Monday, March 27, 2017

Another Non-Star Wars Star Wars

Castalia House has been teasing a Star Lords or The Farthest Star, or whatever they're going to call it—a kind of Star Wars without being technically Star Wars.  My own setting and new rule-set, AD ASTRA is the same—it's not Star Wars, but it should feel just like Star Wars (without the SJWisms) but... of course, a good idea is rarely unique.

Here's Nick Cole's fake Star Wars—which I expect that I'll either subscribe to very shortly, or at least keep a very close eye on the release of the final book.

Check it out!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ad Astra spaceships

Starships are at the heart of most space opera games. The ability to travel from planet to planet, and the need to engage in ship to ship combat defines, in many ways, the genre. Without spaceships, your space opera game will feel significantly less like space opera.

Spaceships in AD ASTRA don't have a price.  GMs should keep in mind that making characters skimp and save to get a ship isn't really the swashbuckling space opera way—when they need one, they have access to one. Whether or not the ship lasts the entire campaign or needs to be replaced at some point is, of course, up to you. Keep in mind that Luke Skywalker told Han Solo, "Ten thousand? We could almost buy our own ship for that!" I take this to mean that small, used, and possibly in poor condition ships can be had for about 15,000. Newer models of the same can go for 20,000. Any ship worth having other than a small fighter is going to be up from there. Something similar to the Millennium Falcon should go for no less than 50,000—and keep in mind that although somewhat hot-rodded, it was still a piece of junk. Characters will rarely be buying anything that large unless you run a game that's more about commerce and stuff things instead of action. But if you need some rough guidelines as to ship prices, that should be close enough.

As with Armor (see Equipment) spaceships start with a "chassis" and then you add extra equipment to them as needed. For the most part, the GM should build these up into various models—it's rare that a character would have the chance to make "a lot of special modifications" yourself unless you've had the ship for a long time, and have the cash to acquire some nifty goods.

Ship to ship combat is important in space opera. Ships usually have, as characters do, a move action, and then another action for every full "slot" that they have. A ship can make a "full run" action, in which eliminates the use of a slot action (such as firing a weapon.) Slots are areas in which equipment can be placed—like guns or torpedo launchers, or something like that. Dogfights are operated more like chases than combats (see Combat for details). Slots with weapons in them can be fired if someone is available to operate the weapons. The pilot can usually operate one weapon in addition to piloting. If he wants to operate equipment in any additional slots per action, then there needs to be a co-pilot, or gunner, or someone else around to do it. Robots, even some that are integrated permanently into the ship can count for this total.

To use a ship, you often make checks against the ship's stats, not the characters', due to the limitations of the equipment on the ship. Ship stats are similarly compressed and simplified; ships have a Hit Points stat, an Agility stat, a Sensor stat, an Armor class (AC) stat, and slots for additional "special modifications." The AC stat is derived from 10 + the Agility stat plus any shields or armor added to the ship (if any—in many cases there won't be any.) The maximum amount of armor that can be added to a ship is equal to half of the Hit Point score. Here is a small list of typical actions you can take in a ship, and how to resolve them:

Action Resolution
Perform a tricky maneuver in a dogfight Pilot's DEX + Ship's Agility
Shoot Gunner's DEX + Weapon bonus
Outrun an enemy Pilot's DEX + Ship's Agility
Scan for ships hiding in an asteroid field User's MND + Ship's Sensor

The following are the basic chassis that can be used to make ships.  They are generalized rather than specific, to reflect the vast diversity of spaceships operating in known space.

Ship Size Hit Points Agility Sensors Slots Comments
Small 16 +7 +1 5 1-man light fighter
Medium 24 +5 +2 10 Heavy fighter or bomber
Large 32 +4 +3 20 Corvette or small private freighter
Huge 40 +3 +4 30 Frigate or commercial freighter
Gargantuan 48 +2 +5 60 Cruiser, battleship or massive freighter
Colossal 55+ +1 22+ 100+ Gigantic carriers or mobile space stations

The following list of equipment can be used in slots.  Ships don't have to fill all of their slots.

Name Slots Used Modifiers Damage Range
Armor 1 +2 AC
Shields 1 Damage Reduction/2*
Engines 1 +1 Agility
Engines (large ship) 2 +1 Agility
Engines (Huge) 5 +1 Agility
Engines (Gargantuan) 7 +1 Agility
Engines (Colossal) 10 +1 Agility
Bulk Drive 5 Allows bulk jumps
Laser cannon 1 +1 1d6 medium
Twin lasers 2 +2 2d6 medium
Quad lasers 3 +2 4d6 medium
EMP cannon 4 +3 special medium
Torpedoes 1 -5 4d8 short
Missiles 3 -3 3d8 long
Heat seeking missiles 3 +5 3d8 short
Radium cannon 3 +1 2d10 long
Heavy radium cannon 4 +1 3d10 long
Twin radium cannons 5 +1 4d10 long
Heavy EMP cannon 6 +1 special long
Gravitic beam 5 +1 special short
Sensors 1 +1 Sensors
Passenger berth 1 5 seats
Passenger berth 3 20 seats
Cargo berth 1 5 tons
Cargo berth 2 20 tons
Cargo berth 3 50 tons

Special: EMP cannons disable one of the target's systems for 1d6+10 rounds; heavy EMP cannons target up to 3 systems. While extremely dangerous, they are also bulky and rare, and don't do any direct damage. Gravitic beams allow the ship to make a grab on another ship. To pull a ship into your docking bay against the will of its pilot, make a successful hit with a gravitic beam, then make an opposed check of the two ship's Hit Points + Agility. As you'll see, the larger the ship, the more difficult it is to escape its gravitic beam, especially for smaller targets. The gravitic on a massive space station is practically inescapable by a normal ship, even a large one.

The Damage reduction of shields is the amount of damage that is ignored from most types of attacks. For example, if you have taken shields in 3 slots for your ship, and have DR/6, then for every attack, you ignore 6 points of damage. If the attack rolls up 10 points of damage, you only take 4. If it rolls up 5 points of damage, you don't take any at all; your shields protect you entirely.

Range is not strictly defined. Use GM judgment to determine what is short, medium or long range.

Smaller vehicles, like speeders, fliers bikes, tanks, or whatnot can also be approximated using these same rules. Make them smaller—a standard speeder will have 10 hit points, +7 agility, +0 sensors (which is why having robot cohort can be handy) and 1-3 slots. Small fliers and speeders will have 5 hit points, +8-9 agility, no sensors at all, and only 1 slot. While, naturally, such vehicles can't travel through space, the chase and vehicular combat rules are generic enough that you can still apply them just fine without modification.

Heroic Fantasy and Barbarian Conquerors

I'll get back to my ongoing AD ASTRA project momentarily—but first a small diversion.

I don't play ACKS, but I'm aware of it as a relatively highly regarded derivation—or completion almost, if you will—of the BECMI progression, with a much better defined endgame.  That's not really what I'm interested in for my own gaming, no matter how much I may look at that theoretically and say that it sounds pretty nice, but I admit that the ACKS folks (Autarch LLC) seems like a decent bunch of guys who really kind of get the whole pulp aesthetic for the most part, even if they look at it through a much more gamist lens than I do.  So, I was pretty intrigued when I saw an announcement on Kickstarter that talks about two new products of theirs coming out that go in an even more overtly pulp direction (as opposed to the overtly D&D direction of ACKS.)  Check out these samples:

On the Heroic Fantasy Handbook:
What do we mean by “heroic fantasy flavor”? It’s the flavor that J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard have in common, once you remove what’s different. Tolkien and Howard are usually considered opposites—high fantasy versus swords & sorcery, British versus American, literary versus pulp, and so on. But if they are opposites, they are opposite faces of the same coin, and that coin is heroic fantasy. Their worlds have more in common with each other, and with those of luminaries such as E.R. Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Moorcock, than with any of their contemporary epigones. Heroic fantasy is set in a world like our own world, one that might even be our world, in its distant past or far future. Its heroes, though men and women of extraordinary talent and drive, have none of the “super-powers” now common in contemporary fantasy (especially games). They do not typically teleport, fly, shoot fire, or raise the dead. Magic in heroic fantasy is more subtle and nuanced than in contemporary fantasy. It works with what is, rather than creating what is not. A magician cannot teleport straight to his friend’s distant castle, though his whispered dreams might reach his friend across the black gulfs of space. A magician will not fling magic missiles, but he might call down lightning from a storm, or capsize a boat with a wave. Working magic might require lengthy ceremonies, terrible sacrifices, or the power of primeval places. And those who use magic risk corruption. Even the wisest can lose their mind, body, and soul if they tamper with dark magic. That’s heroic fantasy.   
Cleaving away decades worth of detritus of assumptions and expectations about how characters heal, fight, and adventure—how magic works—what spells do—and more, the Heroic Fantasy Handbook offers a fresh way to play with familiar D20 fantasy mechanics. The Heroic Fantasy Handbook is designed for use with the Adventurer Conqueror King System™ (ACKS™) but is readily compatible with other fantasy role-playing games built on the same core rules. 
Sounds cool?  I think so.  I mean, if I really wanted truly rooted sword & sorcery fantasy, I'd probably go even further and check out Crypts & Things or something—but they're clearly on the right path.  I'm also intrigued by their paragraph above comparing Tolkien and Howard.  Although I hadn't quite made all the neurons connect myself, I was coming around to a proto-version of that same concept myself, so when I read it, it really clicked.  They're right, of course—Tolkien and Howard had more in common than not.  Sure, the immediate source material wasn't exactly the same (Old English and Norse mythology vs. an Orientalist approach similar to Vathek, Yog-Sothothery and swashbuckling historical fiction) but their approach was actually really similar.  The tone wasn't necessarily so—otherwise, I wouldn't have dabbled with MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED as an overtly sword & sorcery setting, but that's not as much of an obstacle to seeing the comparisons as you'd think.

Anyway, if you're interested in more, check out the link.  Like I said, ACKS isn't quite up my alley; I certainly prefer different rules with my D&D alternatives, but I don't really prefer more rules.  I'm sure that it's still rules-lite relative to Pathfinder, or d20, or even AD&D—but the only D&D game that my preferred style approaches in terms of rules-liteness is White Box OD&D or it's clones.  But this is a very welcome development in the OSR—the ability to look beyond the most immediate inspirations of the game and take it to an even more primal suite of inspirations altogether.  As an aside, the Autarch guys also seem willing to be a bit playful.

Now, if you scroll down past the Heroic Fantasy Handbook, there's another product that they're also selling via the same Kickstarter, the Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu setting book.  Check out what it says about that one:
While the Heroic Fantasy Handbook explores the classic heroic fantasy genre, Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu embraces what might be called “barbarian fantasy” or perhaps “pulp fantasy.” Barbarian fantasy is an amalgam of three distinct but related genres. The first is sword & sorcery literature, exemplified by the likes of Howard's Conan and Moorcock's Elric. This genre counterpoises corrupt, decaying cities and empires with rough-edged barbarian upstarts. It contrasts the decadence of urban life with the vigor of those untainted by it. This might have been inspired by the fall of decadent Rome to the Germanic "barbarians" who set themselves as kings of its ruins, or even by Samson's divine-inspired exploits against the urbanized Philistines.   
The second is sword & planet, exemplified by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, a fantastic vision of Mars. This genre explores similar themes to those of sword & sorcery but does accept certain "science fiction" elements such as alien planets, radium pistols, flying craft, and other technological wonders. Sword & planet still follows the vision of a morally-ambiguous 'outsider' protagonist, archetypically an earthling on Mars, using his might to smash the decadent villainy of the local society. 
The third is science fantasy proper. This book, however, presents a "science fiction" milieu closer to a fantastic setting once the outer trappings of starships and rayguns are stripped off it. This genre is exemplified by space princesses, dashing interstellar rogues, space combat which looks suspiciously similar to WWII air combat, and a relative disregard of actual science when it conflicts with the plot. The same tropes of the barbarian fantasy genre also apply here: it is easy to envision the mighty lost-world barbarian smashing through the ranks of raygun-wielding aliens with his massive sword, answering their advanced technology with his brute strength.   
With barbarian fantasy as its inspiration, Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu presents new monsters, magical items, technology, spells, classes, and variant rules, all packaged together in Kanahu, a dangerous world of pulp fantasy. Kanahu draws on the myths of the Ancient Near East and pre-Colombian Mesoamerica and blends them together into a gonzo milieu with dinosaurs, Cthulhoid creatures, giant insects, crazy sorcerers, muscled barbarians, city-states, alien visitors, and super-scientific technology. 
Now, I'll quibble just a bit with the notion that this has "morally ambiguous" characters—most works, especially of sword & planet are not morally ambiguous at all—they're strait up heroic.  That's the problem with thinking that Elric exemplifies that genre, rather than being a deliberate deconstruction of the genre, I suppose.  But all things considered, that's a minor quibble.  Quite honestly, they had me at "space princesses".

I quite like the concept of spending less time worrying about genre barriers and walls within this sphere of genres that really only differ based on a few superficial trappings.  Sword & sorcery and science fantasy, as they point out, are essentially exactly the same except that one has a sword & sandal look to it, and the other has a Star Wars look to it.  Sword & planet is actually slightly different, lacking (in most cases) the overt magic and fantasy, but having instead equally fantastic pseudo-scientific wonders which bridges the aesthetic gap between them.

Anyhoo, while this is hardly rocket science, or even anything particular innovative or new, it is true that it's often hard without specifically agreeing to do so, to blur genre lines and do something that deliberately eschews that hard and fast genre lines traditions.  Even I, who have said for some time that I like that, am often surprised at myself in terms of how much I fall back into genre traditions.  But where have I done it right?  Rightish?  Looking at some of my tags that are homebrew alphabetically, what have I got?
  • AD ASTRA—science fantasy, much like Star Wars with wizards and knights in space.
  • CULT OF UNDEATH—this is D&D + supernatural horror, which is only a minor tweak to D&D to begin with.
  • DARK•HERITAGE—sword & sorcery (perhaps leaning towards more horror than most) + Westerns + pirates.  The latest iteration is more sword & sorcery + some Barsoom + post Roman Great Britain + the Old West.
  • DREAMLANDS REMIXED—sword & sorcery based, a bit, on existing primal sword & sorcery settings.
  • EBERRON REMIXED—a D&D setting with just a twist of my own to be slightly less D&Dish.  Some believe that Eberron is already a pretty genre-bending setting to begin with, but I think that's only really true for people who aren't very familiar with genre bending.  Eberrron is swashbuckling pulp action, with D&D.  My "remix" is more about the rules than the setting, really.
  • FALLEN SONS—sword & sorcery with an emphasis on horror.  I haven't done enough development on it to really say anything meaningful about it though.
  • MAMMOTH LORDSClan of the Cave Bear + Conan's Hyborian Age
  • MIDDLE-EARTH REVISITED—Tolkien modified to be overtly sword & sorcery
  • MYTHS REVISITED—mythology + comic books
  • ODD D&D—It's D&D, but with very different rules and an unusual setting.  Not really genre bending, just unusual.
  • REALMS TRAVELER—This is kitbashed rather than homebrewed, and it's all D&D stuff.  Like ODD D&D, it's highly unusual, but doesn't really blend genres.
  • SOLNOR—And the last homebrew effort, such as it is given that it's just a post or two with some high level discussion, is also just unusual D&D, not anything that's more blended than that.
  • STAR WARS REMIXED—Just Star Wars as is, except with an advanced time-line so I can go my own way setting-wise. And home-brewed rules, of course.
Now—I also happen to like stuff that stays within its "proper" genre chimney.  The point of all this isn't that "breaking genres is automatically good."  Rather, it's that "breaking genres can be good, and shouldn't be shied away from for its own sake."  As always, do what you like—but do so without "worrying" about things that you shouldn't feel obligated to worry about.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ad Astra posts

I've been creating posts that archive the actual rules of AD ASTRA, modified from my older STAR WARS REMIXED game to be... well, less Star Wars specifically, and more "generic" space opera maybe you could say, but really more specific to my AD ASTRA setting.

You saw a good four posts today, and they were all added to the AD ASTRA menu button at the top there, which will be a permanent feature.  I've got at least 5-7 or so more posts before it's complete, depending on how I modify the Star Wars material (or chuck some of it, if it isn't relevant) and how I break it up.

If you just come here to read blog posts (as if!) you'll have to bear with me as I take another day or two to complete this project.  Sorry!

In the meantime, here's a pretty decent image that suggests what I imagine my Knight's psionic weapons would look like.  Imagine a shield of the same ethereal energy on the other arm, and you're good to go!

Ad Astra equipment

In any AD ASTRA game, equipment is going to be an important component of the game. All characters begin with a certain number of credits: 1,000 + 3d4 x 100.  Characters with the Psionic weapons ability receive 3d4 x 100 credits (but start play with the ability to manifest psionic weapons.)  Characters with the Nobility Affinity start the game with 2,000 + 3d4 x 200 credits.

Characters use this starting wealth to purchase starting equipment. During the course of play, additional wealth and equipment will no doubt fall into the character's hands. It's often a fine line to walk between an overly generous Monty Haul GM and an overly stingy Mr. Scrooge one. As the GM, try to use swashbuckling fictional source material to be your guide when it comes to what kind of equipment and wealth a character should be expected to possess and use. You may be surprised to find that it's more generous when viewed that way than you think.

Melee Weapons
Weapon Damage Cost Comments
Knife 1d4 25
Mace 1d6 15
Sword 1d8 60
Staff, spear or pike 1d6 65 Can reach targets that shorter range weapons cannot, at GM's discretion
Radium blade1d10 250 An electrified weapon that has energy rushing along the blade to do additional damage
Electrostaff 2d8 3000 Includes an electric charge at either end that shocks targets hit for more damage.
Radium ax1d12 500
Psionic weapon 2d8 special Can only be used by characters with the psionic weapon class ability.

Ranged Weapons
NOTE: Rifles and larger weapons incur a -3 penalty if fired while in melee; they're simply larger weapons that are not meant to be used at close range effectively.
Weapon Damage Cost Comments
Pistol 2d4 250 Fires a solid projectile, i.e. a bullet
Radium Pistol 2d6 500 Fires a short blast of plasma
EMP Pistol DC 15 250 Does not do normal damage, but cuts power to robots and other electronics
Heavy radium pistol 2d8 750 A more powerful, but larger and bulkier version
Radium carbine 2d8 900 Standard issue military weapon
Rifle 2d8 30 Fires a solid projectile, i.e. a bullet
Radium Rifle 2d8 1000 Fires a short blast of plasma
EMP Rifle DC 20 800 Does not do normal damage, but cuts power to robots and other electronics
Flamethrower 3d6 1000 Short range only; usually within about 30 ft.
Heavy Radium Rifle 2d10 1500 Quite large and unusual weapon
Radium Cannon 2d12 3000 Usually mounted on a tripod, but can be slug and carried like Jesse Ventura with a minigun
Heavy Repeating Cannon 3d10 4000 Can be used to target up to 3 opponents in one round, but if so, splits the damage dice, i.e. 1d10 to target 1, 1d10 to target 2, 1d10 to target 3. Can also, of course, apply all damage to a single target.
Missile Launcher 6d6 5000 Can be shoulder fired, although it makes for an interesting touch to integrate it to armor and fire it from a backpack.

Grenades are thrown via a ranged attack. Because they are somewhat imprecise, a direct hit is not necessary—any attack that misses by less than 5 is considered "close enough." Grenades might also hit more than one opponent if they are bunched closely enough, at the GM's discretion.
Weapon Damage Cost Comments
Frag Grenade 3d6 200
EMP Grenade DC 20 300 See discussion above on EMP damage

There are so many types of armor in the AD ASTRA universe, that I will make no effort to categorize all of them. Rather, armor is a customizable commodity; you spend your credits and get the bonuses and advantages that you pay for.

A few other notes about armor:
  • Light armor has an armor bonus of +1 to +4.
  • Medium armor has an armor bonus of +5 to +7.  Any stealth rolls in medium (or heavier) armor and any psionic power use will have a -5 penalty to the DC when used in armor this heavy. 
  • Heavy armor has an armor bonus of +8 or greater. Very few characters in AD ASTRA ever wear heavy armor (except for some robots) as not only does it increase the penalty noted above to -8, it also invalidates the DEX bonus to AC that characters normally get. It's just too big and bulky! If you feel like you need it, you probably need to talk to your GM about why the campaign is so hard and non-swashbucklery.  Either that or you’re playing an unusual character who is not hampered by any of those drawbacks, like a soldier bot.
  • Armor is expensive! Only fairly successful characters or ones issued military gear tend to have really complicated armor. That said, for characters who want to have it, GMs should keep that in mind and make it available. Level 1 characters, though—probably not going to start out with Cilindan commando suits anytime soon.
  • Weapons can be added to most armors for the cost of the weapon +50 credits to integrate it to the armor. This bonus makes sure that you cannot be disarmed by any means (other than breaking your armor, I suppose.) Cilindan commando armor would have an integrated radium pistol on one arm, flamethrower on the other arm, and missile launcher on the back, for example. To create the same thing, buy the Cilindan commando suit armor bonus (+6) below for 5000 credits, pay for the three weapons (500, 1000, and 5000 credits respectively), and pay 50 credits each to integrate the weapon into the armor. The total value of a typical Cilindan commando suit would therefore be 11,650 credits.
Armor Bonus Cost Comments/Examples
+1 500 Padded flight suit
+2 1000 Light helmet and thick, padded suit
+3 1500 Padded suit with metal or ceramic plates
+4 2000 Combat bot armor
+5 3000 Military grade soldier's armor
+6 5000 Cilindan commando suit
+7 8000 Commando bot armor
+8 12,000 Soldier bot armor
+9 20,000 Super heavy soldier bot
+10 30,000 Unreasonably heavy armor

There are a number of other enhancements that can be added to armor besides simply the armor value. Some of these can also be purchased as stand-alone items, rather than built into a suit of armor, but if integrated they incur a cost of +25 additional credits for the integration. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, and many other items can be invented or used as needs dictate. This list is based on effect rather than item; more than one item could conceivably have the same effect, but mechanically it would be the same.

Effect Cost Comments/Examples
+1 to STR 2000 Certain powered armor, including that of soldier bots. Armor must be at least medium to have this bonus.
+2 to STR 5000 Comes with high value powered armor. Armor must be at least Heavy to have this bonus.
+1 to DEX 2000 Certain powered armor, including Cilindan commando suits. Armor cannot be Heavy and grant this bonus.
+2 to DEX 5000 Certain powered armor. Armor must be light armor to grant this bonus.
+1 to MND 2000 Cybernetic head implant. Cannot be used by psionic characters, as the mechanics interfere with the connection to the bulk.
Perception affinity 2000 Sensor antenna and HUD
Computer affinity 2000 Computer inferface tool used by many mechanics robots or hackers.
Other affinity 2000 Various equipment could grant the effect of an affinity. Unless it's too good for some reason, the price is always 2000.
Individual shield 10,000 Able to be installed only on heavy armor or vehicles, so it is much more likely to appear on robots than organic characters. Energy shields provide Damage Reduction 10 against plasma weapons, meaning that 10 is reduced from the damage caused by any such weapon for each attack.

In addition, the following equipment can be installed into a suit, or used as is, for the price listed. For most of these the use is either obvious, or the GM can dictate what it is. These are meant to be examples, not an exhaustive list.

Item Cost Comments
Commlink 50 Necessary for communication when not in face to face conversation distance.
Signal Jammer 2000 Usually installed in vehicles or ships
Datapad 10 Data storage is cheap. Can contain any info the GM needs
Flashlight 5
Breath mask 500 Not suitable for the rigors of full vacuum, but works underwater, or in thin or poisonous atmosphere.
Space suit 2000 For use in space
Medical suite 50,000 Installed in buildings or larger spaceships. Could potentially be used to bring a "dead" character back to life. Really a plot device rather than a mechanical feature.
Jet pack 2000 Allows flight. Built into Cilindan commando suits
Utility belt 250 Some minor tools, as well as a cable and grappling hook. To use the cable requires a DEX + Physical check. If it is integrated into armor, you can a +2 bonus.

Let's see if I can pull all of this together, shall we? Here's an example. To create the classic fully-loaded Cilindan commando suit, you need to start with +6 Medium armor (5,000 credit base.) The commando suit has three integrated weapons, and each has a cost of 50 credits to install above the cost of the weapon itself. The radium pistol is therefore 550 (500 + 50), the flamethrower is 1050 (1000 + 50) and the missile launcher is 5050 (5000 + 50.) That brings the total for the armor so far to 11,650. Cilindan commando suits also grant a +1 to DEX (2000) and come equipped with scanners, which grant the Perception affinity (2000 + 25). This brings the total to 15,675. Adding in a commlink (50 + 25) a breath mask in the helmet (500 + 25) the jetpack (2000 + 25) and the utility cable (250 + 25), we get a grand total of 18,575 credits for a fully loaded Cilindan commando.

That's pretty pricey, but if you consider that we never see anyone in one who's conceivably lower than the mid-levels (and maybe quite a bit higher, for that matter) it can serve as a very rough guide of what a higher level character should be able to afford. I envision someone like an iconic Cilindan bounty hunter, for example, has the armor above, two heavy blaster pistols, his own small corvette or other personal space ship and is probably about a 7th or 8th level Soldier or Gunslinger.

As a very rough guide, a character should have equipment worth about his level x 3,000 or 4,000 credits to him, but that guide is meant to be very rough, and could vary considerably according to style. But keep in mind, that scrounging for equipment doesn't really ever seem to be an issue with any characters we ever see in the type of source material that this game is meant to emulate. This is one occasion where erring on the side of generosity will feel more true to the source material rather than erring on the side of stinginess. And that guideline isn't good for much other than a very rough estimate of how I personally would do it.

The converse consideration is that characters loaded down with tons of stuff doesn't really feature in swashbuckling space opera adventures either. A ship, maybe a speeder—these are big expenses, and where characters have them (as probably most should after a few levels) that makes loading up on armor or other equipment a bit more tricky. Another "sink" for credits besides ships and/or speeders would be a robot cohort, and robots can be pretty pricey if you load them up with gear and equipment. A standard repair droid can be created (as probably a 1st level expert and a ton of equipment listed here, including several affinity packages will easily be a several thousand credit sink. Depending on the format of your group of PCs, you might want to consider allowing the PCs to have a robot or two as a cohort, probably a couple of levels lower than the PCs, and probably not combat focused bots. An repair bot, for example, is an invaluable resource to the players, and frankly also to the GM, who can allow it to "soak up" all kinds of challenges due to their specialties, so the PCs themselves can just say, "R2, see what you can do with it" and expect R2 to provide some kind of solution.  Robot cohorts should cost 5,000 credits per level, plus whatever equipment they also have.

And finally, expensive gear like battle-suits, ships and Robots can get damaged, or even destroyed, requiring the PCs to spend their money all over again. Be careful about how you do this so the players don't feel like it's a punitive gesture, and you can get away with bleeding off accidentally overly generous credit allowances to replace a robot or fighter that got totally scrapped in a major combat.

Ad Astra psionics

Although all characters have a Psionics skill rank (except robots) only characters with the Psionic Abilities class ability can actually use psionic powers. Using any psionic power costs 2 hit points (because it's tiring and wears you out to rely on it too much) and requires a skill check of 1d20 + Psionics + the applicable stat bonus. Sometimes the DC that a character is trying to hit with his psionic check is an opposed psionic check—even for characters who cannot use psionic powers themselves, they still have a psionic skill rank which they can use in opposed psionic checks. Other times, it's a static DC set by the GM.

For simplicity sake, there are only a few listed psionic powers in this basic rules-set There may be other psionic powers available.  There are no rules for them here, if so, but if desired, they can be home-brewed into the game with GM approval and involvement.

When using psionics in combat, you must make your psionics skill check first. If you fail the check, you still lose the hit points—it always costs 2 hp to use psionics, but the opponent would incur no ill effect since the check failed. Some powers can be used against multiple targets. That's OK, but there is a -2 penalty to the psionics skill check for each additional target beyond the first, and it costs 1 extra hit point per each additional target beyond the first. So, for example, attempting to use telekinesis against five combat bots at once would incur a -8 penalty on the check (which must be made separately for each target) and would cost 6 HP regardless of the outcome.
  • Telekinesis: Psionics + MND check vs. Physical + STR or DEX (usually whichever is better) of the target, if used as a telekinetic push against an opponent. Telekinetic push inflicts 1d4 damage per attacker character level, and knocks the opponent to the ground. The opponent suffers a -4 to AC until they can use a Move action to stand back up. This can also be used to pick up and hurl objects, or to have objects (such as a dropped weapon) come to you when "called." Hurled objects typically do 1d4 or 1d6 damage (depending on the size) to whomever they hit. It also typically takes both a telekinesis check and a Ranged Attack check to both successfully pick up an object and hit your opponent with it. It's a difficult thing to do, which is why when advanced knights do this, it's pretty impressive. You don't see a lot of Knights trying something that complicated too often.
  • Biometric surge: Psionics + MND vs. static DC set by the GM. Useful for the amazing feats of speed and leaping common to Knights. Failure consequences depend on the degree of failure, i.e., if you just miss your check on a Jump, you don't reach your goal and may have to jump again. If you blow it by a larger margin, you may hurt yourself falling in the attempt (see rules for falling in the Combat section.) This one is very situational in terms of what the penalties for failure might be, although a good GM should use swashbuckling fictional source material as a guide and not be overly punitive. This is supposed to be an application of psionics that allows Knights to be superheroic and swashbucklery, and that requires a fairly generous interpretation both of DCs and the consequences of failure or else you'll discourage your Knights from acting like Knights.
  • Prescience: Psionics + MND check. For every 10 points on your check, the character gains a +1 to attack, damage and AC for the duration of the combat. For example, if a 7th level Knight with a +2 MND bonus rolls a 10 on a d20 (for a total roll of 19) he would gain +1 to attack, AC and damage, but take 2 points of damage, as normal. If he had rolled an 11, for a total of 20, he would gain a +2 to damage, attack and AC.
  • Negate Energy: Psionics + MND check—DC equal amount of damage taken. By taking the standard 2 points of damage, the character can negate the damage from one energy source, including kinetic engergy. Unlike with other psionic powers, the character can Negate as many attacks per round as he has HP to spend on activating the power without any penalty for multiple targets. It also can be done passively when it is not the character's turn, but it does cost a combat action to use. If used passively in this manner, when the character gets his next turn, he can still move, but is considered to have already spent his other action on this psionic power. Obviously, this is only desirable to do if the damage is higher than the 2 points cost to use the power, and the player does not mind giving up his next action. This can also be used outside of combat to walk through fire, or an irradiated room, or something like that.  
  • Dark energy blast: The Knight causes energy directly from the bulk to manifest in regular space and shoot from his hand to blast enemies.  Psionics + MND vs a DEX + Physical to dodge the attack, or a Psionics + MND to oppose, absorb or block the attack (for example, on your psionic shield) The target of a successful check takes 1d6 damage per level of the attacker.
  • EMP blast: Psionics + MND vs. Physical + DEX or STR (whichever is better.) Treat this psionic power as if it were an EMP attack; robot and other electrical targets which do not make their save are shut off.
  • Psionic suggestion: Psionics + MND vs. Psionics + MND (even characters that cannot use psionic powers have a psionic skill ranking that they can use to oppose suggestions.) A simple opposed check in which the character can make a suggestion seem amazingly reasonable via telepathy. The GM may impose, as with any skill check, situational modifiers that may apply if the target thinks the suggestion is outrageous or over-the-top.
  • Clairvoyant sense: Often a Psionics + MND against a static DC set by the GM to see a person or place in the past or present, or even glimpses of possible futures. The GM can also roll checks against this out of combat in secret to give the player clues or hints about things going on around them (such as sensing an old master or enemy nearby.)
  • Telepathy: Psionics + MND against a static DC set by the GM to implant a message without speaking (and possibly across great distance—although the speed of thought is not faster than the speed of light). The message is usually short and fairly simple, and comes with no compulsion to act on it. Receptive minds may grant a circumstance bonus to the check while resistant or unwilling minds may cause a penalty, at the GM's discretion.
Using psionic abilities outside of combat is a simple skill check, and since you're outside of combat the hp cost is usually irrelevant and therefore not applied, although NOTE: this does not mean you can use psionics without consequence on something like Prescience right before a combat starts. Don't try to be a rules-lawyer, the GM is the final say, and I can't imagine a GM that would think that's OK. If you're in the midst of a tense scene of some kind, although not combat per se, your GM may rule that you take the hp damage regardless, because it may become very relevant if you are at risk of being involved in combat soon.

Static DCs are meant to reflect d20 standard DCs, in which a DC of 15 is a reasonably "average" task; difficult and requiring some degree of expertise, but should not be beyond even the capabilities of most lower level characters. Anything in the single digits is almost not worth rolling (unless the consequences of failure are suitably dramatic) and anything around 25 or more is a fairly epic task that only higher level characters should feel confident that they can accomplish.

Design notes:  At the bargain price of 2 HP per power use, Knights and other psionic characters start out somewhat weak but become more powerful as levels progress. But, because I cap the game at 10th level, the real runaway psionic prodigies similar to what you may see in some fictional source material may not really be creatable without breaking the rules and going higher level, or perhaps giving them a unique Affinity to using the Force that reduces their HP cost. I don't recommend that for player characters, unless you desire a campaign in which Knights and wizards are much more dominant. The rules as written are meant to maintain a more equal balance between the classes.

Ad Astra combat

All characters have a number of hit points (hp) equal to 10 + their STR score and +2 per level beyond 1st level. Successful attacks against a character, as well as certain other conditions, will remove hit points temporarily. Characters who, for whatever reason, reach 0 hit points or lower, collapse into unconsciousness and shock, and are at risk of dying. Every round, the character must succeed on a check of his STR + character level, DC 20 every round or die, as described in the Hit Points section of Character Generation.

Most NPC antagonists follow these same rules, but certain NPC antagonists are considered "mooks" (also minions, goons, spear-carriers, etc.) and are not meant to keep fighting after being hit. These characters don't have any hit points, and any successful attack in combat will automatically kill or incapacitate them outright. They are, however, assumed to have all of the other stats as any other character. A soldier bot could be a mook who goes down with only one successful hit, but because he has heavy armor and a high STR, he still makes a more formidable opponent than a regular combat bot.

Each round of combat is conducted in initiative order. Roll 1d20 + DEX for each character to determine initiative order; the character with the highest roll goes first, then the character with the next highest, on down until everyone has moved, at which point you return to the first person in order and do it all again until the combat is over. Resolve any ties by comparing the DEX score. Everyone can do two things during a combat round, (1) move and (2) a move equivalent action, which can be another move, an attack, deflect a ranged attack (if a Knight using his psionic shield), use a skill, etc. All checks or attacks target a Difficulty Class (DC); either a skill DC for skill checks, an opposed skill check result for opposed skill checks, or the target's Armor Class (AC) for attack rolls. Although a move is considered 30 feet, I'm not interested in using a battle-mat, or overly tactical combat, so that's more of an abstraction than anything else. Remember how you used to play D&D back in the 80s without mapping out combat unless it got really excessively complicated due to lots of opponents? That's how space opera games should feel—combat is fast and loose and swashbucklery, not static and grid-based and miniatures game like. To facilitate this, unlike in D&D or most other d20 games, it's not assumed that you must Move and then take your move equivalent action (be it an attack, using psionics, or whatever)—rather, you are assumed to do them at the same time during your turn in the combat round. This means that in d20 terms, all characters are automatically assumed to have the equivalent of the Spring Attack feat.

Although most of the time this doesn’t matter, in case it ever does, the assumed length of a combat round is six seconds.

Melee attacks are made as a STR + To Hit (usually equal to your level—see Character Generation section, but for characters with the Combat Bonus class ability it can be higher). Add your STR bonus to damage as well.  Ranged attacks are made as DEX + Attack Bonus. This includes both shooting a gun as well as throwing something, such as a grenade. If a natural 20 is rolled, you do not need to confirm a critical hit, you automatically do double damage (roll damage dice twice, don't just multiply the result of a single roll.)  If a natural 1 is rolled, you automatically miss, no matter what the total of your bonuses may be.

You may also take damage from other things than simply combat attacks. Here's a few examples:
  • Falling: A character takes 1d6 damage for every ten feet fallen. You can reduce this damage by trying to land lightly by making a DEX + Physical skill check with a DC equal to the number of feet fallen. This will result in only half of the damage taken (rounded up.) The Force Surge power can be used to negate falling damage altogether, assuming that there is a steady place to land on below and the distance isn't crazy.
  • Hazards: When falling into a hazard, such as spikes, or something like that, add +1 point to the falling damage for every ten feet fallen, max +10.
  • Poison: Make a STR + Physical skill check to avoid the damage caused or for half, depending on the poison. The effect depends on the specific poison.
  • Extreme Heat or Cold: If not wearing suitable protection, make a STR + Physical skill check once every 10 minutes (DC 15 + 1 per previous check), taking 1d6 damage on each failed save.
Healing.  Characters heal, i.e. gain back the number of lost hit points every hour equal to their character level, or twice this with medical care. (I.e., a 3rd level character will regain 3 lost hit points per hour, or 6 with medical attention.)  To gain the benefits of medical care, you must rest for the entire hour; i.e., stop doing action-movie type stuff. Using Heroism Points, a character can automatically heal themselves of 2d6+2 lost hit points as a "second wind."

Chases.  Related to combat is another staple of the action movie (including space operas)—the chase scene. When one character chases another (either on foot, or in a vehicle) the first thing the GM needs to do is decide how far apart they are. Characters make opposed checks of Physical + DEX (or Agility + DEX for a vehicle.) Whoever wins the opposed check improves his positioning vs. the other participant by his movement allowance. So, if he's running away, he would widen the gap by his movement. If he's chasing, he'd close the gap. Movement (in most cases) is 30 feet for characters on foot. In addition to running, characters can attempt to take other actions, such as fire off a shot with a blaster, dodge through a crowd, knock over crates to throw off pursuit, dodge crates that the person you're chasing knocked over, etc. For these types of actions, use GM rulings to adjudicate—but skill + stat checks for most of them will work. Successful attacks will do damage, as in combat, whereas tactics to slow pursuit may throw pursuers off, force them to make a check to see where you're going, or automatically lose their chase check if you knock them down or something like that.

When a chase is successful is also highly situation dependent. In an open plain or in empty space, you can see for miles and can conceivably chase someone for miles. In a crowded street, it may be easy to lose pursuit. Again, as always, the GM rules based on the situation at hand. Usually if a pursuer catches his prey, the scene changes from a chase scene to a combat scene.

If for some reason you have a character who's extraordinarily fast (i.e., a racial ability, or a mount), give them a bonus on Chase check results equal to +1 for every 10 feet of movement they normally have over 30 ft (rounded down to the nearest 10 feet.)

Ad Astra Character Generation

Header.  First off, spell out some of the very basic details of your character at the top of the sheet. What's his name? What does he look like? How old is he? At this early stage of character creation, you probably also want to think about the concept of who your character is, much as an author coming up with a quick and dirty profile of a character he will use in a novel or screenplay. You don't have to come up with a long or detailed backstory (I certainly don't necessarily encourage it, although if you like to do that kind of thing, knock yourself out.  Just don't throw a fit if you spend all that time on a character backstory only to have him killed in the first half hour of play) but these kinds of early thoughts should also lead you towards what the race and class choices you will make are likely to be, as well as getting you to think about how you will assign your stats.

Stats.  "Stats" is a shorthand term for three scores that your character will have. These basic scores give a quick, simple and abstract number that quantifies some of your innate traits and capabilities. The three stats are Strength (abbreviated STR), Dexterity (DEX) and Mind (MND.) Your STR score describes how tough and strong you are physically, while your DEX score describes your reflexes, hand-eye coordination, agility and speed. Your MND score speaks to your intelligence, wisdom, personal magnetism, and other traits that have less to do with your physical body and more to do with your presence or wits.

Stats are, by design, quite generic and abstract, and describe innate traits. Skills, on the other hand, while also fairly generic and abstract, will describe abilities that you have learned, practiced and developed. If the GM decides that there is some inherent risk in a task you have elected to do, he will have you make a "check" to see if you are successful. Most of the time, these checks will consist of rolling a d20, taking the result of that roll, adding to it your Stat bonus and your Skill bonus, and comparing the result to a target number, which by tradition is called a Difficulty Class (DC.) There will be a few exceptions, but that is basically the significance of stats in the game as you play it.
Generating the score of a stat is a little bit convoluted, but the range of numbers is traditional, and I have elected not to buck tradition here very much. Roll a d8 four times. Ignore the lowest roll on the four dice.  Subtract 4 from each of the three remaining numbers, which will turn them into three scores with a range of -3 to +4.  The average should be about +1 or so, although of course it may vary.  If you are quite a bit lower than this your GM may allow you to reroll these scores, if you're not whiny about it. Some GMs, on the other hand, feel that playing with the hand the dice deal you is part of the fun.

For these scores, higher is better. Assign the scores to your stats as you see fit, to best fit the concept of your character (for example, if you envision your character as a scholarly or quick-witted fellow, put your highest score in MND—if you picture instead a big, athletic bruiser, you probably want to put your highest score in STR.) If your STR score ever falls to -5, your character dies. If your DEX score ever falls to -5, your character is completely immobile and cannot move at all. If your MND score ever falls to -5, then your character is brain dead and effectively removed permanently from play.

Derived Stats.  A few stats are not "rolled" but rather are derived from the stats noted above.  Hit points is one such.  Your maximum hit point score for all characters, regardless of class, is generated by using the STR score plus 10 plus 2 for every level (excluding first.) Hit points indicate how much damage a character can take before being too injured to continue. Your maximum hit points, when uninjured, can never be surpassed, except possibly under the influence of a psionic or high-tech effect (which will usually be temporary.) However, when injured, you will lose hit points. If, for example, your character is hit by a pirate against whom he is fighting and takes 7 points of damage, your current hit points will be reduced to 7 below maximum.  It won't stay that way; characters do heal lost hit points, but even so, it never will go above his maximum hit point total.

Characters who, for whatever reason, reach 0 hit points or lower, collapse into unconsciousness and shock, and are at risk of dying. Every round, the character must succeed on a check of his STR + character level, DC 20 every round or die. Naturally, it behooves the rest of the group to "stabilize" the character before he dies, while he is still unconscious and in shock. Another character can attempt to administer quick and dirty first aid by taking a round, while adjacent to wounded character, and making a MND + Knowledge check, DC 15. This represents very minimal bandaging or other first aid, and the character will be stabilized, and will no longer be at risk of near-term death (unless, of course, he takes more damage while unconscious and starts the process over again) but the character will not at this point regain any lost hit points, and he remains unconscious.

The other derived stat is Armor Class, or AC.  Your AC is calculated by starting with the base number of 10 and adding your DEX score, whatever armor bonus your armor confers, as well as your character level.

Skills.  Characters in AD ASTRA have access to five skills—Communication, Physical, Subterfuge, Knowledge, and Psionics. The skill rank for every character is equal to his level plus any class or race bonuses. A skill check is made by rolling a d20 and adding both your skill rank and the stat bonus applicable as described above.  The GM, again, will tell you what applies, but those are general guidelines. Hacking a computer, to give an example, would probably be MND + Knowledge.

Only characters who take the Psionic Abilities class ability can use psionic powers. But all characters have rankings in the skill anyway, if nothing else, to use in resisting certain psionic powers (which, as in d20 opposed skill checks, require both characters to make a check against each other.)

All of the m20 skills equate to a few skills on the standard d20 skill list, but they are "collapsed" into fewer selections. So, for example, Communication is equivalent to Bluff, Diplomacy, Intimidate, etc. while Subterfuge can be used for such varied tasks as Hide, Move Silently, Disguise, Forgery, etc. For the most part, it should be obvious which of the skills on this simplified list apply to any given situation, but as in all things, defer to the judgment of your GM.

Classes.  There are a number of class abilities available for your character.  There are no pre-fabricated classes, however—you simply pick two class abilities.  I do provide some sample classes, but you are not restricted to using those;  you can mix and match class abilities as desired. There also isn't really a mechanism to multiclass, so pick your concept, pick the class abilities that best suit it, and run with it. Given how rules-lite the system is, the a la carte class ability system is easily flexible enough to accommodate a lot of variety in concept anyway. As always, NPCs don't necessarily always follow all of these rules.

Class special abilities:
  • Combat Bonus: +1 to Damage and attack at 1st level.  This increases to +2 at 4th, and +3 at 8th.
  • Skill Bonus: +3 to a skill (Communication, Physical, Subterfuge or Knowledge)
  • Psionic Abilities: Although all characters have ranks in all skills, correlated to their level, unless you take this ability, you cannot use psionic powers.  You can still use your ranks in Psionics defensively in some situations, such as to resist the effect of a psionic suggestion, for example.  
  • Sneak Attack: add Subterfuge modifier to damage roll when sneak attacking.  May require successful subterfuge + Dex check to sneak up on the character in the first place.
  • Affinity: an affinity adds the ability to reroll a check if desired if it falls within the spectrum of a specialized area.  This includes (but may not necessarily be limited to): Vehicle Piloting, Vehicle Repair, Robot Repair, Computers, Medicine, Investigation, Nobility, Deception, Stealth, Wilderness Survival, Acrobatics, Psionics, and Demolitions.
  • Psionic Weapons: can use the Combat Bonus to attack and damage (as described above), but only when using psionically generated energy weapons.  The ability grants the ability to manifest psionic weapons.  These weapons, made of energy drawn from outside of the known universe directly from the bulk usually resemble a slightly glowing, translucent sword and shield, or other melee weapon that the character desires.  Any character with this ability can, instead of attacking, deflect missed ranged fire back at anyone shooting at him with a shield-like energy construct (rolls as if making a ranged attack, can only apply to shots that target him but miss; hits still do damage as normal and cannot be deflected.)  If the character doesn’t move or take any other action, he can use his psionic weapon to "fight defensively" by adding +4 to his AC against ranged attacks.  Missed attacks when "fighting defensively" can be deflected.
Some example class configurations:
  • Soldier: Combat Bonus and Physical Skill Bonus.
  • Scoundrel: Sneak Attack and Subterfuge Skill Bonus.
  • Expert: One Affinity and Knowledge Skill Bonus.
  • Knight: Psionic Weapons and Psionic Abilities.
  • Gunslinger: Combat Bonus and Affinity Demolitions
  • Bounty Hunter: Combat Bonus and Sneak Attack
  • Agent: Sneak Attack and Affinity Stealth
  • Space Wizard: +3 Psionic skill and Psionic Abilities
There isn’t really any way to create any type of Knight other than using the sample Knight class, since the two psionic class abilities use take up the two class abilities, leaving no room for anything else.  Tough.  Knights are supposed to be rare and unusual, not commonplace with a variety of styles. Also; taking the psionic weapons without the rest of the psionic abilities is technically possible, it would be really weird from an in-setting perspective.  The reverse isn't necessarily true, however.

Races.  Pick a race for your character. Because in most space operas, all races tend (mostly) to be just regular people in funny masks, any characteristic can apply to any race if desired (subject to GM approval.) But feel free to try and play your race to type, or at least to construct it to type. Picking a race is an a la carte option in AD ASTRA. Rather than picking a race and applying preset bonuses, you can decide exactly what being a member of a given race means. The system for constructing race bonus is to use two Racial Template Points (RTP) and add them to your character at creation. The same RTP can be taken, if desired, more than once. One RTP is equal to either:
  • A +1 Stat bonus. This could also include a +1 to AC as natural armor, even though AC isn't a "stat" per se.
  • Two skill points (i.e., +2 to one skill of your choice, or +1 to two skill bonuses of your choice.)
  • A special trait or ability (usually an affinity, as described above in the Expert class. If a character has the same affinity for both race and class, allow them to reroll twice! They clearly really want to be good in that area, and are spending character generation capital to do so at the expense of something else.)
  • Another special ability, which can be designed to suit, if desired.  Here are a few samples:
    • The ability to breath water as well as air.
    • Retractable claws which allow you to climb vertical surfaces
    • The ability to see in the dark as if you have biological night vision googles.
    • The ability to run twice as fast as a regular humanoid creature.
Subject to GM approval, some races may give up the equivalent of a negative RTP to gain an effective third RTP, but I wouldn't do much of this. Otherwise, however, players are strongly encouraged to play around with this race system to create the customized version of their character that they want.  Here's a few samples from the AD ASTRA setting material:
  • Human (Earth-extraction): +1 to all skills (except Psionics.)
  • Altairan (alien human): +2 to MND
  • Ubrai (alien human): +1 to DEX and Pilot affinity
  • Arcturan (large, furry aliens): +2 to STR
  • Cetians (amphibious aliens): +1 to MND and ability to breath water or air equally
  • Sirian reptoids: +1 to STR and +1 to natural AC
  • Idacharan (alien human): +1 to DEX, +1 Physical and +1 Knowledge
  • Carinan Hulks (physically powerful aliens): +3 to STR, -1 to MND (NOTE: Uses the rule above that I recommended against doing much of. But a few exceptions here and there don't bother me much.)
Sentient robots can also be created using the rules for RTP. Robots cannot be Knights, and have no psionic skill ability. They do not receive stat increases upon leveling as biological characters do, but in return are immune to mind-influencing powers and several physiological conditions which are problematic, if not fatal, to biological creatures (such as no need to breathe, immunity to poison, immunity to pain, etc.) They never age or die as long as they are maintained. Here's a few sample droid types:
  • Diplomatic model: +2 Knowledge and +2 Communication
  • Combat bot: +1 to DEX and +2 to Physical
  • Repair bot: Vehicle Repair affinity and Computers affinity
  • Soldier bot: +2 STR
Keep in mind that robots are a combination of their racial traits and the equipment that they're built with, even moreso than other characters, since their equipment is usually integrated directly to their frames and cannot be easily taken from them. Soldier bots would have heavy armor, while regular combat bots would not, but that's a case of their built in equipment, not their racial stats. PC robots should be allowed similar flexibility (as can PCs of other races, of course. Equipment is an important part of modifying stats in any d20-like game.)

Robots must make a STR + Physical "fortitude save" (or DEX + Physical "reflex save" in the case of an area effect, such as a grenade) when hit with an EMP attack. If they fail, they will be shut down. To be reactivated, they usually just need to be switched back on and then make a STR + Physical save (or have the character switching them on make a MND + Knowledge check DC 15) to quickly bypass the power outage caused by the EMP attack.  Otherwise, the robot is incapacitated for the duration of the combat. A damaged robot with access to the necessary tools (and in some cases, someone else to make the repairs, but usually they can do it themselves) heals like a normal character.

To Hit Scores.  There are three To Hit scores.  These are used mostly in combat situations.  They operate very similar to Skills; they could perhaps be called specialized combat skills.  The first is Melee To Hit, and represents the ability you have to successfully hit (and damage) an opponent with or without a weapon in hand to hand combat.  It is calculated by adding your STR modifier to your character level, plus any class based bonus you may have (such as the Combat Bonus.)  When added to a d20 roll, this is the modifier you will use to attack an opponent in hand to hand combat.  The Ranged To Hit represents your ability to throw or shoot a weapon.  It is calculated the same way, except that instead of using your STR modifier, you will use your DEX modifier.  Do the same for the Psionic To Hit, using MND.  Keep in mind that characters may not always have the means to make a certain kind of attack (this is especially applicable to psionic attacks, where characters most likely do not have any access to psionic attacks.)  But make a note of it anyway; you never know what may happen in the course of the game!

Heroism Points.  Heroism points represent a character's determination and their importance to the  forces of fate (i.e., the game and the GM.) A character gets three heroism points per session to start with. Heroism points can be used to add a +10 to any d20 roll that the character makes. It can also be used as a "healing surge;" to instantly heal 2d6+2 hit points as needed.

When your Heroism points are completely spent, they are gone for the rest of game session. A character's Heroism points are restored to their starting amount at the beginning of a game session. However, the GM may (and should!) decide to give extra "reward" Heroism points to characters who do something particularly exciting, interesting, harrowing, or entertaining. These points can be saved to be used later during the session, or spent immediately. Heroism points do not carry over from session to session; they must be used in the session in which they are granted, or they are lost (although the next session will give you a new evening's worth of Heroism points to spend again.)

Heroism points can be noted any way that works for you, but my preference is with counters that are returned to the GM when spent. Any type of counter will work—small paper chits, poker chips, potato chips, pennies, etc. My favorite are toy coins which I bought at a party favor store for a buck or two. They're cheap, utilitarian and yet evocative at the same time.

Level Advancement.  In general, characters advance when the GM says that they do, rather than against some formula of antagonists defeated. I expect in normal play to treat advancement as happening once every 4-5 sessions or so, but that can be sped up or slowed down to taste and depending on the desired length and scope of the campaign overall. I do not anticipate ever having a campaign go higher than 10th level, so it becomes an effective level cap on the game and on characters.

Every time a character levels, he gains the following advantages.
  • +3 hit points
  • +1 to all attack rolls
  • +1 to all skills
  • On levels divisible by three (3, 6, and 9) add one point to STR, DEX or MND (except for robot characters.)  If adding a point to STR, this will also cascade to your hit point total.
  • On each even numbered level, remember that your AC increases by +1 as well.
  • Remember that characters with the Combat Bonus or Psionic Weapons class abilities gain an additional +1 to attack and damage at level 4 and 8.

Monday, March 20, 2017

High fantasy cliche

From The Toast: How to tell if you are in a High Fantasy novel.

  • The Elders would like a word with you.
  • The Ritual is about to begin.
  • Something that has not happened in a thousand years is happening.
  • You are going to the City.  There is only one City.  It is only said with a capital C. No one needs to bother saying the name of the City.  It is the City.
  • Certain members of the Council are displeased with your family's recent actions.
  • A bard is providing occasional comic relief; no one hired or invited him and his method of earning a living is unclear.
  • The high Priest is not to be trusted.
  • Someone is eating an apple mockingly.
  • There is one body of water. It is called the Sea. The Great Sea, if you are feeling fancy.
  • You live in a region with no major exports, no centralized government, no banking system, a mysteriously maintained network of roads, and little to no job training for anyone who is not a farmer.
  • You have red hair.  You wear it in a braid. Your father was a simple man, and you don't remember much about him—he died when you were so young—but you remember his strong hands, as he fished or carpentered or whatever it was that he used to do with them.
  • You're going to have to hurry, or you're going to miss the Fair—and you never miss the Fair.
  • There is trouble at the Citadel.
  • Your full name has at least one apostrophe in it.
  • It is the first page, and you are already late for something. Your mother affectionately chides as you gulp down a few spoonfuls of porridge; she will be dead by page forty-two.
  • There are two religions in your entire universe. One is a thinly veiled version if Islam. It is only practiced by villains. The other is "being a Viking." You are a Viking.
  • There are new ways in the land that threaten the Old Way. Your grandmother secretly practices the Old Way as do all of the people of the hills.
  • The real trouble began the day you arrived at court. Every last nobleman hides a viper in his smile.  How you long for the purity of life in your village, which is currently on fire or something.
With two exceptions, these are laughably fatal cliches.  I've seen very little thinly veiled villainous analogs for Islam—it's usually Christianity that high fantasy authors want to bash in surrogate.  This para-Christianity also is often the "new ways" that conflict with the virtuous grandmotherly "Old Ways."  And, the comment about central government, banking, etc. is pretty historically ignorant.  It's not unusual that that could be true—it is, however, also likely that banking and a federal bureaucracy, even if they do exist, are hardly essential to the plot and play no role in the high fantasy novel.

And the last one I don't really mind so much.  Rural living really is pretty cool compared to urban "sophistication."  

Anyway, if your novel—or your RPG adventure—features any of these very tired tropes, you might want to rethink them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pathfinder radio plays and... Starfinder!

While exploring the Paizo website, a necessity due to the last two posts I made (Borrowing from Paizo Part I and Part II) I discovered that they've been very busy with a lot of new projects.  I should reiterate once again, that there are a few things that I don't like about Paizo.  And I don't like those things a lot.  To wit:
  • Their adventures are very tedious, cliched, high fantasy "save the world from supernatural dark lord" linked dungeon-crawls. 
  • Paizo has been completely infested by SJWs—if not founded by them, frankly—and this has had a tremendously deleterious effect on the development of the "plots" of the adventures, on many details of the setting, and for that matter, on their behavior with regards to their customers overall.  Most of the time this is merely annoying background noise, but it does rise on more than one occasion to the level of being actively insulting and offensive.
  • The Pathfinder system is hopelessly bloated, Byzantine, and rigid.  3.5 was already a bad system with regards to those particular traits, but Pathfinder made them all worse.  Meanwhile, I've gone in completely the opposite direction; the OD&D fast and loose swashbuckling paradigm; very rules-lite and dependent on GM rulings rather than a hugely codified rule-set.
On the other hand, the Golarion setting somehow manages to take D&D cliches and make them feel like pulpy classics.  It's been very well done, and I mostly enjoy it when you correct for all of the latent SJWisms.  Paizo is also clearly a fan of old pulp stuff; they've deliberately incorporated elements from such non-D&D sources as Leigh Brackett, for instance, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and more.  They also put a bunch of old pulp stories back in print as part of their Planet Stories line.

So it's fair to say that I've got mixed feelings about Paizo.  In fact, I think the worst of the SJWisms are actually from freelancers, although no doubt they are allowed to run free at Paizo rather than being given anti-SJW specs to work to.  I think that the real principles at Paizo are probably decent folks.  I'd disagree with them—strenuously—when it comes to a lot of questions, but I think that they don't care as much about that crap as maybe I do, and what can you do?  They're so steeped in it in the environment of Seattle or wherever exactly it is that they're located, that they aren't aware that they're in a social and political bubble.  It's just the ambient environment for them.

So, in spite of the very serious—terminal, even—flaws with Paizo, which eventually made it so that I drifted away from them, they still do a lot of stuff that I enjoy, and I do try to check in every so often and see what's going on.  So, I found some stuff recently that they had done that I quite like.  Some of it isn't even necessarily recent, but I just discovered it.

The first is that they've converted some of their Adventure Paths into radio plays.  They call this series Pathfinder Legends, and it's pretty nifty.  I had earlier said that novels based on the Adventure Paths might have been pretty fun, but we didn't get those, we got these instead.  And what the heck; it's a nice change of pace.  Pathfinder have already put out plenty of novels that are original anyway, and let's face it—novels are better when the plot isn't given to the writer by committee.

So far, two of the adventure paths are completely converted to radio plays: Rise of the Runelords (check out the links in the very first sentence for a quick summary) and Mummy's Mask.  Curse of the Crimson Throne is halfway done.  They are released as CDs and mp3s—one CD per module, so 6 per adventure path.  Now, I'm not such a Paizo fanboy (see complaints above) that I'd spend much money on something like this, no matter how much I think that the idea is pretty cool—but it turns out that they're on Spotify.  So... I don't have to!  While working today, I've listened to most of the first module of Rise of Runelords: Burnt Offerings, and it's a very capably done radio play as far as radio plays go.  I'll keep my eyes on this on Spotify as they continue to come out.  It's a lost form of entertainment in many ways, and it's been (so far) fun to see them.

Secondly, Paizo has announced Starfinder—a space opera version of Pathfinder.  Again; I expect that from a system standpoint it's not going to be what I want, since it's deliberately being developed to be compatible with Pathfinder—but given Paizo's record with space opera in general, and my own surging interest in the genre (which never was really all that low anyway—hazards of being the Star Wars generation, I suppose) I'm very curious to see what they do with it.

I quote, just a small portion, from their early promotional stuff online.  I've pruned a few bullet points that I personally wasn't as interested in, but otherwise this is quoted from Paizo's blog: 
  • It's set in Golarion's solar system, far in a possible future in which Golarion is missing—the gods say it's safe, but won't say what happened to it. In its former orbit is a massive space platform called Absalom Station.
  • History is obscured in the Starfinder setting, as an unknown amount of time has been mysteriously and completely wiped from everyone's memories and all known records—even those on the Outer Planes. This blank period between ancient and modern history is called the Gap, and while it effects the entire multiverse, the edges aren't all in the same place. For instance, one planet might remember back 300 years, while another remembers back 305—these inconsistencies are the primary references some Starfinders use to piece together the secret history of the universe.
  • There's faster than light travel in Starfinder, via a hyperspace dimension gifted by an ascended AI deity.
  • All the core Pathfinder races will still exist and be playable with the Core Rulebook, yet Starfinder's core races are different, and include humans, lashunta, ysoki (ratfolk), androids, kasatha, and two races not yet revealed.
  • In addition, there's going to be a heavy emphasis on introducing more alien player races. Where possible, you should be able to play the creatures you encounter.
  • There's still plenty of magic in the setting, but technology has become a dominant force. For instance, if you're playing an Iomedaean crusader, you might wear holy powered armor and carry a plasma cannon carved with magical runes.
  • Will continue Pathfinder's legacy of being as diverse and inclusive as possible.
Seriously; what is the point of that last bullet point?  See what I mean about SJW virtue signaling?  Sigh.  In an interview, SJW in chief James Sutter goes on and on about the androgynous androids and their "importance" because they represent the oppressed tranny movement.  See, if they'd made them androgynous without trying to make that connection, it would have made some sense.  After all, androids are artificial, so them not having a biological sex is reasonable.  But, I read that interview, so now I'll never be able to look at that stupid tranny android without thinking that it's obnoxious.

And that's just the beginning.  Don't think that there won't be vignettes in the coming Adventure Paths where you're expected to protect the poor, oppressed androids from white, male, space hayseeds and their micro-agressions.  Then it will cross over into being actively offensive and insulting.  They've already got tons of that crap in their regular adventure paths as it is.

Anyway, there's a bit more...
  • There will be seven core classes on release: the technomancer (magical hacker blending technology and magic), mechanic (engineer with a robot buddy), solarian (mystical melee combatant harnessing the cycles of the stars), soldier (heavy weapons specialist), envoy (diplomat and ally-booster), mystic (caster channeling strange energies to manipulate biological systems), and operative (stealthy skill specialist).
  • Star Wars is a decent comparison, tone-wise, but Starfinder will have more magic and moral ambiguity. Other inspirations include Firefly, Shadowrun, the Expanse series, and more—if we could do for space opera what Shadowrun did for 1980s cyberpunk, we'd be ecstatic.
Star Wars actually has a lot more moral ambiguity than many give it credit for.  Of course, to the SJW—and George Lucas is revealed as one—they probably don't really see this, because they have a perverted and corrupted view of morality, where they only believe that whatever the latest SJW cause du jour is is morality, and any action, no matter how immoral, is moral if it's in service to that cause.  Watch Star Wars again and it becomes very clear; even if you just watch the original cut Original Trilogy, but it's worse if you watch the Prequels.  The Jedi are not good guys.  Yoda and Obiwan are not heroes, nor do they encourage Luke to be heroic.  He's heroic in spite of them and because he ignores their advice, not because of it.  (Although he's a kind of forlorn, sad-sack beta-male type of hero.  Sigh.)  The Jedi are liars.  They're disloyal and untrustworthy.  They're easily manipulated, and think nothing of manipulating others.  They don't act in good faith.  They are passive when they should be standing up bravely for virtue, and active and interventionist when they should stand back and respect the freedom of others.  And yet, we're supposed to identify with this organization as the obvious "good guys?"  Uh, ... no.

Of course, it's possible that what Sutter means here is that you aren't forced to play the good guys.  I suspect what it means, though, is that Starfinder will embrace the nihilism that has completely ruined almost all of our entertainment.  The villains are made so sympathetic that they're more likable than the protagonists, and the heroes are made so flawed that they are completely unrelatable and we can't even root for them.  A very little bit of this goes a long way.  Originally, Magneto was an interesting villain, because you kinda thought maybe he had a point sometimes.  But then they went and made Professor X more morally reprehensible than Magneto, and all X-Men fans with healthy, functional psychological profiles were disgusted.

That said; I'd hardly be surprised to find that in the details of the actual adventures is where the SJWisms will really come out.  It's mostly that way with their Pathfinder stuff too.
  • Starfinder puts an even greater focus on exploration than Pathfinder, as the setting pushes many adventurers out toward a galaxy full of uncontacted worlds. While you can play whole adventures or campaigns on a single world if you want, the assumption is that the PCs are probably the crew of a starship.
  • Starship battles will be a significant element in the game, with their own combat system utilizing miniatures, but not as common as ordinary character-scale combat.
  • The plan is to produce a Starfinder Reference Document (like the PRD) and make it available for free online.
  • Starfinder will have an OGL-like compatibility license allowing for third-party products.
So, there you have it.  Because of my slowness, AD ASTRA has been scooped!  Well, whatever.  It's not like semi-magic fantasy space opera is a unique concept, of course, so I can keep doing what I planned to do all along with the setting.  But now I've got another potential source of inspiration to look to.  I admit to being quite curious as to exactly how they develop it.  It is, after all, basically an evolution of what is possibly my favorite Pathfinder book, Distant Worlds, so they'd have to really drop the ball to lose me right up front.