UGS v. Military: Death and Injury

In talking about adapting UGS for military games – which includes both Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers – I mentioned the need for resource management. Another part of resource management that is very important but which I did not mention is ammunition.

"Tactical Air Control" by IMK
“Tactical Air Control” by IMK

In my games so far, there has never been any question of equipment or ammunition – it is always assumed the character has what the character needs or what the player wants the character to have. That doesn’t work for military games. Planning and preparation are important aspects, and part of that is having the proper equipment, so it’s important that players need to make choices, and those choices can lead to negative consequences.

Ammunition is key in this. You do not want to be a soldier who has run out of ammo. Now, in most teams, a teammate will give you a magazine, but that’s a drain on a teammate’s resources, and that might put that teammate at risk. This is one reason trained military don’t spray and pray. Automatic fire suppresses the enemy by making them seek cover, but you pick your shots and make them count.

As Hicks says, short, controlled bursts.

Skydiver by Dean Martin
Skydiver by Dean Martin

Adapting UGS to a military game is more than just a matter of  resource management. The threat of injury is a constant for a soldier in a hostile environment. A military game requires a way for players to be hurt and possibly killed. Now, I am not a fan of killing off characters. Characters are a player’s main tool for agency in the game, and removing that character – even if it means the player can drop in a new character – gives the message that the player’s agency is subordinate to the GM’s, and that is not how I want my games to work.

Further, players are invested in games through their characters. If the players cycle through characters, their investment in the game is weakened. Unless you are playing a light-hearted, beer and pretzels game, you want your players invested, because that makes them take in-game threats seriously, creating tension and excitement.

Given all this, the threat of character death still needs to be there. I cheat in SC and AToL, as right now, PCs can one-shot kill NPCs, but NPCs cannot do the same to PCs. That’s a cheat, and if I can figure out a clean and simple way to expand the rule to PCs, I will. Right now, I think the threat of real damage and possible death will be enough.

These are some of the additions I’ve made to UGS to create a military version, both futuristic and modern.

You can find the earlier article here.

You can find UGS here.

Starship Commandos: An Example Character

In case you were wondering where I was putting my energies since the Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter failed to fund, I’m actually working on a quickstart package for Nefertiti Overdrive which I hope will lead to a second and successful Kickstarter. Also, I’m working on Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers, which I’m in the midst of getting ready for testing with my group.

Halo Commando Armour from Halo Nation

Just in case you are interested, you can see an example character below. How does the game work? It’s pretty simple. Here are the basics – the very basics:
1) The players state – in whatever order they prefer – their character’s intentions.
2) In the order of the players’ choosing, the players gather dice provided by their characters’ Qualities and roll those dice. The player may add a bonus from one applicable Element.
3) The result of the roll is compared to the Success Level.
4) If the result of the roll is 6 or lower, one of the Qualities the character used is lowered by one die type and the character receives either Damage (if Physical was used) or Stress (if Mental or Social were used).
5) If the result of the roll is 7 or higher but lower than the Success Level required, one of the Qualities the character used is lowered by one die type, and the GM narrates the failure.
6) If the character succeeds, the player narrates the outcome, which follows from the character’s stated intention.

And the character:

Sgt. Cara Cooper, Designated Marksman

Mental d12; Physical d10; Social d8

Scout-Sniper d12; Long-Range Reconnaissance d10; Undercover d8; Lived Experience d6

J25S Long-Range Reconnaissance
Stealth d12; Long-Range Sensors d10; Indirect Fire Support d8

Quiet Professional +3; Hunter +3; Patient +2

Guardian Angel (Cooper won’t let her team go out without her – she needs to protect them), Buy the Farm (She’s always talking about the farm in the country she’s going to buy when she retires), and Never the Innocent (Cooper will not target non-combatants, Ever).

Primary Equipment (17)
Mk 19 Mod 0 enhanced battle rifle, Effective range is 1,500 m. Wt: 5 kg. Magazine 40 cartridges (40 shots) with removable suppressor (2)
J22 personal protection weapon, Effective range is 90 m. Wt: 1 kg. Magazine 15 cartridges (15 shots) with removable suppressor (2)
J25S Long-Range Reconnaissance Harness (grey), including body armour, helmet with head’s up display and flashlight, load-bearing equipment, tactical radio, hydration system, personal data device, and watch

Accessible (total weight 12)
Bayonet (1); Chemlights, 5 (0.5); Field Pack (1.5); First Aid dressing and pouch (1.5); Flex cuff, package of 25 (0.5); Fragmentation grenades, 4 (2); Identification Tags (Dog Tags); Iodine tablets; Lensatic Compass (0.5); Magazines, weapon 6 (3); Magazines, sidearm 2 (1); Multi-tool (0.5); Notebook and pen

In Field Pack (total weight 15.5)
Ammunition, weapon 150 rounds (2); Ammunition, sidearm 50 rounds (1.5); Canteens, 2 (3); Clothing, two changes (1); Meals, Ready to Eat, 6 days (4.5); Personal hygiene kit; Sleeping Bag (2); Sleeping pad (0.5); Weapon Cleaning Kit (1)

Turning UGS Into a Military Game

I’ve discussed the design philosophy behind UGS, but Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers derive from UGS rather than being UGS straight up. There are different needs for both of these games, though their needs are similar enough that I have developed them almost in tandem.

Both Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers are military games – in SC you are playing marines of the 121 MARSOC (Marines Special Operations Capable) in the year 2164 while in AToL, you are playing operators of an unnamed special operations force deployed to Central Asia – and military games have their own specific needs that UGS rules as written does not cover.

Advancing through the foliage
In the Foliage by Dean Martin

Military games by their very nature pretty much require resource management to be an important facet. Let me be clear, I am talking about military games rather than action games with a military setting. I’m talking Black Hawk Down vs. . . . wait, I can’t think of a good counter-example. Huh.

Anyway, if you talk to most soldiers who have been outside the wire, on patrol or in combat missions, weight and kit are the two mission parameters that seem to dominate their thoughts. In Black Hawk Down there is a great scene as the Rangers are preparing for their mission where Grimes, a desk monkey heading out into the Mog for the first time, is dissuaded from taking the equipment he actually needs – the rear trauma plate for his body armour and his night vision device – because they’re too heavy. Later, we see a Ranger shot in the back, where his trauma plate might have saved his life. Then the Rangers and Delta Force are forced to overnight in strong points, when NVDs would have been really helpful.

SOF by Dean Martin
SOF by Dean Martin

Therefore I need to include equipment and common load-outs for SC and AToL. Along with simple lists, this stuff needs to be explained. What is a Lensatic Compass? What is the difference between a first aid kit and a medical trauma kit? What do I care if I have the gun that weighs 12 kg rather than the one that weighs 2.5?

And once you have equipment, you need to provide limits – a key part of resource management. I’m doing this through weight. The weight and encumbrance rules are pretty simple, but they add a level of complexity I generally like to avoid. Still, to me, resource management is one of the keys for a military game.

There is yet more, but this post is already going long. Stick around if you want to meet a Starship Commandos character.

You can find the discussion of designing UGS here.

You can find the UGS rules here.

UGS Design Goals

Last post, I told you a lot about my history as a designer, now let’s talk about my specific design goals for the Untitled Game System (UGS). It is slightly different than for Starship Commandos or A Team of Losers, so I’ll get into those later.

Sword NoirThe continuing thread that runs through all my game designs starting with Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery has been simplicity. None of my games from Sword Noir on have had more than 20 pages of rules. Examples expanded Sword Noir and Centurion: Legionaries of Rome slightly out of the 20 page milestone, but the mechanics have been pretty compact.

I wanted UGS to be the simplest system yet. For me, simplicity itself is a worthy goal, but there was a further goal beyond this: speed of play. Simple games seem to move faster than complex ones, and that is only logical. However, some simple systems can still lead to complex interactions. The strategy involved in building a hand with your dice pool in Centurion was part of the design goal, but it complicated the actual Tests. Not a problem, they still move quickly, but I wanted something pared down even further.

So, simple and fast. What else?

Centurion: Legionaries of RomeI wanted to get back to a system in which the GM does very little mechanical adjudication. In Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death, both built with the Sword’s Edge System, the GM does no dice-rolling. Everything is a target number which the GM decides beforehand. In a sandbox game, these numbers need to be assigned during the game, so there is some mechanical adjudication, but not as much as with Centurion or Nefertiti Overdrive, in which the GM is rolling dice along with the players. I want to be able to focus on the game and the story rather than the mechanics or how many dice I am using.

So there you go. UGS is intended to be simple, fast, and with little to no GM mechanical adjudication during the game session.

Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers had other requirements, but those would be built on top of the chassis provided by UGS.

You can find print versions of Sword Noir here and Centurion here. SEP’s PDFs are all available here.

You can find the UGS here and talk of Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers here.

A History of (Fraser’s) Designs

The Warden is one smart dude, and since he has decided to discuss his process creating the uber-secret Project Pheonix, I thought I’d do something similar.

Covert Hero by Dean MartinImitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anyone following this blog has already had access to the Untitled Game System v1 document. UGS is the backbone and basis for the games that I’m going to be developing for my gaming group – Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers. Starship Commandos v1 Playtest document is done. I’m turning to A Team of Losers now, but as both games focus on military characters (present-day and future) much of what I have done for Starship Commandos will work well with A Team of Losers, as will a lot of the modern military stuff I did for the Spec Ops line of SEP.

But what am I trying to do? Having that target, that idea for what the rules are supposed to do, really helps in the design process. I will be frank with you – the very first games I designed, way back in university during the days of D&D 2E, had no real design philosophies but were built to work in a genre other than fantasy, so I had an SF game and a modern magic game. Following that, I had a long fallow period until coming home from Korea.

At the outset of SEP, I was publishing support material for d20, though I was still privately toying with design. These were mostly “fixes” of d20. It wasn’t until the desire to run games similar to the stories that I was writing led to Sword Noir: A Role-Playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery.

Let’s be honest, Sword Noir was a hack on PDQ, more specifically, on Jaws of the Six Serpents. I really like Jaws, but it needed to be tweaked to do what I wanted to do. That tweaking led to wholesale revisions that led to Sword Noir.

Centurion: Legionaries of Rome was really the first game I designed from the ground up, purpose built for specific goals. Nefertiti Overdrive is a synthesis of the design goal approach of Centurion and the genre emulation of my earlier games.

UGS is closer to Centurion in its birth than Nefertiti Overdrive.

But that’s another story.

You can find the Warden talking about Project Phoenix here.

You find PDQ here and Jaws of the Six Serpents here.

You can find print versions of Sword Noir here and Centurion here. SEP’s PDFs are all available here.

You can find the UGS here and talk of Starship Commandos and A Team of Losers here.


Untitled Game System First Draft

Remember how I said I was looking at different games to run for my group? We had a tie between Starship Commandos (Aliens meets REH’s Starship Troopers) and A Team of Losers (the Losers comic and recent A-Team meet the TV series Supernatural). So I’m going to develop a game for each of these. I have the background system (which will be adapted for each campaign) finished, and it’s only 4 pages long.

There’s been no playtesting, so this is totally first draft, version one, uber-rough, but it’s free right now.

You can find the system here.

The game ideas are here.

And my inspiration:


Starship Troopers

the Losers

the A-Team


Raise Dead: Nefertiti Overdrive

Nefertiti Overdrive CoverAfter a discussion with some people I trust and respect (which will be released on the Accidental Survivors feed as a Collateral episode), I have decided to move forward with Nefertiti Overdrive. I’m going to take a shot at funding it again, but there are some changes that need to be made before I do so.

1) I need to find a better title. I really like Nefertiti Overdrive, but it is not indicative of the actual game itself. I probably need to change the subtitle as well. This is a problem, because I’m not very good with titles.

2) I need to rework my Kickstarter text and video. I need to make the text more evocative and do a better job of explaining why this game is awesome. The video needs to be slightly more professional. Not completely professional, but just a notch up the quality scale.

3) I need to reconsider my budget. That will likely mean that the crowd-funding will be for PDF only, with a very small number of print copies available. It also means I likely won’t be able to afford editing and maps, though I could make maps for the included adventure a stretch goal.

I’m kind of tired of Kickstarter right now, so I’m going to take another week or so before I barrel ahead. You probably won’t see this for another couple of months, and when you do, it will have another name.

I have no idea what that name will be.