Arcane Game Lore

Gaming is not in the blood, it's in the dice!

3D Modeling – Retro Sci-Fi Spaceship Dice Tower

So it all started when I walked by the 3D printer at work.  The object being printed was square castle tower designed to be a dice tower.  And that got me thinking.  ”I wonder if there are any science fiction themed dice towers shaped like spaceships?”  So when I got back to my office, I opened up Google and started looking.  The answer: Nope.  There were a few sci-fi themed dice towers but for the most part they were just variations on the simple block tower with sci-fi art on them.  I wanted something a little flashier.

Now I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never used a dice tower in a game and don’t really feel the need for it but I can understand the appeal.  So I figured It was time to sit down and start modeling.

Basic Design

Vector drawing of the ship that shows teh rounded shape of the engines and the squat bulging body of the ship.

The initial outline for the shape of the engines and body of the ship.

Square castle towers work well because they are uniform in size from top to bottom, it’s easy to get the dice in the top and straightforward to get them to come out the bottom.  A spaceship dice tower was going to be a bit trickier.  Most ships taper to points at the top and the bottom, restricting the entry and exit areas for the dice.  It also needed to have room in the middle to allow the dice to tumble around inside.  I also wanted to go for simple as I was going to be 3D printing this and overly complicated shapes are harder to print.

So I settled on a simple design inspired by the now “retro” ships of the mid 20th century pulp science fiction stories and illustrations.  I started by sketching out a simple body design in Inkscape.  The goal was to have a somewhat short and squat ship that flared out large in the middle to allow the dice to tumble through.  The main goal here was to get a basic shape for the body of the ship as that was the most important part.  Additionally I wanted to get the engines roughly proportioned to the body size.  The details of the fins connecting them could come later.

Initial 3D Model

The next step was to build the initial 3D model.  This began by exporting the cross section of the body and the engines from Inkscape in a format my CAD program could read.  Once that was done, I was able to import the 2D cross sections and rotate them into a solid to form the body and the engines.  I then created some simple wedges to be the fins to connect the engines to the body of the ship. This gave me the basic body of the ship.

The outline of the ship rendered into a 3D model

Basic ship model

Model of the volume to be cut out of the center of the ship.  It follows the shape of the ship with wedges cut out where the tumblers will be insdie the body.

The shape that would be cut out of the interior to allow the dice to pass through.

The next step was to hollow out the middle, add obstructions for the dice to tumble against, and an entrance and exit for the dice.  I started with the basic ship body and scaled it down 5%.  The plan was to subtract this off from the interior of the model to form the central hollow space.  From this I cut out three wedges to be the obstructions the dice tumbled against.  When this shape was cut from the main model, it would leave material in the area of the wedges.  This shape was then subtracted from body. to hollow out the center.

For exits, I simply created three openings in the back of the ship between the fins for the dice to come out of.  I realized that the flat bottom of the ship wouldn’t quite work and so I added a cone to provide a slope for the dice to slide off of.

Next, I carved an elliptical opening out of the top of the ship, just above the first wedge as an opening to add the dice.  I realized that this was a little hard to feed the dice into so I added a bulge on the side of the ship that, when cut away by the opening, provided a bit of a platform to drop the dice on to and get them into the tower.

A side by side view of the initial model along with a cut away showing the interior.

The initial prototype ship. The image on the left is the outer shape. The image on the right shows a cut away of the interior.

Finally, I needed a dice tray.  I thought it would be cool if the ship was poised over it’s landing pad so I created a circular landing pad for the ship to rest on.  Originally I had thought about having the ship just rest on the walls of the pad but in the end decided to have the base of the engines in the wall.

This gave me a first design and I printed a small 3″ prototype with scaled d6s to test it all out.

The printed initial prototype with scale dice.

Printed first prototype with scale d6s

First Test and Iterations

All things considered, the prototype worked better than I expected.  The dice mostly tumbled through and came out into the dice tray without too many issues.  However, there were a few problems.

First, the dice would occasionally get stuck right at the exit.  It turned out the pitch of the cone I placed in the back of the ship was a little too steep and the dice were just barely clearing the opening.

Second, ship was too low to it’s landing pad and when the dice tumbled out and went under the ship it was really hard to read the values.

So for the second iteration, I made a few structural changes and added in the cosmetic details that I wanted.

On the structural side, I lowered the pitch of the cone at the back of the ship, nudged the height of the exit apertures up by a millimeter, and raised the height of the base of the ship by about a centimeter to give more clearance and visibility under the ship. I also tweaked the interior wedges to allow more space inside the ship and accommodate larger dice.

Cosmetically I added a number of features.  First, I created an aerodynamic cross-section for the fins and extruded that shape into a 3D object to use in place of the block fins I had used in the first prototype.  Next, I added some rings around the engines to them a little more style and added portholes down the sides of the ships to allow you to see the dice tumbling through.  Then I added a second bulge on the “bottom” of the ship opposite the one I had added to act as a dice tray.  Finally I added “landing rings” and cross-hairs to the dice tray as sort of a target for the ship to land on.

With this version of the model ready, I printed a second 3″ prototype along with a set of polyhedral dice scaled to be 22mm for the d20.

Model file and printed prototype.

Near final model and second small prototype. The image on the left is the model and the image on the right is the 3″ tall prototype.

Second Test and Iterations

This version of the prototype almost worked.  All the dice went through without an issue except for the d20.  The exit apertures still weren’t big enough and the die would get stuck just before coming out.  The solution was to lower the pitch of the cone in the back of the ship and raise the size of the opening just a bit more.

Additionally, I wasn’t happy with printing the ship and the landing pad together.  There is support material need to allow the base of the ship and the fins to print properly and it wasn’t coming off the landing platform cleaning.  I didn’t want marring the final version and so I decided that the landing pad and ship would need to be printed separately.

A full scale model of just the exit apertures of the ship

Full scale exit aperture test with ruler for scale

Since everything else was working fine and looked good, to test these change I decided not to print a full prototype at a small scale but rather to print a full-sized prototype of just the pieces in question.  For the exit aperture this meant just printing out the back of the ship up to the point where the top of the aperture was printed.  That way I could pass actual dice through it and make measurement to determine the exact tolerances in the final dice tower.  For printing the two pieces separately, I printed a portion of the engine and the bit of the tray that it was supposed to slip into to make sure the fit was loose enough for the engine to go into but not too loose.  This was necessary as 3D printing results in pieces being a little big bigger than specified (by just a fraction of a millimeter) and I wanted to make sure my tolerances were okay.

Final Prototype

After printing the full scale parts, I was happy with the way things were working.  The final step was to print a full-sized complete prototype to test out.  I started by printing out the ship, which took about 12 hours.

The prototype about half way done printing.  There is support material under the fins and body and it is printed up to just above where the fins attach to the body of the ship

The full sized prototype printing on an Ultimaker 2+ Extended printer.

Next I printed out the landing pad/dice tray which took another 3 hours.  At this point I noticed a problem.  Somewhere along the way I had accidentally scaled the ship down by about 8% from it’s full size.  I had thought it looked a little small (the openings weren’t quite the same as the partial prototype) but it wasn’t until the dice tray was done that I realized exactly what had happened.  I still don’t know how it happened, just what did happen.  Rather than reprint the larger, more expensive ship, I reprinted the dice tray scaled to match the ship.  Luckily, I had built enough tolerances into the design at this point that my prototype works just fine.

Painting

The painted dice tower is silver with metallic blue trim.  The dice tray is black with red trim in the landing rings and crosshairs.

The final painted dice tower along with actual dice for scale.

While I like the texture that 3D printing gives the parts, I wanted to test out my Dremel that I got for my birthday and see about sanding down the body of the ship to make it smoother.  At a first pass I used my Dremel to sand down all the surfaces on the body of the ship.  I then went over that with a finer grit piece of sand paper.  I decided to leave the fins and engines alone for the contrast.

After sanding the ship I applied a coat of silver spray paint to the entire surface.  At that point you could still see areas where it was a little rough.  I sanded the entire body once more until it felt smooth to the touch and then applied another coat of paint.  There were still some areas where it looked like it wasn’t smooth but felt smooth to the touch.  I probably could have gone one more round of sanding and painting to get an optically smooth surface but I liked it the way it was.  Finally I added some color by and painting the bulges, the rings around the engines and the edges of the portholes.

The dice tray was painted black with red in the landing rings and cross hairs.

Final Testing and Model Tweaks

In using the final dice tower I discovered that by raising the ship up in the first iteration, the walls of the dice tray were not quite tall enough and the dice would occasionally bounce out of the tray, especially if there were already a few dice in the tray that they could bounce off of.  Additionally, I felt that the opening in the top of the ship was a little small and so made it slightly bigger to make putting the dice in the tower a bit easier.  These are minor tweaks and I haven’t printed out a model of these changes but they should not cause any problems.

The CAD model of the dice tower with the

Offset style model

Traditional dice towers typically have the dice spill out into a tray in front of the tower, not directly under it.  I liked the tray under the tower stylistically as the landing pad but realized that it might be more practical to have the tray on the side.  To that end I made an alternate model with only one exit aperture and a ramp instead of a cone at the base and tweaked the dice tray to have slots to fit two engines instead of three.  In this model the dice tumble out into the tray that is now offset from the ship which makes viewing the values on the dice a bit easier.

Would you like one of your own?

I was sharing the progress of this project on Google+ as it was going along and several people expressed interest in having one of these towers.  They are quite unique and I’m quite happy about how it all turned out in the end.  In looking at the cost of printing them at work (the cheapest 3D printer I have access to), I realized that I could print them much cheaper myself if I had my own printer.  Given the interest in the project and the opportunity to save people some money, I’ve decided to do a Kickstarter for the dice tower.  You can find the full details in the Kickstarter Project page.

In addition to the full scale version which stands 8.6″ tall, the Kickstarter includes the option for a “super-sized” version that is a full 12″ tall.  The cost for the towers through the Kickstarter are $40 and $60 respectively including shipping in the US.  If the Kickstarter doesn’t fund, I’ll still make them available but the cost will be at least $50 and $80 respectively due to the higher cost of printing them at work.  So if you would like one of these cool dice towers, consider supporting the Kickstarter (which runs through mid Decmember 2016).  And if you have a 3D printer there is a support option for just getting the files to print your own in the Kickstarter as well.

Last Thoughts

This was a lot of fun to make the prototypes, test them, and tweak them to the final design.  I have some other ideas for alternate variations that I might pursue as part of the Kickstarter or afterward that might get another post later.  My kids have had a lot of fun just playing with the ship itself.  My 5 year old like to take it and fly it around the house.  I can’t wait to try it out at an actual game.

If you have any comments, thoughts, or suggestions, feel free to let me know below.


An Epic Monster Battle

I was listening to the Saving the Game podcast, episode 94 on epic monsters and the hosts put out a call for epic monster battles so I thought I’d write one up from the campaign I played in in high school.

The “monster” in question would probably be best classified as a form of lich.  It was of a race known in the game world simply as the Ancients.  The Ancients had been the dominant species on the planet some one to two million years previous and had been supplanted by a race known as the Swamp Giants who had been in turn supplanted by the current dominant race, the Glish some quarter of a million years ago.  All three of these races were reptilian.  Humans made up a very small fraction of the world population and were “aliens” having come from somewhere else.  (There is a huge history I’m glossing over.  When I started playing the GM had been running adventures and writing stories for over 20 years in this world).

In any case, before I joined the group, the party had woken up this Ancient Lich lord while exploring some ruins a few days north of the town they called home.  It the distant past, the Ancient (I don’t know that he ever had a name that we knew) had been the ruler of his people and a powerful wizard/sorcerer.  After the party woke him, he was trying to rebuild a power base in the current era and we would occasionally run afoul of his efforts and spoil his plans.  He would occasionally come after us as we were the only ones that knew his was awake and he was trying to destroy the evidence.

It all culminated in a battle in the ruins of Old Hottam Bridge, which was the center of his kingdom in ages past and where the party had found his tomb and woken him.  He had established an expansive magic gathering device and was funneling magical power from the nodes and lay lines in the ruins to a central location where he was casting a spell attempting to bring his city from the past into the present.

Obviously this would not be good for the countryside and we went in to put an end to it once and for all.  As we worked our way into the heart of the ruins, the scenery would flicker between the present and the past and we had to battle monsters from the ruins agitated by the changes as well as horrors from the planet’s past.

As we explored the ruins, we came across a massive gold wire, probably about an inch in diameter that pulsed with magical energy.  At first we didn’t understand what it was but eventually realized it was the conduit providing the magical power to the Ancient wizard and feeding his spell.

We eventually found the Ancient in a plaza surrounded by minions and in the final phases of his ritual spell to bring his city forward in time to the present.  The scenery was flickering constantly at this point and the Ancient city becoming more and more real.  Out of time and options, we attacked, attempting to break through the barrier of minions and magic surrounding him.  As the battle began someone wondered if it would be possible to stop the spell by disrupting the magical flow and a few of us (my wizard and a few of my retainers) split of from the main assault and doubled back to where we had found the golden wire.  As our group at the time had 8-12 players (I don’t remember the exact numbers) and around 16 party members, 3-4 splitting off was not a big dent in the fire power.

Examining the wire we realized that anyone touching it would be fried to a crisp almost instantly due to the power surging through it.  So we came up with an alternate plan.  On of the characters had a Bladesharp 6 spell (we were playing a modified version of RuneQuest 3rd ed).  And I had a spell that allowed me to animate metal.  So one of the players donated his scimitar, the other player enchanted it, and using my animation spell we used the sword to slice through the gold wire with us standing as far away as the spell’s range would allow and behind cover.

The results were spectacular (although disastrous for the scimitar).  The blade sliced through the wire (the enchantment made it possible) and released a torrent of magical energy in a huge light and energy show.  At the other end, the disruption in energy flow caused the spell to collapse and temporarily stunned the Ancient wizard.  The surroundings reverted to the present day ruins and the party was able to overcome and finally defeat the wizard once and for all, destroying the magics that kept him linked to life.

In the aftermath, as the group was sorting through the wizard’s treasures, I asked if I could have the wire.  Bemused by all the other things found, everyone readily agreed and I began to gather it all up.  In the end, it amounted to nearly half a million gold coins in value so I made out like a bandit.  Needless to say, I bought the other character a very nice new sword.

 

 


My Introduction to RPGs

I mentioned in a previous post that I was going to write up how I originally got involved in RPGs.  This is going to be that post so if you’re not interested in biographical information on about me, you can probably just skip this one.

Image of the Basic Rules Red BoxAs many of us that started gaming back in the early days of the hobby, I was first introduced to RPGs via Dungeons and Dragons.  In my case it was the Red Box Basic Set (I’m not old enough for an earlier edition :) ).  And like many, I played my first games at school, sixth grade to be exact.  However, in my case, it wasn’t at lunch or hanging out with friends after school was out.  It was actually in class and part of the curriculum (well, sort of).

The year was 1983.  I was living in Fort Rucker, Alabama where my dad was an air traffic control instructor for the US Army.  Being one of the “smart kids” I was enrolled in the school’s Gifted and Talented program.  Practically, this mean that one day a week (I think it was Wednesdays), those of us in the GT program would go with a different teacher to a separate classroom and work on various different or advanced curriculum topics.  I remember having a beehive in the classroom (it opened up outside and we got to eat the honey at the end of the year), dissecting an octopus, and a number of other things 5th and 6th graders don’t typically do in an average classroom.

My 6th grade year, one of the other students introduced this role-playing game to the teacher and made a pitch for running those of us in the class on an adventure.  Apparently he made a good case because the teacher agreed.  Over the course of the next few weeks, an hour or two of each class was spent with our desks in a circle, a character sheet in front of each person, and dice being passed back and forth to make rolls.

I honestly don’t remember anything about what adventure we went on, if the other student made it up or ran a pre-published module.  I do know it wasn’t B2 Keep on the Borderlands that came with the boxed set because when I got my copy, I did not recognize the adventure we played.  There were only about 6-8 students in the class so the group size wasn’t too big and I don’t remember if the teacher played or if she just watched.  I do remember having a lot of fun and thinking that it was something I could really get into.

My 12th birthday came just shortly after we finished playing at school.  I had a birthday party and the guy that ran the game at school gave me a copy of the red box as a birthday present.  I devoured the rules and then rolled up characters with two of my younger siblings (I’m the oldest in the family) who would have been 8 and 6 at the time and we started adventuring.

Of course this was right at the height of the so called “Satanic Panic” in the RPG world and my parents were a little skeptical.  They didn’t have a problem with the concept of role-playing games per se, but with all the hoopla surrounding D&D at the time, they were a little leery of it.  So it wasn’t a “Thou shalt not play role-playing games!”  It was more like “Maybe you should play something else.”  So we made a deal (offered by my parents):  stop playing D&D and give them the rule books (I could keep the dice) and they would buy me a different game.

Original Star Frontiers boxed set coverWell, I’ve always been more partial to science fiction than fantasy anyway and I had been eyeing this sci-fi game at the Post Exchange (PX) on base.  For those unfamiliar with military bases, that’s the on-base department store.  And yes, they carried RPGs on base.  It was called Star Frontiers and was made by the same company that made D&D.  So I handed over by Basic Set and my parents bought me Star Frontiers.  And if you’ve been paying attention, I’ve never really looked back.

I’ve played a few other games over the years although I never really ever went back to D&D.  Beyond the game at school and the ones I ran with my brothers, the only other time I ever played was a few sessions of 2e in grad school in the late nineties.  I own and have read the 2e Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide but have never ran them.

That’s how I got started in the hobby.  How about you?  Feel free to share your story or comment on mine below.

 


Old School Orginals

Recently in perusing the many RPG blogs I follow, one of the blogs was giving away some old RPG material in a contest.  To enter, you had to tell the story of how you got into RPGs.  I wasn’t really interested in the giveaways so I didn’t post a comment but thought I’d write that story up here.  However, shortly thereafter I ran across this great post by Rick Stump on his Don’t Split the Party blog about his relationship with the OSR.

While my time with RPGs doesn’t go quite as far back as his and I’ve not been nearly as consistent, I’ve been playing RPGs since the early 80s.  And like Rick, I never really left the old games.  Now admittedly, part of that is because I love and primarily play Star Frontiers and there has never been a new version.  It has its (many) faults but it is still a great game.  And so over the years, I’ve added, tweaked, expanded and generally modified the details to fit the games I occasionally get to run.

I’ll admit I was much more widely played in my early years having purchased and (mostly) played D&D Basic (red box), Star Frontiers, Paranoia, Middle Earth Role Playing, AD&D 2e, RuneQuest 3e (the Avalon Hill version, but heavily modified and expanded by my GM), Chivalry & Sorcery (shudder), GURPS 3e, and Powers & Perils.  That last is the game I’ve probably run more than any besides Star Frontiers as I ran a fairly long campaign (several years) for my siblings.

But you might notice those are all old games. College, grad school, family, and work have all cut into my playing time and so I trimmed down to just my favorite, Star Frontiers. And for a while I wasn’t playing anything.  I haven’t really started picking up new games until just recently.

That said, I’m always tweaking and expanding my core rule set to produce the world and game I want, not necessarily the game as originally writing, it’s just a starting point.  I think Rick summed this idea up well in his blog:

In the end this all boils down to two things, one of which I already said in another rant - I am always making my own game and just use AD&D as the jumping off point.   The second thing is something that I believe might separate me from being in the OSR – I am not interested in stripping down rules and mechanics.  My goal is to make a set of rules and mechanics that allow me to create the game experience I want to pass on to the players.

     – Rick Stump, Why My Default Ruleset is 1e, or: I Like Your Ruleset, But Not That Way, emphasis his.

I’ve never considered myself part of the OSR or in the OSR, for many of the reasons Rick mentions in his post.  I’d just never really thought about it before.  I create rules, mechanics, and setting material, and publish materials created by others, that allow people to tweak and modify their games to suit them.  Some are often contradictory or incompatible with one another but that’s fine.  They are never meant to be all used together.  You pick the things you want to create the experience you desire.  But the original rules are still there at the core.

Rick mentioned possibly taking the OSR logo off his blog.  I’ve never had it on any of my sites.  I’m not really part of the OSR, although, like Rick I publish things that could definitely be used as part of it.  What I really am is an Old School Original.

Old Scool Orginal logo. The letter O, S, O are drawn with a grid in blue as an old school dungeon map

Maybe I’ll start putting that logo up.

Are you an Old School Original?  What are your thoughts about the OSR and how you fit in?  Let us know in the comments below.


Why I Dislike Monstrous Characters

Let us start by determining what a monstrous character is. A monstrous character is character, be it Player Character (PC) or Non-Player Character (NPC), whose race is considered a ‘monster’ by the general populace of the world. In D&D I would consider the races of aarakocra, goliath, tieflings and even drow as monstrous races. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t allow players to play these races. I think these races would create interesting dilemmas for the player’s group in certain circumstances. Players with monstrous characters would need to hide their heritage in some way when in normal society. Unfortunately, I don’t see many players playing the fact that their race is feared and hated in normal society. Instead they just play another character and act as if they would any other character in society. When the angry mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks come after them, the party thinks they can talk their way out of the encounter, or they just slaughter the innocent villagers for being idiots. If the game master introduces elements that could be detrimental to the group, well that could cause a entirely different set up problems to the gaming group.

Some may argue that the race has been accepted in general society like the tiefling or drow, and to that I say hogwash. While I can see any race being accepted into a society, the history and justification would need to be worked out before hand. Drow must be seen as a non-evil race and tiefling must have moved past the fact that they are of demon heritage in order for other people to trust them. I can see people accepting a drow or tiefling child in their village, but the first time the crop fails, they are going to blame on that child and kick him out of the village. At which point the child will grow up and destroy that village and become a major nemesis to the players, but that is beside the point. If a game master wants to make a monstrous race accepted by the general populace, that is fine; it no longer becomes a monstrous race. But, in my opinion, you can’t have both. You can’t have a race viewed with contempt and also be accepted by the general populace at the same time.

There are some caveats; you can have a race that is accepted by one group of people and not another. I fully encourage this, but then the race is no longer a monstrous race. The hatred for the race is based on societal differences and not on the race being a ‘monster’. Of course you still run into the same issues if you go into an nation that doesn’t accept the race, but if your group has probably worked past the issues of someone playing a monstrous race. You can also have the race be slave-masters in the society, I think the race would still retain their ‘monster’ status and the player is playing one is accepted, but the other players, who are considered slave status, would be the ones trying to hide their activities. If the group should leave the area, the player playing the monstrous character would be in the situation of having to hide hos heritage.

All in all, I would recommend playing a monstrous race if the player is up for challenging role playing. If you are simply looking for better stats or ‘just to be different’, I would suggest the player reconsider. If you are not prepared for some difficulties with the race, don’t be surprised when your character dies at the hands of some racists villagers.


A Quick Death on Four Legs

A little bit of fiction for today’s post.

The attack came several hours later.  Meekail had ordered a stop and a chance for everyone to get out and stretch their legs after having been cooped up in the explorers the entire time.  They had caught glimpses of something large and silvery a couple of times right after examining the downed container but had not seen anything for a couple hours.

Hakdem actually saw the thing first as it raced down the side of a hill about half a kilometer away.  It’s silvery skin reflecting the light of the moon that was still up.  “There’s something large and fast moving this way on that hill to the east,” he called out to the team.

Meekail looked in the direction that Hakdem indicated but couldn’t see anything even with his eyes fully dark adapted.  The yazirian just had better night vision than a human.  “Everyone get back into the explorers.  Hopefully it won’t go after something large.”

As everyone started to hustle back to their respective vehicles, Talnor called out, “Too late!”

Meekail looked again and this time he did see it.  The thing was huge, probably five meters long and standing two meters high at where Meekail judged its shoulders to be.  It moved like a large feline but had a longer neck than you’d expect to see on any type of cat he was familiar with.   It seemed to be covered with some sort of shiny reflective armor.  Its legs were powerfully built and it was moving unbelievably fast.  It had to be moving at close to a hundred kilometers per hour to cover ground at the speed it was approaching.  It looked like a silver blur in the night.

As Meekail stood transfixed by the creature bearing down on them, Talnor called out “Use the vehicles as cover.”  He raised his gyrojet rifle and fired at the creature.  He squeezed off three shots in rapid succession.  The small rockets left the barrel of the rifle and raced toward the creature.  The first shot missed passing behind the monster as it raced toward them.  However, the next two shots were true and slammed into the creature’s hindquarters but didn’t seem to affect it at all except to give it a target.   As Meekail watched, the monster swerved to bear down on Talnor.

The shots galvanized Meekail and the others to action as well.  Belatedly, Meekail raised his own rifle and fired three shots at the monster.  His first shot connected but the other two went over the creature’s head.  Skz’Tik’a fired with her electrostunner.  Meekail couldn’t tell if the shot did anything or not as the creature didn’t react.  Hakdem fired with a rifle as well but all of his shots went wide.  Anton dived back toward the explorer and Deelar fired his needler rifle at the creature.  He missed with his first two shots but the third one hit.  However, it didn’t seem to do much, the needles just bounced off the creature’s hide.

In the blink of an eye, the creature was among them.  As it approached it raised its long tail and fired some sort of dart hitting Deelar squarely in his body.  Deelar staggered backwards, bent over in pain.

The monster had a huge mouth filled with sharp teeth.  On the top of its head were four stalks that each ended in an eye.  Each of its four paws had three long claws.  As Meekail watched it lashed out at Skz’Tik’a with its front claws and mouth.  As it did so, Meekail noticed that the eye stalks on the the top of the creature’s head were retracted back into the head, presenting a smooth cranial surface as it attacked.  The eyes reemerged as the creature’s head withdrew from the attack.  Skz’Tik’a’s quick speed and the creature’s temporary blindness allowed her to dodge the blow, if barely.

Along each side, the creature had three long tentacle-like arms that ended in a series of suction cups.  With these appendages, the monster reached out and grabbed Anton, pulling him away from the explorer and toward the creature’s mouth.  Anton struggled to get free but could not break the creature’s grip.

Meekail couldn’t believe the ferocity of the attack.  All of that had occurred in just a few seconds.  From his left came a blood curdling yell.  He saw Talnor, obviously having slipped into the battle rage that Yazirians were known to experience, charging toward the monster with his Kha’dan, a yazirian cultural sword, held high.  As he neared the creature he took a swipe at the tentacles holding Anton.  The creature dodged out of the way but Talnor still managed to connect with its body, slicing through the armor and drawing blood.

Skz’Tik’a once again fired her electrostunner, this time at point blank range.  The effect this time was visible as the creature shuddered from the blast.  However, this wasn’t enough to stop it from bringing Anton to its mouth where it savagely bit into the helpless man.  Anton went limp and Meekail couldn’t tell if he was still alive or not.  At the same time, the creature reared up and slashed at Skz’Tik’a with its front claws.  This time, Skz’Tik’a couldn’t get out of the way and was sent sprawling, two large gashes across the vrusk’s abdomen.

Meekail didn’t have any sort of melee weapon and firing his rifle risked the chance of hitting Talnor or Anton.  Realizing he couldn’t do much at the moment, he raced over to Deelar.  There was a large dart, oozing with puss and other fluids sticking out of Deelar’s midsection.  Deelar had collapsed and was starting to lose the definition of his limbs.  “Poison,” Deelar croaked, “And a nasty one too.  My whole body is on fire.”  Meekail yanked the dart out of his friend as the dralasite went limp.”

With Skz’Tik’a knocked back, the creature turned its attention on Talnor, the closest opponent.  Talnor’s enraged attack landed just as the creature landed a solid blow to Talnor as well.  The tall yazirian took another gash out of the monster, this time hitting it on its right front leg just as the creature’s claws connected with Talnor’s arm.  The blow broke the arm, Meekail could hear the bones snap, and the claws tore through his wing membranes as well.  Talnor dropped his sword and collapsed at the creature’s feet.

Skz’Tik’a, lying prone on the ground, fired her electrostunner once again but missed.  The creature dropped Anton who landed in a tangled heap of limbs and charged toward Meekail.  Meekail raised his rifle but before he could get a shot off, the creature had grabbed him with its tentacles, pinning his arms to his side and causing him to drop the gun.

Hakdem raced in to melee with the creature picking up Talnor’s khad’dan as he raced by the fallen yazirian.  With a yell, Hakdem slashed at the monster, slicing into its hindquarters.  As the beast whirled to face Hakdem, Meekail could feel the wind being crushed out of him by the tentacles wrapped around his torso.  Any more pressure and he felt that his rips were going to crack.

The monster lashed out at Hakdem with both its front claws and its mouth.  Again, as the head came forward its eye stalks retracted into its head.  That didn’t help Hakdem.  The monster’s aim was true and the creature’s claws ripped huge gashes in Hakdem’s midsection and ripped up his wing membranes.  Hakdem dropped like a rock.

Meekail struggled against the tentacles that were holding him in place but to no avail.  He could not make them budge even a centimeter.  He stared in horror at the huge jaws of the creature as he was lifted towards its mouth, being brought head first into its gaping maw.

Suddenly a burst of rounds split the night air as someone opened fire with an automatic rifle in full auto mode.  The beast collapsed and Meekail, still wrapped in the creature’s tentacles, dropped to the ground.  Unable to maneuver or try to catch himself, Meekail hit hard, knocking what air he had left in his lungs out completely.  As he struggled for a breath, Meekail saw Weston, who had been asleep when they stopped, climbing out of the door of the explorer, auto rifle in hand, and racing over to him.  Weston began to pull the tentacles off of Meekail to try to help free him.

Finally catching a breath, with his lungs burning and his body on fire from the abuse, he called out to Weston.  “Take care of the others.  I’ll be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

Meekail could only nod his head yes at the moment.  Weston looked at him and then started to go over to check on Hakdem.  After looking at him for a moment, Weston ran back to the explorer where he pulled out Anton’s medkit and ran back over to the yazirian.

Meekail heard Hakdem moan as Weston attempted to stop the bleeding and bind up his wounds.  “Darn monkeys,” Weston muttered.  “All this fur is getting in the way.”

As Meekail walked over and took some bandages out of the medkit, he saw Skz’Tik’a stagger to her feet.  He ran over to help her up.  “Take it easy Tika,” Meekail said.  “You took a nasty hit.  Are you okay?”

“Not really,” Skz’Tik’a replied.  “But I’ll survive.”  Taking some of the bandages from Meekail she added, “I can take care of myself.  Go check on the others.”

Meekail headed over to check on Talnor.  He was a mess, with blood everywhere.  Talnor was still breathing, much to Meekail’s relief, although he was unconscious.  Meekail cleaned and dressed Talnor’s wounds as best he could before tackling his arm.  His lower left arm was broken and bent in completely the wrong direction.  Meekail didn’t look forward to setting that.  He looked around for something he could use as a splint.  Finally settling on a couple of stiff branches from a nearby tree, Meekail took the yazirian’s arm and tried to carefully put in back into the proper position.

Talnor screamed, opened his eyes staring straight a Meekail, snarled, and then collapsed back down unconscious.  “Crap,” Meekail said, breathing rapidly to calm himself down.  “I wasn’t expecting that.”  With Talnor’s arm back in the proper position, Meekail bound it with the branches to keep it from moving.  When he looked up he saw Weston helping a very slow moving Deelar back toward the explorers.  Skz’Tik’a was standing beside Anton’s body.

Meekail walked over to Skz’Tik’a.  “How is he?” he asked, already knowing the answer from the way the vrusk was standing.

“Dead.  The monster crushed his ribs and I think one of them punctured his heart.”

Meekail sat down heavily and buried his head in his hands.  “Two dead. Four seriously wounded,” Meekail thought to himself.  “Out of eight.  Some leader I am.  Can’t even keep my team safe.”  He just sat there, letting the guilt and the pain, both emotional and physical, wash over him.

Deelar sat down beside him and patted his knee.  “There isn’t anything you could have done Meekail.  There is no way we could have expected this.  It’s so ferocious and lethal that it is just a quick death on four legs for any small group.  Personally, I think we were lucky to only loose Anton.  I thought I was a goner for sure after taking that poison dart to the gut.  And when Talnor and Skz’Tik’a went down I gave up hope.  But we made it through.  We survived.  And that’s what we need to keep on doing.  Let’s go.  Get up and get moving.”  With that, the dralasite stood up and walked over toward Skz’Tik’a and Weston who were staring at the creature, now lying prone on the ground.

Meekail sat there a moment longer looking at Anton’s lifeless body.  “No,” he thought to himself.  “Surviving isn’t enough.  We have to find a way to fight back and throw these invading aliens off our home.”  With that, he too stood up and walked over to the creature.

“I can’t believe how fast the thing was,” Skz’Tik’a was saying as Meekail joined the other three examining the creature.  “It looks too big to be that quick.”

“And it was either impervious to pain or didn’t care,” Meekail said, joining the conversation.  “It just kept fighting even though it was seriously wounded.  Most animals, after being wounded like that, would have broken off and tried to escape.”

“It’s almost like it was programmed to be a death machine,” Deelar added.

“What was it you said to me back there Deelar?” Meekail said.  “I think you called it a ‘quick death on four legs’.  I think that is an apt name, Quickdeath.”

 


A Couple Small Thoughts

The Explore: Beneath & Beyond Blog

I just wanted to give a shout out to Joe Nuttall (I wonder if he’s somehow related to my wife, Nuttall isn’t a common last name) and his blog Explore: Beneath & Beyond.  His most recent article, Roll With It, provides an elegant solution to handling the tricky problem of requiring the same skill check over and over and the basic fact of mathematics that probabilities multiply, thereby ensuring that you are going to eventually fail one of the rolls.

This is just one of many excellent articles on Joe’s blog going over the mechanics and ideas that he is incorporating into the game system he’s developing.  If you’re interested in looking at game mechanics and detailed analyses of how choices of the mechanics impact the game, I highly recommend following Joe’s posts.  (Plus it doesn’t hurt that he has a soft spot in his heart for Star Frontiers.)  I look forward to each of his articles as they prompt me to think about ideas and mechanics for my games.

Two Sheet Locations Update

Just after I posted the article last week, I put the next Two Sheet Location, Per’s Gadgets and Computers, up for sale on DriveThruRPG.  Starting with this location and for all others going forward, the Two Sheet Locations will have a list price of $0.99.  As expected the number of downloads plummeted since there now is a price attached instead of it being free.  Also, I don’t think it made it into the weekly newsletter in the New Products section because I never saw a newsletter come out.  It seems they skipped a week.  Although my e-mail was being weird that day so maybe it just got lost on my end.  If anyone did get the weekly DTRPG newsletter on May 19, I’d be interested to know if Per’s Gadgets and Computers made it in.

However, from a revenue standpoint, the result has been positive.  I’ve only had 7 downloads in the 6 days since I made the item available but it has generated more revenue than either Mr. M’s or the Blue Pearl Grotto.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming months as I release more of these locations.


Some Numbers on the PWYW Experiment

Back in February, I posted about running a little experiment looking at pay-what-you-want (PWYW) verses free products.  This is the promised follow up post talking about the numbers.

The Plan

Two sheet location logo.  The letters are in red with a red border around them and the entire texts is tilted slight so it is risng from left to rightLet’s start with a quick recap of the plan for the experiment.  If you just reread the original article, you can skip this part and jump right to the “Expected Outcomes” section.  The experiment was going to be done with my new line of Two Sheet Locations.

The plan was as follows:

  1. Release two products, one sci-fi focused and the other fantasy focused, both of which would be PWYW with no minimum amount specified.  In other words, it was completely acceptable to download them for free but you could pay for them if you wanted.
  2. Release two products, again one sci-fi and one fantasy, but this time completely free with no PWYW option.
  3. Look at the results and try to draw some conclusions

That was the plan, lets see what happened.

Expected Results

Before we dive into the actual results, let’s talk for a moment about what I expected the results to be.  This was my thinking before the experiment started.  I guess you could call this my hypothesis for the experiment.

  1. The fantasy products will get more downloads than the sci-fi ones. – Fantasy just has a bigger audience so I expected that these will be more popular.  I had no idea on how much more popular as there are a number of factors that affect this.
  2. The completely free ones would generate more downloads than the PWYW items. – This was the driving force behind the experiment in the first place.  I believe there is a psychological barrier imposed by the PWYW option.  In addition, I had done a similar thing with the Frontier Explorer.  Between issue 7 and 8, which both had about 1200 downloads in the first 45 days after release, I released a free PWYW product as a special edition designed as a fund-raiser for the magazine.  It was completely free, but you could give us some money if you wanted to.  In its first 45 days, there were a just over 300 downloads of that special edition (and only a fraction of those gave us money), even though it was still completely free if you didn’t want to pay for it.  This was a factor of nearly 4 between the free and PWYW items.  It wasn’t apples to apples as the special edition was a single topic compared to the broad topics of the magazine but it was still targeted at the same audience.

There would be a lot of variables going into this that would be out of my control or imposed by the release schedule but I figured we could see some trends even if we couldn’t get really hard numbers.

Problems with the Experimental Design

There are a number of things that biased the results and that could have been controlled slightly better if I had thought about it sooner.

The primary problem is that I’m building a community at the same time I’m running the experiment.  I’m a relative (more likely a complete) nobody in the on-line game publishing world.  No one really has any reason to be interested in anything I produce.  So I’m building a community around these products as I release them.  Basically all of my advertising will come from contacting people that have already purchased one of the items, a number that will grow with each release.  Thus the “customer base” is growing with each release which I expect will skew the downloads in favor of the later locations.

In light of this, from an experimental point of view, I released all of the products in exactly the wrong order.  Given the expected results above, and the bias expected from the growing customer base, I think the ideal release order would have been:

  1. Free Fantasy
  2. Free Sci-fi
  3. PWYW Fantasy
  4. PWYW scifi

Thus the PWYW barrier, if it exists would have resulted in lower numbers even with the larger customer base relative to the free products and the sci-fi release would have resulted in a dip relative to the fantasy one despite the growing customer base as well.  But of course I did it in the exact opposite order so that the natural biases I expect are amplified by the growing customer base.  Oh well, it wasn’t going to be completely rigorous anyway.

The other problem was that I couldn’t completely control the amount of advertising each product received.  Well, I could have, and arranged for there to be none, but I was looking to grow the customer base.  If the customer base had been tiny, the results wouldn’t really mean anything.  So I had to try to get as much visibility for the products as possible and that could be variable.

But that’s enough about problems and expected outcomes, let’s look at some numbers.

The Results are in!

First of all, if you haven’t already, and want to grab a copy of the first four Two Sheet Locations, here’s a link the product category page on DriveThruRPG where you can get your copies.

Totals

Let’s start with the totals as these are quite interesting in and of themselves.

Product Type Months
Available
Total
Downloads
TSL001 – Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium  PWYW-scifi  4  332
TSL002 – Blue Pearl Grotto  PWYW-fantasy  3  213
TSL003 – Gloria’s  free-scifi  2  386
TSL004 – Shrine of the Harvest Goddess  free-fantasy  1  420

The total downloads count is since the product was released.  You can see that the later ones are definitely generating more downloads than the earlier ones, even though they have been out for less time.

Interestingly, the Blue Pearl Grotto, a fantasy offering,  has done worse than the the two sci-fi offerings (at least in total downloads, more on that later).  However, this one is unique for a couple of reasons.

First, of the four products, this is the only one that didn’t get advertised in the weekly DTRPG newsletter.  The other three all appeared in the “Newest Free Products” section at the bottom of the newsletter that list the three newest products when the newsletter was published.  In the case of the Blue Pearl Grotto, I posted it on DTRPG a little too soon for it to make it into the newsletter.  So this one lacked the larger advertising reach of the others.

Additionally, this was the first item to be promoted by me only to those who had bought other Two Sheet Location products, i.e. Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium.  For the Mr. M’s release, I emailed everyone who had bought my book or my card game.  That e-mail went out to 859 people.  Maybe not the target demographic but a reasonable number nonetheless.  Additionally I also ran an article about it in issue 15 of the Frontier Explorer which came out a week after Mr. M’s got released, that issue has had over 1000 downloads as well.  As a contrast, the e-mail that went out with the release of the Blue Pearl Grotto only went to 170 people (of the 225 that had downloaded Mr. M’s at the time and allowed themselves to be contacted).  So the overall advertising reach for the Blue Pearl Grotto was much smaller.  And it still performed fairly well.

Number of Downloads by Day

Let’s look at the number of downloads of each product as a function of number of days since release. (click on the image for a full sized view)

Graph of downloads as a function of day since release.

As you can see, most of the downloads come right after the release date, up to about 30 days afterwards.    The little spikes you see later on occur with the release of the later products.  This always drives a small download boost to the earlier ones as new people find the product line for the first time and download all of them.

Numbers Downloaded in First Month

Since most downloads occur during the first month, with there just being a trickle of downloads after that, let’s look at the numbers for just the first four weeks of each product.

Product Total Downloads
TSL001 – Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium 221
TSL002 – Blue Pearl Grotto 124
TSL003 – Gloria’s 339
TSL004 – Shrine of the Harvest Goddess 407

Again we see the huge drop for the Blue Pearl Grotto.  Again, I think this is due to the much smaller reach of advertising for that item.  The e-mails that went out about Gloria’s and the Shrine of the Harvest Goddess went out to 219 and 408 people respectively.  I released Mr. M’s before I even conceived this experiment and so was pushing on as many channels as I could to get the word out.  It dialed that back a bit for the Blue Pearl Grotto

The free products have definitely out-performed the PWYW products but not by the large margins I was expecting.  Although with the uniqueness of the advertising for both of the first two products it’s hard to tell exactly the cause.

Interestingly the fantasy items haven’t outperformed the sci-fi ones as much as I expected either.  This is probably due to a couple of reasons.  First, the product line has received more advertising (in the form of the Frontier Explorer article) in sci-fi forums than in fantasy forums.  So the customer base might be a little skewed.  Second, and this is purely theoretical on my part, is that although the number of people interested in fantasy is much larger, there are also many, many more fantasy products and the market is saturated.  So with so many products to chose from, they simply aren’t interested in another offering.  On the other hand, there aren’t as many sci-fi products and thus new ones capture the attention of a greater percentage of those looking at that kind of product.  The Shrine of the Harvest Goddess did out-perform Gloria’s but considering my targeted e-mail went out to nearly twice as many people for that item, a 20% increase in downloads isn’t that significant.

Takeaways

I think the free products definitely out-performed the PWYW items but not nearly as much as I was expecting.  This is probably at least partially due to the order I released the items and the growing customer base for the products.  I think if you’re going for maximum reach as quickly as possible, and not at all concerned about generating revenue, don’t put the PWYW on there.  More people will download the products.

As to the fantasy vs sci-fi being more popular, the jury’s still out.  There definitely wasn’t as much discrepancy as I expected here either.  It might look different down the road looking at longer term trends but for now it’s a toss up.

Getting into the New Product list can be a big boon.  However, there’s a lot of random chance involved here as you don’t know how many other people are pushing out new products and when exactly the newsletter is written.  But if you can make it into that forum, you happen to get a much larger reach which can be beneficial if you’re new and trying to grow your customer base.  People will at least come and take a look at it.  The Blue Pearl Grotto didn’t make the cut and I believed the downloads suffered as a result.

Income

Some of you are probably wondering how much money I made on the first two products that were PWYW.  The answer is not a whole lot, but then, I wasn’t expecting to.  These were supposed to be “free samples” after all.  This is the one area where the Blue Pearl Grotto out-performed Mr. M’s.  The Blue Pearl Grotto had a total of 12 paid downloads netting me a whopping $3.62 (average of ~$0.30 per download) after DTRPG took out their fees while Mr. M’s had 15 paid downloads bringing in $3.09 in total (average of ~$0.21 per download).

Going Forward

Way back when I conceived the Two Sheet Location project, I had always planned that the first few would be free to generate a customer base and then I’d start charging for the later ones.  That plan is still in place and starting with location five (Per’s Gadgets and Computers), they will be selling for $0.99 each.  The first four will always be “free samples” so people that are interested can see what they are like before downloading the ones with a price tag.

I’ll be changing the ones that were free (Gloria’s and the Shrine of the Harvest Goddess) to be PWYW products as well.  However, I won’t be doing that immediately.  I’ll probably wait a month or two before I make the swap so that I have several months of free after the initial release before changing the model.  That way I can compare the impact of the two different models on the exact same product during the time that they are not new but just in the catalog.

I fully expect the $0.99 price tag to tank the number of download of future products.  However, based on the amount of money raised by the PWYW model, it would only take 5-6 purchases to generate a larger revenue than I’ve already generated.  It will be interesting to see what happens.  I’ll probably do another post in 3-4 months to talk about those results.

Any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions?  Have you had similar experiences in self publishing? Let us know in the comments below.


Shrine of the Harvest Goddess Map

When the Shrine of the Harvest Goddess Two Sheet Location when up on DriveThruRPG it contained this map:

Full map of the Shrine of the Harvest Goddess

Shrine of the Harvest Goddess map with grid in standing structure

The file is labeled as having a grid but if you’re not looking closely you’ll miss it as it is only in the structure on the left of the structure.  @AkieshaRoberts commented about it and I told her I could put a grid across the entire map if desired.  It was really simple because the full grid was already there, just hiding below the rest of the map.  It literally took me less than to minutes to create this one:

Same grid but with a map over the entire area, not just in the building.

Same map, but with grid everywhere

All I had to do was open the file, move the grid layer up above the map layer, and resave.  She got it in an e-mail right after asking and now you can have it as well.

I thought I’d take this post and talk a bit about how the map was made.

If you don’t recognize the style, it was done to imitate the style of Dyson Logos, a cartographer of great talent, whose style I really like.  And it doesn’t hurt that he puts out tutorials and, thanks to his Patreon campaign (of which I’m a small supporter), he makes many of his maps available and free for commercial use.

Creating this map was a three step process for me.  I started by drawing the walls of the building, the large flagstones, the well, the garden, and the statue marker in Gimp.  I talked in an earlier post about making a hatching pattern.  That was done as part of this project and I used it to fill in the hatching in the walls.

When I created the image, I selected the size specifically.  The image is 2560×1600 pixels.  Which just happens to be the exact screen resolution of my Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2″ tablet.  I didn’t have to make it that size and in hind sight, probably won’t do that in the future.  However, one of the great things about this tablet is that it has a Wacom digitizer built into the screen and comes with a stylus.  When using the stylus, the tablet functions just like a notepad and I can rest my palm on the screen and draw or write without the tablet registering the touch.

So I loaded the initial image into SketchBook Pro on my tablet and got to work.  Using several of Dyson’s maps, plus his Overhead Map Key with all the symbols on it (Dyson, you should do another of these with terrain and interior features that aren’t on the first one) as reference , I drew in the rest of the map by hand.  I really like SketchBook Pro as it allows you to set up a variety of different pens with different thicknesses, pressure sensitivities, and other parameters and switch quickly between them.  Drawing in the crumbled stone wall around the cemetery was a lot of work but kind of fun as well.

Once I was done with the free-hand sketching, I saved the file and opened it back up in Gimp.  As an aside, you can get Gimp and Inkscape for Android and I have them on my tablet but it’s really just a port of the xwindows system with the programs running inside.  With a bluetooth keyboard attached it works pretty well but it’s kind of awkward and it’s easier to use the regular computer.  But if I’m ever traveling, I have my full toolkit on my tablet.

The reason to go back to Gimp was to create the grid.  There is a really useful filter (Filter->Render->Pattern->Grid) that lets you create grids of any size, line weight, color, and offset and also allows you to create the little gaps between the lines at the intersections.  (Actually I’m not completely happy with that last part as you have to do it by drawing on top of the grid lines with a different color.  In my case I used white which works everywhere where I intended the grid to go but not so well in the fully gridded map above.)  Anyway, I created a new layer and drew the grid on there.  I then moved that grid layer beneath my map.

To get the grid on the parts of the map where I wanted it, I simply went to the map layer, selected the white background in the areas I wanted the grid and deleted it.  Since the layer had an alpha channel, everything I deleted became transparent and you could see the grid on the layer below.  I simply repeated this for every area where it was needed.

The last step was to put a white background beneath the grid layer as well.  Since the grid was drawn on a transparent layer the sections deleted in the building still had some transparent pixels and we didn’t want that.  With that done, it was just a matter of exporting the file and using it in my document.

I learned quite a bit doing this map.  For one thing, I drew everything to small, I need a bit more resolution as the finer details get a bit washed out due to anti-aliasing.  That was probably the most important thing I learned.  There were a bunch of other small workflow lessons as well.

So that’s the story behind this map.  I’ll be doing more in the future.  Let me know if you have any questions, comments or suggestions by leaving a note in the comment section below.

In my next post I hope to be able to talk about the numbers from the pay what you want experiment I’ve been running with the Two Sheet Locations.  I’ve got all the numbers I need for the first part, I just haven’t had time to really look at them and write them up as I’ve been trying to finish up my homework projects for this semester.  Those will be done tomorrow so I’ll have a bit of free time before the next semester starts.

 


Opening Shots

Another bit of short fiction while I finish up my projects for the semester.  Science fiction this time.

The captain of the Pale Star Ship Chiara stared at the view from his ship’s telescope. They were finally close enough to the unknown ships to start to make out details. From what he saw, they were nothing like any ship in the Frontier worlds.

There seemed to be a variety of different designs but they all seemed to follow similar patterns. The nose of each ship was a large sphere. This was connected to the main body by a narrow neck. The main body of each ship was a bulbous affair. Everything seemed rounded and smoothed over. Very different than the more angular shapes of most Frontier ships, although there was some resemblance to the smoother dralasite designs.

The one thing they did share with Frontier ships was that the engines were mounted externally, away from the hull on struts. The engines seem to be similar in operation, if not design, to the PSS Chiara’s own atomic engines as the sensors reported similar signatures from the unknown ships’ engines as they had from their own.

The question on everyone’s minds was where they came from. The huge flotilla of unidentified ships was detected about thirty hours previously headed towards both Pale and New Pale, the two planets in the Truane’s Star system. All attempts to communicate with the ships had failed.

Since all remote communication attempts had failed, it had been decided to send a ship out to attempt to communicate from closer range. The Chiara and her crew, along with her passengers, had volunteered for the mission. Although the captain was now having second thoughts now that they were up close and could see the ships directly.

The captain turned to his second officer. “Is the data feed going out?”

“Yes, sir. Everything is going out in real time to both Pale and New Pale.”

“Excellent.”

They were approaching the lead ship. It would be another hour before they were close but they had been approaching and matching speeds with the unknown vessels for the last ten hours. It was eerie, the unknown ships hadn’t responded at all. There had been no signals, no variation in their flight path, nothing. They had just continued to decelerate toward Pale at the same steady pace.

That was another similarity between the unknown ships and those of the Frontier. They didn’t seem to have any sort of artificial gravity as they had been decelerating at just under one standard gravity since they had been detected.

As the ships drew closer together, Chiara’s captain started to feel uneasy. As they got closer, they were able to distinguish greater and greater detail on the ships. While mostly featureless, there were some features on the surface of the ships that looked disturbingly like weapons, although of what type he could not tell.
“Start hailing them again,” the captain ordered. “We detected them due to radio transmissions between the ships. Start on those frequencies and expand from there.”

“Yes, sir,” came the reply. “Commencing now.”

The captain listened as the calls went out and watched the view from the telescope of the ship. Nothing happened for a long time. He had just looked away from the screen to survey the crew on the bridge when his first officer called out. “Captain, look, there seems to be some motion on the ship.”

Whipping his eyes back to the screen the captain noticed that several protrusions on the surface of the ship that he had noticed earlier were rotating and beginning to point toward the Chiara. The bad feeling got worse.

Hitting the control for the ship’s intercom, he yelled to the crew. “Strap in and prepare for high gee maneuvers.” Not waiting for responses he called out to his pilot. “Bring the ship ninety degrees to port as fast as possible and throttle up the engines as far as they will go.” As the pilot began to respond, the captain strapped himself into his chair.

Looking at the view of the unknown ship, the captain hopped his was wrong about what the response from this ship meant. They were only a few tens of thousands of kilometers away from the lead ship now and it dwarfed the Chiara in size.

Suddenly there was a flash from several points on the alien spacecraft and alarms erupted all over the Chiara’s bridge. Glancing at his display the captain could see damage reports coming in from various parts of the ship. He also noted that they were suddenly in freefall.

“Bridge, Engineering. Both our engines are off line. They have both sustained damage of some sort.”

“Hull breach in crew deck two,” came another report. “The entire starboard section has been vented to space.”

“Life support failure. Primary life support equipment has failed. Backup system engaging.”

“Captain, radar. The alien ship has just launched a small object towards us.”

The captain looked back at the view screen. Amazingly the telescope had remained locked on the alien ship. It took him a few seconds to find the object but he found it. It looked like a small black dot surrounded by a glowing halo. He realized that it was some sort of rocket under thrust directly toward him. “Radar, what is the speed and closing rate of that object?”

“Captain, it is accelerating at about thirty gee and headed straight toward us. Estimated time to impact is three minutes if it doesn’t change it’ acceleration profile.”

Despite the implications, the captain was proud that the radar operator was responding calmly.

“Communications, open a comm channel back to Pale with our data feed.”

“Comm channel open captain.”

Taking a look around the bridge, the captain began what he was sure was his final transmission. “This is the TSSS Chiara. Having approached to within one hundred thousand kilometers of the lead alien vessel, we once again began attempting to communicate with the ship. We received no response until we closed within forty thousand kilometers at which point the ship opened fire on us with some sort of laser weapon. They completely disabled our engines and opened up a couple breaches in our hull including damaging our primary life support system.”

As the captain talked, the crew all began to watch him. He continued. “Immediately after the laser attack a single object was launched toward the Chiara. Based on its acceleration profile and trajectory, I can only assume that it is some sort of missile or torpedo. Time to impact is now less than two minutes.

“We cannot maneuver and the object is now close enough that it couldn’t stop before hitting us even if it tried. We will continue to transmit data but if the feed suddenly stops, at least you’ll know why. Good luck. Chiara out.”

With that he closed the transmission and turned to stare at the view screen. The object was much closer now and glancing at his display from the radar, it appeared to be about ten meters long and about a meter in diameter. The captain watched it as it closed the distance between them.

There was a flash and then the Chiara bucked under his chair throwing him against his restraints. He could feel heat radiating up from the lower decks and then the air being sucked out of the ship as it broke apart and vented its atmosphere to space. And then the fire welled up from the lower levels to consume the bridge and its occupants. With the air lost to space, the fire quickly died out leaving the interior of the broken Chiara dead and lifeless.

The alien ships continued onward, steadily decelerating toward Pale, not even seeming to notice the drifting hulk of the Chiara as they passed.