Space 1889 Review

Lucky Raffle Tickets

I’m going to review random RPGs that I encounter, and I’ve started to encounter more than I otherwise would in my little D&D bubble thanks to our local RPG club. So long story short; I attend a weekly RPG group in my hometown and have been doing so since I formally stopped teaching – roughly the last 3 months although they’re nearly a year old now.  I knew about it because my partner is on the same college course as the founder – small world but with the teaching stuff I couldn’t make the commitment. However that died and I really love RPGs and need external social contact so off I went after an old friend invited me to join his game.

I started out playing Blades in the Dark for a whole 1 week and then on week 2 got co-opted into running D&D for some newbies ( thanks Harry!) However it proved rather popular so it’s still going even after finishing the Lost Mines of Phalandelver – we’re now on the Red Hand of Doom (another thing I’ll need ot review at some stage!) I initially joined as I used to DM a lot and Harry’s invitation gave me an option to play, but as it stands my weekly RPG at a friends house has had me playing for the last 2 campaigns so I don’t mind DMing here. It’s all part of the karma circle or something.

Anyway, the ‘Millenium Falcons’ RPG group is sponsored by EN World – you may have heard of them. Accordingly, every month/6 weeks or so we get a couple of RPG books or accessories which are raffled. Each paying attendee in the previous month/6 weeks gets an entry while DMs get an extra entry for each week that they DM. It’s a really cool system and it’s nice to get a little kickback for supporting a club. As I’ve DMed and attended a lot (14/15 weeks or so!) – I’ve won twice! Firstly the Starfinder core book last month and now this week I won something called ‘Space 1889‘.

While I’ve heard of Star/Pathfinder I’d never heard of ‘Space 1889‘ using the Ubiquity system, – published by Clockwork Publishing (Abranson & Götz) and distributed in the UK by Mophidius.

Space 1889 Review

Space 1889 Review
Pith helmets… in spaaace!

So I guess reading a lot of different types of RPGs is part of the criteria for attempting to write an RPG system and improve myself as a DM and storyteller? At the very least this one proves to be rather different than anything I’d normally pick up.

Interestingly all the rules are at the back, and all 137/241 pages of the fluff is upfront. It’s marketed as a ‘core book’ so in theory should be all encompassing from what I can tell. This was my major criticism with Starfinder – you still need adventures/encounters as well as enemies since there’s relatively few free resources at the moment. So short of making it up – which is totally OK by the way – I worry that in a finely mathematically tuned system (like Path/Star-finder where the numbers get bigger and bigger) it can be hard to accurately assess what numbers are the right ones for something as top heavy as a 3.X d20 system.

Looking at Space 1889 it seems ‘vaguely specific’. The rules cover a lot of options, but aren’t bogged down in details except for the setting and fluff.  so the rules are vague but the setting is extremely specific. Generally anything with a date in the title is probably going to be specific. The history is quite detailed and from what I can see largely accurate but obviously has space travel and ray gun turrets and mech-robot things, along with lizardmen on Venus and alien/goblin/bat-things on Mars.

Meanwhile the earth is as screwed politically as it was in the real 1889 and there’s all the issues that go with colonialism, racism and the other general ignorances of the era. This isn’t to disparage the real people of the time – like all of us we are partially products of our time; I’m sure in 100 years, I’ll be seen as some ogre by comparison to future-people. However this is partially alleviated by the presence of aliens which is good, although I worry that it’s just a way of transferring biases and hatereds to non-humans. I guess that depends on what sort of game you run and what themes you want to explore.

Systems

The rule system is a pool based system using odd/even to determine successes – the ‘Ubiquity’ system. This is nice because the actual type of dice doesn’t matter (as long as its got an even number of sides) which I found novel enough. A typical  7 or 8 dice polyset gives you all the dice you’ll probably need, as does a block of D6. There’s options to boost your rolls with ‘style’ points which encourages roleplaying panache.

Character generation is a simple points buy with varying levels of power – from ‘unlucky fellow’ all the way up ‘Herculean’ with archetypes that remind me a lot of Vampire the Masquerade. This helps you set the tone from Cthulhu grade bumbling in the dark all the way up to Indiana Jones and beyond. In addition there’s a virtue/vice system which again has that feel of World of Darkness lurking about it although the setting seems to lean towards one of optimism and exploration.

Overview

I have to admit that I only gave the book a cursory flick over a couple of in terms of the first several sections of fluff. It is really dense on the setting and fluff, then light on the crunch. Additionally, there’s also no sample adventures included, although several developed example characters are included.  There’s an assortment of extras available on Mophidius’ website. Artwork is reminiscent of 90s era WoD (minus boobs) and prior pulp-style comics which fits the theme nicely.

The custom alternate history is rather meaty and despite an A at GCSE, History to me is a subject and not a hobby to that level. I’d prefer to read the ‘history’ of Dragonville, with an eye to how I can use that information in a game rather than have a confusing mix of fact and fiction about an unreal timeline that I have to keep straight in a real world. I think it’s because if I’m reading say D&D or Starfinder ‘history’ it’s all ‘true’ because it’s all also all not real. In essence the pretend history is as real as it’s going to be. Whereas if I’m reading alternative history I have a dissonant meta-awareness that it’s all fake and need to take more steps to keep it mentally separate. However I know some people just love alt-history/diesel-/steam-punk stuff, I’m just not one of them.

I guess the word I searching for is verisimilitude; I find that ‘alternative’ settings don’t really tickle my fancy in that I find them too radically unrealistic. To scratch that itch I’d rather something like Vampire or Cthulhu which are also arguably ‘alternative’ (vampires and monsters exist) but are also ‘real’ in that day to day things like science and animals and stuff generally work how you’d expect. EG; Queen Victoria is queen and empress as opposed to England having becoming a republic after the Martian scuba-commandos attacks of 1847. Even Malifaux is alternative but is in a different dimension, again where all the weirdness is sort of contained and separate but parallel. Maybe I just need to get over this hump but as I’m not a fan of alt-history stuff it’s not something I encounter a lot of.

Conclusion

As mentioned this RPG is ‘vaguely specific’ so if you really want a setting about the early 1900s, that features pulp sci-fi, including space and aliens then this is certainly for you. The system is streamlined enough to avoid pointless complexity – the bane of the old storyteller system or d20 3.X – and looks simple enough to run. I don’t think this is something that I’ll end up playing because it’s so specific, however I am very interested to steal the Ubiquity system and give it a try to see if it’s good for other things! I already have Spirit of the Century –  a FATE based system I really like the idea of but have yet to actually play -since it can cover alternative history but doesn’t have to.

I feel that the crunch is great, the fluff:crunch ratio is great, but unfortunately the fluff isn’t of a genre that particularly makes me want to play it which is purely a personal thing. That’s what’s frustrating, I just know I’m not a fan of victorian/steampunk the same way I’m not a fan of Hip-Hop, Guiness  or Soccer which in some ways is worse because I know there’s little I can do to make myself enjoy it.

The Black Vise

Biblical quotes always seem relevant to depression for me!

Where then is my hope– who can see any hope for me? – Job 17:15

Depression is a funny thing. Funny as in queer (in the traditional, Tolkienesque sense). It is an emotional, spiritual illness as well as a mental one, and often a physical one. To this end there isn’t a medical-only cure. Unlike ‘the diabetes’ where you take insulin and it has a physical, biochemical effect on the body, depression medication doesn’t ‘fix’ the problem. It can help, like how clean water and bandages can help a deep wound, but without eventual stitches and antiseptics you will keep bleeding and get infection. Indeed many essays, poems, art and all sorts of creativity have been expressed to try to explain or at least convey the feeling. Churchill called it his ‘Black Dog’, something that would hound him and kept lingering, coming back to drag him away.

This is how I would describe depression using pictures from a popular collectable card game. In this instance the depressed person is the cute little doll thing:

blackvise

Basically you’re stuck. You can’t escape. You move and pointy things poke you, you don’t move you get squished by pointy things. You need external help to free yourself.

It’s dark all around and seems hopeless. You’re tired from struggling, struggling hurts and makes you more tired and more weary of the world since it’s dark all around anyway. Even with help escaping the Black Vise is hard.

When you wiggle free you are crushed, battered and hurt and reduced to your core self. It’s still dark around but it’s not as oppressive. It’s like being that little match in the darkness. Finite, but not being extinguished just yet as it falls to the ground below the darkness.

To regrow you need to fall onto fertile soil, like family, friends, medication, counselling, love, comfort, reassurance. Something that keeps the ember of that match warm while it germinates in the darkness, while your inner fire gathers itself.

Let him sit alone in silence for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope – Lamentations 3 28/29

Then with a bit of light, you poke out a root, re-embedding yourself in Life. Anchoring might take time for not all seeds grow at the same rate. Some need more water than sunlight , some need more warmth than light – we are all different. But eventually you can extend a shoot with a little leaf and absorb all of that goodness that exists in life. Yes nighttime comes once a day, and some days are cloudier than others, but with all that nourishment you brush it off until you regrow and hopefully flower once more.

New Name? D&D&D

The new title was for Dungeons & Dragons & Diabetes. Kind of makes sense in an odd sort of way! I’m not sure if I’ll change it!

Anyway I don’t really have much to add in terms of D&D knowledge as the internet is full of interesting stuff. I often feel that I don’t particularly innovate anything other than my own plots or ideas and any ‘hacks’ or slight modifications other than the Action Point and no XP thing are shamelessly inspired stolen from the interwebs. That being said I’m a cynical sort and see a lot of material out there as being untested and severely wanting.

I’ve also managed to finish pokemon gold with mostly an unevolved Spinarak. There were HM slaves and a lvl 30 Gliscor for double battles but all the rest were filler. He was level 79 when he finished (Moves = poison jab, bug bite, shadow sneak and psychic)
Interestingly I thought being a bug/poison he’d take 100% damage from psychic, turns out bug is +50% vs psychic (+100% since he has STAB too) but confers no resistance, but the poison confers +50% weakness. Similarly with the orginal ghost (Gengar/Haunter/Ghastly) who are Ghost (+50 vs Psychic +100 if STAB) but have the poison secondary giving them weakness to psychic instead. Thankfully against the E4 after weathering the first attack if they were faster my little spider managed to bug bite any psychic attacks. The only other problem was some fire attacks (houndoor and a couple of Bruno’s fighters) and Kogas flipping minimizing, regerating Muk… his attacks were useless against me but I couldn’t hit him by the time I got eastablished. Eventually I got 2 hits close enough together to KO it but it was tough.

Fingers Crossed

So I submitted 4 pitches to Wizards of the Coast for Dungeon/Dragon articles.

Here’s hoping they are interesting and good enough to be considered – it would be a dream come true to write D&D related stuff for WOTC!

Also I had a look at their novel writing guidelines and this tickled me:

 ‘Avoid the following character archetypes: alchemists, any other author’s signature characters (Drizzt, Elminster, and so on), anyone who fights with two swords, apprentice/inexperienced wizards, drow of any kind for any reason, even in “cameos,” dwarves or gnomes for comedic effect, sorcerers, Asian/Oriental Adventures/Kara-Turan characters. Note: If you use one of the “iconic” characters that have game stats in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, they cannot be killed or permanently altered.

Basically saying idiot dwarves / gnomes, ANY DROW EVER, Bilbo-style dropped in it, dual wielders and famous characters are off limits.

It reminds me of this guy from Order of the Stick:

Totally not  Drizzt…

Wrath of Ashardalon

I like games. I’m a bit of a gaming geek – Boardgames, chess, RPGs and wargames are all of interest. It’s a consistent thing ever since I was small and started with Hero Quest. (The gateway drug to Warhammer/Games Workshop for so many people!)

Anyway today I decided to play some Wrath of Ashardalon – which is a great Wizards of the Coast (WotC / Whot-See) D&D based boardgame. It uses a D20 and takes place in the D&D ‘multiverse’ – that’s about as similar to D&D as it is, since it’s more like old out of production Heroquest or infact Warhammer Quest due to the exploration factor in a boardgame.

Anyway the game runs itself via exploration and various decks of cards (monsters, treasures and random encounters like traps, cave-ins, curses, extra monsters and so on) Due to this it is possible to play it solo.

So I hit up the ranger who’s model is cool and who has an auto-hit but low damage power. Also good at exploring. She died after a troll, owlbear and orc chief decided to show themselves. RIP Ranger 🙁

So I decided to go to my go-to character – the Elf Paladin who fared a lot better. I managed to do 3 quests in a row with her. Firstly stomp an evil dwarf barracks which was fine (krumping an ogre and orc chief on the get-go and levelling up in the process!). Then the 2nd quest was to loot the eponymous’ dragons horde. Said dragon can arrive when you reach the horde after 1-4 encounters. (Encounters: AKA bad-stuff, which happens if you don’t explore or if you do and the dungeon decided to hate you anyway) It arrived straight away. Oh poo.

Then my mind wondered to thoughts of suitable paladin-y glory – what happens if I kill the dragon straight off? Is he merely ‘wounded’ or does he die thus rendering the whole point of the campaign pointless at this stage? Mentally I’m sure the paladin yelled the equivalent of ‘Deus Vult’ and charged to put the hurt on the dragon. The whole question of ‘what if..’ turned out to be a bit moot as although I got him down to 6hp (from 12), when I got to 2hp I thought it was worth fleeing escaping tactically withdrawing with my loot (discretion being the better part of valour and all that).

I drew well for the available loot at the dwarven traders (vorporal sword, flying shield and something else – yes please to the sword and shield for an AC of 20 and snicker-snack-abilitiy.

The 3rd quest was to use my newly stolen shinies to vanquish the leader of Ashardalon’s Orc minions – the orc shaman. I was feeling confident with AC20 and a vorporal sword and sped though. However it seemed as though this was where my luck would run out as I ‘pulled a Dave*’ -and chain-pulled a kobold and duregar – the kobold proceeded to explore into a snake, and the duregar explored into long corridor with (they basically ‘explore’ themselves o.O) with a Grell and then another Duregar who then chained more stuff :

Rolling wasn’t great and one of the encounters was to let a monster (the Orc Chief who turned up again) … explore… to a troll …. in a long corridor…. to an orc druid.

Thankfully despite needing to spend both of my healing surges I managed to defeat the shaman. Technically I won but I was surrounded. I decided to see if I could escape and then throwing shielded the kobold in the face before running like a goblin tactically retreating again. Thankfully I managed to speed away although the speedy boar managed to get a few licks in before I got to the exit tile. Phew! Money was scarce but I managed to buy 2 healing potions which might keep me alive for the next round!

*Dave being a member of Southampton Sluggaz who managed to chain TEN monsters together with a combination of enconuters, monster cards, duregar and kobolds and during a game of WoA at the club

Proper Party Placement Prevents Poopy Performance

The P6 maxim. (Stolen from a Baldur’s Gate TOSC strategy guide from over a decade ago)

Basically in any tactical combat situation a good way to mitigate failure is to ensure everyone is where they should be. The defender should be drawing fire, the healer should be supporting, avoiding attention and healing, the striker should be behind enemy lines (rogue) or behind their own lines (warlock) and so on.

Things which effect the party’s ‘placement’ include terrain, obstacles and enemy controllers.

This was evidenced last night when they were inside a squamous far realm tower (Madness at Gardmore Abbey encounter#14) which was quite small compared to the usual dungeon/wilderness areas, it had a chasm and mimics pretending to be a bridge. In addition the floor slides the PCs into a pit of ooze and the walls can restrain/grab adjacent PCs.

The rogue over extended followed by the defender while the healer was still outside. This put them out of healing range and lead to a tense couple of rounds when both the übertank swordmage and rogue were down and dying. The small space did mean that it didn’t take long for the healer to get in range, but it also brought her closer to the danger.

So lessons learned – an EL-1 encounter can be challenging if in a confined space and if they enemies have surprise. Compare this to an EL+2 encounter a couple of weeks ago which they breezed through and I do wonder how accurate 4th Edition monster level/XP budgets are. Usually I  just wing it.

And to leave you here is a monster that has no difficulty getting into position, I’m sure that the wheels give him bonuses to move!

 

D&D House Rules

Most RPGs tend to have house rules – a tweak on the ‘rules as written’, generally adopted because   no decent rules system could possibly cover the almost infinite things that any player may think of doing. (If the system does cover everything I would hazard a guess that it’s not fun to play and overly complex!) Some are basically house ‘rulings’ on ambiguous rules or occurrences. Others are actually new (or modified) rules.

There’s 2 ‘house rules’ that I use in D&D and both involve action points. To summarise – an action point gives the player an extra standard action that turn. Generally only one can be used per battle/encounter and the players get 1 action point for every 2 encounters they do. They cannot be saved between days. (resetting to 1)

Firstly I allow more than 1 to be used per battle – but no more than 1 per player turn, the reasons for this are simply that it penalises saving – basically you start with one, get another one after your finished 3rd 5th and 7th (and 9th and 11th ….) encounters. But if you can only use 1 per encounter you basically have to use your initial action point during the 1st or 2nd encounter then use the extra one in the 3rd or 4th and so on. Otherwise they’ll start to accumulate and you can’t use them.   As the encounters go on you’re more likely to run out of other resources (powers, healing surgers item uses etc) and thus going to want to rest – so saving isn’t a good idea. You might be dead and not get to the next encounter to spend that action point you’ve saved. Bascially carpe diem – use them early and often.

To avoid this punishment and to encourage dynamic heroism I allow more than 1 per battle.

The second involves action points and another limited resource – daily powers. These are usually the battle changers – if they hit. Since they are generally used on the toughest enemies they are less likely to hit than a regular attack on a regular pleb. It’s a bit disappointing as a player when your uber daily you’ve saved and not blown misses and makes little difference than if you’d used a good at will or encounter.

Natural 1

So to this end (before rolling damage) if a player totally misses with a daily they can spend an action point to re-roll to hit. And yes they can use 2 action points in a turn in this way – 1 to use the extra action to take a daily and then spend one to re-roll. So in short saving a little is generally worth it in my games compared to Rules As Written (RAW)

Needless to say this didn’t just spring up overnight, it is the result of sucky moments and me feeling sorry for my players as well as cold hard maths.