Friday, 19 May 2017

Pubfinders play Icar and I shed a tear

Friday, 19 May 2017
They say don't blog in an emotional state. Oh well, here goes.

Coincidences can be powerful. They can cause cognitive dissonance. They make you stop and think.

I've been struggling to keep motivation on Version 5. With kids in the house (Felix, 7; Naomi, 5 months), I snatch morsels of time at random. To make best uses of those small blocks of time, you have to keep organised and force yourself to do work. I don't play weekly at the moment (due to Naomi) so getting my brain back into it is hard. And then, out of nowhere:

Pubfinders play Icar

Watch live video from Pubfinders on I know that others have played. DOC Argen on the forums is part of a group that plays and his feedback has always brought about a flurry of output. After Chris from Pubfinders kindly tweeted me: I stopped what I was doing and sat, I watched. The player handouts, the deviant wheel... it hit me in the feels. I teared up. My ribs hurt. These three guys - unsolicited - had picked it up and were playing my game. I'm writing this having watched three and a half hours and I can't wait to see it through.

Icar's failings in sharp relief

Chris (the GM) gets Icar. Not just understood or read but he gets it. I could tell from the language he used, where the focus was. I enjoyed the characters and the story as it played out as he, John and Corey delved into a wreck.

I could see more clearly than ever before that Icar was failing at some very core things. I've known about them for some time, even writing a blog post about it but seeing others play shone an oblique lamp, bringing it all into sharp relief. They weren't eccentricities anymore, they were problems.
Every GM has their own take...
That is a sentiment I agree wholeheartedly with but being an invisible, virtual, future fly on the wall I could see that the system repeatedly hung poor Chris out to dry. He did astoundingly well given that some core things are just bonkers.
You're being a bit harsh, you've played it for years...
Yes and my players too. They could play the game without any character sheets or rule books. Byrn literally knows the game better than I. I am writing version 5 now and as such I look at the current version under a microscope. I don't want to fail the GMs who dare to download and print my game and spend their precious free time playing it. I owe them more than that.

Things I learnt

  • It's not obvious when to roll an attribute and when to roll a skill.
  • There are two many overlapping skills, especially in technology.
  • When pre-building characters choosing the Psychotheatrics is a really good idea and avoids difficult to play characters.
  • Meat is still a funny attribute.
  • Droid origins may be well known if you grow up under a normal Imperium colony but if you grow up in a backwater they might be seen more as a myth.
  • Players will always assume that the Imperium is evil.
  • "Are the Droids a species?" A concept I need to explore.
  • Need more pictures showing simple things such as using Gaia.
  • Keeping track of ammo and stuff is boring.
  • Encumbrance is worth keeping as it forces an in-game choice.
  • GM needs more ideas on what to do on a wreck so there is choice.
  • There needs to be a list of antique swag - it's too difficult to come up with things off the top of your head.
  • Need a better cheat sheet of Shift and distance per turn.
  • All the spacecraft look like willies. This isn't something I learnt but it's worth repeating!

A thank you

Thank you to Chris, John and Corey for playing Icar and entertaining me. It's given me energy and enthusiasm back! I'm looking forward to joining you on the text chat for the next one. :)

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Void Rescue

Thursday, 7 July 2016
Void Rescue is the space rescue service. If your spacecraft has broken down, you can call Void Rescue to come and help. With over 1 million spacecraft across all Human Occupied Space, their yellow and black stripes are instantly recognisable and affectionately known as Bees. The crews are highly trained engineers, who can help find problems with your spacecraft. Most trade spacecraft have Void Rescue insurance cover and some colonies require it before awarding a trade contract.

Service Levels

Void Rescue will always attempt to repair your spacecraft. They carry a huge array of spares, which you can buy from them. If they can't repair your craft, then will try to attach temporary equipment (see below) to your craft and jump you to the nearest star dock, where you can negotiate repairs. If the spacecraft is in tatters then Void Rescue will guarantee to safely deliver you and your crew to a nearby system. Void Rescue will also pick you up from a planet, asteroid or orbital if you spacecraft is destroyed. Used in this way makes Void Rescue a very expensive courier service but then if you have paid for it, you might as well use it!

Droid Space

Void Rescue do offer cover for Droid Space but they do not guarantee to get to you. The deeper you are, the more unlikely it is that you will get a message to Void Rescue. If you are any more than 4 clusters into Droid space (the Sectors of Typhon and Eos) then it's unlikely that you'll get a message back to Human Occupied Space, let alone be picked up.


The more you pay up-front, the cheaper it will be overall.
5 years in advanceHuman Occupied Space500,000
1 year in advanceHuman Occupied Space200,000
Immediate pickup (no payment in advance)Human Occupied Space300,000
1 year in advanceDroid Space1,300,000
Immediate pickupDroid Space2,000,000

Response times

In Human Occupied Space, a Void Rescue craft will be with you within 10 hours. If you are close to the centre of the Sector (where the star density is highest) then the usual time 3 hours.

Temporary Equipment

Not only does a Bee carry a large number of spares, they also carry specialised equipment for making your spacecraft (anything smaller than a hulk) go far enough to get to a star dock. Anything included in the diagram on the Spacecraft Systems blog post can be temporarily replaced.

The Gaia show: The Hive

A very popular, romanticised Gaia soap opera called The Hive has always danced along the interstice between fact and fiction. It follows the beautiful crew of a fictional Bee called Stardust, each show performing a daring rescue. The crews of real Bees hate the show. For many it was the reason they joined and its false glamour feels like a betrayal. Mentioning The Hive in conversation with Bee crews rarely goes down well.

The Star Enforcer Alternative

If you have no Void Rescue insurance and you cannot afford the cost of an immediate pickup then you can put a distress into the Star Enforcers. The Star Enforcers will take your crew to the nearest system and your spacecraft and cargo will immediately be listed as salvage. This only works in Human Occupied Space, in Typhon Sector you can try the same with the Fleet but you are likely to be their lowest priority.

Void Rescue Engineer Skeleton

Void Rescue Engineers can make great engineers for you space based campaign. Schooled amongst the harsh reality of the Void, these engineers have a tight focus on spacecraft.
There's no buzz like that hum of a Grav engine warming up from cold. There's no smile broader than caused by an old tub pulling under its weight again. There's no thanks sweeter than a Captain's open hand. I've seen the innards of every kind of spacecraft humanity has sculpted. Each like a giant living thing that I get to make well. It's enough to bring a tear to this old engineer's eye...

Suggested Attributes

  • Wit: 5


  • Gaia Know
  • Pilot Heavy Grav
  • Pilot Cruiser
  • Zero-G Operations (5 x Shift) + 3D10
  • Spacecraft Know (6 x Wit) + 3D10
  • Spacecraft Systems (5 x Wit) + 2D10
  • Energy Know (3 x Wit) + 4D10
  • Energy Systems Wit + 2D10
  • Mechasys Know (5 x Wit) + 2D10
  • Mechasys Systems (3 x Wit) + D10

Starting Equipment

Shakespeare Mech Kit. 2 Changes of clothing. Moss Hardened Environment Suit (with communicator and Grav pack). Personal Effects.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Air grenades - where you should stop worrying about the science

Saturday, 23 January 2016
I had a great idea for a grenade that had super-compressed air in it. When it "explodes", it's harmless but lets out enough breathable air to pressurise a sphere 5 metres in diameter. What a great non-lethal device! Pair it with a portable Gravlock (a bubble that keeps the air in) and you have a vacuum-to-survivable bubble in a second (Byrn's idea back in 2006). Got the airlock shut but no pressure? No problem! WOOMF! You have pressurised air.

Step up Byrn

Long standing Icar legend, memoriser of the rules, mathematician, cyberneticist and excellent friend then hit me with the science and my lovely idea unravelled.

Here's his reasoning.
A 5 metre diameter bubble has a volume of 62.5m3
Air density at 1 atmosphere (sea level on Earth, nice and comfy) 1.2kg per m3
Therefore, the air of a 5m bubble would be 75kg mass or roughly 750N.
So my pressurised grenade would be the same weight as a human. Probably too heavy to pop on a utility belt! Byrn tried to come to the rescue.
Use pure oxygen at 0.2 atmospheres. That's the maximum partial pressure (PPO2) of oxygen that divers need to survive. Oxygen at 0.2 atmospheres is 0.26kg per m3. For our air bubble, that's still a 16kg grenade.
Byrn also calculated that a single person could use that oxygen up in 4 hours if they were working really hard or 23 hours if at rest. The more people in the bubble, the shorter the time.

Pseudoscience possibilities?

Icar has a pretty stable science foundation for its technology. All matter can be represented with an energy pattern. The more complex the matter is, the more difficult the energy pattern is to make. You can store energy patterns in other materials (this is how generators and food processors work) and then use a little energy to unpack the larger stored energy into something else.

So, the grenade could be filled with a special material that turns into a large amount of gas. The problem with introducing this new material into canon is that you need to see what the knock-on effects of this are. What else might this gaseous material be used for?

Icar is a space opera

Space operas are not hard science fiction. I accepted that a long time ago. For the game to be fun to play, you have to run rough-shod over some physics. As a GM, I have to remain as serious as possible or the players will have no suspension of disbelief. If there is anything too outlandish, then everything breaks down too fast. I think air grenades are OK, so they will be making an appearance!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Fleet Setting Released

Monday, 18 January 2016
I am proud to announce that the Icar Fleet Setting source book is ready for you to download.

You are a proud member of Recon Squad 2 of Trooper Unit 555 operating from the Star Clipper Orion’s Scabbard. Your job is to protect the human race from the onslaught of the Droids. In this setting you will start with the odds against you and use ingenuity, technology and firepower to fight your way back to rejoin the Fleet.

You will make difficult choices, bring down orbital bombardments, direct Stub Wing strafing runs, commandeer civilian resources, fight pirates, drag crippled spacecraft into life, detonate planets, cajole civilian spacecraft Captains, battle Droids and the scum of humanity.

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015: The Year of Demon Slaying. 2016: Finishing

Friday, 1 January 2016
Twenty fifteen, Icar's 21st year, has been a good one. Let's have a healthy round-up of this year before setting out what 2016 will hold. It's important to do this because it can be easy to forget the progress you have made when looking at what is left to do.

First Half

In January, I won a struggle with the Droid Mark 6 pod. The egg-and-rings approach feels right and I don't want to touch it again, which is a great sign.

Shortly after, I completed the Droid Mark 7 colonial factory, which is an idea that's made its way into the notes of every campaign I've run but I've never got round to using it. The players, curse them, always scarper before I get a chance.

In May, I explained how I stay motivated by keeping organised. Icar takes up 12.3GB on my hard drive now, a statistic inconceivable 21 years ago, keeping all that information useful takes some effort and I don't want to feel swamped by it all.

The very next day, I was delighted to have finished the Mark 8 Droid. This city-destroying megalith was once a robot (18 years ago) but as the game matured, the idea failed to grow with me. The new, sleek Mark 8 makes me very proud. It feels right.

In June, I shared the much needed NPC character sheet and Holly Bridges (the Stone dropship pilot from the Fleet Setting) as an example. It will go in the next update of the core rules.

I also began work on the Fleet Setting front cover. I usually do the cover last because I like to compose a cover from the same 3D assets I use within the book and they are normally only ready at the end.

Second Half

In August my campaign came to a natural end and I lost a valued player from my group. To make it easier to entice players at a distance, I decided to run the next campaign onto Roll20, with some success. I decided to build the setting differently this time, relying more on description first, which was a big change for me.

In November, I wrote up how Spacecraft Systems work for a new player who was keen to be the engineer. I am sorely tempted to start the Technology book but not yet! Must finish the Fleet Setting.

I also reworked the old Stub Wing space fighter design, which I can't bare to modernise too much. It's still a bit rough around the edges but I love it dearly, like an old friend.

Finally, November saw the completion of the Fleet Setting front page (announced on social media, I was that excited), something I am exceptionally proud of. I had to learn a whole bunch of new skills to complete it and although it's not perfect, it's good enough.


I keep an eye on statistics but only so that I can thank people who link through to the site. The downloads from DriveThru are in the "long tail" of a product now, having 1297 downloads (both books) and $51.22 donated. That's very kind indeed. I imagine releasing the Fleet Setting will see another spike. Here's the graph since I started with DriveThruRPG, for 2014 and 2015.

The website has had 3219 users and 5800 page views. 72% are new users, 50% from the USA and mostly gained from organic search or referral from the sadly quiet The Free RPG Blog.

Twenty Sixteen

Enough navel gazing! Twenty sixteen will see me attack the Trello board with gusto. The Fleet Setting WILL get finished, I will release a small update to the core rules. I am also tempted to update the website, something I do for fun anyway.

I also want to create a little web app for supporting online gaming with Icar. Character sheets and the like. It will give me an excuse to play with some new technology, something that has crossover for me as I am a programmer by trade.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone that continues to support me; especially my players, who give me frank feedback on everything I try. I am over the hump with the Fleet Setting, so feel very much downhill to the finish line.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Fleet Stub Wing, I first drew it at 14 and I don't have the heart to change it

Sunday, 22 November 2015
Icar has grown up with my friends and I. A collective hallucination that has become more detailed (and complex) with each passing year. There are still strong echoes from the early days: infectious mutant-zombies, killer robots and lots of big guns. One thing that has morphed only slightly is the Fleet's Stub Wing. Here's my latest render showing it at full thrust (click for a biggy).

From 1998 to 2015

My first scribble was in pencil and paper around 1991 but I've since lost that folder with all my original drawings in. I did a 3D model in 1996 but that died on a hard-drive so the oldest incarnation I have of the Stub Wing is from 1998 - and I still have the 3D model for it! Here is old (left) and new (right) side by side.

It's easy to see how far my 3D modelling has come, although it can be pretty painful sharing the old models. Here they are without the polygon lines.

The spikes that stick out of the back are the energy thrust vectors. The idea was that all that thrust forced from the back would go in all directions, so you need an energy field to try and contain it. In turn, that energy field would need some strong emitters and that's where the spikes come from. In the original model, the spikes were fixed but in the new one I have them all rigged up so that they can move around.

Next steps

Now I have the new Stub Wing rigged (with the thrust particles and lights), it's ready to go. I can now use it in a scene with a Mark 4 Droid and get that into the Fleet Setting book. I'm tempted to put some on the front cover too - I didn't before to stop it from looking busy. I'll give that another thought.

Do you like seeing the works in progress and archive images from yesteryear? Please do let me know on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or in the comments below.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Spacecraft systems

Sunday, 1 November 2015
Technically minded players love science fiction detail and being one of those roleplayers, I love it too. Giving tech-minded players technology detail gives them more choice to delve into. When the spacecraft is broken and can't light jump to Arcturus, rather than "it's the doohicky" that's broken, you can say that the Energy Well is broken. If the player is interested, they can then offer a solution and earn roleplaying points or a bonus to the Skill roll.

Technology what?

"How Icar stuff works" was defined around 1999 in Word document files. I've recently returned to them and my blood curdled in horror. By 2005, I had converted them into 55 html pages but printing was a nightmare. Imagine printing 55 separate html pages. I am in the process of recreating the whole lot in a PDF (along with all the other unfinished PDFs), starting from the first principle science and building.

I thought I could leave that on a back burner but my hand was called recently when a new (technically minded) player volunteered to be the spacecraft engineer and (reasonably so) wanted a diagram. The diagram and text below are from the unfinished technology index, I hope you find it useful. I aim to blog some of the other sections as I edit them.

Spacecraft Systems

Spacecraft share many of the properties of other vehicles. They have an energy web for transferring power, provided by the main generators. They have artificial intelligence, Grav engines, Grav plates an so on. Most importantly, spacecraft include the means to travel between stars. This is the different between a Heavy Grav and a Spacecraft. If your Light Jump Engine is broken what you have is a Heavy Grav, not a spacecraft! Below is a diagram of all the main systems on a modern spacecraft (click for a larger image).

The Energy Web

Woven into every strut, hull plate and floor of a spacecraft is the energy web. A mesh of cables of varying size but the vast majority are the size of hair. Blowing a huge hole in the outer hull not black out an area of the spacecraft, only destroy the systems it encompasses. The web can be used to power anything, taking feeds off it is easy. The energy web is also the main communication system, tiny intelligent agents whiz around the web communicating almost instantly with every other system on-board.

In emergencies, the web can be used as storage and itself can be depleted to drive systems. A depleted energy web takes roughly 15 seconds (5 turns) to bring back to full power.


Power is inexpensive and many systems (in the dotted box) have their own generators. The large generators that are used to power the most hungry systems are simply referred to as the Main Generators. A spacecraft is usually equipped with twice the number of main generators needed to perform a faster-than-light light jump.

Energy Well, Light Jump Engine, MTF Emitter

These three separate systems are required to travel great distances faster than the speed of light. To perform a Light Jump, the main generators charge up the Energy Well (which takes ten minutes). The Jump Engine then orchestrates all that raw energy into a particular shape and dumps it all at once into the Mass Transmission Field Emitter (MTF Emitter). The MTF Emitter creates a bubble around the outside of the spacecraft, which moves the mass of everything inside it into the second medium. The Grav Engine then performs a tiny push down the feint gravity gradient of the star you're travelling to and the spacecraft moves through the intervening space in just a few seconds. Once the jump is complete, the mass transmission energy field that is attached the spacecraft (and everything in it) takes an hour to dissipate. A spacecraft cannot emit another Light Jump field until the previous one has dissipated (roughly an hour).

Spacecraft usually keep the Energy Well charged. Charged Energy Wells are very easy to detect, as are spacecraft waiting for mass transmission fields to dissipate. When the spacecraft jumps, any ions in the space it travels through begin spinning in a very specific direction. This is called an ion trail and can be used to track spacecraft. Most spacecraft can route power from the Energy Well back into the Energy Web but with some risk as the Energy Well holds a great deal more than the web!

Grav Engine, Distributor and Grav Plates

These systems work together to move the spacecraft around wherever there is any kind of gravity. The Grav engine is given a command to move and it creates a special energy pattern that it gives to the distributor, which in turn feeds the Grav Plates. The Grav Plates turn the energy pattern into a force. Grav Plates powered without a working Grav Engine will hold position relative to the nearest large gravitational source. Grav Plates without power at all will not produce any force.

Life Support

Life Support is an umbrella term for thousands of tiny gas bioreoganisers spread around the spacecraft. The bioreorgnaisers take in stale air and produce fresh air, usually with the fresh scent choice of the Captain.


Used for protection against incoming projectiles, asteroids or extreme radiation. Most spacecraft carry multiple shield generators. Only one generator can be active at a time. If a shield takes a large amount of damage (or a single pulse laser round), it will take 3 seconds to disappear, at which point the next shield generator will spark into life. Once a shield is taken down, all that energy is dissipated back into the second medium by the shield generator (which will appear offline). Once finished (usually around 10 minutes), the shield generator comes back online. Shield generators are synonymous with "Shields".

Grav Field Emitter

The Grav Field Emitter creates thousands of artificial gravity bubble that can be used for a number of uses. The most common is giving gravity to all personnel in the spacecraft so that there is a common "up". Other uses include stopping atmosphere from leaking out through hull breeches, allowing engineers to walk on the surface of spacecraft and changing the gravity in any part of the spacecraft for comfort.

Tractor Beam

A way of pulling objects toward the spacecraft. All tractor beams have a maximum range and they work by setting up an external gravity field around the target.

Artificial Intelligence

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) orchestrates the systems on-board. Each system has its own intelligence that is a slave to the spacecraft intelligence. The spacecraft AI can answer questions, help with simple tasks and control low-AI power Automatons that have it has been handed control of. Some spacecraft have an Avatar, a humanoid Automaton that represents the spacecraft itself.


A medical facility that can cater for humans and bionics as standard (required by Imperial law). The size is proportional to the crew. Many spacecraft come with a medically trained automaton but it is not equipped as standard.

Light, Doors, Airlocks

These all take power from their own generators and all doors have a mechanical alternative to open them. Opening a door mechanically is slow!


Weapons are mounted in clusters in divots in the hull. They are usually 20 gauge pulse lasers. Ammunition must be replenished manually.


These use raw energy to turn organic blocks (called biomatter) into any kind of food depending on the Gaia entities loaded into the bioreorganiser. The more exotic the food, the more biomatter required. A good rule of thumb is that 1kg of biomatter can feed a human for 1 month and is the shape and size of a Rubik cube.
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