Posts Tagged ‘Science Fiction’

Deadzone 2nd Edition

January 27, 2019



Edit:  Deadzone 2.0 PDF rules available here for free.

I recently had a chance to play Mantic Game’s sci-fi skirmish game Deadzone (2nd edition).  It combines elements of board games and wargames to create a streamlined and intuitive system.

The two major innovations, as I see them, are the cube system and the dice pool mechanic for resolving conflicts.

A Deadzone board is divided into three inch spaces called “cubes” (because technically they’re 3D).  Deadzone terrain is designed to comport with these three inch cubes, creating “stacks.”  Distance and weapon range is tracked by counting cubes (as one would count spaces or squares in a board game) instead of measuring inches with a tape measure.  A model moving into a cube may be placed anywhere inside it, even slightly over the cube’s border (the center of the model determines which cube it actually occupies).


Thanks to my buddy Randy for taking this picture.

The cube system resolves many of the problems I have with more traditional skirmish games like Necromunda and Kill Team.  It combines the certainty of grids or spaces with the fluidity of measuring inches on an open board, while also encouraging maneuvering for advantage.  It’s bloody genius, as far as I’m concerned.

Deadzone uses an opposed dice pool mechanic to resolve most conflicts.  A standard roll is three 8-sided dice; each dice rolling a certain target number is a “success.”  Your opponent does the same, and then total successes are compared (ties usually go to the defender).  Dice rolls of 8 “explode,” allowing you to roll another dice, and keep doing so as long as you keep rolling 8’s.  Modifiers add or subtract dice, rather than changing the target number.

For example, shooting an opposing model requires a test where you’re trying to roll equal to or higher than the model’s Shooting stat (which may be 3+, 4+, 5+, and so on).  Your opponent then makes the same test, but using their model’s Survive stat.  If the shooter is higher, or if the target model is completely in the open, then the attacker adds bonus dice to their roll (I learned the hard way that controlling the high ground is very important in Deadzone).  The number of successes generated are compared to determine the potential damage inflicted on the target.


In close combat, the defender may choose to use their Fighting stat, thus having a chance to wound their assailant, or they may just use Survive to simply avoid the attack.  But otherwise the dicing mechanic is the same.

What I like about using a dice pool mechanic is instead of 3 or 4 separate dice rolls to resolve an attack, as in most Games Workshop games, everything is reduced to a single opposed dice roll, speeding up the game.  Also, the mechanic is just dead simple to remember.

One final note, Deadzone also uses an alternating activation sequence.  One player activates a model, then the other player activates a model, back and forth until all models have been activated.  I prefer alternating activations because it avoids the situation where one side can blow the other off the table before they can even move (like 8th edition WH40K), and it avoids many of the messy situations created by Kill Team’s hybrid IGOUGO/alternating shooting system.

On the down side, if you’re used to a weightier, crunchier wargame, then Deadzone may be a little too simplistic for your tastes.  Also, while Mantic’s models are decent, they still aren’t as nice as GW models.  And Mantic doesn’t include instructions for assembling the models, which can be frustrating if you don’t have any experience putting miniatures together.

However, on the whole I’m very impressed with Deadzone and prefer it slightly over Kill Team.  And while the rules may be simple (or even simplistic, depending on your point of view), I feel there’s enough complexity there for some nice tactical decision making.  And it would be relatively easy to house rule it to add more complexity, if that is what you prefer.  Deadzone is also an excellent gateway for first time wargamers.  Oh, and did I mention Deadzone is significantly less expensive than similar GW products?


Free Deadzone 2.0 PDF available here for download.

White Star Advanced Equipment: Grenades

May 8, 2015

untitled1 Proton Grenade Proton Grenades are rare military-grade explosives which are impossible to acquire legally.  On rare occasions a batch of these potent grenades show up on the black market.

Proton Grenades have a range of 30 feet, inflicting 5d6 damage to everyone within a 20 foot radius.  Anyone caught in the blast radius is allowed a saving throw for half damage.

untitledHand Nuke Hand Nukes are particularly dangerous explosive devices of unknown alien construction.  They are nearly twice as heavy as standard grenades, and thus cannot be thrown as far.  These grenades are considered highly illegal on most planets.

Hand Nukes have a range of 20 feet and a blast radius of 50 feet.  They inflict 10d6 damage, though targets are allowed a saving throw for half damage.

White Star RPG Review

May 5, 2015

White Star Single Covers - FrontI’ve had a chance to read White Star cover-to-cover, and overall I really like what I see.  White Star, by James Spahn, is based upon Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, and the two games are fully compatible.

Like Whitebox, White Star is very rules light.  GM’s will be required to make rulings when situations inevitably arise that are not covered in the rules.  Such lighter rule sets also leave a lot of room for tweaking, modding and house ruling.  Both of these are good things, in my opinion.

While it’s clear that White Star is heavily influenced by Star Wars, the game pays homage to virtually every sci-fi setting on screen, from Dune to Firefly to Battlestar Galactica…even Doctor Who.  It just files the serial numbers off.

The four primary classes are Aristocrat (think Leia or Lando), Mercenary (Boba Fett or Jayne Cobb), Pilot (Han Solo or Wash) and Star Knight (i.e Jedi Knights or, conceivably, Time Lords).  In keeping with the toolbox nature of the game, alien racial classes are presented as archetypes: the Alien Brute (Chewbacca, Ookla or D’argo), Alien Mystic (Yoda, or Vulcans perhaps) and Robots.  I really like this approach to aliens, as it is infinitely expandable, works with any setting you come up with, and avoids the author putting their thumb in your game.  You could also have two Alien Brutes in your game, and yet they could be entirely different species.

Combat works pretty much like it does in most D&D variants, just with lasers and star swords.  And starship combat works just like personal combat, with the addition of Shields (which reduce incoming damage).

In keeping with old school D&D, White Star has no formal skill system.  This is one of the major differences between this game and other old school sci-fi RPGs, like Stars Without Number or X-Plorers.  However, if you desire a skill system, it would be fairly easy to bolt one on.  Say, steal the X-in-6 skill system from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or base it on the thief’s percentile rolls.  Personally, though, I feel White Star works just fine without formal skills.

White Star has “spells” in the form of Meditations and Gifts, used by Star Knights and Alien Mystics (respectively).  Both use D&D’s fire-and-forget spell mechanism.  Overall the system works well, and is keeping in full compatibility with S&W Whitebox.  However, considering Meditations and Gifts, and the classes that use them, are obviously inspired by Star Wars and The Force, I don’t understand the need to have two different sets powers.  All the more so considering the relative paucity of Meditations and Gifts included in the base game.  It’s an easy thing, though, to simply combine them into one group.

Many of the monsters included are inspired by science-fiction movies: Daleks, Cylons, Klingons, sand worms, and many more, make an appearance, though with different names.  It may seem a cheap and hokey addition, but as I was reading the game it felt like it somehow just works.  I can easily picture a space dungeon filled to the brim with screaming Cannicks (Obliterate!  OBLITERATE!), ridge-headed Qinlons seeking honorable combat, and relentless Assimilants droning on about the futility of resistance.

Advanced Technology details the “magic items” of the game.  There’s a nice selection to get you started, including a small section on cybernetics.  It’d be easy enough to add dozens more items inspired by sci-fi movies and books, or based on D&D magic items.  Some magic items, like Ioun stones, are sufficiently exotic they could probably be ported over directly.

White Star is rounded out by a GM’s section providing suggestions for various campaign styles drawn from common sci-fi tropes; for example, rebels vs. empire, space traders, planetary invasion, murder-hobos with a spaceship (aka Firefly), and more.  There’s also a sample space sector and a starting adventure.

It would be nice to see a few additions.  The game is missing a technical class (the pilot kinda-sorta fills this role, but not completely), and I think it could benefit from a thief-like ‘scoundrel’ class as well (again, the Aristocrat can fill this role, but that doesn’t feel like a good fit to me).  Tables and charts for random encounters, as well as randomly generating planets and star systems, would also be a nice addition.

In my opinion, White Star does a really good job of being Dungeons & Dragons in space.  If that’s not what you’re looking for, if you prefer hard sci-fi settings, then this probably isn’t the game for you.  But if you just want to pick up a star sword and kill Daleks and Cylons in the nearest derelict space hulk, White Star is the game for you.

Btw, as far as I know, the 20% discount for White Star is still going.

White Star is Go!

May 3, 2015

If you think you might have an interest in the White Star RPG mentioned in my previous post, you can get 20% off the PDF at Tenkar’s Tavern.  I have no idea how long this discount will last.

I’ve picked up the game and will give it a look over tonight, but will probably need a day or two to really digest it.  Until then, cheers.

PS: Normally I get around a 100 views per day, but my post about the White Star RPG set a new record for over a 1,000 views today.  I can’t imagine a brand new OSR game could be that popular, so…WTF?  Edit:  Dug a little deeper.  It seems someone linked my Beginner Box conversions over at Reddit.  That explains it.

Heads-up: White Star RPG

May 3, 2015

White Star OBS Template 6x9 132 Pages CaseboundJust wanted to give a quick heads-up about a new Swords & Wizardry Whitebox compatible game coming out tomorrow, called White Star.  As you might guess, it’s a sci-fi toolbox using the Whitebox rules set.

Tenkar’s Tavern has a quick preview of the first 56 pages.  It appears White Star will have a generic Star Warsy vibe to it, but if you don’t want to mix space-mysticism with your starships and laser swords, it ought to be easy enough to cut that material out and put in the sci-fi stuff you do want.

As for me, since it’s fully compatible with Whitebox, I’m thinking of combining certain elements of both games.  I’m not sure I’d want space elves and space orks, but certain D&D monsters have a space-alien vibe to them.  Things like Grell, Beholders and Mindflayers could be interesting additions to the game.

At any rate, I’ll be picking up the PDF tomorrow and I’ll post my thoughts on the game in a few days, after I’ve had a chance to look it over.  Cheers.

Pathfinder Sorcery & Super Science

August 12, 2014

I’ve had an opportunity to look over three of Paizo’s new campaign books that introduce science-fiction concepts to Pathfinder.  The books in question are: 1) The Numeria campaign guide, 2) People of the Stars and 3) the Technology Guide.  For the most part I think these books can be used with the Beginner Box with minimal work, so I’m not planning on doing a PFBB conversion for any of them.

The Numeria campaign setting introduces a new area of Golantha(sp?) where a giant space ship crashed eons ago, depositing advanced technology all over the place.  It’s a solid Sorcery & Super Science setting for those who want to play a science-fantasy flavored version of Pathfinder.  It offers up new sci-fi themed monsters (i.e. robots, cyborgs), rules for radiation, a mutant monster template that could probably be converted into a PC race fairly easily, and some interesting settings.  However, it lacks information on actual technological items and the adventure locations, while evocative, are not ready made for running adventures (I assume the Iron Gods adventure path will fill in the blanks).

People of the Stars is more suitable for running a Spelljammer version of Pathfinder, though it does provide rules for an Android player-character race.  It’s more fantasy-in-space than science-fantasy.

PFTechGuideThe most interesting book, to me at least, is the Technology Guide.  It provides the missing technological items for the Numeria setting, and provides additional rules for cybernetics, artificial intelligences and new feats, skill uses, archetypes and the Technomancer prestige class.  It’s also a great resource for running a straight-up post apocalyptic Gamma World-esque flavor of Pathfinder (in other words, the Omega Box project I’ve been working on since, well, forever), or even a Pathfinder flavored version of Shadow Run.  One thing I really like is that technology, while superficially similar to magic in many respects, still has its own niche.  Paizo didn’t take the easy path and just model all the tech off of existing spells or magic items.


Most of the tech weapons are fairly inline with standard weapons, though they have additional concerns, such as requiring power to operate (also, timeworn items can glitch, though this is additional complexity I’d rather not deal with).  For example, a laser pistol does 1d8 fire damage.  It also has a few other twists to make it unique, but overall a laser pistol isn’t too much more powerful than a revolver or standard magic weapon.

Heavy weapons have more punch, and the Death Ray is just nasty, but for the most part you don’t have to worry too much about tech weapons outshining normal weapons.


As with weapons, armor is not significantly more protective than standard armor.  The main difference comes with special functions: Chameleon armor, for example, provides a Stealth bonus; HEV armor protects against radiation and toxins; Space Suits protect against vacuum; etc.  But you won’t find a suit of super-duper battle armor that grants a +12 AC bonus but only counts as light armor.  Again, everything fairly balanced inline with magical armor, but still with its own niche.


You might think pharmaceuticals would just be a high tech version of a potion, but again Paizo avoided just a copy-and-paste of potions.  Pharmaceuticals have unique roles, different from potions.  For example, you’ll find a drug that grants a Fast Healing effect, but you won’t find one that acts just like a potion of healing.


Reading this section gave me flashbacks to Shadow Run, and with a bit of work you could create a workable fantasy-cyberpunk flavor of Pathfinder, if you’re so inclined.  Each implant takes up a specific body location and has an Implant value.  The total value of all implants cannot exceed the character’s Constitution score or their Intelligence score (reflecting both physical and mental limitations of the body’s ability to control cybernetics).  Also, implanting cybernetics is a fairly risky and arduous process that causes Constitution ability damage, so it’s not for the faint-hearted.

I think this section could be used to add an interesting Cyborg class/race option to a post-apoc version of the game, but it felt a bit too much like chrome-and-polish cyberpunk for my tastes.  But, YMMV.


So, for my purposes, there’s a lot of interesting information here for the Omega Box project.    The android race is an excellent addition, and I can use the cybernetic rules to work up a workable cyborg ‘race’ option.  I’m also thinking of ditching the random mutations and using the rather elegant Mutant monster template as the basis for mutant characters.  And there are plenty of useful technological artifacts that can be thrown into the game.

However, I think I’d like to stick with the ridiculously high-powered tech weapons from Omega World (Jonathan Tweet) rather than Pathfinder’s scaled-down, balanced weapons.  It just seems more appropriate for the beer-and-pretzel style game I want.  Also, the radiation rules seem more fiddly than I want to deal with, and the rules for timeworn technology need a lot of streamlining as well, IMO.



April 20, 2013

oblivionmovieOblivion is one of those movies with a twist.  It’s one of those movies that revolves around the twist.  The movie is the twist.  So in that respect, Oblivion does a decent job of delivering.  It doesn’t come completely out of left field (like Sixth Sense or the Usual Suspects), but there was still enough there to surprise me a bit.  That said, now that I know what the twist is, I’ll probably never watch Oblivion again, as I already know what the movie is about.

The visuals, on the other hand, will blow you away.  They did a really good job portraying man-made ruins amidst a devastated Earth.  Skyscrapers turned into canyons, the Empire State Building buried up to the observation deck, rusting ships and submarines laying on a dried up sea-floor.  Great imagery for a post-apocalypse role-playing game.

Just don’t think about the plot too much, because it has enough holes to sink a ship.  I don’t want to get into too much detail for fear of giving away the twist, but the more I think about it the more little things I find that don’t really stack up.

If you’re a big fan of sci-fi movies, Oblivion is probably worth the price of a matinee.  Otherwise, wait for Netflix.  Cheers.

The War Planet

October 29, 2012

One of many hundreds of quarantined worlds, the War Planet (as it has come to be known), was once home to an advanced alien species.  This species fought a devastating civil war, culminating in the ultimate destruction of the planet’s eco-system.  As population levels declined, the two factions increasingly turned to robotic war machines to carry on in their stead.  As populations continued to decline, automated factories and mines took over the production and maintenance of the war machines.

And now, centuries after the last aliens died in the last remaining command bunkers, the machines carry on their war by proxy, locked in eternal stalemated combat.  Robotic war machines tread through the detrius of war, searching out enemies, their outposts and, most importantly, their factories.  The machines on the surface are guided by uncompromising and implacable A.I. ‘generals,’ buried in deep, heavily fortified bunker complexes, while  ‘research’ A.I.s continue to develop new weapons and robot variants in an unending effort to gain some temporary advantage over the enemy.

The surface is littered with the weapons and tools from centuries of warfare, a rich haul for any scavenger willing to dare the planet’s many hazards.  Like the insane warbots that are simply incapable of recognizing off-worlders as anything but enemies, subject to immediate termination.  Or the environmental hazards, such as clouds of poison gas, radiation storms, lakes of acid and horrific mutant beasts.  Still, many are willing to take the risk, for one good find on the War Planet can set a crew up in luxury for the rest of their lives.


October 16, 2012

A desolate, lifeless world orbiting a dying sun, far removed from well-travelled space lanes and civilized space.  Tartarus was originally established, many centuries ago, as a cryogenic prison for Great Father, the progenitor-emperor of the long-dead Vampiric Empire.  Tartarus is maintained by the Warden.  No one is quite sure who or what the Warden is, but the Warden is single-minded in his/her/its obligation to watch over the slumbering Great Father.

After some time, many of the empires and star nations supporting Tartarus neglected their duties, or simply ceased to exist, so the Warden found it necessary to diversify the prison planet’s revenue sources, so to speak.  Tartarus has plenty of space, so some two centuries ago the Warden began accepting new prisoners, without question.

Now all manner of people are warehoused there: too dangerous to set free, and too valuable to kill.  Criminal syndicates, corrupt governments, jealous spouses…the Warden doesn’t care, so long as payment is made, usually in precious minerals or services rendered.  Some prisoners are kept in posh accommodations, others left to rot in spartan cells, and still others stored in permanent cryo-stasis.

Rumors abound that the Warden has also taken to safe-keeping client’s valuable objects, secured in impenetrable vaults deep below the planet’s surface.  It is known that from time-to-time foolhardy adventurers attempt to liberate prisoners or loot.  Whether many have been successful is not as well know, but a few must have managed it, or else why do the rumors persist?

What is also known is that the Warden doesn’t take well to such forays.  Bounty hunters, assassin androids, killbots…even other adventurers, have been dispatched by the Warden to retrieve stolen property and punish thieves and prison-breakers.  Crossing the Warden is dangerous business.

Best Campaign Idea Ever

October 1, 2012

Jay at Exonauts posted an idea for the best sci-fi RPG campaign ever.  Rad Astra, a mash-up of various cheesy sci-fi movies and TV shows from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s…the “pastiche-verse.”  I’d almost pay money to play in a game like that.  It’s a quick, fun read if you like cheesy, gonzo sci-fi.

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