Living on the Edge of the World, and it’s Sinking

Kivalina is a town living on the edge of the world, and that edge is sinking.

“In this town of 403 residents 83 miles above the Arctic Circle, beaches are disappearing, ice is melting, temperatures are rising, and the barrier reef Kivalina calls home gets smaller and smaller with every storm.

There is no space left to build homes for the living. The dead are now flown to the mainland so the ocean won’t encroach upon their graves. Most here agree that the town should be relocated; where, when and who will pay for it are the big questions. The Army Corps of Engineers figures Kivalina will be underwater in the next decade or so.”

LA Times, Aug. 30th, 2015

Climate Change is a real thing and a source of great concern, but the Belfry is about gaming, and this story offers a lot of inspiration.

People are stubborn. We set down roots, build a community, and that parcel of land and the people who live there become bound to our psyche so deeply that we’ll do whatever it takes not to lose them. Come hell or high…

Well, you get the idea.

This is both a strength and a weakness. Sometimes it makes us stand in front of the oncoming storm until its too late, but it’s also the determination that has allowed us to spread across the globe, push back the frontiers, and go into space. You can be sure that if trouble befalls the first Lunar colony, the people there will risk everything to keep the community alive.

Kivalina is hardly a garden spot. Even before the weather began to warm up, the narrow spit of land was battered by storms and limited in resources, but for 110 years people have chosen to live there, carve out a place in the world, and defy the elements to live the way they want to live. It’s the stuff of which adventurers are made.

“When Hawley is asked why her people don’t move — somewhere, anywhere to be safe — she is polite but firm. The land and the water make the Inupiat who they are. If they moved to Kotzebue, they would be visitors.”

-LA Times, Aug. 30th, 2015

That’s the frontier spirit, still alive and well.

From a gamer geek standpoint it’s hard not to look at this story and think about all its parallels in fiction. From the isolated planetary outpost of sci-fi to the classic Keep on the Borderlands, or even the determination of King Hrothgar not to completely abandon his hall to Grendel in the epic Beowulf, legends are born from people who refuse to leave their homes. Reading through the LA Times story gives those of us living in comfortable suburbia a glimpse of how people on the frontier live.

And if you need more inspiration, just look at this image of the town.

Image by Don Bartletti, LA Times Aug. 30th, 2015

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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Cool Stuff, History, World Design


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Considering House Rules for Star Trek: STCS

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’ve been thinking about some house rules for Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator.

First, I did find the excessive damage rules. It’s specifically for sub-systems that get hit, like shield generators and sensors. These systems have damage tracks, from one to five, with each point on the track being harder to make repair rolls on. The excessive damage means that for every full five points of damage done to the system, another box on the track is marked off. Thus a four point phaser hit counts as one on the track, while a 12 point hit would mark two boxes off.

There is no corresponding rule for weapons. Those have a different track with the statuses Operational, Damaged, Repaired, and Inoperable. Repaired weapons are limited to half power. I am considering something similar for excessive damage, maybe making damage of 10 or more points automatically destroying the weapons.

Regarding my dissatisfaction with shields I’ve been considering two options:

  • Double the amount of shield points you get per power point. For example, instead of a 1-to-4 ratio, make it 1-to-8. My concern with this solution is that part of the tactical aspect of the game is trying to get the firing angle on your opponent where they have light or no shields. However, in our previous games we’ve never been able to maintain very strong shields. Even in my Excelsior, I never had a single shield facing up to maximum strength. I only had all my shields powered up on the first turn, and then at a minimal level. Combined with how often we’ve dropped shields completely to power weapons and movement, and how quickly a salvo can strip off a ship’s shields, I don’t think this would unbalance the game or reduce the tactical aspects. I’m leaning towards this solution.
  • The other idea I was thinking about was reducing how much damage weapons do to shields, say 1/2 rounded down. A five point shield would still stop five points of damage, but the shield level would only be reduced to three instead of being completely stripped off. This has more of a Star Trek feel, but adds one more step of math to the game, and while not a complex equation by itself it will still slow the game down. It also doesn’t address the power allocation issues that often lead players to run with few or no shields at all.

Combining the two is also a possibility, but that would be a significant change. I think trying one at a time would be better. I also don’t want to increase the length of the game too much and by improving the shields I run the risk of doing that, so caution is best.




Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Star Treken Across the Universe

This past weekend we pulled out the old FASA Star Trek: Starship Tactical Combat Simulator again, and this time we tied something a bit different.

An Excelsior class battleship was thrown back in time and space, landing deep inside the Klingon empire. Alarmed by the appearance of this unknown and very large ship, the Klingons scrambles a fleet of six D-7A Painbringer class cruisers. These ships were top of the line for the time period, but obsolete by the standards of the mighty Excelsior class. The question was if their numbers would make up the difference.

The Klingons split their forces, threading their way through the system’s planets and asteroids to close the distance with the Excelsior. One brave ship crossed the center line into the open, hoping to draw their target out. It was a challenge that the Excelsior was happy to accept, lumbering forward and managing to get two of the D-7’s into sight. Hoping to score two quick kills to thin the herd, the Excelsior opened fire at long range. One ship was damaged, but survived. The other vaporized under the big ships assault.

The Klingon pack then descended, with three of their ships closing to point-blank range and pouring fire into the Excelsior. The battleship took significant damage, but was still in good shape. However the proximity of the three D-7’s meant that further engagement was risky. The Excelsior boosted strategic shields and decided to ride out the fight, throwing the rest of her power into her weapons.

Her aft torpedoes vaporized one of the two ships that had held back, whose explosion damaged the other ship sitting at range. Then her forward guns ripped another D-7 apart, and the cascade of death began.

The exploding ship caused damage all across the Excelsior, damaging systems and tearing at her hull, but she survived. The D-7 behind her did not and it exploded. This second explosion smashed into the Excelsior, knocking out her engineering grid, savaging her warp and impulse drives, and further tearing apart her superstructure. Unfortunately this also destroyed the third D-7.

The Excelsior was unable to endure any longer. The third starship explosion finally broke her hull and the great battleship erupted like a supernova. The blastwave reached much farther than that of the small D-7’s, far enough to hit the one remaining Klingon cruiser. The blast nearly wiped out the last vessel, but with three hull points remaining the Painbringer was able to limp home with news of their victory.

Songs are still sung of this battle in the Klingon warrior’s halls. The fate of the Excelsior class ship remains unknown to Star Fleet.

It was a great battle.

By the numbers, the sides balance out with four and a half D-7A cruisers to one Excelsior Mk I, but I bumped it to six considering that a single torpedo from the Excelsior could destroy a D-7 with a clean hull hit. Given the results, I think the sides were fair. We picked sides by random draw, with the Excelsior coming under my command.

The Klingon player quickly realized that he was out gunned and chose the Mutually Assured Destruction strategy, which is probably the best tactic for the circumstances. I was hoping to score more kills in the first round, but ended up damaging sub-systems instead of landing killing blows. In the end I probably should have dumped power into my engines and torpedoes, trying to get some distance and pounding away with the massive 20 point weapons, but the greater numbers and speed of the D-7’s made me decide to try trusting my ship’s durability instead.

Things learned:

This game was again great fun. The pounding the ships take makes you feel like the starship is being battered apart. It feels very Star Trek and plays quickly. There is a sweet spot on range, and it’s farther out than you’d think. The weapons in the game are brutally accurate, even at a longer distance, and the optimum range for engagement is more distant that the mobility of the ships would lead you to believe. Though in this case the Klingon commander was correct to go hull-to-hull with me instead of risking me picking him off.

However the shields still don’t feel right. It’s hard to power all six shields and have them make a difference, meaning you routinely leave some sides completely unshielded. Even a fully powered shield only takes the edge off an incoming salvo. This feels decidedly un-Star Trek. I haven’t come up with a good solution for this yet. Also it’s frustrating when you fire a massive torpedo at a target, something powerful enough to wreck the ship, and the result is a single beam weapon being knocked out. I believe there is an optional rule in the book regarding this, I’ll have to look it up.

It’s been a lot of fun re-discovering this old favorite. We’re hoping to play it again, and next time with a third player. A good Klingon, Romulan, Star Fleet battle would be epic.

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Demi-Humans and Dungeons, in the Real World

Recently the fossils of a previously unknown species of ancient human was discovered in a cave in South Africa.

That’s awesome in and of itself, but this video shows how they got to the remains to study them, including showing someone squirming into a tiny tunnel. They had to bring in a group of cavers who were small women who were capable of reaching the farthest chamber, which the map shows as being a vaulted 90’+ high cave.

Fantastic. No way an adventurer in plate armor is going through that tunnel.

I have on occasion designed low corridors in dwarf-built dungeons, but this makes me want to hide treasure beyond passages too small for anything but halflings and wood elves to crawl through.

Has anyone else ever put features like this into your dungeons? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

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Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Cool Stuff, Dungeon Design, History


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Wandering Thoughts

Stonehell Dungeon: Let’s get the most important thing out of the way first; Over on Facebook Michael Curtis has been teasing Stonehell Dungeon 2! I cannot tell you how excited I am about this! Curtis has been very busy and he never did give a date for when he’d release the rest of Stonehell, so I’ve been waiting (mostly) patiently for him to get around to it. But today he posted pictures of the index and table of contents. I love megadungeons and of all the ones I own I like Stonehell the best. This is great news.

Mekton Zero: On the other end of the spectrum, there still doesn’t appear to be any movement on the Mekton Zero Kickstarter. I love R. Talsorian games and I love Mekton. Mekton Zeta is a fantastic game. Further, I have never had anything but great customer service from R. Talsorian.

Until now. Over a year late and almost no official updates have been put out since 2014. To get information we’ve had to wait and get it through the Comments or Facebook pages from a long-suffering Talsorian insider, who tried his best but also seemed mostly in the dark about the status. Now even he has bailed from being the project’s voice.

My deep reserves of goodwill have run dry. I still love R. Talsorian’s existing library, but I won’t back any further projects they use Kickstarter for. Further, I hate to say it, but I no longer trust what they have to say. I know they’re a small outfit, but there’s no excuse for cutting off official lines of communication like this. We shouldn’t have to glean scraps of dubious information from unofficial sources.

One Bookshelf: I usually don’t comment on the drama, but this one just annoys me. A jackhole abuses the system One Bookshelf has had in place for the benefit of their publishers. The company’s initial response to people upset about the product is poor. They come back with a reasonable response and an Objectionable Content policy that looks pretty good to me. Now other people are angry over what this might mean and what One Bookshelf might do in the future. *sigh* Everyone go roll some dice, the show is already over.

Sales!: Speaking of such things, there are a few notable sales going on. Over at Drive Thru RPG/RPG Now they have a sale on a number of good Savage World products. I recommend Thrilling Tales 2nd Edition, which is a whopping 40% off. These deals are good until 9/15/2015.

Meanwhile, over on Warehouse 23, they have a 25% off sale on all products by Ken Hite and/or Robin Laws. This sale goes until 9/9/2015.


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Posted by on September 3, 2015 in Gaming


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What Is A Roleplaying Game

The “What is a Roleplaying Game” section has been a staple in most game books since the early days of the hobby. But is it still needed? Between popular movies and TV shows with references to gaming, feature films based on Dungeons & Dragons, and the popularity of computer RPG’s, is there anyone left who might pick up a game book and not know what it was all about?

I admit, I’ve had my doubts.

Until yesterday. I was over on the Facebook page for The Hobby Shop Dungeon Kickstarter campaign, where I was drooling over the absolutely beautiful dungeon maps, when I noticed an interesting post. The poster, who was very polite and seemed a little shy, was complementing how cool the images were and asking what it was all about. The poster had some idea about what it might be, I don’t think the concept of a role playing game was alien to him, but he wasn’t exactly sure.

Major props to whomever handles the Facebook page. They posted a very nice explanation of role playing games and followed it up with providing a link to the free OSRIC rules set. It was a really nice response and just what we hope people will do to spread the hobby.

With that experience in mind, I guess it is still worth taking a couple paragraphs in a rulebook to explain our hobby.

Image from

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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Gaming


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Why I Will Never Get Caught Up

Hi, I’m the Fractalbat, and I’m a book-a-holic.

Hi Fractal.

The problem is that I don’t make enough time to read all the books, so I’m constantly backlogged. Or, as I like to think of it, never without something to read. Every now and then I promise myself that I won’t get any more books until I’ve checked off at least one or two that I already have.


See, on Thursdays I go to SCA fight practice and I have a stretch of time between when I finish work and when practice starts. Enough that I’m at loose ends. Sometimes I take that time to try and put a dent in my backlog of books, but sometimes I just want to walk around and browse. Enter 2nd and Charles, a bookstore I’ve mentioned before.

Believe it or not I’m usually pretty good about browsing in bookstores, what with the cost of the printed word and all. However 2nd and Charles has one bookshelf in their sci-fi section devoted to old paperbacks, and they’re only a dollar each. It’s practically guilt-free book buying, and best of all these are not the kind of books you’ll find on the shelves at your local Half Price Books. No, these are things like old DAW paperbacks and issues of Starlog. Things that clearly came from somebody’s collection.

I like to keep a couple books in the car. I call them my “backup books” for when I get caught with time to kill and nothing to read, or I forget my book when I go to work. But if this keeps up I’m going to need a little bookshelf.

Hmm… Now there’s a thought. Instead of using cup-holders as a selling point, talk about how many paperbacks a car can hold. Maybe redesign the glove compartment. I mean, who actually keeps gloves in there anyway?

Books2ndCharlesSometimes they have good used gaming books too, though on this visit nothing caught my eye.

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Posted by on August 28, 2015 in Books and Comics


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