Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Rogue Stars - Antagonist Squads & Nova Troopers

Coming up with a backstory for the Loor Scouts from CP Models got me to thinking about the Lurker/Threshold mechanic from Strange Aeons. You can check out my overview of that game here but the relevant part is, one player controls the protagonist warband, made up of Characters that develop over a campaign, while the other player controls the baddies, which are just one-off warbands written up for that particular scenario. The occasional Strange Aeons villain - called a Nemesis - can level up and otherwise develop just like the protagonists do. But for the most part, bad guys are there to fight and be fought.

In the spirit of adventure sci fi, where dashing (anti-) heroes regularly blast through scores of nameless mooks, the same kind of idea could apply to Rogue Stars. The Loor Scouts, for example, are great one-off antagonists. There are any number of reasons they might be after your squad: Did a deal with the Triad go sour? Perhaps your Space Cops have been ordered to bring them in? Or maybe it's just one of those troublesome misunderstandings that happen so frequently in busy spaceports? They can be dropped into a campaign as mysterious assassins, ruthless pursuers, or plain old thuggish nobodies. This could eventually become another scenario table for Rogue Stars - roll for which Antagonist Squad you'll be facing. But if I'm going to get to that point, I will need a few more potential entries.

Nova Troopers

"Nova" is the generic name for several branded security personnel system packages. Smaller corporations and even cash-strapped governments buy these packages to meet their paramilitary-level operational security needs. Despite a wide variety of detail-oriented brand differences, "Nova" product systems all have two features in common.

First, these systems use a tiered training regimen. Customers pack off one of their own employees for a period of training by the vendor corporation and, for a discount to the package price, a combat assignment subcontract with the vendor. If the trainee survives the subcontract assignment, he will return to instruct his original employer's other security personnel, for each of whom that employer must purchase a license from the training vendor. The vendor-trained employee is then placed in command of his own trainees.

Second, the vendor supplies arms and armor. Initial and continuing training is tailored to the vendor's branded equipment although in reality the differences across brands are fairly superficial. "Nova Troopers" are instantly recognizable throughout the galaxy thanks to their aggressive-looking blasters and distinctive combat armor. The armor itself is essentially a cheap alternative to real powered armor: a self-contained, miniaturized exoskeleton-driven battlesuit that provides solid protection but is susceptible to damage that can significantly bog down the wearer's movement.

"Nova" product systems owe their popularity to their effectiveness. Nova Troopers present an impressive and intimidating spectacle and their presence is often enough to deter violent criminal activity or quell unrest. On the other hand, Nova training does not produce leaders - perhaps by design - and their gear tends to look better than it actually is.

Nova Trooper 32XP

Combat Dress
Heavy Blaster Rifle

Six Nova Troopers make up a 200-point squad. "Promote" one to Corporal by giving him Danger Sense and Veteran. The squad uses the Militia theme and the Hive Mind tactical discipline. This write-up was inspired by the not-Storm Troopers available from Reaper in metal as well as their economical "bones" material. Search the Reaper site for "Nova." They offer six different poses.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rogue Stars - Loor Scouts

Here is another Squad for Rogue Stars, this time courtesy of the Alien Federation line from CP Models. I am unaware of any official background information, so drafted up my own.

I imagine the Loor as a remarkably unified race, socially speaking, that evolved precious little capacity for interspecies empathy. As a result, they tend to understand relations with non-Loor as a predator/prey binary. This may also explain their apparent indifference to the laws and customs of other sentients. By contrast, Loor revere their own ways and severely punish infractions. Exile is the harshest sanction; Loor do not leave their homeworld by choice.

Those who survive exile (most commit suicide) always find their way into the Loor Triads. Non-Loor know practically nothing about the Triads except that, by some quirk of psychobiology, members of one Triad do not recognize any other Loor as part of the "true" Loor species. Some experts theorize this strange phenonenon, which they consider an analog to sociopathy, is related to coping with the trauma of surviving exile.

Others believe it is part of the life cycle of the Loor species as a whole: Non-Loor paleontologists have discovered extremely limited evidence of Loor evolution in the fossil record of the planet they call home. Could they have originated elsewhere and merely adopted (conquered?) the current Loor system? Perhaps the small gangs of Loor lurking around spaceports throughout the galaxy are scouting for a new homeworld.

Already perceived as xenophobic gangsters, the Loor are therfore sometimes also considered infiltrators and even potential invaders. Escalated Triad activity has triggered system-wide panics, usually resulting in pogroms and at least one small war. Perhaps the Triads are secretive because they are hated; perhaps the reverse is true. In either case, the Loor are effectively a galactic underclass - tolerated at best and never welcome.

Loor have limited control over the pigmentation of the flexible scutes covering their bodies and the scales of their hands harden into horny talons at the finger tips. All healthy, unmodified Loor have the following traits: Claws, Reptiloid, and Stealth 1. Loor disfavor most clothing and armor but are eager to trade or steal other technology, especially weapons.

The Squad detailed below reflects a typical Triad scouting party. Unlike their exiled forbears, these Loor were all born into the Triad and hatched together from the same clutch. While females are by far the more populous sex on the Loor homeworld, female offspring are the rarest in Triad broods. Sometimes, a clutch will yield no females. Females that survive to adulthood are accorded tremendous security but have little to no personal freedom.

The next rarest offspring in a given clutch are sterile male "runts" - Loor born smaller, weaker, slower, or defective in some other sense, apart from their sterility. Fertile males are more common than "runts" but less common than sterile males overall. Fertile males monopolize all positions of authority in the Triad. In any given clutch, only one fertile male may breed. How the breeding male is determined is unknown, perhaps even to Loor.

As a rule, there is little conflict among clutchmates. They appear to perceive themselves as a single genetic unit, although fertile males from the same clutch are in fact not genetically identical. Fertile males tend to consult with one another but the breeding male has final say. While sterile males are content in servile roles, no clutchmate is actually considered expendable. In this Squad, for example, the runt is slower and less stealthy than his brothers. He has been afforded a less sophisticated, noisy weapon but at the same time equipped with a refraction field generator.

Theme: Pirates

Tactical Discipline: Cool Under Fire

Loor Breeding Male 51XP

Fast 1
Leadership 2
Stealth 3
Needler Rifle

Loor Fertile Male 41XP

Danger Sense
Fast 1
Stealth 3
Needler Rifle

Loor Sterile Male (Tech) 37XP

Fast 1
Stealth 3
Tech 1
Needler Rifle

Loor Sterile Male (Medic) 36XP

Fast 1
Medic 1
Stealth 3
Needler Rifle

Loor Sterile Male Runt 35XP

Refraction Field Harness
Stealth 2

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rogue Stars - Rebs Squad

Although I did pre-order ("nickstart") all the North Star figures for Rogue Stars via Brigade Games, I have been pretty excited about using Mantic's Rebs faction from Deadzone. These guys are absolutely perfect for Rogue Stars. So here is my first attempt at a Squad, trying to stick both to WYSIWYG and Mantic's existing fluff, where available.

I picked the Bounty Hunter theme and I think Opportunists (+1 to Reaction rolls) fits a group with no bonuses to winning Initiative. I struggled with whether Yrtl should have two Monowire Blades and whether they should be taken "Built In" but ultimately went with a less literal approach. The other question I struggled with was skipping armor for Matilda. I went with the far cheaper Stealth option, which matches her sniper flavor.

I am already concocting backstories for these hoodlums, just by virtue of Squad creation. This is exactly what I love about low-model count rule sets. You can really dive into the personalities of your minis - again, I think an appropriate term for this would be "RPG Creep."

Please note that I have included pictures - all from Mantic's promotional materials - only in order to give the reader something to judge my efforts against. I certainly don't hold out these photos as mine (they aren't) or mean to suggest that I painted these figures (I didn't). I probably will paint my guys up pretty similarly to Mantic's pictures, however - so just imagine these guys with a much worse paint job.

Yrtl (63XP)

Light Combat Dress
Monowire Blade
Fast Draw
Flamer Pistol
Psionic (Teleportation)
Tough 1
Weapon Master 1

Tchak Jack (33XP)

Assault Rifle
Difficult Target 2
Free Disengage
Light Combat Dress

Chomp (32XP)

Danger Sense
Kevlar Jacket
Machine Gun
Marksman 1
Tough 1

Matilda (42XP)

Fire Into Melee
Laser Rifle/Accurate Weapon
Marksman 3
Stealth 2

Doctor Pral (30XP)

Martial Arts 2
Medic 1
Psionic (Encourage, Guidance)
Tech 1

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue Stars Overview

I was not excited for Rogue Stars until reading through a copy of Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes this past fall. Having purchased, digested, and ultimately disliked the revised edition of SBH back in 2014, I had pretty much written off Ganesha Games. But whereas Revised was a near miss, Advanced turned out to be a near hit - thanks to reactions. So I pre-ordered Rogue Stars hoping that Andrea Sfiligoi had continued along the design trajectory toward my preferences.

He did not disappoint!

oh man look at those space men go

By using a d20, Rogue Stars has plenty of room for modifiers and can afford to eschew stats altogether. Characters (i.e., models) are defined entirely by Traits. Each player has 200XP to create a Squad of 4-6 Characters and must spend 30-70XP on each. Squad creation begins with selecting a theme. What kind of Traits and equipment are available to your Squad at the outset depends on which theme you choose. Themes come into play elsewhere - for example, Pirates and Mercs get extra XP for looting treasure chests. Finally, each player chooses a Tactical Discipline for their Squad, a special rule that applies to all the members, such as being able to re-roll a morale test.

Expect Squad creation to take a while - Rogue Stars is chock full of Traits and all kinds of equipment. Themes help narrow your choices but there is still a lot to think about. Folks who prefer a WYSIWYG approach over hunting down the most competitive builds will find plenty of options for bringing to life whatever miniatures they use. I have no idea whether there are game-breaking combos in Rogue Stars and honestly don't care; I plan to use this game to tell stories rather than run tournaments. But I have no doubt that some mouse will find the cheese, given such a wealth of options.

There are three tables - mission, location, and complication - for rolling up scenarios. Each has twenty (!) options. Aside from just terrain and weather, there are also rules covering gravity and exotic atmosphere conditions. There is a whole table for determining the consequences of firing projectile weapons aboard spacecraft. And there's another table for randomizing what sort of wonders and perils you might face while exploring a derelict. There is plenty of support here for having all kinds of space adventures.

Once the Squads are assembled and the scenario is set up, players roll off for initiative. The winner is the active player. The active player attempts to activate her Characters one at a time by taking an activation test - rolling up to three d20s. For each roll that is 8 or above, after applying modifiers, the character may perform a single action. She may use any or all of her available actions but the Character gets a stress token for each action performed. Each stress token grants a -1 modifier to subsequent activation attempts.

The active player can attempt to activate any or all of her Characters as many times as she pleases. But the more dice she rolls, the more rolls she may fail. Each modified roll below 8 grants the non-active player a Reaction Die. The non-active player may used Reaction Dice to attempt to activate his Characters. If he succeeds, his Characters can act before the active player gets to perform any actions with the Character she is activating. So "reactions" are really more like interruptions. Just like with actions, Characters take a stress marker for every reaction they perform.

One very important type of reaction is making a Take the Initiative roll. The non-active player needs to roll a 16 or better, after modifiers. He becomes the active player if he succeeds but the newly non-active player removes all stress markers from her Characters. Losing the initiative is the only way to remove all of the stress tokens on all of your Characters. The active player does not have to wait for the non-active player to roll a successful Take the Initiative reaction; she can simply pass initiative whenever she chooses.

Everything in Rogue Stars is a d20 roll and that includes combat. The basic TN for a ranged or melee attack is 10 - but there are many, many potential modifiers, taking into account everything from cover to weapon quality to making called shots. (Yes you can go for the headshot, at a 30% penalty. And yes, headshots can be lethal.) If an attack is successful, the target determines hit location (unless it was a called shot) makes a damage roll. This roll is modified by the amount of damage the attack inflicted, whether the target is protected by armor, whether the target is already wounded, etc. The result may take the target out of action (OOA), or may result in pin and/or wound markers, or may require a roll on a further table that breaks out the wound by hit location and wound severity. That includes Character death!

Melee is a somewhat more complicated than ranged attacks. Being outnumbered, knocked prone, making Powerful Blows, and trying to disengage ... there are rules covering it all. But my prediction is, ranged attacks are sufficiently deadly to render melee rare absent boards truly covered in terrain. Then again, there is teleportation in Rogue Stars ...

As a final note, you don't get your money out of a d20 mechanic without critical failure and critical success. Rogue Stars covers both for all sorts of rolls, including Activation. There is even a critical failure result for firing a pistol in melee - you manage to shoot yourself in one of your legs, of course! That's an example of how gritty these rules get and no doubt there are lots of things to remember. Fortunately, Osprey has promised a QRS is on the way as one is not included in the book itself. Probably due to the constraints of the series, Rogue Stars also does not use the usual SBH  mechanic of set distances.

I am really looking forward to playing Rogue Stars in 2017! The older I get, the more I want to play low model count games with a heavy narrative ("RPG creep"?) and this ruleset seems perfect for that. I know some folks are already put off by the complexity but I don't think Rogue Stars really qualifies as complex. The structure of the game itself is as streamlined and intuitive as SBH. I know that is small comfort for gamers allergic to modifiers. If you're one of them, best to stay away. But Rogue Stars is a great bet for anyone looking for a simple game that is crunchy enough to really bring the character out of the minis.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Gorgon Studios Draugr

Gorgon Studios offers a smallish range of Dark Age Scandinavians, including some Draugr. Having ordered them a while back, with no particular plans for them if I'm honest, I just now got around to painting them up. They are perfect as roaming enemies for Frostgrave.

oh man look at those draugr go

These sculpts are a great balance between undead lethargy and simmering menace. They struck me as perfect for frozen wights roving the ice-ridden ruins of Felstad so I painted their corpseflesh blue-grey and washed with TAP blue tone before highlighting. The eyes are Vallejo Model Green Sky, which I think of as "Romulan Green."

pretty sure these two are related

The bases are in my usual style for Frostgrave and the dirty snow look nicely compliments these grubby Viking zombies. Gorgon Studios advertises them as 28mm but they are noticably taller than North Star's Frostgrave soldiers. I'm fine with that - these draugr obviously descended from a heartier race of men than the scoundrels picking over Felstad these days.

there was a sale at Ax-Mart

The draugr set actually comes with eight figures, all different sculpts. After painting them up, I noticed that Gorgon had shorted me one out of this set. I'll mention it to them the next time I order and see if they can send me the missing guy. Unfortunately, it was one of the coolest sculpts in the set. I know because I ordered two sets and the other one was complete. The bellowing chieftain is sold separately.

Gorgon also makes a cool necromancer to waken the cranky frozen warriors. I will post a picture of him  as soon as I'm finished painting him, along with some scale comparisons to North Star soldiers and gnolls. If Gorgon expanded the line to include a few more sculpts (most notably, some draugr bowmen) this could be the basis for a very thematic Frostgrave warband.

Monday, December 12, 2016

No Business Like Snow Business

Working on large bases for some upcoming monstrosities to stalk the ruins of Felstad, I got to thinking about snow. The first ever product I purchased explicitly for terrain work was a tub of Citadel snow and after a few false starts, I just decided to set it aside. That was seven years ago and I have never really looked back, even despite GW reportedly improving their product.

So how to base for Frostgrave? Without really thinking about it, I used a mixture of finely crumbled cork and Vallejo's Sandy Paste: prime gray, wash with Vallejo European Dust, and drybrush white. Very simple and - to my eyes at least - very effective for bases fully covered in snow.

L: finished; R: primed and washed

Bits of cork help to vary the texture. I also like to "tease" up the Sandy Paste while it is fresh then tamp it back down after it has been drying for a while. The idea is to create thoroughly frozen, dirty terrain rather than the fluffy stuff you might see freshly fallen in a more temperate climate. Needless to say, grass clumps will not be necessary.