Monday, July 9, 2018

RPG NET: Review of The End of the World: Alien Invasion

 by: Jonathan Hicks

"Massive, gleaming saucers appear over Earth’s major cities. The secret Illuminati that has ruled the world since time immemorial emerges to make its ultimate powerplay. Your own friends and loved ones suddenly seem… not quite right. No matter what weird or terrifying events are occuring, it’s plain to see that we are not as alone as we once thought. Earth has become the center of an Alien Invasion! 

Alien Invasion is the third book in The End of the World roleplaying game line created by Álvaro Loman and José M. Rey. Like Zombie Apocalypse and Wrath of the Gods, Alien Invasion invites you to play as yourself, in your own hometown, as an extraterrestrial attack erupts around you. An elegant, narrative rules system keeps the game’s focus on the story as you experience one of five unique scenarios, each of which features dozens of possible adversaries and encounters. Watch out for UFOs, and prepare for close encounters with an Alien Invasion at the end of the world!"

Look, I've tried all kinds of roleplaying in all kinds of ways; low-level crawling, high-level epicness, freeform, open world, linear, all kinds of genres, and I've even had a stab at playing in the real world, in my local neighbourhood, and even as myself.

It's not a new concept, and it's no doubt something that many seasoned gamers have tried at least once in their tabletop history, but in my experience they've always been games using an existing ruleset that wasn't designed for that kind of thing.

But this game is very different to all those other times you've tried to play yourselves in a roleplaying games, tried to act out those 'what if' scenarios you've had in your head. This game gives you the tools and the guidelines to actually have a proper go at a 'what would I do' situation, and it works exceptionally well... most of the time.

What we have here is a 144-page hardback rulebook that contains rules, guidelines and scenarios to give you and your group a great evening of survival horror. It may look a little on the slim side but it has everything you need, and includes some excellent atmospheric artwork. The quality is up to the usual Fantasy Flight Games standard and it's a hardy rulebook that'll last you a while.

The book wastes no time in getting you into the action, and after the obligatory intro it dives straight into 'Playing The game', and explains the rules system and tests before you even get onto character creation. There is an assumption that you are familiar with tabletop roleplaying games and it doesn't hang around, so is it any good for new-to-the-hobby players? I'd say not really; there's enough in here to give you an idea of what gaming is about but no real firm guidelines.

Character creation is easy, and fun in may respects. Although the game is designed around the players creating versions of themselves to play in the game there is plenty of flexibility to create different personalities so that you can game as other characters in other places.

Characters have six characteristics across three different categories: Dexterity and Vitality are the Physical aspects, Logic and Willpower are Mental, and Charisma and Empathy are the Social aspects. These characteristics are graded by a number between one and five but start at one, and players then spend ten points across the characteristics to create a character that suits them.

The fun bit, especially if you're playing versions of yourselves, is that the group then votes on each of the different characteristics and scores, secretly putting dice into a bag to try and change the outcome of the character. The dice are positive and negative, which is the core mechanic of the game, and positive dice increase scores and negative ones decrease them. It's a great way of keeping egos in check - and a great way of finding out what your friends really think of you!

Features are then assigned, and these are the talents and problems the player may have. What are you good at? Don't think about what you'd like to be good at - what are you actually good at? Do you have any illnesses or physical problems? Don't make stuff up - think about how you are right now! Have you injured yourself in real life recently? Sprained an ankle, broken a bone, got a bad cold? Then put that on your character sheet - the alien invasion is about to happen so your current condition is vital!

Now for equipment... and this was a great part of character creation for all of us. Choose items that are in your house right now. That's your equipment list. It was fun for us because in my attic I have a replica Roman gladius, which came in handy, and another player had an air rifle and some knitting needles that actually fitted in the barrel (we weren't stupid enough to actually try to shoot one, of course). We actually went around my house looking for things that we could use, and even went as far as making an inventory of tinned food and water. It was a hell of an experience, and we really got into it.

The game system is very simple. Tests are decided by D6s, and once the GM has decided what characteristic to use for the test the player creates a dice pool from the characteristic and any features, equipment and bonuses that might come in handy. The pool is dice of two different colours, one colour being positive dice and the other negative dice, and then they roll. Any negative die score that matches a positive die score removes both dice from the table, and any positive die that remain which have scored lower than the characteristic equals success - the action succeeds. Anything else is a fail.
I may not have done the game system justice with that brief explanation, but once you get two or three rolls out of the way and the pieces fall into place then it's actually a great setup, with plenty of dramatic moments as the dice are paired off and scores are counted, and even though the term 'dice pool' might put some people off it's actually pretty quick and there's no situations where you end up throwing buckets of cubes around.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Great Martian War: Counterattack

Following the disastrous defeats of 1910, the Americans have fallen back to the line of the Mississippi River. This is the last natural barrier between the Martian invaders and the utterly vital—and vulnerable—cities of the east. To lose the Mississippi Line could well be to lose the war. The Martian commanders know this, as do Theodore Roosevelt and his Chief of Staff, Leonard Wood. Both sides mass all of their forces for the titanic clash that will come in the summer of 1912.

Everyone has a part to play. Frank Dolfen leads his cavalry on risky scouting missions into enemy territory, Rebecca Harding raises a unit of women sharpshooters to defend Memphis, and Andrew Comstock rushes to complete the army’s newest weapons. But even a war between worlds cannot avoid politics. There is serious disagreement among the Martians about the proper path to victory. And 1912 is an election year in America. Millions of people have been driven from their homes and Roosevelt knows that to win in November it is not enough to just hold the line. They must counterattack! This is the third book in the first trilogy of The Great Martian War.

 This is the third book in "The Great Martian War" series by Mr. Washburn. The first two books are "Invasion" and "Defender". (Don't judge the third book by it's comic book type cover.) . These books are interesting, exciting, and well written. The time period is the early twentieth century. Instead of WWI, the earth has to deal with alien invasion. Although the main characters are made-up, many of the historical figures of the time period are also there. His research of the time period, personalities, and geography is meticulous. If you enjoy alternate history, these books are as good as it gets.
Barbara J. Carges 

I've enjoyed this series and the game universe it supports. Washburn does a very good job mixing fictional characters with historical ones. His extrapolated technology is also well done. The battle scenes are vivid and human casualties are always heavy. Generally I hit the sack early to be up for work but this book kept me up late several nights. Pick up the entire series and be ready for a good set of traditional war stories.
Terry Sofian

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Armoured Trains

At the outbreak of WWI, only one of the combatants had any appreciable investment in the concept of at the outbreak, and that was Russia. Its immense size and lack of quality roads made it even more dependent on rail-lines than any other belligerent power, and as such had constructed four examples (Or two. Or ten. Sources disagree). In the west, there was no pre-existing stock, but a few examples were hastily constructed by adding armor and weaponry to existing boxcars and locomotives. The Belgians had two examples in action, and the British Naval Division (an infantry unit of Royal Navy reservists and Marines unneeded for service at sea) created two as well which saw action outside Antwerp. The Germans followed suit on the Western Front with a few examples they used to protect against possible partisan attacks in Belgium, and a light armored train that ‘invaded’ Luxembourg in 1914, but the quick stagnation of the fighting saw no further advancement of the concept in the west.

The Eastern Front was a different matter though. As they already had some number of trains, composed of armored locomotive and a couple of armored cars carrying machine-guns or light artillery, and already having trains ready to go at the very start gave Russia a leg up. They almost immediately saw use both offensively and defensively. The Russians already had experience with armored trains, having deployed improvised examples against Japan in 1904 and during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. In one of the earliest actions of the war, an armored train was used to capture a bridge at Stanislav. In offensive roles, infantry cars would be stocked with troops to quickly dismount before the shock of the train’s sudden arrival wore off, but the war quickly ruined any track that crossed between the lines. There remained the occasional case where the changing movement of the fronts left intact rail line allowing for an attacking role, but more generally they were restricted to more defensive roles through 1915 and 1916.

The use of a train would be to have it stay behind the front, and if there was a report of an enemy attack, it would be switched to the appropriate track and choo-choo off there to provide firepower - usually two 76mm guns and numerous machine guns. They proved to be very effective in this role of mobile defensive platforms, and the Russian Army had built nearly a dozen more by the end of 1915, with at least 15 in service at that time, spread out between various fronts. Inspired by the success of the Russian’s trains, the Germans and the Austrians copied them, with the first Austro-Hungarian example, the Pz.Zug I, entering service in early 1915, and a German train close on its heel’s that fall.

The evolution of the trains between 1914 and 1917 was quite incredible. The Russian trains at the beginning of the war were comparatively crude affairs, essentially an armored locomotive with armored boxcars attached to protect the crew for the guns and machine guns, but within a few years sleek designs that evoked the image of a battleship on land, with turreted guns and absolutely bristling with machine guns. The Austrians followed in the footsteps of the Russians, imitating their opponent in design, and putting them into action against both the Russians and the Italians. The German High Command never put as much stock into the concept, so while a number were operating by the end of the conflict, they were mostly assembled on the local level, with a wide variation in workmanship, and never taking on the finished appearance of the Russian examples.

Up to this point, armored trains had been been built in the image of any other train. The locomotive was attached to some number of cars which served various functions - infantry cars, artillery cars, command cars, AA cars etc. During World War I though was developed the rail-cruiser. Cruisers were single cars and capable of supplying their own power, giving them much greater speed and flexibility than a regular armored train. Both Russia and Austro-Hungary developed examples, ranging from the small trollies like the Motorkanonwagen to the impressive Russian railcruiser [Zaamurets] (later to become better known for serving with the armored train Orlik with the Czech Legion). Rail-cruisers could be attached to a larger train, but if needed, unhitched and sent off on their own. While incredibly useful in the defensive roles that they filled, even on the Eastern Front the relatively conventional fighting meant that armored trains weren’t used quite to their full potential. It would take the next big conflict to see them at their height of power.

The Russian Civil War

With the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917 and ensuing withdrawal from the war, the Russian Civil War gave the fleet of armored trains a new purpose. The vast expanses of the country made control of the rail lines absolutely vital, and both sides made use of armed and armored trains extensively. At the beginning of the war, most of the Imperial Army’s fleet had either been requisitioned by the Germans or else fallen into White Russian hands. The Red forces quickly put into action a building program, churning out not only the well developed and battle tested designs of the Tsarist regimes from the factories they controlled, but improvising a wide array of ingenious designs, perhaps the most interesting being to build an interior wall in a boxcar and fill the gap with concrete to create a protected infantry car (these semi-armored trains were known as blindirov). In all, well over 200 armored and blindirov trains of varying quality operated with the Reds during the Civil War, and another 80 or so with the Whites. While the Reds were able to build quality trains using Czarist designs, the Whites generally lacked access to the factories and their quality rarely equalled that of their opponents’.

With the front lines much more amorphous, a general lack of air support, and neither side willing to uproot miles of vital track that would prefer to fight for control over, the train could truly perform as an offensive weapon, serving as a spearhead of the attack, instead of the savior in the defense. Trains would travel with raiding teams “desantniy otryad” of infantry and cavalry. The infantry would ride in armored box-cars providing protection on the move, deploy out when stopped and vulnerable, and also allow the train to strike away from the tracks, with the infantry operating under protection of its artillery. The cavalry would travel as a screening force to protect the train from ambush - although in numerous engagements the trains proved they could hold their own against enemy cavalry formations, such as a veritable slaughter outside Tsaritsyn in 1918. Many trains would carry an observation balloon, primarily for artillery spotting but also to allow for more effective reconnaissance outside of the narrow corridor of rail track.

With 37,000 miles of rail, and generally poor quality roads, the importance of the armored train during the war can’t be understated, and personnel were almost exclusively to be drawn from party members and the most literate at that. Although how much this was done in practice is up in the air. Railroad men were impressed into the service due to their existing expertise, and at least one foreign observer described the crew of a train he traveled on as “a choice selection of human scum”. Whether they were the cream of the communist party or the scum of the earth, the crews were certainly capable of great deeds, and when used at their best, could take on all comers, perhaps best exemplified during the Civil War by Train No. 1 Rifle Regiment in Honor of Karl Marx, which sped into the town of Liski, catching the garrison by surprise and capturing the town and two idling White trains to boot! Describing the Soviet use of trains in 1920, a Polish officer noted that, “Armored trains are the most serious and terrible opponent. [...] Our infantry are powerless against them.” It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say they they were simply the best weapon of the war.

The Whites lacked the organization with their trains displayed by the Reds, and not just because they had few facilities for manufacturing. While this certainly meant that there was a lot of diversity in their fleet, the much more fractured force simply couldn’t develop a unified doctrine, although they certainly emulated the successes of the Reds when possible. In addition to the anti-Bolshevik Russian groups, both the British, French, and Americans operated lightly armored trains during their fruitless intervention of 1918-1920. And while the Whites generally were playing second fiddle to the Red in terms of effective train deployment, no one used them better than the Czech Legion as they fought their way east.

Perhaps the most famed armored train of the war - if not period - was Orlik. Originally a Russian rail-cruiser named Zaamurets that was captured from the Bolshevik’s by the Czech Legion as they trekked east in their effort to leave Russia and join the fighting on the Western Front, Orlik Vuz cis. 1 (Vehicle One) became part of their armored train Orlik. The train helped the Czechoslovakians control a vast swathe of the Trans-Siberian Railroad from late 1918 through early 1920, until they finally were able to evacuate Russia via Vladivostok. Orlik ended up in White hands before finding its way into the hands of Chinese Warlords, and eventually the Kwantung Army, a puppet force of Japan, some time around 1931.

By the end of the Russian Civil War, the Soviets had a well established armored train doctrine, originally with light trains revolving around the raiding parties on the one hand (bronyepoyezd), and heavy trains more centered on providing heavier fire support (bronyobatoreyo). In both cases, they generally consisted of a armored locomotive in the center flanked by two gun cars, and control cars on each end. The variation was in the armament, the light train carrying 76.2mm pieces, and the heavy trains armed with between 100mm and 150mm (the heavy trains would be the least armored though, as it referred simply to the armament. A Heavy train was not meant to get close to the fighting, so was lightly armored compared to the light trains, which needed the protection. Confusing, I know!). Infantry cars could be added if needed, as well as a rail-cruiser. This was changed to three classes, of ‘A’ - the heaviest armored train, with 4x76.2mm guns; ‘V’ (or ‘C’) - 4x152mm or 203mm guns; and ‘B’ - 4x107mm or 4x122mm guns, in 1920. Type ‘M’ trains also existed, but more akin to railroad guns, mounting heavy naval artillery for coastal defense.

The Interwar Years
The years between the wars saw considerable use of armored trains, aside from the Russian Civil War that is, and few more so than the Poles, who fully embraced the concept and were running about 70 of them in the early 1920s. Their initial fleet was made up of examples captured either from the Austro-Hungarians and Germans at the end of World War I, or else from the Soviets during the Polish-Soviet War in 1919-1921, a conflict that saw numerous use of trains as raiding weapons, and even duels between Soviet and Polish trains! One of the greatest innovations of the Poles during the war was the use of flatbeds with Renault FTs placed on them, allowing the tank to fight from the train if needed, but able to dismount and range outside of the corridor of track if needed. Given the limitation on tank designs at the time, the speed and firepower offered by a train was simply unsurpassed at the time, and in regions where rail-lines went, there was no weapon a Polish or Soviet commander was happier to have at his disposal.

The other major utilization of armored trains in the period occurred in China. Plagued by warlords in the 1920s and the Japanese in the 1930s, and lacking major roads, the rail-lines were just as vital in the as in Russia, and consequently much of the fighting happened within a stone’s throw of them. The long travels of the Orlik, but it was hardly alone in traveling the rails of warlord-torn China in the 1920s. The defeat of the Whites saw many of them flee from Vladivostok into northern China, where they offered their equipment and services to Chinese warlords as mercenaries. In his efforts to bring down the warlords, Chiang Kai-Shek followed suit by paying the Soviet’s for their expertise in constructing armored trains for him and training men in their use. By the time the Warlords had been mostly suppressed in the late 1920s, the National Revolutionary Army was fielding 20 trains, and the Manchurian Army under Zhang Xueliang had another dozen to support them with. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 would turn most of the latter over to the invader’s Kwantung Army.

The Japanese would add a few new construction to their force, but their favored vehicle for patrolling the rail lines were armored trolleys, similar in function to the rail-cruiser, but essentially an armored car fitted with rail wheels. The Type 91 could have road and rail wheels switched, allowing it to function in either capacity and the Type 95 was a tracked vehicle with rail wheels that could be lowered from the hull onto the tracks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Trebelev subterrene (Soviet Union)

A Subterrene is a vehicle that travels underground (through solid rock/soil) much as a submarine travels underwater, either by mechanical drilling, or by melting its way forward. Subterrenes existed first in fiction as mechanical drillers, with real-world thermal designs and examples following in the second half of the 20th century.

Fictional subterrenes are often depicted as cylindrical in shape with conical drill heads at one or both ends, sometimes with some kind of tank-tread for propulsion, and described either as leaving an empty tunnel behind it, or as filling the space behind it with mining debris, the plausibility of such machines has declined with the advent of the real-world tunnel boring machines, which demonstrate the reality of the boring task. Tunnel boring machine themselves are not usually considered to be subterrenes, possibly because they lack the secondary attributes - mobility and independence - that are normally applied to vehicles.

A real-world, mobile subterrene must work thermally, using very high temperature and immense pressure to melt and push through rock, the front of the machine is equipped with a stationary drill tip which is kept at 1,300–1,700 °F (700–930 °C). The molten rock is pushed around the edges as the vehicle is forced forward, and cools to a glass-like lining of the tunnel. Massive amounts of energy are required to heat the drill head, supplied via nuclear power or electricity. Patents issued in the 1970s indicate that U.S. scientists had planned to use nuclear power to liquefy lithium metal and circulate it to the front of the machine (drill). An onboard nuclear reactor can permit a truly independent subterrene, but cooling the reactor is a difficult problem, the Soviet Union is purported to have built such a "battle mole", which operated until its onboard reactor failed.[citation needed]
On line information presents research was funded by the United States Government for the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories University of California, Los Alamos, New Mexico for a project Camelot under the heading Systems and Cost Analysis for a Nuclear Subterrene Tunneling Machine. 

The design concepts fall into similar designs of current technology of our nuclear submarine fleet and existing tunnel boring technology as used in the Chunnel between England and France, but with the added feature of melting rock for the tunnel wall lining.