Arcane Game Lore

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

On Publishing Star Frontiers Related Materials

Star FrontiersAkeisha Roberts just added a post to her blog listing all the places you could go for Star Frontiers materials (“Get The Entire Star Frontiers Rule Book Set & More For Free (Legally)“).  In the process of putting that list up she asked me about what can and can’t be published related to the Star Frontiers game and setting.  She isn’t the first to ask me this question and I thought I’d write up my understanding on the topic.

Now, let me start by saying the following:

  1. I don’t work for Wizards of the Coast and don’t speak for them
  2. I am not a lawyer
  3. Your mileage may vary
  4. This is 100% based on my personal experience and agreements with Wizards of the Coast and my conversations with others who run (or have run) Star Frontiers related websites
  5. There are some specifics I can’t go into details about because of the agreements I have with Wizards.

Given the above, your experience may vary but I suspect you would find a similar experience to me.

The Short Version

The TL;DR; version of this is that between the Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer magazines I can publish basically anything for Star Frontiers as long as it is fan-created and free.

The Longer Version

So let’s break that down a little bit and give some background.

Some History

First, Star Frontiers is not part of any version of the Open Gaming License (OGL).  It never has been.  I’ve seen statements on the internet to the contrary but none of those have ever come from Wizards of the Coast.  They own the intellectual property (IP) that is Star Frontiers and have never given it away.

And they don’t seem interested in licensing it.  I’ve asked.  Several different times.  So have several others that I know.  In every case, we have been told no.  Whether that is because they have plans for the IP or simply due to the fact that it is so small that it is not worth their effort, I don’t know.  I somehow suspect it’s the latter but see point #1 above.  That is pure speculation on my part.

Second,  many of the major websites that are Star Frontiers themed have personal, written permission from Wizards of the Coast to use the Star Frontiers IP.  The only one I’m not sure about is the Star Frontiers wiki that is a subdomain of; I don’t know if they do or not.  I know that Tim Norris has one that covers and (run by Art Eaton).  In fact, has had permission from the days of TSR before they were bought by Wizards of the Coast.  I have permissions for and

The site, which is a community forum site, falls under those two although now that I think about it, I don’t know that an explicit permission exists for that particular site.  I never got explicit permission for either, a site that has community forums and a wiki that was geared toward on-line play by post Star Frontiers games.  It too, now falls under the permissions I have for the magazines.

The social media groups on Google+ and Facebook are just groups created on those platforms.

You may have noticed that I run a bunch of those websites.  It wasn’t always that way.  Originally I just had the site, then I was hosting  Then I started the Frontier Explorer and finally was given the Star Frontiersman and from their original owner.

What Can I Publish?

As I said in the short version, the answer to this is just about anything.  There are some variations between the permissions I have for the Frontier Explorer and the Star Frontiersman that mean that I can publish some types of content in one but not the other but overall, there really isn’t a limit on content.

The only real limit is price.  It has to be free.  The only other restriction is that I can’t commission Star Frontiers related material.  So I can’t hire someone to create a piece of work (article, art, whatever) and pay them for it, even if I intend to give it away.  Everything I publish has to be fan created and effectively donated.

The truth is, Wizards of the Coast has been fairly generous with the permissions granted.  They don’t mind people writing material for the game or in the setting.  The only thing they don’t allow is people to sell material that is Star Frontiers related.  Which is completely within their rights under copyright law (something I’ve become more familiar with over the years, especially now that I’m a librarian).  Beyond that, as long as you’re giving it away, they don’t seem to have an issue.

So keeping in mind the points at the beginning of the article, if you want to write stuff for Star Frontiers and put it up on your blog or website, that is probably fine.  Just don’t charge money for it.

And if you want to write stuff and get it out to the existing Star Frontiers audience, the Frontier Explorer is a great way to do so.  Consider submitting and I’ll help you get it published.  As I said, I have explicit permission to do so and to put material up on DriveThruRPG and it’s sister sites.

Other Points

The above holds true as long as you’re doing it as a personal endeavor.  When I started the Frontier Explorer I asked about publishing the magazine under the banner of my publishing company, New Frontier Games, which I had established several years prior.  (The website is dead at the moment – long story – so no link but here is the publisher page on DriveThruRPG).  I was explicitly told no.  It had to be a stand alone endeavor with no affiliation to a publishing company.  Just something to keep in mind.

While I wasn’t allowed to sell anything, I was allowed to accept “tips” and donations to help support the website and the work of producing the magazine.

The astute reader may notice that the Frontier Explorer issues are available for sale in print form on DriveThruRPG.  This again was an explicit permission I received.  I could make them available in print form but they had to be at cost.  So the price you see there is what it costs to print the magazine.  I receive no income from the print sales.

With the announcement of the Dungeon Masters Guild you might be wondering if any of the above changes and you can publish Star Frontiers stuff there.  The current answer to that question is no as well.  Yes.  I asked.  The day the DMGuild was announced.  That may change in the future but for now it’s still a no go.

Last Words

Actually, I’m not sure there’s much else to add.  The love for Star Frontiers continues and I actually see it mentioned more and more on social media as time goes by.  It’s a game completely maintained by its fans right now and for the foreseeable future.  However, if you want to create and share Star Frontiers material, there are plenty of opportunities to do so.  Just remember, it’s just a hobby.

Do you haven any experiences with creating and sharing Star Frontiers materials?  Do you want to?  Let us know in the comments below.

Strange Sounds from the Kitchen

I was sitting in my office at my house painting one of my 3D printed UPF Frigate miniatures when a strange sound came wafting in from the kitchen.

“As you pass through a clearing the bushes along the edges start moving toward you and cut off the path.”

“I charge at them with my axes.”

“Is there room to use my bow?”

“Roll for initiative.”

… some time later …

“You take a short rest, everyone add one hit die of hit points back”

… some time later …

Kobold Swordmaster by Prorogue on Deviant Art

“You enter the cave and find two kobolds sitting at a table talking.  They see you and jump up.  Roll for initiative.”

… some time later …

“You’ve reached 300 XP everyone goes to level 2.”

Hit die? Kobolds? Levels? That sounds suspiciously like D&D.  I was quite entertained listening to my boys play out their first ever game of D&D, and the first time one of them had ever tried being the GM.  But level 2 at 300 XP?  In my day …

You see, while we play role-playing games, we’re not a D&D house.  Which is why the sounds were so surprising to me.  We’ve played Star Frontiers and RuneQuest but never D&D.  It’s just not a game I ever got into so I didn’t pass it on to my kids.

I started playing back in the early 80′s.  1983 to be exact.  My first ever RPG was the Red Box Basic rules and I played it in school in my gifted and talented class of all places.  One of guys in the class had started playing and pitched the idea to the teacher to play in class and she agreed.  We played 5-6 sessions over as many weeks with him as DM.  If I remember correctly we played through Keep on the Borderlands but my memory is really fuzzy on that.  I had a blast and was hooked.  A month or so after we finished playing in class, he gave me a copy of the red box for my 12th birthday in early 1984.  I quickly sat my brothers down, we rolled up characters and started playing.

Of course this was back in the heyday of the 80′s anti-D&D fervor and my parents were a bit concerned.  The actually didn’t have an issue with the idea of role playing games in general but more concerned about the fervor around D&D.  After getting D&D for my birthday I had seen this game called Star Frontiers at the PX (my dad was in the Army at the time) that was a science fiction RPG from TSR.  Being really into science fiction this game intrigued me (Traveller wasn’t on the shelves).  We had a discussion about it and I agreed to stop playing D&D and they would buy me the Star Frontiers game.  I’ve never looked back.

I did play a little 2e D&D in grad school (the first time I was in grad school) and I own the 2e Player’s Handbook and DM Guide but I’ve never really played D&D for any long period of time.  Which is why my boys playing it was such a surprise.

It turns out that one of the twins (age 16) had printed out the free PDFs of the 5e Player’s Handbook and DM Guide. He’d read through the rules and they had rolled up characters.  The other twin was playing a Halfling fighter, my 11 year old was playing an wood elf rogue, and the twin running the game had a human cleric.  They were playing an adventure that the DM had create completely on his own which ended in a TPK when they got a little too deep into the kobold lair and were facing the chieftain plus six other kobolds with more reinforcements arriving regularly.  The were simple outnumbered and overrun although the took quite a number of their enemies with them.

The twin running the game learned a bit about encounter balancing and they all got a better feel for the mechanics.  They reset their characters to level 1 (The one twin rolled up a dwarf fighter instead of his halfling one) and they launched off onto another homemade adventure.  They survived this one and managed to make it to level 3 (900 XP? Really?)

I was quite happy to see them picking up the GM mantle and running games on their own and taking the initiative to do so.  I was a little surprised that they didn’t use one of the games that we already had in the house but since those are all older games (Star Frontiers, RuneQuest, MERP, Powers & Perils, GURPS 3e, and Paranoia mainly) it’s not a complete shock.

We’ll have to see how this goes.  I might just have to read the 5e rules myself.


The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men …

… are usually about the same.

For a year that started off with me wanting to write more on my blog, I haven’t been too successful.  It’s the end of January and this is only my third post.  However, things are looking up for the future.

Frontier Explorer issue 15 coverThe main culprit was me trying to finish the next issue (#15) of the Frontier Explorer.  Which I did!  Click on the image to the right to grab a copy from DriveThruRPG or go to the Frontier Explorer website to grab a copy there.

The article list for this issue is:

  • The Buckerbeisser
  • Mapping Port Loren
  • Janus System Report
  • Woolies
  • Janus Fauna
  • Titian Rising: 2299
  • Androids
  • Get a Grip
  • The Arks, Dogmen, and Mogs
  • Mr. M
  • Plicka and the Void Crusher
  • The Stowaway
  • Grimz Guide Comic

The other distraction was starting up a new semester of grad school which included some travel.  That’s all sorted out now so my schedule should settle down and allow me to get some more writing done for the blog.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Launching Two Sheet Locations

Sample Two Sheet Location Cover, a manilla folder with papers inside and an image papercliped to the coverJust a quick note this week to announce the launch of my line of Two Sheet Location products.  I mentioned last week that it was coming and now it is here.

I’ve put the first one, Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium, up on DriveThruRPG as a “pay what you want product”.  This is the final formatted version along with the full digital versions of the maps.  The content is basically the same as on my blog post last year with just a few corrections and additions. What the final version has that the blog post lacked is a key to all the areas on the maps.

I’m planning on putting these out at least monthly from here on out and hopefully bi-weekly eventually.  We’ll have to see how that goes.

I had actually planned a different post for today but I’ve been frantically scrambling to try and finish up the next issue of the Frontier Explorer so that post will have to wait.  I’m traveling this weekend to attend my last in-person session for my MLIS degree and hope to have some time in the evenings to get caught up a bit.

A Year in Preview – 2016

Readers (if I have any) may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything for a while.  The holidays got me kind of swamped.  I have been doing a bunch of writing, just not on the blog (more on that later).

It’s a new year and while it’s kind of cliche, it’s a time for retrospection and resolutions.  I find the “year in review” kind of posts somewhat boring and don’t particularly care for them so I won’t put you through that.  If you’ve been reading, you know what I’ve been writing about and how well I kept to a schedule.

However, I do like setting goals and expectations so I thought I’d take this post and talk about things that (I hope) will be coming up in the new year.  And if I pull this all off, it will be a doozy.  So without further ado, here are my plans for the year and what you can expect to see on the blog, at least from me.

Finishing My MLIS Degree

Mortarboard cap with gold tassleThis trumps just about anything on this list as it is directly related to my employment.  I went back to graduate school in Aug. 2014 to get a Master of Library and Information Science degree.  This was precipitated by landing my current job as the Physical and Mathematical Sciences Librarian at a university library.  Apparently you can’t be a real librarian unless you have a library degree, never mind a Ph.D in astronomy.  I’m faculty and getting the MLIS is a requirement on the way to tenure.  The good news is that I’ll be done with classes by the end of summer and just have the final End of Program exam in the fall.  Once that’s done, I’ll get to add more letters after my name.

For the most part this won’t impact the blog at all. I may miss a week for that End of Program exam as it is three 10-15 page essays all researched and written in a single week.  I won’t be doing anything else that week.  Otherwise, this shouldn’t be too bad.   After all, I’ve been doing it all this year fairly successfully.  You might hear mention of it now and then, however, so you’ve been warned.

Frontier Explorer

Frontier Explorer LogoThis is my other big, non-negotiable project.  I put out an issue every three months in January, April, July, and October.  The month to month and a half before it comes out, this sucks up most of my spare cycles.  This sometimes impacts my posting as I get behind and swamped.  On the plus side, I’m hoping to do more actual writing for the magazine instead of just editing and some of that material may show up here on the blog before it appears in the magazine (for example the Mapping Port Loren post will be appearing in the upcoming issue).  I’m also working on getting better about spacing out my work on the magazine so it’s not so rushed at the end each issue.  You can expect to see posts about the magazine and material in the magazine in the year to come.

More Frequent Posts

One of my goals is to post more often.  I’m still planning on trying to do at least one longer post each week.  However in addition, I’ll probably start posting additional smaller posts as well.  Often these may be announcements related to some of my other projects or small bits and thoughts about RPG related stuff I come across on-line.

Two Sheet Locations

Sample Two Sheet Location Cover, a manilla folder with papers inside and an image papercliped to the coverI posted the first of these, Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium, as part of the December RPG Blog Carnival.  This is actually the first is a series of locations that I am planning on producing and releasing (at least at first) as pay what you want products on DriveThruRPG/RPGNow.  The final formatted version of Mr. M’s will go up sometime this month and I plan on doing these at least monthly.  This is where I’ve been spending my writing time over the break.   The second one is done, I have a writeup and preliminary map for the third and a preliminary writeup for the fourth.  You can expect to see more about these locations and possibly commentary on the publishing process here on the blog.


I’m looking to start up a podcast at some point in the year.  This will probably have to wait until my MLIS degree is finished. I’m looking at different ideas for the topics but it will be game related.  Once this starts up you’ll be seeing announcements for episode and possibly some discussion about the topics covered.

RPG Blog Carnival

I’m going to be trying real hard to get at least one post in for each topic on the RPG blog carnival this year.  I managed to hit five months last year and think I can do better.  Of course this month is a tough one, it’s Gates & Portals and I just did three posts in November on Void Jumping that would have been perfect for this topic as well as the November topic.  I’ll need to come up with something else for this month.

Running a Game

The other thing I’d like to do this year is get a new on-line game going.  If I can pull this off, you can expect to see play reports and campaign information appear in posts on the blog throughout the year after it has begun.  I’ll be sharing some of the items, NPC’s, and locations the players encounter in the campaign as resources for others to us.  Some of them will also probably translate into Two Sheet Location entries.

Continuing With Existing Topics

Plus I want to continue writing about topics I’ve already started.  I still have a bunch of 3D models to talk about and I’ll still be working on my game mechanics.  Plus I have that star map generator to finish.  All of these will be topics for future blog posts.

Last Thoughts

This is lining up to be a busy year if I can pull all of this off.  The MLIS degree, Frontier Explorer, and Two Sheet Location project are definitely happening along with the blog carnival and existing topic posts.  We’ll see if I get a podcast and game up and running.

So that’s the lineup from me in the coming year.  Are there topics or ideas you like to see me talk about?  Are there existing areas that you’d like to see more (or less) coverage on?  What could I do to improve the blog?  Let me know in the comments below.

Mapping Port Loren

It’s no secret that I’m big on Star Frontiers.  I’ve been playing it off and on since I was 12 years old.  So it should come as no surprise that I did another Star Frontiers thing.  This time I recreated the original Port Loren Map digitally.

Streets and building of the downtown Port Loren area

Recreated Port Loren map. Click to go to wiki page for full resolution download.

Now there are a few other fan created versions of this map out there (Here’s the google search) but none of them captured the feel of the original for me.

I have many memories of adventures and encounters played out on this map over the years.  I still have my original copy that I got with the boxed set back in the 80′s.  I had it laminated back then so we could write on it (and the maps on the back) with grease pencils (anyone remember those) to add features or notes.  It has held up quite well over the years thanks to the lamination.

I started on this project a couple of years ago and don’t really remember what prompted me to really get into it.  But with an increase on on-line virtual tabletop systems, I figured it would be nice to have a near original copy for the nostalgia value alone.  I had finished everything but the labeling last November but then being back in grad school hit me with some super busy semesters and I had to put the project on hold.  When I finished my last paper for the most recent semester last week, I figured I’d finish this off and get it out there for people to enjoy.   I thought I’d talk a bit about how I put this together.

The map was drawn in Inkscape, my current go-to vector drawing program and was drawn in a series of several layers to get all of the features on there properly.  The map is drawn at 100 dpi.

I started by counting out the size of the grid.   The map is 67×42 squares in size.  The map has two squares per inch which makes each square the size of the chits that came with the game.  However, I discovered while doing this that the original map is actually squished a little bit, at least in the horizontal direction.  Every fifth column is slightly smaller than the others.  I vaguely remember this from playing on the map but never really thought about it much.  Because of this this new map, if printed, will be slight larger than the original as I have corrected that problem.

blank cyan rectangleGiven the basic size I  created a new file that was 1″ larger in both directions than the map so that I would have a 1/2″ border all around.  The first layer of the map just contains a large blue rectangle that was the color for the roads on the map.  I also established a rectangular grid in Inkscape to allow drawing all the objects easier as the tools would snap to this grid.

Square grid added to the blue backgroundNext I added the actual map grid.  This is actually quite easy in Inkscape.  You just go to Exensions->Render->Cartesian Grid…  This gives you a dialog box that allows you to set the parameters for your grid.  You can set things like the spacing between the lines, thicknesses of the lines, and have primary, secondary, and tertiary grid divisions if you want.  I just set primary grid lines at 50 px spacing and the correct number in the x and y directions.  After adjusting the setttings, just click the Apply button and your grid appears.

Map with all the building and grass areas addedWith the grid in place, I started working across the map putting in the grass, sidewalks and water features and the buildings.  I basically did this one grass section at a time and worked from the upper left to the bottom right.  The grass was put on one layer and the buildings on another.  Both of these layers were placed under the grid layer so that the grid overlaid them.  You may notice that the color used for sidewalks (in that big center area) is the same as the color used for water features (e.g. around the government building).

After that was done, I put on all the doors on their own layer.  This was the first layer above the grid as the doors needed to not have the grid running over top of them.  Otherwise, these would have just gone on the building layer. This layer also included the “In” and “Out” labels for the underground parking areas.

Map with doors added to all buildingsNext came the shadows.  In the end, I think this is what was really missing from all the other maps.  With the exception of some of the shadows on the Stellar Tower Hotel, all of the shadows were drawn on their own layer that was placed below the building layer.  This allowed me to less exact on those shadow bits that were “under” the buildings and get them drawn faster.

Shadows added to the buildings.  They fall down and to the right of the structuresThe next layer was the monorail and walkway system.  This layer was originally above everything up to this point but at the last minute, I realized that it should be under the shadows and moved it down in the layer stack to the right location.  This is one of the areas where I deviated slightly from the original version in that I made the pylons for monorail system slightly larger than in the original (and consistently sized and shaped).

Map with monorails and walkways addedNext came the fun part, figuring out how to do the shrubbery. (For some reason I have Monty Python running though my head.  “You must bring us … a shrubbery”.)  I did not want to draw these by hand.  I figured there had to be some sort of image filter that would give me the basic rough outlines that would match the original map.  After a lot of experimenting, I found one that I liked and got the colors figured out.  Unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten exactly what it was.  I have the filter saved as part of the image but I can’t seem to find it in the tools at the moment.  That is something I’ll have to refigure out if I want to make another map in this style.  This layer was placed below the shadows layer.

Map with shrubs and trees addedNext I added in the arrows on the roads to show the direction of traffic.  These are on a layer above the grid to match the styling of the original map.

Arrows added on roads to show traffic directionFinally, I added in the labels.  This was done with two different layers.  The first, and topmost layer, simply contained the labels themselves.  However, the text was running over the grid lines and, like on the original map, some of those grid lines had to be masked out to make them more readable.  This was done on a second layer just below the text.  I simply drew rectangles of the same color as the underlying background to cover the grid in the appropriate places.

And that’s the Port Loren map, recreated.  The more I look at it, the more I feel the purple is a little too deep.  Maybe at some point I’ll go back and try to match the color a little closer but it’s not too far off when comparing a printed section of the map to the original.  The other thing I couldn’t match exactly was the font.  I came pretty close using Liberation Sans but I could never find the exact font used on the original.  If anyone knows what it is, please let me know as I’d love to update it to that font.

Someone pointed out that the in and out directions for some of the parking garages don’t make sense.  I’ll probably go back and change those in a future edition as well.  I didn’t really pay attention when I was making it as I was just recreating the original.

Finally, there are a couple of fan made maps that extend this map or draw a different part of the city.  I may take a stab at recreating those maps in the same style.


Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium – December Blog Carnival

RPG Blog Carnival LogoThis month’s RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by James Introcaso at the World Builder Blog and is entitled Homebrew Holiday Gifts.  The topic is giving a gift of your gaming creations.  I’ve had the idea to start a series of “Two Sheet Locations” and having just finished the first one, I thought it would be a great entry into this month’s carnival.  So without further ado, I present you with Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium.

Mr. M’s Equipment Emporium


The Equipment Emporium is owned by Mr. M. No one knows his real name. Even the documents registering the store simply list the owner as Mr. M. He is a single, middle-aged man with a lean, wiry build. He is on the shorter side but looks like he can handle his own in a fight if necessary.

Born and raised on an outpost world, Mr. M was grabbed by a wanderlust at a relatively young age and decided to see the galaxy. He has worked as a laborer, a mercenary, an explorer, and a quartermaster on a starship. His wanderlust satiated, Mr. M put his knowledge of the spaceways and equipment together to open the Equipment Emporium which he has run for the past couple of decades.

An expert marksman with both projectile and beam weapons, he is also proficient in melee and unarmed combat. He has excellent survival skills (although he doesn’t use them much on-board the space station where his store is located). He has basic medical skills as well as deep understanding of both the human and alien psyche which he puts to good use in helping customers find exactly what they need in his store and convincing them that they need it.

Mr. M is good-natured and generally easy-going. He has no end of stories which he uses to regale his customers with while showing them merchandise from his store. He also has a ready ear and a good story can get you a better deal on just about anything he is buying or selling. Mr. M drives a hard bargain but isn’t pushy. He’d rather have a customer leave with a good experience than make a sale. He always wears a laser pistol at his side, even, or maybe especially, when working in the store.


Mr. M's sign as described in the textThe first thing you notice when approaching the Equipment Emporium is the large glowing neon sign over the entryway with Mr. M’s name glowing blue in the middle and the words Equipment Emporium emblazoned in red around it. It lights up the passage way for tens of meters in every direction. The building extends all the way to the station level’s ceiling.

Directly inside the door to the right is a display case that doubles as the sales counter along with several display cases behind the counter. The counter contains a variety of small, valuable objects and the cases behind the counter contain mostly weapons.

Otherwise, the store primarily consists of a large room that is well lit and lined with shelves with larger aisles between the shelving than you would expect for a store on a space station. Looking into the aisles, however, one sees that the extra space is needed as some of the items are quite large. Each aisle is clearly labeled with the type of items they contain. However, the labels don’t always make sense to the casual observer as they are as often locations or regions as types of items. Mr. M knows where everything is and the labeling is more of a memory aide for him rather and a wayfinding guide for customers.

Floor plan of the main level as described in the text.

Thumbnail of the main level. Click for full-sized version

Beyond the counter and on the same side of the building is a locked room that contains some of Mr. M’s more expensive items. This lock is actually a three-factor voice and biometric recognition lock that requires the speaking of a code phrase in Mr. M’s voice and a successful hand print scan to open. Mr. M changes the passphrase regularly. This can only be done from inside the room. The room holds a few rows of shelves containing items that Mr. M feels need a little more security and could range from power weapons to rare artifacts to priceless gems and jewels. The aisle nearest the door is a little larger than the other to provide space for larger items.

There is a final door behind the counter that leads to a stairwell that goes up a level in the station to Mr. M’s private living quarters on the upper level. This is actually fairly unique on station as typically the residential section is completely isolated from the business section for station integrity. Because of this, beyond the normal looking door is actually an airlock chamber that you have to pass through to get to the stairs that lead up the Mr. M’s residence. This was a requirement he had to satisfy in order to have the cross level access. How he got the access, however, is a complete mystery.

Floor plan of Mr. M's home as described in the text.

Mr. M’s apartment. Click for full sized image

His residence is fairly small but very well appointed with décor and artifacts from across the galaxy that he collected in his wanderlust years. The front room is obviously for entertaining guests and heavily decorated with his “trophies”. To the side is a kitchen/dining area and there are two additional rooms plus a bathroom. One room is Mr. M’s bedroom and the other contains a high tech holovid entertainment system.

Buying and Selling at the Emporium

Mr. M tends to deal with more esoteric and unique items, leaving the common goods for the other outfitters and pawn shops. If you have or are looking for a unique item, Mr. M’s is a good place to check out. If all you have is standard issue material, it had better have a great story behind it or he won’t be interested or won’t be carrying it.

Mr. M has a fine eye for the value of everything that goes through his store. If he’s selling, he typically quotes a price about 5% above the item’s value. If the buyer has a good story or a personal connection in some way to the item, he’ll typically knock that 5% off right way. He doesn’t mind haggling at all but will typically only go down to about 90-95% of the item’s value. To get him to go below that would take an extraordinary story or skill but he will never go below 85%.

If he’s buying, he’ll absolutely want to know the story behind the item as he deals as much in the stories as in the items themselves. Plus it allows him to ascertain the provenance of the item and better assess its value. He doesn’t typically deal in illegal items (but he’s a sucker for a good story) and the history gives him a feel for this aspect as well. If he’s interested in the item, he’ll typically make an offer that is equal to 60-65% of the item’s value, which is typically higher than other dealers would offer. He’s willing to take smaller margins in order to generate goodwill and repeat business. Again he’s more than willing to haggle but will not typically go above 70% of the item’s value and will never go above 75%.

While good-natured, he also doesn’t suffer fools lightly. If anyone makes dumb or outlandish demands on prices, he will simply terminate the transaction. On the other hand, if the customer makes a counter offer within his price bracket, he’ll good-naturedly try to haggle them down a percentage point but once they give just a little he’ll accept the offer.

Mr. M will also just give an appraisal if the customer wants. For a good story he’ll give his assessment for free and it will be within 30% of the true value. If the customer wants a little more research into the actual value, Mr. M will be willing to do it for a small fee (typically a flat rate or 1% of the value whichever is less). This estimate will be ready in 1d3 days and be within 5% of the true value.

Game Integration

Characters should start hearing about Mr. M long before they ever get to the system where he runs his shop. He doesn’t advertise but everyone knows about him and his store, even several star systems over. He has a towering reputation as a great story teller and a fair shopkeeper and is a bit of a local legend in his part of the galaxy.

There are any number of reasons characters may want to visit Mr M’s store.

  • They have something to unique to sell. Other dealers don’t see the value and are seriously under valuing the item. Mr. M has a reputation for a keen eye and good prices.
  • They have an item and have no idea of its value. They hear that Mr. M knows his stuff, doesn’t ask much for the service, and is uncannily accurate in his appraisals, even on items from the far reaches of the galaxy.
  • There is something they need. Maybe they’re tracking down an item and the trail leads to the store. Or maybe just to the system where they get word of Mr’ M’s as the place for unique items.
  • They’ve heard of Mr. M’s reputation and just want to meet this character themselves.


While designed for a sci-fi setting, Mr. M and his shop could be easily adapted to a fantasy game with just a little modification. The full size maps are drawn at 100dpi and 50 pixels (1/2 inch) = 1 meter.  There is no grid but I could easily add one if desired.

This is the first in an on-going project of various locations designed to be dropped into your game as needed.  I’d love to hear feedback on what works and what doesn’t and what kind of things people would like to see in the future.  What kind of other details would be useful to you in using such a location? Also let me know about the maps.  Do you feel they are too busy?  Just right?  Would simpler floor plans be better?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Designing Out Loud – Void Jumping

This post is running a little behind as I’ve been swamped with end of semester projects. One down, two to go.  Next week’s post might get impacted as well.

My last two articles (one, two), part of the November RPG blog carnival, talked about the unexpected in Void Jump travel. In this article I want to discuss some more details about Void travel in my game and the mechanics that will be used.  Or at least what I am considering for a first pass.

Some Constraints

Gravity Wells

In my universe, Void travel cannot start or stop anywhere.  If you are too close to a large mass, the gravitational field of that object prevents void jumping.  This was somewhat inspired by Larry Niven’s hyperspace.  I liked the idea of having to worry about the large masses that you are traveling by.  Unlike Niven’s hyperspace, getting too close doesn’t cause anything bad to happen, it just bounces you back into real space or prevents you from initiating a Void jump at all. Of course if the object is close, directly ahead, and you’re moving fast, things could get scary.

This has a couple of implications for FTL travel.  First, you have to get away from everything.  I have an exact forumulation for it but for a solar sized star, you need to get about 4 AU away from the star before you can jump.  Starting at a planet about 1 AU away, it takes abut 84 hours of acceleration at 1g to get out that far.  This means that at a minimum, if everything is aligned properly and everything works, a single insterstellar jump will take about seven days (assuming a 24 hour day).

Next, it means you only have to be accurate in your direction vector enough to hit that sphere around your target star where Void travel doesn’t work.  As long as you’re lined up well enough, you’ll drop out of the Void when you hit that gravity well.  This places an upper limit on how accurate you need to be.  Now, the question is, can you get out of the Void on your own or do you have to hit one of these gravity wells to come out of the Void?  I’m leaning toward the following combination.  You can get out on your own, but it’s much harder than being pulled out naturally by hitting a gravity well.  In this scenario, you want to try to hit the target gravity well when you can.

This also means that locations close to the mass source (star or large planet) are “shielded” by the “no jump zone”.  Any arriving ship or fleet has to arrive outside that zone so there will be advanced warning before they get to their destination (at least if anyone is looking).

Everything is Moving

Another constraint is that nothing is ever in the same place twice.  Planets orbit their stars which are orbiting the galactic center and moving relative to each other.  This means that no two jumps are ever exactly the same.  A jump from one planet to another, repeated just a few weeks later, means that both the start point and the destination as moved.  It won’t be by much, but if you remember from my last article, even a little bit of error can result in a huge wrong location.

So every jump needs its direction vector recalculated before you can start.  The good news is that this actually isn’t a very hard calcuation.  Or rather it is a hard caculation but a good computer can do it relatively quickly.  There is a lot of data that goes into it but for game purposes, I’ve decided that the calculation can be done in under an hour.  All you need is your start time, your start location, and a good astronomical database that has the information about your departure and destination system.  However …

Getting Lined Up is Hard

Figuring out where you need to go is easy,  determining if you are actually going there is another story.  The problem is the same as the one above, everything is moving.  There is not really an absolute reference frame.  The problem is that you don’t just need to know your postion relative to the star your leaving but relative to all the stars in the sector.  And it’s not really the position that matters but rather your velocity vector.  How are you moving relative to all of these objects? And how do you determine this direction down to arcsecond (or sub arc second) accuracy?

This can be overcome by the fact that you are moving quite a bit to get out of the gravity well.  As you move along your path, nearby stars will appear to move relative to more distant ones.  This is called parallax.  By measuring how much each of the stars move, and which direction they move, you can determine your vector in space relative to your departure and destination star.

There are some things to remember when trying to measure parallax.  First, you have to move quite a ways to measure any shift at all in stars; they are really far away.  Second, when you first start out, you’re not moving very fast so you don’t move very much between measurements.  This means that the more accurate of a measurement you need, the longer it is going to take as you need to have larger and larger baselines to measure small parallax angles.  You get these longer baselines by waiting longer and by accellerating so you’re moving faster and covering these distances faster.

What is the Jump Process?

Given all of this, what does a typical Void jump look like in game.

First, the astrogator computes the jump vector.  For this he needs to know the time of departure.  Plus or minus a few hours doesn’t make much difference.  This takes about an hour of time on the ship’s computer or could be requested from a central astrogation computer on the system’s data network if it exists.

Next the ship points in the general direction of the target system and begins accelerating.  Images are taken of the stars being measured for parallax.  As the ship continues to accelerate and covers more distance, new pictures are taken and the parallax measurements are made.  From this the course can be adjusted to make it more accurate.  This is repeated until the course is accurate enough.

Once the ship is lined up and the minimum jump distance is reached, the ship can engage whatever technology enables the jump and shifts to the Void, makes the trip, and emerges in the destination system.

At this point more standard navigation techniquies can be used to decelerate and travel to the destination system.

How to Trigger a Jump

You may have noticed that I kind of glossed over actually making the jump.  That is going to depend on the setting.  Star Frontiers does it by hitting 1% the speed of light (of course that begs the question, 1% of c relative to what?).

For my world/game, the abilty to enter the Void is controlled by a “Jump Field Generator”.  When you want to enter the Void, you turn this device on and it envelops the ship in a field that allows the ship to shift into the Void and make the jump.  Turning it off takes you out of the Void.

How Long Does it Take?

This really depends on the setting.  How fast can the ships accelerate?  What is the minimum jump distance? How long does it take to line up the ship?

If you want to use this idea, you’ll have to answer that for your own setting.  I’ll give you my answers.

How fast can ships accelerate?

For my setting, there is no artifical gravity.  Thus to get simulated gravity on a ship it has to accelerate.  But you also can’t accelerate too quickly or everyone gets squished.  By default, ships tend to travel by accelerating and decelerating at one standard gravity which in my setting is defined as 10 m/s/s for simplicity.  This means that accelerations are relatively low and it takes time to get from place to place.

What is the minimum jump distance?

For my setting, I’ve decided that the local gravitational acceleration (from everything smaller than the galaxy itself) has to be less than some specific value which I don’t remember off the top of my head as I’m writing this.  For a star like the sun, this distance works out to something like 4.05 AU.  At one standard gravity of acceleration, it takes about 84 hours to go from a planet at 1 AU out to the jump distance.  This sets a minimum time for a jump.

How long does it take to line up the ship?

I’ve thought a bit about this but I’m going to invoke a bit of handwavium here toward the end for the fine details.  There are several factors that go into it.

The first question is how accurate of a parallax angle can you measure. Modern systems dediated to this can measure parallaxes of 10 micro arcseconds with lots of data on a 2 AU baseline (diamter of the Earth’s orbit) over five years.  So it is reasonable that the ships should be able to achieve 10 mili-arcsecond accruacy (1000x worse) on the same baseline. After all, they should have at least equivalent sized telescopes and detectors.  They just lack the time frame.  So we should be able to measure o.o1 arcsecond parallaxes on a 2AU baseline or 0.1 arcsec parallaxes on a 0.2AU baseline.

The next question is how big of a target are we trying to hit.  Assuming you have to hit the “no jump zone” around a solar sized star, that target is a direct function of the distance.  For a star 5 light years away, that 4 AU radius target corresponds to a direction accuracy of 2.6 arc seconds.  So if we can measure 0.1 arcseconds in 0.2 AU of travel, let’s assume that we should be able to get our course vector accurate to 2.6 arcseconds in about 0.4 AU (0.2 AU to get the first vector, adjust, and 0.2 AU to verify).

So how long does it take to travel 0.4 AU assuming 1g acceleration and starting at rest? 30.43 hours

Now a 10 ly jump requires an accuracy of 1.3 arcseconds.  The question is, how long should this take to dial in the desired accuracy?  I’m fond of inverse square laws so I’d say that double the acuracy requires 4 times the distance.  That means you have to travel 1.6 AU to get enough measurements and course corrections to achieve the desired accuracy.  Traveling 1.6 AU from rest requires about 60 hours.

Here’s where I will apply the handwavium quite liberally.  I could easily pick some numbers and justify the accuracy needed to achieve a jump and compute the travel time exactly needed to achieve that accuracy for a given distance.  And I could even provide the forumlas.  But it would be kind of messy.  However, I want something quick and simple.  I could present the data in a table to look up.  And I might do that as a later optional rule for those that want more realistic values.

But what I really want is something quick and simple that is easy to remember. And I want a 10 light year jump to take longer to line up than it takes to get out to the minimum jump distance.  I also want it to become unpractical to make really, really long jumps.  So let’s set the time required to line up the ship to the distance to be traveled, in light years squared in hours or 10 hours whichever is longer.  Or for those that like formulas:

Time = (d in ly)^2 hours

So a jump of one to three light years would take 10 hours to line up.  A five light year jump would take 25 hours, and a 10 light year jump would take 100 hours.

Putting it all together

That was a very long winded explaination for what in the end is actually a simple result.

If you want to make a Void Jump for distance of 9 light years or less, it takes 80 hours (notice I rounded it down to 80 hours from the 84 I was quoting above) to get out to the minimum jump distance at which point you are lined up and can make the jump.

If your want to make a Void Jump for a distance of greater than 9 light years, it takes the number of light years squared in hours to get the ship lined up accurately enough.  At which point you can safely make the jump.


Obviously that “simple” solution is based on starting at rest at a planet 1AU from the star and needing to get out to 4 AU before you can jump.  There are lots of variations on this scenario that you can imagine that will vary the time.  Possibilities include:

  • You’re starting further out in the system, maybe already beyond the minimum jump distance.
  • Instead of heading straight outward from the star, your destination is actually on the opposite side of the star and so instead of having to travel 3 AU to get to the minimum jump distance you have to travel up to 5 AU (if starting at 1 AU) or maybe even 8 AU if you’re on the other edge and have to go all the way across
  • A combination of both of the above.  You’re outside the gravity well but the jump vector crosses it so you have to move to get a different line to your destination
  • You get attacked or encounter something and have to maneuver while getting lined up.  Now you’re all messed up and you have to start over.
  • What if you accelerate at a higher (or lower) rate?
  • What if you don’t spend enough time lining up?

Are there any other variations that come to mind?  Are there any concepts that I should have explained better?  Is there something I overlooked?  Let me know in the comments below?

Your Final Destination – Exiting a Void Jump – November Blog Carnival – part 2

My last post on Void Sickness along with reading Mike Bourke’s second portal article (I’m still a week behind but I’m catching up!), got me thinking about another aspect of Void travel that I like to use but which I don’t see talked that much about: where you come out on the other end.  And since I’m approaching it as something you can’t completely control, the exact location is somewhat unpredictable and can have unexpected results.  So this will be another entry into the November RPG Blog Carnival.  Enjoy.

Never the Same Place Twice

Last time I played with the Disruption parameter.  This time I want to talk about Repeatability.  When I was defining void travel in the previous post, I stated that the repeatability was “vague” which was defined as “A new Portal from the same origin may be directable to some point near where the old one was” in the original portal article that sparked my first post.  In his second article, he added, “but the exact same destination is unreachable” to the end of that when he summarized the detailed definitions.  In that second post I liked the definition he gave for “unpredictable” which was “A new Portal from the same origin will connect with another point completely at random, uncontrollably, within the destination plane of existence, perhaps restricted to a significant region.

My idea of void travel falls somewhere between those two.  It’s not that reaching the exact same location is impossible, it’s just very unlikely.  You’ll always end up close (on a cosmic scale) unless you make a major mistake but probably not in the same location.  And in truth the chances of actually starting in the same place are slim to none as well depending on your definitions of location and the scale of what constitutes the “same origin” (Are you measuring in meters, kilometers, or AU?).  Given the two summarized definitions I’m actually leaning a little more toward unpredictable but both work.  The point is, the place you come out is always going to be different.  Let’s look at that and what it may mean for your game.


So why is it not possible to come out in the same spot?  From my perspective this comes down to two factors that related to how I treat void travel.  In my interpretation of how void travel works, whatever vector you have in the real universe when you enter the void is the vector you maintain in the void.  You can’t change your direction and you move in a “straight” line.  Which means you need to be lined up exactly right or you’re going to go way off course.

Stay on Target

Just how exactly do you need to be lined up?  Let’s look at a couple of examples.  Take a piece of paper.  Draw a small dot on it no larger than half a millimeter.  Now hold that up at arm’s length.  See how big that dot is?  Depending on the size of your dot and the length of your arm, that dot covers an angle of about 2-3 arc minutes.  If your direction vector were off by that much, how far off would you be at your destination?

I’m going to be generous and assume you drew a small dot and have a long arm and go with the 2 arc minute number.  Assuming you make a small void jump, say 4.3 light years, the distance to the nearest solar type star, Alpha Centauri, you’d be off target by only 5.5 billion kilometers.  Space is big, that’s not too bad, right?  Well, that’s about 36.7 Astronomical Units (the distance between the Earth and the Sun).  Which means if you were shooting for Earth, you’d be out by Pluto.  Depending on how fast your ship is, that may take a while to compensate for.

But an error of 2 arc minutes is pretty big.  We can do better than that.  Let’s say we can get our error down to the size of an arc second (1 degree = 60 arc minutes = 3600 arc seconds).  That’s equivalent to putting your dot about 24 feet (7.2m) away.  If we do that and make the same jump to Alpha Centauri, we’d still be off by about 46 million kilometers or 0.3 AU, roughly the distance between the Earth and Venus at closest approach.  (By the way, an error of 1 arc second means your ship moved laterally 4.8 mm after traveling 1 kilometer).  And if you make a jump twice as far, the error will be twice as large as it is really just the direction error (in radians) multiplied by the distance traveled.  Double the distance, double the offset.

Just based on that, you can see that you’re probably not going to come out at the same place at your destination no matter how hard you try.  Getting your vector to that accuracy is going to take some effort.  But there is another effect, the time spent in the void.

How Good is Your Clock?

The other aspect of determining your position is how long you spend in the void and how far you travel in a given amount of time.  If there are errors in your time keeping, this will translate into errors in the distance traveled.

Let’s use the example I gave in my earlier post: void travel occurs at the rate of one light year per second.  Now, a light year is 9.4607×1012 km.  That means that an error of a millisecond equal a distance of 9.4607×109 km (63 AU, roughly twice the distance to Neptune).  A microsecond error reduced that by a factor of 1000 and an error of only a nanosecond reduces that by another factor of 1000 or down to an error of only 9460.7 km, less than the diameter of the Earth.

Modern computers can get to about a 10 nanosecond resolution which means an accuracy of about 95,000 km roughly 1/4 the distance to the moon.  Depending on the technology you allow in your setting (and what you allow to work in the void), the accuracy could be better or worse than this.  But even with a microsecond error, the distance you’ll be off is only 0.063 AU.

So while there is an effect, and you probably won’t end up in the same spot, it is much less than the effect you can expect from an error in the velocity vector.  Depending on the story you’re trying to tell, that may or may not be negligible.

Impact on Your Game

We’ve seen what the scale of the effect is, what impact does that have on your game?  While the details will depend on you exact setting, here are three ideas off the top of my head.

Travel times

Given the natural variation in arrival locations, you are typically going to be off target which means the actual travel time to the destination is going to vary.  It will no longer be “three days” but “three to four days”.  You can’t really plan on exact time tables.

To put some numbers to that, assume you were off by the 0.3AU distance from earlier.  Assuming your ship is traveling at 1% the speed of light (3,000 km/s, just under 11 million km per hour), it will take you about 4.25 hours to cover that extra distance.  If you’re off by more or going slower, it will take even longer (and that’s ignoring a bunch of real world physics about changing direction and such which will only add to the time).

This means that you have to plan for and account for the extra time and it may add tension to a situation.  We only have 100 hours to reach the destination and stop the “big event”.  The jump and associated travel time takes 80+2d10 hours to just get to the location where the big event will happen.  Do the characters arrive with hours to spare or are they landing with only minutes until they have to spring into action?  What impacts will this have on their preparations? Will it limit what they can do or bring to bear in the situation?

Space Piracy

Again ignoring real world physics of matching velocities in space, the result of non-repeatability of void jumps means you’re probably not going to have space pirates lurking in the outer system for ships to appear and then pounce on them.  Even if you had hundreds of ships entering a system every day, the odds of one appearing near where a pirate vessel was lurking is really, really small.  The pirate ship could sit out there for years and never have an encounter.  This means that piracy, if it occurs, will happen near the population centers, at remote, fixed outposts, or on the outbound leg of a journey before the void jump when the routes are much more predictable.

Arriving in Formation

Remember this scene from Return of the Jedi? (0:43-1:04 is the relevant part if you don’t want to watch the whole thing).

That just isn’t going to happen with void jumping.  Even assuming that you can get the velocity vector the same for all the ships, which might be hard but could be possible (although not with everyone dodging in and out among each other like the fighters in the beginning of that clip) the timing variations between the ship computers will scatter everyone across tens of thousands of kilometers of space.  You will need time to regroup.  Which means you probably want to appear further out in the system to allow yourself that time which in turns means longer travel to your destination and a greater chance for discovery.

Or if you do allow for piracy to occur in the outer reaches of the system,  merchants and their escorts may be separated on arrival.  The convoy scattered across space.  Can the escorts get back to their charges before the pirates attack or do they only arrive in time to extract revenge for damage done?

Void Travel is Unpredictable

From the above thoughts, it’s fairly obvious that this method of FTL travel has the potential to add some randomness and unpredictability into your game.  Whether to add tension or just flavor, there is no real reason that void travel should be routine.  Are there other ideas for impacts that come to mind because of the unpredictability?  Let us know in the comments below.



Void Travel Sickness – November RPG Blog Carnival

RPG Blog Carnival LogoUpdate: I hadn’t intended for this post to be part of the November RPG blog carnival, the topic of which is “The Unexpected“, even though the timing of it was inspired by a blog carnival post. However, in discussions with Mike Bourke, the host of this month’s blog carnival topic, he felt that it would be fine for inclusion. His argument was that since the degree to which (and even if) you are affected is unknown each time you travel, it fell within the realm of the topic. If the guy running the show agrees, who am I to argue? So this is now my entry into the November RPG blog carnival. Thanks for the encouragement, Mike.

In most sci-fi games, we typically take interstellar faster than light travel for granted with no individual consequences.  What if that wasn’t true?

This is actually something I’ve thought about off and on for the past few years.  It even makes a subtle appearance in my book, Discovery.  I was reading an article, The Unexpected Neighbor: Portals to Celestial Morphology 1/4, on Campaign Mastery and the discussion about disruption triggered me to think about my Void Travel Sickness mechanic once again.  I thought I’d write it up.

Defining Void Travel

Ship exiting a Void JumpFirst we need to start off with what Void travel actually is.  Basically it is a way of quickly traversing vast interstellar distances nearly instantaneously by traveling through another dimension (the Void). The ship plots/calculates a “Void jump” and then somehow engages the physics of the universe to move from real space to the Void, travel a bit in the Void where distance is greatly compressed relative to real space, and then shift back to real space at the destination.  Since distances in the Void are so compressed (or is it time?), a short trip in the Void corresponds to a long trip in the real universe.

The is the type of interstellar travel used in Star Frontiers (at least in the Knight Hawks ship expansion), basically stating that when traveling at 1% the speed of light (the mechanism to invoke the physics), one second travel in the Void, moves you 1 light year in the real universe.

In terms of the parameters Mike defines in his article, these Void jumps can be considered mono-directional, temporary, immense, stable (relative to the ship), safe, and vague (relative to the endpoint location) portals.  I want to play with that safe part.

What happens to the participants during that brief time spend in the void is up to the GM or the designer of the game system.  In my book, I described it thus:

Everything on-board the ship went crazy.  Colors seemed to invert.  Any displays that had previously showed empty space outside the ship just seemed to just vanish.  Sounds were distorted.  The sense of touch just disappeared.  It felt as if they were being pulled into their seats and weightless at the same time and everyone felt a strong case of dizziness, as if you had been spinning incredibly fast and then just stopped, and had to walk a straight line but couldn’t.

“What’s going on?” Allison asked, looking around a little wildly.  Her voice sounded muffled, as if speaking under water.

“I don’t know,” Alex replied his voice also distorted.  “You’re the expert on …”  And then the effect was gone.  “the jump process,” he finished.  The strange effect was gone but it was replaced by alarms and sirens going off throughout the ship.

“That was weird,” he added almost to himself.  While the strange effect was gone, Alex still felt a bit nauseous but it was passing quickly.  Looking at Allison, the slight greenish cast to her complexion indicated that she felt it as well.

but it really could be anything you want.

Void Travel Sickness

What if the effects of Void travel weren’t just brief and temporary disorientation and nausea but could be something more serious?  How do you decide if you’re susceptible?  Is it a binary option, i.e. you either get sick every time or not at all?  Does it get progressively worse? Can you prevent it?  This are all things to think about.  I’m not going to answer all of those questions in this particular article as some of them depend on the game system itself and I’m just going to cover general principles.  The ones I miss I’ll revisit at a later date when I implement a final version of the system in my Designing Out Loud series.

For my version of this, everyone is potentially susceptible and no one is completely immune.  However, even if you are susceptible, it doesn’t mean you experience the effects every time and just because you aren’t susceptible, it doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally be caught by it.  You might go for several jumps without any ill effects, and then be floored by the next one.  And I want it to be a progressive condition, meaning that as time goes on and you make more jumps, you become more susceptible, no matter where you start on the susceptibility spectrum.  So let’s start looking at details


Not everyone succumbs to void sickness as easily as others.  Some people just seem to be immune to it while others get hit every time they make a jump.  Each character should have a susceptibility score that represents the probability that they will succumb to void sickness on any give jump.  Because I want this to be fairly fine grained and want the increase in susceptibility to be very gradual, this roll should be percentile (d100) based and the susceptibility score should range from 1-100.

The easiest way to initially determine susceptibility would be to make some sort of constitution or stamina check the very first time you make an interstellar jump.  For characters in a sci-fi campaign, where you can assume they have made jumps in the past before adventuring, you could make the check as part of character generation.  Passing or failing this first check indicates whether you tend to be immune or susceptible to getting void sickness and you can then determine your starting susceptibility score.

You start by determining your base score.  In a d100 system, like the one I’m designing or Star Frontiers, your base score is simply your constitution characteristic, in this case Stamina.  If you’re using this in a d20 or 3d6 characteristic system, you’d want to multiply that characteristic by five first. to put it on the same scale.  If your game of choice uses some other scale for ability scores, multiply by the appropriate factor to get the value on a scale of 1-100. (i.e. a 2d6 game would multiply by 8).

To this base chance you simply add your “first jump modifier”.  If you passed that first check, give the character a +20 to their susceptibility score.  They are fairly immune.  If you failed, give the character a -20.  They tend to suffer from void sickness more often. This becomes your character’s susceptibility score for the game.

Increased Susceptibility

I also want the chance to succumb to increase the more jumps you make but not very quickly.  (This is why starship captains are all young an dashing and admirals are all old, stay home, and only travel grudgingly :-) ).

The mechanic for this is straightforward.  If you fail a susceptibility check, your score drops by one.  If you pass, nothing happens.  This is why I wanted the check to be percentile based, so that the change is small on any single failure.  If it was d20 based (or something similar), a single point change is a big effect.

This mechanic has a couple of impacts.  First, those with high scores (i.e. immune) will often pass their checks and have little change in their score.  Those that are susceptible, however, will deteriorate much quicker as they fail more often.  Also, as time goes on, the rate of deterioration increases as they fail more often, regardless of where they started.  This was intentional as I wanted the overall effect to be that there will come a point that you decide that you’re done with interstellar travel or willing to accept that every jump will be a miserable experience.  However, I didn’t want that to come too quickly.

If fact, for player characters, instead of rolling, I’d probably declare that they are all void sickness “immune” and just start their susceptibility score at STA+20.  To goal is to have it be an occasional but real concern to add some suspense and drama but not really debilitating (at least to start).

On Any Given Jump

To see if you suffer the effects of void sickness, simply roll d100 against your susceptibility score with a 100 always being a failure regardless of the susceptibility score.  Success means a brief moment of disorientation/nausea/whatever the minor effects (if any) are.  Failure means more debilitating effects.  This is going to be system dependent.  However, there is the question of scale.

One option is to just make it a binary solution.  Success = no effect, failure = some fixed effect.  In this case the magnitude of the effect is independent of the degree of failure.  Everyone who fails suffers the same effects.

A second option is to have the effects be dependent on further die rolls.  Maybe the effect has a variable time frame (i.e. -10% on all skill checks for 1d10 hours) or varying severity (i.e. -1d6*5% to all skills for an hour) or both (-3d10% from all skill/ability checks for 1d6 hours).  Or it could be anything that the system designers/GMs want to implement.

The final option would be to have the effects dependent on the degree of failure with the difference between the roll and the susceptibility score determining the magnitude of the effect.  Thus you could fail by just a little on only suffer minor effects or fail spectacularly and be down for a while.

The first and second option are good if you want those with high susceptibilities to potentially suffer serious effects when they do happen to fail while the third one plays into the idea that those with strong resistances don’t suffer too badly while those that suffer chronically suffer extremely.  It just depends on the flavor you want.

Prevention and Treatment

I’m not going to cover this topic in this particular post as it really depends on the game setting and what the GM desires (if adding this to an existing system).  Maybe there are medicines or techniques that can boost your immunity.  There are most likely medicines that can be used to counteract the negative effects.  What they are will depend on the game.

A sci-fi needleless syringe

A Work in Progress

This is obviously a first pass at the design.  As I test it out and look at it more closely there will probably be other refinements and details I’ll make.  What do you think?  Have you ever implemented a void (portal passage) sickness in your game?  What worked and what didn’t? What would you add or change to what I described?  Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.