Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Pink Stripe - scavenger spacecraft

Saturday, 8 March 2014
The Pink Stripe is a Scavenger Spacecraft based on a Blackwater design with lots of "modifications". The invention of two of my players "Aggro" and "Byrn" for our current campaign.

The Pink Stripe, a burgundy Blackwater with a pink stripe.

Download this ship as either an image or PDF. Here's the marketing information:
The Pink Stripe used to be a lot of things. It used to be a Blackwater. Bits of it used to be a Bailey. It used to be two perfectly serviceable spacecraft. It is typical of a Fringe “Salvage Vessel”, modified on the move, making the best of components that are available without ever really having enough investment to make it a good vessel. A Scavenger would recognise it as one of their own instantly.

The Pink Stripe, a burgundy Blackwater with a pink stripe. Click here for the jpg sheet.The Pink Stripe’s heritage is firmly with a Blackwater. The Grav Plate fins have long since been replaced with larger, more capable plates. The legs that attach them to the forward crew compartment have been bent outwards and strengthened to make way for a rear cargo bay that shields the vital organs of the craft: its Grav Engine and Generator. The rear cargo bay also houses a weathered Orbihaul and enough room for a considerable amount of salvage. A number of hidden gun clusters provide the Pink Stripe with combat versatility and patchy armour toughens up the hull considerably.

Even with a stronger light jump engine and some suspicious Grav Engine modifications, this Scavenger craft is slow through light jump and does not have enough scape pods for the crew it can service.

One has to look deeper into the Pink Stripe before you really get a feeling for this vessel. The quality of the welds is exceptional, the energy web that serves power throughout the craft is armoured, the AI is tough and useful in an difficult situation and compared to its Blackwater bretheren it’s exceptionally tough. The iris airlocks (usually a weak point) have been armoured, making them structural and the inside is in very good working order. For a small vessel, it really has had a lot of love poured into it.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Going off-grid in Icar

Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Off-grid is when you live your life without touching Gaia. Being on-grid does not mean that you're being tracked all the time by the Imperium. The Imperium have very strict laws to protect people's privacy and will not track someone's actions on Gaia unless they have overwhelming evidence against them. Being on-grid is the norm, you chat with friends, keep in touch with family, book seats at a restaurant or on a space cruise. Living off-grid is really, really hard. However, being on-grid means that there are chances that illegal organisations (called Info Brokers or Hackers) can be collect, store, analyse and use you data from across human occupied space. Point a hacker at something within Gaia and if there is any trace of information left there, then it might be found. Off-grid is a problem. As a Syndicate operative in Sayshell Sector with your feet up, enjoying a glass of brandy; you can't order a hacker operating out of Dorian Sector to find anything out about a person in Remmar Sector. If the target is off-grid, you can't even call them over Gaia. You have to put down your brandy, collect your things and go there. Rather than a problem being resolved in minutes, you have to travel for days to actually find them.

Why go off-grid?

The most obvious reason to go off-grid is to avoid the Star Enforcers or a Syndicate. It's not foolproof but it makes their life much harder. Some go off-grid by accident, their lifestyle simply having nothing to do with Gaia anymore. Some go off-grid because they believe that the virtual world of Gaia is dimishing the human experience. Some go on a detox, knowing that plenty more time in Gaia is coming but they just need a break from its pace.

Living off-grid

In the simplest form, you can go off-grid by switching off your Gaia card. Like turning off your cell phone, no-one will be able to get in contact with you. If you interact with nothing technical from this point on, you're off-grid. You will pay for things with disposable data cards. You live in a self-sufficient place and use services and companies that never ask for your identification. If someone asks for a name for a booking, you can give a false one and no-one really minds.

If you need something from Gaia (such as information on your favourite Gaia soap star) then you can use Gaia without using a Gaia card. However, people will be able to see you looking at the information. It's better to have someone else find it for you, although you will need to ask them face-to-face.

Travelling off-grid

Interstellar travel from your colony (be it planet, Orb or orbital) can be really difficult if you're being off-grid. Most reputable spacecraft will need your picture and a name. You can have cosmetic surgery to change your appearance but the machines that do the work use Gaia. You don't want off-grid cosmetic surgery, not if you ever want to use a mirror again.

Switching Gaia cards

Your Gaia card is your identification. Buying a new one is essentially buying a new identity. If you don't tell people that your old and new identities are connected and you use different profile information for the new card, then you can use Gaia safely under this new identity. If the reason to live off grid is to avoid an crazy 'ex' then a new Gaia card would be enough. However, if you're on the run from the Enforcers or a Syndicate then one small slip and they will catch up with you with terrifying speed and won't let you go off-grid so easily next time.

How to go off-grid

  • Go to a well populated planet surface (or orb).
  • Move all your contact information and money from your Gaia card onto a datacard.
  • Dump your Gaia card into an incinerator.
  • Buy passage as far aways as you can with the money on the data card (see the black market prices).
  • Buy a house (with cash) in the middle of nowhere for cash where you can pick up supplies from a nearby village.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Information, privacy and the law in Icar

Tuesday, 12 November 2013
In this post, I look at how I deal with information, privacy and the law in Icar. When far future technology allows you to record everything with amazing levels of detail, how could criminals operate? What are the ramifications for privacy?

The tricky problem

In Science Fiction roleplaying you're posed with a tricky problem. One one hand you can extrapolate where you are today, assume everything gets better and make up your universe around that concept. On the other hand, you want it to be fun to play. If law and order kept getting better then sooner or later there would be no crime. Even for good characters, a bit of crime is fun. Science Fiction roleplaying also allows you to enjoy the biggest game of "What If...". If you set your game far enough into the future (as I have), you can write out racial and religious differences, which leaves you with a very different society to play with. For the players to be able to suspend their disbelief society and technology must remain plausible. There is a balance to be struck and for each game, that balance will be different.

Extrapolating technology

Sensors in Icar are amazing. Scanners can detect the finest detail of a life form's health from a distance. You can see the entire electromagnetic spectrum with the cheapest, tiniest sensors and storage space is infinite. Artificial Intelligence can be used to survey huge amounts of sensor information and is intelligent enough to recognise suspicious or downright illegal actions.

Evidence and the Law

Law is dispatched by The Nexus, which is the Imperial Artificial Intelligence. The Nexus takes in evidence submitted by the Star Enforcers, matches it up with the body of Imperial Law and then passes judgement. Where there is not enough evidence, or it is conflicting, the Nexus questions the Enforcers, who must fill the logical holes or the accused goes free. The Nexus is impartial and operates only on the evidence, avoiding cultural biases. More hard evidence is required to convict someone in Icar, a few eye witness accounts are not enough.

Where is the fun in that?

Sensor data can pick up every crime and The Nexus can pass judgement at huge speed and accuracy. That pretty much means the end of criminals, doesn't it? If you don't want crime, then just install sensors everywhere (which is very cheap to do) and when there is a crime spotted, the criminal is immediately judged and dispatched. That, in itself, isn't very much fun. It limits the things that the players can do and if they want to do some criminal actions then the campaign will be very short.


The Imperium holds personal privacy high in the list of freedoms it protects. If you're being recorded by all sorts of sensors all the time then this is clearly an invasion of privacy. So, you're not allowed to. It is illegal to collect sensor data in public or commercial spaces. Sensor data may be collated in private, personal areas or where the sensors are "Point of View for the sake of safety" (such as with bionics or a space craft navigating). That makes sensor creation exceptionally difficult to do.

Privacy, the Nexus and Common Sense

If the Nexus is provided with evidence from a source that breaks the privacy laws then the evidence itself is immiscible and the owner of the sensors will be charged. Where the Nexus is very intelligent is in the application of common sense. Breach of privacy charges brought on a space craft that needs sensors to navigate would be dropped but if the space craft was using its sensors to track or monitor a private individual then The Nexus will bring about the full force of the law.


Sensor information can be faked, so the Nexus usually needs lots of corroborating evidence to convict someone of a crime. Getting this corroborating evidence is usually the difficult task for The Enforcers.

In play

Here are some examples of what you might do in play.

Are you being watched lawfully? As a player, it is best to assume that your character is not being recorded all the time. If you are entering an area with sensors that are recording you and you have the capacity to detect them (or it's obvious) then the GM will ask you for a Wit Attribute Check.

If you need to incriminate someone or falsify sensor data, requires a Forgery Skill check.

If you want to remove traces of your presence in a building, you need to use the Hacking rules to get into the sensor logs and delete them. This would be 1 Hacking check to get into the system, and 1 Hacking check to delete the data.

If you want to rig a sensor system to not record you entering an area, you will need the Hacking rules. This is approximately 4 Hacking rolls (1 to get in, 1 to break into the cameras, 1 to kill the Security Entity and 1 to install a Hacking looper).

Crime is possible

Even though Icar has a huge amount of advanced technology, it is the rights of the individual that stop it from being used. Of course, if you are being hunted by criminals, they will have no problem with recording you, following you and blowing you up. That's what they do. They're criminals.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Summer 2013 Update

Tuesday, 23 July 2013
Icar has been updated, the new PDFs are ready for download from the homepage. The changes include:
  • New full colour Sector maps for Dorian, Sayshell and Remmar.
  • Updates to Space Combat
  • Additional rule examples

The New Sector Maps

It is difficult to represent space because it is really very big, not to mention 3D. I have sidestepped this issue by pretending the Galaxy is pretty much a flat disc. Space is organised into Sectors and Clusters, a Sector containing a bunch of clusters. A Cluster contains systems, a system contains planets, orbitals and so on.

The Sector maps have been black and white for a long time because I found it very difficult to make them colour and still print sensibly in black and white. While playing with Photoshop recently, it occurred to me that I could select colours and then increase the contrast massively. That should allow me to make them both nice in colour and appear different shades in grayscale.

The next difficulty that I had was that old sector maps were arranged in a format that was not very easy for me to convert, change or play with. Furthermore, I did not generate the whole Galactic arm - I just did the three sectors of human occupied space. This became a problem because I now need Typhon Sector for the Fleet setting. It was not possible just to generate a single cluster and have it match the others. I decided to regenerate the entire galactic arm again, and then clean it so that I could use it more easily.

I'm proud of the new maps and am looking forward to getting them printed A3 at my local print shop.

Space Combat Update

I took an evening out of our Fleet campaign to playtest the Space Combat rules. Although they have been there for a long time, the only testing I had done was on paper. Although extensive (edge case testing etc), it was not obvious how it would play. A run through with Byrn and Aggro was long overdue.

The feedback was excellent. I introduced Combat Initiative to give a bonus to spacecraft that are well suited to space combat and adjusted all the to-hit modifier on spacecraft systems. That meant an update to the Equipment Index too, which I'm glad to say did not take long thanks to InDesign's master pages.

The other changes included turn length becoming 3 minutes and that the initiative modifer only affects the Pilot Manouvring check. Failing the Pilot Manouvring check now gives a modifier to Gunnery. In essence, the teamwork is still there but it is less loaded on the initiate.

Grab the PDFs now from the homepage.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Nothing quite like a campaign to get me fired up

Friday, 8 March 2013
So, I'm running a new Icar campaign. My last campaign (playing my free RPG The Wall) sadly fizzled over Christmas and a change in job made it hard for me to have any head space for working on a campaign setting.

Last Tuesday, while sitting chatting to roleplaying chums about Life (The Universe and Everything), I made the bold statement to just stop faffing about and run the still-fledgling Trooper Setting.

What I did then


What I did after that

I took stock of what I had. Got all the notes organised and started putting them into Trello. Organising timelines and events with Icar's sandbox principles is really easy in Trello.

Made a list of what I needed

What was needed for the first 2 sessions? I made a complete list. Everything! Getting my dice bag sorted out, a new bag to carry all this rubbish in, printing off character sheets, new equipment sheets and so on.

Hit problems

I need a new sector map for Typhon. I have an old-style one that I could use but I wanted a nicely printed one in A3. It needed to be able to fit against the Remmar map in version 4. But the process to create that was not repeatable. Rats. I need to recreate them all (which is easy now I have the computing power). Which means updating the version 4 document. That will take time, time that I don't have just now.

Do I really need all that?

The Typhon map is going to be important but I won't need it for the first session. I can get away with just a local planet map. I only need it when it goes a little more sandboxy. That can wait.


With the remaining assets, I finished off the nearly-done ones so that it was easier to see what was left. Bionics sheet done, TAFAC sheet - half done, Stone (dropship), have model - need stats, cheat sheets and pre-made Skill lists (Trooper characters don't get to choose skills).

Am I ready?

No. But do I need to be completely ready before next Tuesday? Probably not!

The best thing is

That running a campaign will give me a kick up the bum to stop playing Minecraft and do some creating. I work well with against aggressive deadline and manage to find time where previously there had been none.

What gets you fired up to create? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A quiet family day and a burst of output!

Sunday, 13 January 2013
I have been hammering our Icar today, thanks to me dear wife who has disappeared out with my son, Felix. Only with a quiet house and clear plan of what I wanted to achieve would anything get done. Nothing new has been released but by getting over some of these jobs-that-needed-to-be-done means that working on Icar in the evenings is more plain sailing. Here's what I've been up to...

Created the Google+ Page

It appears that there are many more roleplayers on Google+ than there are on Facebook, so I've been wanting to carve out a Google+ page for a long time! I will be posting new images up onto the Plus group as well as Facebook.

Moved Fleet Setting into InDesign

A big step for me is when I move loads of text into InDesign to see how big it is and what's left to do. It takes a fair amount of effort to do the layout - even though I'm only using the Core Rules backgrounds at the moment. Now that is done, I can focus on the things that remain. There are lots of resources to build and the GM section to write up.

Fleet Trooper TAFAC model finished

It's not perfect but perfection is the enemy of done, and I really need to move on. I don't like the hands, they're stock and make him look really surprised! They will have to do for now.

The TAFAC powered armour suit is designed as a lightweight way of getting troopers about and I think the model captures that. The Rapier is now fitted on the Grav Pack an although there are no other Trooper gizmos (yet), the model is done and rendered. Now I can get the Bionics sheets written up.

Fixed the download counter

I have not been able to track downloads of Icar for about 8 years. I moved over to using Google but failed to debug the tracking code. I've finally found out what I was doing (Javascript swallowed a syntax error) and can now track how many times each of the documents have been downloaded.

Added a description to the main web page

It really needed a bit of text to say what Icar was all about. Not only to satisfy the tastes of the web crawlers but also to help those who have never been to the site before.

What would you like to see next from the Icar stable? Is there anything that is crying out to be done?

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Introducing the Rapier

Saturday, 1 September 2012
Fleet Troopers need fire power. Every Trooper, regardless of their rank or role, get issued with the Rapier. The most reliable weapon the Fleet have ever had. It is a powerful pulse laser, which weaves light and raw energy into translucent blue bolts. Ammunition is beamed directly into a small store on-board so a belt feed is not required.

The six fixed barrels contain their own 20 gauge (200 damage per round, 50 rounds per turn) pulse laser mechanism, providing 6 times redundancy. It connects directly to the Trooper's Cyber but can be fired without operating sensors.

My love/hate relationship with the Rapier

I drew the Rapier in pencil back in 1999 and it was superb. A 2D side elevation drawing on 5mm squared paper. Sadly, I lost it. Since then, I've been trying to repeat it - regaining the old magic. Each time I try, I get close to what I want but miss the bar and that annoys me so intensely, I can't return to the image again for ages. I tend to redirect some energy into the text of the setting or work on another project entirely.

How I design

I start with a drawing. I have a cheap Wacom Bamboo tablet and GIMP and I just sketch. If I am not near my computer and the mood takes me, then I sketch on paper. I prefer digital because rubbing out and line thickness is easier. It takes some getting used to as your eye is not tracking the line as it appears from the tip of a pencil but tracking across the screen.

Each Icar item starts as a bunch of shapes. I am big on straight lines, arcs and circles. If I like the shape (roughly) then I'll fill some detail. I'll keep going until I think it's no good and then stop and start with a new bunch of big shapes.

If it is a weapon that I am having trouble with, I try different styles to keep myself going. If it is still not working for me, I change the music I am listening to, adjust the blind next to my desk, try drinking something different and so on. It doesn't have to be a huge paradigm shift (try drawing upside down or in a coffee shop) as a combination of little things works just fine.

Once I am happy with the overall sketch, I transfer it into 3D. Getting them into 3D is a long process of tweaking and fiddling.

Rapier examples

The five images below show 5 attempts at the Rapier, each binned at different stages. I did 25 attempts in the end - some made their way into 3D before I gave up. They are not chronologically the same weapon, they each one is a different stab at the weapon. Below the image, I explain why I binned each design. I'm going into more detail than before to help you understand why it's been a pain.
  1. The initial idea for the Rapier was that the forearm of the Trooper went inside the weapon. This removes the need for handles. The problem with this is that it is a bit cumbersome - fine for the "clompy" Troopers of old but no good for the new reinvention. I don't like where the barrels meet the rear half. I tried to imagine it in 3d with the grey but it wasn't right.
  2. This is still a series of shapes - went wrong really early.
  3. I liked the idea of having two circular sections at the back but it made the whole thing too long. Also, bit where the barrels meet is still bad.
  4. This one has a lot of detail because I quite liked it. I like that the rear half is grabbing the barrels. I experimented with holes in the barrels but that is something I did when I was 14 and don't see the need these days.
  5. My favourite of the five but still to fat - too chunky. Too... too... wrong. This was design #24 and it was here that I realised I was heading in the wrong direction entirely.

Here are another batch from a week or two later:
Didn't like any of those either. The second one down shows the shapes stage of drawing a weapon for Icar. It really is very rough at that point.

Know when to stop

So I sat myself down at the computer and gave myself an evening without distraction. I left my headphones on but didn't play music (am I the only one who does that?). It gives a deadening to the ear that helps me focus. I'm writing this post in the same way. I gave myself one sketch and one sketch only. I came up with this:

To throw myself off the scent of the other images, I drew the weapon left-to-right. Rather than begin with a series of curves, I started with straight lines and then added a minimal number of curves. I didn't like the detail much but that was OK because the design always morphs a little when going into 3D. I didn't want to spend too long on detailing the model but I had a few ideas that might make it more interesting. This is the final Rapier, which will be built onto a weapon sheet soon.

I couldn't copy the drawing verbatim because there are some lines that just don't make sense. Also, where the barrels meet the barrel cover on the right looked really odd so I had them going into a very simple cylinder first. I am please with the result - not 100% happy but then I could spend the rest of the year fiddling and it would never get done. There is a time to stop and this is it.
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