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Lord Liaden

Terran Empire plus

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During the discussion on the thread, The Turakian Age is Seriously Underrated, it was brought to my attention that not only were many folks unfamiliar with that fantasy setting published by Hero Games, but the degree to which other books in the Fantasy Hero line were directly connected to it, providing supporting elaboration for various facets of its world. It occurred to me that Hero's signature sci-fi setting might also suffer from a similar misconception. Just as with the Turakian Age, most of Hero's science-fiction books use the Terran Empire as their default reference, in some cases even more than their fantasy books do for TA.

 

The centerpiece of the line is, or course, the Terran Empire source book. While the majority of the book details this future era when Humanity has forged a major interstellar empire from a human perspective, it also spends considerable time surveying the history, culture, and technology of other races of the galaxy, major and minor, including character templates. Not everyone has noticed that Steve Long co-wrote TE with sci-fi author and game designer, James Cambias, who brings his rich imagination and narrative style to the project.

 

Scourges Of The Galaxy, written by Jason Walters, provides extensive backgrounds and full games stats for a host of NPCs, solo or part of organizations, drawn directly from the galaxy of the TE era. In many cases they're elaborations of people or groups mentioned in Terran Empire. Another book, Worlds Of Empire, surveys nearly two dozen alien planets both within and outside the Empire. Quite a few of those are notably exotic compared to Earth. The environment and geography of each planet is laid out, including planetary Mercator projection maps. In a number of cases the planets have native inhabitants, whose history and culture are spelled out in even richer detail than in the core book. Spacers Toolkit provides descriptions, stats and, often, illustrations for even more weapons, equipment, and vehicles used during the Terran Empire era, both by humans and aliens.

 

Other Hero books, while not set in the TE era, build on precedents established for the Hero Universe's future. Alien Wars by Allen Thomas rolls the timeline back a few centuries, to the human race's protracted war for survival versus the horrific Xenovores. Besides providing a less "imperial" human society, the book adds even more alien races to the galaxy's population.

 

Shifting out of the Star Hero line, Champions Beyond elaborates the "space/cosmic" side of the company's present-day, superhero-dominated Earth, by infusing most of the aliens from their sci-fi books (adjusted for this earlier period in their history), and adding even more. Nearly eighty species are mentioned in that book, with details ranging from a couple of paragraphs up to multi-page chapters which include home world description comparable to what's in Worlds Of Empire, history, culture, technology, and representative individuals. CB also introduces such classic comic-book sci-fi features as super-advanced aliens, planet-eaters, and "cosmic entities."

 

For a "Legion of Superheroes" - type campaign, Galactic Champions moves the time line forward past the Terran Empire period, to when Mankind and other interstellar civilizations have formed a vast Galactic Federation. Various "superheroes" and "supervillains" are provided, again based on the history and races established throughout Hero's space books.

 

The Hero Games website used to host several free supplements to its Star Hero line, which can still be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Several forms for help creating and recording info about alien species, planets, and star sectors are linked to here. You can also download a simple application to randomly generate sectors of your own galaxy, based on the tables from the Star Hero genre book, from here. Finally, on this webpage you'll find links to free color "astropolitical" maps of the Milky Way galaxy at the time of the Terran Empire, in several sizes/resolutions.

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With the treatment of the Turakian Age setting on the FH sub-forum having apparently run its course, I thought I would try to provoke a little discussion of Hero's signature sci-fi setting; which as I outlined above, far transcends the Terran Empire book alone. IMHO the Hero version of the Milky Way Galaxy is where the richness of the unified Hero Universe really shines. The official time-line of civilization in the galaxy extends hundreds of thousands, and in a few instances millions and even billions, of years into the past; and a thousand years into the future. The history of Humanity's place in galactic society is covered in detail over multiple eras suitable as individual game settings. The combined Star Hero and Champions books deal with nearly eighty sapient species, quite a few at some length: biology, history, government, society and culture, home worlds; often also at various stages in their history. Coverage for both the sci-fi and superhero genres makes it easy to draw elements from one into games for the other.

 

Who else has experience with or opinions of Hero's space/future materials that they'd like to share? They don't all have to be positive, either -- constructive criticism is always welcome. :)

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Terran Empire has a lot going for it. Where it stumbles, I feel, is in a number of areas:

  • Plenty of setting material but no established central conflict/crisis driving the drama/action for the whole setting. I.e., the product line lacks focus.
  • No adventure modules that interact with an established central conflict/crisis. (Only a brief chapter with "plot seeds" and ideas/advice for GMs who want to devise their own over-arching crisis/plot line.)
  • No effort to market the setting to non-HERO players and get potential new customers excited about it.

A better approach would have been to establish one central conflict gripping the entire universe and make the first Terran Empire book about that crisis and only detail the setting material necessary to flesh out that crisis enough to get a campaign started, along with a starting adventure that puts the PCs right in the middle of the crisis in some fashion. Later books can expand the setting material as the crisis itself expands and covers more territory. Basically a Plot Point Campaign approach with supplements to support it.

 

I think Terran Empire serves as a good example of decent, creative content packaged and presented in a way guaranteed from the start to remain obscure, if not ignored outright, in the marketplace.

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23 minutes ago, zslane said:

Terran Empire has a lot going for it. Where it stumbles, I feel, is in a number of areas:

  • Plenty of setting material but no established central conflict/crisis driving the drama/action for the whole setting. I.e., the product line lacks focus.
  • No adventure modules that interact with an established central conflict/crisis. (Only a brief chapter with "plot seeds" and ideas/advice for GMs who want to devise their own over-arching crisis/plot line.)
  • No effort to market the setting to non-HERO players and get potential new customers excited about it.

A better approach would have been to establish one central conflict gripping the entire universe and make the first Terran Empire book about that crisis and only detail the setting material necessary to flesh out that crisis enough to get a campaign started, along with a starting adventure that puts the PCs right in the middle of the crisis in some fashion. Later books can expand the setting material as the crisis itself expands and covers more territory. Basically a Plot Point Campaign approach with supplements to support it.

 

I think Terran Empire serves as a good example of decent, creative content packaged and presented in a way guaranteed from the start to remain obscure, if not ignored outright, in the marketplace.

 

Pretty much spot on.  I favored Alien Wars over Terran Empire myself, but it suffers from basically the same issues. 

Leaving aside either setting having zero campaign/adventure support, they both suffer from the whole "Ships as Characters" mess that permeates not just Hero, but many RPG's. 

 

Ships in scifi are just like a Tavern or Inn in a fantasy game.  They are a location for the PC's to move around in as they adventure.  Just because the location also moves doesn't change that.  But like I said that is not a unique issue to Hero.

 

But what is a major issue that has been chewed over for years is the lack of actual adventure support, so I'll just agree and leave that too.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, Spence said:

They both suffer from the whole "Ships as Characters" mess that permeates not just Hero, but many RPG's

 

 

 

 

 

This is not the first time you've said this, and every time I think I have a handle on what you're saying, you follow up with a comment that throws me another curve. 

 

Can you elaborate on just what it is that you mean when you say that? 

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The concern over published adventures, as part of support for the setting, is a reasonable one, and is commonly raised in connection with Hero Games during the DOJ era. I'll just point out that, while they certainly don't replace dedicated adventure "modules," a few adventures directly based in the Terran Empire or Alien Wars settings were presented in Digital Hero.

 

YOUR HOROSCOPE FOR: CANCER: The Shiseki, Star Hero’s crablike alien enemies, are claiming to defect. Is it real, or a ruse? DH 11, PAGE 21

THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY: Can three races that hate each other set aside their differences long enough to defend their planet in this Alien Wars adventure? DH 20, PAGE 33

YOUR HOROSCOPE FOR: CAPRICORN: This Alien Wars adventure lands your Star Hero characters on an icy lake world full of Xenovores. DH 21, PAGE 13


THE HELMET OF DOCTOR DESTROYER! : Far in the future, an ancient artifact has been discovered which can prove that superhumans once walked the Earth. DH 25, PAGE 13

 

MURDER AT MONTEGO CAY: The Terran Empire planet of Halcyon has just experienced its first murder in a decade. Can your heroes solve the case? DH 45, PAGE 23

 

As Spence points out, the Alien Wars era provides that sharp focus on a single major conflict -- survival against the Xenovores. The Terran Empire during the default start date, 2640 ACE, during the reign of the Empress Marissa IV, offers a much wider range of play possibilities, often depending on where the campaign is based: exploration, fighting a range of organized crime, trading ventures, smuggling and other "criminal" pursuits, conspiracies, espionage, pursuing pirates, political maneuvering, border conflicts with other galactic powers, "tomb raider" archaeological expeditions or tech-scavenging among many defunct civilizations, rebellions against oppressive regimes, and so on. As written it's a period of apparent stability between eras of great political upheaval. It wouldn't require much to move a little back or forward on the timeline to base a campaign in those eras. The Empire also faces outside threats from hostile aliens, such as the Ackálians, Thorgons, and Varanyi. The first two make good straight-up military foes, while the third is tailor-made for espionage and subversion.

Scourges Of The Galaxy also provides major opponents who could be the focus of entire campaigns, notably Geiger Cray, who plans to subvert the Mind Police and use them to seize control of the Terran Empire; and the Church of the Infinite Dark, which brings Lovecraftian horror to a sci-fi universe, and is an existential threat to the entire galaxy.
 

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2 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

 

This is not the first time you've said this, and every time I think I have a handle on what you're saying, you follow up with a comment that throws me another curve. 

 

Can you elaborate on just what it is that you mean when you say that? 

 

Hmm…  OK, I’ll try to….

 

I’ll start with a tavern in a fantasy game.  Most people I know will draw out a rough floorplan and note any NPC’s that may be there.  We don’t see anyone stat’ing out the bar, the doors, the building beams and the tables.  That is because the tavern is a location that the PC’s move around in, not an actual character. 

 

A horse or a wagon may be given limited stat’s such as a speed and maybe a hit/damage point total.  But most will just improvise if it becomes necessary. 

 

I’ve played a lot of naval and space wargames where extensive details were needed in order to fight the ships.  But an RPG is not a wargame, it is a Roleplaying game.  A ship in an RPG game is not much different than a tavern, an Inn or a village, it is just a location for the PC’s to interact with.   A few rudimentary stats may be needed so the GM can more easily arbitrate any action, but in the end not having even a basic map of the ship while having two pages of games stat’s detailing point costs of 10 different laser modes is ludicrous for a game that is supposed to be about individual people doing stuff.   

 

Players will be able to get far more actual use with a general map/deckplan than they will ever get from a wall of text with point costs most of which are generally useless for any RPG session.   Knowing how many points life support costs does zip for playing out a hull breach scenario.  I’d rather have a basic map so I can point out logical places for airtight hatches.  A good deckplan adds to the adventure by giving the players something to plan around, much like the floorplan of the tavern enhances the bar fight. 

 

And I think I should clarify.  I do not and never have liked deckplans that are large enough to actually place mini’s on it.  IMO mini’s turn the game from a free flowing RPG into a tactical wargame exercise.

 

Hopefully this unorganized babble explains what I am thinking…..

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I don't mind saying that the aliens of the galaxy are my favorite part of the spacey side of Hero's shared universe. They're very diverse in their physiologies, abilities, cultures and attitudes. Some fit common and expected sci-fi archetypes, while others are pretty unusual and imaginative. I was trying to think of my favorite among them, but really can't pick just one. They're the ET equivalent of potato chips.:P

 

But as someone whose favorite genre is superheroes, I admit I feel the lack of an analogue to Kryptonians -- a race all of whose members are majorly superhuman, at least potentially. OTOH many of the official CU species can manifest super-powers just as humans can; although almost always less often, at a lower average power level, and/or over a narrower range of powers, than humans do.

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Thanks, Spence;  that helped a lot, actually.

 

Though it did raise one question:

 

If you view the ship as little more than a setting for an adventure, why are you opposed to maps of them upon which the scenario can be mapped?  Or is it a general aversion to minis and maps?

 

LL:

 

It's rare, but I have to disagree with you.  :(    Yes; some of the aliens are really creative.   _However_, the idea that the official sci-fi setting is directly descended from the superhero setting irks the piss out of me, and I have a similar problem with the fantasy settings all moving slowly one from another into modern day and supers.   Likely why I invested in a black highlighter for the 5e "timeline" thing.  Gah---    I don't really know what's lower than fan fiction, but that thing just smacks of precisely whatever is lower than even that.

 

 

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No objection to your disagreeing with me, Duke. :)  I've heard other people express dislike for the unified Hero timeline, but yours is the most intense expression I've come across. I'm curious, is that dislike based on intellectual objection to it, or is it a more instinctive rejection?

 

For my part, I'm inclined to think of the sci-fi future of the Hero Universe not so much descended from the superhero setting, as the latter representing one small era preceding the former. Given that superhumans disappear in the future, there's no need to refer to or even acknowledge their past existence if using just the space/sci-fi elements. By the Terran Empire period Earth's superhumans are generally regarded as mythic figures with no real basis in fact. OTOH I personally like to draw that historical through-line. It gives me a sense of continuity, and a deep well from which I can draw for plot elements and even characters. But as I mentioned on the Turakian Age thread, my mind likes to find linkages. YMM legimately V. ;)

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3 hours ago, Spence said:

 

Hmm…  OK, I’ll try to….

 

I’ll start with a tavern in a fantasy game.  Most people I know will draw out a rough floorplan and note any NPC’s that may be there.  We don’t see anyone stat’ing out the bar, the doors, the building beams and the tables.  That is because the tavern is a location that the PC’s move around in, not an actual character. 

 

A horse or a wagon may be given limited stat’s such as a speed and maybe a hit/damage point total.  But most will just improvise if it becomes necessary. 

 

I’ve played a lot of naval and space wargames where extensive details were needed in order to fight the ships.  But an RPG is not a wargame, it is a Roleplaying game.  A ship in an RPG game is not much different than a tavern, an Inn or a village, it is just a location for the PC’s to interact with.   A few rudimentary stats may be needed so the GM can more easily arbitrate any action, but in the end not having even a basic map of the ship while having two pages of games stat’s detailing point costs of 10 different laser modes is ludicrous for a game that is supposed to be about individual people doing stuff.   

 

Players will be able to get far more actual use with a general map/deckplan than they will ever get from a wall of text with point costs most of which are generally useless for any RPG session.   Knowing how many points life support costs does zip for playing out a hull breach scenario.  I’d rather have a basic map so I can point out logical places for airtight hatches.  A good deckplan adds to the adventure by giving the players something to plan around, much like the floorplan of the tavern enhances the bar fight. 

 

And I think I should clarify.  I do not and never have liked deckplans that are large enough to actually place mini’s on it.  IMO mini’s turn the game from a free flowing RPG into a tactical wargame exercise.

 

Hopefully this unorganized babble explains what I am thinking…..

I am of the opposite point of view. To me Champions was a war game simulation of Superheroes with RPG elements added to give the conflicts emotional context. This was 1981. The whole Amber Diceless Roleplay, and mechanical minimalism came much later. I do like fighting the ship. I do like minis on the maps. I think story is what you tell after the session is over. If you want to tell a story, write a book 🤔

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You know, Spence, I'm not sure your distinction between ship as space for characters to interact in, and ship as a statted "character" in itself, is really an integral distinction for a role-playing game. I can think of several craft from fiction that did function like characters in some ways, and whose capabilities often came into play: the Enterprise and other starships from Star Trek; the Millennium Falcon; the Jupiter Two from Lost in Space; the Seaview in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; and the two modules of Apollo 13, as dramatically presented in the movie of course. ;)

 

That said, I agree with you that more deck plans would help a lot with both practical utilization and immersion when on board the space ships that DOJ wrote up. It's not like Hero Games never published such things. I'm thinking of the crashed craft of the Old Ones from Wrath of the Seven Horsemen; the arena/dimension ship for the Crimson Claw in The Great Super Villain Contest; the salvaged alien scout in The Blood and Dr. McQuark; and especially, UNTIL's Swordfish super-sub from Super Agents. I'm sure there are others I've overlooked.

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I've got to get to bed,

so if you will accept it at least short term, I'll summarize:

 

It's an intellectual distaste.

 

I have no problems with separate worlds / separate universes / no; not a multiverse; it's just a whole different book now, and these two authors don't both write about the same universe--

 

None whatsoever.

 

It's not really enjoyable for me when two distinctly different writers tell stories in the same world or with the same characters (might be part of why I never got into comic books; I don't know).  It's somewhat bothersome when one guy steps in and just changes how the physics work.  And of course, there are my own notions of building and progression.

 

Supers isn't my bag, but I'm not exactly _opposed_ to it.  I can enjoy it, but I'd rather enjoy something  else, given the chance. 

 

Fantasy is a longing for an age that never ever was.  Sci-fi is a wondering about what may someday be.

 

Having to accept that it makes some sort of sense that what might someday be is built on a history of what never was makes me throw up just a little bit in the back of my mouth.

 

And in the case of HERO-- there wasn't even any _reason_ to do it.  None whatsoever.  None.  It wasn't relevant to _anything_ that had gone before, and nothing in the product line up depended on it happening.  You in no way had to even accept the existence of other genres to play any sort of game you wanted, as they didn't step on each other's toes unless you wanted them to.

 

In effect, Steve put an expiration date on the very birth certificate of every official setting-- every official game (all five or so?  Lucha, Narosia, CC, FHC, MHI.  Wait-- PS 238-- all six) that will ever be published.  Why would my team of barbarians and wizards and dwarves clerics be motivated to adventure and improve the world?  It's going to die and be replaced by pollutants, smog, cars, chain smoking, television advertisements, and people working two jobs just to pay their bills, wondering what the hell "savings" are.   Which will suddenly give rise to superheroes, that will make everything that awesome Palladin ever did look like cold soup.  Of course, that's going to die out too, and for no good reason, and after a bajillion years of magical realms and creatures and magical superheroes and super science all of a sudden we're going to fall back on hard science, real, people-busting-their-brains to make this a reality science--- without the aid of the super geniuses that just stopped existing all of a sudden-- and build these incredible machines that just a few years earlier were taken completely for granted yet have suddenly and instantly disappeared from our collective conscious along with superheroes, and then go off to have adventures among the stars....

 

 

Seriously.  It's cringe-inducing.  It's like when a six-year-old suddenly wishes all of his favorite book characters lived in the houses on his block.  It's just.....

 

It's bad, Dude.  It's just really, really bad.  I always feel like I should help him make excuses for how that accidentally got into the rules.....

 

 

 

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Fair enough.

 

Personally, I don't believe that all the people who got to live full lives in safety and freedom due to the actions of heroes in any era, count for nothing just because that era came to an end. In some places and times its appropriate for those heroes to be paladins, in others costumed supers, in others starship troopers.

 

But that's my perspective, which in no way invalidates yours. :)

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Some books that are supplementary to TE add considerable depth of information for several of the official alien races, giving role-players interested in those races a lot to work with. Worlds Of Empire details the home worlds of several species, not only geography and environment, but the history and society of their inhabitants: the Fex, Rigellians, and Toractans within the Empire; and the Ackálians, Dorvalans/Perseids, and Mon'dabi outside it. Champions Beyond devotes even lengthier chapters to those aliens who have interacted with Earth the most, and are only superficially dealt with in other books: the Elder Worm, Gadroon, Hzeel, Qularr, Malvans (who receive the most extensive treatment), as well as the Odrugarans and their Star*Guard.

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I think the desire to "stat out" starships, for combat purposes, comes from the fact that most classic science fiction treats starships as proxies for galleons from the Age of Sail. Most sci-fi adventure fiction featuring starships inevitably involves ship-to-ship combat as a major source of action/adventure. It is only natural that sci-fi RPGs that feature starships will want to offer some sort of ship-to-ship combat mechanics to scratch that itch, no matter how wargame-y that may be in the end.

 

A lot of SF RPG GMs I've met over the years have tried, usually in vain, to find a set of satisfying starship combat mechanics to use for such purposes and have either resorted to using wargames like SFB or Star Fist or Starmada, or tried to replicate the old FASA Star Trek bridge mechanics in order to give each player something to do during ship combat. I can't think of any cases where the GM, and the group, wanted to treat starships as nothing more than flying inns/taverns in space.

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The Spacers Toolkit equipment supplement for the TE setting was often criticized for devoting too much of its space to starships, and not enough for other kinds of tech. But I did appreciate that the starships for each alien raced emphasized their individual design priorities and aesthetics, following up and expanding on the ships in the TE book; making them uniquely distinctive compared to Terran vessels.

 

Between the two books a game group's starship needs should be well met... aside from the previously-noted dearth of deck plans.

 

Champions Beyond also includes examples of ships for each of the races treated in depth (for Sixth Edition).

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On 3/15/2020 at 10:01 PM, Duke Bushido said:

If you view the ship as little more than a setting for an adventure, why are you opposed to maps of them upon which the scenario can be mapped?  Or is it a general aversion to minis and maps?

 

I was unclear, I love maps and use them all the time, for notes and handouts.

 

I absolutely hate maps scaled specifically to support mini's on the table.  They take up too much room and severely detract from the game  because of all the side rummaging caused by trying to clear the area being used or people hunting the "right" mini.

 

A map that can be looked at for reference is one thing.  A big ass ungainly thing blotting out the table is another 😜

 

 

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Unless the space involved is going to be used for combat, I tend to agree with Spence. What's the point of maps made to miniatures scale if it's just for reference? However, if the environment is going to host a battle, then out comes the vinyl battlemat and the minis and a to-scale drawing of the space.

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1 hour ago, zslane said:

Unless the space involved is going to be used for combat, I tend to agree with Spence. What's the point of maps made to miniatures scale if it's just for reference? However, if the environment is going to host a battle, then out comes the vinyl battlemat and the minis and a to-scale drawing of the space.

 

Exactly.

I'll sketch out a the battle ground as needed, but just when needed.

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On 3/15/2020 at 10:49 PM, Scott Ruggels said:

I am of the opposite point of view. To me Champions was a war game simulation of Superheroes with RPG elements added to give the conflicts emotional context. This was 1981. The whole Amber Diceless Roleplay, and mechanical minimalism came much later. I do like fighting the ship. I do like minis on the maps. I think story is what you tell after the session is over. If you want to tell a story, write a book 🤔

 

Fair enough.  I can understand your position even if it is not same as mine.  It also helps me understand your posts better :thumbup:

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On 3/15/2020 at 10:51 PM, Lord Liaden said:

You know, Spence, I'm not sure your distinction between ship as space for characters to interact in, and ship as a statted "character" in itself, is really an integral distinction for a role-playing game. I can think of several craft from fiction that did function like characters in some ways, and whose capabilities often came into play: the Enterprise and other starships from Star Trek; the Millennium Falcon; the Jupiter Two from Lost in Space; the Seaview in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; and the two modules of Apollo 13, as dramatically presented in the movie of course. ;)

 

That said, I agree with you that more deck plans would help a lot with both practical utilization and immersion when on board the space ships that DOJ wrote up. It's not like Hero Games never published such things. I'm thinking of the crashed craft of the Old Ones from Wrath of the Seven Horsemen; the arena/dimension ship for the Crimson Claw in The Great Super Villain Contest; the salvaged alien scout in The Blood and Dr. McQuark; and especially, UNTIL's Swordfish super-sub from Super Agents. I'm sure there are others I've overlooked.

 

for the first part I think were talking from slightly different viewpoints. I am thinking about the game at the table with players trying to describe their actions. When I pick up a hero book and read the section on ships, I see the write up wall of text, all kinds of numbers. But I don't see a single thing that will actually help a player play his character on that ship. I've played many wargames, my favorite being those of ship to ship action, and for those I can see detailed stats as I order each ship to attack the other boom boom bam bam. But none of the information on that "write up" actually applies to character actions. For me it would be far more useful to have a diagram or deck plan so the players could actually visualize where they're at and an abbreviated set of modifiers to be applied to their skills when they're doing something with the ship, such as piloting, damage control or other actions. In the Alien Wars supplement the UES Antarctic Class Light Cruiser write up is pretty much useless to me. Nothing in the book gives me any concept of its actual layout, or anything about what a player character could actually interact with. It is much easier for me to get out a napkin and make up my own ship and give it the name light cruiser.

 

On the second, yes several adventures had maps for vessels in, but those were adventures. Prebuilt set adventures designed for the GM to run for players. What I am talking about is that whenever a book has a ship and it such as the supplement Alien Wars, then that right up at a minimum should be accompanied by a usable reference deck plan. When I play a role playing game I am not playing a tactical wargame. I can play Star Fleet Battles or Seekrieg and have a heck of a lot of fun, but that is a different thing. A completely different thing, then asking Bob "what does your character do?" and getting a response that involves the player utilizing his character skills.

 

 

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