03 June 2022
Words and pictures by Conrad Kinch
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a wargamer in possession of a set of rules will immediately attempt to use it for something it wasn’t designed for. Our own esteemed editor has been spotted using the Silent Death spaceship battle rules for the basis of his own Hammer’s Slammers games and I’ve used Near Future Special Forces rules Black Ops for everything from Napoleonic Skirmishes to Cold War Battles. We’re wargamers and basically we’re incorrigible.
So it was inevitable that when I started playing Stargrave, I would start using it for something slightly different. The fact that it came with a set of solo rules was a big plus in the lockdown days, but like many of Joe McCullough’s games it’s sort of loose enough that you can make it fit the setting you want. Having gone back to Rogue Trader era Warhammer 40,000 and finding the rules a little clunkier than, perhaps, I remembered as a twelve year old, Stargrave has been scratching my itch for a Sci-Fi semi-roleplaying game with figures for quite a while now.
As regular readers of this column are aware, I’m also very partial to cheap tricks. As the recently deceased (God rest his soul) lyricist Stephen Sondheim wrote in Gypsy, “Ya gotta have a gimmick”. I love gimmicks and the one that prompted this scenario was a gift from my sister in law of a powerful daylight lamp that she no longer wanted. She’d bought it to use as a bedside lamp, but discovered that having it next to her bedside was a bit like being under Gestapo interrogation. What could I use this for, I thought, and the germ of an idea started to grow.
The Sunworm of Luther MacIntyre IX is a seemingly innocuous beast. Large, slothful and passive, it feeds on the few nutrients available on the barren surface of the desert planet and gets the rest of its energy directly from the planet’s Sun. It absorbs the radiation through it’s oily skin and then uses it to survive the icily cold nights.
The Sunworm can release their stored energy as electricity if threatened which has led to some speculation as to whether they could be domesticated and used as a power source.
Most conventional xenobiologists argued that while the Sunworm is essentially passive, you would need an awful lot of them to get a meaningful return and only a madman would do that.
Noted renewable energy enthusiast and Tech Adept Aemon Reyen was just that madman. He built a space station orbiting the Star Gonzaga B. Named for his homeworld of KlonShock, he stuffed it full of Sunworm grubs and attempted to learn their secrets. Contrary to all expectations, he succeeded.
Reyen managed to extract Worm Bile, a substance which can be used to power hyper efficient solar cells. However, he did not realise that gathering so many Sunworms together would trigger a mating frenzy and the normally quiescent males suddenly began battling to establish dominance. The massive electrical discharge that resulted fatally damaged the station which is now plummeting towards Gonzaga B.
BRIEFING: COVER ME IN SUNSHINE
You have travelled to Gonzaga B to get access to this exciting new technology. You boarded the station in order to strike a deal with Tech Adept Reyen, but soon decided, after things started blowing up and plummeting into the Sun, to just take it. Unfortunately others have had the same idea. The race to recover this valuable treasure is on. You plan to rush the storage facility, penetrate it’s defences and slap a teleport homer on the container of Worm Bile. You will then have to trust your own teleporter to get you out of trouble before the space station burns up.
Note: Send Three & Fourpence reflects my own wargaming and things that I actually play myself, which I suppose is a blessing and curse, because the output is therefore somewhat idiosyncratic. I’ve tried to make sure that this scenario is workable within the standard Stargrave setting rather than my own Rogue Trader era ramblings.
There are two points which may cause an issue. So far as I am aware there isn’t teleportation technology in the Ravaged Galaxy of Stargrave. I reckon you can handwave this in two ways. Firstly, the teleport homer is actually a drone that the character attaches to the container which whisks it away. Secondly, rather than the last turn being the moment that everyone has to teleport away, it’s the last turn before the characters have to run for their shuttles to escape the falling space station. The game effect (i.e. the game ends) is the same, but the fiction we use to explain it is a little different.
SET-UP & MOOD LIGHTING
The table represents the section of the space station, now hurtling towards the Sun. The table is the interior of a space station, covered in wreckage and growths of alien fungi.
Place crews on the table at table edges A and B (see map) as per the normal rules. Place a physical loot token in the centre of the table. This (a red star on the map) represents a pressurised vessel of Worm Bile. The other loot tokens should be placed according to the normal rules, except that each player must place at least one token within sight of a port hole (more on this in a moment).
Off table, place a series of objects at table edges C and D. These objects should be solid enough to cast a shadow. I used a mixture of bottles and books. There must be at least one four inch and one two inch gap (portholes) in the objects on either side and at least six inches of objects that are no more than six inches in height. These objects (or more precisely where they aren’t) represent the portholes, skylights and windows in the space station as it plummets ever close to the Sun.
Once you have this set up, take a bright light and place it outside the portholes about four inches off the table (on the map, as an example, on edge C). Everyone’s setup for this will be different, but experiment and see what works for your board and lighting. What you’re aiming for is to have bright light coming through the “portholes” and some areas of the board that are in semi shadow and then other parts which aren’t in direct light. The idea being that there will be three types of location on the board: Direct Light; Semi-Shadow and Shadow. Try to come to agreement with your opponent as to how you’re going to adjudicate this, but I would suggest if there is any doubt, assume that the area is in Semi-Shadow.
The KlonShock Station is falling towards the Sun, flipping over and over as it does so. Place your light facing table edge C at the beginning of the game. At the beginning of turn three, move it to face table edge D and move it back to table edge C at the beginning of turn five. At the beginning of Turn seven, move it back to table edge D. Each time a figure makes a ranged attack of any kind and the target figure is in Direct Light. Draw a line between the attacker and the target, if that line continues until it strikes a porthole, the figure cannot attack as they cannot draw a bead directed into the blinding Sunlight. Otherwise, figures that are firing at a figure in Direct Light are at a -5 penalty due to the blinding light.
An area of Direct Light effectively blocks line of sight to figures on the other side of it. Running around in direct Sunlight is not without hazards though, any figure which starts its activation in or moves through an area of Direct Sunlight or Semi-Shadow is automatically subject to a ranged attack.
There are a number of these for the scenario.
- Random Encounters
When a player rolls for Random Encounters, ignore the usual table and roll a d20, adding +1 for every Grub or Sunworm already on the table.
- Grub Explosion
Select a random figure on the table. A floor plate bursts open and d4 Sunworm Grubs pop out which are placed in base contact with the figure.
- KlonShock Wolf
Place as normal (as per p140) on table edge A or B.
Place within six inches of the Worm Bile container in a random direction.
- Electrical Attack
This creature attacks with a powerful burst of electricity, ignores physical armour.
- Move towards Light
Unless there is another model within two inches, move this creature at full speed towards the nearest Direct Light.
For the purpose of moving and attacking, Sunworm groups use Group Activation.
- Die like Flies
Any model which attacks a Sunworm grub and kills it, may immediately make a follow up melee attack at -2 against another Sunworm grub in base to base contact, the model may continue doing this until either all the grubs or dead or it fails to kill a grub.
- Worm Bile
The Worm Bile container is treated as a physical loot container. It can be picked up, moved, etc.
- Teleport Homer
Each Captain possesses one teleport homer, which may be passed off to another crew member. This is a small piece of equipment that allows a piece of physical loot to be teleported off the station. To use it the model must be adjacent to the object to be teleported and then spend an entire activation doing so affixing it, without being wounded or put out of action. Removing a homer works just the same. The object marked with the homer is teleported away on a 10+ on the marking figures next activation.
As the station is falling toward the Sun, the crew members know that there won’t be time to get the escape shuttle. All crew members will be teleported off the station at the end of turn eight.
If playing a standard two player game, use the scenario as written. Roll for random encounters and Unwanted Attention as normal, counting the “pirates” as members of the station’s crew.
Alternatively, if you’re playing solo using the rules from Stargrave: Dead or Alive (available as a free download from the Osprey Publishing website), use Aemon Reyan as the Mark.
Treat the Loot tokens as NF1, NF2, etc.
- Uneven Power Distribution
Reyan’s mechanical implants are powered by experimental batteries of his own design. These have a longer life than comparable batteries, but are less reliable. Roll a die each turn that Reyan is on the board, on a 1-4, he briefly falls asleep and cannot move or make ranged attacks. His autodefences will allow him to defend himself from fire or melee (but if he beats his opponent, he will not cause damage).
- KlonShock Wolves
A rare and once almost extinct species of Ferrox that Reyan has reproduced in his genelabs and allows to roam free on board the station. Reyan is accompanied by two of these who remain in base to base contact with him and move with him at all times. They will attack in melee anyone he is engaged with and will attempt to shield him from harm. When Reyen takes damage from ranged fire, transfer half the damage onto the healthiest wolf. Otherwise they should be treated as Ferrox (Stargrave P144).
LOOT & EXPERIENCE
Loot should be rolled for as normal with exception of the Worm Bile container, which can be traded for one ship Improvement or 400 credits. Alternatively, the Captain may attempt to use the Worm Bile to create high efficiency solar cells on his vessel. Roll a die and add +5 if the Captain or First Mate is a Tekker. On a 15+ they are successful, reduce the cost of all future ship upgrades by 25%. Otherwise the Worm Bile is lost and the crew gain nothing.
Experience is gained as normal, but any crew that take damage from Sunlight gains a +5 experience bonus.
One of the things that frustrates me about a lot of sci-fiction games is that they don’t really lean into the weirdness inherent in the setting so I wanted to try something that you could only really do in a science fiction game. Hence the attempt to use light as part of the terrain of a wargame.
The placement of the lamp is going to affect the play of light on the board of course, so I tried to make sure (as much as my table allowed), that the placing of the lamp was symmetrical on both sides. Consider that you’re going to be moving the lamp from side to side when you’re setting up so that you make sure that you’re bearing that in mind. Also, I turned off most of the lights in the room when we were playing, so that things were relatively dim. This made it much easier to determine which light was coming from the “Sun” and which was just normal room lighting.
This is a bit of fun and an attempt to try something different. There will probably be instances where you will have to adjudicate matters yourself. I’ve included some things that came up in our games (the blinding effect of trying to fire into bright sunlight for one), but there’s no way I could cover every eventuality. I would suggest that approaching things in a gentlemanly spirit is probably the most productive way forward.
I enjoyed this game and the fact that the “terrain” kept changing, but in ways that were mostly predictable. The board will seem a bit open at first, but the areas of bright sunlight are effectively cover from ranged fire, so melee fighters will prove more powerful in certain areas of the board.
Sunworm grubs are more dangerous than their stats would indicate as they can pin you in combat or worse still, if you roll high on the die, hit you with a fairly substantial ganging up bonus. One clever tactic that emerged during playtest was using large figures to provide temporary shade for smaller ones, but – how feasible that is – will depend on your model collection. Just using the basic setup, the Random Encounters and Unwanted Attention should be plenty for a two player game, though one player suggested including Techpriest Reyan in a two player game, but increasing the board size from 2.5 ft square to three to give more room. I’m not sure this is a great idea as the light gimmick adds a bit of time to the game already and I suspect adding further complications would cause things to drag more than a bit. This isn’t really a concern with a solo game, but if you do give it a go let me know how it works out. I can be contacted at [email protected]
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