I love me some Greek mythology, so when I saw a Kickstarter for Odyssey of the Dragonlords for D&D 5E, I jumped on it. I had already gotten a copy of the similarly themed Arkadia, but Odyssey is a real step up.

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The packages came in a few days ago with the main book, a smaller Player’s Guide, a GM screen that has important setting related information, and two dozen maps of the world. Some of these are city maps, others orthographic-style maps of the islands, there’s a pair of world maps, and also a constellation guide to the night sky of the setting, Thylea.

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The maps are lovely, but they’re nothing compared some of the internal artwork.

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IMG_0969IMG_0968That’s just a taste…

The setting is rich, and like Arkadia, does a riff on Greek mythology without pulling straight from them. There are fewer gods, and there are a trio of “titans” that are the scenario bad guys. The book is broken up in quests that string together to form an epic campaign. It’s good stuff, with detailed maps and writeups of the cities you should visit and the people you will meet. You could get away with throwing a lot of this out and just sandboxing the world, and still get a lot of use out of the material presented, should you wish to ignore the campaign.

The artwork and the flow of the campaign outline feel very much like this was a pitch for an RPG video game that the authors — some of them from Bioware (creators of Mass Effect).

Is it worth it? I paid $75 for the entire set with maps, screen, and the two books and feel i got my money’s worth with room to spare. The entire project is fabulously pretty, well-bound on good gloss paper, and well worth throwing money at the ubiquitous Mödiphiüs. (As of this writing, I hadn’t seen it pop up on their website.) You can also make a late pledge at Kickstarter.

The editing work on the Fate version of The Sublime Porte is almost done, and the work on the Ubiquity version is complete. We’re just waiting on the art before assembling the book for publication.

 

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Over the Christmas break we had a few of the regulars in the gaming crew out for family travel, etc., but were joined by one of my gamer buddies that floats in fr a session or two every year or so. He was interested in the new Alien RPG by Free League, andsince I had gotten the bundle in a few weeks earlier, we got together with the rest of the group that was left in Albuquerque to play through the Chariot of the Gods adventure Andrew Gaska wrote for the game.

Yes, there will be spoilers. If you’re playing through this adventure, feel free to come back afterward.

Running the adventure made the cards in the bundle useful. Outside of that…not so much. Every character in the module is presented, so if you have someone come in late, they can play some of the characters that eventually wake up at the end of the first/ beginning of the second act. There’s gear cards, which were somewhat useful so I didn’t have to flip through the book for data on the weapons. Spacesuit cards would have been nice, however. I would suggest to Free League a second set of cards that’s just gear and initiative cards; they’d be more useful.

The dice — you don’t need ’em, but the yellow stress die with the facehugger for 1s really works to enhance the flavor of the game. On that note, stress builds fast in the game. When the characters have a stress die or two, they usually aided the player — the die mechanic, like most of the FL games needs you to roll a 6 to succeed on a die, with multiples giving you more damage to deal out, to aid people that failed a test, or to take some kind of benefit. On a facehugger, you have the chance of panic. We rolled a lot of panic tests in the playthrough, but it wasn’t until you started to hit five or six stress die that you were humped. We had a player drop his shotgun in the first encounter with an “abomination”, and later fled his companions. Others had the shakes or froze up. No one completely lost it. The stress mechanic works well, though I found myself ignoring the extra stress die characters got when panicking, as you already accrue another when you roll a facehugger. However, panic often spreads, so I did use the extra stress die to those around him when panic ensues.

The basics: the crew of a freighter on a milk run discovers a Prometheus-style ship adrift for the last 76 years. It’s Cronus, a missing science vessel that went out to 26 Draconis and was never heard from again. The company wants the ship boarded, repaired, and retrieved with all the scientific data and samples. The corporate weenie character, Wilson, however, see Special Order 966 — which orders the return no matter what and, of course, all other priorities are rescinded.

We ran the boarding and the initial investigation of the ship, but I had the ship in deep cold, in addition to the foul air specified in the adventure. The characters took excellent precautions and didn’t get out of their suits until toward the end of the adventure. Which leads me to the consumables rules — the game stipulates a facehugger on a stress die results in losing a consumable. In the case of the spacesuits, that would have meant 4 fails to the suit not working. I ignored that and went with a suit has a standard 2 shifts (5-10 hours) of air if the wearer is taking it easy; 1 shift if working hard. Past that, the consumables kicks in. This gave the crew the time to avoid some of the nastiness until the second act, but also made some of their tasks more difficult — they missed some of the clues they might have been able to exploit, like science team notes that they couldn’t flip through because of the bulky suit fingers, etc. Consumables worked best for weapons and the panicked spray and pray of Aliens. In the first encounter with the abomination belowdecks, the Rye character let loose with an EVA gun and on a facehugger, dumped the magazine. Now they were screwed.

I made some changes to the flow of the adventure to crank the tension. The ship is dark and in deep cold until they get the reactor online. They had missed the abomination in the scene, but I had it hold off until the ship warmed up in the second act. The loss of Montero happened at the end of the first act, which made people suspicious of the single NPC that had been aboard, Davis. I had played with the idea of making her the android, but in the end made that Cham the roughneck because the player wasn’t around for the second session. With Montero gone early, they were stuck on Cronus and had time to start repairs. They fixed the air scrubbers first, releasing the 26 Draconis pathogen into the ship.

Second act started after some intra-party conflict over Davies, then I had the Cronus crew come out of cyrosleep. They started to get the basics of what happened and took the crew down to medbay. At the same time, the roughnecs started their repairs on the ship — Rye in the reactor area, and Cham getting ready to EVA. He discovers Ava 6 in the cargo bay, where she had been trying to effect repairs on herself but wound up shutting down.

The first abomination gets the crew scrambling. They finished it off easy, but Captain Miller’s helmet on her suit got broken. At the same time, chaos ensued in the medbay with Cooper’s bloodburster. Davies wound up injuring it, but it escaped to return for act three, as a juvenile bloodburster. Clayton, the corporate rat from Cronus took this opportunity to abandon everyone and hide in her suite, where she recovered her pistol and the data on the alien goo.

Act three saw the characters get a moments rest in the bridge with the Cronus crew. While trying to come up with a plan, Johns turns abomination and the fight was on. A panic roll failed by Miller, she wound up blowing the mag on the pulse rifle they had found in the armory, and since she had two facehuggers, I had the burst hit the medic from Cronus. They find Clayton, who is turning, and right at that moment, the bloodburster was back. Miller, who was starting to turn, was killed fighting to get the creature off of Davies. Davies was killed when Clayton attacked her and cut her jugular while trying to rip pff her helmet. Wilson panicked and ran, and with the help of the roughnecks, they vented most of the ship, killing Clayton. With the aid of Ava 6, they got the ship’s engines working but were now running low on air. Not trusting the cryotubes, they used the EEV in Clayton’s cabin to go into cryosleep, leaving Ava to get them home. At this point, Cham took action and fought Ava for control of the ship. This all happened in the final moments of the game. As we are thinking of a campaign game in the universe, I am thinking of building out from the ending I had in mind and making Cronus the McGuffin to get started.

So how did it play? It took about 5 hours total to play the adventure, which was nicely written and pretty tight for plot. I made some changed — moved Montero‘s demise forward, backed up the waking the Cronus crew, cut the number of survivors on Cronus to the basics to cut the number of NPCs and heighten tension. I left out the mercenary vessel for act three as things were going badly enough. In the end, we had a three of the PCs make it to the end of the adventure, although the chances Wilson and Rye survived after Cham’s “Lucas” personality kicked in are low. The players had a blast, and it was fun to run horror — even though I think it’s very difficult. The stress die mechanic helped a lot with that.

I’ve not been a fan of horror games, mostly because it’s very hard to set up the right atmosphere, and because of an absolutely disastrous first encounter with Call of Chthulu in the ’90s. I’m not a fan of the “go insane or die” game; most of the Alien movies have the chance of promise of someone making it out alive (save the execrable Alien 3, and honestly, none of those characters — Ripley included — were likeable enough to care about).

So having played it, I’ll admit, I’m intrigued to try a game in the universe that focuses on corporate espionage, some exploration, and the synthetics angle, leaving the xenomorphs and Engineers for later in the campaign.

I had some Herrett walnut grips on the old Interarms period Walther PPK/S I bought a few months back. After fixing the safety assembly and swapping the weakened trigger spring, the pistol ran flawlessly but was a bit painful to shoot. The grip was just wide enough I was taking a real pounding on the thumb joint. I invested in a set of Altamont grips that needed just a very wee bit of sanding at the top to give clearance for the slide, and voila!

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It not only looks better, the grips allow for hitting the magazine release easier, and reduced the recoil impact on the thumb. The grayish-black laminate matches with the wear in the bluing and gives the pistol a nice used, yet classy look. (I think.) I thought about getting it reblued, but really, I like the distressed look it’s got.

The other bonus — accuracy is much higher as the pistol sits in the hand better. I have found that with the flush magazine, holding the pistol in the old “teacup” style gives me better and more consistent accuracy than the modern thumbs forward. The most recent trip to the range saw “Rolf” here put down a 3ish inch group at 20 yards, free-standing, into the 8/9 ring. I’ve got about 1000 rounds through this thing in the last eight months and it is a delight! It’s bigger and heavier than Wee Jock, my little Kel-Tec P32, but has become my normal carry pistol. I have utter confidence in the ol’ boy.

It has not jammed on any hollow-points or other ammo I’ve used although except for the Seller & Belliot, which saw light primer strikes requiring a second trigger pull to get them to fire. Simple fix: don’t use Seller & Belliot. Rolf particularly likes the American Gunner and Critical Defense series XTP 90-grain round that Hornady puts out. Speeds are consistently in the 975fps range or about 190 ft-pounds of energy, with low felt recoil. If it weren’t a bit pricey for practice, I’d run this on the range as it’s comfortable to shoot.

That said, for you James Bond fans, sorry to disappoint, but you’re not shooting a helicopter down with a PPK!

A few years back, I threw in on a Kickstarter from Dante Lauretta — the man behind the OSIRIS-Rex mission to the asteroid Bennu and budding game designer — for a game called Xtronaut. It was a superb game, simple to learn and play, but with deep strategy. It was an excellent introduction to the issues of space programs and my then-seven year old loved it. (Still does.) Here’s the review from 2016.

Next up from Xtronaut was Constellations, in which you trade and collect cards to create constellations and put them on the board or night sky. A review for that is forthcoming. It is, as well, an excellent game and tremendous fun. It’s been a hit at the local game store when we’ve taken it over to be played, and with the family. So it was only natural I would back the Kickstarter for Downlink: The Game of Planetary Exploration.

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We got the game in smack on time. Lauretta and his team have been doing rocket science for a while and they’ve got project management down to an art — the products are as advertised, high quality, and on time, every time. A few weeks back, Dr. Lauretta asked me to do a review of Downlink which we’d only really had a chance to play twice with my crushing schedule this last few months.

First off — again, the card quality is high, as is the board. They use a few cardboard chits for spacecraft, colored wood blocks for the resources you need to judiciously manage (more on that in a moment), and specialty dice to see if you can launch your rockets, move your spacecraft, or downlink data. The box is similar tough and nice-looking.

Next up, the rules. Downlink is a complicated game with a lot of moving parts. My daughter and I spent half the first game trying to figure out what we were doing, and still weren’t fully sure at the end. She won, by the way. The second time, we were more ready for what we had to do, and again…she won. The second time around, however, there were still some issues with understanding exactly what we were doing and when. Partially, this is because the rules are a bit hazy on what happens in Phase 2.

At the start, you choose which discoveries you wish to make from three cards drawn for each player. You can do one, some, or all of the missions. They have certain “downlinks” you need to achieve in certain scientific fields. You get this information or “downlink” from sending a spacecraft with attendant science packets aboard to target worlds. You also have 6 “playing cards” for a hand that allows you certain types of actions: these are split into T for technical, M for management, and C for cost.

On a turn you have four phases: 1) you can trade up to two cards with a five card “marketplace” or discard up to three cards and draw from the playing cards. My daughter and I thought, as first, you could trade with other players, as with Xtronaut, but that’s not the case. So far so good…

Phase 2 is where everything gets really complicated: first, you have to have a T, M, and C to discard to do anything else. This probably accurately tracks with the issues of putting together a mission, but instantly limits your actions, and can be confusing, since you have to get one of each just to throw them. If you don’t, you can’t do anything that turn.

Having tossed your “triplet”, you can take three of a plethora of actions — build a rocket, a spacecraft, or a science package, but they must be able to connect with each other through color-coded connectors. This reflects what payloads can work with what kinds of craft. It’s accurate. It’s also confusing and sometimes frustrating when you find out your package won’t connect to your spacecraft, or the spacecraft to the rocket. Rockets can also only launch from specific sites, arranged around the edge of the playing board, which has paths to various planets and other celestial objects. You need a lot of table for this game. Two people playing at a 4×5′ table barely had room for everything.

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You can also enhance your ground systems for benefits, move resources to components still on Earth, launch the rocket, or move the spacecraft, or downlink data from the science equipment by rolling a number of dice equal to the resources on that particular asset. You get points for launching, moving your spacecraft, arriving at your destination, or downlinking data. For every discovery made, you get points; you lose points if you don’t complete a discovery.

This is where the novice gets hammered. All of these actions cost resource cubes. You have to make sure you have enough to get to your target and still have enough to send data. Most of the time, that means sticking to one rocket and spacecraft mission at a time, or you will blow through the resources and have a dead spacecraft that can only move with gravity assist cards, or gets to the location and cannot do anything. There’s a lot to keep track of, and it’s easy to get lost.

Phase 3 is easy — did you get the data? Did you succeed in making a discovery? If so, get the points for the discovery.

Phase 4 is similarly easy — refresh your cards to six.

The goal is to hit 30 or more data points to win or the players run out of cards to fill a six card hand. At that point, everyone gets one last turn.

The box says for ages 10+ and that’s a pretty solid bit of advice; the daughter is co,ming up on nine and has been playing adult games for a while — this was the first one she had real trouble with the rules, as this is a complex game with a lot of moving bits and bobs. As I started to get what was going on, things went better, but there were a lot of discoveries not made, spacecraft wandering the solar system with no energy or resources, and a lot of frustration with our lack of understanding. I think with another play or with more adults at the table scanning the rules to get a different understanding of the flow of the game, I suspect it will play better, but the first time or two might be enough to put people not used to intensive resource management and attention to detail off.

So is it worth it? Yes, but you really need to read the rules and take your time the first game to grok the resource management. You need to dump a ton of resources on anything going far out into the solar system or it’s just going to sit on the board forever. For the hardcore strategy and resource management gamer, it might be a delight, and while I appreciate the realism of difficulty that the game is attempting to capture, we found this a lot harder than the other offerings by Xtronaut. (My daughter won the game the second time by waiting for a certain card to come up that allowed her to get downlink data without ever reaching her destination, thus completing discoveries without even getting off the ground.)

There’s a premium edition coming up that hopefully takes some of these elements of the game into consideration for rules errata or changes. Dr. Lauretta and the guys and gals at Xtronaut are particularly good at taking comments and suggestions to heart, and I’m a strong supporter of these STEM-oriented games.

Introduced in 2017, the P-10-C is the latest striker-fired offering from Česká zbrojovka or CZ, the famed (and highly underrated) firearms manufacturer in the Czech Republic. It is slightly larger and heavier that the popular Glock 19, but with a more natural grip angle that makes for more comfortable shooting and better accuracy than its Austrian competitor.

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The P-10 series has a polymer frame with interchangeable backstraps for different sized hands, highly aggressive grooving to aid in control of the pistol in wet conditions, and an ambidextrous magazine release and slide stop. It also has a similar trigger safety to the Glock pistol, and a firing pin block that prevents the pistol from accidental discharge. Unlike other CZ pistols it does not feature a magazine disconnect safety that renders the pistol safe when a magazine is out of the gun. The barrel is stoutly designed with a black nitride finish that is weather and water-resistant, and the slide rails are all-metal, not metal pin embedded in the polymer, unlike the similar PPQ or Glocks. Robust would be an excellent word for the build quality. The trigger press is four and a half pounds with a reset comparably short as that of the Walther PPQ and with an audible reset. This makes the pistol very quick for follow up shots, but can lead to accidental second shots for those unused to the reset.

If can be had in 9x19mm and .40 S&W.

PM: +1   S/R: 3   AMMO: 15   DC: F    CLOS: 0-4   LONG: 10-18   CON: +1   JAM: 99+   RL: 1   COST: $550

GM Information: In .40, the P-10-C has an S/R of 2 and a AMMO of 12.

Black Campbell comments: This is one of the better striker fired pistols I’ve shot. The trigger is damned close to as good as the Walther PPQ, which is hands-down the best out of the box, and as good — if not better than — aftermarket triggers for any striker fired pistol. I find you have to use your first joint on the trigger, rather than the middle of your trigger finger pad, when shooting, but that could just be me. The grip is aggressive but the pistol doesn’t squirrel around in your hand, which some of the old CZ-75s could. It seems to like 124-grain ammo the best; 115 shoots a bit high. Accuracy seems to tighten a bit at longer ranges (20-30m). 

Continuing to post Star Trek: Discovery period ships for those CODA fans out there.

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Here’s one of the ships I’ve really liked in the new series…the shuttlecraft! The weird red striping is cool. Here’s a pic of the Eaglemoss model (which is quite nice — heavy, well-built, but a bit nose heavy for the positioning of the landing gear.)

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SIZE: 2     STRUCTURE: 10     CREW: 2+10 passengers     CARGO: 20     TRANSPORTERS: 1 cargo     LIFE SUPPORT: Class 1R (BB)      OPERATIONS: Class 1R (BB)     SENSORS: Class 2 (+2/+1/+1/0/0  D)     IMPULSE DRIVE: SBB (.5c/A)     WARP DRIVE: WE-5 (3/4/5  C)     ARMAMENT:  1 Type II Phaser arrays (2/2/1/0/0/ A)     DEFENSE SYSTEMS: PFF-2a  (Protection/Threshold: 12/2  Reliability: B)     MANEUVERS: CMD -1   HELM +2   TAC: -1

MAGEE CLASS FAST SCOUT

We saw this little ship at the Battle of Two Suns and in the amusing Short Trek involving tribbles. The idea is that these were used as a testbed for new warp designs, as well as small escorts.

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SIZE: 4     STRUCTURE: 25     CREW: 80     CARGO: 40     TRANSPORTERS: 2 personnel, cargo     SHUTTLEBAY: 1 (2 shuttlecraft)     LIFE SUPPORT: Class 3 (D)     OPERATIONS: Class 3 (D)     TRACTOR BEAM: 1 dorsal/aft    SENSORS: Class 2R (+2/+1/+1/0/0  C)     IMPULSE DRIVE: SBE (.5c/D)     WARP DRIVE: PB-32 Mod 3 (6/7/8  C)     ARMAMENT:  4 Type II Phaser arrays (3/3/2/0/0/ A),  2 Mk12 IF Photon Torpedo Launchers (3/3/3/3/3 A);    DEFENSE SYSTEMS: PFF-2a  (Protection/Threshold: 12/2  Reliability: B)     MANEUVERS: CMD +0   HELM +4   TAC: +0     TRAITS: Small Warp Signature — +5TN to Sensor rolls to discover/locate ship, Vulnerable System, Throughdeck Warp Nacelles: When 1 block of propulsion damaged, also check a box of life support.

NIMITZ CLASS COMMAND CRUISER

Here’s the “admiral ship” they created for the series. Of the Eaglemoss stuff, this is the most disappointing of the ships for detail, but I suspect the CGI models were pretty thin, as this was banged out for a quick set of shots during the Battle of Two Suns and is quickly destroyed; it most likely didn’t need to be terribly detailed. The bridge was originally supposed to be under the roll bar, but later was added. I prefer to think of that as some kind of observation/science area with the bridge still in the dish.

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SIZE: 6     STRUCTURE: 40     CREW: 300     CARGO: 60     TRANSPORTERS: 3 personnel, cargo     SHUTTLEBAY: 1 Aft  (7 shuttlecraft, 3 workbees)     LIFE SUPPORT: Class 3 (D)     OPERATIONS: Class 3 (D)     TRACTOR BEAM: 2 dorsal/aft     SENSORS: Class 3 (+3/+2/+1/0/0  D)     IMPULSE DRIVE: SBD (.6c/C)     WARP DRIVE: PB-32 Mod 3 (6/7/8  C)     ARMAMENT:  8 Type II Phaser arrays (4/4/4/4/4/ B), 12 Mk12 IF Photon Torpedo Launchers (7/7/7/7/7 C) DEFENSE SYSTEMS: PFF-2a  Protection/Threshold: 12/3  Reliability: B     MANEUVERS: CMD +3   HELM +0   TAC: +3