Sunday, April 16, 2017

Combat in Starfaring

Art by George Wilson

In our most recent post, we found that handguns are available for purchase in the setting of Starfaring.  Specifically, a handgun costs one megacredit and has an “output” of one standard of energy.  Ken St. Andre never defines how much 'energy' is in a standard.  Still, we don't need an exact amount as long as the rules address the effect; however, the rules do not do this.  Since St. Andre included handguns in the “Store for Starfarers,” he must have anticipated that handguns would be used in Starfaring scenarios.  Unfortunately, St. Andre does not incorporate rules for person-to-person combat in the game.

The 'Weapons and Conflict' section of Starfaring pertains exclusively to ship-to-ship combat.  Given the speeds and distances involved in starship conflict, St. Andre opines...
Even utilizing beam energy weapons which travel at the speed of light, one cannot fire at a ship in a known position, because in combat it will be constantly moving in evasive action, and it will not be there when the ray arrives.  Ergo, ships in combat must fire at the point in space where they estimate the other ship will be at a given time.  The Shiva Crystals aboard Human ships modulate Brahma Crystal energy into a disruptive beam of force, invisible in itself but accompanied by a pulse of red light to allow for accurate tracking...
With regard to the difficulty of this task, St. Andre states...
One would almost need to be psychic (as well as lucky) to hit another ship in this game. Fortunately, the Human brains linked to the ship's gunnery computer are psychic, and, depending on the degree of psychic power they have, they can actually foretell the future--in this case, aided by the mathematical interpolations of the computer, they would know where to aim in space.
In terms of game mechanics...
...the result would really be determined by a Saving Roll made by the attacked ship.  This Saving Roll would be determined by the mental and psychic attributes of the ship's brain, but would also be affected by distance between the combative ships.
St. Andre further postulates on page 29,
[W]e are going to come up with a formula for Saving Rolls based on ship's brain psi and mentality ratings, ship's distance, and ship's speed. (Note: if more than one person is bionically linked to the computer, their psi totals are added, but the mentality total is not cumulative and is that of the brightest person in the linkup.) S.R. equals 1000/(Men. plus Psi times 10000/Range in miles all divided by the fraction without the decimal of the speed of light at which the ship is moving. The formula simplifies to 10,000,000/(M -Psi) X R X Sc) where M stands for high Mentality in linkup, Psi is Psi total in linkup, R is approximate range in miles, and Sc is the decimal fraction of the speed of light expressed as a whole number.
(Evidently, the result is the target number which must be met or exceeded on 2d6. Just as with Tunnels & Trolls, a roll of doubles allows another roll to be added to the total.  So, the lower the target number, the easier it is to obtain a successful result.)

There are some inconsistencies in St. Andre's calculations.  The ‘simplified’ formula is missing an opening parenthesis while the ‘unsimplified’ formula is missing a closing parenthesis.  The total of the Mentality and Psi ratings is part of the denominator (although the ‘simplified’ formula shows a minus sign instead of a plus sign).  A larger denominator means a smaller result which, in turn, means an easier target number.  This makes sense; greater Mentality and Psi ratings should mean a better chance of success.  The ‘unsimplified’ formula shows the inverse of range in the denominator.  Since this reduces the denominator, it reduces the chances of success.  However, in the ‘simplified’ formula, range is not expressed as an inverse value.  This suggests that a greater range means an easier Saving Roll.  (Remember, the Saving Roll is to be made by the target vessel to avoid being hit.)  Then we have “Sc is the decimal fraction of the speed of light expressed as a whole number.”  Wouldn’t that just be 10c?  Regardless, a greater speed increases the denominator, meaning an easier Saving Roll for the target.

Interestingly, the attacker's only effect upon the Saving Roll is the distance to the target.  The “mental and psychic attributes” of the attacker are not considered.

However one chooses to interpret St. Andre's number crunching, there is a numerator of ten million.  On page 29, St. Andre comments, “You can see how handy your own pocket calculator is for calculations of this nature.”  In terms of randomization, a calculator is “the expensive, fun way” while a deck of playing cards is “the simple, cheap way.”  With regard to calculators, St. Andre advises, “Radio Shack sells an excellent one for $30.”  In addition,
More expensive calculators, which provide many more functions, may be used to generate random numbers by, for example, taking the sine of the input number, dividing it by pi, and then taking the square root, reading your result behind the decimal point. I guarantee you will not be able to anticipate the final result, which means the number is random as far as you are concerned.
Assuming a ship is hit, “its Vishnu field will flare up to shunt off as much of the energy impact as it can.”  Energy that the Vishnu field cannot 'shunt off' damages the ship; puncturing the shell and impairing one of the ship's systems.  (“No more than one system will be damaged on one shot.”)  'Systems' include:  (1) Brahma Crystal, (2) Shiva Crystal, (3) Vishnu Crystal, (4) Warpengine, (5) Crew, and (6) Computers.  The amount of damage is determined by rolling 1d6 for “every 500 standards of energy or fraction thereof” that gets past the Vishnu field.  On a 'crew' result, the result of the damage die or dice “is how many crew members are killed outright.”  Each member of the crew makes a Saving Roll; space armor grants +5 and combat armor offers +10.  There is no target number – “Those with the lowest scores are the first to die, until 1 crew member is gone for each hit suffered.”

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ship Design in Starfaring

The first step in designing an exploratory vessel for Starfaring is to choose a shell size.  'Shell' refers to the superstructure and “includes hull, interior spaces, airlocks, and lifesupport [sic] systems.”  Shell sizes are determined by “bion number.”  A bion is a “Bionic Life Support Function unit” and is defined as “the standard amount of life support equipment and energy needed to maintain a human being comfortably on a star voyage of any length.”  Assuming that robots and shell people don't require bions, the Indigo Albatross needs to have ten bions for her crew (including the additional members identified below).  A 'moderate' size shell can accommodate ten bions and has a cost of 19,000 megacredits.

A 'warpengine' is the next item in creating a space ship.  “Warpengines cost 3000 mc. per unit of warpspeed they can generate,” page 19 tells us.  However, page 35 further discloses that a basic 'warp 1' engine costs five thousand megacredits and each additional warp increment costs three thousand megacredits.  In Subspace, 'warp 1' is equivalent to one parsec per day; each additional 'warp' level  doubles the speed.  In real space, 'warp 1' is equivalent to one-tenth of the speed of light; each additional 'warp' level increases speed by another tenth.  Thus, 'warp 3' is equivalent to eight parsecs (just over 26 light years) per day (Subspace) or 30% of the speed of light (real space).  If we select a 'warp 3' capable engine for the Indigo Albatross, the cost is 11,000 megacredits.

As indicated in a prior post, there are three types of Star Crystals:  Brahma (related to power), Shiva (related to energy weapons), and Vishnu (related to energy shields).  Each type is necessary for a starship.  We are told that Star Crystals – regardless of type – have a price of one thousand megacredits “per 1000 standards of energy produced or processed.”  What is a 'standard' of energy?  According to author Ken St. Andre, “It has no 20th century equivalent I can think of right off hand, but it is not exorbitantly large.”  Determining the energy requirements of a starship is difficult since such requirements are not addressed in the “Building Your Starship” section of of the rules.  Also, there are no example ships from which we can extrapolate likely values.  However, St. Andre provides rules for creating used starships.  To determine a a rating for each of the Star Crystal types, 3d6 are rolled and the result multiplied by 1,000.  This suggests that Star Crystals with ratings of 10,000 standards – an average roll – are viable options for our purposes.  Spending 30,000 megacredits provides us with one of each type of Star Crystal having a 10,000 standard rating.

Another consideration for outfitting a starship is “instrumentation,” which can be thought of as computer systems.  Five “areas” should be considered:  (1) astrogation, (2) gunnery, (3) library, (4) life support, and (5) research analysis/sensor interpretation.  “[A] single master computer which integrates all of these various functions” has a cost of 8,000 megacredits.  There is an additional cost of 2,000 megacredits “to accommodate a shell person comptroller.”  Since we have a shell person comptroller, it would be a shame to disregard this opportunity.  Yet we should also consider a back-up system.  A differentiated system covering all areas (and which includes a 'central processor') has a cost of 10,000 megacredits.  “Supplementary instrumentation,“ we are told, “such as would be required for graphic displays suitable for non-electronic human senses, cost one-half the computer cost in that particular area.”  So that humans can interact with these systems, an additional cost of 3,000 megacredits is therefore required.

So far, our design budget for the Indigo Albatross is 83,000 megacredits.  The amount of the loan extended from the planetary government is 100,000 megacredits.  With the 17,000 megacredits we have left, we could increase the bion value of the shell or invest in higher-rated Star Crystals.  However, there is an additional category of “Accessories” that should be considered.  An arsenal of everything from handguns to cannon might run 500 megacredits.  A “Portable nuclear fusion reactor” costs 500 megacredits.  An all-terrain vehicle (without modifications) is 100 megacredits.  Spacesuits are two megacredits each.  At ten megacredits, an airbelt...
Generates a weak force field that allows free passage to oxygen only.  Will screen out bacteria, water, poison gases and insects.  Will not turn bullets, energy beams, or other massive attack.
Although 'research analysis/sensor interpretation' is an “instrumentation” area, prices for devices like Star Finders (40 mc) and Subspace Communicators (200 mc) are listed separately.  There is also a “Psionic Nullifier” for sale at four megacredits.  Is this supposed to be a weapon?

With regard to the 100,000 megacredit loan, “The planetary government demands a 20% interest payment on any loans it makes, and it holds the title to your ship until your loan is completely paid.”  The planetary government may seize the ship if half of the debt is is not paid after three expeditions; the government will seize the ship if the entire debt is not paid after five expeditions.  Of course, the notion of financing starships is not unique to StarfaringTraveller also has rules for starship financing, but that game allows the purchase price to be “paid off over a period of 40 years.”  Details are lacking with regard to the actual repossession of starships as a result of defaulting on payments.  That could be the subject of a completely different role-playing game; a game that might look a little something like this...

– – –   – – –   – – –

During my perusal of media to locate depictions of the crew, I found a couple of images that – while endearing – did not represent any pre-conceived crewmember.  I have thus created positions on the ship for them.

Callisto McCabe (Pilot)
Mentality:  100
Psi:  8     (use:  2; recovery:  5)
Physique:  13
Health:  16

Knows how to handle a joystick and she's into bondage?  She's a keeper!

H. Ludlow Upsilon (Life Systems Analyst)
Mentality:  120
Psi:  10     (use:  3; recovery:  4)
Physique:  12
Health:  15

Anybody with a leopard-skin environment suit deserves to be part of the crew.   Just leave behind whatever that tentacle's attached to.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Friendship Is Magic!

© Hasbro Studios

Regular readers have likely noticed a reduction in the frequency of posts.  This is because your humble host has been preparing to take the blog in a bold, exciting direction.  After five years of discussing role-playing games, Thoul's Paradise will henceforth be a brony empowerment blog.  Today's post will act as a transition between these interests, looking at pony role-playing opportunities.

The official My Little Pony role-playing game, Tails of Equestria (Get it?  Tails?), will not be available until later this month.  However, the “pony sheet” offers a glimpse of what we can expect.

According to the ad copy:  “Armed with core skills and special abilities, each player ventures into the world of Equestria with their pony peers, forging deeper friendships as they help one another in the whimsical world they create through every action they take.”  It looks like the dice (sold separately, of course) are the standard assortment of polyhedrals.  Interestingly, the recommended age for this game is “3 years and up.”

Other than the forthcoming official RPG, there is the Ponyfinder Campaign Setting from Silver Games, LLC.  Originally, Ponyfinder was intended as a supplement to Paizo's Pathfinder (hence the name).  The latest incarnation – a 168 page PDF – embraces Fifth Edition; however, the Ponyfinder name has been retained.  (I would have gone with Ponyfiver, but I'm not a marketing expert.)

Each pony has a sub-race (which I assume is the same as 'tribe') and a spiritual path (“an important and specific choice that sets ponykind apart from most of the other races”).  The three common sub-races are earth-bound, pegasus, and unicorn.  The less common sub-races include ghost ponies, leather wings, sea horses, and zebras.  Among the spiritual paths, there are:  Antean, chaos hunter, clockwork, doppelganger, gem pony, and sun pony.  However, the most common spiritual path is “unique destiny,” which allows a choice of ability score increase and skill/tool specialty.  'Spiritual path' is something of a misnomer; the term suggests a conscious decision to follow a particular philosophy.  However, the described paths are really accidents of birth.  Clockwork ponies, for instance, are “comprised of gears and springs.”  Instead of 'spiritual path', perhaps 'heritage' would be a better term.  Even so, the reason why 'gem pony' should be a spiritual path while 'ghost pony' is a sub-race is beyond me.  If I'm going to pretend to be a magical pony, I need a logical framework with a rock-solid foundation.  I mean, what am I, an eight year old girl?  (Don't answer that.)

Ponies “stand about four feet tall from hooves to head, and are about four feet long from front to base of the tail.”  All ponies have a “Brand of Destiny.”  We are told, “This symbol is of high importance to the pony, signifying their destiny or talent, and driving them to excel at it.”  This brand can be removed via a 'Denial of Destiny' feat.  Doing this is a “drastic act [that] defies the gods and the natural order and declares that you mean to operate under your will alone.”  So ponies don't automatically have free will, but they can obtain it.

The back cover claims, “Many spells, class specializations, and backgrounds are also usable by non ponies or other settings.”  The accuracy of this statement depends on how few items can constitute 'many'.  Regarding spells, we are told, “Most of these spells are of specific use to ponies, with limited function for other races.”  Among the dozen new spells provided, we are treated to the likes of 'Blast of Harmony' and 'Grazing'.  Two of the five new backgrounds are 'Hybrid' and 'Unbound Hooves'.  As is, some of the class specializations – such as Artifact Tender (Rogue) and Warden of the Night (Paladin) – can be used by non-ponies and are not tied to the setting.  Other specializations are not quite so flexible.  Among these are Tribal Scholar and Mobile Cannon (“Four-legged races face unique challenges when they pursue the way of the gun”).  Two other examples of specializations are Mystic Prancer (Bard) and Vampiric (Sorcerer).  Yes, there are rules for playing vampire ponies; it's a wonderful time to be alive.

Other than ponies, there are seven other playable, quadruped races in Ponyfinder.  Two of these – Flutterponies and Steelhearts – might as well be pony sub-races.  The 'non-pony' races are:  Cloven (“intelligent goats”), Griffons, Phoenix Wolves, Purrsians (“a winged feline race”), and Sun Cats.  All of these races are of 'Medium' size and all have their own feats.

The 'world' of the Ponyfinder setting is Everglow, “nestled in delicate balance between the elemental planes...a world of magic and mystery where the fey are in control and the humanoid races are secondary.”  Ponies and all of the non-humanoid playable races are considered to be fey “for all purposes.”  The 'Places of Note' chapter consists of 24 pages (describing locations like Tramplevania) as well as a one-page map.

Of course, given intelligent ponies, there must be pony gods.  The Ponyfinder gods include:  Blaze (CE), Kara (NE), Moon Princess (LN), Princess Luminace (LG), Sheila the Author (N), Sun Queen (NG), The Night Mare (LE), and – last but not least – Unspoken (CN).  I guess Chaotic Good ponies are out of luck...or maybe they just don't give a pasture patty about gods.

A fulsome history of Everglow is provided in the book with emphasis on the pony empire.  There is a presumption that Ponyfinder games are “set after the decline of the Empire,” but information for running a 'height of the empire' campaign is also provided.  Twenty-four pages are devoted to descriptions of 39 'Notable Persons'.  There are no stat blocks, just paragraphs of information about famous ponies with names like Saxon Violins, Scarlet O'Mare, and Boogie.