Sunday, May 19, 2019

The (A)D&D Adventure That Michael Moorcock Wrote (Spoilers)

Map by Paul Ruiz

Published from 1983 to 1985, Imagine was TSR's official organ in the UK.  Issue #22 was a Michael Moorcock Special Feature including:  an interview with him, a short story by him (“1st UK magazine publication”), an AD&D adventure by him, and a three page publication history of the Eternal Champion by someone other than him.  In the interview, Moorcock tells us what he thinks about people who partake in role-playing games:
...I know a lot of people who are actively involved.  It's certainly very popular.  If you look back to the 20s and 30s, the people then were enjoying the popular magazines, they contained the same types of fantasies but they weren't so formalized.  It's also linked to the times we live in.  Large numbers of people feel disenfranchised, and if people haven't got any effect, or feel that they haven't got any effect in the real world, they go into religion – or perhaps role-playing games.  Both are substitutes for the person who feels that he has no effect on anything.
Perhaps writing Sword & Sorcery stories about an albino also counts as a substitute.

Anyway, the eight page adventure is written by Michael Moorcock and Michael Brunton.  So, it's a collaboration.  How much did Moorcock contribute?  In the interview, when Moorcock is asked if he will write for role-playing games, he replies, “I'll write the odd scenario, such as the outline I did for IMAGINE.”  So, Moorcock's contribution was limited to an outline.  The credits at the end of the adventure attribute “Inspiration” to Moorcock and “Perspiration” to Brunton.  Using the Edison criteria, I suppose Moorcock was responsible for ten percent of the adventure.

In the Table of Contents, the “mini-module” is called “The Iron Galleon.”  When the adventure is presented on page 25, it has the title “Earl Aubec and The Iron Galleon.”  The scenario turns out to be a “one-on-one adventure” where the player assumes the role of a Moorcock creation, Earl Aubec of Malador, previously appearing in a 1964 short story.  In AD&D terms, Aubec is a twelfth level fighter with a +3 two-handed sword.  Actually, there is provision for a second player character – Jhary-a-Conel, an incarnation of the Eternal Sidekick.  Jhary is a seventh level fighter who “can use magic items and scrolls as though a magic-user.”  He also has a flying cat, Whiskers, that “should be treated as a magic user's familiar.”  In the absence of a second player, Jhary can be used as a non-player character.

A half-page section, The World of the Young Kingdoms, is intended to be read by both the DM and player.  While the section briefly describes Moorcock's setting, mostly it reveals Aubec's history.  We learn:
At Kaneloon he fought and defeated creatures from his own imagination.  In rising above the darkness of his own mind Aubec won the right to go beyond the world's boundary and carve new lands from the Chaos-stuff that existed beyond.  Here too, he first encounters Myshella, the Dark Lady, and refuses the 'rights' that she offers him....
This is an impressive accomplishment for someone with a Wisdom of 9.  There is also a section of Dungeon Master's Notes.  The section begins with six paragraphs of background information.  There is also a sub-section about alignment in Moorcock's setting; mainly, “the classifications of 'Good' and 'Evil' have no real relevance.”  (Perhaps the adventure should have been presented in terms of BECMI rules instead of AD&D.)  Also, some Dungeon Master advice is presented regarding one-on-one play:
In a one player module it is always possible to 'kill off' the one and only character with ease.  The DM must resist the temptation to see the adventure as a personal confrontation, and his or her duty in that confrontation as 'getting' the player.  This doesn't mean that the player character should be given an easy ride, but the DM should remember that the character is supposed to be a hero and win through.... most of the time.
The adventure presents a couple of house rules:

Yielding to tradition, the scenario begins in a tavern.  While enjoying a repast, time seems to stand still except for Aubec and his cat.  “From the shadows” appears Myshella, the Sorceress of Kaneloon.  Aubec's nameless cats purrs, so we know the sorceress intends no harm towards Aubec.  (“Aubec's cat is not a familiar, but it is sensitive to danger.  The DM should make a point of mentioning (subtly) what the cat's reaction is to the various characters and situations in this module.”)  She reveals the premise of the adventure.  There's an Iron Galleon which “sails not only the seas of the Young Kingdoms, but the waters of other worlds as well.”  Somewhere, the Captain of the Iron Galleon acquired the Horn of Fate, “a treasure of incomparable power” capable of “bringing about the ruin of everything.”  Myshella wants Aubec to obtain the Horn and deliver it to her so she can send it “out of Aubec's world...”  Myshella provides some money so that Aubec can hire a ship to travel to a given location.  If Aubec does so, “Within five days [he] will meet the Iron Galleon.”  Myshella departs and time resumes.

“If Aubec decides not to obey Myshella's instructions” within two days, he is attacked by hirelings of an old enemy.  Such attacks will continue daily until Aubec (literally and figuratively) gets on board.  Before encountering the Iron Galleon, “The DM should use at least one” preceding encounter.  One such encounter is attack upon the ship by an ildriss (air grue).  The other possible encounter is an attack by “a Pan Tang slave raider looking for fresh victims.”  Regardless of which preceding encounters are employed, eventually the Iron Galleon collides with the ship Aubec is on and destroys it.  Aubec is supposed “to grab the anchor chain of the Iron Galleon as it passes, and climb up it to 'safety'.”

The captain of the Iron Galleon is Dyvim Ka'aand, “a Melnibonéan outcast, doomed to wander the seas between the worlds...”  In true Melnibonéan fashion,  “He maintains a pretense of bored, tolerant amusement towards the world, beneath which he is haughty, noble, sophisticated, and amoral.”  Dyvim Ka'aand is not given a character class; however...
Dyvim is the equivalent of a 12th level spell caster when casting his memorised spells.  Unlike normal magic users or illusionists, Dyvim does not have to 'memorise' other spells.  His spell grimoires and tomes contain details of spells that are functionally identical to all the magic user and illusionist spells of 6th level and below.  After studying these spells for a period of (4d4 ⨯ spell level) minutes, Dyvim Ka'aand is able to cast them.  There is also a 17% chance that Dyvim Ka'aand will be able to cast any spell from memory.  In this case, there is a 5% chance he will do so incorrectly and the casting will prove to be a waste of time.  However, there is a limit to Dyvim Ka'aand's spell casting capability.  He cannot cast more than 35 levels of spell in a single day – for example he can cast up to 2 ⨯ 1st, 1 ⨯ 2nd, 4 ⨯ 4th, and 3 ⨯ 5th levels.
The Iron Galleon is mapped out and each numbered location is described like a proper dungeon.  One location is the hold, containing “the Iron Galleon's collection of trinkets” from a plethora of worlds.  Such trinkets include:  “lengths of ship's timbers; oil barrels (for the lamps); mold-covered grain sacks; chests full of tea, raw cotton, white marble, pottery, and black powder (which is so damp as to be useless); wine amphorae; five life preservers marked HMS Graf Spee and perched on top of one heap is a what appears to be a giant, misshapen arrow – a Phoenix AIM 54A air-to-air missile, which is armed and ready for firing.”  (Elsewhere on the vessel is “the ejector seat from a Mig-31 Foxhound.”)  There are a few locations with 'monsters' (e.g., stirges and rust rats) but, mainly, the Iron Galleon serves as a venue for interacting with non-player characters.  Aside from Dyvim, other intelligent denizens of the ship include:

          Jeroaz :  A Dwarven jester with a +1 slapstick that causes extra damage because it “is tainted with unclean Chaos-stuff.”  (6th level assassin)
          Master Smiles :  “He is simply a dissolute sybarite who actively enjoys the life of contemplative cruelty and barbarity that he indulges in aboard the Iron Galleon.”  (5th level fighter)
          Kateriona van Hjeok :  Last survivor of a group of pirates who assaulted the Iron Galleon.  She has an “eye patch and steel prosthetic hand.”  (7th level fighter)
          Miriame :  A refugee from a slave galley, “Dyvim has amused himself by feeding her a powerful hallucinogenic drug which makes her totally compliant to his will – the withdrawal symptoms are extremely painful.” (non-classed)
          Windlos of Heuliss :  A “flying man” trapped on board the Iron Galleon.  (non-classed, but 7+1 Hit Dice)

The Horn of Fate – appearing to be a drinking horn – is in Dyvim's study.  Dyvim knows the Horn is special, but evidently does not realize its true nature.  What Aubec does to get the Horn is up to the player.  Aubec can attempt to recruit non-player characters as allies against Dyvim.  “Aubec need only obtain a positive reaction (DMG p63) to apparently enlist the aid of any of the NPCs.”  Aubec's cat is useful in determining which non-player characters are trustworthy.  Aubec and his allies can make use of “a small wooden sailing boat” on the Iron Galleon.  There is also a way to destroy to Iron Galleon.  If Aubec gets away without killing Dyvim, the Melnibonéan will send an invisible stalker against Aubec.  If Aubec does not repair to Kaneloon with alacrity, the DM may have Aubec attacked by his old enemy's hirelings “as an extra incentive to Kaneloon and safety with minimal delay.”

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Deck of Many Things

Art by Oswald Wirth

Nowadays you can just buy them but circa 1981, if you wanted a Deck of Many Things, you either had to cannibalize a standard poker deck (yawn) or make it from scratch.  One of your humble host's gaming buddies crafted an original deck, although I don't think we ever found an in-game use for it.  Still, such was the allure of this magic item, it captivated our imagination.

I never much cared for the name.  Deck of Many Things?  If Viking parliamentarians had cards similar to baseball players and you had a comprehensive set of those cards, you would have a Deck of Many Things.  Sure, I guess the full name is the Deck of Many Things Beneficial and Baneful, but no one ever uses the full name.  Why not the Deck of Benefit and Bane?  The Deck of Danger and Delight?  The Deck of Precipitous Fate?  “Many Things” implies a paucity of creativity.

The Deck of Many Things is first described in Greyhawk.  This version consists of eighteen cards, “One-half bring beneficial things, and one-half cause hurtful things.”  Actually, eight cards are beneficial and eight are hurtful, but there are also two jokers.  Each joker offers the choice of 25,000 experience points or the selection of two additional cards.  Arguably, the jokers are beneficial which would mean slightly less than half of the cards are hurtful.  Regardless, the (roughly) half-good / half-bad mix of cards is reflected in future iterations of the deck.  Aside from the jokers, the deck includes the face cards and aces of the standard suites; the red suites containing the beneficial cards and the black, hurtful.  The cards are not given fancy names like 'Comet' or 'Euryale', they are referenced only by their pedestrian poker designations.  Greyhawk informs us that a character “possessing such a deck may select cards from it four times (or more if jokers are drawn), and whatever is revealed by the card selected takes place.”  No announcement of intent is required – a card is drawn and the outcome occurs.

Once Greyhawk describes the effects of the individual cards, the book continues:
After each draw the card is returned to the pack and it is shuffled again before another draw is made. All four draws need not be made, but the moment the possessor of the deck states he has no intention of ever drawing further cards, or after the maximum number of draws in any event, it disappears.
Clearly, a deck has an individual possessor and – once the possessor concludes his draws – the deck goes away.  ('Disappear' does not mean that the deck becomes invisible.)  It seems wasteful that only one character can benefit/suffer from the deck before it leaves to wherever these decks go.  Since there is no stipulation that jokers aren't shuffled back into the deck, more and more cards can be drawn (at least until the possessor dies or is turned to stone).  Lastly, we are informed, “The referee may make up his own deck using the guidelines above.”  Said guidelines seemingly ensure a mix of beneficial and hurtful cards balanced in number and intensity.

The first edition Dungeon Masters Guide describes two varieties of decks, both of which are distinct from the Greyhawk deck.  One is a thirteen plaque economy deck (being 75% of all decks), the other is a deluxe deck (being the remaining 25% of all decks) with nine additional plaques.  Each plaque has a poker deck analog, but they also have individual names like 'Vizier' and 'Talons'.

Unlike the Greyhawk deck, for a drawn card to have an effect in the DMG versions, a character must announce beforehand the number of cards he or she intends to draw (up to a maximum of four).  Exactly how is a character supposed to know this condition?  Here's my take:  Decks are “usually...contained within a box or leather pouch.”  I would think that characters are incapable of withdrawing any plaques from their container unless and until they announce the number they intend to draw.  Instructions about this requirement can be inscribed on the container.

Instead of two jokers with an option of experience points or additional draws, there is one 'Jester' where the experience option is 10,000 points (as opposed to 25,000).  The second joker – called 'Fool' – appears in the deluxe deck; it causes a loss of ten thousand experience points and necessitates an additional draw beyond the number announced.  The Greyhawk version has a card (A♥) that grants 50,000 experience points and another (K♥) that provides a miscellaneous magic item.  In the DMG version, both effects are combined into the 'Sun' plaque.  The DMG 'Moon' gives the character 1 - 4 wishes while the Greyhawk version (Q♥) gives 1 – 3 wishes.  A Greyhawk drawer can receive a “map to richest treasure on any dungeon level” (A♦) while the DMG 'Key' offers “a treasure map plus 1 magic weapon.”  With the DMG 'Knight', a character gains “the service of a 4th level fighter” until death; the Greyhawk version (J♥) supplies a Superhero (i.e., 8th level fighter) with +3 armor, shield, and sword, but this service only lasts an hour.  A Greyhawk card (K♦) supplies a character with “5 – 30 pieces of jewelry immediately,” but the DMG 'Gem' offers a “choice of 20 jewelry or 50 gems.”  While the DMG 'Star' increases a character's “major ability” by two points, the Greyhawk card (J♦) adds one point to an ability of the character's choice.  While a Greyhawk card (K♣) takes away a character's most prized magic item, the DMG 'Talons' causes the loss of all magic items.  A Greyhawk card (Q♣) causes a character to be turned to stone (“no saving throw”), but the DMG 'Euryale' causes a “Minus 3 on all saving throws vs. petrification.”  Greyhawk cards without a direct DMG equivalent include one (Q♦) that provides a “Scroll of 7 Spells, no 1st-level spells on it” and another (J♠) where a “Monster from 5th-level Underworld Monster Table attacks by surprise.”

With regard to the staying power of the DMG decks we learn, “Upon drawing the last plaque possible, or immediately upon drawing the plaques in bold face (The Void, Donjon), the deck disappears.”  (bold and italics in original)  This is less explicit than the Greyhawk explanation.  Apparently, the same conditions apply, but there is no specific statement that only one character can use a given deck.  Dragon #148 (August 1989) includes a feature with the title “Luck of the Draw.”  In the guise of fiction, Robin Jenkins provides some information about how a Deck of Many Things works.  According to Jenkins' logic...
Once the number of cards to be drawn is announced, other characters may pull from the deck in place of the initial character, thereby assuming the number of pulls initially announced. Any character who announces his intention to pull a new number of cards from a deck “erases” any previous number announced, so long as that previous number of draws was not completed; this makes it possible for one deck to pass through many hands.
The third edition rules tend to dispel this notion. We read:
Cards must be drawn within 1 hour of each other, and a character can never again draw from this deck any more cards than she has announced. If the character does not willingly draw her allotted number (or if she is somehow prevented from doing so), the cards flip out of the deck on their own.
Yet nothing indicates that the deck “disappears” once a character finishes his or her draws.

When 'The Void' card from the DMG is drawn, “The character's body functions, and he or she speaks like an automaton, but the psyche is trapped in a prison somewhere – in an object on a far planet or plane, possibly in the possession of a demon.”  In Jenkins' paradigm, this means the victim's body can be led about to “check for pits, traps, that sort of thing!”  Third edition clarifies that the body functions “as though comatose.”  The 'Donjon' card from DMG “signifies imprisonment – either by spell or by some being/creature at your option.”  Jenkins presents an example where a character drawing 'Donjon' is imprisoned in Hades.  Whereas the DMG decks disappear upon 'Donjon' or 'The Void' being drawn, third edition includes the instruction “Draw no more cards” in the explanation for both cards

Other differences between first edition and third edition cards are as follows:
  • Euryale :   Instead of -3 on petrification saving throws, 3E inflicts -1 on all saving throws.
  • Gem :  Third edition specifies 25 items of jewelry instead of 20.  Also, each item of jewelry is worth 2,000 gp and each gem is worth 1,000 gp.
  • Idiot :  In first edition, 1d4 points of Intelligence are lost; in third edition, the loss is 1d4+1.
  • Key :  In third edition, the character gains “a major magic weapon” but no map.
  • Skull :  In first edition, “A minor Death appears.”  In third edition, “A dread wraith appears.”
  • Star :  First edition specifies the points go to the character's “major ability” (or, if such an addition would bring the score to 19, one or both points are applied to other abilities).  In third edition, any ability can be selected for the bonus.
  • Throne :  In first edition, the character gains a Charisma score of 18 and the “castle gained will be near to any stronghold already possessed.”  No Charisma is gained in third edition; the character receives “+6 bonus to Diplomacy checks.”  Additionally, “The castle gained appears in any open area she wishes.”
  • Vizier :  In third edition, the effect must be employed “within one year.” 
Also, the third edition Deck of Many Things is a minor artifact and the thirteen card economy version is not mentioned.

The number of cards in the deluxe deck suggests a correlation with the Major Arcana of the tarot; even some of the card names are the same – 'Sun', 'Moon', 'Star', and 'Fool'.  In fact, Dragon #77 (September 1983) contains an article describing a Tarot of Many Things.  Each of the seventy-eight cards has two effects, one if the card is drawn upright and another if drawn inverted.  Unlike the more prosaic Deck of Many Things, “No card can be received more than once by the same drawer.”  Also,
A person who wishes or is compelled to draw from the deck will be allowed to announce an intention of drawing one, two, three, or four cards; when the last member of the party who wishes to do so has drawn, or if one hour elapses without any draw, the deck will disappear – unless the party is on the plane of the Tarot's master deity, which is not the party's own home plane.
So, use of the Tarot is not limited to one character.  Third edition lists tarot equivalents for the twenty-two cards in the deck; however, only half of the Major Arcana are represented.  To be fair, the imagery of the Minor Arcana used is appropriate to the card effects.

The Pathfinder version of the Deck of Many Things naturally conforms to 3.5E; however, we are given information about destroying the artifact:
The item can be destroyed by losing it in a wager with a deity of law.  The deity must be unaware of the nature of the deck.
One might think that the deity would become suspicious (and thus 'aware' of the nature of the deck) after the first time this occurs.  Also, one might think a god could become quite upset if something just won in a wager ceases to exist.

In fifth edition, the Deck of Many Things is no longer an artifact, the thirteen card economy deck is reintroduced, and any correlation with the tarot is abandoned.  Card effects are generally the same as third edition, with differences indicated as follows:
  • Donjon :  It is specified that the character disappears and becomes “entombed in a state of suspended animation in an extradimensional sphere.”
  • Euryale :  A –2 penalty on saving throws is inflicted.
  • Key :  “The item is selected by the GM.”
  • Moon :  The character is “granted the ability to cast the wish spell 1d3 times.”
  • Skull :  Instead of a dread wraith, there is an Avatar of Death, which is similar to the first edition's minor Death.
  • Star :  “The score can exceed 20 but can’t exceed 24.”
  • Throne :  The character gains “proficiency in the Persuasion skill” and the proficiency bonus is doubled “on checks made with that skill.”  Also, “the keep is currently in the hands of monsters,” which must be cleared out before the character claims the keep.
  • Vizier :  In fifth edition, “the knowledge comes with the wisdom on how to apply it.”  (This is in contrast to first edition which says, “Whether the information gained can be successfully acted upon is another question entirely.”)
Another issue I have with the Deck of Many Things is how knowledge is imparted to the character in various circumstances.  For instance, with 'The Fates' card, “Reality’s fabric unravels and spins anew, allowing you to avoid or erase one event as if it never happened.” (5E)  How does the character know this?  When the character selects an event, what does he or she do to apply the effect of the card?  Instead of a deck being contained in a box or pouch, why not have it be part of a device with an animatronic fortune teller?  If you don't like an animatronic fortune teller you could have an imp, a talking magpie, or whatever suits your fancy.  The device could dispense physical objects like weapons and gems in the manner of a vending machine (or a slot machine).  Entities like fighters and death avatars can climb out of a small door in the side of the machine.  Cards that require an explanation (like 'The Fates') can be explained by the fortune teller (or whatever).

The next question is, who (or what) would bother to create a Deck of Many Things?  Jenkins postulates that “the powers of Neutrality are at the core of the deck’s power, and the enchantments of such decks come from the plane of Concordant Opposition...the gods of luck...seem likely to benefit from the dissemination of such items in this world.”  Well, if a wizard didn't do it, you might as well have gods do it.  But why would gods (of luck or otherwise) want to create and disseminate such items?  Jenkins writes, “The purpose behind the deck of many things is to encourage risk.”  I don't think the motives of gods would be known to mortals (or necessarily comprehensible by mortals).  I think that – to the gods – it's just a game.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Assault on Starship Omicron (spoilers)

Art by Jeff Easley

In Heroic Worlds, Lawrence Schick declared, “There is no SFAC2.”  However, the Star Frontiers Referee's Screen is commonly considered to be the second Star Frontiers accessory.  In fairness to Schick, SFAC1 (Star Frontiers Official Character Record Sheets) and SFAC3 (Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space) are clearly labeled as such; the code SFAC2 appears nowhere on the Referee's Screen product.

As is common, the screen itself is a tri-fold sheet of thick card stock.  As is also common, the screen displays a combination of art and charts/tables.  For the Star Frontiers Referee's Screen, the art is limited to the Jeff Easley cover – a portion of which is depicted above.  The cover helpfully informs, “This package includes a durable referee's screen with all charts needed to play STAR FRONTIERS™ adventures.”  This product pre-dates Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space, so the rule changes introduced in that book are not addressed.  Otherwise, the information presented is fulsome.  Does the chart display “all charts needed” for play?  Well, not all tables from the rules are available but, technically, few tables are actually necessary to play the game.

As a game master, I have little use for screens.  I certainly understand their utility, but I would rather not have a barrier between me and the players.  As a player, I can benefit from information on the screen only if I'm sitting next to it; even then I would only be able to see one panel.  As a player, I prefer mood-setting art on a screen rather than charts and tables.  Obviously, the point of the charts and tables is to limit delays during the course of play.  Most information on a screen relates to combat since combat is the stage of play where delays are least tolerable.  The Star Frontiers screen includes the Skills Cost Table and the Robotic Design Cost Table; this sort of information is only needed during the game's downtime.  The following items are absent from the screen:  the Vehicle Control Table, the Rate of Fire Table, the Punching Table, details about structural damage, Grenade Bounce Diagrams, and the Avoidance Roll Table.  Any of these items presented on a screen would better serve a referee rather than “downtime” information.

In the Old School era, when Gamemaster's Screens were sold separately from a boxed set, they were commonly bundled with a small adventure.  The Star Frontiers Referee's Screen is no exception.  The cover continues to tell us about the product:
It also includes a mini-module, ASSAULT ON STARSHIP OMICRON, that can be used as a re-playable game.  The players must defend the starship from an attack by hostile aliens.
The concepts of “assault” and “attack” successfully convey the notion of hostility; referring to the aliens as “hostile” is somewhat superfluous.

The 'mini-module' was written by Old School stalwarts Mark Acres and Tom Moldvay.  Two distinct scenarios are provided:  “Sathar Attack” and “Rogue Robots.”  When the cover refers to the mini-module as a “re-playable game,” it is not an error.  In the 'How To Use This Module' section, we are informed:
Each scenario has been designed so that it can be used by a referee as part of a continuing campaign, or played and replayed on its own as a game.  Eight pre-rolled characters are provided.  When the scenarios are being replayed as a game, the pre-rolled characters should be used.  There should always be eight player characters at the beginning of each scenario; if there are fewer than eight players, some players should play more than one character.
In fact, using the mini-module as part of a campaign may not be desirable.  The referee is warned:
The combat in these scenarios is intense and deadly.  Players should not use their campaign characters unless the skills and equipment of the characters are equivalent to those of the characters included in the module.
Among the eight pre-generated characters, there are a pair of characters from each of the four player character races.  Each pair includes a male and female except for the Dralasites – their gender phase is not specified.  Generally speaking, the pre-generated characters are formidable.  The average number of skill levels among them is 8.375.  One of the characters possesses a Stamina of 85 and another has a Stamina of 75.  Write-ups for the pre-rolled characters take up one of the mini-module's eight pages.

'Assault on Starship Omicron' introduces a new alien species, the Zuraqqor.  They “are a race of intelligent, bipedal insects.”  We learn that the “Zuraqqor are technological experts” and they are allied with the diabolical Sathar.  Unfortunately, the module contains no illustration of a Zuraqqor.  The 'Alien Life Form Update File' for the Zuraqqor is a little more than one-half page.  A portion of the file is presented below for the reader's delectation.

The mini-module makes use of the Starship Bridge Area map from the Star Frontiers boxed set.  One of the booklet's pages is a Starship Upper Deck map meant to be used in conjunction with the Starship Bridge Area map; the hatches of both maps line up with each other.  (“An individual who opens a hatch on one map can move directly into the corresponding airlock on the other map.”)

According to the Introduction:
The starship Omicron, the pride of the Pan Galactic Corporation, disappeared years ago on its first voyage.  Recently the ship was found drifting in space, the passengers and crew killed by a strange and virulent disease.  The ship was decontaminated, refueled, and made ready for operations.  The PGC has hired eight adventurers to “babysit” the Omicron on her voyage back to a Corporation starport.  The ship is being navigated by her computers and robots and this promises to be an easy mission for the “babysitting” team.
Two pages are devoted to rules specific to the module (such as movement, life support, and ship locations).

In the “Sathar Attack” scenario, an invasion force boards the Omicron.  The force consists of “10 Sathar, eight Zuraqqor, two quickdeaths, and one cybodragon.”  The player characters are not alerted to this incursion until the Sathar open the “outer hull hatch.”  Evidently the Omicron has no escort and the Sathar can avoid the ship's sensors (assuming it has any).  As an option for the scenario, “a small sample of the disease spores...[are]...stored in the Medical Lab.”  Should combat occur in the Medical Lab, “there is an 80% chance that the vial containing the disease spores will be broken...”

In the “Rogue Robots” scenario, “the Zuraqqor have infiltrated a rogue robot onto the starship Omicron” somehow.  “The rogue robot has secretly reprogrammed all the other robots,” but not necessarily successfully.  Different types of robots have different percentage chances of genuinely being in the rogue robot's thrall.  The objective of the player characters is to determine which robot is the rogue and destroy it.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

More Concepts from Zebulon's Guide

Art by Ed Emshwiller

Not just a rules expansion, Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space (hereinafter Zebulon) substantially modifies the Star Frontiers setting.  According to the provided timeline, Zebulon describes a time about one hundred years after the original of Star Frontiers milieu.  Various events transpired during the intervening century.  Most importantly, new sentient races were introduced to Frontier.

Ifshnits are, in effect, space dwarves.
Ifshnits are the major race in the Capella system.  They founded the Capellan Free Merchants and still control the organization.  Their strange, polite dickering is known and welcome on most planets.  Due to their origins, Ifshnits are fiercely independent...
They automatically possess one of the following skills:  Appraisal, Gemology, or Haggling.

Osakar are expert linguists and have a superb sense of smell.
The Osakar epidermis is made up of thousands of large, white, hard, plate-like cells that are shingled downward all over the body.  They resemble a huge, white plant more than any animal.
Because Osakar are the only sentient race to have “achieved perfect equality,” they have a “natural inclination toward individuality.”  Additionally, “All Osakar are fervently religious, but the religion itself is not as important as the fact that the Osakar believes in it.”

Humma bear a superficial similarity to kangaroos; they can leap up to twenty-five meters horizontally.  However, Humma tails are prehensile.
Humma are rude, crude, lewd, pushy, and arrogant.  The only races they enjoy working with are the Yazirians (Humma admire their battle rage) and Osakar (because no one likes them either).
Their “lack of smell and taste, combined with their tough digestive system, means they can eat almost anything that is vaguely edible.”

Mechanons are the sentient robots from Starspawn of Volturnus.  Since leaving Volturnus and colonizing the planet Mechano, their “aggressive tendency to dominate and destroy organic, intelligent life” has abated.  Nonetheless, “Some robopsychologists are beginning to suspect that two completely different Mechanon societies may be evolving:  one bent on peacefully coexisting with the other races, and another, smaller faction bent on destroying them.”  Perhaps because of this, Mechanons are relegated to non-player character status.

Another prominent event in the timeline was the spread and eradication of the Blue Plague.  First appearing on Starmist, the plague would eventually kill 17 million entities.  Presumably, victims included all of the (organic) sentient races.

Additionally, of the approximately four pages devoted to the timeline, the description of the Second Sathar War takes up slightly more than an entire page.

Aside from the timeline, there is a five page chapter about mega-corporations.  Seventeen mega-corps (including the Capellan Free Merchants) are described in capsule form.  Emphasis is placed on the phenomenon of “Corporate Wars.”  The stages of a corporate war are indicated by the acronym ICEWARS:  Interest conflict, Corporate espionage, Economic sanctions, Withdrawal, Armed conflict, Reinforcements, and Stabilization.”

Zebulon brings cloning technology into Star Frontiers.  For five thousand Credits a skin sample is placed into a body-gene box.  Being “part stasis field, part freeze field,” a b-g box “is a 20-cm cube made of federanium.”  We are told, “As long as the box remains closed, the sample remains fresh.”  I guess you could say that a sample in a b-g box is stayin' alive.  (Sorry, my inner demons forced me to make a Bee Gees joke.)  It costs ten thousand Credits per year to maintain and store a b-g box.  Once it is “positively established” that a sample donor has died, a clone can be generated at a cost of 75,000 Credits.  Proof of a person's demise requires “witnesses, a medical certificate of death, or the identifiable remains of the [person].”  However, to be eligible for cloning, the person must have “died an unusually early accidental death.”  Absent this restriction, “Most of the Frontier believes that...the clone merchants would overpopulate the systems in a matter of decades.”

Since this is science fiction, clones have the memories of their originals.
When a character has a sample taken, the referee must record all of the character's abilities, skills, and so forth.  This record is then the basis for the clone, if and when it is grown.  Any new abilities or skills developed after the sample is taken are not recorded, unless the character has another sample taken later (whereupon the original sample is destroyed).
It is not explained how an original's personality is linked to a skin sample.  The sample is destroyed when a clone is generated from it and – for undisclosed reasons – “Another sample cannot be taken for at least three months.”  Supposedly, when a clone is generated, it has the same physiological age as the original at the time the sample was taken.

If a clone learns that his original is still alive...
...he becomes obsessed with a desire to kill the original character and never stops trying until one or the other is dead. The next step, usually, is that the cloned character then becomes suicidal after realizing that he has killed himself.
Presumably, this also applies to female clones.  Given this behavior, it is understandable that, “If it is discovered that a clone exists while the original still lives, a general order to shoot on sight is immediately given.”  We also learn that, “Unfortunately this usually results in both the clone and the original being destroyed.”  Can't the original be put into protective custody?  If I realized that I was a clone and found out my original was still alive and knew that, as such, I would be destroyed, I would approach things differently.  I might toy with the idea of taking my original's place.  Quickly dismissing this notion as not being feasible, I would distance myself from my original identity in an effort to convince people that I'm not a clone.

Naturally, cloning presents a variety legal and ethical considerations.  Is a clone responsible for the actions of its original after the sample is taken?  Felons aren't allowed to maintain b-g boxes or be cloned, but does a clone inherit its original's debts and responsibilities?

We learn “there are always rumors of the 'filthy rich' who can buy their own clone banks and almost become immortal, but that is for NPC consideration only.”  How does that work?  Do these would-be immortals pretend to be their own offspring for purposes of inheritance?  How would their actual children feel about that?  In any event, a clone isn't really a continuation of the original.  The clone and the original “share a life” until the time of the sample; the original then has its own experiences and develops independently.

Cloning offers some adventure opportunities that Zebulon does not touch upon.  For instance, the clone of a player character would want to know how and why the original died.  Because of the cloning restrictions, the death couldn't be the result of natural causes.  Another opportunity would be for player characters to be clone hunters, tracking down and 'retiring' clones that are alive illegally.  Also, Sathar would certainly take advantage of cloning technology.  They could steal samples of important people, generate clones that are completely loyal to the Sathar cause, and replace the people with their clones.  Positions of great influence would be infiltrated by agents who could not be distinguished from the originals.