Friday, May 31, 2013

Why do I blog?

Why do I blog? That’s a good question. One that was raised at Gamex this year as +James Forest plopped a camera in front of me and asked me to define what Plus Ten to Awesome was about. This was a deceptively difficult question to answer and I was rather surprised that I didn’t have a quick and easy response, having never really given it much thought. Most of the people who read this blog probably have a blog of their own or some sort of creative outlet that is similar. So I thought it might be time to define my goals for two reasons.

Firstly, I think it important to give my readers a reason to tune in. By defining my scope, people who read this can easily determine if this blog is for them or not. There are literally thousands of gaming blogs out there and giving folks a good idea about what sets mine apart is good for them and me.

Second, I need to define my focus for the purposes of creating content. Nobody wants to read a magazine that delivers content about sports one day and celebrity gossip the other right? By creating a mission statement (for lack of a better term), I can give myself some parameters to stay within that will give the blog some consistency and balance.

I spent quite a bit of time chewing on this in my head. Everything I came up with sounded like this:

It dawned on me that the “what” was nowhere near as important as the “why”. Sure I love games but the reason I love games is the reason why I blog. The focus of my subject matter is about ways to find new games to play and finding new ways to enjoy the ones we already play.  Thus giving us all a bonus to Awesome, preferably at least a +10. So let’s go into why I love gaming.


I think games are uniquely suited for building communities. We see this quite plainly on Google Plus. When examined there are some very important reasons why. Communities are built around shared commonality of course, but those bonds are strengthened by certain activities which are found in gaming.

Games give us a way to overcome challenges together. Games deal with all kinds of challenges; strategic, tactical, adversarial, mathematical, etc. Games let groups compete or work together to overcome a challenge. When people interact in this way, it changes the relationship from two or more people who merely share an interest to "rivals" or "brothers in arms". Challenging one’s self not only provides us with a channel for personal growth, but also provides us with self-esteem as a source of pride within a group. It also teaches lessons of sportsmanship and how to deal with failure as a way to improve. Meaningful lessons of socialization, cooperation and development can be learned and taught through gaming. All these things are crucial to being a responsible member of a community.

Sharing Stories

Sharing stories is one of the building blocks of society. The stories we all know build shared mythologies that bind us all together. Games like RPG’s let us create stories and build a form of closed circuit mythology. It’s not so much the stories themselves, although they can be wonderful but it’s the recounting of the tales that create bonds. Do you ever talk about that incredible turn of Axis and Allies you had that one time? Or that one piece you kept forgetting to move in that game of Gammarauders that ended up winning the game for you in the end? My friends and I tell the same old war stories over and over again. This shared mythology will always remain even after we all start having kids and go different directions in our careers. Whenever we tell the story of our favorite dwarf paladin we travel  back to those times and remember fondly how we managed to escape that drow city.

Geek Power

As a Nerd/Geek I am very passionate about the things I love and I will talk just about anyone’s ear off about Star Wars, Green Lantern, Conan, Battletech or you name it. Gaming is a big part of Geek culture and we as a social group are finally beginning to come into our own. I like Wil’s definition of a Nerd/Geek. We want to know things, create things and understand things. These drives are at the core of why most Geeks are gamers. Games allow us to employ our creativity, knowledge, intelligence and curiosity. More than just that, games allow us to share those things with others. It builds the sense of wonder that I think is in the heart of Nerdom. It’s incredibly awesome to be a Nerd and want to reach out to my people and share our common love of gaming.

In the final analysis, our mission statement is:

Plus Ten to Awesome consists of a small community of gamers who want to share the gift that gaming has given us. That gift is friendship, camaraderie and a passion for creating and knowing. We here at +X2A are committed to sharing information, events and knowledge with those who are seeking to broaden their gaming horizons in any way.

We can help. Have you played Dragon Age on the X-Box and are curious about the RPG? We can help with that. Are you new at game design and want a group to try out your game and give you feedback? We can help with that. Do you have a new game and want to show it off at a convention to drum up some interest? We can help with that. Are you in the SoCal area and are looking for a place to buy and play games? We can help with that. Do you want to run events for your favorite game but don’t know where to start? We can help with that.

Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, YouTube, Picasa and here on our Blog and let us know how we can help.

Much love to my community,
Jim Sandoval

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gamex 2013

So, another Gamex has come and gone and I am much the better for it. I love the Strategicon series of events and have been working as a volunteer there for quite a few years. Its certainly not the largest game convention, but I think it offers a great range of gaming in a rich and welcoming atmosphere.

Strategicon may have a bad rap with some people. There were times when this was not the best series of events in town, but I think much has changed for the better thanks to the fact that the convention is owned and run by fans and not by people in the industry or in retail.

It's Miller Time!

At this Gamex I primarily ran the X-Wing Assault on the Pontiff event. I have been probably making everyone sick talking about that so I will make this quick. I ran this event three times with 2 Rebel wins and 1 Imperial.  The two Rebel wins being very close calls. I can't believe how popular this game is and how positive the crowd reaction was to the Pontiff. It's the first event I have ever run where people went out of their way to thank me and congratulate me on Monday during breakdown. I can't wait to expand on this and maybe take the event on tour to some game stores in the area.

I only got one opportunity to run my King of Monsters vs. The League of Righteousness game. Unfortunately, I didn't get my custom Uno cards until Tuesday after the con. Damn USPS! But other than that my one game went well, with the King of Monsters being beaten back to the ocean at the loss of the LoR HQ! Thanks to Gamecraft Miniatures for the donation of the terrain and thanks to +John Paiva for the huge Godzilla model.

I also got to run +David Berg 's "Within my Clutches" roleplaying game. I can't say enough positive things about this fun and easy four player roleplaying game that sets each player as a Villain and all the other corollary characters in a round robin storytelling extravaganza. I would love to add this to my list of games that would be great for introducing Narrative Driven RPG's to a group. Much fun was had by all, especially since we ran until 2 a.m. playing it. I am going to work hard to make indie games more accessible at Strategicon, so cross your fingers that I get my way!

There was another great Kaiju game run by one of our associates from the Monstore. His Godzilla in Monster Island game was incredibly popular and fun.  He had a dozen Kaiju including Godzilla, Mecha Godzilla, Rodan, King Ghidorah and others. All these monsters stomped through Tokyo, destroying buildings, military vehicles and each other for fun and profit.  Good times.

It was also the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and we had our friends from HMGS (Historical Miniatures Gaming Society)  out in force with Day 1 and 2 of the battle represented on two days of events.

+Christopher Jackson ran a great Mutants and Masterminds game that gave us a hint at what happened before the events of the video game Farcry and +James Forest kicked it old school with a rousing game of Castle Falkenstein.

Stay tuned for more pictures and details of all the fun that was had on Memorial Day weekend!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Imperial side of the tale for the Assault on the Pontiff Scenario

"Major Nihls to the ready room" came the call over the tinny PA system. The tension in the squad bay ratcheted up instantly as the pilots unconsciously looked up at the speaker. The Major set his data pad down and started towards the Invictus’ interior. "Maybe that is the new assignment we have heard about" Gamma flight leader Nihls mused to his squadron. "If it is, I am volunteering your squad for it" the Major said, trying to break the tension. A ripple of low laughter was the reply. He knew morale was dangerously low. Not only had the filthy Rebels destroyed a second Death Star, but now all types of miscreants decided it was the perfect time to take advantage of the chaos. A new assignment would give his men a chance to get back in the action.

"I trust your pilots are ready for some revenge, Major?" The flight boss, typical of the Imperial Navy, wasn't actually a pilot. He was a political officer, maintaining “moral discipline” in the ranks. "Of course they are, sir." The Major was happy he didn't have to lie to this functionary sycophant for once. "Excellent and your crews are all up to speed on the TIE Advanced?" asked the Colonel, working off the checklist of someone more important than himself. "Yes sir, it is a fantastic machine," again, the Major happy to not be lying. "Good, then let us discuss your next assignment"

Back in the squad bay, the flight leaders gathered around in a small circle around the Major. "Escort duty?" whined Dae, leader of Alpha flight, "That is us getting back in the war?" Everyone else noticed the smug look on the Major's face, as they waited for some good news. "Imperial Intelligence expects no hostiles and classifies this as honor guard duty." Instantly everyone keyed up. No Hostiles may as well be code for furball. "Taking advantage of the TIE Advanced Hyperdrive capabilities, four of us will travel along with the Pontiff and will then be supported by the TIE squads already assigned to Scree Fron, the rest of us will be coming in on the Invictus shortly after." Now the major had the hardest part of his job, picking which three bloodthirsty bastards that got to go with him.

Later that day.

"Latest combat reports for you, Major." The sudden appearance of the intelligence officer caught Major Nihls by surprise. "Oh, thank you Captain. Anything of note for the upcoming mission?" He asked, looking for something specific. "No sir, Central has minimal rebel activity in the target system and all surrounding sectors. Everything points to a cakewalk" he said smugly. The Major took the data slate and almost offhandedly asked "What about the rumors of Rogue Squadron or those damned Raiders? It would be just like them to be inconsiderate and make you all look like mentally malformed buffoons… again." The young captain looked obviously rankled by the barbed attack. "If you don't feel up to it sir, I shall inform the colonel and perhaps he can find something more suitable to your wing's abilities. Targets for turbo-laser practice perhaps?" The captain's weak riposte had failed to get a rise out of the Major’s legendary steely calm. Without even giving the captain a courtesy glance, the major places his boots on his desk, giving the captain a clear look at the blood stripe he had earned many times over. "My abilities Captain are not in question. Dismissed!"

Looking over the latest reports, the wing had done well. Not as well as he would have liked, but they had spent too long out of action. Fighting against the odd mercenary group and pirates was a good way to keep a fighting edge, but they needed to test themselves against professionals. The escort was coming up and it was exactly the kind of situation the Rebels enjoy capitalizing on.

Somewhere in the outer rim territories

"Rho 1, this is CIC. We track 16 D-22s coming from Mark 4 below zenith, vector 045 tagged as Tangos 1 through 16. You are weapons free to engage. Happy hunting."

"Rho 1 acknowledges. Out." As the Major switched to the squad channel the white dots on his HUD were replaced with angry red numbers. "Theta 1, take your flight and follow Rho flight in. Double up on them, by the numbers. New guys, don't forget your missiles, and stick to your wingman. Accelerate to attack speed, they haven't noticed us yet."

16 on 16, good old fashioned dogfighting. If the Major ever smiled, this would be one of those times. He hoped the D-22s were properly trained; his pilots could use the workout. They were common fighters in this part of the rim, in this case likely used by organized crime protecting some mistaken belief that this was their turf. They haphazardly turned, more or less, towards the rapidly approaching TIE Advanced fighter craft, indicating poor training and no cohesive battle plan.

"Rho 2, engage, I will cover. Earn your Stripes today." The Major dropped behind his wingman to give him first chance at a kill. Almost immediately a flurry of missile fire erupted from the line of TIEs. Over the radio the Major heard the calls as the closest D-22s erupted into flames. "Tango 2 down." "Tango 4 and 5 down." The Major called out his wingman's successful engagement "Tango 1 down." Just like that, 8 fighters down with no losses. The surprised and overwhelmed foes were doing their best to turn tail and run.

Not on the Major's watch.

"Break and engage. Theta, you are the anvil. Make it happen."

After action

Back on the Invictus, the Major was looking over his AARs fairly confident in who would accompany him on the escort. He stood and made his way towards the squad bay to deliver the news to the lucky three. As he entered, Lt. Nole, one of the newer pilots, announced his presence “Officer in the bay!” All his men popped to attention. Nihls nodded, "As you were." The men started milling about, and the Major could tell the young Lieutenant had something he wanted to say. "Yes Nole?”

"Sir, the intelligence captain told me you served on the Majestic under Colonel Kyan" and the glare from the Major froze the blood in the poor man's veins. Every man in that room would have sworn that before that moment Major Nihls was chiseled out of solid obsidian. Everyone had heard the rumors that the Major's old CO defected to the Rebellion. Only a couple knew it was true, and they all knew better than to bring it up. The poor Lieutenant was a pawn in the growing proxy war between the Major and the Intel Captain. Captain Dae was the first to regain his wits, "Sorry sir," was all he managed to stammer out as he interposed himself between the LT and the Major.

In reality the pause lasted only seconds, but every man in that could have sworn it was days. "The answer to your question is yes. I did." The last few moments had proven far more stressful than any combat they had faced, but they were all hanging on the Major’s every word. Nihls had regained his normal stoic composure, and continued his story. "Half my wing was away, attached to an assault group, so we were gone when it happened. While Kyan has never been 100% confirmed to have defected, the man was a tactical genius and those damned Raiders have his fingerprints all over them. If he didn't survive, someone he trained did." An air of normalcy had returned to the room. "The next man to speak of it goes out the airlock." Truer words have never been spoken followed by an emotionless and final "Get. Out." an order they were all too happy to follow.

As the wing preps for the escort mission.

"All flight leaders to the ready room, this is not a drill" rang out on the flight deck, and the sound of boots on steel came swiftly after. The Major was the second man in the room by a couple steps, and within seconds all the leaders were seated. Only then did they realize there were no warning alarms. About the time they all came to the conclusion this was not combat related, the Colonel strolled to the center of the room. "Gentlemen, I apologize for the theatrics, but this is big news!" He seemed to be elated, which probably meant bad news for the Major, and possibly the entire wing. "Your new orders have arrived." "New orders, sir?" the Major asked. "Are we not to escort the governor to Skree Fron?" The Colonel smiled as if a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders. "On the contrary, it seems your trip will be one way. Your wing has been transferred to be the new instructors at the academy we have constructed on Scree Fron." Predictably, the Major didn't visibly react and all his men did their best to keep the shock and outrage bottled up. "May I inquire as to who ordered this?" The Colonel simply handed over a data slate. "Major, I will leave the rest of the briefing to you, it is all there. Enjoy Skree Fron."

In his quarters the Major was trying to digest the new developments. He had often vocally disagreed with high command about methods and tactics. He had his enemies, his detractors, and those who questioned his loyalty because of Kyan Ichijyo. But these orders came from Grand Admiral Thrawn himself. That is a powerful enemy to have and as a result may mean the end of his career, and likley those of his men. He mulled it over a few more times.

Nihls heard the telltale beep of the comms unit on his desk. For a moment he considered not answering, but his officer’s professionalism stopped him from attempting the petty act of insubordination.
“Yes”, answered the Major with an almost unnoticeable hint of agitation.

The frightened Yeoman replied, “I have a high priority encrypted comm for you sir. It’s tagged Alpha Omega Urgent.”

Alpha Omega? The beginning and the end. That code was only used for highly sensitive comms from high command.  The Major paused, “Put it through Killik.”

As the screen flicked to life, the Major noticed Admiral Thrawn sitting alone, in quarters remarkably similar to his. The Admiral cut to the chase, "Major, let me put you at ease. This is not the punishment you probably think it is. I have a specific need for you, and all of this is off the record for now."

This was not one of the possible scenarios the Major was prepared for, and all he could do was lean forward and listen. "Of course, Sir."

New orders were sent to Nihls data slate. "These will be your orders after you deploy to the academy. Your belief in better training and more advanced equipment will be the new reality, and the Empire needs it. I needed to get you out from under that idiot Colonel Farane first. Then we will need to greatly increase our presence on Skree Fron and the surrounding systems, but the first steps will be your next generation of pilots and our next generation of fighters leading the way." This definitely was not the outcome the Major expected.

"There is one more issue we must handle, and unfortunately you are likely in the middle of it. There is a spy in your midst, but we do not know who. When we find him, it will be your last assignment on the Invictus to deal with the traitor."

The thought of a traitor almost made him clench. "My pleasure, Admiral." Thrawn turned like he was going to end the call, but as if an afterthought said "I would ask you to stay on the Invictus for the escort mission, but I know that is not your command style. All I ask is that you stay alive, Colonel Nihls." Then the screen went black.

As the Invictus reaches its jump point.

Klaxons blared as Nihls walked steadily from his quarters to the lift that lead to the bridge of the Invictus.  Stormtroopers marched in unison as squad by squad as they prepared for the jump to that followed the Pontiff into the outlying systems of Skree Fon. As Nihls walked onto the bridge he was immediately met by the communications officer who held 2 data tubes and his new rank insignia. As they were being handed over,  Admiral Farane, from his position on the command deck, looked down at him in disgust and continued with the preparations to make the jump.

Colonel Nihls looked at the data tubes.  Usually the tubes were marked by Imperial Command, however, the marking on these tubes were much different.  With his new orders Nihls silently retreated to his ready room to review his new orders.  “Guard… I wish to be left alone for the remainder of the jump. No one is to come in until I say so… Is that understood?”  The Imperal Security Guard nodded with agreement and stood guard at Nihls door.

As typical Imperial fashion, his office was dressed in a minimalist fashion. The cold durasteel plates that made up the floor and the walls were chiseled and made to feel like razors as the simple white lights illuminated the room.  In the center of the room was his desk that consisted of his data and communication console.  Nihls walked around the sterile room to his chair and inserted the curious looking data tube into his console.  To his dismay, an image of Ysanne Isard and the crest of Imperial Intelligence filled the monitor.  “Colonel, congratulations on your promotion.” Any other man would have shuddered in fear at the sight of the woman’s deep red eyes, but Nihls gave little more than a nod at his concern. He realized it was a direct link to Coruscant.

Almost whispering, “Director… what do I owe the honors of this communiqué?” Isard in her crimson uniform sat motionless on the screen. “I am aware of your current mission which Thrawn has assigned you. However, I have another mission for you, a mission that is far more valuable to the Empire.” Nihls began to run the scenarios in his head. He had to be cautious, he was in the spider’s web between a black widow and a tarantula.

What would the Director of Imperial Intelligence want with him?  What would happen if he refused?  He had heard stories and rumors about what happened to people who defied her.  All the stories about mental reconditioning and becoming her puppet… these puppets would return to their old life and on a whim would be activated to carry out her will. Grabbing a hold of himself, he sat up in his chair, straightened out his uniform and replied candidly back to the emotionless figure on the monitor.

“Director, my services are at your disposal.”  Isard casually pulled back the snow white streak in her hair and tucked it behind her ear as an assistant pushed over a data pad across her desk.  She pressed a few buttons and images began to flutter over the data console’s screen as familiar images and profiles began to stack up from right to left.

“Agent Nihls, you are being chosen for this mission due to the familiarity of defectors that are currently listed on your monitor. It is my assessment that these people must be eliminated to thwart the Rebel advance.  Thrawn has you flushing traitors amongst our midst; take this opportunity along with your new post to complete your mission.  You have been issued new command codes and security clearance.  You will have Intelligence assets to help you with your objective… However… do not take my charity lightly.”

Nihls acknowledged.  “Understood Director.  Any specific target you would like me to begin with?” The Colonel thought he saw Isard give a wicked smirk but the image was blocked by the snow white streak of hair falling from behind her ear. “Yes... you may have the opportunity to take out two for the price of one…” Nihls did a double take of the two profiles images that were enlarged from the rest.  “Agent Nihls, these two targets are your top priority.  Governor Harn, in route to Scree Fon and the rebel scum, Zebulon Akarimas.”

The Director continued, “You are to engage the Rebel Akarimas with extreme prejudice. Intelligence feels that he is the social hub of the defections and without him that thorn in our sides, the Ichiban’s Raiders would fall apart from within. Kyan is the military stratagist and the reason they have been so successful against our forces, but without Akarimas their resolve will fail.”

Nihls remembered Akarimas. He had a natural style of leadership and was genuinely likable. He and Nihls may even have been friends at some point. But the Colonel had no need for friends now. Betrayal had taught him that lesson. Isard was crafty and knew where to strike at the weakest point.

Isard sensed the wheels turning in Nihls head, but carried on. “We are also certain that either Harn, or someone in his inner circle is responsible for certain security leaks. We have ensured that the Raiders have been assigned to assault the Pontiff and kidnap Harn and his aides de camp. We believe that this is an attempt to extract their asset since they suspect he has been compromised. We will make sure that Thrawn is given data that will lead him to believe that the traitor he seeks was killed in that Rebel shuttle.

You will allow them to take Harn and then destroy the vessel he is being taken in. There will be disciplinary action taken against you of course, but you have my personal assurance from the Empire that your status will not suffer in the long run. It is of vital importance that this entire situation be kept absolutely secret.

I understand that this may chafe against your personal honor and loyalty to the Empire, but with the Emperor no longer with us, as far as you’re concerned I AM the Empire.  Are we understood?”

The Colonel sat there expressionless. “Understood Director.”

Under the gaze of the Director, the new Colonel was unsure which puzzling fact to address first. After a brief moment’s consideration, he decided which can of worms to open first. "Governor Harn, a Rebel agent? The man seemed like a pampered idiot to me, barely able to dress himself, and gifted only with parents of wealth and influence. I was under the impression he was given Scree Fron because the heavy military influence essentially makes him a figurehead."

"That is the going opinion, Colonel, but a preponderance of evidence points to him being an intelligence leak of some magnitude. Where he gets sensitive information is a more vexing concern. Either way, he is to be considered a target of opportunity." The Colonel nodded at that, while focusing on the other name on his pad. That was a much larger issue.

"This other name, you have proof he survived?" The Director nodded. "We have concrete proof that they all survived. Officially, we have never acknowledged it, but the rumored Ichiban's Raiders are in fact led by Kyan. It also seems they have taken an interest in Governor Harn." Isard was disappointed that the Colonel's legendary stoicism wasn't broken by that revelation. "We have somewhat reliable intel that they will make a move on the Governor to extract their asset. You are to prevent that at all costs. Agent Nihls, you have your orders."

"Colonel Nihls, Thrawn’s agenda to increase training and improving equipment is in earnest. I understand your concerns, but your assignment to Scree Fron will not be a permanent one, I assure you.  Enjoy your vacation, Colonel." With those words, Director Isard had effectively closed the matter. Colonel Nihls had no other options left. "We will not fail." After the screen blacked out.

Ten Minutes to Zero Hour.

The rattle of storm troopers marching on the flight deck reverberated through the mostly empty hall. With the escalating flight ops against the organized crime elements, the Admiral decided to fill up the vacant space with every spare body he had to give the Governor a decent send off. While the shuttle awaited its passengers, Colonel Nihls and his flight took their positions. Moments later the Governor, his bodyguard, and some other hangers-on approached the shuttle, and one of them separated from the pack and headed towards the Colonel. It took a few seconds for the Colonel to recognize Captain Strye, Intelligence officer, and Nihls nemesis. He seemed pleased. This was not a good thing in the Colonel's eyes. "A little overkill perhaps, Colonel? With the current hostilities, this much experience in one place seems like a misuse of Imperial resources." The Colonel did not take such obvious bait. "I do not share your optimism. Why do you choose to darken my doorstep today, Captain?" Strye's eyes twinkled with delight, "Admiral Farane didn't tell you? I have been reassigned as the Governor's military liaison. It seems you won't be rid of me like you had hoped. See you on the surface, Colonel."

Shortly after the shuttle departed, the four TIE advanced escort took up positions around the CR-90. "Pontiff, this is Rho-1. Ready to jump on your mark." Shortly after came the scratchy reply "30 seconds Rho-1. We will be right behind you."

As they dropped out of light speed, the Rho squadron was urgently scanning for threats, but the scopes looked clear. Just as the tensions started to ease, four new objects rapidly appeared from hyperspace, the Colonel didn't bother to identify them. "Pontiff, get your shields up and turbo-lasers tracking, marking four new unknowns as Tangos 1 through 4. Make best speed and change heading to 225 mark 3. Scree Fron Control, scramble all ready fighters, there will be more. Weapons hot Rho group, watch yourselves, there will be a second wave before the bombers. Stay in-between them and the Pontiff." As the Colonel banked to engage the targets, he could see they were A-Wings. If the Director was right, Zeb would be leading this flight. "They are trying to draw us off, keep it tight." Finally, a worthy opponent.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fifth part of the story leading to the Corellian Corvette Event at Gamex

The lights came down and the holoprojector cast its faint blue glow.  General Dodonna’s distinguished face set to high contrast by the three dimensional display of a fast courier ship rotating in the center of the auditorium.  His familiar voice echoed, out through the viewing room without need of electronic amplification. “Gentlemen this is the Imperial CR90 Corvette Pontiff.  She is travelling from Corellia to Scree Fron and amongst her compliment of crew and passengers are the new Imperial Governor of Scree Fron, his political attaches, advisors and aides.”

“The objective of this mission is to bring down the vessels shields using Proton Torpedoes, disable its engines and land an assault craft somewhere along her hull.”  The image switched to an interior view and deck plans for the standard CR90 corvette.

“From there, commandos will board the Pontiff, secure the governor and as much intelligence and materials as possible then promptly return to base.”

General Dadonna paused for moment as the image on the holoprojector shifted once more showing a broad area of space with the small capital ship in the center of the screen.

“Intelligence indicates that the Pontiff will be travelling with an escort of four Tie/x1 Advanced starfighters. The CR90 itself is armed with two dorsal mounted dual turbolaser turrets and four more port and starboard firing turbolasers. Turbolasers, being generally ineffective against small craft are of little concern, but its fighter escort is.”

The holoprojector image spins to display a two dimensional grid with the CR90 in the center. Four small triangles appear pointing towards the corvette and four small x’s surround the small capital ship’s image.

“The fighter assault will consist of four waves of fighter craft from the 42nd Tactical Squadron.  The first wave of fighters will be led by Beta Flight commander Zebulon Akarimas. Major?”  The General gestured towards Zeb who now took center stage in the briefing.

Zeb cleared his throat and continued.  He hated public speaking. “Beta Flight will be manning RZ-1 A-Wing interceptors armed with Concussion Missiles to take out the Pontiff’s escort fighters as quickly as possible.  Intelligence and common logic indicate that some form of escort will be dispatched to meet with the Pontiff upon her arrival.  It is our intention to draw the TIE/x1’s away from the Pontiff as quickly as possible, opening the door for our heavier ships to engage and disable the Pontiff with little to no resistance.  Beta Flights orders are to engage and draw out the starfighters and either destroy or entangle them long enough for the T-65’s and BTL Y-Wing fighters to deploy their Proton Torpedoes.”

A new set of triangles appear on the screen indicating the position of four T-65’s.  A large green arrow also appears in an area opposite the triangles indicating the possible flight path of ships moving in from Scree Fron.

“The second wave will consist of Alpha Flight aboard T-65 X-Wing fighters.  Alpha Flights orders are to engage the Corvette with their Proton Torpedoes and then provide mop up for Beta Flight or cover on the off chance that reinforcements arrive from on planet.”

“The third wave will be our hammer.  Gamma Flight lead by Maj. Mako will arrive in BTL Y-Wing bombers armed with Proton Torpedoes and ion cannons.  Their orders are to engage the Pontiff and disable her at all costs.  If all goes well, most of the opposition will be in the form of the Pontiff’s turbolaser batteries, but as we all know, never expect the best possible scenario.”

The image of an assault shuttle then appears on the screen and moves towards the corvette.

“Once the Pontiff is disabled, the assault shuttle will be signaled to enter the engagement zone and begin its run on the corvette.  What remains of the 42nd will provide cover for the shuttle until it has completed its mission.”

“Thanks to intelligence retained by Maj. Mako on Corellia, we know that Skree Fron is being used to train new pilots for the remnants of the Imperial Navy.  The Empire is spread fairly thin at this point and we expect that any support from on planet will mostly be in the form of fairly green pilots aboard standard TIE starfighters, but we know for a fact that a flight of TIE/IN interceptors may be available since members of Alpha Squadron arrived for maintenance and refit a few weeks ago.”

Zeb breathes a sigh of relief now that the briefing is almost over and sais. “Questions?”

Zane raises his hand as Zeb nods for him to continue. “Sir, what do we know about fleet disposition in that sector?  Are there Star Destroyers in the area that can support the courier ship?”

“Good question Lieutenant.”, replied Zeb. “In fact recon elements have confirmed that the Star Destroyer Invictus is en route to the system, but will arrive a full 8 standard hours after the arrival of the Pontiff.  Which means we have to make this quick and decisive folks, there is not time to tarry.  We need to be long gone after that Destroyer enters the system or we are toast.  Any more questions?”

This time Van raises his hand and says. “Sir, what is the likelihood that the escort from on planet will already be there at the jump point?”

Zeb nodded and continued, “That is a possibility Lieutenant, but I will have to make that assessment once me and the Buccaneers jump in.  We have channels open to have Alpha come in at any instant if we need them.”

“The simple fact of the matter is that the Colonel and I know how the Imperials plan.  If the TIE’s were coming in from a Star Destroyer or orbital base, it is likely that they would be there waiting, but since they are from on planet which takes more fuel and time than a pure space launch they will wait for the Pontiff to move in a little closer before they fly up to meet it.”

“Anything else?”  The room fell silent. “We launch in two hours men.  Dismissed!”

The unit started shuffling out of the room discussing matters amongst themselves.  The murmur of voices began to die down until only Zeb and Kyan remained.

Zeb put both hands on the control panel, bowed his head down low and let out a long sigh. “I would rather have a straight up fight than this kidnapping scenario.  Blow them up and run away.  That’s what we do best.”

Kyan gave him a look of surprise and understanding then nodded.  “That’s reasonable, but the intelligence this man can divulge about Imperial Fleet displacement in the Outer Rim could greatly increase our chanced to bringing this civil war to an end quickly.  If that’s not worth the risk, what is?”

“I guess we'll find out some day Colonel. I have to go prep.”  Zeb stood up straight to attention and saluted.  Kyan returned the salute and far less disciplined manner.

“Cheer up.  The worst that could happen is we all die.”, said Kyan.

Zeb will never understand how that man can make the most depressing statement sound as comforting as a mother's hug.

Mike "Dude" James is running an Open Tournament for X-Wing at Gamex!

Dude Here. Wanted to let you in on another X-Wing event at Gamex where you can play X-Wing till you drop and not have to bring a single TIE fighter to play.

Announcing the first Strategicon X-Wing Open Tournament!

This open format tournament will be played using Fantasy Flight's current tournament rules with a neat twist: You can play as often as you want. There will be three 4 hour sessions, and you are able to play as many games as you like, with your highest score going on the leaderboard Top three scores will finish in the dealer dollars. FF's rules can be found here. We also welcome new players and can teach you how to play and loan you a squadron to compete.

Tourney Specifics:

1. All matches will use the 100 point dogfight setup with 1 set of asteroids on a 3'x3' play area.

2. All matches will be 60 minutes.

3. You can play any other player as often as you want, and you do not need to use the same list every time.

4. Both players must fill out a game record sheet to be turned in upon completion of the game.

5. Currently available ships only.

6. Standings will be determined by the highest VP total you can get in a single game. The number of points that list is below 100 will be added as a bonus in the event of a tie as the first tiebreaker Fewest games is tiebreaker 2, and 1 game playoff would be tiebreaker 3.

7. The TO reserves the right to make changes if he deems necessary or missed some minor detail to keep things fair. This is the first run after all, and comments are always welcome at the Mini HQ.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Final thoughts about the Corellian Corvette Event before Gamex

The last playtest for our “Assault on the Pontiff” Corellian Corvette event went off without a hitch this Saturday.  I wanted to give a shout out to the great folks at the Monstore in Montclair who hosted our playtest and most especially to Eric Yaple who joined us and provided his expert insight.

At this point I wanted to post a review of all of our special rules for the event in case anyone wanted to replicate the event with the lovely Kenner Electronic Rebel Blockade Runner toy.

The Table
We use a 6 x 4 space background mat from Hotzmats for this event and run the Corvette diagonally across the table. For the final event we will be suspending the Corvette from our lighting rig so that the fighters can maneuver freely around the objective. All playtests have been done with the CR90 on a base so far and that has caused some considerable problems with maneuvering which were considered to be generally obtrusive to game play. We are going to set movement guides on our suspension rig so that the Pontiff will exit the play area on turn 8. The Long edge closest to the Pontiff is considered to be the Imperial deployment zone and the long edge closest to the initial A-Wing setup is considered to be the Rebel deployment zone.

Time Elements
There are two time elements in the game.  Firstly, the Rebels have 8 turns to cripple the Pontiff before it can escape into hyperspace. Re-enforcements are triggered events so if they don’t engage quickly enough they may run out of time.  Secondly, once the Pontiff is disabled there are a finite number of turns where the Imperials must destroy all the Rebel fighters.  If they do not destroy the shuttles escort fighters (destroy all twelve of the rebel fighter ships on the table) before the shuttle gets off the table, the Rebels win. Although it is possible for the Imperials to destroy the shuttle before it reaches the Pontiff, it’s highly unlikely but it could happen.  That would be an Imperial victory as well.

The Waves

Wave 1 (A-Wing interceptors and TIE Advanced escorts)
The A-Wing interceptors come on the table as the Pontiff and its TIE Advanced escorts come out of Hyperspace. The trigger for the next wave is the turn where either the A’s or the TIEs manage to fire at each other.  It does not matter if hits are scored, just as long as someone is in range and arch and pulls the trigger.

Wave 2 (X-Wing and TIEs)
The X-Wings and TIEs are deployed at the center of the long edge of the table in their respective deployment zones. They come in at the END of the turn in which they are triggered and enter the table at their fastest forward movement speed. (Five for the TIEs and Four for the X’s) Wave three is triggered when the TIEs and X’s engage or when either of the two fire on each other as per the trigger on wave 1.

Wave 3 (Y-Wings)
The Rebel Y-Wings start play center line of the Pontiff from the Rebel deployment zone and come in at the END of the turn in which they are triggered. They enter the table at forward speed 4 and start the game “Stressed”.

Wave 4 (TIE Interceptors)
The Imperial interceptors start play on the short edge opposite from the edge where the CR90 entered play, center line with the Pontiff. The interceptors are triggered on the turn when the Pontiff loses its shields. They come in at the END of the turn at speed five PLUS a 1 forward boost movement.

Wave 5 (Assault Shuttle)
The Assault Shuttle enters play from the Rebel deployment zone at the END of the turn when the Pontiff is disabled by Ion fire. It comes in at speed four from the edge of the table center line with the Pontiff.

Corellian Corvette Rules
In this scenario the CR90 is more of an objective than an actual ship in play.  It does not turn or deviate from its course, but it is fully capable of defending itself with Turbo Laser fire and a capital ship strength shield and hull. The Corvette has four batteries of Turbo Lasers to defend itself with 12 Shields and 12 Hull points. The vessel may not be able to evade fire but it the sheer strength of its armor plating and shielding will be able to fend off fire.

Movement – The CR90 moves at initiative zero and needs not place a plotting wheel.

Shields – Capital Ship shields are completely unaffected by regular blaster, laser or ion fire. The only starfighter weapon that is effective against these shields are Proton Torpedoes and even against these weapons the shields will roll 3 evasion dice to “deflect” damage.

Hull – The thick armor plating on the hull is also capable of absorbing damage from starfighter weapons and can only be harmed by Proton Torpedoes. Alternatively though, the ship can be saturated by Ion fire. The hull can also absorb incoming fire from Proton Torpedoes and Ion Cannons with three evasion dice that represent the strength of the armored hull.

Turbo Lasers – The CR90 has four turbo laser batteries. Two are mounted on turrets that have a 315 degree fire arc to the front of the ship. The two others have a 45 degree arc one to each side. The turbo lasers have two attack dice each.  To represent the massive hitting power of the turbo laser, each hit is counted as a critical and each critical is counted as a ship destroyed. Hits take away one shield and crits take two. If any damage overflows past the shields the target ship is destroyed. Since starfighters are so small they are always considered to have a free Focus Token for the purposes of evading turbo laser fire. Turbo lasers always fire on initiative zero.

Starfighter main weapons – Starfighter main weapons and rockets have no effect on the CR90.

Proton Torpedoes – Proton Torpedoes attack as normal against the CR90’s shields and hull. Since the ship is so large, all attacks made against the shields or hull with a Proton Torpedo are automatically considered to expend a free Focus token.

Ion Cannons – Ion Cannons have no effect against the CR90’s shields, but can affect the hull.  In order to disable the massive ship, it must have a number of Ion Tokens equal to its current Hull to be disabled. Ion Tokens bleed off at a rate of one per turn.  Therefore the Corvette can become active at some point if it manages to bleed off enough Ion tokens. Ion Tokens can stack past the maximum of the CR90's hull and the ship remains incapacitated until all the overflow is bled off. Ion Cannons do not do the single point of actual damage to capital ships.  They simply apply Ion Tokens and can never do any real damage to the ship.

Exhaust Wash – Although the CR90 has no rear firing weapons, it’s rear 45 degree arc is flooded by the energy of its massive drive engines. As long as the Pontiff is not disabled, all ships within its rear 45 degree arc can take damage from this “Exhaust Wash”. Roll three attack dice at Range Band 1, two at Range Band 2 and 1 at Range Band 3. This damage cannot be evaded.

Taking Damage - As the CR90 takes damage or builds Ion Tokens it loses effectiveness.

12-11 Hull Points: All is good
10-9 Hull Points: Lose one turbo laser, Imperial Players choice.
8-7 Hull Points: Lose one turbo laser, Imperial Players choice.
6-5 Hull Points: CR90 moves at half speed.
4-3 Hull Points: Lose one turbo laser, Imperial Players choice.
2-1 Hull Points: Lose one turbo laser, Imperial Players choice.
0 Hull Points: Disabled.

Note: An Ion Token is treated as damage, but cannot destroy the CR90.  Keep track of actual damage and Ion damage separately but apply both numbers cumulatively. Remember there can be more Ion Tokens on the Pontiff than it has Hull.

Objective Rules
The rules for this scenario’s objectives are:

1) The Assault shuttle must contact the Pontiff’s base template.
2) Once the shuttle touches the base template it is docked and cannot be fired upon or fire its weapons. It must stay docked for an entire turn.
3) After the shuttle has spent one entire turn docked with the Pontiff it is given a Bounty Token. Once detached it is placed facing any direction, touching the CR90’s template before plotting begins. Once the model is placed plot as normal.
4) Once the Shuttle has a Bounty Token, it cannot be fired upon by anyone.
5) If the shuttle reaches the Rebel deployment zone before all 12 Rebel fighter craft are destroyed, the Rebels win.

1) Destroy the shuttle before it reaches the Pontiff.
2) Destroy all Rebel starfighters before the shuttle reaches the Rebel deployment edge.

Starfighter List
Wave 1

4 x Green Squadron Pilot (A-Wing)
w/ Draw Their fire, Concussion Missiles & Shield Upgrade

4 x Storm Squadron Pilot (TIE Advanced)
w/ Assault Missiles

Wave 2

Red Squadron Pilot (X-Wing)
w/ Proton Torpedoes & R5 Astromech

4 x Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
4 x Black Squadron Pilot
w/ Expert Handling

Wave 3

4 x Grey Squadron Pilot (Y-Wing)
w/ Proton Torpedoes (2) & Ion Cannon Turret

Wave 4
4 x Saber Squadron Pilot (TIE Interceptor)
w/ Expose

Wave 5
Lambda Class Shuttle


The last playtest ended with only two Rebel starfighters on the table and ten Imperials. It was a very close fight, so we believe the game to be relatively balanced and fun for both sides. We learned a couple of things. It moves far faster and better if we have uniform pilot skills within squads. Formerly, we had squad leaders for each with slightly better piloting skills and some special rules. Having each squadron move at the same time makes things a little less confusing and flow faster so I changed it to be uniform. We also toned down on some of the upgrade cards for simplicities sake.

We hope to have a good turnout for this event and if you are planning on being in the L.A. area on Memorial Day weekend we also hope to see you there!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

First story in my "Howard and Lovecraft. Timeless horror through ages undreamt of." series. Starting off in WWI


Thunder clouds loomed overhead like the wrath of an angry God as elements of the 8th Brigade, Charlie Company entered the remains of the French village of Rouseaux near Thiaucourt. If it weren't for their pocket watches, the platoon would not have known that it was well past dawn on that dark September morning. Droplets of rain began to fall as a somber prologue of the torrent that was about to follow. It was almost as if heaven openly wept for the young dead that blanketed the soil of the western front. It would be worse at Verdun.

The dozen or so buildings that made up this small village were all but destroyed. Flashes of lighting would backlight the remains and for an instant the silhouette of the village itself appeared to mimic the form of a rotting corpse by the side of a road. The buildings were shattered and burned by artillery, the smell of death and remnants of mustard gas filled the air. Most striking of all was the silence.  Only the soft pitter pat sounds of rain and the distant roar of thunder filled the air.  For the doughboys of Charlie Company who have heard nothing but the constant cacophony of bitter warfare for the past few long and brutal days the silence and calm was eerie and disquieting.

The men of Charlie Company moved slowly into what remained at the village square. The past few days had instilled a healthy and life preserving dose of paranoia. The church bell tower was the only part of the building still intact. A strange iron crucifix made of serpents topped the tower and was suddenly struck by lightning as the rain began to fall in earnest. Nothing but the rain moved. Almost as if the moment was framed and hanging on some lonesome wall.

Suddenly the moment broke as a young soldier pointed out a single figure moving in the darkness. Instantly, rifles came to bear and tension filled the air. The figure was small and moved clumsily. The young private who spotted the figure first spit out his soaked cigarette and motioned for the men to stand down. Rifles were still up but slightly lowered. The young solder moved tentatively towards the small form and shouted back, “It’s ok fellas it’s a little kid!”

The private pulled out a Hershey’s bar from his pack. Those were like gold out there. He slowly unwrapped the candy and showed it to the young girl.  As she stumbled forward the young man noticed how pale she was.  He then noticed how her features looked bloated and distended almost as if she been stung by a giant insect. They both walked towards each other arms spread for an impending embrace. Suddenly the American’s smile changed to a look of unspeakable horror as the young girls mouth opened unnaturally wide to expose the head of a giant Adder. The thing sprung fourth and bit the dumb stricken soldier in the eye as he screamed in terror.  The girl thing then leapt on the fallen doughboy’s body as her hands split into multiple serpent heads which repeatedly ripped at their victim’s green uniform leaving blood and venom soaked wounds. The soldiers body began to spasm and convulse then suddenly lie still.

The platoon was initially too shocked to act, but soon at least one of the men got his wits about him and the loud retort of a carbine broke the spell.  Then all the men began to break loose with their weapons shooting at the atrocious wolf in sheep’s clothing. Round after round exploded into the girl’s body as chunks of her flesh ripped away and her head careened and fell back at a right angle to the rest of her body.  It seemed like the corpse was still, but the men were still too horrified to inspect the remains of the thing and their friend. Lucky thing since the corpse of the young girl exploded into a flood of writhing serpents that lashed out and spit at the shadows about them before they slowly began to slither away.

Strange things are afoot in Thiaucourt

My story begins after Pershing and Patton secured the St. Mihiel Salient and began to regroup.  The player characters will be a group of American soldiers from the 8th brigade who are tasked with scouting out the outlying villages of Vigneulles, Thiaucourt and Hannonville-sous-les-Cotes. These characters can link up with stranded airmen and tank crews who are working their way back to the lines at St. Mihiel.  There are also possibilities for French and surrendered German PC’s as well.

The Story

Before you read on, please consult my previous blog entry on the concept behind these stories so that you can better understand the meta-plot. These stories are linked by its primary antagonist, Yig (the father of serpents). In this installment, the German army stumbles upon an ancient pre-gaelic cult to Yig that had secretly survived countless generations in rural France. Elements of German infantry enter a small village and stumble upon the cult of Yig which use their connection to the ancient being to protect themselves. The German soldiers are horrified by things from beyond the outer dark and end up using artillery and mustard gas to destroy the serpents and ultimately themselves. The destruction of his minions angers Yig, who then protects the area around his hidden shrine from further intrusion.  When the player characters come to investigate the town and rescue any French citizens that may be hidden amongst the rubble they fall into the clutches of an angry Yig!

The player character’s souls are forever involved in a cosmic struggle against Yig and this is yet another chapter in this epic struggle. I will have a large platoon of NPC soldiers accompanying the PC’s to provide some "death and disappearances of friendlies" moments to intensify the horror. In fact they may have to fight their own fallen compatriots! You can probably tell this is going to be a horror/survival and investigation game, but then again most Lovecraft style games involve those elements.

The main manifestations of Yig are going to be:

Snake Corpses: Yig commands his serpent minions to infest the corpses of the fallen. These bloated creatures are basically zombie like monsters that are filled with snakes that give the corpse mobility and articulation. When destroyed these creatures burst open and release their serpent infestation. There are three main types: soldier, initiated and villager.  The soldiers are the corpses of fallen German soldiers and have the benefit of the soldier’s weapons and tools. That’s right, zombies that shoot mausers. The initiated are the corpses of the fallen cultists that have been resurrected in part by their serpent infestation. They are tougher, have magical edges and retain most of their human intelligence. The last form is infested villagers who are more of your traditional zombie type, but have a nasty poison attack as their hands are made up of venomous serpent heads.

Serpent Men: Underneath the shrine of Yig is a passageway to the underground civilization of the Serpent Men. When the PC’s discover the shrine and try to destroy it, these creatures will come forth to defend it. These creatures are similar in description to the serpent men of the Kull setting.

In between fighting off these monsters, the PC’s must uncover the cult in the town by investigating the ruins.  The church has a strange wrought iron cross made of intertwined serpents. A cellar is filled with strange books and idols. The players can also capture and interrogate an initiated to gather information.  They have to do that at their own risk since they will have hypnotism powers.

Ultimately, they must find out two crucial bits of information. First, they have to find out that the shrine to Yig is his gateway to this world. Second, they must destroy the shrine or Yig will fully waken manifest an army of the slain to conquer the world.

First American Offensive at St. Mihiel Salient (WW I)

Background History. You can skip over the italics part if you aren't at all interested in the military history, but I am setting this story during real life historical events!

“The Battle of St. Mihiel (12th - 16th September 1918) was the first large-scale, separate offensive by American forces on the Western Front. By late summer 1918 the strategic importance of the German-held salient south of Verdun had was not so prominent as it was in 1917, when the newly arrived American Staff officers arrived on the Western Front. Their desire at that time was to carry out a separate offensive by American forces against the danger posed by this salient. Marshal Foch, commander of the Allied forces on the Western Front in late 1918, had to be convinced it was still relevant to make the attack. He did agree, although he was also wishing to use the American forces for an assault west of Verdun in the Meuse-Argonne sector. 

The German forces were in the process of evacuating the salient when the American First Army attacked them, supported by French tanks and artillery and 600 Allied aircraft. The offensive successfully cleared the Germans from the salient and 15,000 German prisoners were captured with 250 guns. A few days later the American First Army transferred to the Meuse-Argonne sector in preparation for an attack.

South-east of Verdun the Front Lines were positioned along a ridge of high ground on the hills east of the Meuse river as far as the town of St. Mihiel. The town is located in the Department of Meuse in Lorraine. It was captured by the German Army in the first weeks of the war. At St. Mihiel the Front Lines turned at a 90 degree angle in an easterly direction across the low lying hills from the eastern Meuse river bank into the plain of the Moselle River. This created the bulge of a salient held by the German Army, protruding into the French-held territory. The battle area became known as the St. Mihiel Salient. In September 1918 the United States Expeditionary Force launched an offensive to break through the German line at St. Mihiel.

The Front Line on the ridge, fiercely defended by the German Army, protected the views to its rear over the German occupied territory of Lorraine and the Imperial German border, which was approximately 30 miles (48 kilometres) east of St. Mihiel.

The weather corps of Corps I Operation Order stated: "Visibility: Heavy driving wind and rain during parts of day and night. Roads: Very muddy." This would pose a challenge to the Americans when the order to advance was given. In some parts of the road, the men were almost knee-deep in mud and water. After five days of rain, the ground was nearly impassible to both the American tanks and infantry. Many of the tanks were wrecked with water leakage into the engine, while others would get stuck in mud flows. Some of the infantrymen developed early stages of trench foot, even before the trenches were dug.

Several towns in France were never rebuilt after WWI because of the fact that the towns were so thoroughly destroyed by heavy shelling and were so littered with unexploded munitions that they were labeled unsafe.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fourth part of the story leading to the Corellian Corvette Event at Gamex

Pre-flight checks were always so redundant.  The 42nd’s Gamma Flight Leader and ACE, Major Jayan “Spanner” Mako hastily checked his fuel levels and ordinance while the remainder of his squadron did the same.  However, it just wasn't the same.  While this ship had all the markings to remind him of his three tours of duties, including the exodus from Hoth to the Battle of Endor, running in a Y-Wing was the last thing he’d imagined.

He'd always been an X-Wing jock.  Had a small stint with A-Wings during Endor… but a Y-Wing?! They could have at least given him something more modern, he thought.  Why not a B-Wing?  R5-J1, his astromech droid, gave a soulful chime trying to let his pilot know that everything was in order.

Shaking his head, “Hey… you said that last time when we were jumped by the Hutts after our hit on Nar Shadda.”  R5-J1 whistled defensively. Jayan chuckled, “I know… I know… it wasn’t your fault.  The techs found that the central core computer was tampered with and that the spaceport droids were at fault for deactivating the Hyperdrive.”

Jayan sighed.  While cliché, he never thought he would admit it.  That little droid had saved his life more than a numerous times and has gotten him out of tight situations, especially with the law.  On Corellia, the Hutts had started to make political and underground advances knowing that the Imperial grasp had started to loosen.

Jayan was on an intelligence gathering mission as a member of CorSec (Corellian Security), courtesy of Rogue Squadron’s Lt. Corran Horn, when he was jumped by a small group of smugglers and was framed for their deaths by Imperial Security.  As Imperial Intelligence was still active at Nar Shadda, he had ditch his cover and regroup with the Alliance to report the Hutt connection.

As he fled, his CorSec X-Wing was intercepted by two Imperial Star Destroyers and almost destroyed.  With his shields nearly gone from concentrated fire from Tie Fighters, he made preparations to jump to hyperspace when his hyperdrive failed.  If it weren’t for R5-J1, he’d be sitting in an Imperial Intelligence detention center on Coruscant or possibly dead.

“Hey J1, hand me that hydrospanner would you?  Looks like I have a gunked up fuel assembly.”  Jayan spat in disgust.  These Y-Wings were truly “Hogs.”  While they were top of the line and some of the best fighters during the Clone Wars, it had nothing on his X-Wing.

“Major?”  A familiar voice permeated the busy sounds of the flight deck.  Jayan looked up and saw his unit XO leaning on his astromech droid.  R5-J1 hooted with disgust. “Jayan I see you haven’t gotten rid of this bucket of rusty nails,” Zeb retorted while rapping the domed droid on the head.

“Did we get the green light from General Dodonna?” Jayan inquired while wiping his hands on his coveralls and throwing the spanner back in the toolbox. Major Akarimas smiled.  “Yeah… both Ackbar and Dodonna green lit our op.  You know this would have gone to Rogue, but you brought back enough intel from Corellia to convince the brass to give it to us.  Let’s not disappoint them.  I think Tycho was disappointed, he really wanted this op.  He may have a past with the governor that we’re about to bag.”

The both of them laughed because they knew that Tycho Celchu was a man of no emotions.  Hence making him the best selection for XO of Rogue Squadron.  Both Zeb and Jayan posted for the position however, even with their multiple tours with the Alliance, the brass had wanted them on the frontline as they were more valuable there rather than campaigning for other worlds to join their cause against the remnants of the Empire.

“So they think capturing this governor is going to give us an edge on curbing the Imperial threat?”  Jayan threw Zeb a hesitant look.  “I mean come on… they have me flying this pig slop here,” pointing to the dripping seals on the leaking fuel assembly of the aging warbird.

Zeb leaned over and took a look.  While the Y-Wings were not the most visually appealing starfighter in the fleet, he did have a certain respect for them.  “Jayan… look you are the best pilot we have.  If we were going in for a furball then I’d give you choice of the litter, but this time the prize is the corvette.  Capt. Qieles has been able to confirm the intel on its flight plan.  You got the stick and a steady hand that will bring down its shields so we can get our troops to board and secure its crew.  If we didn’t have a possible Star Destroyer breathing down our necks, you know you’d be in the mix.  This one is simple, we’ll keep them off of you.  We get in and get out with our prize.  Rogue Squadron has nothing on us.”

Reluctantly Jayan shook his head and began working on clearing the fuel leads.  “So when do we go?”  Zeb pulled back, and lightly kicked R5-J1 in the rear panel as it moved to hand Jayan some cleaning solvents.  The astromech squealed in defiance. “Briefing is at 2100 hours, get your flight ready.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

On the Offensive - X-Wing Operation of the Week

Them pesky Rebels are up to no good again.  Leading representatives from Bothan, Thyferran and Sullustan unrecognized governments are conspiring against the Empire. What can you do!

We are using these bad boys for the Rebel Transport Shuttles, but the shuttle token that comes in the X-Wing box works well too.

Star Wars Episode One Action Fleet from Galoob
In order to take out the shuttle's engines they have to attack from the shuttle's rear 90 degree arch!

Check out our Google Docs for the mission document.  Enjoy and may the Force be with you.

Friday, May 10, 2013

So you want to be a GM? - Part 2 Writing an Encounter based adventure.

When I first started playing RPG’s and wanted to become a Dungeon Master (since D&D was my gateway into the hobby) I was at a loss as to where to begin.  Sure I had some big ideas about a story arc and some notes on some NPC’s but when I sat down to write the adventure, I had no clue where I should begin.

I struggled with formatting my ideas and putting them in place.  How would I lead the characters from one place to the other? Where should I start the game and how do I introduce players to my plot?  I went as far as going out and borrowing a few pre-made adventures from my friend Chris, not to run, but to emulate the format in which they were written.

I was in the middle of Junior High School and didn't have the benefit of any advanced literature classes or any literary instruction at all. I did have a love for reading and had a basic understanding of story structure, but nothing formal.  It was more of a raw cunning for story than an intellectual understanding.

I ended up figuring it out and cobbling something together, but I was completely self-taught at that point and if I were lacking in commitment at all, I would have probably given up out of frustration and never ran my “Day of the White Raven” game for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Although I didn't know it, the adventure structure I came up with is what I now call the Encounter based structure. How I define this structure is a story which:

a) has the central conflict and drama revolve around combat.
b) has a story framework that leads characters through a series of conflicts
c) has conflicts result in the characters being armed and ready for the next conflict in some way through the introduction of plot elements, equipment or lore.
d) resolve in a final confrontation with the principal element confronting the characters, in other words a boss fight.

Have you ever seen Bruce Lee’s Game of Death? If you haven’t, I highly suggest you do.  It’s the perfect example of this kind of storytelling. (Looking back at my blog apparently I am a huge Bruce Lee fan since this is the third time I cite him as a reference.)

What you need to put together an Encounter based adventure?

The very first thing you need to run a successful Encounter based adventure is a firm grip on the combat system you are using. Since the conflict and therefore the drama of your story revolves around combat, it is imperative that you be able to adjudicate combat fairly and accurately. More advanced GM’s might have a series of house rules, modifications or hacks and that is fine. But be sure to discuss these changes with your players beforehand to avoid any confusion.

I was told there would be no math.

Most importantly the GM has to have a good grasp on how to balance encounters. This is the crucial element in creating the drama for your game.  If the monsters are too easily defeated, they players will not get a sense of tension and lose interest. If the monsters are too difficult overcome and result in several character deaths, the players will lose hope and therefore interest.  The key is to create combat scenarios that are interesting, challenging and within the scope of the characters combat ability.  This can take some time to master since much of a player character’s effectiveness is based on player creativity and the correct player application of the characters abilities.

If you are stuck in a situation where you think things are not going the way you want them to, I have one piece of advice…cheat. Yep, straight up cheat.

If the combat is getting too hard and some people are down simply go, “That Bugbear is looking pretty beat up, looks like one more hit will take it down.” Doesn't matter if the Bugbear still has more than half his hit points, you are adjusting mid fight for balance. If all else fails, give the players an angle of retreat so they can escape the encounter, lick their wounds and find a better way to solve the puzzle. This can be a great way to build even more tension as the players realize that they "can't win ‘em all.”

If the fight is too easy, open up that bad guy spigot(tm) and bring in a few more monsters for the players to beat on. You can also tack on some other element like hidden archers or an unseen trap. Be like water and think on your feet, just because you wrote it down doesn't mean it’s set in stone.

Keith S. brought up an important point on G+ that I had skipped on my original post.  He said:

"Toughening up an encounter on the fly should be a carefully-considered option. Think about the context. Sometimes things will come easily for the PCs. How do the players react? Do they become reckless and overconfident?

That reaction may be an important factor in the next encounter. Some encounter variety will enhance the appreciation of the balanced and/or hard encounters.

Easy encounters are like minions in the broader context of the adventure, satisfying to crush, but how many resources get used in the victory? Resource depletion = story tension."

This lead me to think on the psychological part of the game as well. Using the difficulty of encounters not only to challenge, but to create situations where characters may become somewhat lax and then get a rude awakening. Or simply giving the PC's some much needed confidence building fights could keep them in the game rather than becoming demoralized.

We can take 'em boss! After all they are the equivalent of martial arts skittles. TASTE THE RAINBOW!
Remember, the reason for these combats is to create drama, not to defeat the player characters. You are not playing at or against your players but with them. There are ways to adjust things without being overt. If you are too obvious about it, you will break the immersion, you will lose tension and more importantly trust.

You will find this will get gradually easier once you start getting a firm grasp on what your players are capable of and begin to get a better idea of how they will react to certain situations. Know your peeps and you will get a better understanding on how to balance your game.

The second major factor to an Encounter based adventure is premise and motivation. Where do the characters get started and why do they want to brave all of these obstacles?

One of our +X2A members tells a great story about how his father joined in on one of his D&D games back when he was a kid.  Joel and his brothers were sitting at the kitchen table getting started on a new game and their father walks in and wants to join. They of course enthusiastically agreed and sat him down to make a character.  His father wanted to know who his character was and the boys all answered he is a first level fighter, but that’s not what Dad wanted to know. He demanded to know who the character was. What did he do? Where did he come from? The boys scratched their head and Joel explained that the character was a farmer and since all able bodied men of his village had to take up arms for defense he was also a fighter. His Dad grinned and said, “ok, sounds good to me!”

Dad listened intently as the Joel explained that there was a cave system nearby that was full of goblins that needed killing and that this crew was going to go in and take them out.  Dad would have nothing of it.  He said he was going to go back and start planting for the season and wished the rest of the party luck.

The kids were dumbfounded and asked if Dad was serious and if he actually wanted to play the game. Dad said, “Of course I want to play, but I have heard you guys playing before and therefore know all the bad things that live in those caves and my character doesn’t really have a reason to risk his life, potentially leave his kids fatherless and his poor pregnant wife with lumbago alone with the planting.” After explaining what lumbago was, he went on to explain that without a real cause, he can’t see why his character would risk his life to kill goblins.  It didn’t make sense.

So, they all put their heads together and came up with the storyline which had these goblins come in and murder the farmer's wife and children while he was off in town getting seed.  They burned down the old farmstead and stole his mule Stanislaus for whatever nefarious reason. Now, motivated by revenge and a desperate need to rescue old Stanislaus, Dad wholeheartedly agreed to dungeon delve with his boys.

Poor ol' Stanislaus

Dad was playing more than one game with the kids that day, but he brought up a good point.  Sure, the regular “Everybody meets at the inn and someone offers them a job” routine is tried, tested and true, but it’s not your only option.

I find that when I get a story in my head the best thing for me to do to flesh out the story is to sit down with my players and tell them the basics of my setting and have them make characters. Once the mechanics are in place (stats, class, etc.) I start a dialogue about where the character comes from, what he did before becoming an “adventurer”, how he got his training so on and so forth. When we start crafting these backstories I find that they are fertile ground for my plot to grow. I begin to develop an idea about how the party forms and why they have banded together towards a common goal.  I find that it really helps me put together the story elements that lead the characters from one encounter to the other and has the added benefit of making the characters more personally involved in the plot.

Let’s take my Game of Death example. Bruce plays Billy Lo, an up and coming martial arts and film star. Billy gets involved with a shadowy organization called “The Syndicate” which tries to intimidate Lo into joining their organization and extorting a cut of Lo’s earnings.  Of course good ‘ol Billy doesn’t cotton to that kind of thing and refuses. Long story short, Billy fakes his own death to escape the long arm of the Syndicate.  That’s the backstory.

When The Syndicate begins to muscle in on his ex-girlfriend (an up and coming singer) and begin to threaten her life, Billy gets drawn back in. This is where the adventure begins as Billy Lo, under the guise of his new identity takes on the leaders of The Syndicate one by one.  Every one of Billy’s assaults is an encounter (including Chuck Norris).  After several of these he enters the Red Pepper Restaurant for the final set of encounters and then the Boss Fight with Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Awesome! Billy’s mission leads him from one encounter to the other and drives the story to its climax.

Now that you have your protagonists set its time to set up the black pieces on the board. This should be easy at this point. All you need to come up with is antagonists, a sinister plot, generate encounters, string them all together and determine the likely resolution.

Coming up with an antagonist or villain is key to creating drama. Who is this dastardly being? Why is he/she bent on harming others? What kind of minions is this villain likely to have?

What you are actually doing is determining the final conflict of the game. Your villain needs to be an adequate foil for your group, but should be far too powerful for them to directly confront at the beginning of your adventure. Don’t risk a “scratch one prince of darkness” situation by making your villain too fragile or exposed from the get-go. At the beginning of your adventure he/she should be a shadowy figure that is pulling the strings from a distance. Part of the drama is finding out who the ultimate architect of the plot is and you must develop this reveal carefully in order to make the maximum impact at the end of the tale.

DAMN YOU! One more mule and I would have taken over the world!

Your villains plot can be as transparent as “I want to take over this Kingdom and enslave its people.” For the purposes of this kind of game, especially for the beginner GM, take it easy and go simple. Don’t worry too much about making a three dimensional villain, that’s best left for an intrigue game. For the purposes of this kind of story you are safe with the basic bad guy bent on domination. Just figure out what he wants and how he goes about getting it and how that opposes the PC’s and you are golden.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t go ahead and develop your villain if you want to. If you are comfortable with that, feel free.  What I am saying is that if you are new to the whole GM process this is one of the simplest types of stories you can tell and therefore a good way for you to get your feet wet without feeling overwhelmed. If you bite off too much it will sour the experience. Ease into it.

The first step to writing your first encounter is to determine your villains MINIONS! These minor antagonists are the ones who will dog your players throughout their ordeal. Here is where you bust out your Monster Manual or head to the back of your book for the Antagonists section or simply make characters of the same power level as your group.

I like to separate minions into two categories, Named and Unnamed. Named minions are the villain’s lieutenants and trusted shock troopers. They should be a little more powerful than your basic minion and have critical information or equipment characters need to advance in the plot. Taking down a named minion should be a feat to be celebrated and the rewards should be not only generous, but should be tied into the overall plot.

I'm out for BLOOOD!
Unnamed minions are basic foot soldiers. These monsters should be relatively weak but still strong enough to challenge the group in numbers. Street toughs, minor monsters or basic soldiers do the trick. Just balance the fight with unnamed minions to give the players a sense of epic struggle against mundane opponents that use numbers and surprise to their advantage. These fights can lend a feel of heroism to the game.

I don't think we're using these things right.  Like yeah, I can't hit the broadside of a Hiss.
Now that we have all our major players we can start on writing down some story. Here is a basic list of the things you need to think about for a story.

1) Figure out where the characters meet and how they reach the conclusion that they need to band together to oppose the antagonist. Most of your footwork should be done when you generate characters or you can simply develop an NPC that hires or somehow convinces the group to go on “the mission”. A group of impoverished villagers plead with the adventurers for help. The Lord of this area requires mercenaries to take on a secretive task. Attacked for no reason a group of travelers seek to understand who attacked them and reap vengeance. Whatever ploy you can think of, but this will set the scene for the upcoming adventure.

2) Develop links that lead the group from one encounter to the other. Encounter based games work similarly to the old serial films that preceded movies back in the 1930’s and 40’s. They usually ended with a cliffhanger or unresolved ending that makes people eager to see a resolution.

The end of a session has to have an element that will easily lead them to the next encounter. A dead monster can have a stolen item from a loved one that has disappeared. After a group of enemies are defeated, the players find a trail leading to a hidden path leading deep into the woods. With his last breath a dying enemy can say, “You may have defeated me, but Guttripper will end you all!” Thus, giving the group a clue as to who is behind these dang blasted murders and mule-nappings!

Often, I won’t even develop the next encounter until the previous encounter is complete. I can take the events of the previous session and take some time to draw upon the characters actions to make a more intriguing follow up.

3) Create elements that tie the encounters to the overlying plot. You have to keep in mind that at least a majority of your encounters should be involved with the larger plot and villain.  It’s great to put in some random encounters to fill in time or add some tension, but keep your eye on the prize or your players will lose sight of it as well. Players notice that there are a lot more goblins in the forest than usual. They also begin to notice that they all carry red fletched arrows. They further notice that there are crude red arrow symbols painted on trees and rocks. Players notice small dark cloaked humanoids seemingly giving orders to goblin chieftains, giving them trinkets or weapons. Use the time between encounters for exposition and give the players further motivation to seek out the greater mystery surrounding the violence.

4) Use dramatic elements to make the final conflict epic! The final fight should be more than a basic combat. Coming up to the final villain as he is about to pull off his final coupe at the height of his power should be the stuff of legend. The villain should be prepared to take out these pesky interlopers and handle himself what his minions have failed to do. Make the final battle an elaborate puzzle where they have to figure out the source of the villain’s power and take that out before they take him/her down. Give the villain a special power or ability that makes him/her unique and difficult to overcome. The players should have to use their wits along with their characters abilities to overcome this final conflict. Disrupt power crystals, remove the crown from their heads, kill or free the beast that the villain is drawing its power from, uncover the secret location of the actual villain while fighting its demonic avatar. All of these are classic elements that can make the final conflict something special and noteworthy.  Think of boss fights from video games and MMO’s.  They are perfect examples of this. Heck have them fight Kareem, he is a badass!

Now it’s time to try this out and see how you do. Grab a piece of paper and your favorite hand held portable communications inscriber (pencil) and jot down some notes. Read up on your player’s and GM’s guides and have at. You can do it!

If you liked this article check out the archive of the podcast in my Google Docs folder where we discussed this very topic.  Hear the mule story from Joel himself.