Orctober comes to an end and what do I have to show for it? Two orcs.
If you recall, I was intending to paint this entire classic Grenadier Orcs’ Lair set last month. Sadly, I ran out of gas about halfway through and couldn’t get back into gear. The wheels fell off this project of mine, and my motivation engine stalled. I could maybe come up with more vehicular metaphors, but basically I lost interest and gave up.
I did manage to complete two, however: this Orc Captain and the Standard Bearer. If you count the standard (it takes up its own slot in the box), then I painted three.
The problem was the skin tone. I didn’t want to go green; I was looking for a more “Tolkien-esque” orc; so I YouTubed a few videos on how to paint orc skin for the GW LOTR game. I found a few good tutorials that utilize Camoshade, Sepia or Agrax Earthshade washes over an Ivory base, and I used them. The problem is, in the end they all kind of look the same no matter which wash is used. There’s not much variety.
Since orcs aren’t known for being snappy dressers, most of their kit is dull colors as well. This just looks terrible with the pale skin tone I chose, and I couldn’t see past how the models looked in the moment to what they might look like at the end. I got bored and moved on to other things, none of them paint-related.
The remaining seven orcs in the box have all been based and base-coated, and they’re presently sitting on my desk in the side-pile, so maybe I’ll clean them up in December, my traditional side-pile month. Or maybe not.
Anyway, Dwarvember kicks off today, and it’s looking to be a somewhat subdued challenge. I’ll post the official participant list in a few days, just in case more folks want to throw in. If interested, let me know in the comments or email me at email@example.com.
I’ve never really participated in the yearly “Orctober” challenge before, wherein one paints orcs during the month of October. This year I figured I’d give it a shot. I have no idea who is hosting this challenge (I assume there is more than one person), so this isn’t a formal thing for me. I just feel like painting some orcs.
Contrary to what 90% of participants choose to paint, I will not be painting any orcs made by Games Workshop. Although I have a veritable assload of 40K Orks in metal and in plastic (still on the sprue, in most cases), I am choosing to indulge myself in some old-school lead once again.
Behold! One of the first miniature sets I ever purchased, back when I was a wee lad just learning to play Red Box D&D. I painted these guys before, way back in the 80’s, using my tried (and failed) Testor’s enamel paints, which of course looked hideous. I stripped them about 15 years ago, intending to paint them again someday. That someday has arrived.
Pretty sure the date on the bottom is 1981; which fits with the classic gold-box era of Grenadier. No idea who sculpted these, but my money is on Andrew Chernak. Oddly enough, orcs in D&D back then were depicted as the classic, pig-faced variety; but these are more simian in appearance, kind of like the flying monkeys of Oz. Anyway, I like them.
Although, 40+ years later I still have a full set, this fellow lost his axe-head at some point. I gave him a new one from the bitz box.
I figured if I actually posted about my painting goal this month, it might motivate me to, you know, actually DO it. Here’s hoping I break out of this slump!
Also: I’m hoping to host another painting challenge next month in honor of Movember, the month where men everywhere grow their facial hair to support men’s health. Well, men other than me, anyway. I hate facial hair. I cannot grow a beard for longer than two weeks without wanting to claw it off my face. BUT…I do love Dwarfs, and dwarfs love facial hair. Sooooooo…
I just listened to the latest episode of The MIskatonic University Podcast, wherein the hosts rank their top 10 RPGs. It’s due to be a two-part episode, and they are including games they may or may not have actually played. I thought I’d do my own RPG GOAT lists, also in two parts…but this first post will be solely games I’ve played, while the next one will be for games I have yet to play, or haven’t played enough. If RPGs aren’t your thing, feel free to come back and look at the pretty miniatures, which will return soon.
I own many roleplaying games and game supplements for dozens of systems. The above picture represents about half of my overall collection, and it was taken back in 2021. (This is the chain I have forged in life, and like Jacob Marley, I have labored on it since.) But which ones are my favorites? Without further preamble, I give you The Angry Piper’s Top 10 RPGs of All Time, ranked in descending order.
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness (Palladium, 1985) My freshman year in high school, I met two brothers who are still two of my best friends to this day. One of them introduced me to the TMNT comic. I collected Marvel and DC comics and had no idea about independent publishers like Mirage. I immediately was hooked on the black & white, irregularly-published TMNT comic. These turtles were still a long way from the pizza-loving pop culture juggernauts they would become. These turtles were badass.
It was TMNT and Other Strangeness that introduced us to the Palladium system. I have many fond memories of the games we played, most of which degenerated into complete silliness. The character creation system is point-buy: each animal type (and there are many included) has a certain amount of Bio(logical) -E(nergy) points to spend. These points determine things like overall size, stance (biped/qudruped), hand type (partial, like paws, or full), speech and special “Powers” based on the animal type (like the Turtles’ shell). It was a very well-constructed character generation system and we never tired of making up new mutated animal characters.
The system…well, let’s just say I’m not a fan of Palladium’s system for many reasons. We played RIFTS and Heroes Unlimited a few times, but our interest waned pretty quickly and we were on to other games within a couple of years. Still, this quirky game provided us with a lot of fun times, and for that alone, it makes it into the top 10.
9. Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn (TSR, 1983) I have spoken of my love for the classic Star Frontiers RPG in a series of recent posts. As I stated previously, for me, the real draw of this game is the setting. I cover that, as well as several “problems” with the game extensively here.
We played a lot of Star Frontiers in the 80’s and I’ve revisited the game a couple of times since then. One of my friends even converted it to GURPS, which made the game more complicated and challenging (in a good way). Sadly, I’m the only one among my friends who seems to miss this game nowadays, so if I ever get to play it again I will likely have to run it online.
8. Shadowrun (FASA, 1989) Where man meets Magic and Machine. In 2050, the world is a Gibson-esque cyberpunk dystopia ruled by mega-corporations, connected in virtual reality through a worldwide computer network called the Matrix. In the midst of this futuristic, capitalist nightmare, magic returns to the world and metahumans and creatures from myth and folklore once again walk among us. You play a shadowrunner–someone with a unique set of skills (magic, thievery, computer hacking, combat) who lives on the fringes of regular society. Oh, and there are dragons, too; and one of them becomes President.
Shadowrun, like so many other games that came out last century, has gone through several revisions and updates. I’m only familiar with 1st and 2nd Edition. 2E was better, and we played it most. The game has a timeline and metaplot that has kept continuity throughout all its editions. When the game debuted in 1989, the year in-game was 2050. Now, the current 6th edition of the game is set in the 2080s.
Shadowrun is one of those RPGs that’s immensely fun to play, but just as much fun to read. The sourcebooks are annotated as if they were documents posted to online hacker forums, so there is tons of commentary from the shadow community regarding the veracity of some of the information presented in the supplement. I haven’t played Shadowrun since pre-2000, but I still sometimes break out my old Shadowrun supplements just to read them.
7. Star Trek Adventures (Modiphius, 2017) No big surprise to anyone who visits this blog: I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and I went all in on the Modiphius 2d20 system. It’s a bit more complicated than I like in a system nowadays, but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty awesome. There’s a lot you can do and a lot of different ways to do it. It really captures the feel of the Star Trek Universe better than any previous Star Trek RPG, and it covers all eras of Trek from Enterprise through Discovery.
I first ran this game by converting an old FASA Star Trek module, The Vanished, to this version of the rules. Rather than make their own characters, my friends played Kirk, Spock and the bridge crew of the Enterprise. You can read about it here. Since then I’ve run several one-shots and even a brief campaign set in the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager era. You can find the first post of that campaign here. I’ve had a lot of fun every time, and I definitely will be running more Star Trek adventures in the future.
6. Star Wars (West End Games, 1987) With the ubiquity of everything Star Wars nowadays, it’s tough to remember that after Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, we didn’t have another Star Wars movie (for better or worse) until The Phantom Menace in 1999. Sure, there were novels and comics in between, but when Lucasfilm licensed Star Wars to West End Games to develop a roleplaying game, it was a license to print money, even if the game was shit, which this most definitely was not.
Arguably, the Star Wars RPG did more to keep Star Wars alive than anything else; but more than that, it built upon Lucas’s creation and added so much more to the lore and setting than anything we could ever see on film. Lucas approved all of it, and much of it became and remains canon. The system is D6-based and it works well. There aren’t too many rules to slog through and the action moves quickly. The D6 system is now open license for anyone to use.
I played a lot of this in the 80’s and a fair bit in the 90’s. About 10 years ago, I wrote a quick, one-shot with some pregenerated characters and ran a game for my friends. It was like riding a bike.
There have been 3 companies to publish Star Wars rpgs: West End Games, Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games. The current FFG line is expansive (and expensive) and pulls from all eras of Star Wars, something the original WEG version couldn’t do, because none of it was written yet. It’s supposedly quite good; however it’s a testament to the popularity of the original game that Fantasy Flight Games published a 30th anniversary edition of the WEG Star Wars RPG in 2018. (No one talks about the WotC game nowadays.)
5. Vampire: The Masquerade (White Wolf, 1991) Ah, the angst-ridden, tragically hip 90’s, when you couldn’t swing a dead bat and not hit a Siouxsie Sioux, Peter Murphy or Robert Smith lookalike on any college campus in the country. Good times. I played a lot of the first and second editions of this game (as well as Werewolf: The Apocalypse and a little Mage: The Ascension) , and it’s one of the best, most memorable RPG campaigns I’ve ever been involved in. My interest in vampires has pretty much dwindled to nothing at this point in my life; but Vampire: The Masquerade is the game where I created one of my favorite RPG characters of all time: Lucas, a Nosferatu: a beast trying desperately to hold onto his humanity in the brutal and unforgiving Gothic-Punk Chicago of the 1990’s.
The World of Darkness Storyteller system is what really drives this game (aside from, you know, vampires), focusing primarily on roleplaying the trials and tribulations (or perhaps exultations) of being a monster. It’s billed as “a Storytelling game of personal horror,” and although pathos more than orror was the theme of the game in which I played, it is seen as a horror game. VtM has gone through several editions and publishers since the last time I played it, circa 1998 or so; and from what I can determine, it’s quite different nowadays. I’m not particularly interested in playing it again; but it’s definitely a game I played a lot of during my college years, and one I recall fondly.
4. GURPS (Steve Jackson Games, 1986) My regular high school gaming group split up after graduation as we all went to different schools. I was invited to a game in college, and that game turned out to be run by a guy I still game with today. That game was GURPS (3rd edition) Fantasy.
The Generic Universal Roleplaying System is exactly that. Although it’s great for Fantasy gaming, I’ve played and run horror, sci-fi, superhero, kung-fu, espionage and pulp cliffhangers games using GURPS. One of my favorites is GURPS Old West, which is my favorite Western RPG. GURPS has licensed such RPG properties as Traveller, Vampire: the Masquerade, Deadlands and Discworld; and, over the years, has released some of the best, most informative supplements for roleplaying games ever written. The GURPS Vikings, Martial Arts, Japan and WWII supplements really stand out, but there are so many more. My friend converted Star Frontiers to GURPS, and I even once attempted to run a Chronicles of Amber game using GURPS (but that didn’t work).
There’s a reason it’s been around for so long. There are rules for everything, but you’re free to use whatever you want and make it as simple or complex as you desire. It’s still my go-to generic system for most things.
3. Marvel Super Heroes (TSR, 1984) One of my all-time favorite roleplaying games is free for all at Classic Marvel Forever. I’ve always loved this game. It’s simple and captures the feel of a comic book perfectly. We played a lot of MSH back in high school. It still has a devoted fanbase today, and the innovative FASERIP system has been updated and streamlined by various publishers. (My favorite is Astonishing Super Heroes, by Let’s Start Over, Shall We?-a MSH actual play podcast). I brought this game out of retirement a couple of years ago to run a one-shot for my friends. The first of that four-post writeup is here. Although most of us had fun, a couple of my friends think games of the past should stay there. Undeterred, I ran it again on Discord as recently as March for a group of Instagram friends, and everyone seemed to really like it.
The published adventures are particularly bad; but the rules are simple and easy to learn. This is the only game that I can think of where I never want to make my own character. Although there are detailed character creation rules, I’ve always preferred running games for established heroes like Spider-Man and The X-Men rather than having the players create their own characters, and likewise, I prefer playing as established heroes as well. Sadly, no one I know seems keen on running this game but me. I haven’t been a player in a game of MSH since the mid-90’s, but I remain hopeful.
2. Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium, 1981) I discovered H.P. Lovecraft in 1987 when I was 15 years old, and although I had previously seen ads for the Call of Cthulhu RPG in the pages of Dragon Magazine, I never made the connection until later. Once I did, I knew it was a game I needed to play. A horror roleplaying game? How cool!
My first edition of the game was the 4th Edition, published in 1989. I still remember the first adventure I ran for my friends. It was one of my own scenarios involving a vampire who made his lair in an abandoned watermill. Being a vampire, he had no need to breathe and so he hid from the sun and rested underwater during the day. The group of investigators finally tracked the vampire to the mill, but of course, by then it was night and it was dark. They entered the watermill and found the floor had collapsed, so they waded through the waist-deep water, shining their flashlights around. One of the investigators suddenly realized the vampire could be under the water, and so I called for a Sanity check. He failed. I can still see the look on my friend’s face when I told him he dropped his flashlight into the water.
Call of Cthulhu is now in its 7th and, in my opinion, best edition of the game. I’ve played and enjoyed other horror games (like GURPS), but this is the best fit, both for Lovecraftian horror and horror storytelling that has nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. I love to play this game and I especially love to run it. I always have more ideas for Call of Cthulhu scenarios running around in my head than any other game.
And finally, at #1: Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, 1974) Of course D&D will be my number one. Like so many people, it’s the first RPG I ever played, way back in 1983. It was the Tom Moldvay Red Box B/X system with the great Erol Otus cover art shown above. My aunt, who is only 9 years older than me, gifted me the game on my 10th birthday, pre-Satanic panic. I say this because she has since become an ultra-right wing conservative and staunch religious fanatic (yeah, we have lots in common nowadays), so I guess timing is everything. Anyway, thanks, Auntie Marie.
I’ve played almost every edition of D&D starting with the Moldvay B/X set. in high school, I played lots of AD&D before moving to AD&D 2E, which came out in 1989. I think I probably played 2E the most, though, being involved in several campaigns both as player and DM throughout the 90’s. I took a little break for a while, but came back to D&D with the 3rd edition. I ran a 3.5 campaign from 2011-2014 or so before it eventually broke down. You can read about that here. I skipped 4th Ed. entirely, which is by all reports what I should have done. No regrets.
Which brings us to 5th Edition, which is by far the biggest and most popular edition of the game to date, responsible for millions of dollars in sales and a huge influx of new blood to the roleplaying hobby. Thanks to Critical Role and Stranger Things, D&D is now super-cool; something I and most of my geek generation find amusing, as it certainly was not always so. I am all in favor of bringing new folks into the hobby, although I personally hate 5th edition because it is fundamentally different than the experience I know and love. I do not think the differences are beneficial to the game, but that is my opinion. I could write a whole blog post about why I hate it, but what’s the point? (I might do it anyway.) It’s not my game, but I certainly don’t begrudge others who love it (and they are many).
Dungeons & Dragons stirred my creativity, increased my vocabulary, raised my reading comprehension and fired my imagination. It made me a better speaker, a better writer and a voracious reader. It set me on the road to being the wise and erudite Renaissance man that I am today. It also taught me to be humble and not use words like erudite. But more than that, it gave me strong friendships that endure to this day.
I may play a thousand different games in my life, but I will always return to Dungeons & Dragons…just not any edition after 3.5.
Picking a Top 10 was pretty hard, considering how many games I’ve played in my life. The following to games deserve special notice.
Middle-Earth Roleplaying (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1984) MERP has a special place in my heart, and always will. We played a fair amount of MERP in high school and college, and although I couldn’t tell you anything about the adventures and scenarios we played, I do know we had a lot of fun.
MERP is based on the Rolemaster system, which is not particularly suited for the setting, especially where magic is concerned. The spells and spell lists don’t really align with Tolkien’s portrayal of magic and wizards, for one thing; and the combat system is kind of clunky. MERP is justly famous, however, for the critical hit and critical fumble tables, which are absolutely hilarious and can instantly kill or maim anything, including the acting player character. It was worth it for that alone.
The supplements for MERP are exceptionally well-done, and like the WEG Star Wars RPG, much of the lore was created by the RPG company, not the original source. For example, prior to the release of the RPG, most of the Nazgul did not have names. In fact, Tolkien only named one of the Nazgul, Khamul the Easterling. Iron Crown named all Nine, and gave them backstories, too. They expanded and expounded upon Tolkien’s history and lore of Middle-Earth, and they did it with respect.
Bottom line: great setting and supplemental material. Not-so-great system for the game. Rolemaster may work well for fantasy RPGs, but it’s not a good fit for Middle Earth. Still, this was one we played often. Most MERP books fetch a hefty price on the secondary market nowadays, with good reason.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Lamentations of the Flame Princess, 2009) Lamentations of the Flame Princess is basically an OSR clone of Moldvay B/X D&D, although with a lot of updates (ascending Armor Class! Yaaay!) and changes that make the game much, much darker in tone. Whereas D&D is Tolkien-inspired high fantasy, LotFP is more grimdark and low-magic. It’s billed as Weird Fantasy, and it lives up to the name. There are no Fireballs or Lightning Bolts here; but Summoning is only a 1st-level spell, meaning it’s available to Magic-Users from the jump. Just because you can summon something, though, doesn’t mean you’ll summon what you want to, or that you can control it when it arrives, so beware.
Although LotFP has rules for demi-humans like Elves, Dwarves and Halflings (and, like B/X D&D, these races double as classes), much of the published material is designed without these fantasy races in mind, more of a late 16th/17th century European setting. In the words of James Edward Raggi IV, the game’s creator, this period of human civilization was hands-down the most miserable time to be alive in history. As a result, character survivability is low in LotFP. The published content is, without question, adult in nature; and has been the target of pearl-clutchers everywhere since the beginning. This only increased over the years when the cancel culture mob got the company in its sights. Sadly, that hasn’t gone away; but Raggi is well and truly done apologizing for anything at this point, and I, for one, am glad of that. Fuck that noise. Censorship is bullshit.
In March, I wrapped up a year-long Witch Hunter (i.e. Solomon Kane) campaign I ran for some folks on my Discord server. It was dark and grim and demonic, as it should be. We all had a great time, and I will likely use LotFP for my fantasy rules of choice going forward, unless of course I’m looking for something more forgiving and high fantasy.
That about does it for this post. Coming soon: my top 10 RPGS that I have yet to play (enough).
I love this picture, painted by the great Larry Elmore. I was fortunate enough to meet him at Gen Con in 2012, and I bought this signed print from him. It was the cover art for the second edition of the Star Frontiers RPG, renamed Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn. Until then, the only sci-fi RPG of note was Traveller, which many people found somewhat inaccessible. This game was marketed to a younger crowd, and the system was much less complicated than Traveller (which isn’t really saying much).
A separate, compatible game, Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks, was released a year later in its own box, and dealt specifically with spaceships and space combat. Although it also had roleplaying elements, it was a spaceship combat wargame that used cardboard counters on a hex mat. I played a lot of Alpha Dawn but only dabbled in Knight Hawks. (We really just used the rules for ship design.) Both games enjoyed a decent amount of product support in the form of adventure modules and articles and scenarios published in Dragon Magazine.
The real draw of Star Frontiers, at least for me, is the setting. It takes place in a region of space known as The Frontier, where the boundary of known space meets whatever else is “out there”. Players create characters from four playable races: Humans, who are pretty much like us, but live longer; Vrusk, a race of insectoid beings that resemble mantids, only without the big claws; Dralasites, an amoeba-like race that can change their physical form; and Yazirians, a race similar to flying monkeys, only with anger issues.
These races worked together almost immediately, freely exchanging information and technology, sharing scientific advancements and generally getting along. They formed the Pan-Galactic Corporation (PGC), a massive conglomerate that, like it’s name implies, spanned the galaxy. They even developed a language called Pan-Galactic (PanGal) that all four races could speak which allowed them to effectively communicate, given their differing anatomy and communication methods. It was a pretty good time.
Of course, good times don’t last forever, and another alien race, known as the Sathar, suddenly attacked the Frontier with what seemed like the intent to destroy everything the PGC had built. The Sathar are a wormlike race with strange telepathic powers who are aggressively xenophobic. No one knows much more about them, because any Sathar will kill itself rather than be taken captive, and they’re not much for chit-chat. To combat the Sathar threat, the PGC formed a combined military force called the United Planetary Federation, or UPF (not to be confused with the United Federation of Planets, which would have probably got TSR sued by the Star Trek guys over at Paramount). The UPF managed to drive the Sathar back to wherever they came from, but not for long.
Knowing that they can’t take the UPF in a fight, the Sathar have since turned to espionage and treachery to topple it from within. Sathar agents from all the frontier races actively work to undermine the UPF, so the UPF created another organization: Star Law. Star Law Rangers travel the galaxies looking for these agents in order to bring them to justice.
And that’s Star Frontiers in a nutshell. The published adventures assume your players will work for either the PGC or Star Law; but nothing says you have to stick to that. You can be pirates, privateers, salvage crews, planetary explorers or even military agents of the UPF. I’m pretty sure my group was a group of mercenaries, because it was the 80’s and I live in America and that was pretty much every movie of the Reagan era; but the game actively discourages this. The first adventure, Crash on Volturnus, effectively strips your characters of all their weapons and useful equipment right at the beginning, forcing them to survive on a hostile planet using their wits and diplomacy; a big departure for groups used to kicking in doors, killing everything in sight and looting the bodies.
There are a couple of big problems with the game. The system is a percentile-based system: roll under your attribute or skill and you’re successful; over and you fail. Pretty standard for TSR boxed games of the time, and still used by many games today. That being said, the system is sometimes a bit more complicated than it needs to be, especially where skills are concerned. Each character can picks a Primary Skill Area, such as Military or Science. Each one of these PSAs have a group of skills under their umbrella, each with a rating of 1-6. Each of these skills are improved individually and usually offer a 10% bonus per level of the skill. The problem is there are too many skills, so advancement takes a long time.
Combat is another matter. It takes forever because of clunky design, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand in games, both as a player and GM, it’s combat that drags on forever (J’accuse, 5E!). There are a ton of different weapons in Star Frontiers, each of which does a different type of damage (electrical, energy, sonic, projectile, etc.) There are an equal amount of defensive suits and screens, all of which are usually effective against only one type of damage. Having the right defense for the right attack is tedious and pretty much down to luck; but equipped properly, your characters can trade shots all day with little danger of dying. Even if not properly equipped, your characters can take a few shots before they have to worry, because most weapons that aren’t energy weapons do shitty damage.
Energy weapons and defensive screens use power tracked by Standard Energy Units (SEU). Tracking SEU use is a bit of a chore. In the case of weapons, the damage you inflict is directly proportionate to how many SEU you expend. For example, a standard laser pistol has a damage rating of 1d10 per SEU (max 10 SEU), and a standard ammo clip contains 20 SEU. That means you could get twenty 1d10 shots out of a clip, or you could burn the entire clip in two 10d10 shots before you’d need to reload.
Either way, you’re unlikely to kill your target. Most characters have an average of 60 hp (their Stamina score). The average d10 roll is a 5.5, rounded up to 6. I suppose it’s possible that a character could burn 10 SEU (10d10 damage) and get a result over 60, which would kill someone with 60 hp (assuming you hit), but it’s unlikely. It becomes even more unlikely when you factor in defensive screens and suits, which will reduce the damage even further. Why anyone would bother shooting a 1d10 shot is beyond me. Even at maximum damage (10) that’s not enough to be more than an irritation. If the target is wearing any kind of defense whatsoever, forget it. You’re just wasting ammo.
Both these issues are easily fixable with some house rules which I use. First, I cut down the number of skills. The military PSA as written, for example, contains a separate skill for each type of weapon, which is ridiculous. Is it safe to assume that military-trained characters know how to shoot all kinds of guns? Yeah. I’d say so. So let’s just group all those separate skills together and call it “firearms” skill. For combat, no more adjustable shots based on SEU use. Laser pistols, for example, do 5d10 damage and a clip contains 10 shots. That makes them more dangerous and more effective then they are in the rules. I use two types of defensive screens: energy and inertia, not an individual one for every conceivable type of attack. Inertia protects against projectiles and explosives, energy protects against electricity, energy and sonic attacks. Two screens, no more. Same with suits. One for energy, one for inertia. Mix and match as you like, but no more nonsense.
It should be noted that combat in Star Frontiers was probably not intended to be deadly. Like I said, it was marketed to a younger crowd. There are plenty of non-lethal weapons in the game: stunners, needler guns, and the iconic doze and tangler grenades, which render an opponent unconscious or immobile, respectively. The equipment lists are both futuristic and a bit dated…for example characters are often equipped with a chronocom, which is a wristwatch/ video communicator with a range of…wait for it…10 whole kilometers! It’s an amusing reminder of when the game was written, long before cell phones were commonplace or the internet even existed.
I’m not the only one who has a love of Star Frontiers, not by a long shot. There are two fanzines that are regularly published: The Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer, both of which have a ton of fan-generated content that’s worth looking at. Both of these zines used to be free, but now they’re available for sale at (sigh) DriveThru RPG. The original Star Frontiers rules are also available there in PDF and Print on Demand format.
Up next: a short coda to the Star Frontiers posts, as I discuss…the miniatures!!!!
Back in the 80’s, during the heyday of roleplaying games, TSR Hobbies released a ton of RPGs in addition to Dungeons & Dragons: original properties like Gamma World, Top Secret, Boot Hill, and Gangbusters; and licensed games like Marvel Super Heroes, Indiana Jones, and Buck Rogers. These games were sold as boxed sets, just like the Basic and Expert D&D games. With the exception of Indiana Jones, the rest of these games were successful enough to warrant at least a second edition (some, like Gamma World and Gangbusters, would get more than that) in addition to a line of adventure modules and sourcebooks.
I never played Gamma World or Buck Rogers. I played Boot Hill, Gangbusters and Top Secret, and I enjoyed them all very much. I played Indiana Jones, and…well…let’s just say I played it. But my favorites, hands-down, were Marvel Super Heroes and Star Frontiers. I love MSH so much I still play it. In fact, I just ran Marvel Super Heroes in February for a group of Instagram friends over on my Discord server. I also planned on running Star Frontiers last year, but it never happened. The last time I played the game was a few years ago; but it wasn’t technically Star Frontiers. Like many of these 80’s TSR games, the system was a bit basic and we wanted more, so my friend converted it to GURPS. It was a lot of fun to revisit the setting, but we didn’t play for very long.
A couple of years ago, I heard a new version of Star Frontiers was in the works and I grew excited; at least until it turned out to be a racist, homophobic shit show of a game.
Here’s a summary, best as I can deliver it. Keep in mind, this is my opinion, and my knowledge, such as it is, may not be 100% accurate. If you really want to know, check the internet yourself.
TSR Hobbies, the original company that published Dungeons & Dragons, went out of business in 1997, and was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the company that, until then, was most famous for publishing Magic: the Gathering. WotC was later acquired by Hasbro, and is a shitty company with a history of trying to fuck over creators, but that has no bearing on the rest of this story. It’s just me stating my opinion.
Anyway, back in 2011, Gary Gygax’s sons, Luke and Ernie Jr., along with another guy started a company called TSR Games in order to publish a new Top Secret game. Apparently, Luke and the other guy missed a trademark filing date in 2020, so Ernie Jr. filed for the TSR name and the two brothers cut ties with each other. It seems to be a bit acrimonious, as now there are two companies with the TSR name run by two brothers who apparently don’t much like each other. WotC doesn’t seem to like either of them, either.
While promoting his new company, Ernie did an interview where he made racist remarks about Native Americans, mocked Trans people and people who support them, and implied that being anti-racist is bad; and people who agreed with him should be very happy with “his” TSR. It got so bad that his brother Luke and a ton of well-known names in the hobby industry, like Jeff Dee and Skip Williams, officially cut ties with Ernie Jr. Larry Elmore even returned money Ernie had paid him for work he had done already.
Which brings us to Star Frontiers. Ernie Jr. decided he was going to revive Star Frontiers, and came up with a new game called Star Frontiers: New Genesis. A playtest doc for that game leaked and…well, shit. It wasn’t the Star Frontiers game of old, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of explicitly racist stuff in it, like how Humans are now split into sub-races, one of which is inherently superior to the other in every way. One of these sub-races is described as Nordic, and the other is described as Negro. Care to take a guess which one is said to be the superior race by racist asshole and known Caucasian Ernie Gygax, Jr.?
Wizards of the Coast has filed a lawsuit against Ernie’s TSR, not wanting to be associated with his bigotry and apparent assholishness. They want to make sure the game never gets published; and they claim they are the true owners of the Star Frontiers IP and the TSR logo, both of which they purchased when they bought the original TSR back in 1997.
My feelings on censorship are well-known. I think it sucks. I feel that Ernie Gygax, Jr. can say whatever shit he wants, and that includes racist, transphobic stuff. He can make games about it and publish them, and if people want to play them because they share his racist, transphobic, alt-right views, they can.
Unless, of course, WotC owns the trademarks. In which case, fuck Ernie Gygax, Jr.
Well, this was supposed to be a post about my love of the OLD, ORIGINAL, not intentionally racist Star Frontiers RPG, and I have veered off the mark. Guess I’ll make this a part 1 and talk about the game I actually like in the next post.
Hi, I’m The Angry Piper. You may remember me from such things as being active in the online hobby community and having a blog, once.
Jesus. Another month from hell. I hesitate to say things are getting better, because I said that last month and shit went south again immediately after I did. I’m not one to knock wood; but I’m coming around to the idea of embracing superstition. It can’t hurt, right?
In the meantime, I’ve managed to keep up with one challenge, at least: Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram. To be honest, if I wasn’t nine for nine already this year, I wouldn’t have bothered. But why break my streak?
This bad boy is from Grenadier, a Dark Elf Sorcerer sculpted by the great Julie Guthrie. I’ve decided to call him a wizard for the purpose of the challenge. I also decided to paint him with a bright palette, because who the hell is gonna stop me?
I’ve had this guy for a while. Since 1988 (or 1989, I can’t make it out). He was even painted once, but he was painted primarily glossy crimson. Spiffy, huh? I stripped him for repaint about a decade ago.
I feel like I should do something better with the staff, but…nah.
Check out the widow’s peak on this guy! Full-on Eddie Munster!
Picture this. Old-school D&D. Your first level Magic-User has 2 hit points and one random spell, and it’s Read Magic. You meet an Owlbear and you die.
Grab some dice and a new character sheet.
Once again, I’m hoping to make a return to normalcy here at Dead Dick’s next month. I still have a lot of Pop Culture miniatures I would like to get to by the end of the year. Thanks for sticking with me.
Those Dark Places is a game the evokes the theme and mood of great classic sci-fi/horror movies like Alien, Outland,Event Horizon and Saturn 3. It’s got a simple system and easy game mechanics that don’t get in the way of roleplaying in an atmosphere of isolation and horror. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Those Dark Places is one of the best games I’ve played in the last decade; and the best part is it’s all contained in this one little book.
Characters have four attributes, Strength, Agility, Charisma and Education, each with a unique value of 1-4. In addition, they have both a primary and secondary job aboard the ship; things like Security or Helm Officer or Engineer, etc. You use a single six-sided die to resolve everything in the game, and you usually roll one die, add your relevant attribute score and add a bonus from your job (2 for primary, 1 for secondary) if applicable. If the total equals 7 or more, you succeed. If it ties, it’s a partial success. If it’s less, you fail.
So, let’s say your character is the ship’s engineer and you want to cut open an airlock door from outside the ship. You would roll a single die, add your education score (let’s say your education is 3), and another +2 from your primary position as engineer. If the total is more than seven, you succeed.
Ranged combat is very much the same. Roll a die, add your Agility and any bonus from the Security position, if applicable. The target to beat is a 6 for short range, a 7 for medium and an 8 for long, with an additional +1 added if the target elects to dodge, losing his next action but making it harder to be hit.
Hand-to-hand combat is an opposed roll, meaning both you and your opponent roll a die, add your strength, plus any relevant bonus from the Security Officer position. Compare results and whoever has the highest wins, doing damage to his or her opponent. In the event of a tie, nothing happens (they just feint and jab, grapple or block…whatever).
Then there’s pressure, a measure of how much stress you can take under duress. You make a pressure roll any time the game master thinks it’s appropriate. Roll a die, add your pressure bonus (the sum of your Strength + Education scores). If it’s more than 10, you pass; anything less and you get to increase your Pressure Level by 1. The higher your Pressure Level, the more likely you are to crack under the stress and suffer an Episode; anything from fatigue, to freezing, to all-out panic. Returning to the example above, let’s say you’re the engineer and you don’t just want to cut through the airlock from outside, you NEED to because your spacesuit is compromised and you’re leaking air like a punctured balloon. Time is of the essence. Sounds like a good time for a pressure roll before you roll to see if you succeed in your task.
Like I said, I like this game a lot, and a big reason is the system mechanics. It’s quick, easy and fun. Just what I needed for my 1970’s street crime RPG: The Hub.
I’ve wanted to run a 1970’s crime game like this for a while, ever since I came across the RPG Dog Town, by Cold Blooded Games. From the official description: Dog Town is a realistic role playing game set in a New York City ghetto in the mid to late 1970’s, think of films like “Donnie Brasco”, “Goodfella’s”, “Shaft” and “Carlito’s Way” and you’ll get the picture. It’s about attitude and swaggering machismo, about being a “bad ass” like gangsters portrayed on the big screen. There are no heroes trying to save the world from evil forces, just at best anti-heroes trying to profit from it.In Dog Town it is the people that are the animals and your own dark destructive motives, which you have to be careful of. Life often is short and brutal starting and ending in the gutter. That’s just the way it is.
Dog Town is a true labor of love by the game’s creators. You can see in every page how much they respect the source material. The core rulebook and its various supplements are a treasure trove of information about this time period and subject matter. The artwork is awesome and the production value is high. It’s really exceptional.
It’s also free on DriveThru RPG. All of it. Lately, I have a hair across my ass about DTRPG, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to shop there. But like I said, it’s FREE, so DTRPG isn’t making money off them. Not that they’d want to anyway: this game definitely contains “potentially offensive content” and “acts of criminal perversion”, two things DTRPG says are against their selectively-enforced content rules. Better get over there now and grab it while you can, before someone gets offended and complains.
Unfortunately, Dog Town’s game mechanics are fucking incomprehensible to me, and I’m no dummy. They’re clunky, to say the least; and it requires a lot of math and chart referencing to resolve most actions. I’m not a fan of the rules; but once again, I can’t say enough good things about the setting and the work these guys put into it.
I knew I wanted to set my game in Boston, because it’s a city I’m familiar with and it has a long history of corruption and violence. I had several scenario ideas, I just needed a good game system. I briefly considered Fate, because I really like it; but Fate is definitely a “heroic” roleplaying game. Player characters have a high chance of success in almost everything they do, and they are able to perform feats and stunts that normal folks can’t. I don’t want that. I want gritty realism, not John Wick.
Those Dark Places has exactly what I need. Simple mechanics, deadly combat, fast resolution and the pressure mechanic all foster great roleplaying opportunities and fit exactly into the atmosphere I’m trying to create. Once I decided, it was easy to adapt.
Attributes remain the same. I just replaced the ship positions with criminal types; so instead of things like helm officer, engineer and medical officer, I have things like heavy, thief, grifter, etc. Each one of these gives primary and secondary bonuses as applicable. Pressure is the same; except you roll a pressure test for things like getting chased by the cops or getting threatened by a gang boss; or, you know, getting shot at. I went a step further and added some basic skills that give bonuses in specific circumstances, like “Manson Lamps”, which gives a +1 bonus to Charisma when trying to intimidate someone, or “Wicked Smart” which gives a +1 bonus to assess unfamiliar situations. Characters get to choose one skill.
I’m happy to say it has worked perfectly so far. My first playtest of the game was Sunday, and everyone seemed to have a good time. The players really embraced the setting and made some cool characters that would be at home in any 70’s crime movie. Combat worked exactly as I wanted and there weren’t any game-breaking flaws (yet). Both characters survived, too; which is always a plus!
I’m always looking for players; so if this setting intrigues you, let me know! Or check out all the other games I will get around to running eventually. You can find them here.
For my Character of the Month and for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram, I decided to do this half-elven ranger, sculpted by Dennis Mize for the Ral Partha AD&D Adventurers collection back in 1989.
Another old-school, metal miniature from yesteryear that’s been sitting in my pile of shame without a drop of paint on him since the day he was purchased.
I’m really happy with the way he came out, and I’m glad I chose yellow as the prominent color. I hate painting yellow, but for some reason I thought it would look good.
True to form, I waited until the last possible day to finish him up, but that still counts!
This month has been fun. Make sure to stop by Carrion Crow’s Buffet for the Forgotten Heroes blogroll and check out everyone’s fantastic submissions. Next month here at Dead Dick’s Tavern starts with a major gripe session, followed by more pop culture miniatures, another character of the month, and…oh, yeah…a little thing called the Season of Scenery, hosted by Mr. Star Wars himself: Dave Stone! This year, I have decided to merge both the Season of Scenery challenge and my own Year of Pop Culture and work on something that will satisfy both.
This is a character I created for an online game of Star Trek Adventures. The game never ended up happening; but I thought I’d share him here anyway. In this first post, I’ll detail the character’s back story. In the next post, I’ll discuss a bit about his Atributes, Disciplines, Talents, Values and Focuses; all of which play an important part in Star Trek Adventures.
Rhin Valim was born to artisan parents in Kendra Province on Bajor. His mother was a potter, his father a landscape architect. Perhaps Rhin Valim could have been talented in one or the other, but he never got the chance. When he was four, the Cardassians came to Bajor. Once your planet is occupied and your family is sent to a labor camp, pottery and flowers seem a lot less important.
Unlike most Bajorans, Rhin Valim is not a man of faith. He believes the Prophets, if they even exist, stopped caring about Bajor long ago. For his part, Rhin stopped caring about the Prophets when he was ten. By then, he was an orphan; and not a single prayer or appeal to the Prophets had ever done him or anyone else he knew any good. Now that their supposed “Emissary” is a Starfleet Commander in charge of a former Cardassian labor camp/mining station, he can’t understand why no other Bajorans can see the absurdity of their entire religion. The Prophets never did a damn thing for Bajor, certainly not in recent history.
Who actually did something for Bajor? He did. Rhin Valim, and those like him in the Bajoran Resistance. The Resistance is who liberated Bajor, one dead Cardassian at a time; not the Vedeks, or the Kai, or the Prophets. At least some of the Vedeks were Resistance fighters. The Prophets were nowhere to be found.
Once the Cardassians withdrew, Rhin was dismayed to see the various factions of the provisional government quickly degenerate into a disorganized mess, praising the Prophets for their liberation while securing their own power bases. If it weren’t for the Federation, the Cardassians never would have left; and Rhin would still be avenging every Bajoran who was beaten, abused, murdered or worked to death in a filthy camp by a Cardassian overseer. Rhin long ago lost count of how many Cardassians he has personally killed.
It’s a large number, and he doesn’t regret a single one.
Like all Bajorans who weren’t collaborators, Rhin is grateful for the Federation’s help in ending the occupation. But he knows the Federation had a vested interest in keeping the Cardassians off of Bajor; and since the discovery of the wormhole, that determination seems to have increased. Rhin Valim joined Starfleet because he couldn’t stomach working for the Bajoran Provisional Government, not out of love for Starfleet. For now, Starfleet’s interests align with his; but he is no career soldier. He has no interest in rising through the ranks, and little use for exploration and discovery when his home world is still very much under Cardassian threat.
Because of the skills he learned in the D’arana Resistance Cell, Rhin Valim was best suited to Security Division. Rhin already knew how to fire a phaser and check an ID; and he knew how to hit someone and make it hurt. His instructors at the Academy were impressed.
Unbeknownst to them, though, he also knew how to defeat security systems, jury-rig explosives, extract information from those unwilling to impart it, plan and execute an ambush so that not a single target got out alive, blend into the surrounding terrain and/or population to escape detection, sabotage a power generator, blackmail an asset, infiltrate a high-security outpost, and silently and effectively murder a Cardassian Gul in his bed while his wife slept peacefully beside him.
Skills not taught at Starfleet Academy, but learned at great cost in the Bajoran Resistance.
Rhin Valim is a quiet man with few friends, not because he is difficult to get along with; but because he is extremely focused on survival, even now. He knows how quickly things can change for the worse. Although not obvious, he constantly scans his environment for threats and takes the measure of his companions early and often, taking nothing for granted, not even food and basic necessities, things that should not be a concern for a member of Starfleet. At Lieutenant Jr. Grade, he is a low-ranking officer; but despite this he likely has a better understanding of the capabilities of the individuals on his team than they have of themselves. Rhin’s opinions on the Prophets of Bajor are not popular among his own people and he does not go out of his way to share them; but neither does he wear the traditional earring symbolic of the Bajoran faith. Likewise, despite the inclusivity that Starfleet tries to instill in its recruits, Rhin Valim hates Cardassians. All Cardassians, without exception.
Over my roughly 40 years of roleplaying, I have made a fair few characters for many different RPGs. Some I played for a long time, others maybe only one game; some achieved greatness, others didn’t survive long enough to reach second level. I’ve decided to share some of them with you, so every once in a while, I’ll post one of my characters from one of my roleplaying games from years past. (And yes, I complained making up backstories for my Character of the Month challenge was too time-consuming. I know.)
I’ll start with one of my most recent characters, Milton Blish; a character I created for a friend’s Call of Cthulhu Modern game. Although Milton survived his first outing against the Horrors of the Cosmos, I won’t be playing him again. My Keeper wanted to turn him into part of a ghost hunter team with their own TV show. I’m not having it, and neither is Milton.
Milton embodies the most negative stereotypes of Gen Z. He’s selfish, lazy and generally socially awkward. He spends most of his time in front of a screen; whether it’s his phone or laptop. He has almost no ambition and assumes the world is terrible, so there’s nothing he can really do about it except exist in it until he dies. If stereotypes were true, then Milton would assume (like many of his generation) that the world owes him a living and that he’s entitled to a safe space and participation trophy for everything; but Milton’s parents never gave a shit about him at all, and he never got even the slightest bit of recognition or praise from anyone in his life.
He works in a dingy store that still (in 2022!) inexplicably sells pornographic magazines and videos. MIlton has little interest in porn himself and despises the customers, partly because they’re too stupid to understand they can get all the porn they could ever want on the Internet for free; and partly because he has to endure their questions about porn and requests for whatever their particular kinks are. To top it off, the store is one of the only places in the state that still has spank booths (they’re grandfathered in), where customers can pay to watch porn on the premises. It’s Milton’s job to clean them out and make sure no one uses them for prostitution, which of course they do; otherwise Milton would probably be out of a job and the patrons would just jerk off at whatever squalid hovel they call home.
Milton firmly believes the government is watching everything we do. He jailbreaks all his cell phones and owns two laptops that he has built himself; one of which is air-gapped. He tries to pay cash for almost everything, including rent, and pays his utility bills (under an alias, of course) at the corner convenience store. He spends most of his evenings at home. When he does go out it usually for necessities only. HIs apartment is pretty sparse with almost no furniture beyond a huge couch that doubles as his bed and a kitchen table he uses as a workbench and writing area. HIs trash is often overflowing and his bathroom is best left to the imagination. He eats a lot of junk food and takeout, and the results of this diet are obvious. He’s a big guy, but he’s not in anything like good shape. Still, his large physical presence has served him well in ejecting lingerers from the booths.
Milton is really smart. Smarter than you, that’s for sure. Although he won’t say so (why state the obvious?) this attitude comes through fairly strongly in most social interactions. It’s no surprise that Milton has few friends. Well, none, really.
Last Wednesday was a slow night. Maybe it was the snow: six inches on the ground and a foot and a half more forecast before Thursday evening. Milton barely looked up from his laptop at the tinkling of the door bell; but the blast of cold air got his attention. It was Amber, one of the girls he regularly had to eject from the booths for plying her trade, or for falling asleep back there. She looked like shit, was hardly dressed for the weather and was obviously dopesick; in other words, nothing new for Amber. She was leaning heavily on a shapeless man in a huge overcoat, who half-dragged her towards the entrance to the booths.
She pulled away long enough to fish a ten-dollar bill out of her bra and put it on the counter. “Don’t be a dick about it, porn guy,” she said.
Milton looked down at the Hamilton, the back up at Amber. He looked over her shoulder at the man, but he was already entering the darkened back rooms where the booths were located. Milton slid the ten off the counter and pocketed it. He didn’t bother giving her a code to activate the video screens in the back, since she wasn’t there to watch porn. “Make it quick,” he said. She flipped him the bird on her way to the booths.
Milton went back to his surfing. Five minutes later, he heard something.
Milton had worked in the porn store long enough to be able to block out the usual sounds coming from the back area, some from the movies, some from the patrons. This wasn’t that. It sounded like a drain backing up; a sick, wet gurgling sound. But the only drain in the store was in the bathroom sink, and that was behind him. It wasn’t coming from there.
Milton stood up and grabbed the cut-down baseball bat from behind the counter. As he warily approached the entrance to the booths, the sound got louder; the strange squelching now punctuated with sharp, cracking sounds, like someone stomping on bubble wrap. He stepped over the threshold to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness and looked down the corridor to where he could see the industrial switch that would illuminate the entire booths area in an instant. He started towards it, hitting the bat against the wall a few times. “Time’s up, Amber,” he said loudly.
That’s when the smell hit him. Something like burnt circuitry mixed with soiled diapers. It was revolting. The sounds got louder and somehow wetter. Milton felt ice down his back as he stared into the darkness at the line of doors on either side, wondering which of the booths was occupied and knowing he would have to walk between them all to reach the light switch.
“Milton,” Amber’s weak voice came from somewhere in the dark, pleading. “Help me.” The gurgling sounds continued, louder now. Wet sounds. Eating sounds.
Milton turned and bolted out of the shop and into the blizzard. He didn’t bother to get his laptop or his coat and didn’t stop running until he got to his apartment two blocks away. He collapsed on his couch, chest heaving and throat on fire from his mad flight through the darkened, snowy streets.
When the panic finally subsided, Milton knew he was right to run.