specializes in a defensive style of fighting. He is adept at using a quarterstaff, but carries two short swords as his primary weapons. He also wears a hood most of the time to hide his half-elven heritage from the assholes of the world. Finally, he carries a smooth river rock; the holy symbol of his patron, a water spirit named Nauhrel. He only uses it when he is Turning the Faithless (be they fiends or fey creatures).

Almost done. I had to pick his personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws. For Personality, I chose Speak when you have something to say. Speak up for others who cannot, or will not, speak for themselves. For an Ideal, I chose Always be of service. For a Bond, I chose I owe my survival to Odger Tucca, the Halfling who cared for me when I had nothing. For a flaw, I chose I am most afraid of being helpless. These traits pretty well sum up his values and outlook, and guide how I will roleplay him.

How did a street urchin become a champion of the light? Lirhanir was special from the start. As a street urchin, he did whatever he had to to survive; but he always managed to avoid hurting others in the process, at least others who didn’t deserve it. Despite enduring hunger, cold, neglect and abuse, he always sought to help those less fortunate than he. That made him a good person.

Once he stopped an unscrupulous alchemist from dumping his poisonous slurries into the city’s water supply, because he saw that it was making poor people sick (the rich lived upstream; their water wasn’t affected). In fact, it was also making a water spirit sick. This spirit, Nauhrel, was close to death, and would have died if not for Lirhanir’s actions. She became his patron, a spiritual force for goodness that recognized in Lirhanir a Champion of the Light.

Finally, Lirhanir is Chaotic Good, the alignment that best suits his outlook. Above all things, he tries to do the most good and thwart the most evil, but he’s not all that concerned about how he gets those things done. Laws are fine when they work. When they don’t, you don’t blindly follow them anyway. Lirhanir is not above lying or stealing, if it’s for the greater good (he won’t steal a coin purse to make a buck, but he would absolutely steal food if he needed it to help someone, and didn’t have the money). Again, about as far from a typical paladin as you can get.

Lirhanir looks more like a rogue than a paladin, which is exactly what he would have been if he wasn’t chosen by Nauhrel. I envision him as a D&D version of Daredevil (kinda): urban protector of the downtrodden, lightly armed, skills and methods used in service of the greater good. Guess we’ll see if he survives his first session, which starts in about 3 hours!

Beware the Owlbear!

The sounds of pursuit fill you with terror as you try to flee. You can hear the beast gaining on you. There’s no outrunning it! You look back in panic. The ground shakes and trees sway wildly as its enormous form crashes through the brush! It spies you, its prey…and it’s beak opens wide, giving forth a blood-curdling shriek of maddened rage:

“HOOOO! HOOOO!”

My second submission for Monster Month, a classic Dungeons and Dragons monster and one of my personal favorites: The Owlbear! The product of magical crossbreeding of an owl and a bear, this ill-tempered monstrosity attacks anything it sees on sight and fights to the death. It’s the bane of low-level adventuring parties everywhere!

This owlbear comes from Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures, which is a line I can’t say enough good things about. They’re inexpensive, digitally sculpted, and generally very good-looking, especially the monsters. I’m less jazzed about the personalities (character classes, etc.), but YMMV.

The miniature was easy to paint and practically highlighted itself. The texture of the feathers and fur takes washes and drybrushing quite easily. I think it took me about 2 hours or so, which is pretty fast for me.

I still have four projects I’d like to get to this month, but realistically it’s probably not going to happen…so I have to prioritize. There’s one big one I really want to complete because I’ve been staring at it forever!

Check out all the other participants in Monster Month. Visit their sites and see what they’re up to!

Blogroll

Roger, aka Dick Garrison, from Rantings From Under the Wargames Table

Dave Stone from Wargames Terrain Workshop

Matt from PMPainting

Coyotepunc from Coyotepunc’s Creativity

Ken from Blue Moose Arts

Jeremy, aka Carrion Crow, from Carrion Crow’s Buffet

Harry from War Across the Ages

You can find links to all these blogs (and others) in the sidebar as well!

Happy Painting!

Star Trek Adventures: The Big Sleep Part 3

With the Cardassians powering up their disruptor banks and the Ferengi vessel responding in kind, things were not going well. Remarkably, Commander Logan managed to convince the leaders of both ships to meet aboard the Adventure, to see if they could somehow resolve their differences without armed conflict.

Daimon Nogrix and Gul Drazel met across the table in Captain Boardman’s ready room. Commander Logan took the lead and tried to negotiate a peaceful resolution, mindful of her own away team aboard the alien cylinder. Nogrix began to angle for the best deal he could, a deal which would include, ideally, sole possession of the object and the protection of the Adventure. It soon became clear that Gul Drazel had no intention of negotiating anything. He once again insisted that the mysterious object was the property of the Cardassian Union, and that he fully intended to destroy the Prized Possession for their previous attack on a Cardassian vessel. Staring daggers at Nogrix, Drazel abruptly declared that the meeting was over and left the room, transporting back to his flagship, the Sindral.

This left Nogrix alone with Captain Boardman and Commander Logan, a situation he found to his liking, at least until Lieutenant Beta informed the Captain that the Sindral had broken ranks with the other two Cardassian ships and set a course inbound towards the science outpost on New Coriolanus. While the crew discussed this development, the other two Galor-class ships powered up their weapons and opened fire on the Prized Possession.

Meanwhile, aboard the alien cylinder, Commander Fulexian had his hands full; a Ferengi salvage team had covertly beamed aboard and had taken up positions around the away team. The crew was not prepared for an assault, as they weren’t expecting any trouble when they initially transported over. Acting quickly, Lt. Commander Suvak decidd to modify the mass spectrometer to emit a high-frequency sound wave, inaudible to the crew but overwhelming to sensitive Ferengi ears. Assisted by Chief Specialist J’zhara, Suvak managed to make his engineering modifications successfully. The entire Ferengi salvage team collapsed, stunned!

Fulexian gave orders and the Ferengi were quickly disarmed. With this threat dealt with, he turned his attention back to the hatch. He could find no obvious way to open it, and it defied brute force attempts. While they searched for a solution, Suvak and Ensign Tamral tuned their attention to the mysterious consciousnesses they could sense all around them. It’s was as if they were in a darkened theater; aware of the other patrons and hearing their whispered conversations, but they could not make out any meaning or message.

Suvak decided to attempt communication by means of a Vulcan mind-meld. As there was no physical being present, he attempted to meld directly with the cylinder. Ensign Tamral assisted him with her empathic abilities, but the mind-meld was unsuccessful, revealing only that the consciousnesses aboard the cylinder were concentrated behind the hatch, deeper within the object, despite there being no detectable life signs. They didn’t have much time to ponder this, however; as Ensign Tamral sensed the presence of a more immediate problem; a team of Cardassians just transported over to the cylinder. Their intentions were most definitely hostile.

Understanding the Sindral posed a threat to the Federation science outpost, Captain Boardman leapt into action. Leaving Commander Logan in command of the Adventure, he took the remaining runabout, the Yoruba, and set off in pursuit of the Sindral. His intent was to evacuate the science outpost using the Yoruba and the runabout they left at the outpost. It was a really stupid plan, and Boardman was never seen again. Most likely he’s counting lights in a Cardassian prison somewhere.

(The group had previously discussed getting rid of Captain Boardman and promoting Commander Logan to captain, as Boardman was more of a hindrance than an asset to group play. My reasoning for having an NPC captain is because I wanted to avoid having one player dictate the actions of all the characters. My heart was in the right place, but Boardman just got in the way. I was going to kill him off in the coming battle, but the group decided his fate for me. This was much funnier.)

The Ferengi Marauder traded fire with the two Cardassian ships. Commander Logan ordered Red Alert status and Lt. Commander Pak raised shields. Unfortunately for everyone, Daimon Nogrix was still aboard the Adventure, not having had an opportunity to transport back to the Prized Possession before both ships raised shields. He immediately made himself a nuisance on the bridge. I spent some Threat to add the Scenic Trait: Annoying Ferengi on the Bridge. Nogrix’s presence would make any Tasks the bridge crew might attempt more difficult for as long as this Trait was in place.

Fortunately for Commander Logan, this wasn’t for long. Lt. Commander Pak, Chief of Security, politely escorted the Ferengi from the bridge after overwhelming him with her formidable presence. In Main Engineering, Ensign Mokta (a supporting character, as Chief Engineer Suvak was on the away team) tried to scan the Galor-class ships for weaknesses. In response, one of the Cardassian ships fired on the Adventure, taking a good chunk out of her shields. But the shields held, and the ship suffered no damage.

In response, Lt. Beta ran an attack pattern, setting up a counterattack. Commander Logan ordered Pak to fire the phaser arrays, targeting the Cardassian ship’s engines. The blast crippled the ship, knocking out the shields, disabling the engines and causing a further breach to the sensor systems. The Cardassian ship was effectively dead in space.

Before the other Cardassian ship could come about, Logan ordered the launch of the rapid-fire torpedo launchers, full spread. The resulting damage was devastating, annihilating the other Galor-class vessel in a fantastic explosion.

Commander Logan was now faced with a dilemma: pursue the Sindral, and leave the away team unprotected; or remain with the cylinder and leave the outpost to the mercy of the Cardassians. Meanwhile, Lt. Beta reported the Prized Possession was largely undamaged and about to make a run at the helpless Cardassian cruiser. Logan hailed the Ferengi vessel and warned them off, but not before Nogrix returned to the bridge and insisted the Adventure finish off the Cardassians.

Logan ignored him, and set off in pursuit of the Sindral, hoping to catch it before Gul Drazel could use the science outpost as a bargaining chip in pressing his claim to the mysterious object. Once again, hailing frequencies were opened.

Gul Drazel promised Logan and the crew that they would regret their interference in this matter and their decision to assist the Ferengi. He knew all about the Adventure from Legate Jabrel, who informed every Cardassian vessel in the sector of their previous treachery involving the Maquis. Logan reminded Drazel that he was leaving behind Cardassian soldiers to die, as the Ferengi were unlikely to show them any mercy if the Adventure had to chase the Sindral. Drazel stated flatly that death in service to the state is the highest honor a Cardassian can achieve. With a wicked grin, he said he hopes the scientists on New Coriolanus feel the same way…

Star Trek Adventures: The Big Sleep Part 2

The away team beams back up to the Adventure, which breaks orbit around New Coriolanus to investigate the strange object detected on the fringes of the system. On the viewscreen, the object is revealed to be a featureless cylinder (I know what you’re thinking, but that’s where the similarities end), roughly 2 km long by 1.2 km in diameter. It is moving quite rapidly, but is not moving at warp. The cylinder is rotating around its central axis. Its present course and speed will take it into orbit around New Coriolanus in 3 standard days.

Hails to the object are unanswered. Scans reveal it is hollow; spinning at a rate of .86 rotations per minute, with a rim velocity of 104 m/s. This would, theoretically, create artificial gravity inside the object approximate to standard Earth gravity. The method of propulsion is unknown. There are no readings that would indicate atomic, ion or chemical engines; and, although moving fast, the object is not moving at warp. There are no life signs detected inside.

Commander Logan forms an away team to investigate, consisting of Commander Fulexian (Science Officer) and Lieutenant Commander Suvak (Chief Engineer); accompanied by two supporting characters: Chief Specialist J’zhara (Engineering) and Ensign Mara Tamral (Medical Officer). Commander Logan remains aboard the Adventure to assist Captain Boardman. Lieutenant Beta likewise remains at the helm. The away team brings along a mass spectrometer in addition to their tricorders, to better evaluate and analyze any samples taken from the mysterious object.

The team beams aboard, arriving inside to find themselves in a long, featureless corridor. Tricorder scans reveal that the vast emptiness of the interior of the cylinder is above them. They are traversing the interior surface of the object. It is eerily silent and completely dark. There is no hum of machinery, no vibration of engine operation to be felt. The crew’s voices do not echo, as would be expected. The walls, floors and ceilings have no adornment or markings on them at all, and are made of an unknown metal. The corridor they occupy seems to tun the entire length of the cylinder, with many branching and intersecting passages. Exploring them would take months.

While the team gets it bearings, Suvak, a Vulcan, and Ensign Tamral, a Betazoid, both feel that they are not alone. Despite their tricorders registering no life signs aboard, the two officers can feel the presence of many consciousnesses, utterly alien and incomprehensible.

Meanwhile, outside the strange object, a new arrival to the system drops out of warp. A D’Kora-class Ferengi Marauder, the Prized Possession, hails the Adventure. Appearing onscreen is the huge face of a Ferengi, who identifies himself as Daimon Nogrix. Nogrix claims “sole and proprietary salvage rights to the…object” under the Ferengi Salvage Code. This allows him to take possession of any abandoned property. He discovered this “thing” several days ago and staked a claim to it then, but “circumstances developed” he had to leave the area. Now, he has returned, and he wants his property.

Technically, it’s not the captain’s responsibility to determine what is and isn’t abandoned property, or to regulate trade agreements; but Captain Boardman (played by Zach in this particular scene, as his primary character, Suvak, is aboard the object) immediately denies the Ferengi claim without so much as a hearing.

Predictably, this angers Nogrix. He claims to be “very important” in the Ferengi government, and implies that dire consequences, perhaps of a career-ending or diplomatic incident-causing nature, may result if the crew doesn’t show him proper respect and honor his claim.

Meanwhile, the away team continues to investigate the vast interior of the object. They can find no door, hatch, or means of ingress to the main area of the cylinder; and every passage seems to defy tricorder mapping. They discover that parts of the outer cylinder seem to be spinning at different speeds, which results in corridors shifting and changing constantly.

(In game terms, this investigation is an Extended Task; a series of skill checks that build a number of successes in order to complete a work track. The characters’ success rate is dictated by the difficulty of the task and opposed by a certain amount of resistance, which removes successes, costing more time. A good analogy would be to equate the work track with hit points and resistance with armor; each success removes a hit point, while each level of resistance (armor) prevents a success.)

Commander Fulexian continues to scan the interior using his tricorder, assisted by Chief Specialist J’zhara. Meanwhile, Suvak tries a different approach. Assisted by Ensign Tamral, they attempt to navigate their way around by telepathically “following” the consciousnesses they both can feel. The combination of both methods yields results. About an hour later, they discover the faint outline of a hatch in the ceiling. If accessed, this would presumably lead further towards the center of the cylinder.

Aboard the Adventure, Lieutenant Beta reports that ship sensors are detecting more arrivals to the system: three Cardassian Galor-class cruisers entering at high warp, making a beeline for the Prized Possession. Damon Nogrix hails the Adventure, and demands that Captain Boardman assist him in protecting his property from the Cardassian interlopers. Before Boardman can reply, the commander of the Cardassian squadron, Gul Drazel, hails the Adventure. He states plainly that he intends to destroy the Ferengi vessel in retaliation for a previous attack. He further states the “object” is the property of the Cardassian Union, and that the Ferengi stole it after the Cardassians staked their claim. Gul Drazel warns Captain Boardman not to interfere before terminating communications and adopting an attack formation.

Back aboard the mysterious object, Commander Fulexian attempts to access the hatch by finding its operating mechanism. Before he can, the crew hears sounds indicating new arrivals to the interior: a Ferengi salvage team taking up positions in intersecting corridors, setting up a crossfire. None of the away team are security personnel; and they are very much outgunned (especially since I spent some Threat to increase the number of Ferengi). It’s not looking good…

Star Trek Adventures: The Big Sleep Part 1

On Tuesday, my friends and I met via Discord/Jamboard/Roll for Your Party to continue our Star Trek Adventures game, and I must say it was pretty successful and fun all around. There were far fewer technical issues than I was expecting; and it seems we can all function pretty well gaming online. The next session is Monday, which should bring us to the end of the first mission of the U.S.S. Adventure, her “Shakedown Cruise”.

Having uncovered and shut down a Maquis resistance cell operating on an unnamed moon along the Cardassian/Federation Neutral Zone, the Adventure continued on its primary mission: delivering supplies to a remote Federation science outpost on New Coriolanus. The Adventure arrives at New Coriolanus to find a mostly empty star system orbiting a sun very much in the latter part of its life. None of the four planetary bodies can support humanoid life; even the closest planet is far too cold. Neither do they have much in the way of exploitable resources. It was a dead system of little interest to anyone, until Dr. Detog Gron, a Tellarite microbiologist, thought to use it as a staging ground for his experiments on microbes that thrive in extreme environments. Dr. Gron and his team of seven Starfleet science personnel have made remarkable achievements in the fields of microbiology and virology because of his research on New Coriolanus; as a result, other Federation scientists have sought to use the planet for their own projects. A civilian Andorian engineering team petitioned Starfleet for permission to use the facility to conduct their own experiments and was granted access.

Once in orbit around New Coriolanus, the crew hails the outpost. It’s immediately apparent that there are some domestic issues between the two research teams, as Dr. Gron and his Andorian counterpart, Dr. Therak Shrav, can barely stop arguing long enough to respond to the hail. An away team consisting of First Officer Commander Logan, Science Officer Commander Fulexian, and Chief Specialist J’zhara, an Andorian Engineering Officer, beams down to the outpost to gather more information.

The “domestic problem” on New Coriolanus is very simple. First, the scientists are all Starfleet personnel, while the five Andorian engineers are not. Second, there isn’t enough room in the facility for both teams to conduct their experiments without alternating lab time and resources, and it goes without saying that each team feels their work is more important than the other team’s.  Add the fact that Dr. Gron wasn’t informed that the Andorians were even coming to New Coriolanus until their ship arrived in orbit, and it’s easy to see that nerves are frayed all around.

From the start, the two men harangue the away team with questions and demands. Dr. Gron insists that as a Starfleet officer he should be deferred to; while Dr. Shrav says since he isn’t Starfleet, he doesn’t have to listen to Gron at all. Gron complains that no one in Command ever asks the Science Division about command decisions, like forcing him to share lab space with civilian engineers; Shrav implies that now that a Starfleet ship has arrived, Gron is sure to get his way on everything. Both accuse each other of being unreasonable, stubborn, intractable and annoying.

Beneath all the vitriol, the two men want the exact same thing: a separate facility for the Andorians to run their experiments. The problem is that they resent and dislike each other so much that they can’t see that cooperation is the only way to get what they want.

First, the two sides must be convinced that they share the same common goal. Simply pointing this out doesn’t work, because they aren’t listening. In game terms, each of the men has a Trait that must be removed before any negotiation can truly begin.

Dr. Gron has the Trait: Command Division doesn’t respect scientists. He’s fed up with not being shown common courtesy, as the sudden and unexpected arrival of the Andorians wasn’t the first time his input wasn’t requested about a project he led. Although he feels relatively confident the away team will side with him, he’s wary, because two of the three members of the team are Andorians.

Dr. Shrav has the Trait: Starfleet sides with Starfleet. Like Gron, he doesn’t trust the crew to mediate fairly since they all wear the same uniform. The crew is bound to give Dr. Gron anything he wants at the Andorians’ expense. The fact that Captain Boardman implied as much in the initial conversation has put him in a more foul temper than usual, which is saying something.

(I had the two players who were not controlling characters on the away team play the roles of Dr. Gron and Dr. Shrav, to keep everyone involved. It worked out well!)

Commander Logan and her team are successful in reassuring both sides that they can come to an equitable arrangement (no mean feat). The first step to giving the Andorians their own space and allowing everyone to spread out a little is to dig a foundation for their facility; sadly, the ground is frozen for a kilometer below the surface. Nothing on New Coriolanus could even attempt excavation.

They decide to use the Adventure’s phasers instead. One precision blast later (and after much Momentum is spent), they are successful! The next step was to deploy some portable force field generators to enclose the foundation, allowing the engineers to work in the harsh environment, since New Coriolanus is too cold even for Andorians. A quick trip outside in EVA suits, and the generators are deployed and calibrated successfully.

Finally, Lieutenant Beta delivers the supplies needed: two industrial replicators, several heating units, and a Danube-class runabout customized with precision sensors and extra cargo space. Once the engineers have this, they no longer need the crew’s help to construct the facility (they are engineers, after all). Dr. Gron and Dr. Shrav seem to already be on better terms, so the crew is free to leave. They prepare to beam up to the Adventure.

And not a moment too soon, for the Adventure has detected an unidentified object entering the system at high speed, bound for New Coriolanus!

Star Trek Adventures: New Assignments

After much deliberation, I decided that Roll20 wasn’t really for me. It seems to be great for Dungeons and Dragons, especially if you want to play published adventures. But since I’m neither playing D&D or interested in published adventures, and it’s not free, I decided to look elsewhere. One of my friends, who lives on the “other” coast, has had luck using three programs/apps: Discord (for chat, voice and/or video); Jamboard (for visuals, such as maps, drawings and pictures); and Roll for Your Party, for dice rolling and tokens.

This Tuesday, we will attempt to continue our Star Trek Adventures campaign using these virtual aides. Last night, we did a test run to see how things should work; and while none of us are experts, we can probably figure it out. (We could all chat and see each other, the dice-roller works fine, and my friend immediately drew a hairy, ejaculating dick in Jamboard; so all is well. He’s older than me, and a scientist, by the way.) It’s certainly better than not playing at all, since actual face-to-face-play is out of the question at the moment.

The good news is that I’ve managed to corral two more of my friends into playing. Both are experienced role-players who will be assets to the campaign; ironically, both would probably not be playing at all were it not for present circumstances being what they are.

Owen is playing Shazak Fulexian, “Skip” to his friends (of which he has few), an Andorian science officer. Skip is a Starfleet veteran by circumstance, not by choice. He never attended Starfleet Academy, but was responsible for one of the most significant xenogenetic breakthroughs in Federation science history. As such, Starfleet recruited him from the private sector, promising him access to the best laboratories and research libraries available within the Federation. He accepted. Twenty or so years later, he’s still in Starfleet, but all he cares about is the science. He’s not exactly a people person.

Zach is playing Suvak, a Vulcan Out of Time. Forty years ago, Suvak was the Chief Engineer on the U.S.S. Savitar, an Excelsior-class ship carrying a prototype warp drive enhancement. They were attacked by Klingons and were forced to eject their warp core before the entire bridge compliment was killed. The resulting blast shifted the Savitar out of phase with our dimension. Suvak assumed command from main engineering and quickly realized that everyone would die unless he acted quickly. Using the transporters, he kept the remaining crew in “flux” until the Savitar reappeared in our dimension. Once returned, Suvak discovered his revived crew-mates all suffered from incurable transporter psychosis; and that his engineering knowledge was 40 years behind current practice. Nevertheless, he was (eventually) able to find a berth aboard the U.S.S. Adventure, bound once more for the unknown.

Tuesday night, they will join the rest of the crew, continuing on the inaugural “Shakedown Cruise” of the U.S.S. Adventure. Wish us luck. We are exploring strange new apps together.

Star Trek Adventures: Shakedown Cruise Part 2

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks here, with COVID-19 scaring everyone shitless. Although our governor has resisted implementing a statewide shelter in place order (for now), there are plenty of closed businesses and people working from home; including me. You think I’d be happy about being required to stay home and play video games, paint miniatures and work on gaming projects; but as a guy who owns a business, I can tell you that this whole situation sucks out loud. Yesterday I got together with two friends at my office, which isn’t getting used much lately, to play what will probably be our last session for a while, at least in person.

So, continuing where we left off…

Commander Logan didn’t let on that she knew Hoddek was concealing anything, after discovering that Hoddek’s “temporary mining license” was a forgery. She and the away team returned to the Adventure to discuss strategy. On their way out, everyone noticed that for a mine, there was a distinct lack of mining equipment around.

Gathered in the Captain’s ready room, the crew informed Captain Boardman of the situation on the moon. Although no one knew what the “miners” were doing down there, there was no doubt that it wasn’t mining. Hoddek told a convincing tale and said all the right things, but he didn’t count on Logan spotting the forged license. The Captain ordered the away team to return to the moon with some science and engineering personnel, to give the unregistered operation a “safety inspection.” Because the ionic interference on the moon, communication between the Adventure and the mining outpost was impossible. This actually worked to the crew’s advantage as Hoddek would have less time to prepare for the crew’s return once they showed up at his door. Nonetheless, Lieutenant Commander Pak pointed out that a return trip would certainly signal to Hoddek that Starfleet suspected some shenanigans were afoot, and cautioned the team to be ready.

Once again, Lieutenant Beta skillfully piloted the away team down to the moon’s surface without incident. This time the team included Lieutenant Ditko from the Science Division, and Lieutenant J’Zahra from Engineering (two supporting characters). Hoddek opened the airlock at the team’s request, and once again met them at the elevator. He looked puzzled, but seemed resigned to the inspection. He informed the away team that unfortunately, they could not enter the mine itself, as it was currently undergoing radiation decontamination. Radiation was a natural product of vionium mining, and the mine needed to shut down periodically for a couple of weeks at a time until rad levels returned to normal.

While Logan was talking to Hoddek, Lt. Ditko went inside Hoddek’s office and hacked into his computer. He noticed a few things. First, the computer was surprisingly difficult to access, with many layers of security that would certainly be uncommon for a mining operation. Second, the computer was devoid of any programs or files that would indicate mining was occurring: no manifests, supply requests, geological reports or anything similar. It seemed the only thing the computer was doing, other than running the facility’s power and life support, was running a generator projecting a high level of ionic interference on the surface. Lt. Ditko shut that off, and discovered he could immediately communicate with the Adventure if need be.

Meanwhile, Lt. J’zhara and Commander Logan scanned the huge blast door to determine if there was any radiation beyond it, as Hoddek claimed. Their tricorders couldn’t penetrate the door, so their readings were inconclusive. For the first time, Hoddek seemed to be angry. He claimed he had cooperated fully, that any omission of registration was an error of the Harelian Mining Authority, and that Starfleet had no right to treat him and his men like criminals.

That’s when Commander Logan informed him that his mining license was fake, that they knew this facility sent the coded transmission and deliberately projected ionic interference to block communications and transporters, and that she knew he wasn’t running a mine of any kind.

Hoddek sighed resignedly and told Commander Logan that if she keeps looking into this, it’s on her head. He claimed he and his team are part of a top secret project for the Federation Science Council, which is why it’s unregistered. He can’t tell her what they’re doing on the planet, but he can show her and she can decide what to do. He took out an old-style communicator and signaled someone behind the blast door to open the lock.

With the door open, Hoddek led the away team down a corridor towards what looked like a lab. The path took them through stacked crates of supplies and machinery. All the while, Hoddek apologized about the necessity of the deception. But Lieutenant Commander Pak spotted the ambush a split second before it happened, anyway.

Several of the miners, brandishing old-style phasers, began to fire on the away team from the cover of the boxes. Hoddek took off towards the lab while his men traded shots with the away team. Pak blasted a miner off his feet, but was soon felled by a phaser shot herself. Stunned, she was out of the fight.

One of the miners blasted a crate of some kind of particulate, and the dust further hampered visibility. Outnumbered, outgunned, and with her tactical officer down, Commander Logan signaled the Adventure for an emergency beam out. A medical team met them in the transporter room, taking charge of the unconscious Lt. Cmdr. Pak.

Meanwhile, a small ship had entered the system, flying in the general direction of the moon, but not coming too close. They answered a hail immediately, and identified themselves as couriers just passing through the system. They seemed intimidated by the Adventure and its obvious superior armament. Now that the ionic interference was gone, Lt. Beta was monitoring the moon closely, which is how he noticed the fourteen life signs in the mine were suddenly reduced to nine. The ship was beaming the miners aboard!

By the time he could alert Captain Boardman, the ship had managed to beam out six more miners, leaving two on the moon. The ship immediately took off at warp, making a run for the Cardassian neutral zone. The Adventure pursued them and caught them just shy of the neutral zone, but before they could lock on a tractor beam the ship fled again. The Adventure gave chase and caught it just inside the neutral zone.

The turbolift doors opened, and a grim-faced Lt. Cmdr. Pak stepped onto the bridge. She quickly took her position at the tactical station and fired the Adventure’s phaser arrays, targeting the engines of the small courier craft. The ship was quickly and efficiently disabled, but not before Lt. Beta reported a new threat: three Cardassian Hideki-class corvettes entering the neutral zone, on course to intercept the Adventure!

The Cardassians hailed the Adventure. On the view screen, an imposing Cardassian stared down his nose at Captain Boardman. He identified himself as Legate Jabrel, and demanded to know why the Adventure had crossed into the neutral zone. He also said that they have identified the courier ship as a Maquis vessel wanted for crimes against the Cardassian Union, and demanded the terrorists be handed over to them for prosecution, conviction and eventual execution.

Captain Boardman had no intention of complying with this order, and pointed out that the Cardassians had also violated the neutral zone. He beamed the Maquis aboard the Adventure, where they were promptly taken into custody by Lt. Cmdr. Pak and a team of security officers. The Adventure was well-suited for combat, but three-to-one odds are still three-to-one odds. Boardman ordered the Adventure to set course for Federation space at maximum warp, knowing the Cardassians would not cross over the border in pursuit and risk open conflict.

The ship returned to the moon to round up the last two Maquis members, only to find that any evidence of their activity was destroyed by Hoddek prior to his departure from the moon. Now, however, he was sitting in a holding cell, so Starfleet could question him at their leisure, once the Adventure got back to Outpost 51.

First, though, the ship had supplies to deliver to the science outpost on New Coriolanus, which is where it was originally bound before getting sidetracked by the strange transmission broadcast by the Maquis. But that would have to wait until next time…

Star Trek Adventures: My First Campaign

Since I purchased Star Trek Adventures a couple of years back, I’ve wanted very much to run it as a campaign. I have been fortunate enough to run two “one-shots” for some old friends; the first, The Vanished, featured the crew of the Original Series; while the second used the Next Generation characters. Both were a lot of fun and gave me and my friends a good opportunity to learn the rules.

Since then, I came across RFord’s (blackjack071 on TMP) blog, Over The Hill Gaming, in which he details several aspects of the Star Trek Adventures game (for STA noobs like me), as well as several YouTube videos, both from Modiphius (these are ok), and the Complex Games Apologist (these are better). To top it off, I listened to a few podcasts that showcase actual play, most notably The Terrible Warriors (thumbs up on this one, even though they sometimes get the rules wrong, they don’t let it stop them from having a great time). I purchased every supplement currently available for Star Trek Adventures, and I subscribed to the Living Campaign. In short, I’m ready to go.

With that in mind, I got my friends together and we discussed what era of play we would be most comfortable with. We decided on the Next Generation/Deep Space Nine era over the Original Series, as TNG was “our” Star Trek growing up. I decided to set my campaign in the year 2369, which, in Star Trek continuity, puts us somewhere around TNG Season 6 and DS9 Season 1. In other words, the Enterprise D hasn’t been destroyed yet, Commander (not yet Captain) Sisko still has hair, and Voyager hasn’t even been built.

Notable recent events include the disastrous Battle of Wolf 359 (2367), in which the Borg, with the help of an assimilated Jean-Luc Picard, annihilated the Federation fleet in that system, destroying 39 ships and killing lots and lots of people before being destroyed by the Enterprise D; and the Cardassian withdrawal from Bajor, subsequent formation of the Bajoran provisional government and discovery of the Bajoran wormhole (2369). It’s an exciting time.

I decided the action would take place in the Alpha Quadrant, close (but not too close) to Deep Space Nine and the goings-on there. Home base will be Outpost 51, a Federation facility in the Kratos (yep, named after you-know-who) System along the Cardassian neutral zone. Outpost 51 shares orbit of Kratos 4 with a small asteroid which has been converted to a docking station. Between the main outpost and the asteroid, there’s a lot going on at any given time.

I managed to get three of my friends together to make characters, with the hopes of having another couple of friends join the crew at some point. The Lifepath creation system Modiphius uses is quite involved; by the time you’re done making your character you know a lot about their upbringing, training, personal values and beliefs and the events that have shaped their life thus far. It’s a lot of fun, but it takes a session all by itself. Meet the characters:

My friend Matt is playing Commander Sarah Logan (First Officer, Human). Matt played Spock in The Vanished and Commander Riker in the TNG one-shot I ran, so he’s experienced in the first officer role. He dislikes playing pregenerated characters, even established ones like Spock and Riker, so he was happy to finally get to make his own. Logan is a rising star in the Command Division and has been recently assigned to act as First Officer aboard a new starship, the U.S.S. Adventure.

Chris is playing Commander Daris Pak (Security Officer, Bolian). Bolians are generally well-liked and friendly, so his security officer is from the “you catch more flies with honey…” school. If honey doesn’t work, though, she’s a bald, blue-skinned Gina Carano, and you will respect her authoritah. She’s the new Chief of Security aboard the Adventure.

Finally, Thom is playing Ensign Kl’rt Beta (Helmsman, Trill). As the sixth host to the Beta symbiont, Kl’rt has five previous lifetimes of memories to draw upon. His own personal experience is as one of the most talented Conn Officers Starfleet has recently produced. He’s a veteran of Wolf 359, which claimed the lives of many a skilled helmsman. As such he is currently awaiting reassignment to a starship at Outpost 51. (Hint: it’s going to be the U.S.S. Adventure.)

And the final character in the campaign is the ship herself, the U.S.S. Adventure, an Akira-class dreadnought (see above) newly-commissioned in 2368, now awaiting command assignment at Outpost 51. The Akira design was a direct response to the costly battle with the Borg at Wolf 359. As such, she is equipped with extensive shuttle bays, phaser arrays and a state-of-the-art, rapid-fire photon torpedo launcher. (Just in case.)

Our first “official” session with all players (and the ship) is this Sunday, and I’m brimming with glee. I might even record it for eventual podcast…but I’ll have to look into that a bit more.

The New Golden Age of RPGs

A funny thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I got a notification from Amazon that my package had been delivered, which I found odd because I did not recall ordering anything. I ventured outside and lo and behold, a mysterious box was resting comfortably on my doorstep. I opened it up and found this:

I checked my order history and sure enough, I had ordered it the night before, but I had no memory of doing so. I opened up the liquor cabinet and regarded the level of gin in the bottle with a critical eye.

Well, that one look explained a lot.

My first impression of the game is that it looks like a lot of fun. With rules for running both cinematic games (where you’re likely to die) and campaigns (where you might live), it’s a comprehensive system that’s very true to the source material. The book itself is beautiful, but to be honest it could be about half the size; much of the pages are light on actual text, taken up instead with (beautiful) illustrations and lots of empty space. It’s a design choice, but it also contributes to the cost of the finished product. I don’t know if I’ll ever run it or play it, but it’s a great read nonetheless and it has inspired me to dig out my Dark Horse Aliens comics for some re-reading.

I have been on a RPG buying spree lately. It started before Christmas (when I was supposed to be shopping for others) and hasn’t really let up. In addition to my unexpected Alien purchase, I bought all of these:

Not to mention several supplements and sourcebooks for Star Trek Adventures and Red Markets not pictured here. (Addiction is a disease, people, and it’s real. Sadly, one addiction often feeds another, as in the case of my gin-fueled Amazon binge that made me the owner of a hardcopy of the Alien RPG.)

The keen-eyed among you may notice I haven’t even opened my 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons set or my Delta Green set yet. This is because I have been all-in on getting my Star Trek Adventures game up and running (more on that soon ) and delving deeply into Red Markets, which is a 400+ page hardcover I had printed at Indie Press Revolution. (I just can’t seem to navigate PDFs very well. I prefer books.)

What do these games have in common? Well, all of them have received stellar reviews, and all of them are extremely well-produced. I became aware of some of them from listening to various podcasts and watching YouTube videos. The small press is king nowadays, and Kickstarter has a lot to do with that. Otherwise it’s unlikely games like Red Markets would ever get made, and that is a shame indeed, because it’s pretty damn cool, with a system that is unique, innovative and often very harsh.

I have been a Call of Cthulhu player since I was in high school, and D&D since well before that. So why buy into new editions? Put simply, because that’s what people play nowadays. My last edition of CoC was the d20 OGL edition, which was great (at least I thought so, but I like the d20 system). Previous to that it was 5th edition. Now I can’t hear enough great things about 7th edition, and it’s what my friends play. If I want to run a game (and I do), then this is the way to do it. Ditto with Dungeons and Dragons. My last edition was 3.5. I skipped the horror of 4th edition entirely, and would have been happy to play 3.5, Pathfinder or even go back to 2nd edition for the rest of my life. But once again, I hear the buzz, and it’s pretty universally great. I picked up the core rulebooks to give it a shot.

I never played Delta Green in its earlier incarnation. Listening to actual play podcasts has given me the fever to run a few games of this, as it’s pretty much made for the one-shot scenario (and that’s about all I can seem to get going nowadays). This current edition has received almost universally positive press. Much like Alien, I don’t know if I’ll ever actually play it, but I know I will enjoy reading it.

Finally: Savage Worlds. I’ve been hearing about this system for years now. Much like Fate and GURPS, it’s a universal roleplaying system that gives players a lot of agency in how they create and play their characters. I haven’t had much time to look these rules over and it’s unlikely that I’ll run a game using them, but I collect rules sets, and always like to see what various systems offer.

I mentioned I wouldn’t have even heard of some of these games if it weren’t for my new love of actual play and gaming podcasts. (Since I don’t get to play very often, I can at least listen as others do.) I’ll list my favorites here, along with my pithy commentary. You can obviously find them anywhere you get podcasts, but I’ll link to their respective homes on the web.

The Roleplaying Exchange: These folks play a lot of games I like, like Star Trek Adventures, Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green and Slasher Flick. This is the first podcast I found, and through it I discovered many of the small-press games I’ve bought since. They share the Red Markets 10K Lakes campaign with Technical Difficulties, so you can find episodes crossing over on both podcasts. In addition to actual play, they do a lot of interviews with game creators and discuss topics related to the roleplaying hobby as well.

Speaking of Technical Difficulties, they play a lot of Red Markets (among other things). I have mixed feelings about this podcast, good and bad. The good: They play small press games. They have a handle on the rules and illustrate them well during the podcast. They have interesting ideas for game scenarios. The bad: they’re mostly annoying people to listen to. You will lose track of how many times someone utters the sentence “That’s fair”, often when there was never any question of the fairness of anything. (It’s like a shared nervous tic.) Not everyone is insufferable; some regular players are funny and interesting in spite of the podcast’s shortcomings. But sadly, it’s often true that there’s always at least one huge asshole in every gaming group. (If you don’t think there is one, then chances are it’s probably you.) This group has more than one. I won’t name names, but let’s just say there’s a guy who has to correct everyone all the time, another guy who only plays asshole characters because “that’s what I like to do”, and another guy who always wants to start some player vs. player bullshit. Luckily, not all of these people are on every podcast. Assholish behavior is generally not my cup of tea (YMMV, of course), but I can grit my teeth and enjoy what they do offer, which are some good examples of various games’ rules in play. I learned of several games I would have otherwise missed through this podcast. And I DID subscribe to it, so obviously I feel there is some value in listening.

Terrible Warriors: This is hands-down my favorite actual play group to listen to. The podcasts are all about an hour or less, the pacing is top-notch, they play REALLY interesting games, and the players are fantastic. I would love to play in this group. Unfortunately (for me), they’re based in Toronto. They play a lot of Star Trek Adventures (which is how I found them), but they play a lot of Kickstarter-funded games as well. It’s through them that I discovered so many indie games I would have otherwise never heard of. Recent highlights are Bluebeard’s Bride, a feminine horror game in which the players all play a part of the Bride’s persona (an awesome concept I wish I thought of) as they explore her new home and create their own version of the classic fairy tale; and Zombie World, a diceless card-based rpg that plays so smoothly, I’m dying to try it out. Both of these are from Magpie Games and use the new Powered by the Apocalypse Engine. Well worth a look, and I can’t recommend the podcast enough. Sometimes they get the rules wrong, but they always manage to have a lot of fun nonetheless.

The Lovecraft Tapes: This is an actual play 7th edition Call of Cthulhu podcast that uses Roll20. (It doesn’t look like they’ve done anything for 2020 yet, so maybe they’re on a break.) Although it’s a horror game, it’s often quite funny rather than scary, and the amount of time they put into editing it is apparent. Once again, each session is usually about an hour long. Great fun, with a talented GM.

One Less Die: I became aware of this actual play podcast through the creator’s appearance on the Roleplaying Exchange. It’s still in the early stages, with the beginning episodes focusing on the latest edition of Shadowrun. The Shadowrun campaign is still ongoing, but I started listening when they began a Call of Cthulhu campaign. I got annoyed because one of the players is playing a Russian investigator and he insists on talking like the most over-the-top Pavel Chekov you can imagine, so I bailed on it for a while. It sounded promising, so I’ll probably give it another shot at some point.

Coming next: the conclusion to my Fantastic Worlds Star Trek campaign: Hubbard’s World!

Christmas is all about…ME.

‘Tis the season, and as usual, I have taken advantage of the holiday sales to buy a bunch of shit for me that I don’t need, but definitely want.

A couple of months ago I broke down and subscribed to Amazon Prime, mainly so I could watch The Boys (one of my favorite comics of all time). Of course, Amazon Prime comes with free shipping on anything I order from Amazon, so guess who has been busy? (Hint: it’s me.) Now, I know Amazon is like Wal-Mart…the deep discounts they offer are bad for the economy, and certain death for brick-and-mortar stores. And I do feel bad when I order something from Amazon, and it arrives at my door at 9 pm the next night, because I don’t NEED anything that badly, and delivery drivers shouldn’t have to deliver dumb shit to my house at 9 pm in the freezing cold when they could be home instead.

I get it. I know Amazon is a bad company to work for. Yet I’m weak. I can’t say no to those sweet price cuts. For some reason, I can’t ignore Amazon the same way I refuse to deal with other asshole companies like Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby (fuck those guys). The discounts are SO big…Right now, as I write this post, the Modiphius Original Series Away Team that I painted last month is on sale for $18.96. That’s a little over ONE THIRD the retail price (which, at $52.00, is fucking stupidly expensive, but still…) Less than $20 for 10 miniatures is a pretty good deal, I would say.

So, between Amazon and other vendors, I’ve racked up quite the grocery bill, and it’s not even Christmas. Here’s how to spend money irresponsibly on yourself before the holidays, so that whatever Santa brings you (or doesn’t), you won’t be disappointed.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (Amazon): I picked up this bundle for $82, which is 48% of what it retails for ($170). I get all the core rulebooks: (Player’s Handbook, DMG, Monster Manual) and a DM screen; all in a handsome slipcase. Why would I buy this when I’m already all-in on 3 out of 4 editions of Dungeons and Dragons (I skipped 4th, and assumed I was stopping at 3.5)? First: because it seems that’s all anyone plays around me, and I want desperately to get into a game; second: it’s supposedly a good system, and finally: because I got all the core books at 52% off.

Red Markets (Indie Press Revolution): I bought this PDF (after I bought the get started kit at DrivethruRPG) after hearing some pretty amazing things about this game. I listened to a bunch of actual play podcasts (which were alternately interesting and irritating; there’s always at least one annoying asshole in every gaming group, sometimes more) and an interview with the game’s creator, and I’m hooked. I wanna play. I’m an old-school kinda guy; I don’t like reading PDFs. I’d rather have a book in my hand. Red Markets is almost 500 pages of full-color awesomeness, so if I tried to print it out it would suck my printer dry and probably look like shit. Lucky for me, Indie Press Revolution printed it for me, and I got the PDF version as part of the package, too. I’m happy to say their printed book is very high-quality and durable; much better than if I had tried to do it myself. It’s a thing of beauty.

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (Amazon): I got this new hardcover edition of the rules at 30% off. I’ve heard good things about Savage Worlds, but I’ve never played it. The discount (and some whisky, TBH) was enough to push me, in a weak moment, to buy it. I haven’t looked at it yet (too much Star Trek and Red Markets on the brain).

Wreck Age (eBay): I collect rules sets (which explains why I own a copy of Spinespur). This post-apocalyptic skirmish game was well-reviewed, and even had its own line of miniatures. This was a cheap purchase, so I guess that justifies it.

Note this doesn’t include my purchases from Troll and Toad (individual Star Trek Heroclix) and from Etsy shops (3D Printed Terrain).

Am I done? Maybe…I have my eye on a few other things. I want the latest version of Call of Cthulhu (7th Edition), and Delta Green, which I have heard great things about. And I have my eye on yet more Modiphius Trek miniatures: the Next Generation Away Team set, which, sadly, never seems to drop below $30. (Once it does, it’s fair game.)