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Why I will Never Get Caught Up

If I never bought another book, never checked out another thing from the library, never downloaded another e-book from Project Gutenberg, I’d still have enough reading material to keep me busy for a long time.

And things like this keep popping up, the Bundle of Holding has a package deal on Rocket Age by Cubicle 7.

Now, if this was just about having another sci-fi rules set, it wouldn’t be so attractive to me; I have enough of those to fill a supermassive black hole. But this bundle comes with sourcebooks and adventures. I love Flash Gordon-style sci-fi, I love sourcebooks, and I love reading adventures.

The only thing holding me back is that lately I’ve been reading fewer e-books, and I really am trying to conserve some cash. But there are still eleven days left for this bundle to wear me down.

If any of my readers have seen these books and care to chime in, I’d love to hear your opinions.

Image from http://www.pdclipart.org/

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2016 in Gaming, Pulps, Science Fiction

 

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DS9: Elseworlds Edition

In my last post I talked about Star Trek: Deep Space 9. One of the strengths of DS9 is that it knew when to reference the greater Trek canon and when not to. That allowed them to have fun with old ideas, such as the delightful episode Trials and Tribble-ations, without getting bogged down in a history that is at best inconsistent. By keeping the main story arc more self-contained it gave it greater strength and weight.

Still, as Star Trek fans, it’s our Prime Directive to wonder what might have been. Given that it is April 1st, I thought I’d have some fun and throw out some of the story ideas that came to my mind. Who knows? They might make good adventure fodder for a Starships & Spacemen campaign. Or my next foray into Call of Trekthulhu.

As a side note, I don’t read fanfiction. I’m not averse to it, it’s just not something I’ve ever gotten into. However, if any of these ideas have turned up in fanfiction already I would be interested in reading the stories.

A Tangled Web: The Federation Alliance is outnumbered. Even with the Romulans entering the war, the combined forces of the Dominion and Cardassians is too large for the allies. To compensate, a diplomatic team has been trying to organize a joint fleet composed of ships from several smaller empires. Tensions are already high as they try to forge an understanding among Gorn, Ferengi, and Kzinti warriors.

Then the Tholians arrive.

Tholian technology and tactics prove to be so alien that they put their allies at risk, and their motives for participation are suspect. Why have they emerged from their jealously guarded isolation? And are they really allies against the Dominion?

Before you Go: Keeping with the “alliance seeking” concept, a Star Fleet ship is dispatched to seek aid from the First Federation, the child-like alien beings encountered in The Corbomite Manuver. The Federation and the First Federation have maintained distant but cordial relations since Lt. Bailey spent time serving on board one of their vessels. It is Star Fleet’s hope that they will consent to bring their powerful and hyper-advanced ships into the war against the Dominion.

The First Federation welcomes the Starfleet delegation, but are reluctant to provide aid. Their species is on the cusp of apotheosis, and soon they will begin the process of transformation. Once complete, they will leave behind the mortal realm and explore the universe as cosmic beings. It is the culmination of millions of years of development and they are eager to proceed.

The Starfleet delegation needs to convince them to delay their ascendancy in order to join the fight against the Dominion. Or, failing that, maybe they could be convinced to leave behind a few of their gigantic starships.

Doomsday Revisited: Their search for a new weapon has driven Star Fleet to a desperate gamble. They have thrown all their resources into reverse-engineering The Doomsday Machine. They have installed living quarters, a bridge, secondary systems, and bolted on controls that they hope will allow them to manually direct the planet-shattering vessel. However, they admit that they cannot completely understand the mechanisms and there are those who warn that the ship might revert to its original directives, complete with the knowledge of how it had been stopped previously.

Still, the Alliance’s lines are crumbling under the Dominion’s assault. Thousands are dying, planets are falling, and all that remains is to rekindle the Doomsday Machine’s blazing heart.

The Ultimate Reboot: A variation on this theme would be Star Fleet revisiting the M5 system, seen in the episode The Ultimate Computer. As bad as the loss of starships has been, the loss of veteran crews is even worse. Ships can be rebuilt, but training new crews to command them takes years.

Decades ago the original starship Enterprise was able to engage three Constitution class battlecruisers while under control of the M5 computer system. The system was scrapped after it malfunctioned and became an uncontrollable killing machine. Still, advances in artificial intelligence have made some think that corrections to the technology are now possible. Adding elements from positronic brain designs should allow for a new generation of M5 systems to be mass produced, complete with enough mental stability that they can be trusted to control starships once more.

Unfortunately, there are only two positonic brains available to the Federation, and Commander Data needs his. That only leaves his brother Lore’s brain…

Plato’s Grandchildren: A mysterious team of specialists arrive at Deep Space 9 and Dr. Bashir is called in to tend to their needs. The team wear sealed encounter suits at all times, with the exception of when they are in verified clean rooms. The reason for this is that their immune systems have been completely destroyed.

This is the result of massive doses of kironide, an element that grants them amazingly powerful telekinetic abilities. This is the same substance found in the episode Plato’s Stepchildren, only more refined. The specialists are reaching the point where they can crack a starship open with their powers, but the toll it is taking on their bodies is destroying them.

Each of them is a volunteer, someone who knew the risks when they signed up, but the self-destructive process is difficult for the Doctor and the DS9 crew to accept.

Where Few Men Have Gone Before: Star Fleet has assembled a group with powerful ESP potential. This group will soon leave from DS9 on a specially designed starship. Their destination is the barrier at the edge of our galaxy.

In its first mission under command of Captain Kirk, the Enterprise made contact with the mysterious barrier. The results badly damaged the ship, but more importantly gave godlike powers to two of her crewmembers, people with a high rating for ESP potential.

The powers grew at an exponential rate, but their minds were overwhelmed by the transformation and their humanity slipped away. In the end they destroyed each other.

Now, faced with defeat by the Dominion, Star Fleet plans to replicate those events. With luck, the rigorous psychological training the volunteers have gone through should let them hang on to their humanity, if they survive the transformation. At least, long enough to win the war.

As a bonus, one of the team members would be played by John de Lancie, and recognized by members of DS9’s crew. Is this really Q? Is he observing? Sabotaging the mission? Or is this the birth of the Q Continuum?

————–

Well, those are my flights of fancy. What have you got? I’d love to hear more ideas.

Deep_space_9

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Science Fiction

 

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Star Trek: DS9

I finally finished watching Star Trek: DS9.

I always liked the show, but it was in a bad time slot for me and I never got around to watching the later seasons. Now, thanks to Netflix, that isn’t a problem. I can see why it’s such a popular show, with Trek fans of every flavor.

Even with Voyager fans! Which I’m told really exist!

I kid! I kid!

Mostly.

Anyhow, there are plenty of good episodes to rave about, one of my favorites being Sisko’s dream of being a pulp science fiction writer, but I also found tons of small moments that really hit home. These little things would let an episode punch above its weight class and caught me off guard. My favorite was when Sisko explains to Kasidy Yates why he doesn’t like going to the Las Vegas nightclub holosuite that everyone else loves so much. They have a brief but powerful conversation about race, history, and fiction, then went on with the rest of the plot.

That ability to tackle an important, timely social issue in a strong way, and not even make it the focus of the episode? That’s art.

Then came the finale. Quick warning, there will be some spoilers below.

SpoilerSpoiler

*Insert Rimshot*

The last several seasons revolve around the brutal war involving the Dominion and its allies against the Federation and its allies. The war drags on, lives are lost, ships destroyed, and ideals are compromised among the most noble members of the cast. Everything finally comes down to the Dominion’s last stand over Cardassia, which results in the slaughter of millions of Cardassian civilians in reprisal for the Cardassian military changing sides. It’s a long, emotionally tiring story and the audience can feel the toll it takes on the characters and when they finally do stand victorious, it’s a subdued celebration at best.

But there is a second story running underneath the main one, a war going on between the cosmic beings called the Prophets and the imprisoned Pah Wraiths, who are looked at as gods and demons by the Bajoran people. The chosen one of the Prophets is Captain Sisko, revealed to be the child of a Founder who had merged with a human host. The champion of the Pah Wraiths is Gul Dukat, a war criminal, megalomaniac, and one of the most wicked villains in sci-fi. Dukat further twists the already corrupt Kai Winn, high priestess of the Bajoran people, convincing her to help release the Pah Wraiths.

During the alliance’s final victory celebration Captain Sisko receives a vision and immediately runs to face Dukat and Winn, sacrificing his corporal body to defeat them and lock the Pah Wraiths away for all time.

At first, I was a little let down by this ending. It felt rushed because so much had happened behind the scenes or in short asides. But the more I think about it? The more I love it. The more I realize what a brilliant ending it is.

We have a grand clash of galactic empires, including the shape-shifting Founders who are looked upon as gods. We have drama writ large as planets burn and millions die. Lives are changed, societies are shattered, the history of two galactic quadrants will never be the same.

And yet, on the cosmic scale, it means very little. In the end, the war between the Prophets and the Pah Wraiths was a far more important conflict. Had the Pah Wraiths been victorious then the entire galaxy would have burned, regardless of which side had won the war on the prime material plane.

It was a war waged on another level of existence, fought by three individuals who could barely perceive the battlefield or comprehend the stakes. And in the end there is no one left alive who knows what happened. At least, not alive in the conventional sense.

Those are some serious Golden Age science fiction ideas. That ranks up there with the concepts in Doc Smith’s Lensman books.

Well done DS9. Well done indeed.

Deep_space_9

 

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Grimtooth

Well, here’s my latest light reading.

As I’ve come to expect from Goodman Games, this is a beautiful book. The cover is lovely, the binding is excellent, and the contents are well restored. It’s a wonderful collection of all the old Grimtooth’s Traps books, including a variety of new material and interviews.

If you’re not familiar, back in the 80’s and early 90’s there was a series of books collecting some of the most diabolical and completely unfair traps ever designed. These were rules agnostic monstrosities that would make Tomb of Horrors traps look like amateur designs.

Truth be told, for the most part they aren’t anything I would use in my dungeon design. Most are too “funhouse” for me, but the pleasure is in the reading. These books are fun.

And if my players were afraid I might actually use them? Well, that was fun too.

Now the entire series is available in an outstanding Goodman Games omnibus edition. The Kickstarter backers are receiving their copies now, so they should be available for retail purchase soon. Keep an eye on the Goodman Games website.

Grimtooth1

You know, I could adapt these for a superhero game. Something involving Arcade’s Murderworld from Marvel Comics. Hmm…

 

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A List for Mugs and Molls

Here’s a classic web tool if ever there was one.

Twists, Slugs, and Roscoes: a Glossary of Hardboiled Slang has been on the Internet since 1993. As the name suggests, it’s a glorious collection of terms straight out of the noir pulps and movies, and comes complete with its own bibliography. It’s perfect to spice up any gangster-era game.

So glom that list you ginks, before I make you chew a gat.

MF-spy

 

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Stop the Presses!

One of the perks of living in Southwest Ohio is that I’m not terribly far from the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. It’s a wonderful facility, filled with aircraft and artifacts from every era of flight. Including of course the dawn of flight, appropriate for a museum located not far from the Wright Brothers’ home.

Not long ago we took a family trip to the museum. In the section where they have a Wright Flyer they also have an issue of the Washington Post dated Saturday, July 31st, 1909 that includes the announcement of the Wright Brother’s first flight.

This is a cool thing in itself, but what caught my gamer’s eye were two more articles that also ran on the front page; one is about a new secret weapon rumored to have been developed by the U.S. military and the second regarding a medical breakthrough that would be quite at home in the annals of mad science.

Please excuse the image quality. I had planned to find better shots online, but the Post’s archives are behind a paywall.

WashPost1

The first story is about a death ray that can hurl lighting to, “Make Enemy’s Guns Useless, Slay Men, and Cripple Ships.” The story comes from an anonymous source within a European government, and is used as an explanation for why the U.S. military seemed to have very little interest in the success of the Wright Flyer. The suggestion is that aircraft would be insignificant against an army capable of swatting them out of the sky with lightning bolts.

The second story is unrelated to flight, but no less intriguing:

WashPost2

The topic is a medical procedure being explored in Paris, by which a surgeon could sever a nerve in the brain. Doctor Bonnier believed that removal of this nerve, “relieved greatly persons suffering from melancholia and timidity.” Speculation was that the procedure had, “the possibility of turning a coward into a hero by a surgical operation,” a concept that was of interest in 1909, when everyone knew that another major European war would happen sooner or later.

I couldn’t locate more information on Dr. Bonnier, though I did find reference to the article in a professional journal of Phrenology. However it’s worth noting that the article uses the past tense regarding the doctor’s procedure.

He’d already performed the operation. More than once.

To sum up; we have the front page of a world-renowned newspaper running articles about aircraft, death rays, and medically created supermen.

Happy gaming!

 
 

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A Familiar Addendum

An interesting idea has come to mind, following up on my post about familiars:

“At 10th Level (Master Thief), thieves are able to decipher magical writings and utilize scrolls of all sorts, excluding those of clerical, but not druidic, nature.

1st Edition AD&D PHB, pg. 27

With the right scroll, a Master Thief could have a familiar! Given the abilities of the familiars in 1st Edition, they’d be more advantageous to a thief than a magic-user. And if they managed to roll a special familiar? A 10th level chaotic neutral Master Thief with a pseudo-dragon!

How did I never think of this in my Monty Haul days?

And we can extrapolate this even further:

“Tertiary functions of assassins are the same as thieves. They have all the abilities and functions of thieves; but, except for back stabbing, assassins perform thieving at two levels below their assassin level…”

1st Edition AD&D PHB, pg 29

A 12th Level Chief Assassin with an imp for a familiar…

 

 
 

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