Arcane Game Lore

You all meet at a tavern ...

What’s New in Your World?

It’s 2:15 am and I’m up running a  telescope observing a potential transiting extrasolar planet. Actually I’m observing my second target of the night and the transit is supposedly starting even as I type this line.

I’ve been up since 4am yesterday and in the intervening 22 hours have written an 11-page paper for one of the classes I’m taking this semester for my MLIS program and a journal article review and responses to 3 other students’ reviews for my other class.  (yes my fingers are a little tired, as is the rest of me).  One of the reasons I’m observing is so that I could have the time to get my writing done.  I don’t think I’d be able to pull an all-nighter if I didn’t have the excuse of observing.

The other reason is because it’s fun and also so my wife (who the data is for) can get some sleep as she was up all night Saturday observing (it’s Monday in case you’re wondering, well, Tuesday actually).  So if this post is a little incoherent you know why.  But enough of this rambling introduction.

What’s New Under the Sun?

As I was sitting here observing, it got me thinking about the idea of cutting edge “science” in an RPG world.  This could apply to any game, whether it is a sci-fi game exploring new worlds, a fantasy game exploring the uncharted regions on the map or anything in between.

Hang on just a second, the set of images I was taking just finished and I have to go check the dome and start the next set.  Be right back …  Okay, we’re good.  The dome is clear of the telescope and we’re good for the next set of images.

Take what I’m doing right now.  I’m observing a star that has a 0.67 Jupiter mass planet orbiting it.  We observe the planet as it eclipses its host star.  When it does so, the planet blocks out a tiny fraction of the star’s light and we see the star dim slightly.  Like this:

a small black dot passes in front of the star causing the measured light to dim

Animation of extrasolar planet transiting its host start. Linked from

By measuring the amount of time the star is dimmed, the timing between dimmings, and the time it takes to go from undimmed to maximum dimming, we can determine things like the size of the planet, the size of its orbit and information on the size of the star.

And this is a completely new field of astronomy that I’ve watched develop.  When I started graduate school (the first time) in 1996, there were exactly 4 known extrasolar planets, three around a pulsar (discovery paper) and one around 51 Pegasi.  Today there are thousands known due to the Kepler mission but I remember when each new discovery was a big deal.

So that got me to thinking.  What would be cutting edge and newsworthy in my campaigns?  What type of research is being done that might show up in the news (or rumor mill in a fantasy game)?  These may have no impact at all on your game and may only be flavor text to add depth and vibrancy to your world or maybe they become a major plot hook.  It doesn’t matter.  Topics like this simply make your world more alive and dynamic.

Okay, time to go check the dome again.  Hang on … Okay, back and all is well.  Now where was I? Oh yeah…

In a Modern Setting

If you’re running a modern game, this is fairly easy as you can just pull real topics from the headlines and/or extrapolate from existing events to something new and unique for your game.  For example, using the idea of extrasolar planets, the goal right now is to find an earth sized planet, around a sun type star and lying in the habitable zone.  What in Star Trek I believe they called an M class planet.  This type of object is just on the edge of what we can detect with current technology so finding one is a big deal.  We’ve come close, but one hasn’t been found yet.  Maybe in your world one is found and there is a big hoopla in the news.

For a Fantasy World

In a fantasy world, you could have discoveries coming from a variety of directions.  Maybe some explorers just got back from an unexplored wilderness region with tale of new fantastic creatures or races or rivers lined with gold.  The map has been extended and there are wonders to behold.  Or maybe there has been some new spell discovered at the wizard’s college or a new potion successfully concocted by the King’s alchemist.

Although you want to be careful if your “science” and research introduce a new technology into your world.  As I wrote about in Technology Change In Your Campaign, you need to think about the implications.  If you don’t you may have unintended repercussions down the road.

It’s all Science (Fiction)

In a science fiction game, the answer to what’s the cutting edge could be all over the map depending on the setting.

Is faster than light travel slow and/or hard.  Maybe there’s been a breakthrough that cuts travel time in half or makes the calculations much simpler and faster.  Or maybe there’s been a breakthrough in hull material improving the strength of ships and allowing them to be built even bigger.  Or maybe the Empire actually completed a Death Star and the rebels didn’t blow it up.

Dome check time again.  You know the drill now.  You wait here and I’ll be back in just a moment.  It will only take half a minute … and I’m back.  Continuing on.

Or maybe it’s in the field of personal weapons and they’ve managed to pack the punch and accuracy of a laser rifle down into a pistol sized package.  For improved the range, or improved energy conversion so you do more damage for the same amount of power.

Or the advance is in computers, or medicine, or oceanography, or … well you get the idea.  There are lots of areas for “breakthroughs”.  And in truth these area apply to any genre of game.  And while most of my examples above are on the practical side, your “advances” could be more abstract and pure sciency.  And in those cases, you probably don’t need to worry too much about the consequences and implications.

So what’s new in your world?  Post your ideas and comments below.

A 16 inch geman equatorial mounted telescopeWhew! I finished before I had to take the telescope over the pier, also known as a meridian flip.  You can see the process on this Backyard Astronomy page.  The only real difference is that I’m moving that telescope pictured on the right instead of the little one on that website. This is a 16 inch reflector with the camera at the Cassigrain focus. It’s not the biggest telescope around but it’s big enough to try to run manually by yourself.  For scale, that cross beam between the telescope and the counterweight, is about 5.5 feet high.  With this telescope, it takes about 15 minutes to move over the pier, reset the electronics, find a star, reset the calibrations, and then get back on the target you’re observing.  Unfortunately, it’s not all automated.  The joys of a small university research telescope.



The Great Game of the Ul-Mor – Game Report

My kids have been playing through the Volturnus series of modules in Star Frontiers.  (Warning: Spoilers.  If you’ve never played these modules and think that you will some day, the following gives away part of the story.  But they’ve been published for 30+ years so you’ve probably already played them or at least read them if you’re interested.)  In the previous session they explored the sathar artifact as I mentioned in my post on the Sathar laser gun settings.  That session ended with this scene:

A drasasite in the foreground running from a pyramid/obelisk structure that is exploding in the background.

Destroying the Obelisk by Tom Verreault (jedion357)

The dralasite in the foreground is played by one of my 15-year-old twins and is the demolitions expert for the team.  He’s been itching to blow something up since they acquired a supply of explosives from one of the pirate compounds on the planet.  He rigged his entire supply to detonate the power generator in the artifact and hooked it up to a radio detonator.  Then they flew off about a kilometer, set their camera to maximum telephoto, and he started running as he pressed the trigger.  We wanted a great action shot.  Shout out to jedion357 for drawing the picture after I described the scene to him.  My kids thought it was great when they saw the picture.

In our last session they started out on the task of uniting the races of Volturnus to fight against the sathar invasion that they learned was on its way.  They decided to contact the races in the order that they first met them and thus started out to see the Ul-Mor, a race of desert dwelling, giant lizard riding, nomadic nonapods.

The Great Game

They arrived at the Ul-Mor camp just in time to watch the Great Game, an annual celebration and competition between the various tribes.  After presenting their case to the leaders of the tribes, it was decided that the Ul-mor, who looked down upon the other races of the planet, would agree to fight along side them if the PC’s participated in the game and didn’t make fools of themselves.  The requirement was that they attempt to play (i.e. not just hang back out of the game) and that at least one of the four of them managed to stay on their mount at the end of the game.

The Rules

The game itself is fairly straight forward.  Each participant is mounted.  You have to race to the other side of the field (about 0.5 km long and 0.25 km wide) round one of three stakes, and then pick up a large leather ball located in the middle of the field and get back to the stake on the side where you started.  Scattered throughout the field are various obstacles such as hedgehogs made of spears, sand traps, ponds, hills, and walls that affect movement.  In addition, there is a desert creature called a “sand shark” that is roaming the field trying to attack them.  There are a total of 20 players at the beginning of the game, four of which would be the PCs.

The only rules are:

  1. You must circle one of the far stakes before you can move the ball from its starting position.  (once it’s been moved anyone can touch it)
  2. You must have circled the far stakes at some point in order to win.
  3. You may only attack other riders in an attempt to dismount them.  Once dismounted you are out of the game and must proceed with alacrity to the sidelines.
  4. Spectators may not interfere with the game.  The only exception is if a dismounted player is attacked by the sand shark.  At that point the spectators may intervene to help the dismounted player.

The winner receives great honor and has the upcoming year named after them.

The players had the choice of either riding the giant lizard/dinosaur type creatures that the Ul-Mor were riding or riding a type of horse.  The horses were slower but could gallop for a few turns making them even faster than the lizards and were easier to control.  The gallop rules were that they could move at their gallop speed for a total of 3 turns after which the horses would be winded and could only move at just under half speed.  The four PC’s all opted to go with the horses as they felt that the probability of falling off the lizard mounts was just too great.


Unlike the Ul-Mor, who were all in the game for individual glory, the PC’s immediately decided to work as a team.  One of my twins (playing a yazirian) decided he would simply work to knock Ul-Mor riders off their mounts to thin out the opposing ranks.  He wouldn’t even try to get around the far stakes to start but would run interference.  The other three (ages 15, 10, & 8) would race as best they could with their slower mounts around the far stakes and try to knock Ul-Mor off when they could.  They all decided to save their galloping ability as a ace in the hole and only pull it out if needed to prevent an Ul-Mor win.

Amazingly, the PC’s won initiative and the right to decided which side moved first every single round of the game.  Even on the rounds when I was sure the Ul-mor would win.  There was a round I rolled a 10 (on a d10) giving the Ul-Mor their max initiative roll (a 15, they had a +5 initiative modifier).  But my kids, who had an IM of +7, rolled a 10 as well.  And on the round they rolled a 1, I rolled a 1 too.  The Ul-Mor couldn’t catch a break.  Thus the PCs were able to expertly control the pacing of the game.

The Results

For the very first round, they allowed the Ul-mor to move first with their faster mounts.  As the Ul-Mor raced ahead, the terrain caused a few bottlenecks that resulted in some skirmishes and two riders were knocked off their mounts.  Cheers and groans were heard from the tribes of the riders involved depending on whether their riders remained mounted or not.  The PC’s followed on with their slower horses.  On the next round the PC’s moved first.  The one twin moved to block and intercept one of the Ul-Mor and successfully knocked him off his mount.  The tribe the PC’s were representing (of which they were members of from their earlier adventures) cheered wildly.  The other three continued to race behind the other Ul-Mor as the gap between them widened.  Terrain bottlenecks again resulted in a few skirmishes and another Ul-Mor was knocked off its mount.  In the beginning the pride of the Ul-Mor didn’t let them recognize the strange creatures, riding slower mounts, as a threat and so they tended to ignore them is their race to round the far stakes.

A scene from the Great game with a character mounted and racing between the Ul-MorOn the next round the twin bent on unhorsing (un-lizarding?) the competition caught one more Ul-Mor and again successfully knocked him off his mount.  The other twin (our dralasite demolitionist) , racing straightforward down the center of the field was caught by the sand shark.  He was ready, however, and dropped an incendiary grenade right on top of it as he raced by.  The explosion and resulting flames brought cheers from the crowd and caused the sand shark to miss its attack.

At this point the racers were approaching a huge wall that stood between them and the three stakes at the far end of the field.  There were definite terrain bottlenecks here and the PC’s decided to let the Ul-Mor move first for the next few rounds as there was no way for them to catch them until they were headed back and they didn’t want to get mixed up in the ensuing melees that would inevitably occur.  The twin that was unhorsing Ul-Mor rode over to defend the ball and the sand shark continued to chase the other twin but with little effect other than to get poked by the dralasite’s spear.  As expected the Ul-Mor got into a bit of a shoving match trying to get through the bottlenecks and three more were knocked off their mounts this round.

The next round saw the remaining Ul-Mor rounding the stakes and getting caught up in more fights on their way back through the bottlenecks caused by the walls.  Four more riders were dismounted.  At this point there were only 7 Ul-Mor still mounted plus the PCs.  The three PC’s racing for the stakes were now just outside the bottlenecks and would pass through and around the stakes on the next turn.  The yazirian was now guarding the ball and the dralasite was still battling the sand shark as he raced down the field.

At this point the Ul-Mor realized that they were being had by these aliens and collectively decided to stop fighting among themselves until the ball had been grabbed.   The players moved first.  The vrusk (played by my 10 year old son) and the other dralasite (played by my 8 year old daughter, no humans in this group) rounded the stakes although my daughter’s character was rounding one farther from the current action.  The vrusk engaged with one of the Ul-mor, slowing him down but not knocking him off his mount.  Our other dralasite weaved in an out of the on-rushing Ul-Mor and made it just around the stakes.  The yazirian was riding back and forth near the ball waiting for the on-rushing Ul-Mor and the sand shark that was now chasing them back towards the ball.

The lead Ul-Mor decided to ignore the yazirian and make a play for the ball while the yazirian attempted to dismount him.  Both failed and started circling each other and the ball.  Several other Ul-mor arrived and began to watch the “dance” looking for an opportunity.

The next round turned out badly for the Ul-Mor.  The sand shark knock over one of the mounts of a rider waiting for an opportunity.  The Yazirian knocked the rider down that was attempting to get the ball and both the vrusk and our dralasite demolitionist came barreling into the fray and knocked two others off their mounts.  There were just 3 Ul-Mor left to face the PC’s.  The tribe the PC’s were representing were going wild, never had so many contestants from any tribe still been mounted this late in the game.  It was seriously looking like the PC’s would knock out all the Ul-Mor, and then just pick up the ball and trot back across the finish line.

However, on the next round the PCs suffered their first mishap.  A new Ul-Mor charged in to try to get the ball and a standoff between him and the yazirian a began, although this time the Ul-Mor wasn’t going for the ball, he was going for the PC to knock him off his mount.  The vrusk and dralasite each engaged the remaining two Ul-Mor with mixed results.  The vrusk was knocked off his horse by his opponent and the other four tribes erupted with and ear-splitting cheer.  The Ul-Mor facing the dralasite wasn’t so lucky and was knocked to the ground.

The next few seconds were probably the finest moment for the Ul-Mor as they managed to knock both the yazirian and the dralasite off their horses, again to deafening cheers from most of the crowd.  Our other dralasite, who had been rounding the far stake, finally arrived on the scene at this point and engaged the Ul-Mor near the ball.  She succeeded in knocking him down leaving just her and the lone remaining Ul-Mor. However, she was standing near the ball and the other Ul-mor was about ten meters away where he had just unhorsed the other dralasite.

Seizing the initiative, she managed to grab the ball and, urging her horse to a gallop, took off toward the finish line leaving the now slower lizard mount in the dust.  The sand shark, deprived of the mounted targets, went after the other dralasite slowly making his way off the field.  The dral was ready and waiting, however, and tossed a fragmentation grenade down the creatures mouth.  The resulting detonation showered sand shark steaks all over the desert floor.

Capitalizing on the speed of her galloping mount, the remaining dralasite crossed the finish line a few seconds later not only staying mounted through the game but winning it.

The Aftermath

While for the longest time it had looked like a rout, the Ul-Mor held on to the last moment but the PCs came away with the win.  During the ensuing celebration the PCs were introduced to many of the riders that they had played against and while disappointed in their loss, the riders exhibited no hard feelings but wanted to learn more about the strange members of their rival tribe.  As part of the celebration, the new year was named after the winning PC.  After that ceremony and the celebration had died down somewhat, the elders of the Ul-Mor tribes approached the PCs.

“You have shown great skill and valor in the Great Game.  Because of this, and because the ancestors, whose requests are not to be taken lightly, ask it, the Ul-Mor will fight with you alongside the silly Kurabanda and vain Edestekia against the evil sky worms when they come.  We will rally the tribes and meet you at the home of the ancestors.”

After the celebration was over, the PC’s said their goodbys, boarded their jetcopter and headed off to try to win the hearts of the Kurabanda.  But that’s another story.

April RPG Blog Carnival – The Combat Experience – Initiative

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival is on The Combat Experience and is being hosted by the RPG Alchemy blog.  As I was thinking about what to write I fell to musing on the use of initiative in RPG combat.

My primary gaming experience covers three games: RuneQuest, Star Frontiers, and Powers & Perils (did anyone besides me ever play that game?), two of which don’t use initiative and one does.  And of course, D&D uses it (at least so I’ve heard).

Lacking Initiative

The physical scientist in me likes the ideas behind the systems that don’t use initiative.  Combat order is determined simply by physical attributes.  How big are you? How fast are you? What is the reach of your weapon?  All these things are quantifiable and recorded on your characters sheet.

For example, in RuneQuest, the combat round is divided into 10 “strike ranks”.  Each character has a strike rank modifier based on their size (0-3) and their Dexterity (1-4) which gives their base melee strike rank.  Higher SIZ and DEX give lower values and a faster attack.  On top of this, you have a strike rank modifier for each weapon based on it’s reach, again in the range of 0-3.  Longer weapons like pikes and halberds have low strike rank modifiers (i.e. 0-1), while short weapons like short swords and daggers have higher ones.  This is added to your base melee strike rank to determine when you hit.

A combat round in these systems is then fairly straightforward.  The referee just counts off the strike ranks and you resolve your action on your given strike rank.  You know when it is each round and adjust your tactics accordingly.  Nice and simple and you figured it out when you added the weapon to your character sheet so you don’t have to add it up each time.  Once and done.

I’ve got Initiative

In systems that use initiative, you either roll once per turn or once per combat and can make either one roll for each side or one roll for each character.  It simply depends on the game system and how the referee wants to run it.  Typically these rolls are modified by some sort of bonus based on the characters’ ability scores, typically something like Dexterity, Agility, or Reaction Speed, depending on the system.  And for all I know some systems may even have modifiers for the weapons, I’ve just never encountered them in my limited experience.  Thus faster characters tend to get to go first.

In Star Frontiers the rule is to roll each round with a single roll for each side.  Plus each character has an initiative modifier (IM) which is based on their Reaction Speed and you add the highest IM for the side to its roll.  However, with small combats I’ll sometimes have each character roll their own initiative.

Again combat is fairly straightforward.  If there are just two initiative values, the side with the better one goes first.  If there are more than two, each goes in turn.  If there are a lot of values (say each character on each side rolled separately), then the referee simply calls out initiative scores instead of strike ranks (starting at the highest and working down) and each character or opponent resolves their actions at the appropriate point.

What’s the Point?

I believe the idea behind rolling for initiative is to simulate somewhat the random factors of combat.  Things such as morale, insight into the situation, reaction to activities by the other side, and pure dumb luck.  The modifier(s) based on the character’s abilities represent their innate ability to react to these situations.

As such, when rolling for initiative, I think the more granular the level of the rolls the better.    It makes more sense to me to roll once per round rather than once at the beginning of combat as the situation is fluid and can change and it is possible for a side that was “in control” of the situation (by having the higher initiative) to suddenly be caught flat-footed.  Allowing an initiative roll each round allows for this.  Rolling once at the beginning of combat doesn’t allow for such a momentum shift.

When feasible, I also feel it makes sense for each character to roll initiative individually as opposed to as a group.  And for the same reasons.  Each individual reacts differently to situations and individual rolls simulate this better.  Plus it allows the characteristics of each player to come more directly into play instead of everyone on the side getting the same bonus.  And this should be applied to the opponents as well.  Of course, this makes for a lot more bookkeeping and could slow down combat somewhat but it really shouldn’t be an issue if handled properly (and with a little practice).

What to do?

As I contemplate how best to include initiative in the game I’m designing, I’m torn between the two systems.  I like them both.  In the end I think I’ll steal a little bit from each system.  Have the initiative modifier based not only on the player’s or monster’s characteristics, but also on the weapon of choice, much like in RuneQuest.  However, I do like the idea of the randomness and so I’ll want to add in some sort of die roll. I think I’ll leave the granularity and frequency (once per combat, once per round, once per side, once per character) up to the referee based on the situation.

I think the real question is simply how big of a die.  A large die weights initiative to the random side while a small one places much more weight on the character’s abilities and weapons. With a small die, a character with great abilities and the right weapons will always trump someone with low enough scores regardless of the roll.  Maybe this is okay although not completely realistic (the underdog could sometimes get lucky).  With a large die, abilities become much less important.  Not as realistic but maybe okay as well in a game.

Right now I’m leaning toward a smaller die (something in the d4 to d6 range).  This is definitely something to be looked at in play-testing and simulation when I get to that point.

So what are your thoughts on initiative.  Like it? Love it? Hate it?  Meh?  Sound off in the comments below.


While there is probably a great post on environmental effects hiding somewhere behind that title, this unfortunately is not it.  The last week has been simply insane and I haven’t had time to get a post together for the blog.  Craziness included:

  • A cold/flu – something hit me early last week and still hasn’t completely gone away
  • My wife was out of town early last week.  She was back in D.C. reviewing NSF proposals and evaluating them to help determine who got funding and who didn’t.
  • Within 12 hours of her getting home I left for the rest of the week to attend the ACRL 2015 conference.  It was great but conferences are exhausting. I got back Saturday night.
  • On top of all that I have a major project in one of my classes for my Master’s program that is due tonight.  I was supposed to have another due yesterday but luckily that got postponed a week.  So any free time I’ve had at home or at the conference was spent working on the project.  It’s still not done but I should finish on time.

So the net result is no new game related post this week.  I should be back on schedule by next week.  And don’t forget to go register for the Frontier Net Con 2015 if you are interested in some Star Frontiers on-line gaming.

Best GM Ever – March RPG Blog Carnival

RPG Blog Carnival LogoThis month’s blog carnival is discussing the best GM ever.  When I read this month’s topic, I knew immediately who I would be talking about.  That was my GM from high school, John Scott Clegg.

At the time, Scott had been running games for around thirty years and regularly every Saturday in his house for at least a decade.  That was over 20 years ago and he still has his weekly game that I drop in on sometimes to say hi as I now live back near him.

I think one of the things that made Scott such a great GM was the depth of the gaming world.  It was one that he created, all starting with a map he drew in the 60′s while he was in junior high school.  He has grown and developed that world over the intervening decades with all the campaigns he has run in it.  There are very few places you can go that he doesn’t either already have mapped out or knows what will be happening when you arrive. I think the thing that I loved most about it was that it always made sense.  He had been running the world for so long that he had worked out all the inconsistencies.  The logic of the world held together very well.

Scott started role-playing with his school buddies long before even D&D was published with a small set of rules that took up 3 pages (front, back, and front of two pieces of paper).  They moved to D&D for a while and then on to RuneQuest when that came out.  By the time I was playing it, it was still based on RuneQuest (3rd ed.) but with a much expanded skill set and a couple of additional magic systems.  His game still lives on in that system today.

Scott was also fairly well connected to the gaming industry.  Those school buddies he ran games for, you might of heard of some of them.  They included Tracy Hickman and Sandy Peterson.  Scott helped Sandy write and play-test the original version of the Call of C’thulhu RPG and continued to write supplements and adventures for that game for years.  He even has a “Best Role-playing Game Supplement of the Year” award from Origins that he received in 1985, just a few years before I started playing with him.  It was for the Earth’s Dreamlands supplement for Call of C’thulhu.

Scott was also amazingly flexible in running the game.  He could manage the session regardless of who was there or how many people we had present on any given day.  Which was good.  He never turned anyone away that wanted to play.  He wanted to share the joy of role-playing with anyone and would integrate any new player immediately into the game.  The net result of this was that we occasionally had a very large group.  At one point we had 16 active players running 24 characters in the party.  That made for a fairly crowded session.  I think that the most amazing thing is that it all ran smoothly and I, at least, never felt left out or lost in the crowd.  It is as testament to his skill that he could keep it all running so well and everyone involved.

But most of all, in addition to being an amazing GM, Scott was (and is) a great friend.  I have fond memories of all the hours I spent at his house playing RuneQuest in his home-brewed world.  I can only hope that I can some day end up being half the GM he is.  He wins the Greatest GM Award hands down as far as I’m concerned.

Various News Items

A short post this week with just a couple of announcements related to my various gaming endeavors.

Frontier NetCon 2015

After putting out feelers on various social media outlets, I discovered that there was quite a bit of interest to have an on-line gaming con to get people together to play Star Frontiers.  We held one of these back in 2012 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the game and had a decent turnout for the amount of advertising done.  We tried again in 2013 but it fizzled.  And I completely dropped the ball on trying to do one last year.  Let’s hope this year is better.  If we get a good turnout, I’d love to do this yearly.  In any case, jump on over to the con’s website:

Frontier NetCon 2015

and check it out.  The con is sponsored by this blog, the Star Frontiers Network, and the Frontier Explorer webzine.  Right now there is not much on the site as we’ve just opened registration.  If you’re interested in playing or, even better, running a game, jump on over and register.  And let others know about it as well.  The more we can get the word out, the better the turnout and the better the event.

Launching a Patreon Campaign

As you may or may not know, I run the two Star Frontiers fan magazines, the Frontier Explorer and Star Frontiersman.  While I love doing this and will continue to do so as long as I’m able, there is a considerable amount of work involved for myself and my fellow editors.  As such I’m launching a Patreon campaign for the magazines to help raise funds to help offset the costs involved and improve the production and quality of the magazines.  I’m not going to do a whole “sales pitch” here.  You can read the details on the Patreon page.  The bottom line is that while the magazines will always be free, by becoming a patron you can make a donation and say thanks for all the hard work.  If you like the magazines and want to support our work, consider becoming a patron.

image containing a collage of covers from the Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer magazines

3D Modeling – Engines

After making the Assault Scout miniature, I decided to do a miniature for the other small ship that I had designed, the CSS Nightwind.  The Nightwind is a small freighter about the same size as the Sathar Destroyer.  As with the Assault Scout, I figured I’d start with the engines.  I liked the design of the engines for the Assault Scout but they were too small.

In the Star Frontiers game, which these models are based on, there are three engine sizes, called Class A, B, & C.  The different engines are used for different size ships.  The Assault Scout, uses the smaller Class A engines, while the Nightwind is supposed to use the middle Class B engines.  So I needed to come up with a design that was similar to the one for the Assault Scout but bigger.  At this point I decided to design all three engines and tuck them away for whenever I needed them in other models.

Removing the Scaling

The smaller Class A Engine When I made the engine model for the Assault Scout, I was working in the model scale.  However, as I wanted these engines to be useful across models, I first needed to get it onto a standard scale.  I started by simply copying out the code for the engine into a new project.  Then based on the size of the miniature, I scaled the individual components so that the new model was on the 1mm = 1 meter scale.  I chose this scale as it is the one I want to use when designing ships as it makes the conversion from drawn plans to miniature easy.  I can then just scale the entire model by a factor of three to get to the proper scale for printing the models.

At this point I also took the time to clean up some of the artifacts that I noticed in the model the first time through. The final “Class A” model is shown at the left.  Outwardly it doesn’t look much different than the image from the Assault Scout post as it is the same engine, just at a different scale.

Scaling Up

The mid sized class B engine.  It looks similar to the class A engine but is longer and has two cross hatches on the cap.

The next step was to decide how much to scale the engines up by.  What I decided to do was the following.

  1. Double the height.
  2. The “cap” on the mushroom shape should take up proportionally less of the overall length of the engine.
  3. The overall diameter of the engine would not quite double with the doubling of the height effectively making the engines proportionally slimmer as they went to the large sizes.

Otherwise things would remain basically the same.  T pull off item 2 above, I scaled the cap up in height by the same ratio I scaled up the diameter in item 3 instead of a factor of two.  I then lengthened it just enough to add another of the cross bar pieces.  The cross bar pieces are the same height on all the engines.  This gave me my class B engines.

Final size

To get the Class C engines, I followed the same procedure as I did for the Class B engines but started with the Class B engine as the basis instead of the Class A engine.  I doubled the height and added a third cross bar to the cap.

The Class A engine was 20 meters tall.  Doubling this height twice makes the Class C engines 80 meters tall.  I actually wonder if this is big enough as these engines will be mounted on ships that range from 420 to 600 meters long.  I may tweak these slightly when I build the larger ships.  In any case, these Class C engines are bigger than many smaller ships.  Here is a picture of the three engines along with an Assault Scout all to the same scale.

Image showing the three engines to scale along with the Assault Scoout model at the same scaleNow the engines are all ready to go.  Next time I’ll talk about making the Nightwind model.

Read an RPG Book in Public Week.

Somehow I’ve managed to miss this for the last 4 years but this week is first Read an RPG Book in Public Week for 2015.  Turns out there are three weeks each year set aside for this.  The article on the Escapist linked above provides a good FAQ on the idea.

Cover of the expanded game rules book for star frontiersI have to say that I think that this is a great idea and an easy non-intrusive way to spread our love of our hobby.  I’m definitely going to have to see if I can get in some public reading, I’m just trying to figure out where as I’m not usually in pubic places.  I may just have to take my lunch hour and go sit in one of the library common areas and read.

Most likely I’ll be reading Star Frontiers as my gaming life is pretty wrapped up in that game right now but maybe I’ll dust off one of my other games as well as a refresher.  What RPG books are you reading in public this week?  Feel free to share comments, experiences, and links to pictures below.

3D Modeling – The Assault Scout – part 2

This post is coming out a little later than usual as I left the thumb drive with all my model files at work over the weekend. I wanted to have pictures of the models to go along with the text and I couldn’t create them as I didn’t have the models proper as I was writing.  Sorry about the delay.

Now that I had my desk model (see part 1), it was time to make the miniature that was in scale with all the others for use in the game.  This post will cover that process.

As I mentioned in my Sathar Destroyer post, my goal was to try to create as many of these miniatures to the same scale as possible and that I had settled on 1/3000th scale.  That’s the scale I produced the sathar destroyer to.  Well, the Assault Scout is 50 meters tall/long in the game, so to scale the miniature would be 16 2/3 mm in size (just over 5/8 of an inch).  That was the goal but that’s pretty small and I may have to make it a bit bigger.

First Attempt

Printing path of the assault scout model showing the holes due to the small wings.

The MakerBot export model of Jay’s Assault Scout scaled down to 20mm

My first attempt was simply to shrink down Jay’s model that I had used for the big one.  I loved the shape and design and the model was already created.  Scaling it down was easy enough and could be done in the software that I used to actually print the model.  However, this turned out to be impossible to print.  Once scaled down, the wings were just too thin.  The fins vanished (which I expected) but even the wings themselves were so thin that the software decided that no plastic needed to be printed.  It was putting plastic in parts of the wing but not everywhere indicating that making it a little larger might work.  In the image to the right (click for full size) you can see the missing plastic, towards the bottom of the wings.

So I got out one of my old original lead miniatures and measured it.  It turns out that the original Assault Scout miniature was actually 20mm tall.  So I scaled Jay’s model to that size (which is actually 20% size increase) but still no luck.  The wings were just too thin.  I briefly considered trying to play with the Sketchup model to make the wings thicker but after a little bit of fiddling I realized that doing so would not be an easy proposition and that my Sketchup skill level simply wasn’t up to the task.

Back to the Drawing Board

Since I couldn’t use Jay’s model I was going to have to build my own.  So I had to make a couple of decisions.  The first was scale, was I going to try to stick to the 1/3000th scale as I planned or, like the original miniatures, make the Assault Scout a little bigger.  The second decision was whether or not to use Jay’s model as the basis for mine or go with something closer to the original model.

I knew I had a couple of constraints based on the nature of the 3D printing process.  First, I wanted the wings to be at least 1mm thick.  The print nozzle on my printer (and on most consumer class 3D printers) has a 0.4mm diameter.  Thus if the thickness was at least 0.8mm, I get two layers of plastic.  I could get away with one but two would make them stronger.  Second, the nozzle diameter, combined with the fact that I would be printing at 0.2mm vertical resolution, limited the amount of detail I could possibly achieve on the model, I needed to take those into account when detailing it.

In the end I decided that what I would do is try to recreate the original Assault Scout miniature as accurately as I could.  The wings on that model were about 1mm in thickness and there weren’t a lot of small details.  I should be able to reproduce it almost exactly.

Building the Model

There are really three main components to this model I’ll detail them each in turn.

The Engines

Probably the most detailed portion of the the model is the engines so I decided to tackle them first.  At first blush, they look pretty simple.  They are basically a squished cylinder with a cap on top.  However, there is a lot of detail on there.  There is the curved cut out, the ridge along the side, and the small indention in the top of the engine.  This was going to be trickier than I thought.

Looking at the original miniature, the upper part of the engines are actually kind of blocky. While there are curves to them, they have corners.  I did want to eliminate that and make them rounder.  (For a couple of reasons: one I liked the look better, and two, it was actually easier to model).  Also, I felt that the base of the engines in the original lead miniature were too small and wanted to make them a little bigger.

So I started simply with a cylinder for the base of the engine. On top of that I added an inverted cone (how to make a cone is detailed later) that had a 30 degree angle out to the diameter of the cap I wanted to add to the top of the engine.  This was for printing purposes.  The printer can print objects with a 30 degree slope but anything more than that an it wants to start adding supports which I wanted to avoid.  Next I added a short cylinder to give the engine some extension.

On top of that I used half of a stretched sphere for the cap.  Now, OpenSCAD only creates full shapes, either cubes, cylinders, or sphere.  If you only want a portion of something you have to use their difference() command.  Basically you give the full shape and then one or more shapes you want cut out of the first one.  So to make a half sphere, you use the following construct:

     translate([0,0,-radius]) cube(2xradius, center=true);

This creates a sphere, and then a cube centered on the sphere that is then shifted down to cut off the bottom half (the shifting is preformed by the translate() command.

This shows the basic shape described in the text.

Basic engine shape

To stretch the sphere, you preface the difference() command with the scale() command which looks like:


if you want different stretches on the different axes or you can use just a single scale value if you want to just grow/shrink by the same amount in all 3 directions.  Putting it before the difference() command  stretches the entire construct.  You could put it on the individual commands inside the difference construct if you wanted to but then you’d need to adjust appropriately.  In my case I was only scaling in z so my command looked like: scale([1,1,6]).  You can see the basic shape of the engine to the right.

This image includes the rectangular extension along the bottom and circular cutouts at the top of the engine

The engine with the extension and circular cutouts

Adding the extension down the side of the engine was easy, that was just a cube that stretched through the entire lower cylinder.  I just had to make it the right size to match up with the overhanging cap.  Actually, it’s a little smaller than that to provide a small step but it was just a matter of sizing it appropriately.

Removing the little circular indentation at the top of the engine was easy as well.  I just had to use another difference() command to cut a cylinder out of the cap I created before.  I needed to do one cylinder for each side of the engine.

This is a representation of the bits that need to be cut away from the engine model.

The bit to cut away from the engine top to add the detailed desired

The hardest part was getting the curved cut outs with the cross bar.  To do this I created another cap identical in size to the original one.  From this I cut out the middle using a smaller cap so that the thickness was equal to the size of the cut out I wanted in the end.  I then added and cut various pieces out of this “cap” until it was exactly the shape I wanted to remove from the actual model.  I then used the difference() command to subtract this constructed shape from the main model.  You can see the bit to cut away in the image to the right.  This took a lot of trial and error to get right. I didn’t do a perfect job of this (you can see some floating bits in the image) but the engine is so small that you can barely see its detail anyway.  On the final model it looked pretty good.  Plus some of that is just from the way the program renders the image.

Once I had the engine model the way I liked it, I used the translate() command to shift it over into position.  I then wrapped the entire bit in a for() loop along with a rotate() command.  The rotate() command looks a lot like the scale() command:


where the rotations are in degrees around the respective axes. In this case I was rotating around the Z-axis 180 degrees.  I used the for() loop to set the rotation values (0 & 180) and put the loop variable in the [z-rotation] section of the rotate command.  This gave me two engines, one on either side of the model as seen below.  I’ve added some color to highlight the details.

Two engines in their proper places

Adding the Wings

The wings were created using a combination of the polygon() command and the linear_extrude() commands.  The polygon() command allows you to draw arbitrary shapes.  It takes two lists, the first is a list of (x,y) points.  These points are the vertices of the polygon.  The second list is a list of point numbers (the first point is point zero).  This is the order you want the points connected.  It then draws the specified polygon but has no thickness.

To get a physical object, you then have to extrude the polygon so some thickness.  This is done with the linear_extrude() command.  In its simplest form, it just takes an extrusion height as its argument and then you include the shape you want to extrude in curly braces ({}) after the command.  It does more but I didn’t need that for this model, I discuss additional abilities in later models when the need for them come up.  In this case, I extruded the wing shape to be 1mm thick.

I now had a wing but it is laying flat on the drawing plane instead of standing up so we apply a rotate() command, rotating it 90 degrees around the x-axis.  I also added a cone to represent the wing fins and match the design of the original miniature.  Cones are made by using the cylinder() command but instead of just specifying the radius and height, you specify two radii (r1 & r2) which are the radius of the top and bottom of the cone respectively.  This cone was then moved into the proper position on the wing by use of the translate() command.

Once I had the wing done, I moved it into the proper place on the model and inserted it into the for() loop the engines were in to get it to be replicated on either side of the model.

The model with the wings added in as described in the text

The Fuselage

The fuselage caused me a bit of headache at first as I was trying to match the original mine exactly.  The lower part was easy, it was just a cylinder.  But I couldn’t match the upper bit as it wasn’t a cone or a rectangular pyramid shape (which I could have modeled with the linear_extrude() command) or a stretched sphere.  It was somewhere in the middle.  After looking at the different shapes, I decided to go with the stretched sphere as the simplest and best looking option.  This was created the same way I did for the engines but I stretched it out much more.

That formed the basic body.  Adding the little bit of detail to the fuselage also was a bit tricky as there is no way in OpenSCAD to make triangular pieces.  To pull this off I had to use the difference() command and some cubes.  I made a base cube and then using the rotate() command angled some other cubes to slice off forming the triangular shape I needed.  These shapes were then moved into proper position using a series of rotate() and translate() commands.

Here’s the finished model:

The full model as described.


The next step was to try to print the model.  I knew from the shape that it would need supports under the engines and because it was small, I’d want to print it on a raft to help hold it in place.

Fits and Starts

In the fuselage section above I made it sound easy.  However, in truth I actually printed several of these with the different fuselage shapes and in different sizes, trying to get a shape I was happy with.  Some were too small and didn’t print properly, some were too fat.  It was definitely a bit of a trial and error process to get the shape write.  Luckily, since the print is so small a single print job only took about 7 minutes.  Rapid prototyping at its best.

Once I got the shape I wanted, I added in the fuselage details and did a final “check print” to make sure all was well.  Here is the final model compared to the original metal miniature.  It doesn’t have all the detail as I simply can’t recreate that with the 3D printer but it looks pretty good.

The two models side by side.

Comparison of the plastic and metal miniatures. I’ve played with the contrast on the plastic piece to try to make the details a little more visible so it appears yellowish instead of the brilliant white of the actual piece.

One is the Loneliest Number

While the single print worked, I wasn’t completely happy with the quality of the nose of the ship.  At that point in the print, that is the only part of the model printing and the printer is moving so quickly that the plastic doesn’t really have time to cool enough so it is still soft.  That was tending to make the nose a bit wavy as the plastic was being slightly dragged around by the print head.  You can see this in the tip of the printed miniature above. I had noticed this in my destroyer print as well.

Four models being printed at once.So I decided to print four of the models at a time. The image at right was taken about three quarters of the way through that print job (click for full size) just as the engines were finished.  Since it would be printing four of them, it would be moving around much more and be longer before each individual layer was put down an a given model allowing the plastic time to cool.  The resulting print was much nicer than the single print.  Plus it had the added bonus of requiring slightly less plastic on the raft for the four models than it would have for four individual models making the print cost less.

Final thoughts

I was quite pleased with the print for this one.  I haven’t painted them completely yet as these little models are hard to paint.  But in doing this model  I definitely caught the 3D modeling and printing bug and decided that it would be fun to recreate all the miniatures.  More in future posts.

As always, leave questions, comments, and suggestions in the comment section.

Random Items on Public Transportation

The holiday weekend really threw my schedule out of whack so my second Assault Scout 3D modeling post has been delayed.  In the meantime, here’s a list of random items you might find on a bus, tram, or monorail left by previous passengers.  They may be nothing or maybe they are part of the plot or a hook for a new adventure.

Roll 2d10

  1. Gun/other ranged weapon – What’s this doing here?  Is it wiped clean or covered in prints?
  2. Grocery bag full of food – Anyone hungry?
  3. Glasses/sunglasses – maybe they’re just cheap reading glasses or they could be a designer pair of sunglasses
  4. An electric razor – Why was someone grooming on the subway?
  5. A book – Anything from a trashy romance to a great classic.  Does it have a name inside?  Is there something tucked into the pages?
  6. A receipt – A clue or just trash?
  7. A note – did it fall out of someone’s bag or was it left on purpose.  Maybe it’s just a grocery list or maybe it’s a love letter?
  8. Water or alcohol bottle – could be unopened, half full, or empty
  9. A newspaper – Today’s or yesterday’s?  Is something highlighted or is it folded to expose a certain article?  Or just laying there.  Maybe it’s covering something else or has something wrapped inside.
  10. Random trash
  11. A magazine – Recent or old?  Could be on any topic.  Maybe there is something tucked inside.
  12. Pen/pencil – Maybe it’s dead or maybe it still works.  Has it been sharpened down to a stub?  More maybe it’s an expensive monogrammed fountain pen?
  13. Comb/Brush – Maybe just leave that one be
  14. An envelope – Maybe it’s empty or maybe there is something inside.  A bill?  A note?  Cash?
  15. Ticket or ticket stub – is it for a concert, a play, or maybe just the bus you’re on?
  16. Food – carryout or fast food in a bag
  17. A plant/flowers – maybe there is a card with names?
  18. Ring/other jewelry – anything from cheep costume jewelry to valuable gemstones
  19. Purse/Wallet – is there cash inside? Identification?  Do you track down the owner and return it or keep it?

What other random things have you found or might you find left on public transportation?