RPGs read recently: Archives of the Sky and Battleship Alamo

Kickstarter things are arriving on the doorstep, so I have a bunch of RPGs to read.

Archives of the Sky is nicely produced and has clear rules with lots of good examples of play. It is GM-less (though it needs a facilitator), sand-boxy game of a ‘great house’ of the spaceways dealing with various challenges to their collective and personal values. Create your house, establish its values, create your character and their values, then take turns to create scenes which challenge all of the above.

While I’m glad I backed it, now I’ve read it, it is clear that it is not a good match for at least one, possibly both of my regular groups. It would be much more appreciated by the now-and-then gamers who I hook up with for one-offs, since they have enjoyed Fiasco and Durance. So not sure when I’ll ever get around to playing it…

Battleship Alamo is a far better match for the regular groups, assuming I haven’t bored them rigid with military science fiction games. It is based on a series of novels, but I haven’t read them. I backed it because it had a built in mechanic that everyone has 2 characters: a bridge officer and an ‘espatier’ (marine), which was kind of like the way we were playing Roger’s Wives & Sweethearts GURPS campaign.

The system seems, on a read through, pretty solid. It is something called Era d10 and is a dice pool system very like World of Darkness. The book has a great attitude to worked examples of combat (colour coded examples of dice rolls, target numbers, etc) and stylish flowcharts to take you through combat options.

It also has the single most brilliant addition to Grappling rules in the history of RPGs! :slight_smile: An action movie style ‘break their neck’ rule. It’s really difficult to do, but it is an insta-kill if you do.

It also had tons of adventure seeds and three campaign arcs. And by ‘adventure seed’, I mean an A4 page of fairly small and dense text outlining a whole plot, some plot twists and several potential outcomes. The GM will have to stat up the bad guys, pick their names and genders, and draw any maps, but apart from that, these are ready to go. There should be some sort of law forcing all RPGs to include this much plot related material.

Where Battleship Alamo falls down is the setting stuff. Don’t get me wrong - the setting is cool. It is just a hell of a lot to digest and needed some (a) better indexing; (b) maps, and (c ) bullet point lists or TL;DR sidebars. For instance, there is a long description of where all the crew positions, airlock, elevator etc are on the bridge. Seriously dude - draw a fekking diagram. Then I and all the players can simultaneously tell X is to the left of Y and A is more cramped than B just by looking at it.

There is also stuff which may be as plain as day to folk who have read the novels, but had me going Huh? or WTF? Examples:

  1. Finding brown dwarf star systems is really important. Because. Reasons.

  2. The hyperspace drive/jump points have something to do with gravitational stability at LaGrange points. “And only then when both bodies have at least a reasonable comparative mass. Mars:Sol and Callisto:Jupiter are about at the lower limit of possibility. This means that Mercury, Venus and Uranus have no [jump] points.” Um, so if we are talking about mass, then Earth:Sol is a bigger number than Mars:Sol, but so is Venus:Sol, so why is there a jump point to Earth, but not to Venus???

  3. C’mon where’s the map of the solar system? It just has to be a simple diagram of orbital rings and dots to represent planets and relevant bits of asteroid belt, with (say) green dots for places with jump points and red dots for places without 'em.

  4. The Ecocaust gets referenced a lot. So an ecological catastrophe on Earth, but not much in the way of details.

Then my personal bugbear in many, many mil SF settings: gravity. There is no mention of artificial gravity. There is spin gravity and zero g on ships. Mars, Callisto and Titan are very likely to be the homeworlds of the PCs. Earth and the Moon (Lunar Republic) will be the homeworlds of the bad guys. This may be the settings’ fault rather than the RPG’s fault, but there is nary a word on how gravity affects your physical stats, nor what happens when an Espatier born and bred in Earth’s 1g gets into a wrestling match with someone born and bred in the Lunar Republic’s 0.11g… Not to mention the Lunar guy who comes to Earth breaking his bones, flopping about like a beached whale, then dying of a stroke…

So this one goes in my “might run” pile, but I probably need to read one or two of the novels first.

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I’ve read a couple of books recently (neither of them related to this, I think) in which Lagrange points are also jump points, in one case explicitly because “there’s no gravity”. Um.

If this is the same as the Battlecruiser Alamo series by Richard Tongue, they’re up to 28 books – which isn’t a disqualifier but it doesn’t make me think well of them, especially since the first one came out in 2013. That’s a Christopher Nuttall level of sustained writing speed.

I suspect that writers who grew up on television SF tend to assume that everywhere humans go has normal gravity (and indeed atmosphere close enough to breathable that at worst you need a mask that leaves you recognisable).

Yeah it just needed a few sentences of setting canon explanation. I don’t want a physics lecture, I just want some guidelines which I can use to create my own solar systems, or be able to answer players who say “Can we go to [insert name of Kuiper Belt object] then?” I want the zoologist-friendly version of the astronomy/physics!

For instance, I’d like to know the travel times from the Lagrange points in the Earth-Moon neck of the woods to actually arriving on the planet. Hours? Days? Weeks?