News

Autarch has a new Kickstarter for ACKS and other OSR games: By This Axe: The Cyclopedia of Dwarven Civilization — a 200 page compendium of information on dwarves. The first day isn’t over as I write this and By the Axe has already funded. From the Kickstarter page:

In this tome you will find the secrets of the great and proud race of dwarves, compiled, codified, and curated for use in your favorite old-school fantasy role-playing game….. By This Axe is organized into ten chapters:

      • Chapter 1, Introduction, details the audience, purpose, and approach for this book.
      • Chapter 2, Dwarven Lore, provides an overview of the ethnicity, physiology, language, and customs of dwarves. It is narrated from the point of view of a sage in the world of the Auran Empire.
      • Chapter 3, Dwarven Characters, explains how to roll up a dwarven character in any one of six racial classes, including the craftpriestdelverearthforger, furymachinist, and vaultguard.
      • Chapter 4, Dwarven Templates, provides eight pre-generated templates for each character class in this book. Using these templates, you can easily make your vaultguard a highborn lord, your machinist an apothecary, or your craftpriest a reliquary guardian.
      • Chapter 5, Dwarven Earthforging, details a new style of magic, wielded by the earthforger class, whose innate talents have allowed them to channel the power within materials to reshape their form.
      • Chapter 6, Dwarven Automatons, presents rules for designing, building, and repairing clockwork and steampunk-type machines. The section includes over 20 example vehicles, objects, and other automatons to act as examples for the build process and/or to include in your game as items to encounter or use, or as blueprints in treasure hoards.
      • Chapter 7, Dwarven Domains, explains how your dwarven characters can establish themselves as rulers of domains and realms, with rules for agriculture, urban settlements, vassals, garrisons, and more.
      • Chapter 8, Dwarven Mining, expands the rules for domains to include mining for precious metals and quarrying for stone. Special rules for “delving too deep” allow your dwarves to greedily hunger for gold – risking potentially dire consequences.
      • Chapter 9, Dwarven Mycoculture, details the secret methods of mushroom farming used by the dwarves to feed their vaults and brew their marvelous ales and beers.
      • Chapter 10, Dwarven Relics, offers a catalog of over 35 rare and powerful dwarven relics, artifacts, and antiquities that might be guarded in sacred reliquaries, wielded by dwarf lords, or re-discovered in lost vaults and deep and hidden places.

 

Backer levels start at $49 for a PDF and hardcover of the book with an estimated delivery of May 2023. The funding goal of $10,000 has been met. There are 15 stretch goals with the first at $20,000 and the last at $100,000. While ACKS is probably one of the least “rules light” OSR games, information on dwarves is always useful for other more “rules light” OSR games.

Welcome to my new blog/website focused on rules light RPGs of all types. Originally, I was planning to restart my RetroRoleplaying Blog and switch its focus from rules-light old school games to rules light games in general. After some thought, however, I decided make a clean start with a new web site and a new blog. The RetroRoleplaying site will continue to host my old blog with its posts on old school games and all the RPGs I’ve designed in the last 12-14 years, while this new site will focus on news and articles about rules light RPGs in general.

I stopped posting much on the old RetroRoleplaying blog because I lacked the time and because all the politics the OSR field often descends into turned me off. Due to my wife’s MS, I still don’t have a lot of spare time as I’m her 24/7 caregiver, but I’ve retired now and with all the medical bills from her oral cancer back in the 2000s paid, I no longer have to churn out games to pay bills. This will — hopefully — allow me to write at least 4 or 5 blog posts a month. As for RPG politics, I now avoid RPG politics like the plague it is. Rules Light RPGs will be a (recent) real world politics free site. This will be better for my aging heart and my mental health.

This new site will also consolidate two of my other web sites (microlite20.org and microlite74.com). I’ve moved the Microlite20 Nexus forum to this site and renamed it The Forum @ Rules Light RPGs. As that all there really was at the Microlite Nexus site any more, the microlite20.org site will soon become a single page site with info on Microlite20 and pointers to where to gets copies of Microlite20 and its many variants. It will also redirect links to the old Microlite20 Nexus forum the to its new home here. In fact, this part should be working now. The Microlite74 site will likely be shutdown when its domain next comes up for renewal. I’ve never really used it for anything.

Posts/article here will generally focus on the “play” aspect of rules light RPGs rather than musings on theory or design aspects. Expect to see house rules, new monsters and magic items, etc. for those rules light RPGs I’m most interested in and some short reviews of rules light RPG material in general. While I’m firmly in the old school camp and the traditional RPG camp, I’m not going to limit posts and forum discussion to just old school, traditional RPGs of the rules light variety.

While this site is still “under construction”, I can’t wait to get started. Therefore while the site may be changing somewhat in the background over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting. I hope at least some of what I post will interest you.

Latest Articles

This is the second part of a short series of posts on the Pan Sentient Confederation, a system neutral “final frontier” mini-setting. The first post is here.

Please remember that this material was created in the 1990s for SRRT3 on the Genie online service with writing fiction in mind, so it probably goes into more (or less, in some cases) detail than needed for a tabletop RPG on some background material  This writeup was produced by taking messages I posted on SFRT3, editing them slightly to correct typos (and probably to add different typos), and rearranging the posted material to be somewhat more organized. All of this material is copyright 1996 by Randall Stukey.

Major Species

PSC Member Species

Binoids

These are binary humanoids. Part machine and part humanoid life form they have the strength and endurance of a machine but lack the imagination and flexibility of a humanoid. Their individual computational skills are equal to any but the best supercomputers. Their memory and “sampling rate” are superior to humans. They have less agility and speed than an athletic human.

In appearance they look like humanoids wearing pieces of power armor. They “eat” power and in a pinch can absorb solar energy but prefer artificial power sources.

There are two factions of this group. The Network, which is a large group of Binoids who live as a collective mind. The Rogues, a small number who revolted against the Network and live independently of the Network, in societies resembling humanoid societies. They have not developed the social skills that smooth humanoid relationships so there are continual disputes and somewhat of an anarchy.

The Network keeps to itself, refusing to have diplomatic or other relationships with other species. Occasionally they will attack ships or planets. This is thought to be for the purpose of finding spare parts and assimilating individual humanoids into their Network.

Individual Rogues have trade and other relations with the other humanoid species. Some serve in various planetary militaries and even in the Confederation. Most humanoids dislike them as individuals because they either refuse to or are unable to learn social skills.

The Network is not all that dangerous a foe. They make occasional raids and are more of a nuisance than a real danger to the Confederation or other worlds.

One can recognize the difference between a Binoid in the Network and one who is a Rogue. The Network Binoids are all of uniform appearance, their bionic parts are more uniform and of the same color, usually a dark grey. The Rogues have scavenged a lot of parts and crafted their own so they look more pie bald in appearance. (sort of like those old cars one sees that have one fender red and the rest of the body blue.) [created by Linda Robinett]

Humanity

The dominant species of the Pan Sentient Confederation is humanity. Terran humanity (and its various genetic offshoots created by genetic engineering) control about 45% of the approximately 10,000 Confederation’s member worlds. Humanity has matured a bit as it has spread through space, but is basically the same as it is now. Humanity in the PSC is much more tolerant of difference and somewhat less self-centered than than humanity of the late 20th century. The average true human has a life-expectancy of 150 years. This can be pushed to 250-300 years with expensive anti-agathics, a healthy life, and a lot of luck. Cybernetic enhancement was the vogue in the 2200s, but while still somewhat common today, it is now usually done for for specific purposes instead of simply because it can be done.

Thanks to the discovery of a major Forerunner site below the Western Australian desert in 2133, humanity has mastered basic genetic engineering. While Terran humanity is probably tens of thousands of years away from the ability to create new species from undifferentiated protoplasm as the Jorchim allegedly could, they can create sub-species of humanity and humanoid races tailored for specific talents and/or otherwise marginal planets. These creations are called sub-species because they are all genetically capable of interbreeding with each other and true humanity (even though, in some cases they might not be physically capable.) While, officially, there is no prejudice, many true humans look down on their genetic-engineered brethren.

After the abuses of World War IV (the so-called “Metamorph War”) in 2178, the Terran government has tried to maintain strict control of all genetic engineering projects and to hold those involved to extremely high ethical standards. While they have generally succeeded, there is still a Cartel-ran black market in genetically engineered humanoid slaves of various types in Confederation space and beyond. While the Terran government freely shares the knowledge they gained from the Forerunner site, they maintain a virtual monopoly on many of the biochemicals needed for more radical genetic engineering as they can (thus far) only be made by massive Forerunner equipment at the Australia site.

L-Rame

The L-Rame are a stoic, nearly emotionless humanoid species from a large, hot desert world bound by family duties, strange traditions and philosophies, and logic. While they are a small minority species in the Confederation, their great scientific and diplomatic abilities, make them second in power to Humanity. Scientists from the L-Rame Science Academy (who are not, of course, all L-Rame) hold over 30% of the patents and perform or supervise the majority of the basic scientific research in the Confederation. The L-Rame have a lifespan of 250-300 years, but there are no known anti-agathics that can increase it.

Medean

The Medeans are a humanoid species descended from felines. They are a very serious and somewhat arrogant species that seems to live for excitement and adventure. A Medean’s social status is mainly determined by where he has been and what she has done. While the average Medean looks (and often sounds) ferocious, most Medeans are followers of the Way, a pacifistic philosophy. Those who are not do make excellent marines.

Sirie

The Sirie are a humanoid race, on average, slightly smaller and thinner than humans. Their skin ranges from a very light tan to a dark brown. Eye colors can be yellow, gold, brown or, rarely, green and are usually quite large. A bony ridge goes from the ear flaps, located low on either side of the head, to the center of the forehead, curving and thickening over the eyes, to meet at a point in the center of the forehead. Just behind the ridge, where the hairline starts, are slim antennae, which serve as additional sense organs. Due to the antennae, the Sirie have very acute senses of hearing, sight and smell. Hair on the head is quite thin, fine and straight, ranging from white to dark blond. The hair covers width of the head from behind the ridge, down the neck and back and narrows to a point at the middle of the lower back. Sirie limbs are thin, with fingers of three digits and an opposable thumb. While Sirie faces show little emotion and their body language is difficult to decipher, their antennae are quite expressive. They have been known to lay flat along the head in depression or stand straight up with fear.

The Sirie’s home planet is a dry world, having no oceans, though there are numerous lakes and rivers. Trees and plant life are abundant. There are no large carnivores though there are several species of large herbivores, most of which have been domesticated by the Sirie. Due to the relatively dry nature of the planet, the Sirie do not swim and dislike being immersed in water excessively. Note that due to the Sirie’s body makeup, they tend to sink like a stone in bodies of water.

The planetary government is very stratified. Class is strict and non- negotiable. Class layers include the ruling class, who are the wealthy and powerful; the warrior class, who get their wealth mostly from the ruling class and are highly honored by all; the working class, who are nearly a complete society within themselves; and the slave class, who have little of their own — they serve the ruling class and the warrior class. Within each class layer are numerous clans. Each clan will have ties to corresponding clans in the other classes. The classes will rarely interact, but the fortunes of corresponding clans from one class to another will often rise and fall together. [created by April Legate]

Trell

The Trell are a shape-changing species whose native form is sort of a very thick soup. They tend to assume the outward form of other species — although changing form takes 24-48 hours. For convenience, most Trell assume some type of humanoid form when dealing with humanoids. They were one of the founding members of the Pan Sentient Confederation. They are often considered too superficial by the L-Rame as they generally act as if they do not have a care in the world. Their lifespan is approximately 100 years, but this can be nearly doubled by relatively inexpensive anti-agathics.

Non-PSC Species

Bren

The Bren are a bluish-skinned humanoid species who totally dominate BrenSpace. They are a militaristic race that believe they were created by their god to conquer and rule the galaxy. They believe that other humanoid species are the failed experiments of their Creator and are to be cared for as one might a child, unless they have be seduced to the side of the Destroyer. They believe that non-humanoid species were created by the Destroyer to be its army in a great battle to be held with the Creator at the end of time. Such species occasionally make useful slave species, but have no rights and can never be trusted. The Bren believe that the Pan Sentient Confederation is a tool of the Destroyer because it considers all species equal. With slightly over 3500 systems, BrenSpace is the Confederation’s main rival in the galactic arm. BrenSpace is technically a theocracy, but to outsiders it closely resembles an empire. In spite of their apparently warped point of view and their open hostility to the Confederation, the Bren are generally honorable beings who can be dealt with and trusted to keep their word once given, unlike the P’sill. Since the Fourth Bren War ended about 350 years ago, there have been many incidents along the border between these huge nations, but until recently the Bren have been too involved with internal problems (some type of religious schism) to bother with the Confederation. They are believed to have a lifespan similar to that of Humanity.

The Bren religion could best be summed up as “Manifest Destiny.” Their deity has chosen the Bren to expand out into the galaxy and show the unchosen species by example what the Creator(s) expect of them. In many respects the religion is very “Old Testament”-like with lots of rules and rituals to be observed. It’s also authoritarian, which fits the Bren military machine nicely.

Even their many enemies have to consider the basic teachings of the Bren religion noble and good; they are just taken to unbelievable extremes. The average Bren would be considered a religious fundamentalist in the Confederation. A Bren fundamentalist makes the worst of the fundamentalists of old Earth look like heretics in comparison.

Socially the Bren are organized into strong families and clans. To be clanless is to be no one. Clans sponsor temples, military units, and most of the rest of the infrastructure of Bren society. Each clan (and there are several hundred of them) has one vote in the assembly which approves appointments to the higher levels of the priesthood and selects the “King-Priest” when the current one dies. All laws and justice flow from the King-Priest speaking for God, however, the assembly has no other powers — at least officially.

Frumm

The Frumm are long snake-like beings with two arms and a somewhat humanoid head. Like the lamia of Terran mythology, they keep the portion of their body near the head upright. An adult Frumm averages 17 feet long and stands about 5 feet high. The Frumm home world is an old, very dry planet. The only planet orbiting a fairly hot star. Records of Frumm civilization go back more than 400,000 standard years. The Frumm have only colonized 17 planets in their long history, but all 18 Frumm worlds are under a single government. The Frumm worlds are located inside Confederation space about 150 parsecs from BrenSpace. While Frumm technological advancement has been as slow as their colonization efforts (as they believe in fully consolidating all gains before moving on), their technology is still several hundred years in advance of that of the Confederation.

While the Frumm are slow to colonize, they are excellent explorers. They seem to enjoy the process of exploration and interacting with strange cultures. Frumm ships have roved this area of the galaxy for almost 100,000 years. The Frumm are a quiet, ethical species; if somewhat smug and standoffish. Unfortunately, Frumm ethics and Confederation ethics often clash. For example, the Confederation has a policy of non-interference in non-star-travelling cultures to allow them to take their own path — even if that path leads to the primitive culture’s self-destruction. The Frumm consider this policy highly immoral. One of the basic tenets of Frumm society is that if one able to act to save another, one is (almost) always obligated to do so.

To the Frumm, the Confederation is a childish society that has not yet grown up enough to realize it has a responsibility towards others. The Frumm therefore do not recognize the Imperial government. When forced by circumstance of their location to deal with the Confederation, they treat its representatives like the children they believe them to be. While the Frumm will not normally interfere with the Confederation, they will not tolerate any Imperial interference with their own activities even if such activities should violate Imperial law. The Frumm have always responded firmly but non-violently to any Imperials attempts to force the Frumm to heed Imperial law while operating in the space claimed by the Confederation. As the Confederation has seen a single Frumm cruiser easily destroy a small Bren fleet (generally in retaliation for Bren destruction of a crippled small Frumm trading or exploration vessel) on several occasions, the Confederation is always very careful when “Frumm situations” arise. The Frumm opinion of the Bren appears to be “juvenile delinquents” with whom one must be willing to use a firm hand when they get out of hand. The Bren consider the Frumm to be spawn of the Destroyer, of course.

Jorchim

Jorchim is the Prithii name for the species normally referred to as the Forerunners or the Ancients: a powerful species that explored and seeded life throughout the galaxy almost a billion standard years ago then mysteriously disappeared. According to the Prithii — whose tremendous lifespans have the Forerunner seeding occurring only thirteen Prithii generations ago — the Jorchim were extra-galactic in origin and claimed to have been responsible for creating much of the cold life in the universe. The Prithii claim the Jorchim fled when they discovered that the universe had been invaded by a great evil that had somehow survived from a prior cycle of the universe. The Prithii are either unable or unwilling to explain in greater detail. Many of the Confederation’s scholars believe that the Prithii are simply playing a joke on “cold life” with these stories. The Bren consider the Jorchim to be the demon-followers of the Destroyer.

Prithii

The Prithii are large glowing clouds of sparkles that live in deep space, approaching star systems only rarely. Prithii are seldom seen and when seen, seldom interact with “cold life” (their term for non-energy beings). Those few who have elected to interact with “cold life” briefly have told seemingly outrageous stories. For example, they claim to have evolved from sentient stars early in the life of the galaxy and that their ancestors watched the Ancients flee the galaxy in terror. If true, their lifespans must be tremendous as they claim that event was only thirteen generations ago. They show no real interest in the affairs of cold life. While there have been hundreds of Prithii sightings in the the last thousand standard years, there have been less than ten confirmed interchanges with a Prithii. At least some of the Bren apparently see the Prithii as messengers of the Creator.

P’sill

The P’sill are a hive-like humanoid species descended from rodent-like creatures. They have genetic castes and apparently think little of themselves as individuals (the clan is all important) even though they do not have a true hive-mind. The P’sill Anarchy is a somewhat feudal collection of approximately 1000 systems rimward of the Confederation. It is hostile to everyone. The P’sill are not organized enough to be a real threat in spite of their high technology level, but they operate as ruthless pirates, taking anything that they can get away with. The P’sill have an average lifespan of 30-40 years, except for the leader castes which seem to live about twice as long. One relatively rare caste is powerfully psionic.

Alien Interstellar Transportation

The P’sill Hyperdrive (aka the Hump Drive)

Most hyperdrives are massive and very expensive. The P’Sill hyperdrive is an exception. A P’Sill drive is 85% less massive than a standard hyperdrive and costs about 80% of a standard drive. P’Sill drives also allow vessels to enter hyperspace at a slightly lower normal space velocity (98.2% of lightspeed instead of the standard 99.5%). This latter ability is very useful for P’Sill pirates — and the larger cargo space the smaller drive mass allows doesn’t hurt.

Unfortunately, P’Sill drives have a nasty side-effect on about 70% of known species (including most mammalian humanoid species other than the P’Sill): the initial activation of the drive to enter hyperspace drives affected species into a homicidal mania — unless they are having sexual intercourse while the drive is active (hence, the “Hump drive” nickname). This prevents the mania in most affected species, but has other side effects. Because of necessary activities, affected crew members are generally incapable of doing anything else for some minutes before Hump drive activation and for 30 to 120 minutes afterward. This effectively prevents the use of the P’Sill drive in military and many large commercial vessels of those species affected. The drive also seems to produce telepathic exchanges between those on the vessel when it activates. These are strongest between sexual partners, but to an certain extent, everyone in the crew can roam through the minds of every other member of the crew for 20 to 40 minutes after the use of the drive to enter hyperspace. Regardless of their drawbacks, P’Sill drives are often used on small “family” trading PSC vessels. To small traders, the lower mass and cost often mean the difference between profit and bankruptcy.

Jump Tunnels

About two hundred years ago, a Prithii stopped to “chat” with an L’Rame science vessel having trouble with its hyperdrive in an uninhabited star system. It suggested in an off-hand manner before it left that the L’Rame might try passing through a particular point in the system from a specific direction at a specific sublight speed. Having little else to do while they repaired their hyperdrive, they did as suggested. When they reached the point specified, the universe suddenly ceased to exist and the ship appeared to be hanging in unending grayness, unable to move. About ten days later, the grayness was suddenly replaced by the normal universe. The ship was moving with the same speed and direction it had before the grayness appeared, but was some 500 parsecs away, near the star of a sector Starforce base The L’Rame research vessel had just discovered jump points.

As relatively few stars have jump points and most of those that do are only connected to nearby stars (so travel via jump tunnel is much slower than travel via Hyperspace), one might think that jump tunnels are seldom important to star systems lucky enough to have them. In practice, they are often very important. Hyperdrives are expensive and the larger the vessel, the more expensive they get. Vessels without hyperdrives can travel via a jump tunnel. Jump tunnels make bulk material trade between linked systems profitable and make possible very cheap travel between system linked by jump tunnels. All Frumm worlds are thought to be connected by a system of jump tunnels as this would explain how the Frumm worlds can operate as if they were in a single star system.

 

I’ve occasionally heard people say they would like to run campaigns in the Traveller’s Third Imperium universe, the Star Trek universe, the Star Wars universe, etc., but they never do because they don’t want to deal with the canon fanatics. My solution is to just not play with canon fanatics. However, I realize that this may not be possible for everyone. Another solution is to file the numbers off the setting by creating a new setting that can be used for very similar adventures/stories but is different enough that the old canon obviously would not apply.

Back in the 1990s, when I was an assistant sysop on GEnie’s Third Science Fiction Roundtable (SFRT3), we had a similar situation. We had people who wanted to write fan fiction set in that “Final Frontier” universe but could not because GEnie’s management/lawyers would have had a fit. Our solution was to file the numbers by changing terminology, history, and the like enough to create a different but obviously similar universe. I rediscovered my background notes on this setting a few weeks ago and thought it might make and interesting alternate universe setting for exploring the final frontier with the Final Frontier canon getting in the way.

Please remember that this material was written with writing fiction in mind, so it probably goes into more detail than needed for a tabletop RPG on some background material. This writeup was produced by taking messages I posted on SFRT3, editing them slightly to correct typos (and probably to add different typos), and rearranging the posted material to be somewhat more organized. All of this material is copyright 1996 by Randall Stukey.

Introductory Fluff

“Pendragon Log, Standard Date 35-2378.02, Captain Roland Boyer recording. 4 hours ago, communications picked up a faint distress call apparently originating in the Gamma Zeta Seven system on the Brenspace border. Although the signal died as we entered hyperspace, we have no choice but to investigate. The Pendragon dropped to the fifth level of hyperspace, which will put us in system about 10 hours from now.

“Given intelligence reports of considerable recent activity in Brenspace, I have ordered a tactical analysis of the Gamma Zeta Seven system in anticipation of a Bren ambush….

His computer’s seductive voice interrupted. “I’m sorry to interrupt your log recording, sir,” Jenny stated. “But I have a urgent report from communications on hold.”

Boyer sighed. “On screen, Jenny.”

His holoscreen, which had until now be displaying the relaxing shifting patterns of the hyperspace surrounding the Pendragon, shifted to a portrait shot of his Polarian Chief Communications Officer. His green face tentacles waving in barely suppressed excitement, he stated “I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. The cryptography section has identified an ancient Earth code in the pattern of short and long pauses between words in the distress call.”

Boyer stared at the holoscreen. “You have my complete attention, Lieutenant.”

“Only two words, sir. `Bren’ and `Nova’. I’m sorry that it took so long to find this, but the code used predates the Confederation. If fact, according to the information banks, it predates space flight on Earth.”

Boyer frowned. “It’s not much to go on.” He paused a moment. “Mr. Gradlax, inform the senior officers of this message and that there will be a briefing in two hours in the central briefing room.”

“Aye-aye, sir. Communications out.”

Boyer drummed his desktop absently as he thought. Starforce intelligence had reported that the Bren were working on a new class of ship which had been codenamed “Nova.” However, it was supposedly still in the planning stages. As his mind drifted on the possibilities, he suddenly realized that the use of an old Earth code probably meant that their were Confederation citizens, probably from his home world, in the supposedly uninhabited Gamma Zeta Seven system. Their presence could only complicate matters for the Pendragon.

General Background

With the discovery of hyperspace in 2112 CE, humankind began the exploration and colonization of the stars with the same fervor that they explored and colonized the western hemisphere of the Earth in the previous millennium. However, they quickly discovered that they shared the galactic arm with hundreds of alien species, some of which were as advanced technologically as (or even more advanced than) they were, if not nearly as prolific. The Pan Sentient Confederation (PSC) was formed in 2289 as a trade and defense alliance when humankind and their informal trading partners first encountered the Bren.

Today, the Pan Sentient Confederation (PSC) is a confederation of over 7,000 member planets of many different species. While the PSC started out almost four hundred years ago as a trade and defense alliance, it has grown into an actual government, although it is more of a United Nations or a European Economic Community of the stars than it is a United States of the stars.

PSC Government

The PSC is governed by a President, elected every 10 standard years by the Confederation Council with the approval of the Confederation Senate. The Council has 45 members: the Confederation President, representatives of the 12 founding cultures and 32 members elected to staggered 8 year terms by the Senate. The Confederation Council is in continuous session, but its powers are strictly limited to trade, defense, enforcement of the rights of Confederation citizens and the laws approved by the Senate, and any other duties specifically delegated to it by Senate. The Confederation Senate normally meets for three months every two years, although special sessions can be called if needed.

Each member of the Confederation has one vote in the Senate. This became a problem as the PSC expanded. Not only did the size of the Confederation Senate quickly become unwieldy, but less wealthy planets — especially those further from the center of the Confederation — had trouble funding a Senator. With the admission of the 2000th member planet in 2507, the PSC Charter was amended to allow member planets to assign their votes to other member worlds. This practice tends to keep the actual voting body to a reasonable size. However, it transferred much of the politicking from the very public floor of the Senate to back rooms where deals for control of proxy votes were made.

The PSC has an extensive bureaucracy, but its powers are generally limited to administrative areas as the Confederation Charter does not allow the Senate to delegate legislative authority to any body other than the
Confederation Council. The Charter includes a strong Bill of Rights that protects both the rights of individuals and the rights of member planets. Except in cases of emergency, all Confederation laws must be certified as constitutional by the Confederation’s Constitutional Court before it is allowed to take effect. This certification does not prevent challenges to the constitutionality of specific applications of a law, it is simply a means of preventing obviously unconstitutional laws from being imposed on the citizens and member planets — or, at least, attempting to. If any part of a law is struck down as unconstitutional when the court reviews it for certification, the entire law is sent back to the Senate or Council to be rewritten. The all or nothing nature of the certification process was a deliberate attempt to prevent large, complex, “everything but the kitchen sink” laws on the part of the PSC’s founders.

The authority of the Confederation is limited to defense, space, and to protection of the rights of PSC citizens visiting starports on member worlds. Other laws can be passed, but any member world can nullify those
laws on their own worlds (outside of starport areas where Confederation law always applies just as it does off-planet) if they wish.

This odd arrangement is what allows the Confederation to work. There are uniform laws in space and travelers/merchants are protected from odd local laws — thus allowing trade to flourish; and the Confederation StarForce protects its members from hostile powers. Yet outsiders cannot impose the morality and beliefs on the cultures of member worlds simple because they are more numerous and/or more influential.

For example, the Confederation has banned the import of the ecatasy-producing drug Thorrin — yet it must allow the drug to reach 37 hedonistic member-planets who have elected to nullify the law. As might be expected, this produces a number of enforcement headaches. However, it is the price that has to be paid for bringing such a large group of very different societies and species together in one working entity.

One of the most unique rights of PSC citizens is that equal protection under the law is clearly defined in the Confederation Charter to mean that all citizens must have equal access to the legal system without regard for their wealth or power and that all punishments must, in so far as possible, have the same effect on all subject to them. The latter means that in Confederation law almost all fines are defined as a percentage of worth and almost all prison terms are defined as a percentage of lifespan. The intent of this is to make sure all punishments have the same deterrent effect on all citizens regardless of their species or their wealth. (Think about it, here in the US a $150 speeding ticket is a great burden to someone supporting a family with a minimum wage job, but would be pocket change to a billionaire.)

The “cruel and unusual punishment” clause also has a couple of interesting differences from modern America’s. First, it prohibits “cruel, unusual, and excessive punishments or judgements.” This applies the provision to both criminal and civil cases. Second, this provision makes it clear that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” must be judged differently according the physical and mental attributes of each species. However this section of the charter also makes it clear that a punishment that does to the criminal what they did to their victims is not in and of itself cruel, unusual, or excessive punishment.

The Charter’s Basic Rights also apply to all organizations operating under the authority of the Confederation or under an Confederation charter (such as interstellar corporations).

Interstellar Businesses

The Confederation strongly supports free enterprise and a free market at the interstellar level so long as businesses are honest and strictly adhere to Confederation laws and regulations. Businesses operating only on a single planet are generally not subject to Confederation regulation, only to those of the planet they operate on.

Competition is enforced to ensure that consumers get the best possible goods at the lowest possible prices. All forms of non-government interstellar monopolies are illegal. Taxes are kept as low as possible and regulation merely for the sake of making work for an army of Confederation  officials is avoided. Long-tern planning is rewarded while catering to the whims of stock speculators is strongly discouraged. Trademarks are limited to the company’s name, product or service names can not be trademarked. Advertising and sales pitches are required to be completely honest and product data easy to compare with the competition.

While the ideal is free competition at the interstellar level in an honest, open environment with the rights of customers, workers, management, and owners protected (generally in the order listed), there are millions of businesses that operate at the interstellar level in the Confederation. Obviously many are going to operate less than legally and not be caught unless they get too cocky, too greedy, or have a run of bad luck. The punishments for businesses that break the law to increase their profits, however, are extremely harsh — often confiscation of a major part of their wealth, imprisonment for their management, and confiscation of a percentage of each stockholder’s stock. The latter is intended to encourage stockholders to elect directors who place a very high priority on obeying the law while still limiting a stockholder’s liability.

Hyperspace and the Hyperspace Drive

The major means of interstellar travel known to the PSC is through the various levels of hyperspace — alternate universes, generally nearly empty of matter, where travel is not limited by relativity. Hyperspace drives generate gateways to these various universes and provide a stable set of physical laws for their ship in the various hyperspaces — thus allowing life to continue to exist within the ship. Because ships must pass through the “lower” levels of hyperspace to reach the “deeper” levels as their drive powers up, space is often thought of as the “top” of an ocean with the various levels of hyperspace stacked one beneath the other below that “surface,” with each level of hyperspace having an ever stronger “current” that pushes ships along much faster than the “current” of normal space. Scientists and engineers cringe at this terrible analogy, but it is often used as it is easy to understand — while what actually happens requires one to be able to think in complex math to even begin to grasp.

There are nine (known) safe levels of hyperspace. That is, there are nine alternate universes where ships can travel faster than allowed in the “real” universe safely. The approximate speed of travel in the various levels of hyperspace is as follows:

Hyperspace Level (HL) Approximate “Real” Universe Speed Approximate Travel Time
1 parsec 100 parsecs 1000 parsecs
1 0.2 parsecs/day 5 days 17 months 13.5 years
2 0.5 parsecs/day 2 days 7 months 5.5 years
3 1.0 parsecs/day 1 day 3.5 months 2.75 years
4 2.5 parsecs/day 10 hours 1.3 months 13 months
5 5.0 parsecs/day 5 hours 21 days 7 months
6 10.0 parsecs/day 2.5 hours 8.3 days 3.5 months
7 1.0 parsecs/hour 1 hour 4.2 days 1.4 months
8 4.0  parsecs/hour 15 minutes 1 day 10.5 days
9 8.0 parsecs/hour 7.5 minutes 12.5 hours 5.3 days

 

Unfortunately, the energy requirements for maintaining a vessel in the deeper levels of hyperspace are so great that most vessels cannot enter them at all. Most Confederation commercial vessels (and those of other nearby cultures) cruise in HL 4. The faster ones can cruise in HL 5. Most Confederation military vessels (as well as those of other nearby cultures) can cruise nearly indefinitely at HL 5, for 3 to 4 months at HL 6, and for 1 month or so at HL 7 before a major overhaul of the drives and power accumulators is needed. Large capital ships (heavy cruisers and above) can normally operate one hyperspace level deeper for the same periods of time. These larger vessels can also briefly enter the highest levels of hyperspace (approximately 1 week at HL 8 and 2 days at HL 9) but doing so puts a great strain on the hyperdrives.

A ship that cannot maintain the level of power needed to keep itself in a given level of hyperspace “rises” through the levels until it either reaches one that has power to maintain itself in or reaches normal space. The only exception is that vessels in the three deepest levels of hyperspace are sometimes thrown into unknown (or known but deadly) hyperspaces if they exit these deepest hyperspaces in an uncontrolled power down. This occurs because there has not yet been enough experience with these deep levels of hyperspace for sufficient safety features to be built into the hyperdrives. About 99% of the time (when this is believed to happen), the ship is never heard of again. It is assumed it was destroyed by entering a hyperspace whose physical laws would too different for the ship to compensate for. The 1% that survive and manage to return to normal space is one way new levels of hyperspace (many of which, of course, are not useful) are discovered.

As most sensors do not work reliably in any of the hyperspaces, only vessels very close to each other can reliably detect and/or communicate with each other in hyperspace. Most hyperspaces look very strange to creatures from normal space, although some people find the shifting curtains of color in hyperspace levels 4 through 6 to be very relaxing. A computer is normally used to display the real universe as if the ship were moving through it on holoscreens and tactical displays.

Hyperwave communications travel at 5 parsecs a day and can be received by properly equipped ships in normal space or in the first five levels of hyperspace.

 

When we started the new Tiny Dungeon 2e Sunday game about a month ago, the players choose to play in my Empire of Arn setting. I warned them in advance that Arn was a strange and even weird setting. I told them we’d try it for 4 to 6 weeks and if they discovered it wasn’t for them, I’d be happy to restart the campaign in a different and more normal setting. They said that was good, but they were sure Arn would be fine. After our fourth session last Sunday, they decided that Arn was, as I was afraid, indeed too weird to be as much fun as they’d like.

So we are looking for a new setting — and specifically a swords and sorcery setting. My first thought was Judges Guild’s old Wilderlands setting as it is easy to run a swords and sorcery campaign there. However, I’ve been running campaign after campaign in the Wilderlands since 2008. I apparently did not sound super-enthused about running another campaign there. The Savage Seas of Zankhara — a micro-setting from the Tiny Dungeon 2e book (see pages 134 – 138) — was suggested as it is a very “blank” setting we could do just about anything with. Most the micro-settings in Tiny D6 games are somewhat flexible, but the Zankhara setting is lighter than usual on information and structure.

You get a loose description of seven different human cultures allow with vague information on where they are located. You get some mentions of deities, a bit on the rare non-human heritages like serpent people, and ideas about locations that are little more than rumors you can use or ignore. There aren’t any new traits or PC heritages. The Savage Seas of Zankhara setting is so open you can easily drop almost anything S&S friendly into it — including adventure modules from other games. There are thousands of islands to put isolated strange stuff on, after all.

After some discussion post-game, we have tentatively decided to start a new campaign in this setting in July. We’ll finish up the current adventure this Sunday and then make a final decision. We’ve been planning to skip the June 26th and July 3rd Sundays due to a scheduling conflict and Independence Day weekend, so I have plenty of time to flesh things out a bit. Players will have the choice of creating a new character or playing the Zankhara universe’s version of their current character.

Assuming we do decide to go with the Savage Seas of Zankhara setting, I’ll probably be posted some material here to starting fleshing things out a bit.

Nota Bene: This post first appeared in my RetroRoleplaying Blog on May 30, 2022. I’m posting it here as well because it seems to be a great article to start off this new blog as running my first session of Tiny Dungeon 2e is what got me interested in writing blog posts again. BTW, we finished our third session last Sunday.

Several years ago I picked up a number of Tiny D6 games in a couple of game bundles. I was interested because from what I had read about Tiny Dungeon 2e, the system sounded quite similar to a two-page RPG I had written up in the late 1980s called “Generic Quick Simple RPG” (another of my infamously bad names). Tiny Dungeon 2e and GQS-RPG had a nearly identical general resolution system, vaguely similar but weirdly different combat systems, and a similar method of describing characters and monsters. Tiny Dungeons 2e was like a much improved,  greatly expanded, and actually play-tested GQS-RPG. I was very impressed with Tiny Dungeon 2e. Impressed enough to put it on my short list of modern games I’d be willing to run. I then put it and the other Tiny D6 pdfs I had purchased in a folder on my hard drive and forgot about them. After all, I had an old school campaign I was running and did not need yet another system.

Fast forward to today. Covid-19 killed the above-mentioned campaign as the players and I discovered we really loathed any type of online play. Because of immunocompromised family members, face-to-face play was out until everyone could get vaccinated and studies were done to be sure the vaccines actually protected our immunocompromised family members. By then (18+ months later), all our schedules had gotten out of sync, so the campaign was essentially dead. My wife and I were discussing the problems I was having getting the Sunday game running again while waiting for her doctor in the doctor’s exam room last month. There was a knock on the semi-open door and one of the nurses apologized for overhearing us, but asked if I would be interested in running a game for her, her husband, and 4 of their friends on Sunday afternoons. I asked what system — fearing it would be 5e which I have no interest in running. I was surprised to hear that they had been playing Tiny Dungeon. I gave her my phone number and email address and said I’d be willing to discuss it with them.

After about a month of email exchanges, phone discussions and a couple of meetings, we had a session on the 21st (and a second session yesterday) and everyone – including myself – seems to be having a good time. After only two sessions of Tiny Dungeon, I’ve concluded that I like the Tiny D6 system. It’s the first system since Microlite20 that actually excites me as much as old school D&D and retroclones. It’s almost old school as written – rules lite, fast to play (including very fast combat – a requirement for me to even touch a system any more), easy and fast to create characters (and monsters/NPCs), and very easy to house rule.  Also, while Tiny D6 systems are not a variant of old school D&D systems, after running a couple of sessions I can state that I can convert all my TSR D&D stuff – including my homebrew settings – to Tiny Dungeon on the fly without advance conversion work.

All the house rules I needed to run these sessions “old school” was to change the individual initiative system to group initiative and to warn the group that I was using morale rolls and reaction rolls which I ported directly from B/X. The eyes of those who know me are probably popping out of their heads at this point as I generally have pages of house rules ready to go for any new game I’m going to try before I ever run it.

The basic system for Tiny Dungeon 2e (and Tiny D6 games in general) is simple. To determine if an uncertain action succeeds, roll 2d6. If either die comes up a 5 or 6, it’s a success. If you have disadvantage, you only roll 1d6. If you have advantage you roll 3d6. Advantage and disadvantage do not stack. Disadvantage has priority except when the advantage comes from a magic item. Combat follows the same basic system (with a few minor complications like focus and evading). Hits from weapons generally do 1 point of damage. Characters start with 4 to 8 hit points depending on their heritage (aka race/species). Monsters are on the same hit point scale. For a rough idea of monster hit points in Tiny D6 games add 3 to a monster’s hit dice in 0e or B/X.

Characters are defined by traits which do things like provide advantage or special abilities. Creating characters is relatively easy although more choice (and therefore system knowledge) is required than in TSR D&D. First, the player selects a heritage (human, elf, dwarf, etc.) which provides starting hit points and a trait. For example, the Dwarf heritage provides 8 hit points and the Dark Vision trait which allows seeing in total darkness. Then you select three traits from the trait list. There are only 4 pages of traits, each with a few sentences explaining the trait so this is not as bad as it sounds; although having new players helped by an experienced player will speed this part of character creation up. Next you select one of the three weapon groups to be proficient in and one weapon from that group you have mastered. (Using a weapon from a group you are not proficient with gives disadvantage, while using a weapon you’d mastered gives advantage). Then you come up with a mundane family trade – what you learned about as a child: another source of possible advantage. Finally you decide on a belief: a simple statement of something that drives the character. An example belief: “My home is in my backpack.”

Starting characters are more capable than in old school D&D – probably about the equivalent of  a third level B/X character. Characters can grow with time — however, experience is an optional rule. There are two suggested experience systems. The simple system has characters gain a new trait every three sessions up to a total of seven (non-heritage) traits. A more complex system has a few experience points awarded each session when can be used to buy either a new trait, a new weapon proficiency (or a new mastered weapon), or an additional hit point. Tiny Dungeon 2e characters tend to broaden their abilities with experience rather than increase a limited number of abilities to “super-powered” levels.

Magic is handled very differently from old school D&D. There are two “obviously magic” traits: spell reader, and spell-touched. The healer, familiar, beastspeaker, and alchemist traits can also be considered magical if doing so fits what you are trying to do. The spell reader trait gives the ability to read one-use scrolls of fairly powerful spells, releasing their magic. Of course, these scrolls have to be found or purchased. The spell-touched trait gives the character the inherit power to sense magic and subtly affect their surrounding with minor magical effects (very roughly around the power level of first or second level TSR D&D spells).

Optional rules provide traits with more powerful magic, animal companions, and martial disciplines There are also optional rules for critical hits and misses, variable weapon damage, armor (provides damage reduction), and simple ship and mount rules.

The GM section of the rules provide advice from running adventures and a good selection of enemies (aka monsters) ready for use.

The rules section of the 194 page Tiny Dungeon 2e book ends on page 84. The remainder of the book contains an adventure generator and 18 micro-settings: 4 to 6 page campaign ideas each developed enough to give a good feel for the setting. Many of these micro-settings provide new heritages and/or traits developed specifically for the setting.

I would normally complain a bit about the high price of the Tiny Dungeon 2e book (as of late May 2022, its $17.99 in PDF at DrivethruRPG), especially with over half the book being micro-settings only of use to GMs. However, one of my players pointed out that there is a Player’s Guide that’s only $6.99 in PDF. I remembered I actually had a copy of this from one of the Tiny D6 bundles and hunted it up. Calling it a “player’s guide” is a bit of a misnomer as it actually has all the rules needed for players and GMs to run the game – basically all the material from the more expensive Tiny Dungeons 2e book except the micro-settings. This is everything needed to for both players and GMs to run the game if the GM provides the setting. The Tiny Dungeon 2e Player’s Guide turns the system into one of the most affordable good rules light game systems available.

In case you can’t guess from the above, I think Tiny Dungeon 2e and the Tiny D6 system in general are fantastic. I’ll probably be using the Tiny D6 system for most of my games in the future. If you want to run old school style games with a modern rules set that is easy to learn, teach, customize and use at the table, take a look at the various Tiny D6 games. They all use the same basic rules and so are easy to mix and match. Want to run a science fantasy game with “elves and orcs” in space? Combine Tiny Dungeon 2e with Tiny Frontiers. Super-heroes battling an evil empire in a galaxy far-far away? Tiny Supers with Tiny Frontiers. Modern espionage agents against Cthulhu cultists? Tiny Spies and Tiny Cthulhu.