Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Heroes of the Black Company

I've wanted to write of review of the excellent "Chronicles of the Black Company" for a while now, having recently read the book for the first time. Sometimes it takes time for a review to congeal into something cohesive.

Chronicles of the Black Company collects the first three novels in Glen Cook's Black Company series into a single volume. This initial trilogy kicks off what is so far a series of ten books.

I've always enjoyed Fantasy, but as I've grown older I've found that most of my favorite books are Science Fiction. The problem is that much of Fantasy literature consists of Tolkien imitators, many of them, lacking any original vision or message. Glen Cook adopts this pattern but looks at things from the other side of the battle lines. The Black Company concedes the Tolkienesque world, but asks the question: What if our Heroes work not for Gandalf, but for The Dark Lord himself? It then goes about the daunting Humanistic task of making those villains relatable and sympathetic anti-heroes. This trick of creating a narrative with the bad guys in the lead is a difficult balance to strike, as the recent, rather poorly received Suicide Squad movie can attest to.


The Black Company

In this first book, we see the Black Company through the eyes of Croaker, the band's Doctor and Historian. We meet them in the inauspicious time before the end of their fateful commission in Beryl. The company faces an existential threat but is offered an out, if they will betray their employer and help overthrow the city. To their credit, the Mercenary leadership does not take the decision lightly, being men of honor with a proud history of completing their commissions. Only when the Syndic's own refusal to face the dire situation leaves them no choice do they accept the emissary's proposal. But the joke is ultimately on the Black Company as it soon turns out they are now working for this Fantasy World's version of Sauron, known simply as "The Lady".

The company soon takes on a new recruit, Raven. Raven is a Byronic Hero. He contributes considerable prowess to the company, yet remains unpredictable and dangerous.

The Black Company become the Lady's most elite unit, but remain sympathetic protagonists since they are not as bad as her regular troops. They ultimately help the Lady defeat the rebels and her Taken rivals, while at the same time planting the seeds for her eventual downfall.

Shadows Linger

The second book in the trilogy mostly takes place in the city of Juniper. It is, for the most part, a detective story(I'm not surprised to find that Glen Cook's other popular series is in the Hardboiled Detective genre.) Something strange is going on in the city, but no one seems to hold all the pieces of the puzzle. Croaker teams up with a toughened detective from the City Watch named Bullock in an attempt to get to the bottom of matters. Unbeknownst to them, Raven plays a big part of this mystery. His actions unwittingly lead to the almost total destruction of the Company. In this way, Croaker and Raven are unwitting adversaries throughout the book.

In the end, Croaker cracks the case just before the shit hits the fan, but too late to prevent it. The Company earns our respect once again when they officially break with The Lady, but now there is a bit of a bait an switch. It is revealed that The Dominator threatens to rise again. At this point, the Lady herself becomes a sympathetic character as she tries to hold-together her Empire and foil his plans.

The White Rose

In the final installment of the trilogy, the Black Company teams up with the White Rose herself in her fight against the Lady and the Dominator. Cook ends his game of role-reversal by completing the redemptive arcs of The Company and The Lady, respectively. In the final showdown, Croaker and Raven find them selves in parallel situations, pitted against one another in a life-or-death struggle. Croaker emerges victorious while Raven is left with nothing.

Heroic Croaker

One of the main reasons the morally ambiguous Black Company remains relateable is that our narrator, Croaker, is a Hardboiled Hero, straight out of Chandler's "Simple Art of Murder". He is the mean product of a mean world. He kills effectively and repeatedly and overlooks his companions' worst atrocities. Nevertheless, he hangs onto a moral code, often to his own detriment. His dedication to the legacy of the company is complete. He is almost a monk in his his duty as resident scholar, updating the annals and reading them aloud to inspire the men. He is also company doctor, healing the wounded after every battle. Finally, there is his strange sentimental crush for the the ultimate Femme Fatale, The Lady. Even when faced with Evil incarnate, Croaker shows his redemptive potential.

Ultimately, Raven and Croaker's ark in the trilogy pits two types of anti-hero against one another, Croaker's Hardboiled here and Raven's Byronic Hero. The Byronic Hero is a decidedly Modern character, assured in his power, the world is his oyster and he intends to harvest the pearl. The Hardboiled Hero is Postmodern, struggling with his own faults and limitations. Both are products of a wicked age, yet while the Hardboiled Hero hangs onto his moral code, the Byronic Hero is blown chaotically between acts of kindness and cruelty by his own inscrutable whims. In the end, Chronicles of the Black Company chooses the Croakers of the world over the Ravens.

The Roots of the Hardboiled Hero

Men of David, James Tissot
The Hardboiled Hero archetype was popularized in the early 20th century pulps, but his roots run deeper.  A man of  honor in a dark world, Croaker's enigmatic personality reminds me of Y. Medan's description of David. In the book of Samuel, David is presented as brave, sensitive and pious, yet when he is insulted by an unappreciative Nabal the Carmelite, he comes dangerously close to committing mass-murder. Says Medan, this is the lot of good men who live by the sword. With the passage of time, pulling the trigger starts to become too easy. In his darkest times, being hunted by King Saul through the hills of the Judaean Desert, David is left struggling simply to maintain his virtue.

The Hardboiled Hero continues to speak to us today, as police and security forces are caught time and again using deadly force inappropriately. This timeless theme is what makes the Black Company novels work so well. In Croaker's own moral struggle in a Dark Fantasy world, we see our own struggles, and in his ultimate redemption, we see hope for ourselves in the darkest corners of our own existence.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Random Encounters IN SPAAAAAAAACE!

So, with the party jumping through Hyperspace like a Womp Rat caught in a bullseye, I needed a quick way to answer the question "who is hanging around the system you just arrived at", in addition to the fixed setting elements. Here are the three random tables I used.

The first table, answers the question of "who" these ships belong to. Note, that they are designed around the typical inhabitants of Airam Sector. If and when the party moves on to another sector, then they will probably require some adjustment.

3Roll twice
4Bounty Hunters
8Gank Killers
10--11Ugor Scavengers
12--13Squib Scavengers
14Ex Imperials
16First Order
17Nharwaak(Zygerrian type)
18Habeen(Human type)

Next, the question of scale. It this a single small ship or a flotilla of cruisers?

RollHow many
1-51 small
6-10few small
11-141 med
15-17few med
19-181 large
20few large

Finally, where are they headed?

8Will hyperspace in soon
Once I've rolled these basic questions, I take a second to flesh out the encounter more. I ask myself things like:
  1.  What are these ships doing here?
  2. Where are they from originally?
  3. What do they want?
  4. How will they react to the PC's ship appearing?

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Star Wars 2020: Session 3

We got together a third session of my Star Wars/Cyberpunk 2020 mashup on short notice, due to half of our gaming group being in town. The other half joined via skype, leaving us with a full 6 player characters- not bad for our group. Let's go over the lineup:

  • Pigman- a Gammorian beater/scavenger/heavy machine user/starship pilot(Avraham)
  • Art- Ithorian tech Rock gardener, healing(Avi)
  • Lucky- a Gran with many natural talents, good at dodging, explosives, stock market, interstellar navigation, leadership, pharmaceuticals(Lauren)
  • The Wookie- a wookie turret gunner, butt kicker(Joshua)
  • Deeberjay- Nephew of Ilay who party agrees to transport at end of session(Art)
  • Candy- a pretty Mon Calamari princess who swings a mean plasteel sword(BC)
  • Roy- NPC scavenger from Nocto II(NPC)
  • Snortbert- Gammorian who swore fealty to The Wookie(NPC)

You may recall that in session 2 the party accepted two missions to the Squib Home System of Squab. One was to deliver a shipment of refined metals, the other to deliver Deeberjar, the nephew of Ilay. This session they accomplished that mission, and made some credits to boot, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Candy, the Calamari Princess

Aiquin 4

As the party came out of the gravity well of Aiquin 4 and prepared to enter hyperspace, an Ugor Corvette came out of it's hiding place behind one of the system's moons. It made straight for them but they made the jump to hyperspace.

Eliraad System

The party reached Eliraad System where they found a deep space platform with a small Eriadu just leaving. They hailed the Eriadu, but the Human pilot didn't like having his time wasted by a "bunch of stupid aliens". He cut-off communication and made the jump to hyperspace.

The party was debating following him when the Ugor Corvette came out of hyperspace. The platform scrambled it's two fighters and the party decided it was time to move on to the Blair Cluster.

Airam Sector

Blair Cluster

The Blair Cluster is a huge asteroid belt. The party passed through it thanks to their skilled pilot. They spent some time searching it for signs of life, but to no success. They weren't sure if the Eriadu ship was hiding or had jumped elsewhere.

Swellen System

A deep space repair yard and 3 large Calamari Cruisers coming for repairs.

Deeberjay tried to use his Princely rank to gain cheap repairs. They didn't trust him as an Ilay Squib. Ilay sided with the Empire half a century back, while the rest of the Squib joined the rebellion. There's still some bad blood.

The cruisers aluded to a mission related to the First Order trouble in Hosnian System. Candy spoke to them and they offered to let the party land their shuttle in the flag ship's docking bay where the party would be given a mission. The party decided to decline and continued on to Undil.

Undil System

A large Squib world with another Calamari Cruiser in orbit and 3 Ugor Cruisers hanging out on the far edge of the star system. The party decided to move on to Bes.

Bes System

An Ice Planet with a major squib salvage operation, aftermath of Imperial battles half a century back. Lucky used her handy navigation skills and detected 3 corvette-sized ships hiding in an asteroid field. The party debated joining the salvage mission, attacking the corvettes. They finally decided to make the long jump to Squab.

Squab System

The party made it to squab and saw some heavy Squib Cruiser traffic. Squab contains the Squib homeworld of Skor II. The party made 10000 credits and dropped Deeberjay at his destination. He used his connections to find them cheap docking facilities and invited them to visit him in his office. He has a plan to make an Ilay alliance with the Ugor, but then double-cross them, hopefully helping ease some of the bad blood with the rest of the Squib. The party debated selling their military shuttle for a civilian freighter. They finally decided to stick with the shuttle and hopefully capture a larger ship by boarding it.

There wasn't any fighting this session, but there was some great space exploration, strategy, and general wheeling and dealing. The party completed two missions and made some respectable cash. They also managed to agree on a longer term goal for bettering their fortunes. They have proven particularly adept at avoiding ship maintenance fees.

The game really reminded me of playing Wing Commander Privateer back in my youth, exploring known space looking for missions, running from the big baddies and just making the hyper-jump in time!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Star Wars 2020: Session 2 Summary

So we finally got together for a second session. Last time the party escaped their Ugor task masters in the Nocto system in an old imperial shuttle with just a backup hyperdrive. This session began with a slightly modified character lineup.

Blank Shuttle Sheet
  • Pigman- a Gammorian beater/scavenger/heavy machine user/starship pilot(Avraham)
  • Art- Ithorian tech Rock gardener, healing(Avi)
  • Lucky- a Gran with many natural talents, good at dodging, explosives, stock market, interstellar navigation, leadership, pharmaceuticals(Lauren)
  • The Wookie- a wookie turret gunner, butt kicker(Joshua)
  • Roy- NPC scavenger from Nocto II
  • Snortbert-NPC Gammorian who swears fealty to the Wookie at end of session
  • Deeberjay- NPC Nephew of Ilay who party agrees to transport at end of session

Then we moved on to filling out the shuttle Ship Sheet(modified from Traveller). The party set the goals of:

  1. Getting a proper hyperdrive
  2. Charging their fuel cells
  3. Fixing the hull damage
  4. Getting an Astromech droid for repairs

Shuttle Sheet at End of Session

Klaatu System

The party arrived in Klaatu system. They opened communications with the Space Station, which directed them to the customs platform. They eventually got clearance to land on the station. While there they:
  • Took a delivery mission from Station AI to Squab system, 10000 credits on delivery
  • Fueled up at station's expense
  • Art fixed the ship, hover vehicles, installed parts, haggled for a broken hyperdrive
  • Pigman, Lucky, and the Wookie hitchhiked back and forth from the moon colony
  • While there they sold and bought stuff


While taking a cab between the colony and the Rift, the party's cab was told to pull over by a heavily armed stretch limo hovercar. An Ugor, two Mandalorian Bounty Hunters, and two Gammorian Guards ordered them to surrender. After a hectic battle, the Ugor was captured, a defeated Gammorian had sworn fealty to The Wookie, and the others were dead. The party was pretty banged-up too, but they had gained a good deal of booty!

The Jouney Begins

The party began their trip to Squab with the short jump to Aiquin 4. They requested permission to land, claiming to have salvaged their ship from Klaatu system(little do they know that the Squib on Aiquin 4 claim exclusive salvage rights to the surrounding star systems). They landed only to find themselves facing a full contingent of Squib marines. In the interrogation that followed, the true story came out and the Squib were happy to hear that the ship was stolen directly from an Ugor salvage mission.
Updated Map
  • The party was allowed to register their shuttle on Aiquin 4 for 1000 credits
  • The Clan Leader of Aiquin 4, Ilay, requested to meet them. She asked them to do her a favor and transport hernephew to the Polyanarcharial Palace in the Squib homeworld in Squab system
  • They sold some more items at somewhat poor prices, the squibs being expert negotiators
  • Lucky accessed the planetary network and researched the various systems in Airam Sector, resulting in an updated sector map

At this point, we decided to call it a night...

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Welcome to Klaatu

Here's another system description for Star Wars 2020.

Klaatu is a star system in Airam Sector. Most of the planet's activity is around Klaatu III and it's moon.

Klaatu III's moon is the location of a Nharwaak mining colony. The primary locations in this system are:

  1. Customs Platform- a platform orbiting Klaatu III. Visiting ships must check in at the customs office.
  2. Low-Grav Refinery- a space station orbiting Klaatu III. It's a low-gravity metal refinery where mined ores are processed.
  3. Deep Core Bore- a deep bore mine near the moon's core. Mines heavy metals.
  4. The Rift- metal mine in seismic crack in the moon's surface
  5. Nharwaak Colony- small space port, residential, commercial area
  6. Garrison Camp- Nharwaak garrison's camp

A mining colony of the Nharwaaks. The Nharwaaks are from the Myloc system, also in Airam Sector, but are of Zygerrian ancestry.

Star Wars 2020 Point Buy

As per request, here is how to create your star wars 2020 character via point-buy rather than random generator.

1. Ability Scores

  1. Distribute 48 points between the ability scores Int, Ref, Tech, Cool, Emp, Luck, Body, Force (maximum 10, minimum 2)
  2. MA=8
  3. Run=MA*3
  4. Leap=Run/4
  5. Lift(Kg)=40*BODY
  6. Save=Body
  7. BTM=IF(BODY<=2,0,IF(BODY<=4,-1,IF(BODY<=7,-2,IF(BODY<=9,-3,-4)))) 

2. Species

  1. Pick a species
  2. Apply the ability modifiers for your species
Mon Calamari

3. Skills

  1. You get 40+INT+REF skill points
  2. Assign them to skills(max 10)
EnduranceInterrogateSentient PerceptionAccountingArcheryHover TechForce Jump
Strength FeatIntimidateInterviewXenoanthropologyAthleticsBasic TechMind Trick
SwimmingOratoryLeadershipAwareness/NoticeBrawlingComputer TechPhase
Resist Torture/DrugsPerformBiologyDanceDemolitionsTelekinesis
StreetwisePersuasion/Fast TalkBotanyDodge/EscapeDisguiseRead Mind
Riding(Bantha)ChemistryFencingDroid TechForce Healing
Riding(Bolotaur)CompositionHandgunElectronicsReflex Boost
Riding(Keffi)Diagnose IllnessHeavy WeaponsFirst Aid/Medical
Riding(Tauntaun)Education & Gen. KnowlegeMartial ArtsHacking
Riding(Dewback)GeologyOperate Heavy MachineryPharmaceuticals
SocialHistoryDrive(Hoverbike)Pick Lock
Language(by species/native world)Drive(Hovercar)Pick Pocket
Language(Basic)Pilot(Starship)Play Instrument(pick one)
Library SearchRifleHyperdrive Tech
Navigation(Interstellar)Turret GunnerStarship Engine Tech
PhysicsClimbingEnergy Weapon Tech
Shadow/TrackDivingCommunications Tech
Stock Market
Wilderness Survival

4. Equipment

  1. You get 1d10 Galactic Credits
  2. cloth shoes(worn out), dusty poncho, sand mask
  3. 4 items from this list
Anti-Grav Sledge
Blaster pistol
Blaster rifle
Brass bracelets
Cutting torch
Dancing shoes
Diving aparatus
Hand weapon(choose)
Heavy Plasteel Knife 1d6
Hip Flask
Infrared binoculars
Light spear gun 1d6+1
Longbow 50m, 12 Arrows 2d6+1
Metal Detector
Motorized climbing rig
Musical Instrument(as per skill)
Old Hoverbike
Old Hovercar
Pack of Sabacc Cards
Pain killers
pick item of Native dress
Plasteel Sword 2d6+2, sheath
Portable Chemical Analyzer
Portable excavator
Portable Gene Sequencer
Sketchpad, Pencils
Small computer terminal
Small Electronics Kit
Small hacker's terminal
Small tool kit
Salvaged Droid(choose Astromech, Medical, or Protocol)
Thermal Detonator 7/9d6
Water Bottle
Wearable light

Force Combat for Star Wars 2020

After the first session of Star Wars 2020, a Cyberpunk 2020 Star Wars mod, I wanted to add an improved combat skill to the list of force skills. The existing list of skills(below) reflect common force abilities, but there wasn't anything that paralleled Luke's use of the force in combat.

  • Force Jump
  • Mind Trick
  • Phase
  • Telekinesis
  • Read Mind
  • Force Healing

I wanted something that gives a significant bonus, yet doesn't make force users too overpowered. Since Cyberpunk 2020 combat relies mostly on the Reflex ability score, I decided to create an ability that boost's that attribute. Here is the result:

Force Reflex Boost

The force-user concentrates, connecting to the Force. This gives them a boosted reflex ability score.

Skill Check

The force-user must make a skill check to concentrate and connect to the force. The target number depends on how distracted they are.

standard CP2020 difficulties


The ability is boosted by the character's force ability score, for a maximum of 11. (The player is allowed to make one Spinal Tap joke per session. Additional jokes cause the ability to fail.)


If the character is injured or otherwise distracted, they must again make a skill check to maintain concentration. This doesn't use up their action for the turn.


The effect lasts as long as the character is busy with the current task. Once they start doing something else, the effect is lost. If they want to maintain the effect, they must make a concentration skill check.