General Ramblings

We’ve been focusing more on the corporate intrigue end of things in the Alien universe and we quickly saw a move toward a more cyberpunk-styled world, to fit with the ’80s vibe of the Aliens period setting. (We even have two characters, brothers, appropriately played by Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen ala the late ’80s.)

The company that has been up front and center in the game has been LaSalle Bionational, and I added a slightly Blade Runner flair to LB by making one of their main product lines “designer children” for the rich and powerful.  To that end, some of these designer babies are now adults.


The designer children fad hit in the early 2130s, and was spearheaded by the Lasalle Bionational Corporation through their Optima Medical division. Created by genetic manipulation and artificial insemination, these children, while physically and mentally gifted, were often plagued with particular emotional issues. Some of the early children also had unexpected genetic abnormalities. Optima Reproductions stepped back their more ambitious research, focusing on more reliable assisted reproduction technologies, but the designer baby services remained available to those willing to chance the risks. NDAs and legal release agreements are typical for customers of the Advanced Biomanipulation Technologies division, now directly under the Special Projects of Lasalle.

These characters receive a +2 to two attributes, but their Empathy score cannot be raised above a 3. Additionally, they receive +2 stress when pushing a skill roll, and suffer a permanent mental trauma of their choice from the list on p. 101 of the Alien RPG rulebook, or the following:

Generalized Social Disorder: The character has some form of processing disorder that makes it difficult for them to connect with people. They receive a -1 die to any Empathy-based skill test.

Memory Disfunction: The character has a short or long-term memory disorder that causes them difficulty. -1 die to Wits’-based tests.

The player can also choose some form of behavioral issue that can be roleplayed but which does not have a mechanical impact, such as kleptomania, sadism, masochism, obsessive lying, self-aggrandizement, etc.

Despite hectic and sometimes crushing schedules, The Sublime Porte, our guide to 1930s Istanbul is moving toward completion. The game book will be available for Ubiquity and Fate, both in print and PDF.

Here’s a taste:


Some of the stuff the characters were toting in the game:

GRIZZLY HSW 6.5mm Riflef4

A high-end semi-automatic sniper and battle rifle, the HSW uses a high-speed, long-range armor-piercing round. The gun uses a 10 or 20-round magazine. 

Bonus: +1   Damage: 3   Range: Long   Weight: 1   Cost: $1200   Comment: Armor piercing

 CZ PDW-10-M 10MM machine pistol


The CZ PDW-10-M is the military version of this 10mm machine pistol. It can be fired semi or full-automatic, has a30 round magazine, and rails for lasers (adds +1 bonus), and telescopic sights (range: long).

Bonus: +1   Damage: 2   Range: Medium   Weight: 1   Cost: $950   Comment: Full Auto

30 round magazine for 10mm cased ammo. Semi and full-auto settings. Rails for lasers (adds +1 bonus), and telescopic sights (range: long)

MATEBA PDR 10mm Revolver

5345364476_eb22dc8eb5_bThis revolver uses an electrically fired caseless 10mm round used by the Colonial Marines. These weapons have been popular with police services on Earth for handling issues with synthetics.

Bonus: +1   Damage: 1   Range: Medium   Weight: 1   Cost; $800   Comments: Caseless ammo.

Sorry for the quiet these last few months. I started working at a local high school that services about 45% native, and 45% Hispanic populations. It’s a poor district with lots of the usual administrative fuckitude, and even more idiocy coming from the new government up in Santa Fe. In addition to a full time gig, i was also working a quarter-time load at the local community college teaching US history. Toward the end of the semester, I volunteered to cover for a teacher that had quit, giving me an extra section of Government (civics, to the rest of the world).

I worked myself waaaaay to hard, and that slowed the release of The Sublime Porte, our new city sourcebook for Fate and Ubiquity. (The art’s also far behind schedule; the maps are proving to be a bitch to do), and cut into my blog time.

Next semester, I’m forgoing a gig at the college, and focusing on the high school since they’re buying out my prep time to keep me on the extra section, but I’m hoping this will translate into more time to write and get things done.

Next up: a playtest review of Alien. Discovery series ships for the CODA Star Trek. A reiew of Arcadia and Odyssey of the Dragonlords, both Greek-inspired setting for D&D. Reviews of the Eaglemoss Battlestar Galactia and Discovery models. (The gist: they’re great!) Probably some new weapons for the old James Bond RPG combined with reviews of some of the new weapons I’ve tested and/or bought.

When I saw the pre-order call for Free League’s Alien Role Playing Game back in August I jumped on it. The wife encouraged me to go for broke and get the full set of stuff for the game, and after a long way (but really, not that long for most RPG publishers…) the game came in last week. The order came with a PDF of their “cinematic” adventure Chariot of the Gods plus a stripped down version of the rules, minus character creation and other parts of the rulebook, but after receiving the set, the PDF held about 2/3rds of the core rules.


So here it is: For the bundle I got the rulebook (without the fancy cover option), the adventure booklet, a GM screen (with most of the needed charts in it), a set of specialty Alien dice and a set of yellow “stress” dice, as well as a deck of cards that for initiative, gear, and pre-gen characters for the Chariots adventure. Lastly, there’s a map of local space with the settled worlds, and a set of carboard counters for handling more tactical movement/fighting.

Production quality is high, as it was with their Tales from the Loop, and Things from the Flood games. The hardcover is well constructed, the binding superb, and the interior is well laid-out for ease of reading and finding rules. The print density on this thing is high with lots of black. A lot of the pre-order folks were complaining of intense chemical smells from the book and when I got mine in, you could smell the ink — this is due, most likely, to wanting to punch the product out before Christmas. The artwork, as with the other books I mentioned, is gorgeous and highly-atmospheric. The dice are well-done and seem to be rolling pretty randomly. I’m not one of those gamers that has to test the balance of my dice, nor do I obsess on their randomness, but after a few throws, they seemed to be pitching without any tendency to a particular number. The cards are pretty and used for drawing initiative, but otherwise they are pretty useless. The map is gorgeous; the counters are so-so.

The rules are a variation of Free League’s d6 dice pool where you need a 6 to succeed on a test (and sometimes more 6s to succeed at harder tasks, gain more damage in a fight, or get some kind of benefit from the extra successes.) If you’ve played Tales from the Loop or Forbidden Lands, the core mechanic will be familiar. Character creation is simple and quick, as with those other products — you have four stats: Strength, Agility, Wits, and Empathy, and each has three skills tied to them. You get to split 14 points between the attributes, and ten for skills. Your health is tied to strength. There’s a career specific trait you can take from some choices (or make your own up) to aid the character in a certain way, and there is the signature item — a thing that the character can use to relieve stress, as well as relationships — a buddy and an adversary — between the character and the other PCs/NPCs. There are also rules for playing a synthetic — whether a sleeper like Ash, or a more robotic version like Bishop. Synthetics have higher stats and don’t take stress, but they cannot push rolls, do not have signature items to assist them, and damage can affect them more more harshly.

Stress is the big mechanic for the game. When a character “pushes” a roll on a skill test, rerolling for a better result, they gain a stress die that is applied to the roll. On a 6, they’ve got a success; on a 1, they panic. When panicked, they have certain actions imposed on them. Some gamers might not like the mechanic forcing their characters to act in a certain way for a few turns, but getting players to respond realistically to fear is difficult, I find, and this is a way for the game to address that. This also means that a little stress actually is beneficial and can help the character, but too much and you might lose control of yourself. It emulates the reactions of horror movies pretty well.

There’s a lot of material on the world of Alien — some of the corporations, the politics, the governments are covered extensively and provide a lot of options for adventuring without even encountering the eponymous monster. There is a lot of data on the alien, but not so much on the Engineers. The other aliens that were thrown in are a bit bland, but there’s plenty of room to throw in your own stuff, and there’s a lot of folks already hacking the game for use with other horror franchises. Surprisingly, there are rules for space combat — something we haven’t seen in the Alien movies, but its a nice touch.

So is it worth it? The set cost me $100 (the core book was about $50 when last I checked) and yes it is. The production values are top-notch, the game system is light and ease to use and modify, and the background material is dense enough to allow even the most casual fan to jump right in. The pre-orders have been filled and they game should start turning up on store shelves by December 10.

After four months of working full-time at a local high school and teaching a half-time load at the local community college, I finally got a week off. Most of that has been spent getting all the stuff that went over the side with the workload, including the editing on the upcoming The Sublime Porte — a sourcebook to 1930s Istanbul for Ubiquity (and specifically Hollow Earth Expedition) and Fate. We’re still waiting on the artwork, but as soon as that is in, the final prep on the book will get underway. I had been hoping for an October release, but January now seems the most likely timeframe.

That said, I’ve also got about 40 pages of notes for a Rio de Janeiro book, so that will probably be the new project for Black Campbell.

I’ve got about three weeks left, then the college gig is over until Fall of next year (earliest), and I should be able to start punching out material again.

Today’s prompt was “examine”, and this led me immediately to the idea of the AAR, or after action report. Typically, every session or two I ask the guys how it went. Usually, you’ll get the non-committal “It was good”, or “It was fun”, or something to that effect. But it also gives the players a chance to give the GM feedback on things when they crop up.

For instance, when a player realizes the character they created has veered off in a direction, due to the stories and the direction of play, that they didn’t anticipate. The character may have become less interesting. Maybe they don’t like where it’s going and a course correction on their arc is needed. Maybe they want feedback on how they want to advance the stats, skills, etc. They might not be as interested int he direction of the campaign — it’s not bad to get that feedback; it’s best if everyone is interested in the game. maybe they don’t feel they’re getting enough “screen time” or there’s a personality conflict that they need to resolve.

It’s also a chance to let the GM know what’s working. When “that was fun” gets pretty explicit about why it was fun, the GM can adapt the focus, themes, adjust the “rating” of the game (maybe it got a bit too explicit or violent; or wasn’t enough of the same), or otherwise play up the good things. It’s also a nice ego boost to the guy or gal who put all the effort into putting the game together.

As a player, it’s also not a bad idea, as you play, to think about what your character’s motives are, how they might change with their experiences, and how you understand them. Is a new flaw/weakness/trait appropriate? Is a reduction in a stat a reasonable idea. (Most players aren’t looking to weaken their characters, but I’ve had some who have done just that because it “made sense.”) You can think about your character’s interests, the skills they’ve used, and what a reasonable vector of advancement might be. There’s nothing wrong with, “I want my ranger to become a multiclass with druid” — actually, that makes a lot of sense — but it’s also fine to have your ranger multiclass as a sorcerer. But it helps to explain why and how that’s going to happen. A character that gets their ass handed to them might decide they’re hitting the gym to up their strength, or take some self-defense classes to improve their fighting skill between adventures. That’s a perfect explanation for a skill increase.


Role playing games have been a big part of my life. Since I discovered the basic set Dungeons & Dragons in the late ’70s until today — probably four decades and a bit — gaming has been my main hobby through multiple careers, moves to various different places, sets of friends that came and went, or stayed. It helped me make dozens of friends, meet women, get laid, get married, get jobs (true!) Until I discovered motorcycling in the early 21st Century, it was one of the only outlets I had that wasn’t professional. My first novel was inspired by some game research. Adventures I’ve run have become products for other gamers — shared on DriveThruRPG under the Black Campbell Entertainment brand. (And thus endeth the shameless plug…) There are still stories that I and my gamer buddies will talk about, “Remember that time Antae kicked in the door and the Great Evil was standing right there?” “Remember when that dipshit we used to play with asked the guard [who had missed one of his blasters in a search] if ‘he wanted the other one, too?’ ” or “how ’bout the guy that thought his character was ‘haunting him in his dreams’ because the player did something stupid, got the character killed, and we weren’t a respectful as he thought we should be. I wonder if he’s killed someone yet…”

Stories and characters and moments that still stick with you across a decade or more, and that were a hell of a lot more interesting than your job, or your marriage (or divorce), or your life in general. That’s something to be treasured.

So image my delight when my daughter asked me to run a Dungeons & Dragons game for her. She had watched her whole life as Dad had “nerd night” with his friends, playing games and telling stories. She would occasionally get to roll for the bad guys. Now, I get to share something that has been a delight for me for much of my life I now get to share with my daughter.

She threw together a ranger character because “she wanted to have a bow”, and I built a simple campaign set in Arthurian Scotland, so there was some connection to places and things she knew. She wanted to hunt “undead”, so we’ve had encounters with trolls, hags, and most importantly wights and ghosts. Her mother starting playing, as well, so now we get to have a family game night that is either board games or RPGs.  It’s lovely.

So, I recently picked up a 1995-ish Ranger-made Walther PPK/S in .380 for $300. A decent deal, since you might get that in trade for 5he Interarms period PPKs. It was not the most comfortable gun to shoot, and they have a reputation (outside of the JB fandom) for being finicky Jam-o-matics. The one I bought, so far, has run through various round nose and hollow points without a single failure to feed or extract. As with the FEG knock-offs I’ve owned (great deals!), the accuracy from the fixed barrel is better than most large semi-autos, and the blowback action is…uncomfortable. This thing was designed to be a .32 (7.65mm), and the .380 is a bit robust for it.

I did immediately start having issues with the safety/decocker activating when shot. Not ideal in a stressful situation. “Excuse me, ol’ boy, but my safety keeps going on. Give us a mo’, would you?”. Not gonna happen. It was a common problem sorted by a Walther BBS search and a internet trip to Numrich for an extractor spring and detent kit and new safety lever. The problem disappeared. Then the light hammer strikes started.

A lot of folks don’t like the heavy double action trigger pull, because they haven’t figured out it’s a safety feature: as woth an old revolver, you don’t accidentally blow you bollocks off while pulling it put of a pocket (which is how you were likely to carry in 1929, when it was designed…) Cock it and shoot, or suffer through the first loooong double-action pull. Trust me, the adrenaline will get the trigger pulled. But a lot of users put in a lighter spring.

DON’T. It messes with the firing pin, and it makes the recoil more stout. Also, don’t cut your damned recoil spring (not a problem here.)

So while checking the trigger spring, I found it was very light. A Wolff spring at the factory 20 lb weight and a set of walnut Herrett grip to replace the plastic ones that broke taking them off, and Rolff (my PPQ is called Gunther) was ready to go back out to the range.

Rolff was fatter in the grip, but that and the heavier trigger spring mitigated a bunch of the harsh recoil. He also was pointing better. So my cheap $300 PPK now has another $150 in it, but it…was…flawless! Three different types of hollow point: no jams, superb accuracy, manageable and now non-painful recoil, and it still drops in my shorts pocket without printing.

Beats the pants off the S&W period PPK/S, which would bruise and cut my hand from the tail they put on it. I figure over the next year, I’ll do the rest of the springs and maybe have the local guy I know refinish him.

(Gunther and Rolff…sounds like a Bavarian confectionary shop.) I have to say that working on the pistol myself has been a good learning experience. The gunsmith I originally got to work on it did f*** all to fix it, so I got back in “company armorer” mode and tore it down after watching a few YouTube vids. It is much more complicated than a modern firearm, but it is beautifully designed and engineered. Going to replace a few more of the springs as I go, but right now, it lovely.

The James Bond: 007 Role Playing Game was written back in the early 1980s, and while it remains an excellent engine for espionage roleplaying, some of the mechanics are getting a bit like Roger Moore in A View to a Kill — a bit too long in the tooth.

One thing I’ve noted is that the firearms damage ratings, much like the structure points for electronic do-dads and performance modifiers for modern vehicles, do not take into account well the serious improvements in technology. I thought I would address the first in this post.

There’s one way to correct for this: hit the interwebz and find out what the ammunition the character is using has for muzzle energy. For instance, most modern 9mm is going to be running in the 330-360 ft/lbs. range. Using the Q Manual as a guide, you’ll see that most 9mm firearms of service weapon size (4″ to 5″ barrels) should be throwing lead with a DC of G. The Walther PPK in either .32 or .380 would have an E. Both 10mm and .40S&W run in the H range, etc… +P and other hot loads push this even further, but should lower the S/R by at least one due to recoil, and depending on the weapon, might increase the JAM rating, as the weapon takes a heavier beating than was intended.

For instance, running .32 +P through a Kel-Tec P32 is pretty inadvisable. It might do alright for the occasional firefight, but a steady diet with kill the weapon pretty fast. You might kick the JAM from a 98+ to a 97+ and add a GM Information tag that the weapons suffers a malfunction on 99 and 100, instead of just 100. Another good rule of thumb is that if the pistol has longer than a 3″ barrel, bump the DC up one. This holds pretty true for rifles, as well.

Now if game balance is your thing, you might find a close analogue to a weapon being used in the Q Manual or Black Campbell’s own Q2 Manual (and yeah, you’ll find it pirated on other sites…it’s my work) and riff on that. I’m planning a new gear manual in the future that addresses some of the changes the world has wrought on this venerable game system.

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