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4.05.2014

Once upon a time in Old Japan...



It is the year 1603. It is the end of the Sengoku Jidai; the end of 600 years of strife. No more will the clans of Nippon feud and skirmish and wage war. Where once the government had collapsed and each daimyo was left to fend for themselves, now Nippon is unified under a single Shogun heralding the beginning of the Tokugawa Jidai. This is the time for peace.

At least, that is the hope.

Far to the North is the frontier territory of Ou. Ou comprises two provinces, Dewa to the West and Oshu - by far the largest province in all of Nippon - to the East. These two provinces were the last to have been established as the Yamato eventually arrived in this Northern area and displaced the native Uru-kai people almost 700 years ago, having finally driven them out of Nippon, North to the island of Ezochi.

At the very tip of Oshu is the Tsugaru region, a wilderness frontier far removed from the civilized urban centers of Southern Nippon. The Tsugaru is comprised of a fertile inland valley surrounded by mountains both to the West and East. To the North is the Shimokita Peninsula wherein lies the entrence to Jigoku via Osore-san. The Tsugaru district is known for its iron ore and its silk manufacture, and both of those commodities will insure that the wilds of Northern Nippon are never forgotten.

While to the South, Nippon is stabilizing beneath the rule of the Shogun, far to the North the situation is more unstable. The daimyo of the Tsugaru clans continue to watch for opportunities to increase their own prestige and power. Skirmishes are still commonplace and the threat of an all-out border war is very very real.

Against this backdrop the player characters will live their lives. Will it end in honor or blood?


10.12.2013

And now for something completely different...

A lot has happened since I've posted last. 

First of all, I've updated the domain to vargrmoon.com (with a re-direct from grim-dark.com until it expires).  Hopefully it will be a seamless transition, and i won't inadvertently loose anyone.

Secondly, Vargr Moon has passed the 5,000 visits mark!  Very cool, even though I have not been actively posting when it happened, I am still appreciative that people are finding things of interest here.  

The Firefly/Edge of the Empire game stalled out.  The sessions we had were great fun, and everyone really enjoyed the EotE system.  I'm hoping at some point we'll be able to revisit what I am calling the Edge of the Alliance.  I do have a bunch of notes regarding the slight modifications to the EotE rules that I am hoping to post at some point, as well as custom made character and ship sheets, and a couple of odds and ends for the setting.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play 3rd edition has started happening.  I've been wanting to run a game in the Warhammer Fantasy setting for a very long time but until 3rd edition, I've actively loathed the game mechanics.  Now with 3rd edition I am in heaven.  The system is amazing, and just similar enough to EotE that my players groked it almost immediately; but different enough that it is refreshing and exciting.  In fact, everything about the new game is exciting - from all the cards to all the bits and bobs.  It is space intensive, but we are managing.

5.07.2013

On the drift...


My apologies for the long silence.  Things are quite hectic at the moment and I am afraid Vargrmoon is on the drift until they settle down.  I do have several things lined up to post however, including my Firefly hack for Edge of the Empire, the first three, yes three, sessions of the Big Damn Heroes game, an article on assumptions in my Verse, and a couple of character sheets.  Thanks for your patience.  Keep flying.

4.23.2013

Realities of a Tramp Freighter



Firefly presented a fresh take on a concept that more or less defined the 1977 RPG Traveller; that is, a crew of Player Characters with a spaceship and all of the shenanigans that ensue as they strive to find a job, get paid, and keep flying.  Below we will look at what a crew of a single ship can expect when it comes to finding a job and what they can realistically expect to be paid. 


How are things moved?
Super Freighters – The vast majority of goods are moved in super freighters that carry hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cargo on strict schedules via well-established routes. And while they move very slowly through the black and have little to fear from pirates, super freighters will often have escorts none the less. Super freighters are owned by the major corporations of the Verse, are based in the Core Worlds, and cost millions of credits to build and maintain. There are not a lot of these ships and only a very small percentage are privately owned. Because of the overhead costs associated with running them, they only sail when they are full, and they only go to places where they can fully unload and fully reload their cargo holds. They do not make multiple stops, they do not shuttle things around, they do not land or go atmo, and they do not travel partially full. Consequently, they move from resource point A to resource point B, carrying a full load each time.


Large Freighters –  There are a lot of places that need goods that are not capable of purchasing a full load from a super freighter or don’t have the resources to refill one. Moving things on this middle scale falls into the hands of the large freighters, which are owned by smaller corporations. Still, these are large vessels that carry thousands of tonnes of cargo, but not nearly on the scale of the super freighters so are less expensive to run and capable of much smaller loads. However, they cost a lot to build and maintain, so they also try to avoid moving partially full. That said, these ships are generally used for moving bulk cargo from primary super freighter stops to other worlds in a region, distributing the load to the various planets in the area that don’t warrant a super freighter stop of their own. While large freighters can go atmo, they prefer unloading in zero g and letting smaller ships bring the material to the ground.


Small Freighters – Lastly there are the small freighters, the mid-bulk transports and the like. These are capable of carrying hundreds of tonnes worth of cargo and prefer to go atmo themselves to make deliveries, and are able to hop from planet to planet and colony to colony regardless of their size. Small freighters are either run by businesses that manage a small fleet that contracts specific routes or by private individuals that run tramp jobs as they can find them. This can literally be anything that needs to be transported ranging from a single computer to a herd of livestock. Corporate pilots at this level, who are part of a fleet are insured and bonded, which gives them a huge edge over private contractors because of the risk mitigation, so competition at this level is fierce. If you’re insured or bonded, you’re insured or bonded to a specific level, and you can’t (legally) carry cargo beyond that limit. For example, if you’re bonded for 1 million credits, you can’t wisely carry 2 million in medical supplies, and the customer can easily validate your level of insurance so they will know, unless you’re scamming them. If you’re a private owner, unbounded and uninsured, your reputation is all that you have to secure jobs; which means that if the shipper doesn’t know you and trust you, they won’t do business, and one bad deal (or even the rumor of a bad deal) can ensure you never get work again in that region. The more valuable the cargo, the more profit that can be made, but the more likely the customer will want risk mitigation in place beyond “I promise you I’ll get it there.”


What is being moved?
There are five general categories of trade that can be engaged in: Freight transport, Passenger transport, Slaving, Salvage, and Speculative Trade.


Freight transport is mostly locked down by the super freighters and large freighters.  They move the majority of necessities from world to world in such vast quantities that it makes no sense to ship any other way. Because of the massive quantities they deal in, their per/unit cost is very low so the only way to make any money shipping them is by doing so in bulk. Because of the size of the cargo, the risk is relatively low; no one hijack’s a super freighter full of grain and runs off with it, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is super freighters don’t “run” anywhere. Getting into the super freighter and large freighter business is virtually impossible, much like the railroads of the old west…if you don’t already have a super freighter, you’re not likely to be able to afford one, and even if you got one, all of the major corporations have their contracts locked down tight. In fact, most of the major resource producers have their own super freighter and large freighter subsidiaries and transport their own goods, further reducing their over-head.


Small freighters can only hope to compete in freight shipping by offering tramp services – that is, taking on small load, short notice cargo that would not be worth a larger ship’s time.  In a lot of cases these are one off propositions so there is no hope for a long term contract, or even repeat service in many instances, but the payoff is usually worth it to the small freighter as the client is expected to pay more for the convenience of last minute shipping needs.  Additionally, tramp shipping is often sought out due to its ability to ship small cargoes much faster than the larger alternatives.  There is little to no delay while waiting for hold quotas, or scheduling concerns.  A tramp freighter is often willing to sail on a moment’s notice, if the price is right.


Passenger transport is split evenly between large freighter-like passenger transport ships and the small freighter offering low volume passage as an alternative to high volume minimal convenience passage offered by the larger ships.  For some, having one’s own room and being able to move about an actual working transport ship with a small crew is more desirable than being packed into a shared stateroom and confined passenger areas of the larger ships.  Additionally the more flexible schedule of passage on the small freighters is often times more desirable as well.  On the flipside, the larger passenger ships do offer assurances and safety that the small freighters often cannot even begin to match.


Slaving is primarily done on the small freighter scale, as there simply isn’t a lot of it happening.  Slavery, while technically illegal under the Alliance, is allowed under the guise of indenturement – the fact that sometimes whole communities are pressed into indenturement against their will is besides the point. 


Salvage is primarily done on the small freighter scale as well, though a proper salvager’s license is required for it to not be considered illegal scavenging.  Salvage is a risky business regardless of how it is undertaken though, if the dangers of debris and wrecks were not enough, there is the ever present hazard of scavengers waiting until all of the difficult work has been done before they attempt to steal it.


Speculative Trade is the final category and again is almost exclusively the prevue of the small freighter.  Buying low and hoping to sell high somewhere else while avoiding pirates, scams, and malfunctions that leave you adrift in the black.  It takes a certain form of bravery, skill, and start-up capital to engage in speculative trading, but the payoffs often times far outweigh the risks, at least until they are stuck with a hold full of goods they cannot sell. 


Some mention should be made regarding the smuggling of contraband.  The Alliance has a zero tolerance policy regarding contraband and a crew that is found guilty of smuggling will be bound by law, subject to heavy fines, and lose their ship.  But smuggling remains the most profitable venture a ship can engage in.  The risks are extremely high, as everything is on the line, but the payoffs are equally as high for those with the moxie.


How do I find jobs?
I know a guy – The oldest, easiest, and most common method of finding a job is knowing someone who has a job that needs doing. Of course, this requires having contacts and allies out there in the industry that trust you and your good name. The better your name is, the more likely word of mouth will spread your name around and create more work for you. This is the least reliable method however, because it relies upon who you know and the off chance that they have stuff that needs to be moved.


Broker – Kind of like an extended “I know a guy” that you pay for, you deal with someone who knows a lot of people. What a broker does all day long is look for jobs for you, and takes a cut of your profits from the jobs you accept. Also known as fixers, brokers handle ship owners who know how to fly a ship but not so much how to run a business. If you’re dirtside for a day, in space for two weeks, and dirtside for a day, you don’t have much time to get a feel for the locals and their business dealings. But a broker does that for you. They make the contact, close the deal, notify you of the specifics of the job, handle all of the paperwork, and do all of the communicating. Then you show up, pick up the cargo, fly it to where it needs to go, and drop it off at the destination. That’s it. It’s like working for a Trade Fleet except you choose the jobs you do and can refuse jobs at any time…with the understanding that your broker may drop you as a client if you prove unreliable or too finicky.


Trade Guild – The trade guild is the closest thing independent ships can get to the stability of a corporate owned Trade Fleet.  Membership in the trade guild requires a regular payment of dues and adherence to their rules and regulations, but the tradeoff is an established clientele base and an excellent reputation for fast and reliable transports.  The trade guild operates a number of offices on every Core world and on many of the Border worlds (and a handful of Rim worlds). Ship owners looking for work keep an updated listing of their schedule and whereabouts, so that people can contact them about getting room in their ship for their cargo. This can be risky because you’re basically announcing your intentions to any pirate or scavenger that happens to be looking for targets. Potential clients let the trade guild know what they need moved from where to where, and how much they’re willing to pay.  And the trade guild posts the various jobs to individual ships based upon their schedule and preferences.


How much do I get paid?
Small freighters can expect to get paid between ½ Credit and 2 Credits per ton of legal freight that belongs to someone else.  ½ to 1 for freight that simply needs to be moved from point A to point B and 1½ to 2 for freight that requires a more active role from the crew, usually in the form of specific deliveries or the collecting of payment.  This is usually tramp freight, meaning it is short notice cargo or on a tight schedule.  A bonus of 10% is usually offered for delivering on time and a penalty of -10% for delivering late.  For illegal cargo, small freighters can expect to be paid about two to five times the rate per ton, depending on a number of factors – such as nature of the cargo and where it needs to be delivered.  Smuggling bonuses can often be expected for hazards encountered on the way, and likewise hefty penalties for confiscated cargo.


Passengers normally pay a flat rate for accommodations and food and a percentage of the fuel bill for the amount of time they are on the ship.  Unless specifically set up as a passenger transport, most small freighters cannot offer First Class accommodations which run for a flat rate of 100 Credits per person.  Second Class, which is normally better than any of the crew can expect runs 50 Credits per person.  Steerage is what can normally be found on small freighters, which is the same kind of accommodations a typical crew has, and runs 20 Credits per person.  Fuel percentage is normally based on the number of people aboard with a slight discount if the passenger can bring something else of value to the table (such as their own food, a willingness to work, and the like). 


Slaving normally pays 5 to 10 Credits per head with circumstantial bonuses or penalties based on a number of factors. 


Salvage has several tiers based on what exactly is collected.  For simple scrap, a salvager can expect 1 ton 2 Credits per ton.  Parts can normally fetch 50 to 100 percent of the full cost depending on supply and demand.  Whole ships are usually paid based on the amount of damage the ship has sustained and the costs associated with repair and resale.  But this can range from between 10% of the total cost of the ship to 90%.


Speculative trade is the most lucrative outside of illegal smuggling.  The crew purchases cargo at a low price per ton and hopes to sell at a high price per ton somewhere else.  This usually involves having a buyer in mind before making the investment, but luck also plays a part.  The speculative trade market is finicky and irregular in the best of times.  But in addition to simple payment, speculative traders are also in a position to barter for some or all of their cargo depending on circumstances. 

3.21.2013

[Session 9] To Wildseed and home again


The final session.  

Prelude
The Patrol is making haste back to Lockhaven with news of Weasel marauders within the Territories.  But there is one last stop to deliver the mail, and that is at Wildseed.
 
Weather Watcher
Millicent's Player again ops not to check the weather.  It is a hot midsummer day.

GM Turn


The first thing the Patrol notices as they make their way along the path that winds its way around hardwood trees and forest floors thick with dried needles, is the constant knocking of a woodpecker.  After some time, the Patrol eventually comes to a cleaning full with wildflowers.  The air is abuzz with bees and butterflies of all kinds, insects darting and fluttering about.  Foxglove and coriander dominate, interspaced with purple anemone, yellow arnica, and patches of pink babystars and red poppies.  In the center of the field, dominating the area is a massive apple tree.  Nestled at the base amongst the root system is the town of Wildseed.

Wildseed is known for its honey during the Summer, its dried apple slices in early Autumn and for its hard cider during the late Autumn.  There is a regular trade with Lockhaven since it is so close, though Gwendalyn does attempt to mitigate some of their frequent requests and only respond to those that are urgent enough to warrant the Guard.  There are two Apiarists here in Wildseed – one with Honeybees and one with Bumblebees.  Harvesters, Millers, and Brewers are common as well. 

Obstacle 1 (Animal)
The knocking grows increasingly louder with each step they take towards Wildseed. In fact the redheaded crest of the woodpecker can be spotted up in the Apple Tree, situated upon a thick branch that appears to be less than healthy when compared to the rest.

As they arrive within the town proper, the knocking of the woodpecker is almost unbearable, vibrating right through the tree with every strike like a massive drum.

The Patrol heads to the Guardhouse to unload the mail.  A small gathering of townsmice appears, each with poofy tufts of down stuffed into their ears.  

“Guard!”  One of the mice yells out in relief, “Guard come to save us!”
“The woodpecker has been at it for hours now.  He leaves at night and is back again early in the morning.  This is day three!  And we can take no more!” 

The small pitiful gathering supplicates the Patrol, “We’ve sent a request for aid to Lockhaven just this morning, but since you are here we’ll ask you to rid us of the bird, please!”

Millicent, still angry, rolls her eyes and looks to Finn.  "Is this necessary?  We need to get back to Lockhaven to deliver our news."  

"Of course it is necessary."  replies Finn, "We are Guard.  Assisting those in need is our duty."  He looks at each mouse one by one, "It's what we do."

Each of the Patrol - tired, annoyed, and frustrated to one degree or another - is revitalized by Finn's simple speech.  Even Millicent acquiesces and agrees.  

The Patrol assures the gathering that they will see to the woodpecker, but they must take the wagon off their hands and make sure it gets to the proper place.  Leaving Olivander in the Guardhouse, the Patrol heads off to deal with the woodpecker. 

Remembering the devastating beak of the raven, Finn has Walter fashion a shield from the crab shells they gathered from Calogero.  They also take with them long seeding hooks (used by the mice of Wildseed to poke the seeds from tall flowers) to use as make-shift spears.  Though the woodpecker isn't a predator, it could still be dangerous, so Finn wants to take no chances.  The plan will be for the Patrol to get as close as they can, and hide behind the shell with the seeding hooks at the ready.  Rona will speak with the woodpecker and attempt to coax it to leave.  What can go wrong?

The woodpecker eyes the mice suspiciously as it continues to peck at the tree. Rona steps cautiously out from behind the shield and begins speaking to the bird (she passes an Ob2 Loremouse test). She asks the woodpecker if it wouldn't mind finding another tree in which to hunt for food.  The woodpecker refuses, stating that this tree - this branch at least for now - is thoroughly infested with termites, a delicacy.  Why should it leave when food is so plentiful?

Rona relates what the bird said to the Patrol and they begin to discuss the benefits of the woodpecker removing a termite problem versus the annoyance of the incessant hammering.  Finally, after some time, the Patrol agrees that the removal of the termites far outweighs any annoyance.  And as they prepare to climb back down and let the town know, the woodpecker flies off.

Obstacle 2 (Mice)
Chagrined, the Patrol decides that they will still inform the town that the woodpecker, while annoying, is a benefit and that they should just deal.  While up in the tree so high, the Patrol notices the amazing view they have.  Far below, the field of flowers is an amazing tapestry of colors.  As they gaze about, one of the Patrol notices a pair of young mice running across the field in a panic, the yells and screams of their tiny voices carrying up into the branches.  Quickly the Patrol makes their way back down the tree to see what the commotion is.

A crowd has gathered around the two frightened, small mice, and when they see the Patrol they immediately push their way over to them.  "Please help!" they squeak, and cry.  One of their number, a young mouse named Bran, has fallen into a hole and seems to be hurt.  They go in to explain that the three of them had been playing Mouse Guard out at the edge of the Wildseed field.  They’d found an old spider carcass and it looked like there might be a Spider Wasp cocoon attached to it.  They were going to poke it with some sticks (their make believe swords) when Bran let out a squeek and vanished.  They heard him crying deep into the darkness below.  They told him to hold on and they ran back to get help.

Walter is a little taken aback that the mouse in trouble is named Bran (his own younger brother being named Brand).  The similarity is unsettling.

The young mice lead the Patrol and a small rescue party from the town out to the edge of the field.  They point out the spider carcass and cocoon, to which Millicent (after succeeding an Ob1 Apiarist test) notes is in fact a Spider Wasp.  She cautions everyone that the sting of a Spider Wasp is extremely painful and very dangerous.  It should still be a few weeks before it hatches, but still to be wary.

Nearby is a small tangled thatch of bittersweet flowers which seems to have overgrown and concealed an irregular stone circle.  Within the center of the circle is a rotted wooden cover, that has broken though, exposing a gaping maw leading into darkness below.  And from deep within, the Patrol can hear the soft whimpers of the fallen mouse.

Finn asks the assembled town's mice if any of them knew this was here, or if they know what it is.  All scratch their heads in confusion and have no idea.  Millicent and Rona carefully remove the wooden cover, revealing a hole that is not natural.  Sunk into the side of the hole wall is a rusted metal rung, and over two mouse-lengths below the first rung is a second, and below that a third.  Around the edge of the hole are carvings.

Millicent calls Finn over.  (I call for Finn to make an Ob1 Militarist test and Rona to make an Ob3 Loremouse test.  Each pass!)  The carvings appear to be of weasel origin, and seem to be marking this area as a supply area and prime target of opportunity.  Though the weasel war ended five years ago and to the best of anyone's recollection, no weasel invader made it this deep into the Territories, it seems perhaps at one time they had!  Or at least scouts had reconnoitered this deep in.

The Patrol makes their way into the hole.  All pass an Ob2 Climbing test as they drop from rung to rung and descend over 5 fargles into the ground.  At the bottom is a small staging area covered in mushrooms, upon which young Bran broke his fall.  In spite of the mushrooms, Bran did injure his leg.  Walter sets the broken bone (taking an Ob3 Healer test and succeeding) as Finn calls for a rope to be lowered down.  Once stabilized, the Patrol bundles Bran up safe and he is raised up to the rescue party above.  Finn lets the town's mice know that they will be exploring below and to mark this area off as dangerous.

With Bran safe, the Patrol explores the staging area.  A slow moving river winds through the cavern, a wharf has been constructed and a boat, not of mouse manufacture, is moored to it.  They find more weasel carvings on the wall of the cavern (these indicate Lockhaven to the South and Thistledown to the East), and a rack with an assortment of weasel-sized weapons.  Finn dumps the weapons into the black depths of the river.  The boat appears to have been moored to the wharf for at least 5 years.  Curiously, the oars seem to be able to double as spears, which is a chilling thought.

Their minds made up, the Patrol decides to take the boat and follow the river towards Lockhaven.  Being constructed for weasels and not mice, the boat is a bear to steer, but at least the current is gentle and it only bumps the cavern sides half a dozen times or so during their day and a half journey.

Along the way they encounter more carvings, and at each one Finn pauses to chip them away.  At one point, they encounter one more cache of stored weapons, which Finn dumps into the river before they continue on.  Finally the river empties into a large underground lake.

It takes the Patrol a bit of time to explore the edges of the lake, and to eventually discover the massive rock stalactite and stalagmite that have formed a column in the center of the lake.  A wharf has been built on a small staging area by the column, and they mice can see where the weasels have broken through the column itself into a hollow center.  Peering into the hollow center the Patrol sees light way up at the top and a bucket on a rope drops down!

"Are we under Lockhaven?" the Patrol asks one another.  Millicent decides to climb the rope up.  At the top, she surprises a young Tenderpaw collecting water in the well room, a task she herself did many times as a Tenderpaw.  Leaping into the room, she tells the surprised mouse that she is Guard and to summon help which he does (later, Millicent will chastise the Tenderpaw for not sounding an alarm).

The rest of the Patrol make their way up the well, and they request audience with Gwendolyn. 

End GM turn

Begin Player turn

After freshening up and taking a meal, the Patrol meets with their leader Gwendolyn.  To their surprise, Gwendolyn knows each of the Patrol by name.  Before her, laid out on a massive table is a huge map of the Territories.  Upon the map are tiny colored pawns, each representing a member of the Guard going about their duties.  She takes the pawn from Frostic and joins it with the pawns representing Finn's Patrol and places the lot of them upon Lockhaven.

The Patrol goes on to explain what they discovered - they tell of their ordeal with the weasel marauders, the weasel tunnels and weapons, and of the markings that clearly indicate that at some point during the war, the weasels made it much farther into the Territories than anyone ever dreamed.

Walter, unable to contain himself any longer, places his own carefully drawn map in front of Gwendolyn and explains how traps and portcullises can be set up to prohibit the tunnels from being used in the future.  Impressed, Gwendolyn tasks Walter with not only leading in the construction of these defenses, but in their design as well.  A task that suits Walter perfectly.

As to Finn, Millicent, and Rona, she gives each a promotion and asks what they would like to do now.  All agree to spend the winter in Lockhaven and go out on Patrol again come Spring.

And it is here that we ended the game.  Since Walter's Player would be moving out of the country, it made sense to give Walter a promotion and job that would keep him from going out on Patrol ever again.  As for Finn, Millicent, and Rona... we may join up with them again come Spring.



Instead of a normal end session, we did a Winter Session (p.158) at this point.  Each mouse aged 12 months, and each increased three skills.  As a group we reflected upon the past sessions and each mouse gained a new trait, changed or elevated a trait, and received their Rank promotions.  

Upon reflection, Mouse Guard is an amazing game.  I think it suffers a little from the formulaic GM turn/Player turn dynamic, and definitely suffers from the GM turn must be go-go-go adversity formula.  But as we as a group discovered, we can sprinkle in some more traditional approaches to a session's construction and still pull off a successful Mouse Guard game.

As a GM, it is quite possibly the easiest game I've ever run.  Preparing for each session was really simple - just get a couple of ideas, make sure I had any NPCs ready to go, and have some ideas in place for any Twists that might come up, and the Players do the rest.  As a group we all loved the lack of XP system for increasing skills and traits.  That system may find its way into other games I run.