Monday, November 21, 2016

Remembering Full Thrust

I didn't get out much when I was a teenager. Besides being the official friendless geek of my high school, I had the misfortune of being born to a pair of domineering parents who wouldn't let me learn to drive until I was in college. However, once I had my license, I did my best to make up for lost time by going to all the local game stores my uptight mom and dad wouldn't take me to when I was a kid. One of these stores, Adventures Games Plus in Greenfield, WI, would become my home away from home and its usual crowd would become the crazy, geeky friends and the second family that I had longed for all my life.

While Adventure Games Plus (or just AGP) catered to all gaming interests, there was very strong miniature gaming clique who'd meet on Tuesdays and weekends to play. There was a group that played Star Fleet Battles each Sunday, and being a fan of old-school Trek, I jumped at the chance to learn. I didn't realize what I was getting myself into. I thought SFB was going to be this fast-paced game of space combat. What I got instead were hours of energy allocation accounting and slogging across a hex map. My young ADD-addled mind rebelled at the codified dullness of the rules and the dichotomy of how could something that looked so cool could be so boring. After a game where a single impulse took four hours to resolve, I had all but given up on miniature gaming. Then I found out about a little game called Full Thrust.

Full Thrust was everything I was looking for in a space combat game. It was fast and easy to learn, you could field large fleets of ships, and it was generic enough to be used for just about any science fiction setting: Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and many others. Tuesday nights became the night of the week I lived for. It was the night that I would meet with my growing group of friends with our fleets of miniature ships and pit them against each other in white-hot science fiction battle. This was the time I started to learn to paint figures, where I started to learn basic tactics, and

I was in college at the time (circa 1994) and one of my professors mentioned the existence of this strange new computer technology called "the Internet" and the "World Wide Web." Discovering an online community of FT fans on an e-mail discussion group, I started to make connections with players across the planet, including the game's author, Jon Tuffley of Ground Zero Games. I soon discovered how easy it was to create your own web pages, and using a basic HTML reference and a share of server space on the University of Milwaukee--Wisconsin I started an online resource for players. Thus, The Unofficial Full Thrust WWW Page  (i.e. UFTWWWP) was born.

About that time, I met Gina, a girl who seemed interested in my strange and esoteric interests and we struck up a relationship. I was able to convince her to play FT and despite not knowing anything about tactics she always beat me. (No, I didn't let her win!) She and I attended my first Gen Con together when I found out there was going to be a large group of FT players running events. Back then, Gen Con was run in Milwaukee so attending only entailed a 20-minute drive into town. Even better, Jon Tuffley was flying in from Great Britain to attend. Gina said I was like a kid in a candy store, and after a whole day of gaming, I vowed to make keep making the annual pilgrimage and run game of my own.

After that, I started running convention games. Being the mid-90s, my sci-fi media obsession was Babylon 5 and I nearly swooned when Agents of Gaming came out with their Babylon 5 Wars line of miniatures. For one of my favorite con games, I got ahold of the Monogram model of the Babylon 5 station itself along with several Omega Class Destroyers and Hyperion Class Heavy Cruisers and created a scenario based on the epic battle in the B5 episode "Severed Dreams." It was always a sellout game.
Full Thrust Ship System Diagram

Sadly, local interest in FT began to wane by the late 90s, especially when the official "Fleet Books" series was released. Gina dumped me about a year-and-a-half and I haven't found a gamer girlfriend (or any other for that matter) since. While I found the brand new ship construction rules to be open up new possibilities, my friends found them too constraining. Eventually, my friends moved on to other games. Full Thrust became something I could only play at Gen Con. The final blow was the fateful day when it was announced that Gen Con would move from Milwaukee to distant Indianapolis. Being an impoverished nerd, working a series of low-paying office jobs, even a weekend in a cheap hotel was a cost I couldn't bear. I haven't played Full Thrust since around 2004.

Science fiction was moving on too, as many TV space operas began to finish their series and science fiction was moving to less expensive, SFX-lite conspiracy dramas. I lost the password to the UFTWWP and owners of the homegame.org server aren't answering my e-mails, I've been unable to update the page since 2005. I've often thought of moving it to a new site, but there was something always comes up to distract me.

However, I sometimes hear the siren song of my favorite miniature game. I still collect and paint starship miniatures. The rules are still available for free from Ground Zero Games website. There is still an active Full Thrust fan community online. The only thing I lack are people willing to play. Maybe it's time to dust off the figs and make an effort to bring the game back to life.

Review: Delta Green: Agent's Handbook

I was never very big on conspiracy theories—at least, believing in them, that is. Being a skeptical and scientifically-inclined person, I always figured that they were merely a way for people who had little understanding of how humanity worked and a lot of paranoia tried to explain the world. As a result, I was never into TV shows like The X-Files or Dark Skies. Whenever anyone starts to ramble on about how the Military-Industrial Complex were responsible for the Kennedy assassination, I roll my eyes and try to change the subject. When I hear some self-proclaimed "contrarian" claim that the moon landing is a cunningly contrived hoax, I look for a way to disengage from the conversation. When I hear some Grade-A-loonburger-with-a side-of-fries rant about how the Jewish Bankers are trans-dimensional lizard-men out to summon demons from GMO corn chips, I slowly start to back away to the nearest exit.

On the other hand, if years of reading Ken Hite's Suppressed Transmissions has taught me anything it's that there is a wealth of fresh gaming material buried in amongst all that crazy and even recycled crazy can be fun when you put an interesting spin on it. Like it or not, the insanity that spews from the mouths of Alex Jones and Oliver Stone is our modern-day folklore. The Roswell Incident and the Philadelphia Experiment have become as much a part of the Western tradition as The Iliad, or Beowulf, or Gulliver's Travels, or the Star Wars Saga...
...or the Cthulhu Mythos.
My first exposure to Delta Green was back in the 90s when it was a supplemental campaign for Call of Cthulhu. While I had no love for conspiracy fiction, I have loved Cthulhu since I was in middle school. However, while it certainly looked interesting, my interests were focused elsewhere. Granted, there has always been quite a bit of conspiracy thriller already baked into Lovecraftian fiction: secretive, diabolical secret cults of depraved lunatics, worshipping strange alien super-beings from beyond space and time. However, Delta Green takes that concept and ramps it up to the nth power. In Delta Green, investigators don’t have just Great Old Ones and the cults that serve them, they also must contend with the near-omnipotent power of the United States Government, who have their own entanglements with the Mythos.
Last year, Arc Dream Publishing decided that the stars were right for a brand-new edition, this time as a completely stand-alone RPG. After a successful crowdfunding drive last autumn, Arc Dream released the first batch of new product this summer, including the Silver Ennie Award winning Delta Green: Agent's Handbook which contains all the basic rules that the players need to start covering up the existence of eldritch horrors.
For those without the clearance to be read in, let me tell you what Delta Green is all about (though, I may have to kill you afterward): After the U.S. military shut down the degenerate town of Innsmouth, MA, the government started to take the existence of the Great Old Ones seriously. They create an ultra-secret organization tasked with investigating, destroying, and covering-up Mythos threats by any means necessary, codenamed Delta Green. Throughout WWII and the Cold War, Delta Green kept America safe from numerous supernatural threats, but after a botched operation in Cambodia, the government pulled the plug. After that, Delta Green reorganized itself as an unsanctioned conspiracy that continued their crusade illegally.
However, after September 11, the government let Delta Green back into the federal fold under the auspices of combating international terrorism.  Delta Green agents are usually drawn from various federal law enforcement, the military, or any other useful profession. While they have more resources and an official support than they did in their post-Vietnam days, their mission remains the same. Protect America from the unnatural, no matter what the cost.
The rules featured in Delta Green: Agents Handbook are a streamlined, rules-lite, and OGL version of Chaosium’s percentile-based engine used in Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Basic Role-Playing, et al. Rather than bogging players down with hundreds of skill points to divide out, Delta Green gives skill packages with each profession that makes for fast, easy character creation. Other new rules include a system where, if the situation is calm, players with attributes or skills at a certain level automatically succeed in a task, eliminating the problem of missing a vital clue when you miss a Search roll. Combat is fast and deadly, with a new Lethality rule that makes dealing with damage from automatic and heavy weapon easy. When you hit a rampaging cultist with a burst from your submachine gun, rather than figuring out damage from every volley of bullets, you roll percentiles and compare the result to the weapon’s Lethality rating. If you succeed, the target is automatically reduced to 0 hp, if you fail, the d100 is treated at a 2d10 roll minus any Armor modifiers. Either way, a deadly prospect for NPCs and PCs alike.
Of course, characters in Delta Green don’t have to worry about just physical injury. As in most horror games, PCs must face the prospect of insanity as they delve into things that man was not meant to know. Sanity operates much as it does in Call of Cthulhu, but challenges to a PCs mental health are broken up into three categories: Violence (i.e. situations where PCs either give or receive violent action), Helplessness (i.e. situations where trauma is beyond the character’s control), and the Unnatural (e.g. seeing monsters, performing magic, discovering forbidden knowledge, etc.). As your PC’s Sanity points dwindle, they will start to pick up psychological disorders that will further complicate their lives. Eventually, if they aren’t killed first, an agent will face the very real possibility of going incurably insane.
Perhaps one of the most interesting new mechanics is Bonds. Upon creation, a PC has a certain number of Bonds: people that are important to their character. When a character faces the threat of indefinite insanity, they can draw upon that bond to suppress the psychosis. The trouble is, the strength of that bond is weakened. In between missions, player and GM can role-play brief vignettes to find out how your relationship with your bond was negatively affected. (e.g. You shout at your spouse. You inexplicably lash out at your daughter. You ignore your parent’s phone calls.) Eventually, you will have exhausted your Bond completely, and they will desert you leaving you to face the horrors on a cruel and inimical cosmos naked and alone.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
My only complaint is that I wish that Arc Dream would have first published the full rules (the upcoming Delta Green: The Role-playing Game, coming this spring) which feature the newly updated history of Delta Green since the 90s, stats for the various Lovecraftian horror your agents will face, and rules for magic to help or hinder (mostly hinder) your players. In the meantime, Arc Dream has wisely released several scenarios for the new rules that should keep your players busy. Also, since the rules are based on CoC, GMs can easily borrow Chaosium’s stat blocks for Deep Ones, Mi-Go, Ghouls, and other terrors until the official bestiary is released.
Weighing in at 192 pages, this gorgeously illustrated and laid out tome, is currently available in both hardcover and .PDF. Veteran Call of Cthulhu fans will likely enjoy this new interpretation of the classic horror role-playing rules useful as any of its mechanics can be easily imported into any edition of the original CoC. New Lovecraftian gamers will find the rules easy and well laid out, giving them just enough background to tantalize, but not spoil the mystery of this cloak-and-dagger setting.
Who knows? You're exploits just might make the into the rants of your local conspiracy theorist. Good thing no one believes them, right? 

Friday, November 18, 2016

OK, OK, I'm back again...

Between a depressing death toll of beloved artists and celebrities, and a contentious election year that culminated in the most "WHAT THE FUCK?!?!" outcomes in American political history, 2016 has got to be one of the suckiet years in recent memory. Throw in a crappy job with an insane schedule that drags me in for mandatory overtime, stress and anxiety issues, and the death of another laptop, and you don't feel all that creative.

Sometimes, it's jut better to take a step away for awhile. Which I did.

And now I'm back.

I've got a few ideas bouncing around in my ADD-addled excuse for a brain, and the time has come for me to express them. I've fallen head-over-heels in love with the new edition of Delta Green and it's smartly streamlined mechanics. I've got some ideas I'd like to share here. Also, expect to see some more Mu-related activity as well as some more miniature pics as my painting has picked up lately. I've also discovered 3D printing, so I'm churning out various models and do-dads that are suitable for gaming, so expect

Languages Of Mu


It's been a long while since I've written anything about Mu, but the Sword & Sorcery bug has nibbled on me again, so here are some notes about the primary languages in the setting along with a little about the cultures that use them. Don't expect any in-depth discussion about the grammar and diction of these languages. I'm just a mediocre college grad with a useless Journalism degree, not J.R.R. Tolkien or M.A.R. Barker.

Naacal (Low and High):


There are two major dialects of the language of the people of Mu. Low Naacal is spoken by much of the population. Since it is the guttural, common tongue of illiterate peasants and slaves, there is no written version. On the other hand, High Naacal is almost exclusively spoken by Mu's ruling class and priesthood. It's long, flowing written script is taught only to the scions of the wealthy, and the various temples have their own hieratic variants. Per custom, a Naacal noble would not sully their tongue by speaking the low tongue. If the need arises for them to communicate their wishes to the low-born, they have servants to do that for them. It is death for any low-born to attempt to learn the high tongue.

Atlantean:


A brash relatively civilization, far across the ocean, Atlantis is fast becoming a rival with Mu. Great distance and the South American continent keeps Mu and Atlantis from all-out war, but both great empires plot against each one another over trade and resources. Atlantis also has its own rich tradition of sorcery making Atlantean a major language of magical scholarship.

Hyperborean:


Thousands of years earlier, the Hyperborean civilization ruled what we would eventually call Greenland. Once a lush and tropical jungle empire, Hyperborea is now buried under the great seas of glacial ice that creep down from the world's poles. Once it was the abode of mighty sorcerers like Eibon and Klarkash-Ton, whose occult works survived the coming of the Ice Age and are still studied by scholars of magic to this day. The decedents of Hyperborea, who have long since fallen into barbarism and dwell upon the glaciers and tundra of the northern lands, speak a broken, pidgin version of their ancestor's tongue. Prized for their strength and endurance, slavers from Mu and Atlantis often prey upon ethnic Hyperborean settlements for new stock.

Aklo:


Handed down by a line of priests and sorcerers, Aklo is said to be the language or the gods themselves, or rather, it is as close as the mere minds and tongues of mortal humans can approximate. Used in high ritual prayer and magical spells, Aklo appeals for the attention of the Old Ones to evoke their mighty power and bend reality to their will. Any wishing to learn magic or aspires to high rank in any of the temples would be wise to learn this tongue.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Some More Mini Pics

It's been a while since I posted some pictures of any finished miniatures: Here are some of my latest:

An Ahóggya from The Tékumel Club.

Bára, an Aridáni warrior, also from The Tékumel Club

Unfinished Arthurian/Romano-British from Westwind.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Some thoughts on H.P. Lovecraft.

"It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of 'em was one kinda sombitch or another."
--Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds,
Firefly, "Jaynestown"

Whether it's gaming, comic books, science fiction or fantasy, nerd culture is no longer the mainly-white-male-cis-gendererd-heterosexual-club that it used to be. As we welcome more and more non-whites, women, and LGBT members into our community of weirdos, there is bound to be some tension between our new brothers and sister geeks and those in the Old Guard who want to keep things status quo. Particularly contentious is how should we approach sexual and racial matters in our favorite media?  One of these issues that comes up again and again is how the various branches of geekdom should approach H.P. Lovecraft and his works.

Sigh... Lovecraft.

Over the years, I've come to be of two of minds about HPL. On one hand, I've enjoyed reading his stories and playing Call of Cthulhu and other related RPGs since I was in 8th grade. I love the Mythos: the cosmic nihilism, the tentacled alien deities and the diabolical cults that worshiped them, the strange blending of occult horror and science fiction. Certainly, there was much to admire about the man himself. He was quite intelligent and erudite. He loved knowledge, science, and appreciated critical thinking (at least in some things). He loved language--boy did he love language! He also loved cats. That's usually a big plus in my book.

But yeeeeah... On the other hand, he was a racist and xenophobe and a pretty vile one too by all accounts. According to his ex-wife, Sonja Greene, during his brief residence in New York City, he'd yell at any groups of immigrants with whom he came in contact with. His private letters defended Southern lynch mobs and initially spoke glowingly of Hitler. You can see his obvious disdain for anyone who wasn't a WASP—or, in his case, a WASA: "White Anglo-Saxon Atheist"—in stories like "Hebert West: Reanimator" and "The Horror At Red Hook." The cults of the Great Old Ones where usually filled with "degenerate" half-breeds and led by shadowy Orientals, secluded in China or the Himalayas. The Deep Ones were a conglomeration of Lovecraft's paranoia over miscegenation and his dislike for fish. He even named one of his cat's "Nigger Man."

So while I think he was an excellent, imaginative writer, I also think he was kind of an asshole.

Of course, like many fandom communities, there are those who will militantly defend HPL from such criticism then make lame justifications for his beliefs in a attempt to rehabilitate his image. Yes, you can say he was a product of his time, when casual racial bigotry was the norm. Yes, he had a sheltered childhood, raised by a broken family that was rapidly deteriorating both financially and psychologically (i.e. both his parents died in an asylum). Yes, he himself probably suffered from various mental health issues. Those are all very good reasons for Lovecraft's behavior, but I don't think they are excuses.

In my opinion, the best and most honest thing we Lovecraft fans can do with try to distill the positive products of Lovecraft's talent while openly acknowledging and condemning him for his foibles. No more excuses or justifications. It's entirely understandable why some defend him some vehemently. No one wants to think less of their heroes, especially when you are dealing with something as odious as racial and/or sexual prejudice. However, in the end, you're efforts to defend the indefensible will only further tarnish his reputation. It's best to know when you are on the losing side of a lost cause.

Personally, I see HPL as a-man-who-could-have-been. He was someone who had the capacity for greatness but is largely overshadowed by his flaws. I love the horror writer, I hate the racist "sombitch," and, most of all, I pity the human being who was Howard Phillips Lovecraft.