15 April 2018

Solo RPG: Star Trek Cards

I finished my set of 100 cards for a solo Star Trek RPG.  A big thank you to the folks behind the Final Frontier and Trekbats fonts, both of which they've graciously posted for free download online.

The 1 of Agility
Although I made extensive use of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros, it still took some time. Unfortunately I've found the VBA environment on the Macintosh (my home machine) is quite unstable. Compounding the frustration, the Windows machine I have access to doesn't accept new fonts. So it was necessary to create the general card templates in MS Powerpoint and Excel on the Windows machine and then transfer to my Mac to make it look "Trek". The data transfer wasn't flawless however with the colors changing. The background colors in particular are brighter and everything else seems a bit washed out to me. Oh well, as they say: perfect is the enemy of good enough.

I made some changes to the central "display" area from the WIP in the last post, the most prominent being the addition of the Trek iconography. The large icon in the left of the display simply exists for flavor; it has no game purpose. I kept the Star Trek-specific scene focus and moved the arbitrary symbols to the right side.

I plan to print these out and use them with a set of home-brew rules for solo roleplaying. The home-brew is heavily based on the SAGA System, as presented in TSR's Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game from the late 90s but with some significant modifications. I hope to get a few sessions logged which I'll share here.

"Peril" replaces the "Doom" card suit from Marvel's version

12 April 2018

WIP: SAGA System Cards for Sci-Fi Setting

The picture below shows my current WIP: SAGA System cards for a science fiction setting. The card template is build in MS Powerpoint, using solely MS Office shapes.

I know in the last few posts I said my next set of cards would be for fantasy but then I stumbled across a treasure-trove of old FASA Star Trek material and got inspired. Although these cards will be usable for most sci-fi settings, a keen-eyed reader can probably discern the Star Trek-specific font and themes.

The example card to the left is a 3 of Agility. Starting at the top left and proceeding down and then right, I'll explain the individual parts.

The "3" obviously is the value of the card; under the SAGA system playing this card would result in 3 points added to the character's attribute to form a total action score to be compared against the GM-defined difficulty score.

The plus symbol below the number is the card's "aura", in this case Positive. Three auras exist: Positive, Negative and Neutral, and serve to provide some nuance for GM scene interpretation. "The captain fails his Agility roll and goes tumbling off the cliff... [GM makes card draw] but, Positive aura! The captain flails wildly and manages to grab the cliff edge, holding on by the finger tips!"

The large "Agility" on the bottom left corner identifies the card's suit. Note, in SAGA players use any and all suits for any task, for example this Agility card could be used for an Intellect action.  Matching the suit of the card to the correct attribute type (let's say using this card here for an Agility action) provides a potential bonus however, in the form of an extra card draw.

Heading up to the top right, we see a read-out box with the Calling, an idea taken directly from the Marvel Super Heroes game. The calling is primarily used in character creation but can also be used during the game to reveal character motivation.

Below the Calling is a large display area that I'm still trying to decide how to populate. Right now it shows a Focus phrase, which the GM could use to determine the person or thing the scene centers around. I've also included a random phrase, in this case a quote, which can spur the action. I think I will replace these with random words, perhaps two random subjects and two random action words. The symbols on the left side of the display mean nothing: I just thought they looked "space age".

The next display shows the Event, another idea taken from the Marvel game. As you can see here, I'm not using the exact list of events from the Marvel game however and plan to make a custom list for these cards.

The last display is the small random letter screen, in this case showing a "K". I talked last post about how I use these random letters to generate words I'd never come up with myself, which I then try to weave into the story.

The rest of the items: the orange light, the moire pattern display, the three black knobs, are all just greeblies (or nurnies for the Brits) to add to the sci-fi flavor.

Now that the pattern is done, the real work begins: populating the spreadsheet with the Callings, Events, and random words that go on each card. I'll start with my Marvel spreadsheet and modify the Callings and Events to better fit a Star Trek setting; many of them are still very appropriate and will remain unchanged though. The random words I'll have to make up or perhaps borrow from a well thought-out list like the one in the Mythic Game Master Emulator. Once the spreadsheet is done it's just "presto": activate the macros and the deck will be built.

Maybe then instead of just thinking and talking about solo RPGs I'll finally starting playing them again.

11 April 2018

Solo RPG: Ideas from Random Letters

I mentioned in my last post that the cards I've made for the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game have letters for random word generation. Since there are 100 cards, I used the Scrabble distribution and create words during some break in the game, using the discard pile. As also mentioned I plan to make some cards for fantasy and sci-fi settings as well.

Although I frequently use random word lists, I also like the card method because as cards are played I can start to see the random words take shape.

My procedure is simple: when I lay the first card in the discard pile I note the letter on it as the first letter of a random word. I lay the next card and if that letter will work as the second in a potential word, I'll place it to the right of the first card. If it won't work I'll place the second card below the first in a column and its letter too is now the start of a random word. I'll continue this process until I have sufficient letters for about three to five words (or until the discard is exhausted). What is sufficient? Basically when enough letters form the root of several words that I can then pick from. I like the universe to suggest words through the random card draw but I also like to choose the most interesting of those suggestions.

Here's an example showing how it works.

For a fantasy campaign I'm creating a character and decide to randomly generate seven words (or the start of seven words). I draw the cards and place them as noted above, resulting in these seven word roots:


Starting with the first word, I looked over all the available dictionary definitions and chose a noun: "onolatry" or the worship of donkeys (or foolish ideas).

This worked well with "Yoke", which I decided to keep.

I didn't know what to do with "oil" so I decided to come back to it.

The next word was really interesting. The only thing starting with BOAN was "boanthropy" or the delusion that one is an ox. Now the character was taking shape.

SEBA made me choose "Sebaceous", so I combined this with the previous letters "oil" and decided the character might have very oily skin, or suffer profuse sweating.

For the last two letters combos I decided the character was a "teamplayer" and carried a dented "tea kettle".

From there the character's story wrote itself. The character is a low level cleric who serves a deity which manifests as a donkey-headed man. The deity (and its priests) silenty suffer the burdens of others. To symbolize this clerics often serve as porters, as low level initiates must carry literal burdens in the form of heavy loads, while high level priests are renowned healers and counselors as they voluntarily take on the physical and mental wounds of others. As a symbol of their faith, clerics of this god wear actual yokes around their necks (not tied to anything). As they advance through the clerical ranks, the yokes become smaller and more symbolic than burdensome (a pendant on a necklace for the head priests), but the yokes always act as spell focus.

The character himself is a small, wiry individual who thinks of himself as much larger. While he's not so deluded to believe he's an ox (boanthropic), he is truly deluded in that he forgets his small stature and approaches all challenges as if he were really 6'5" tall and 300lbs. He's generally pleasant however and a team player, who carries around a dented tea kettle to brew healing potions for his party.

So, from just few unrelated words, many of them strange and ones I'd never have chosen, I now have a clear picture of not only a player character but an entire religious order as well. 

02 April 2018

Solo RPG: Marvel SAGA (TSR) Custom Card Update #2

I finally finished the custom homebrew Fate deck for TSR's defunct Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game (MSHAG, also known as "the SAGA System") which I started years ago.

Preview: not to scale.  Deck features 100 cards
The cards are posted on my downloads page and I've also submitted them to RoleplayingGameGeek for upload into the Files section of the game.  The format is a .pdf and it is designed to be printed onto blank label sheets, then cut out and fixed to card stock (or old playing cards).

As highlighted in the previous post, the cards have dispensed with the character art and instead include a large open area to write campaign/adventure notes.  The cards also feature a random letter, following the Scrabble letter distribution, for random word generation.  I'm hoping to use these cards for some solo-gaming as I always found the MSHAG gave both the GM and player more narrative control than most other games in the same era.

Enjoy and please give me feedback.  I created the cards using MS Excel, using macros to quickly build each card from the raw database of information.  As such, I can make changes and regenerate the entire deck with the click of a button.  My next plan is to make a fantasy version of the cards (custom ones, not recreating the Dragonlance Fifth Age cards however).  I've also contemplated making a Star Wars Fate deck as I've always felt the Star Wars universe is very comic book like.

30 March 2018

AD&D 1st Ed Collection: Should I Sell?

The post title says it all.  I pose this question to the gaming universe: would you sell a collection of potentially useless books that nevertheless appeal to your sense of nostalgia?

So a year ago or so I got lucky and found a Rubbermaid tub of roleplaying books in my local area.  The gentleman selling just wanted to get rid of the books, or rather his wife wanted them gone, so I got the whole lot of nearly 40 books for $130.  Score!

Even better, the tub contained a few rare items (Battletech 'Mech blueprint posters).  I sold the posters along with a few titles I found lame (Palladium stuff and Dragonlance manuals) and ended up making the entire $130 back.  So essentially, all the remaining ~27 books were got for nothing: double score! The books pictured to the left, the titles I'm contemplating selling, are just a part of the collection.  Also included in the collection are the 1st Ed. Monster Manual, core books for AD&D 2nd Ed., the Blue Boxed Set of D&D, the red D&D Basic book from 1981, the D&D Companion, Masters and Immortals rulebooks (alas, no boxes or other contents of those boxes), Star Wars 2nd Ed. (WEG), GURPS 3rd Ed., some old Champions books, the Marvel Superheroes Ultimate Powers Book, and some really tore-up Robotech books.

I've pulled the 1st Ed. AD&D books off the shelves a number of times with the intent of photographing them for eBay, only to put them back.  There's just something about the orange spines, the tiny print inside, and the ink line art that tugs at my adolescent memories and makes me say "nah, I'll keep these".  I know that Legends & Lore is useless (who needs the stats for a god?).  I've looked through Oriental Adventures and rolled my eyes.  I previously owned the Dungeoneer's and Wilderness Survival Guides and got rid of them in a prior collection purge.  So why are these so hard to part with?

The Greyhawk books (Adventures hardback and City of... Boxed Set) are the most potentially useful, since Greyhawk was always my setting of choice.  Still, I haven't had a solid gaming group for almost two decades and work commitments means that probably won't change.  The likelihood of another GH campaign seems extraordinarily thin.   Yet they're still on the shelf...

I'm generally done with class-and-level games, and I think of all the pdfs of new-fangled rules-lite games I could buy with the money I get from the sale of these books (and based on recent eBay, they would sell).  Something is holding me back however.  Nostalgia?  Or are there hidden repositories of ideas buried in these books, detected by my gaming subconscious?  What would you do?

24 February 2018

Solitaire Dead CCG: Middle-Earth The Wizards

I started my first game of Middle-Earth: The Wizards (METW) tonight and already I'm hooked.  As I've said before, the best CCGs are ones that play well solo even if ostensibly designed for multiplayer games.  The METW CCG is definitely one of those, playing extremely well solo using a set of solitaire rules included in the basic rulebook.

Like Mythos and Quest for the Grail, two other questing-type games, a "normal" multiplayer game of METW is built around the general concept that each player represents the good guys on his or her respective turn, while throwing obstacles in the opponents' paths during their turns.  This dichotomy works well in the solo-player's favor, as the game cards are already designed to be split into discrete "us" and "them" decks.  Play then progresses fairly normally, with certain triggers then resulting in hazard deck draws.  I find one of the most satisfying aspects of these games is finding the most devious way to apply hazard cards against my own hero cards; it really makes any eventual win that much more worth it.

What sets METW apart from many other CCGs is the exceptional starter deck.  The publisher put considerable effort in ensuring the game played well straight from the starter.  The inaugural game shown used the contents of only one starter and five booster packs.

The first screenshot shows the second turn.  Trying to get to the Wind Throne, my company of heroes has to endure attacks from Wargs and an Abductor before being driven back to their starting point by a snowstorm!

The second shot shows a few turns later, after recruiting Rangers at Henneth Annun and picking up a mail hauberk at Sarn Goriwing.  The company is trying for the Wind Throne again, seeking the Dreams of Lore.  Unfortunately, poor Merry was wounded by Orcs; hopefully he'll survive the trip to the Wind Throne and back to Lorien.

The METW CCG really evokes a strong narrative, like the two previously mentioned CCGs, which is the final and probably most important ingredient in a good solo game.

16 February 2018

Do-It-Myself Spaceship Miniatures (A Tutorial)

Alternate title: Scratchbuild Spaceship Tutorial: A New(ish) Technique

Why the weird title, why not call them "DIY Spaceship Miniatures"?  Take it as a disclaimer I guess, that this technique works for me, and produces designs that I find appealing.  More importantly, this technique uses a number of different materials that might be cost-prohibitive to procure solely for miniature spaceship production.  The materials are however very useful for many other art or hobby projects and if you are like me and dabble in various media, then you may just have extra lying around.

The technique presented here combines a few of my older techniques and allows me to make spaceship miniatures that I can reproduce at will.  The tutorial documents the creation of the ship featured in yesterday's post.

Getting right into it, the first thing is to produce a "simple pattern", which will be the general shape of the ship's upper hull.  I do this by securing various shapes, typically pasta, to a piece of scrap plastic (usually from food-packaging) using CA glue.  The left side of the photo below shows the simple pattern.  The photo also shows that other shapes accompany the main upper-hull pattern on the plastic sheet; these additional shapes will help bulk-out the remainder of the ship (bottom and side hulls).  The shapes can be glued to any flat substrate, like a piece of office paper, but using clear plastic will help during the next step.  TOP TIP: use 220 grit sandpaper to roughen the scrap plastic if it is PETE (#1 recycling symbol).  CA glue clings tenaciously to abraded PETE plastic but has a hard time sticking to smooth PETE.

Next, produce an impression mold by squishing polymer clay on to the simple pattern.  I find the cheaper the polymer clay, the better the results.  Soft, slightly sticky clay works best and I use basic white Sculpey.  If the simple pattern was secured to a transparent substrate like scrap plastic, flip it over and examine all the edges of the pattern: you should be able to see where the clay is not "tight" against the pattern and make corrections.  Keep adding clay until a sufficient amount is present (~2-3 cm around the pattern at the highest point) and trim to make a rectangular mold.  The transparent plastic helps here as well as it can prevent you from trimming your mold too close to the pattern.  Remove the clay carefully from the pattern and you'll have a nice impression mold like the one shown below in the right of the picture. 

Next, use various tools to add regular shapes to the insides of the impression mold cavities.  Remember that although you are making negative spaces now, the final result will be a positive protuberance.  I recommend subtlety; typically I press too hard, producing exaggerated depressions (as shown below) and the final ship ends up looking "warty".

Once satisfied with the impression mold detailing, build a dam wall of polymer clay around the mold, as shown in the picture below.

The process continues with the creation of a detailed pattern cast in dental stone poured into the impression mold.  Dental stone captures fine detail better than any other material I've found, with only resin being close.  Dental stone however is far easier to work with than resin, especially in the later stages detailed below.

Creating a bubble-free cast for the detailed pattern requires not only a high-quality material like dental stone but also a surfactant sprayed into the impression mold and of course vigorous agitation to dislodge any bubbles in the curing plaster.  I mix the dental stone by placing my estimated amount in a cup and adding water in very small increments using a spray bottle.  Since I don't mix to the manufacturer's recommended ratio, I wait at least 3 hours before demolding.  A bubble-free detailed pattern is shown below; note enough plaster is poured to create a ~2 cm thick base beneath the pattern.

Build a dam (I used tin foil) around the detailed pattern and fill with 10:1 silicon rubber.  I've tried this technique with a "cheap" DIY rubber consisting of thinned silicone caulk but it just doesn't produce crisp enough results.  Just use a good 10:1 silicone specifically designed for mold-making and you'll be much happier.  Ensure enough silicone is mixed to create a 2-3 cm slab around the pattern at its highest point.  If you try to save material and pour a very thin mold, the mold will likely curl up as it cures.  Incidentally, the mold shown below only required 33 grams of rubber and catalyst total.  Notice the air bubbles: since it's a one-part mold all of the bubbles have risen up away from the pattern and are not an issue.

Although this particular rubber (Alumilite Amazing Mold Rubber) is designed to be demolded in 4-6 hours, I typically let it sit 10-12 hours.  Also, dental stone does not require any mold release with this rubber.  Once the final mold is removed from the detailed pattern (see photo below), you're ready to start making multiple spaceships.

The bulk of each ship is cast from dental stone.  Mix it up as before, apply the surfactant to the mold and add the plaster.  Ensure it is scraped flat, as shown below, and agitated to prevent bubbles.

Once the pieces cure simply flex the mold and they'll pop out.  While you'll need to handle them carefully, dental stone is vastly stronger than Plaster of Paris or even Durham's Rock-Hard Water Putty.  The picture below shows the ship components fresh out of the mold before the edges are cleaned up using jeweler's files.  The pieces should all lay flat.  If not, the mold was poured too thin and curled while curing resulting in distorted casts.  In such cases the mold has to be recreated; luckily the detailed pattern still exists.

Obviously the ship still requires quite a bit of assembly from the raw components above.  As shown in the photographs below, various materials are added with CA glue to the bottom of the main body to provide bulk.  The remaining cast components then get glued all over: top, bottom and sides.  Paper strips wrapped around the aft end makes a convincing engine exhaust section and more pasta pieces act as fins and struts.

Once one prototype is completed, it's easy to just cast more components and build them up in the same fashion.

Scratchbuild Spaceship Miniatures: 15 Feb 18 Edition

Finished a new scratch build design tonight.  I really like this design and I used a new technique that allows me to duplicate the ship.  Tutorial will follow this weekend.

11 February 2018

Scratchbuild Spaceship Miniatures (11 Feb 18 Edition)

A new scratchbuild completed tonight, plus some better pictures of the ones featured in my last post.

I'm not a fan of this design but I followed through and finished it to document the process.  I plan to do a new tutorial summarizing my newer methods.

28 January 2018

Scratchbuild Spaceship Miniatures (28 Jan 18 Edition)

I decided not to title this as "Spaghetti Spaceships" as I normally do, since pasta was not used for the two finished pieces shown here.  Various pastas were used to create the general vessel shapes , which were then captured in an impression mold that was further detailed.

I'm very pleased with how these turned out.

27 January 2018

Solitaire Illuminati: New World Order (INWO)

I started this blog 7.5 years ago talking about an old CCG from the 90s, Steve Jackson's Illuminati: New World Order (INWO), focusing on solitaire play in particular.  My final post covering INWO, so many years ago, presented the final version of a solitaire version, which I called INWOSolo.

I mentioned in that old post that INWOSolo captured the feel of the multiplayer game well and indeed it does.  Recently however I've been reflecting on why, if the above were true, have I not played more solitaire INWO over all these years?

Despite the normal excuses of real life commitments, I realized that the problem with CCGs in general is the time sink of deck creation from a large pool of options.  Deck creation drains the player of any enthusiasm to play and my solitaire rules for INWO exacerbated this by requiring the creation of twice as many decks as a normal, multi-player game!

The rules for solitaire INWO on the Downloads page of this blog still stand but now all cards are played from one Plot or one Group Deck, as appropriate.  I'm in the middle of a playtest and so far the results are great.

In order to construct a Plot and Group Deck for solitaire INWO, some specific rules should be followed to maximize the challenge.  These rules should replace paragraphs (1) to (4) in the "Beginning the Game" section of the INWOSolo rules.

First, choose your Illuminati.  Next, select 1 to 5 (recommend 3) rival Illuminati cards to form the core of the Plot Deck.  Set these aside and begin creating a Group Deck of 49 cards.

First, choose two non-opposed alignments that will feature prominently in the deck.  At least one of these alignments should correspond to your Illuminated goal (if applicable).  Next, for each of the two alignments and the respective opposing alignments, select six cards Group cards, plus an additional seventh Group card that duplicates one of the six.  You should now have 28 of 49 cards selected.  Choose an additional 12 Group cards for flavor.  These cards should generally be of different alignments to the four already represented; typically these cards will be selected based on Attributes.  Criteria for inclusion includes having Attributes necessary for any Illuminated Goal (yours or your rivals!) or Attributes that have appeared already in the first 28 selected cards.  Once these cards are selected, bringing the total to 40, select nine Resources to round out the solitaire Group Deck.  Eight of these Resources should be different, with one duplicate of a Unique Resource.  Since any Resource could be drawn either for or against the solo player from the same deck, certain Resources should not be included (for example, the Bronze Head).

The Plot Deck consists of 64 cards, starting with the rival Illuminati.  Next, add two of the +10 booster cards (i.e. Albino Alligators for Weird groups) for each of the four chosen alignments, one each action token reload cards (i.e Reload for Violent groups) for the four alignments, two each alignment changer cards (i.e. Fundie Money for Conservative), and two each "set Power to 6" cards (i.e Self Esteem for Liberal groups).  This should add 28 cards to the total, along with the rival Illuminati for a count of around 30.  Next add one Disaster card for every Place and one Assassination plot for every Personality in the Group Deck.  Add six New World Order cards, two of each color.  Add any desired Goal cards, focusing on cards that will facilitate a win for you and those that help the rival.  All these additions should bring the total to around 50.  The remaining plots are chosen for flavor and usefulness.  For the most satisfying game, choose cards that are useful to both you and the rival powers (Swiss Bank Account is a great example, as is Sucked Dry and Cast Aside).

The INWOSolo rules remain relatively unchanged with a few exceptions.  First, to start the game, after drawing the normal three Plot cards, draw seven Group cards and select one as your initial lead group.  Also, an Illuminati card can never be drawn into the solitaire player's hand; if revealed during the Plot card discard/draw phase of the player's turn, the Illuminati card is played to the table as a threat, as detailed on page 3 of the INWOSolo rules.

For those of us with large INWO collections but no opponents, I hope this makes the solitaire experience a little more palatable.  If you try these rules, let me know what you think.  Personally, I think they're a hoot.