Monthly Archives: December 2013

Year’s End, Year’s Beginnings

Happy New Year!

Looking Back:

2013 has been a good year for my gaming life.  On the GM’ing side, the usual suspects of Call of Cthulhu and GURPS made regular appearances on our table.  I ran a few games using my home brew Star Trek system that were fun and lighthearted romps.  I finally took the plunge and ran a DC Universe/Mutants & Masterminds adventure, which should be returning in 2014.  On the players’ side of the screen I was on the receiving end of the same usual suspects of Call of Cthulhu and GURPS, as well as DC Universe and a Cyberpunk 2020 powered Judge Dredd game that I will continue pestering the GM to bring back.

The number of our table games was, sadly, down this year.  But our Google+ games have helped pick up the slack, and having a regular weekly game again has been a lot of fun.  I finished off a Star Frontiers mini-campaign and returned to Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  Currently I’ve ceded the DM’s chair and have been enjoying being a player again in a D&D based game, which is something I haven’t done in over ten years.

I fit some good board gaming in this year too, with Pandemic hitting the table with the family many times.  Late to the party, I’ve become a fan of Settlers of Cataan, and I rabidly collected everything I could get my hands on for Sentinels of the Multiverse.  Seriously, if you have any affection for superheroes, run out and get Sentinels.  Battleship Galaxies was another game that I became quite fond of, though sadly it looks like the desperately needed expansions will never occur.

Curse you Hasbroooooooooo!

I also got to dig out some old favorites and am working on some ideas with them, but I have yet to finish those projects.  More on those later.

All in all, not a bad year.  I greatly miss getting my face to face group together more often, this was a rough year for people’s schedules.  But overall, not bad at all.

Looking Forward:

2014 should see more of the old standbys coming to the tabletop, be it physical or virtual.  In addition I have a whole new slew of games I’d love to get the dice rolling for.  We’ll see how many make it, but in no particular order here are the RPG’s I’d like to get to the table in 2014:

Top Secret S/I – A very new entry on my list.  I missed out on Top Secret back in the 80’s, but having read the rules I really want to take this game for a spin.  Secret agents and the Cold War era have always interested me and this game has captured my attention in a big way.  Enough that I did a three part review of the game.

DC Universe – Superhero gaming is a staple with our group.  For the most part we’ve used GURPS 3rd Edition.  We love GURPS for most everything, though the way it handles superheroes is probably its weakest point.  However DC Universe, running on the Mutants & Masterminds rules set, has amazed me with how well it does the job.  Now that I have one game under my GM’ing belt, I’m ready to do more.

Best of all I can run a game using tons of source material from before DC did its New 52 relaunch, wiping away everything I loved about their history.

Not that I’m bitter.

Stonehell Dungeon – I finally got my hands on Stonehell Dungeon and it makes my delver’s heart sing.  I’m not sure if I’ll be getting this to the table with my face to face group, my Google+ group, or both, but it’s high on my priority list.  Stonehell is a masterpiece of classic dungeon design.  I’ve started working on a setting to surround the dungeon and my biggest decision will be what core rules to go with.  Lamentations of the Flame Princess has been our go-to game and no matter what I’m sure we’ll keep parts of it, but for Stonehell I may switch over to Labyrinth Lord or Rules Cyclopedia.  Or maybe even…

Dungeon Crawl Classics – This game has been on my radar all year.  So much so that I’ve been a faithful listener to the Spellburn Podcast even when I didn’t have my own copy of the rules.  Thanks to a Christmas gift from one of my players I’m now armed with a copy of the rules and a set of the funky dice.

DCC has impressed me with how it has taken a fresh look at old school Dungeons & Dragons and built up something new from that foundation.  This is no retro-clone, it’s a whole new animal.

Stars Without Number / Classic Traveler – I love science fiction role playing and while I love gaming in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, their brand identity is so strong they become their own genre.  I would like to dig into a more straight science fiction setting.  I had fun running Star Frontiers in 2013, but now I’d like to look to another system and both Stars Without Number and Classic Traveler are strong contenders (with GURPS Traveler not far behind).

Mutant Futures – Based on Gamma World, the gonzo nature of Mutant Futures has a strong appeal.  This is one I’d like to pull out for the occasional one-shot.  This is another case where I didn’t play Gamma World back in its heyday and would like to pull its spiritual successor out and give it a try.  While I’m at it I may have to use the delightful Thundarr the Barbarian sourcebook created by Tim at The Savage Afterworld blog.

Ookla!  Ariel!  RIDE!

Mekton Zeta – Mekton Zeta is the game of Gundam-like mecha adventures by R. Talsorian Games.  Mekton has the dubious distinction of being the game I am most obsessed with that I never run.  For years I’ve been toying with launching a Mekton Zeta sandbox campaign, but time has always been the enemy.  But the desire is always there, and now that I have a regular Google+ group who knows?  Maybe 2014 will be the Year of Mekton.

In Conclusion:

I’ve only touched on gaming but there is so much more to talk about.  2013 was a great year for fandom, with outstanding movies and TV shows hitting the screens, a bevy of indie and big name computer games, some outstanding comics and novels, and so much more.  2014 promises to keep that ball rolling and I can’t wait.

Starting my blog has been a great deal of fun.  Thank you all for reading and participating, the best part of having a blog is getting to talk about the fandoms we love with a wide circle of people.

Happy New Year to you all!


Some day a giant D20 will be lowered over Times Square.

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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Blog News, Gaming


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Bandits & Battlecruisers price drop

Over at Underworld Kingdom the announcement has been made that the price on Bandits & Battlecruisers has been lowered permanently.

You can read my thoughts on the game here and here.


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Posted by on December 30, 2013 in Gaming, Science Fiction


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Justifiers RPG – OSR Carnival, Pt. 3 – Alternate Rules and Adventure Seeds


Welcome to part three of my contribution to the Obsolete Simulations Roundup blog carnival!  Parts one and two can be found here and here.  In part three I’ll be finishing up my discussion of the 1988 science fiction game Justifiers, by StarChilde Publications.

I have a great fondness for the universe of the Justifiers RPG, but not for the game mechanics.  In this entry I have several suggestions for alternate rules systems for running the Justifiers RPG.  After that I have some adventure seeds for getting a Justifiers game rolling.

Alternate Rule Sets

GURPS Justifiers – GURPS is my go-to rules set for importing other game worlds.  By design the system is meant for just this kind of transformation and creating a set of templates for Betas would not be difficult.  You would loose the element of random generation, but since the character creation rules are one of my complaints with Justifiers this isn’t a big loss.  GURPS has several sourcebooks that would be helpful, including Biotech, Psionics, and Cyberpunk or Ultra-Tech for all your cybernetic needs.

In my perfect world, Justifiers would get the full GURPS treatment by Steve Jackson Games.  They have an excellent track record for bringing other game universes into the GURPS system, including several other games whose universes I love but whose mechanics I don’t.  GURPS Deadlands, Vampire, and Castle Falkenstein come to mind.

Basic Role Playing Justifiers – Chaosium’s Basic Role Playing would be another good candidate for running Justifiers.  It would preserve the random character generation aspect and more of the Justifiers material would be directly transportable to BRP since both are percentile based systems.  The skill sets for Justifiers would also be a nearly direct translation, as they echo the career sets in BRP based games like Call of Cthulhu.

Given such a merger it would be tempting to add the Call of Cthulhu sanity rules.  Perhaps the corporations are secretly the tools of the Illuminati and the true purpose of the Justifiers is not colonization, but reconnaissance of the tomb worlds of the Great Old Ones and recovery of their artifacts.

Fusion or Interlock Justifiers – R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 and Mekton Zeta games would fit well with both the Justifiers concept and mindset.  Characters are tools of megacorporations in a dystopian future with exotic weapons and cyberware?  Cyberpunk 2020 is ready to go, just add animal templates to the existing rules.  A bonus would be the fully realized rules for cybernetics that Cyberpunk 2020 offers.

Mekton Zeta uses the same system as Cyberpunk 2020 and would have the added appeal of mecha and psionics.  Imagine your telepathic anthropomorphic lemur piloting a giant robot capable of transforming into a mechanical tiger.  Mekton Justifiers, taking gonzo to the next level!

Adventure Seeds

Secret of the Star Gate – A new planet has been discovered that appears to be extremely Earth-like and the PCs are deployed to claim it in what appears to be a standard, though extra-lucrative, Justification mission.

However, once the team reaches orbit they make several strange discoveries.  Standard Justifier satellites are already in orbit, but these satellites are dormant and appear to have been here for years.  Further, planetary survey indicates structures on the surface consistent with a colonial beach head.

Investigations of the site shows that the surrounding jungle is filled with a bipedal aboriginal life form.  They seem inquisitive but docile, keeping a respectful distance from the Betas.  The base is distinctly Terran built, but has been abandoned for years.  Attempts to draw closer will trigger a hostile response, as security robots attack anything entering the structures.  Inside they find the remains of numerous Betas, all dead, all from the same corporation, and apparently having killed each other.  They also find a fully assembled TransMatt chamber, but its destination coordinates are not for any known world.

No records indicate what is at the TransMatt’s destination, but as the Betas power up the system the previously docile aborigines become hostile.

Mystery of the Ancient Ones – The team is rushed to an emergency briefing.  A new planet has been discovered that is ripe for colonization, but intelligence indicates that a rival corporation also knows about it.  The race is on to claim the planet!

Within hours the team is in their shuttle and going through the TransMatt portal.  Upon reaching the new world several things happen.  First, sensors indicate a large space station located at one of the planet’s Lagrange points.  This station is massive and of unknown origin.  Second, they discover what appears to be a single enormous city on the planet’s surface, similarly devoid of life signs.  Third, the shuttle of the rival Justifier team has just arrived.

The shuttles have no ship-to-ship combat capabilities, so the team needs to make some fast choices.  If they decide to go for the planet, their rivals will head to the space station.  If the players pick the space station, their rivals will make for the planet.  If they hang back there is a 50% chance either way for where their rivals will go.

Logan’s Run – Back on their homeworld, the team meets a friend who is down on her luck.  Drinking heavily and playing with an ankh-like pendant, she tells them her story.

She and her lover were closing in on buy back, but the last mission went catastrophically wrong.  The rest of the team was killed and their equipment was destroyed when their position was overrun by native monsters.  She was the only one who made it through the TransMatt to safety.  Her team and her lover died and the corporation slapped the bill for the entire expedition onto her buy back price.  She finishes her story, leaves the bar, and is never seen again.

A few days later the team is brought in by Security for a special mission briefing.  They present the team with an ankh pendant just like the one their friend had been carrying and tell them that it contains secret instructions and clearance codes to locate an underground railroad that has been trying to help Betas escape to a hidden colony known as Sanctuary.  They want the team to go undercover and infiltrate the group, locate Sanctuary, and let the corporation know where it is located and who is running the operation.

They’re prepared to pay four times the normal mission price, with a bonus if they can capture the ringleaders.  However, they’ll also be using cybernetic implants to guarantee the team won’t go rogue; cortex bombs or the like.  Also, the team will need to be extra careful as corporate security forces will not be briefed on their undercover status.  The risk of leaks is too high.

Reality TV – The team’s corporate PR department has assigned a media group to the Justifiers’ team who will be producing a reality show based on them.  This places a severe load on the already crowded shuttle for the TransMatt trip to their next world and destroying any peace and privacy they would normally have been able to find.

What’s worse, problems begin occurring with equipment even before they can make planetfall, culminating in the failure of the team’s satellites.  Gradually evidence begins to mount that there is a saboteur aboard, but is it one of the media team?  Or has a member of the Justifiers’ team been compromised?

Heart of Darkness – A routine mission goes awry at the outset when the team realizes that their shuttle has come out of TransMatt over the wrong planet!  They are hailed by a ground station and welcomed to the headquarters of the Free Beta Alliance.

Once they land they find a large settlement consisting almost entirely of Betas lead by a grizzled old bison-type Beta named Kurtz.  He reveals that his organization has been gathering strength for years; first among Betas who had successfully reached buy back and then among Betas who were rescued from their servitude.  Kurtz says that the FBA is dedicated to building a society where Betas can live free from both corporate enslavement and societal bigotry.

Now Kurtz feels they are strong enough to move on to the next phase of his plan and the players are the result of their first test.  Deep cover agents have been activated who introduced a computer virus into the TransMatt device.  The virus waited until the last moment to redirect the TransMatt beam, sending the shuttle to the FBA’s colony world, and then erasing itself and all system logs.  In this way Kurtz plans to liberate Justifier teams en masse.

However it soon becomes apparent that his main goal is acquisition of the nuclear weapons locked aboard the Justifier shuttles, available only to the mission commander.  Kurtz plans to hijack the TransMatt stations of several corporations and send the nuclear weapons through, disrupting travel and communications throughout colonized space.  Even worse, most of his targets are located on orbital colonies and the internal detonation of a nuclear warhead will lead to the destruction of entire colonies.  Millions will die, human and Beta alike.

Wrap Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the Justifiers RPG as much as I have enjoyed putting it together.  If you’re interested in checking it out, copies in .pdf format are available from Drive Thru RPG.  Physical copies can be found from time to time at Noble Knight Games.  If anyone has a copy of the 2010 German release, I would love to hear about it!  Please drop me a line and tell me all about it.

Thanks to Tim over at The Savage Afterworld for putting the Obsolete Simulations Roundup carnival together and I look forward to it becoming an annual thing.  Head on over to his blog and check out all the other reviews!

Happy gaming!



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Justifiers RPG – OSR Carnival, Pt. 2 – Betas and Mechanics


Welcome to part two of my entry in the Obsolete Simulations Roundup blog carnival!  Part one can be found here and covers the setting of the 1998 science fiction RPG, Justifiers.

The heart of Justifiers are the Betas; anthropomorphic human/animal hybrids owned by the corporations that created them.  Players roll up their characters to generate base attributes, then select a Beta animal type.  This hybrid template augments their character’s attributes and gives them other special abilities.  For example, a grizzly bear Beta has enhanced speed, strength, teeth and claws, and can track by scent.  A bat Beta can fly, has sonar, and can track by hearing.  The core book offers a nice selection of animal types to choose from and each source book adds more options.

Playing anthropomorphic animals is the main point of Justifiers, but for players looking for a less fuzzy choice the rules also include options for humans from high gravity worlds and genetically augmented humans, evoking the Replicants from Blade Runner.  Additional sourcebooks include further options, such as playing aboriginal races from colony worlds, and for the truly gonzo experience you can create a Gamma.  Gammas are the offspring of two Betas, combining the animal abilities of both parents into a truly bizarre combination.  Adding to the mix are rules for psionics and cybernetic enhancements.

The concepts in Justifiers are a lot of fun, unfortunately they’re burdened with a clunky rules set.  In particular the character creation rules feel complicated for the sake of complexity and fiddly without elegance.

Justifiers is a percentile base system and players start by rolling up their character’s seven attributes with straight d100 rolls.  Attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Presence, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Agility.  Players can order the stats as they like and replace their lowest roll with a 65%.  However this is the first place where the rules and concept are at odds.  Betas are genetically engineered to be physically superior, but this method will generate a wide diversity of ability levels and it is quite possible to end up with all low scores.  Certain attributes will be enhanced when the player selects his or her Beta type, but for an engineered species it would seem more appropriate to use a matrix that will generate a more narrow range of results, perhaps with 65% as the average, and making exceptionally low scores the statistical outliers.

Once the player has their seven attributes, they run a series of formulas to generate the character’s seven statistics.  These are Mental Strength, Body, Resilience, Base Speed, Base Skill Level, Base to Strike, and Damage Bonus.  Each statistic has its own formula, usually the combination of two attributes divided by ten.

The character then rolls to see if they have psionic abilities, having a 5% chance on a d100, with the character getting between one and five powers based on their roll.  This makes psionic Betas very rare and mental powers substantially increase the Beta’s buy back value with the corporation.  The game also has basic rules for cybernetic parts and a player may option to have such replacements, again adding to the buy back value of the Beta.

Justifiers has a large section of skills to choose from, determined by their primary career focus and cross training.  I like the concept of a betas having a wide scope of skills, but several skills are of questionable necessity, such as math and reading and writing one’s own home language.  Given the highly trained nature of the Betas, it seems superfluous to apply percentages to skills specifically listed as addition and subtraction and for literacy.  These are not the only skills that feel redundant, while other staple skills like stealth and concealment are either missing or rolled into the surveillance skill.

Another strange choice is how damage works.  The character has points from both Constitution and Body statistics and specifically states that the Body points are expended first.  This lead me to believe that Body would work as some form of stun, possibly recovering faster or having some other different game effect.  However healing rates for both statistics are the same.  There are only two cases where these values are treated differently; during character advancement where level adds to the Body score, and radiation exposure that effects each score differently.  This leads to the question, would a more streamlined single attribute be better or are there other reasons for the two statistics that the designer had in mind?

Where the character generation rules feel overly fiddly, the combat rules are surprisingly sparse in details.  Combat is based on skill rolls modified by circumstance modifiers, but only a handful of example modifiers are given.  Rules for armor are fine, but rules for basic ideas like cover and full automatic fire are noticeably absent.  Presumably the GM would assign a circumstance modifier for cover, but none is given in the examples.  Instead of automatic fire, machine guns simply have a larger number of attacks per round.  Critical wounds cause internal damage that causes damage each round until treated, but the persistent damage is based on 25% of the damage caused by the wound.  This means it must be calculated and tracked on top of everything else going on during combat.

Individually these and other rules quirks are not major flaws, but collectively they lead to an inconsistent and confusing whole.  I constantly had the feeling that I was either missing design notes or that rules had been created on a case-by-case basis without regard for the overall flow of the system. It’s unfortunate, because the rules bog down what is otherwise an exceptionally interesting game.

In 2010 a German gaming company released a new edition of Justifiers, reportedly with a new set of rules.  However there isn’t an English translation, so I don’t know if the mechanisms have received the overhaul they so desperately need.

The core book includes a good section of equipment and a sample adventure.  The sample adventure is particularly good, as it both highlights the standard planetary mission style and gives the GM an example of standard operating procedures for a Justifier team.

The sourcebooks for Justifiers are quite nice.  Each is printed in digest format, which was uncommon for the time.  The artwork is very good, on par with the better black and white indie comics of the late 80’s and limited only by the quality of printing available for its reproduction.  For a small run independent game, Justifiers also has a large number of sourcebooks.  My box set includes the core book, two planetary survey adventure books, a book on the Beta hybrids called Gammas, and an aboriginal species book that includes rules for adding magic to the game.  I’m aware of four other sourcebooks that were released; two more adventure books, a book on the corporations, and a cybernetics book.

I have no desire to run a game using the Justifiers rules, but I would definitely recommend using the universe and mining the sourcebooks for ideas.  As mentioned in part one of my review, the books are available in .pdf format from Drive Thru RPG.


That’s it for part two.  Stay tuned for part three, where I discuss rules alternatives and adventure seeds.

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Justifiers RPG – OSR Carnival, Pt. 1 – Setting


Welcome to my entry for the first Obsolete Simulations Roundup blog carnival!  The carnival is the brainchild of Tim over at The Savage AfterWorld blog to celebrate forgotten gems of the RPG world.

For my entry into the carnival I’m taking a look at Justifiers, the 1988 science fiction role playing game released by StarChilde Publications.

“You’re a ‘Beta’, a Beta Class Humanoid Lifeform.  Part human and part animal.  The property of the Corporation that spawned you.

Your job:  Justification and Pacification of new worlds.  Find exploitable resources and eliminate dangerous indigenous lifeforms.

Your goal: SURVIVE!  Stay alive until you can buy your way to freedo.  Till then your(sic) one of the… Justifiers”

– Justifiers RPG, back cover

Justifiers is a creation of its time.  In 1988 corporate culture and the “me” generation were still going strong.  Cyberpunk was riding high and anthropomorphic animals had exploded onto the pop culture scene thanks to comics and cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Thundercats.  Star Trek: The Next Generation was going into its second season and the independent publishing market for games and comics was still going strong.   Justifiers draws upon all of these and rolls them into a wonderfully gonzo melange of 80’s influences.

My first encounter with Justifiers happened in a run-down gaming store in Cincinnati back around 1990 or 91.  Back then it was still possible to pick up a new RPG for a reasonable price, just to see what it had to offer.  This was before the era when you needed to buy multiple $60 rule books to get into a game.  Thankfully things have swung back in the other direction, in no small part thanks to the Old School Renaissance, pdf, and print on demand.

So when I walked into the store and found a box set of Justifiers for under $20 that included several sourcebooks and adventures, there was no question that it was coming home with me.

The game mechanics are clunky, but the world building is delightfully tight with a gonzo feel and enormous adventure potential, which is what I am focusing on in part one of my review.

Characters in Justifiers are genetically engineered animal/human hybrids, called Betas, combining the special strengths of various species with the intelligence and body structure of humans.  These creatures are “born” into indentured servitude, being in debt to the company that created them.  Freedom can be won if the Betas can earn enough money to reach their “buy back” price, repaying the company for their existence.  But the company is reluctant to let go of assets they’ve spent so much time, money, and training to develop, and society is little help for what it considers second-class beings.  Thus Betas are compelled to work as company agents in the hopes that they survive long enough and earn enough money to some day reach “buy back” and gain their freedom.  They do this by working as Justifiers, highly trained explorers sent to newly discovered planets in order to survey them and stake a claim for their employers.

This is where the world building in Justifiers really takes off.  In the 24th Century, traditional governments are a thing of the past.  A collection of megacorporations reign supreme and the most powerful of them all is Terran TransMatt Specialties, Inc. which is the sole supplier of the TransMatt device.  The TransMatt is like a Stargate, a large fusion powered portal that can project matter at faster than light speeds.  TransMatt devices are how humanity is able to colonize other worlds.

However, the system does have limitations.  First, the portals are only one-way.  To get back, you’ll need to assemble a return portal once you’ve reached your destination.  Second, it does not allow faster than light communications.  “The fastest way to get a message anywhere in the galaxy is to put it in your pocket and step through a TransMatt portal.”  Third, there is a limit to the size and mass you can send through the portal at any one time.  This limits the size of the shuttles used to 20′ x 20′ in diameter and 70′ in length, and limits the available resources to whatever can be fit within its confines.  Lastly, TransMatt is dangerous.  If you materialize in space already occupied by matter the resulting explosion will wipe the entire team out of existence.

When a company wants to claim a planet a Justifier team is deployed in a shuttle and TransMatted into orbit around the target planet.  From there the shuttle has a limited ability to stay in space, usually long enough to launch weather, communications, and survey satellites before the team has to select a landing site.  Once the shuttle is down, it will never fly again.  The team is left on its own on an unknown world with only the supplies they have on board and what they can find on the planet.  The justifiers need to begin surveying the world, identifying threats and exploitable resources, and assemble a TransMatt device that will allow them to return home.

The internal logic of the setting is beautiful.  Conflict is built in at the very core of the game, between the Betas and their employers/owners and between the betas and society.  The technology isolates the players on unique alien worlds, offering adventures that evoke Star Trek and Stargate (released in 1994), forcing them to survive based on their wits.  A Beta team never knows what they’ll encounter once they go through the TransMatt gate and the GM is free to come up with wild encounters to surprise and threaten the team.  In addition, the planet and its unknown dangers are not the only threats awaiting the players.  Rival corporations may send their own Justifier teams to claim jump the planet, or possibly the players will be the claim jumpers. Control of the planet rests in whichever corporation opens a return gate first, and it doesn’t matter if one Justifier team wipes out the other to do it.

The adventures in Justifiers isn’t limited to planetary expeditions either.  Back on the home worlds, corporate espionage is a constant threat.  Players may have to contend with saboteurs, or be courted to defect by other corporations.  Betas who don’t toe the line may face discipline and unfair reprisals from their corporate masters, who can throw roadblocks up to stop the agents from reaching their buy backs with fines.  An underground free Beta movement may seek to recruit the characters, offering them escape to one of the free Beta colonies.  While the planets the Justifiers are sent to offer Star Trek adventure, the worlds they call home are cyberpunk dystopias filled with intrigue, rebellion, and chaos.

The Justifiers’ universe is filled with a rich diversity and the opportunities for adventure are legion. It offers the right mix of gonzo science fiction elements to satisfy gamers that are looking for something different, and for that alone I recommend digging up a copy and giving it a look.

You can find copies through various online sources, such as Noble Knight Games and the books are also available in .pdf format from Drive Thru RPG.  A new edition was released in 2010 by a German company, but as of now there isn’t an English language version.


That’s all for part one.  In part two I’ll dive into the betas themselves and the game mechanics.

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Posted by on December 29, 2013 in Cyberpunk, Gaming, Science Fiction


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Coming Soon…

The Savage Afterworld blog will be hosting the first Obsolete Simulations Roundup blog carnival!

This Sunday, December the 29th, a number of OSR blogs will be picking an old RPG system to discuss.  You can find a list of who will be discussing what posted on The Savage Afterworld site.

For my contribution, I’ll be diving into the 1988 science fiction RPG, Justifiers.

So drop by the carnival and read up on some forgotten gems of gaming history!


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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Blog News, Gaming


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Kung Fury

The most excellent Exonauts blog has shown me the most awesome awesomeness of awesome, the trailer for Kung Fury!

This may be the most important Kickstarter project ever.

Hardboiled1I give it the Tequila Seal of Approval!

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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Cool Stuff, Movies & TV


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Christmas at Ground Zero

Merry day after Christmas!

I hope everyone had a good time and that you all escaped the lash of the Krampus.

Christmas went quite well for those in the Fractalbat Belfry.  My son, always the innovator, decided to cut out the middleman.  Instead of asking for toys and then playing all day with the box they came in, he specifically asked for big boxes so he could build a fort.  My wife, being awesome beyond description, procured enough boxes that our basement looks like a warehouse.  On more than one occasion I’d lose sight of my son and daughter, with only the rustling of cardboard to betray their presence.

We also had some good gaming in over the holiday.  The game that had the most table time was the venerable Nuclear War, from Flying Buffalo games.

Nuclear War was originally published in 1965 and has three expansions; Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation, and Weapons of Mass Destruction.  Of these we own Nuclear Escalation.

Nuclear War is a simple card game, with each player having a stack of population cards and a hand of cards containing propaganda, missiles, warheads, “secrets”, and other special cards.  The objective is to wipe out all the other players.

To do this you take two cards from your hand and lay them face down.  Each round you draw a card, place a card face down, and then turn up the first card in your line of face down cards.  This is the mantra of Nuclear War, “Draw, Deploy, Destroy”.  Once a card is face down you can’t pick it back up or re-order them, so some forward thought is required.

Propaganda allows you to steal people from other player’s populations but these cards are only valid until a nuclear war begins, which happens the moment a bomb hits another player.  To attack someone a player first turns up a missile card, but doesn’t have to declare who it is heading for.  On the player’s next turn, if he or she turns up a warhead, then they declare who the missile hit and the war is on.  Each type of missile has a capacity on what size warhead it can carry, allowing you to put a bomb up to that size but not larger on it.  If your opponent has an interceptor missile, or a saboteur card, they can stop your attack.

Once you hit your target you spin the spinner.  The results from the spinner range from the missile exploding on the launch pad (negating the attack) to a triple yield result magnifying the casualty count.  With Nuclear Escalation they added an optional six sided die with a mushroom cloud for the number one.  If the attacker chooses to roll the die, the result counts as that many more millions of people slain.  If the mushroom cloud is rolled, then you roll again on the mishap table and something else happens.  This isn’t always bad for the attacker, but chances are that the attack will be negated somehow, or worse yet the bomb goes off over the attacker’s own country.

When a player is eliminated they get to launch a final strike, where they can match every warhead to every delivery system they have left and launch them at the other players.  This can cause a cascade effect where one final strike wipes out another player, whose final strike wipes out another player, until everyone has been eliminated from the game.  Also, if a 100 megaton bomb detonates and the spinner lands on “Triple Yield”, the explosion wipes out everyone.  So it is not uncommon for nobody to win in Nuclear War.

If there are survivors after a player is eliminated, then the remaining players pick up their cards and start over, with peace declared and propaganda effective again.  Until the next bomb hits.

The game is not without its flaws.  Invariably people will be stuck with hands containing no missiles, or no warheads, or all propaganda.  This forces the player to try and cycle the useless cards out through the face down cards, wasting turns and reducing the fun of the game.  The Nuclear Proliferation expansion added cards that helped deal with this problem, but a discard rule is sorely needed in the base game.  But the game plays fast and lighthearted enough that it’s easy to get past the flaws.

The components in early editions are very basic.  This isn’t a problem for old school gamers but for players who are accustomed to the high quality components we see in modern games it could be off-putting.  I have read that in recent releases they have updated the artwork on the cards, but I haven’t heard of any other upgrades, such as higher quality paper stock for the population cards and the spinner.

I have a special fondness for Nuclear War*.  It was one of the first games that I encountered when discovering that there were options between games like Battletech and Star Fleet Battles and the department store games like Monopoly and Parcheesi.  The black humor of the game also struck a chord with those of us who grew up during the Cold War.  Thankfully the subject matter is dated now, but for those of us who wondered if we’d live to see adulthood the chance to laugh at the threat of annihilation was a welcome respite.

Nuclear War and its expansions are still available from Flying Buffalo, whose website looks like the design hasn’t changed since the 90’s.  It’s the fun family game of global annihilation.

Skippy the Super-Virus! Wiping out entire populations for over 40 years!

*I’d like to welcome any visitors from the NSA who discovered my blog thanks to the noted sentence.  

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Posted by on December 26, 2013 in Gaming


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Rewards, and gifts, for your Player Characters

Tis the season for giving gifts!

Or in the case of the Dungeon Master, remembering to reward your players.  There are many awards a Dungeon Master can bestow upon successful adventurers and plenty of them go beyond the usual gold, experience points, and magical items.  Some of the most fun things you can do for your players are built right into the campaign world.

Here are some ideas for the generous DM looking to liven things up and let the players know they’ve done a good job:

The Scrub Fight – One of the hallmarks of the OSR mindset is that we eschew making every encounter “level appropriate”.  We want the players to have a chance of getting in over their heads.  We want to laugh manically as characters ignore all the warning signs and blunder headlong into dangers meant to challenge them when they’re much higher in level, and remind them that sometimes running like hell is the best solution.  We want our players to know fear.

Sometimes maybe we want this too much.  After all, characters who spend all their time nearly dying and seeing their friends horribly killed are going to start thinking about cashing out.  That dream of a domain level keep was nice, but retiring at level five and opening a nice inn sounds pretty good after barely surviving yet another near total party kill.

The answer to this is remembering that non-level appropriate encounters go both ways.  When your players have struggled up to the mid-levels reward them by keeping those one Hit Die monsters on your encounter table.  Let them rip through a goblin patrol or bandit ambush without breaking a sweat so they can enjoy the fruits of their labors and feel like the hardened adventures they have become.

If you’re feeling particularly generous, take it over the top.  Have kobolds swinging in on ropes, snarling goblins screaming war cries as they charge headlong into the party, give them maces made from the severed heads of their past victims.  When the dust settles and the players are the only ones left standing, they’ll be beaming with confidence.

Maybe even a little too much confidence.

The Duelist – A close relative to the Scrub Fight is the duelist looking to make a name for his or herself.  Adventurers who make it to the mid-levels will gain a reputation and inevitably characters who have reputations attract those who want reputations.  More often than not, these challengers are not up to the task.  Would-be adventurers looking for a short cut to fame will seek out the veterans and call them out and these novices possess more confidence than their untested skills deserve.

Challenges of this nature won’t be limited to fighters.  Clerics of rival gods, aspiring magic-users, even thieves will be looking to make a name for themselves.  Usually the player character will be more than a match for his or her opponent, but each victory will increase their reputation and draw new challengers.  Not to mention annoying the local law enforcement.

The Bard – Adventurers develop legends.  Legends get retold.  Sooner or later successful adventurers will walk into a tavern and realize that the bard by the fire is singing about them.  Some adventurers encourage this, some even start it themselves, occasionally they’ll try to suppress it.  But such stories are irrepressible.  Without intending to do so, even the most cutthroat company will find themselves the subject of folk tales.

These stories will take on a life of their own.  Soon, stories of their exploits will show inaccuracies.  Exaggerations will appear immediately.  Eventually the party may begin to hear songs about adventures they’ve never had, possibly made up by creative minstrels, possibly the result of misattribution of another group’s adventures.

Fame of this kind will be the bane of a party seeking to keep a low profile, but even the most covert-minded player will gain some satisfaction from becoming a legend, and a cunning player will find ways to turn it to their advantage.

The Students – Adventuring is a dangerous business and wise adventurers do their homework.  It is important to be as prepared as possible before venturing out into the wilderness and there is no better way to prepare than finding a mentor.

Successful characters will find themselves sought out by novices looking for advice.  They will question them about minute details of their adventures and tips on how to survive.  They may be literally following in the party’s footsteps, planning to visit dungeons the party has already explored.  This will especially be true if the campaign includes a megadungeon and the students will try to procure maps from the players.

Students may simply be an ego boost for the players, or they may become a ready source of henchmen and replacement characters.  If the students become successful the party may discover a profitable side to their advice, able to charge for their teachings and information.  Though such fame is fragile and the players may need to move quickly should word come that their erstwhile apprentices are in trouble.

The Groupies – Fame is attractive.  Successful adventurers will find themselves heavily courted by those vying for their affection.  If the players associate in the lower classes, then tavern goers will buy them drinks and want to gamble with them.  Savvy bartenders will offer them food and drink in return for stories, knowing that famous adventurers can be good for business.  Of course, offers of a more carnal nature will be neither lacking nor subtle.

If the characters have the money or titles to move in higher classes, they will be invited to social events.  Nobles will vie for their attention and the status that being around them will bring.  Suitors more candid than those in the tavern will make their overtures, as will courtiers looking to embroil the adventures in courtly intrigue.  Players will soon learn that in high society that the affairs of court and boudoir are entwined.

If the characters have saved the day on a particularly large scale, the DM should not be above cuing up “Hard Day’s Night” and initiating a chase scene with 6d6 screaming fans.

Here we see the famous adventuring party known as the “Bards on the Run”.

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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Gaming


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Siberian Santa

A friend directed me to this link about a Siberian depiction of Santa Claus known as Ded Moroz:


YOU SHALL NOT PASS! Unless you’ve been good little boys and girls.

There is nothing I do not love about this depiction.  The ice staff, the wizardly garb, the stance, the hat that would make Tim the Enchanter jealous, this guy is the real deal as an ice sorcerer.  He could have walked straight out of a faerie tale, or the Hyborian wastes.

Even better is Ded Moroz’s history.  Taken from Wikipedia:

“The earliest tales of Ded Moroz presented him as a wicked and cruel sorcerer, similar to the Old Slavic gods “Pozvizd”—the god of wind and good and bad weather, “Zimnik”—god of winter, and the terrifying “Korochun“—an underworld god ruling over frosts. According to legend, Ded Moroz liked to freeze people and kidnap children, taking them away in his gigantic sack. Parents were said to have to give him presents as a ransom in return for their children. However, under the influence of Orthodox traditions, the character of Ded Moroz was completely transformed, later adopting certain traits from the Low Countries’ (Belgian and DutchSinterklaas (or Saint Nicholas), the prototype of Santa Claus.”

The name Ded Moroz is translated either as “Old Man Frost” or “Father Frost” and he travels with his granddaughter Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden.  In some tales Snegurochka was a girl made from snow who falls in love with a mortal boy, but the love warmed her heart and caused her to melt, so she died.

It doesn’t get more Russian than that.

Also, I may have to revise my opinion of Rankin Bass.  The story of Ded Moroz going from an evil magician who freezes people to a benevolent lover of children sounds very familiar.  Could the Winter Warlock from Santa Claus is Coming to Town have been inspired by Ded Moroz?

winterwarlockNow I want to see if I can find a legendary basis for Heat Miser and Cold Miser.

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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Cool Stuff


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