Friday, May 31, 2013

The Patrol Ends

I have been writing all along on the AP for my In Harm's Way: Pigboats campaign so I should tell you the first patrol is done. The Pike is safely tied to a dock in Fremantle. She had no radio, radar, periscopes, deck gun or AA gun. She could dive, but not deeper than 100 feet, and only with the punps going full bore. She made it by going cautiously the long way around, east of Timor, where the shipping and patrols were least.

Because they had no way to communicate, Mr. Vaugirard, the XO, went into Fremantle on a rubber raft with a couple ratings to arrange a rendezvous. No-one as yet knows about the spectacular end to the patrol, as the Pike's messages ceased after the received the ULTRA message. Ray and Bobby have mentioned it casually to the Captain, but he thinks they are joking, and is not amused.

We will resume play this coming Monday!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Goodby, Mr. Vance.

What more can I say? Your words will be rattling around in this old head until I join you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Ours

From our Monday night In Harm's Way: Pigboats game:

At sunset, the Pike and the Galatea rendezvoused in a channel between two islands just off the Surigao Strait. Mr. Vaugirard went aboard the Pike to confer with the Skipper and officers. "Wanna have a look at my new love?" he asked Ray. The skipper looked her over. "What's her armament?" "120mm guns fore and aft, four twin 20mm and two singles, and two torpedoes in the deck tubes!" Bobby said proudly as he pointed each out. "No reloads for the tubes, but she'll do 30 knots!" Ray considered this. "Any extra munitions or explosives?" "Plenty of shells for the 120mm and 20mm guns," Vaugirard replied, "And thirty odd depth charges!"

He thought, then added "If we're going to do a suicide run, I'll only keep the smallest crew. A lookout, and someone to run the engines and fire torpedoes." The Skipper nodded. "Remember to take the rubber boat if you don't want to go down with the ship."

For the next hour, they plan their attack. They figure that the task group, which is going from west to the east, will tear up the Surigao as fast as it can. Problem is, the Strait is 14-18 miles wide, and visibility in the rain and dark is only about 3 miles. The Surigao is almost perfectly north-south. The task group wants to go east. At the top of the strait, where it widens out, is a fair sized island, Hibusong, about a third of the way across the strait from the north.

"My guess they'll either take the east channel here between Hibusong and Dinagat, or possibly swing north around Hibusong then east." said the Skipper, tracing the route with his finger. The XO agreed. "The Galatea can wait up here, north of Hibusong, and still be in great position, and the Pike can wait here, behind this cape on Dinagat!"

Mr. Rizzo volunteered to go with the XO on the Galatea. The extra munitions were packed into the nose of the Galatea, and the depth charges were set for the shallowest depth. The wheel was rigged so it could be locked into position. They got into position and waited.

A little after 1100, Galatea's lookout spotted the task group. "They're coming up the east channel, like we figured, sir! A destroyer in the lead, and something big following!" Soon thereafter the lookouts on the Pike saw them coming too. A flattop emerged from the dark as well. "That big ship's a cruiser, Galatea" radioed the Pike. "Wait for the battleship." The destroyer had swept past, and the cruiser was going by when yet another, even larger carrier loomed up astern of the first. "Message the Pike, Mr. Rizzo! We want a carrier!" "Pike to Galatea. Take the first" "Let's go!"

With a roar, Rizzo opened up the engines full throttle. The Galatea leapt forward riding a white bow wave. The Japanese made no attept to fire on her, just a lazy aldiss lamp query. The Galatea's path turned into a high speed curve.  "Fire the  torpedoes!" "One away! Two away!" With that, a few guns began to fire on the Galatea. "Let's go, sir!" Vaugirard lashed down the wheel and leapt off, diving into the water. The two torpedoes hit first. Boom! BOOOM! Huge towers of water leapt up the sides! The light carrier slowed. Seconds later, the Galatea hit in a huge fireball. KABLAAAM! Then the depth charges went off in a staggered, rolling water-hammer underneath the flattop - BaBABOOOmBABOOOM! The middle of the carrier lifted, her back broken, sinking.

Rizzo and Vaugirard screamed in victory as they clung to the raft. "WE DID IT!" "Top THAT, Campbell!" They paddled toward Hibusong Island.

The big fleet carrier had gone around the stricken light carrier to the east, away from the Galatea's deadly attack from the west. Consequently, she was perfectly silhouetted against the burning carrier from the Pike's position at the tip of Dinagat Island. Ray Campbell was at the TBT on the surfaced ship as she bore in at 19 knots. "Bearing 2 5 1, range 1 5 0 0 yards! Shoot when we have a solution! Prepare to go about!" "We have a solution! Fire One! Fire Two!" came from Yoder at the TDC below, and the Pike shuddered. "Bring stern tubes to bear!" shouted Campbell. "Right full rudder! Come about to 8 0 degrees!" shouted Yoder.

Campbell raced back to the aft TBT on the cigarette deck as the Pike looped around in the darkness. "Use same range! This bearing on my mark!" "We have a solution!" "Fire five!" shouted the Skipper. "Fire six! Combat reload our last fish in tube five! Yoder - head for the cape and dive to 200 when we pass it!" "Aye sir!"

SLAM! BAAAM! Two torpedoes slammed into the big carrier. Fire blossomed and lit the Pike in sharp relief. A shell screamed overhead - from the destroyer or the cruiser, he couldn't tell. There was the cape. BRAAANNNNG! BAAAMMM! Two more smashed into the carrier. Foom! Fire spread quickley before KABAAAAM! she exploded! "Dive! Dive!" He hit the klaxon as more shells screamed in.

For two days, Vaugirard, Rizzo, and Sanderson the lookout had avoided Japanese patrols, lying up all day, and scavenging the beaches of  Hibusong Island by night. They ate crabs,  fish, and mussels raw, and drank from clear-running streams after popping in their water purifying tablets. It was night,  and they were scavenging a crab, when a soft hissing noise reached Rizzo's ears. "What's that?" he asked. "The radio!" shouted Vaugirard. "Listen to it!" "Hello? Hello?" shouted Rizzo into the small voice radio.  realizing how unprofessional that sounded, he added "Frigate Galatea." "Enjoy your shore leave, gentlemen?" The unmistakable sound of the Skipper's New York accent was electric.

The arranged a rendezvous.  The silhouette of the sub was frankly unrecognizable. It looked like bent and twisted steel that had survived a tornado. "What did he do to our baby?" said the XO softly. "What happened to the periscopes? The deck gun? The 20mm gun?" asked Rizzo as they were hauled aboard. " The Skipper answered "Dunno. Lost them somwhere. the Japs weren't too pleased with our shenannegans." The XO nodded. "They're petty like that. When you get beat up, you don't do it halfway." The Skipper grinned. "Your hand radio will be a major boost to our communications. I also don't think we can dive any more."   The XO replied "That's going to be a difficult ride home."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Simple Head Code

From our Monday night In Harm's Way: Pigboats game.

As the stolen Japanese frigate vanished into the night at a high rate of speed, Lt.Commander Ray Campbell's binoculars swept back over the anchorage of the port of Surigao. There, outside the minefield, was the burning debris of the armed trawler which had been patroling the entrance to the mineless double dogleg passage into the harbor.  There, not far from the military pier, was the remains of the IJN corvette the frigate had knackered on her way out to engage the trawler. There, at the military pier, was a crowd of bewildered IJN sailors, wondering what the hell was going on, and no more military vessels. And there, bobbing lightly in the protective enbrace of the minefield, were three small coasters, the largest of 700 tons, and the other two of about 500 tons. He took the binoculars down from his eyes. There, behind the cigarette deck of the USS Pike, was the four inch gun. Ray grinned.

He leaned over to the voice activated mic on the bridge. "Mr. Rizzo and the deck gun crew. Take battle stations for surface action!" When Rizzo popped out of the bridge hatch, Ray said "We can't let Mr. Vaugirard have all the fun, can we Mr. Rizzo? Let's take out those coasters before we leave this place! The Jap navy has kindly left the harbor unguarded." Rizzo and his men got busy training the gun around.
The coasters had realized they were trapped, and were getting up steam and hauling up their anchors  as fast as they could, but before they could move, a four inch shell exploded just under the stack of the bigger ship. BLAM! When the smoke cleared, she listed heavily to starboard and was plainly sinking. The other two had started their slow-motion dash to the minefield entrance.

The lead ship caught a four inch shell on her bow before she entered the clear channel, and slowed markedly, though she was not sinking. The other ship started negotiating the twisting passage. In between the first and second dogleg, Mr. Rizzo found the range. Bang! She caught a shell and was lightly damaged. Just as she was making the turn, another shell caught her square. KABOOOM! Her seams blew outward and the stack took flight as her boilers blew up. She sank in seconds, blocking the clear channel. 

"That'll do, Mr. Rizzo! Secure from surface action!" The third ship was damaged, and wasn't going anywhere with the minefield channel blocked. The gun crew kicked the shell casings over the side and secured the gun before heading below. "Make course for Awasan Bay off Dinagat Island." That was the first rendezvous. The second was in the Surigao Strait just before the IJN task group got there. 

The newly christened frigate Galatea swept into Awasan Bay. At first they cruised about aimlessly, then decided upon an anchorage - into the little bay near the tip of Hikdop island, near Limasawa. The steady rain poured down from the low clouds. "Who is good with radios?" asked Mr. V., skipper of the Galatea.

None of the PCs was any good. We rolled for the NPCs. Of course, once again, Coyote maxed out, as he had any time we made such a roll. He turned out to be an expert. If it weren't for the fact that every roll had been made in the open, the players would have smelled a rat! 

Mr. Vaugirard sent Coyote down into the radio shack to try and make sense of the Japanese radio.  The portable voice radio they had carried in had a range of no more than five miles on a good day, line of sight. Coyote messed around, and finally figured the thing out. He whistled Bonnie Blue Flag as he began keyping - being a pilot, he keyed in Morse Code but clear English: "Hey yall STOP Frigate Galatea anchor bay north east tip Limasawa STOP"
 The radio operator, "Sparks", got Mr. O'Grady and brought him to the Radio Room. "Listen to this, Mr. O'Grady!" He handed him the headphones. O'Grady heard the message, repeated over and over: "Hey yall STOP Frigate Galatea anchor bay north east tip Limasawa STOP" He acknowledged it as Sparks got the Skipper. "What's going on?" asked Ray. "'Hey yall STOP Frigate Galatea anchor bay north east tip Limasawa STOP'" answered O'Grady. "Well, we know where they are now." Sparke mentioned theat it had come in plain English. Ray replied "Now, tell them to leave that area, and find another hiding place, and encode their next transmission. And make that sound angry!"

On the Galatea, Coyote got the message and brought it up to Mr. V. "I take back what I said about you being useful, gun monkey." drawled Carnegie.  "Carnegie you can handle giving our next position in code right?" asked Mr. Vaugirard.  Coyote scratched his head.  "Y'all use some kahn o' special code? We allus jus' talk." At this point they realized they only had one copy of the codebook, back on the Pike...

Mr. V came up with a cypher - use the players' numbers from a baseball team, but key in the names instead of the numbers. The number of the player would be it's position in the alphabet. They were intending to use the Yankees, but there were too many retired low numbers. They switched instead to "Da Bums", the Brooklyn Dodgers. Coyote began laboriously keying the names in Morse, each name giving a letter, and spelling out where they would anchor.

When Sparks began writing down the message, he accused whoever was keying it of being drunk on captured sake, because it made no sense. O'Grady looked at the names on the paper as Sparks was writing them down. He furrowed his brow, and made a superb Cryptography check, figuring the cyphered message out, and brought it up to the Skipper.  "They'll be in the strait between Unib and Sibinac"

Session over!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Galilean Moons in Lowell Was Right!

The Jupiter System


Jupiter itself is blazing hot from its gravitational collapse, radiating far more heat into space than it receives from the sun. It serves to warm it’s mini-solar system of moons to a habitable degree, and it’s rich with water.

The Galilean Moons

All the Galilean moons are tide-locked, with the side facing Jupiter being warmer and more habitable.  Along the longitude line facing Jupiter, there would be light either from the Sun or from Jupiter at all times except during solar eclipses which range in duration between 2 and 5 hours,  shortest for Io and longest for Callisto.  Points away from this line of longitude would have periods of darkness with both the Sun and the lit side of Jupiter not visible.  The orbital periods (and thus the days) are 1.33 days for Io, 3.44 days for Europa, 7.15 days for Ganymede, and 16.68 days for Callisto.

The four Galilean moons are all inhabited by the Galileani, four closely related species of bats. The Galileani originated on Callisto, the furthest out of the Galilean Moons. Since then, Jupiter has collapsed further, and grown colder, so Callisto is drifting into an eternal ice age, and the Galileani have drifted Jupiterward, with the Callistans dwindling away in the cold.

Io is the hot-house moon, Tropical over most of it’s Jupiterward face, and completely habitable on the cooler, temperate outer face, Io is the youngest, smallest, densest, and heaviest of Jupiter’s moons, and the best source of heavy metals. The Jupiterward face is fairly flat, covered in lakes and rivers, with no real seas. The outer face is more rugged, with mountains and seas, and a fair-sized ocean.

Io is home to the famous Fruit Balloon vines, long vine-like plants bouyed up by hydrogen-filled bladders that undulate like streamers in the wind. Fruits of this plant are among the most favored treats for Ioans. Io’s gravity is 0.183G


Europa is currently habitable over its entire Jupitarward face. Fairly recently, it was habitable on it;s back face, and there are still some smaller cities there with local artificial sources of heat. On the more densely populated Jupiter-facing side, the planet ranges from tropical directly under Jupiter to sub-arctic at the Jovian Terminator.

Both faces have large seas over much of the surface, dotted with mats of Europan Sea Lilies, a favorite source of nectar for the Europans. There are tropical rainforests where enormous blossoms grow on the flower trees beloved by the Europans. Europa has a gravity of 0.134G


Ganymede is currently habitable over most of the surface facing Jupiterward. Climates range from subtropical directly under Jupiter to arctic about two thirds of the way to the Jovian Terminator. There are lakes and seas all over the surface, and some cities still living under artificial light out into the tundra. The anti-Jovian side is completely uninhabited, with nothing living. The gravity on Ganymede is 0.146G


Callisto is currently slowly icing over, with only the equatorial area directly opposite Jupiter receiving enough heat from the giant planet to remain habitable. Most of the moon is iced over, with many great cities lost under the ice.

The habitable area has a central sea filled with meltwater, and peppered with small, densely populated islands. Surrounding this are cool forest lands  with a small, roving population of Callistans. These dwindle into tundra and permafrost, and finally into ice. The moon looks remarkably like an eyeball staring into the depths of Jupiter’s clouds. The gravity on Callisto is 0.126G

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Something Borrowed, Somethings Blew

In our Pigboats game Monday night, the Pike was cruising on the surface off of the port of Surigao in the northern peninsula on the island of Mindanao. It was midnight, and a steady, soaking rain was pouring from low, sodden clouds. Previously the skipper had charted the passage through the minefield of a small coaster. In the Skipper's cabin, an argument was raging. It was about stealing a patrol boat from the Japanese.

It wasn't about whether this was a sane, responsible thing to do. No, it was an argument over how to do it.

The XO, who would be doing the stealing, wanted to go into the port, kill the sentry, and slip onto the boat, hiding in the bowels of the ship until sundown, whereupon they would rise up and take the boat from within. he was worried about planes finding and sinking the boat out at sea, and felt this would give them the best possible chance of survival.

The Skipper, who would be cheering from the sidelines, felt the best thing would be to take the boat and race right out to sea. Planes would eb slow to respond at this time of night. Besides, it was night! And raining! They would never see the boat in the vastness of the Pacific!

No one discussed the practicality of actually capturing the Japanese boat. That was a given.

The argument was won, as is typically the case, by the one with the authority of the US Navy on his side, the Skipper. With that, the skipper called for volunteers. He rolled a leadership check, and got 6 of 6 successes. Everyone volunteered! It was going to be one of those ridiculous roll days! The XO selected seven hands, one of the rescued pilots - the pride of Texas and super swimmer, Lieutenant jg Bolivar Coyote Teahen. We rolled to see what the sailors and Coyote would have for Sneak and Blade. The sailors got a +1 for Blade and +3 for Sneak. Coyote rolled the max for both, +4. Rounding out the party were Lt. Carnegie, the Weapons Officer, and Lt Vaugirard, the XO

They paddled the rubber raft in over the harbor's minefield, going along the shoreline to avoid the armed trawler patrolling outside the mines. They then paddled north to the military pier, where to boats were tied up - a corvette and a frigate. There was a sentry walking the pier, smoking a cigarette, but Coyote made short work of him. The rest of the men then climbed up onto the pier, and directed by the XO, swarmed onto the Frigate.

After a bit, Coyote reported ten formerly napping Japanese crew were now ex-IJN. The engineering crewman went below to start the engines, while the men singled up the lines. When the engines started, the XO ordered the last line taken in and the frigate shot away from the pier. As they shot away, they saw crew on the corvette beginning to man the ship and she pulled away to follow.

By this time, the frigate was halfway though the double dogleg clear path through the minefield. Mr. Carnegie manned the rear 120mm gun, and Coyote volunteered to operate the forward 120mm. What is his Gunnery skill? Let's roll! Jeebus! He has a mastery! Gunnery+5! Same as Mr. Carnegie! Lord! Like I said, one of *those* nights!

They both fired simultaneously at the corvette, Both were beautiful shots! Boom! The Corvette went down  like a collander in a swimming pool. Whooping a rebel yell, Coyote turned his gun on the trawler outside. Boom! A Lucky Shot - the roll had two exact matched for the TN! the shell hit the depth charges in the back and the trawler went up like a lit cigarette in a fireworks factory.

"What should we name her?" asked the XO as the frigate accelerated to 30 knots and headed for the assigned rendezvous. "What about that WREN you like back in Fremantle?" answered Carnegie "Oh! Gal! Yes, as of now, she's the Galatea!"

Session ends!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lowell Was Right! - Galileani 2

One of the most important things for any civilization is the ability to manipulate items to make things and the ability to carry things. Galileani can use their two thumb hooks over branches and bars, or rest their wings on the ground, freeing the two foot-hands for manipulation. In either mode, the tail acts as the third point of the tripod, and the tails are quite solid and strong.  In flight, items are carried in the feet and belly-packs. The thumb hooks are able close enough to grasp things, and are strong enough to support the whole body.

Galileani form temporary harems of about 1-6 females per male each breeding season, with the fittest males getting the largest harem, and many males - especially younger and undistinguished ones - not finding mates. Sexual selection plays a huge role in their society - with the definition of "fittest" changing as they became civilized. It isn't just physical fitness that matters now, as inventors, scientists, performers, and the like find mates with no problem.

Galileani are not at all territorial - they like getting up close and personal in huge breeding roosts - and are a naturally communal society. Tending and spreading their preferred fruit trees is an important part of their lives. As the Galilean moons get their light from the sun, but most of their heat from Jupiter, they migrated inward as Jupiter cooled. They are a highly technological civilization. Some of their preferred fruits grow on vinelike plants with gas-filled bladders that drift in the light gravity of the moons.

Their civilization first started with pieces of woven leaves tied between tree limbs to form enclosed volumes, heated by warm air rising from fires set in pits on the ground.  Drying fruit over the fires for preservation was been one of their first innovations.   Now they have cities with large open latticework buildings with jungle-gym like interiors.  There are no horizontal-surface floors, the lower surfaces of rooms funnel down into catch-basins for debris (their ancestral fruit bats are messy eaters, and traditional building layouts tend to persist). Food is now transported into the cities from the surrounding countryside.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lowell Was Right!: Galileani - The People of Jupiter's Moons

The Galileani are all related, descended from the same root stock - Callistans - and evolving after colonizing the other three moons long, long ago. Galileans are about the same level of civilization as Martians, having started at about the same time.

Callistans, and thus all the Galilieani - evolved from something very like our Macrochiroptera, the great fruit bats, and are certainly of the same order. They are large and fragile, having evolved in the very light gravity of the Galilean moons, which is less than half that of Mars.

Galileani stand one and a half times as tall aa Martians, averaging 3 meters tall with a wingspread about the same. They are too weak to fly in Martian or Mercurial gravities, and too fragile to even stand in Earth or Venusian gravities for any meaningful length of time.

As in the Macrochiroptera, Galeliani arms have evolved into wings with thumb hooks. The feet, however, have become foot-hands, nearly as nimble as a human hand. There is a short tail, webbed to the inner legs, to aid in flight. The legs are longer than in Earth fruit bats, and more flexible, allowing the foot-hands to reach up over the head.

Like the Macrochiroptera, Galeliani have good hearing, but do not use echolocation. Their eyesight is excellent and binocular. They have a good sense of smell as well. They eat over-ripe fruit and flower nectar.


Ioans are the smallest and least furry of Galileani. Io being the warmest and heaviest of the Galilean moons, they have lost most of their fur, retaining only a mane about their heads and a strip down their backs, all else bieng naked of fur.


Europans are lightly furred all over, and are specialized for drinking nectar. Their tongues are very long and tubular and their muzzles are longer and narrower than the other Galileani.


Ganymedians are much like Europans, with a shorter, broader muzzle and shorter tongue than their kin. Their tails are longer than other Galileani, with most of its length being free of webbing.


Callistans are bigger and furrier than other Galileani, with a very thick mane, and larger jaws for penetrating the thick-husked Callistan fruit.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Review of Volant is Up!

The line I think nailed it is this: "What I like most about this setting is that despite being fantasy, the how’s and why’s are very plausible and ‘real’ feeling. The setting ‘makes sense’ is maybe the best way to put it. It is not a world so much recovering from a magical apocalypse, but a mature world that long ago learned to live with its new conditions. Life has adapted to this set of circumstances, and it is once again about to flourish. It is a game of life – commerce, warfare, and politics play important roles."


Writing to Genre

I have been having a slow revelation. At first it was entirely unconscious, but gradually I became aware of the process.This concerns writing to genre. I have noticed that I no longer care about genre when designing and writing a game. It is only after the game is substantially complete that I even think about the genre of the game.

For example, when I was working on Volant, I paid no attention to what genre Volant fit into. It was only when I had sent the game out for Beta Testing and had to write *about* the game that it even occurred to me that I needed to pigeon-hole it. People use genre as a quick litmus test of interest - "Is it Science Fiction? Then I'm in!" "I love post apocalypse games!" "Steampunk? God! I loathe Steampunk!" Once it had passed the genre test, then actual consideration of the game itself takes place. Was Volant Fantasy? Yes. It fit the profile - kind of. Was Volant Post-Apoc? Yep - again, kind of. Was Volant SF?  Steampunk? Clockwork Punk? *punk? I threw up my hands. At a certain point, these labels had become meaningless to me.

Some people build around a central, typical story - "What do you do in this game?" "In this game you strive against the Overlord to win souls before the doomsday clock strikes midnight." "In this game you try to keep one payment ahead of the banks who want to repossess your spaceship." "In this game you purify the faithful in distant lands to prevent them from falling into apostasy". Of course you don't *have* to play them that way, but that was the designer's intent.

This doesn't work for me. I just don't think that way. I think stuff like "What kinds of stories could evolve in this place that would be different from those set somewhere else? How would these things affect what happens here? What would the people from this place be like? Why would they be like that? Would that be interesting?"

As usual for my games, Volant was defined differently in my mind. I tend to build games around core accoutrements rather than genre. Giant riding birds, floating islands, no magic except for alchemy, micro-civilizations, religions built on faith not proof, complex insular cultures, and sailing shps carved from the floating stone. These *tags* defined the game for me, not genre. As I looked back on the games I had written, the same pattern of building around accoutrements rather than genre asserted itself again and again.

Maybe this is why none of my games ever take off with the public. They fit into several genres, or none at all. There is no "typical" way to play. They seldom are usable without personalization - I give too much design power/work to the group instead of doing the design myself, lazy bastard! Even though I work within the traditional  envelope, people don't understand what's in them at a glance. Interesting - to me at least! :D