Staying Frosty in 2023

Continuing the discussion from What's on your gaming table?:

The Birth of the Premise

It all started with my original idea of maybe doing a longform stay frosty game of Ravenloft and homaging Apocalypse Now with it as we plunge the Ravenloft Nebula for renegade Star Colonel Strahd.

But as things progressed, I realised I need a more casual game in my life than another long campaign, so I thought about expanding this Ravenloft Nebula, D&D references in space, thing to just general dungeon crawling in space! The more I thought about the game the more and more things aligned.

I ran a sample crawl with some mates just to make sure this idea’s juice is worth the squeeze and it was!

The References

Running with this Ravenloft Nebula joke, I decided the outfit would be the 5th Expeditionary Corps (The 5E) and I knew they needed a homebase, a ship of sorts. So I thought it’d be funny if I referenced the Keep from B2 so I named their ship The Borderlands. The ship’s onboard computer is “THAC0” which provides them printouts and analysis of missions. These mission details were mostly redacted, giving the game a funny 3:16/Paranoia kinda bit of the game. In fact I thought I’d lean into that stuff so it isn’t just like “Terra Good.”

In fact I decided, like 3:16, the 5E is a “crusade” of sorts with the prior 4 expeditionary forces having gone and done this job in the past many many years ago which got me thinking about the lore of so many corps that came before.

  • The 3rd Expeditionary Force had synthetic forces to help map and explore. “Pathfinders” were their original purpose. A civil war between themselves and their Synthetic (Robot) Forces ensued as the synths apparently went beserk. The rammifications of this strife is that no more full synths in the Corps and they’re not to be trusted when encountered.

  • The 4th Expeditionary Force was successful but betrayed by Colonel Strahd who, with their traitorous forces, fled into the Ravenloft Nebula. Apparently something changed this rising star from a true believer to a hater.

The Opposition

So my D&D edition references started sowing seeds for potential enemies I could input into my adventures but I needed more!

  • Traitor Corps - aka the 4e - are the remnants of Star Colonel Strahd’s forces.

  • One Religious Covenant - aka ORCs - are a conglomeration of alien species that follow the same xenosupremacist religion. They look for progenitor/ancient alien technology as signs of their god. Specifically they are hunting for a lost religious superweapon called “The Forge.” These lads are very much the covenant from HALO but also my stand in for Goblinoids and Orcs. Basic Goblins are my Grunts, and make hobgoblins, bugbears, and ogres bigger and increasingly badass as well.

  • Outer System Rebellion - aka The OSR - are an ecclectic confederation of terrorists, pirates, and rebels against Terra. Anytime I need pirates, smugglers, or the like, I can always decide if they’re a part of this faction.

  • Occult Genetics Labs - aka OGL. Megacorps and government blacksites for research into metadimensional energies. These always blow up in their faces and unleash demons and worse! Requring cleanup by the 5E.

Prep and Conversions

Ok so how do I prep and convert a dungeon into something for stay frosty? Well all I gotta really do is reinvent the premise of the original dungeon and reskin the monsters.The rest of the rennovations is just streamlining the dungeon’s many rooms into the “core dungeon experience” of that module.

So with T1 open on one screen, I got to jotting down what “The Moathouse” would look like as a core experience.

Whenever possible I try and salvage the core background of the module. In the moathouse it’s an old fort that belonged to the defeated Elemental Evil. Something I struggled with this time with this adventure was “what exactly IS the moathouse?” Is it an old OSR fort? What was the evil?

And then I realised the best evil would be “the enemies of the ancient aliens” and whatever my HALO’s The Flood enemy equivalent is, that’d more or less stand in as my cult. With that there, now I still gotta figure out what the hell kinda base this is? And then, with a roll on a starforged oracle table, it hit me – this is a ruined spacewreck from long, long ago! In fact, the whole moathouse is an ORC spacewreck carrying artifacts/relics that protect against this ancient foe… now being counterpurposed to reawaken them by Lareth and his cult of both ORCs and Humans.

The animals of the moathouse I basically either reskin or leave as-is. Terrifying Flora and Fauna is extremely common in this kinda fiction so that’s easy enough. The bandits of the place would just be OSR pockets. Weird undead I tend to think of as either synth robots, ancient alien experiments, and stuff like that. in this case I was going with “experiments by lareth in trying to unlock his god”

I reimagine the rooms and zones of the moathouse into aspects of this ship wreckage and how it’s been reclaimed by the jungle planet of Hommlett Prime.

And then it hit me that I should make the scope of this whole thing bigger and turn this into an Invasion of Hommlet Prime! The 5E are retaking this star system for Terra as a metastory going on. I can clue other adventures onto Hommlet Prime and this invasion so there’s stand alone value but also slight continuity the way comics would do it.

So the reason for this adventure will be extracting some high value asset who was taken prisoner in the moathouse – recovering the merchants from the prison is a classic hook for the original moathouse afterall.

So to put in some extra spice, I had the group start with the invasion of hommlet prime and landing on the beaches in an APC before they break off onto their special extraction mission.

6 Appreciations

Thank you for the writeup, Eric! I find this Staying Frosty might be an easier, leaner alternative to the Alien RPG from Fria Ligan, which friends have been asking me to run, but which I can’t really stomach the complexity of. I’ll take a look at Staying Frosty.

A few things that I liked from this:

  1. The references are really funny (at least, I did laugh while reading them) but not to the point that that’s all there is. These are obviously real factions with real potential for play, not just an excuse to shoot the shit about 5E vs 4E. The funny improves the factions as it provides inspiration for their relationships, but not to the point of treating them like cardboard cutouts to be pushed around for transitory laughs.

  2. Everything is situational and has lots of open questions to be determined in play, both in terms of backstory (what happened before) and outcomes (what’ll happen). What happened before that led the Traitor Corps to betray their cause? What’ll happen when the 5E encounters the ORC followers? All things I start asking myself while reading this.

  3. The situational backdrop with the factions naturally informs the module conversion in a way where you evidently had some “of course that’s how it is” moments. Generally I see this, at least for myself, as creativity working correctly, as the best things that I have produced have been obvious combinations of previous elements purely driven by the unconscious. We were talking about the unconscious here with @PaulCzege and I think it’s relevant to this.

  4. Your handwritten gm-prep diagram looks a lot like some of the notes I take for The Pool or Cy_Borg sessions. I’ve noticed two things about these kinds of diagrams: that they tend to be very different person to person as we have very different thought patterns, and that if you look at them generally enough, the functional ones end up having similar properties, in that they have information that will be relevant and useful for play, and nothing in excess.

  5. I really like the idea of converting a module you like. Even if it’s a “reskin”, It ends up having very different properties as the fictional content is changed around it. A similar thing happened to me when I converted my mission for Cy_Borg to Mörk Borg recently—it turned out completely different in play.

All of that said, I’m interested into how your first session actually went during play. The beach drop scene reminds me of Starship Troopers. You mentioned this invasion, what happened? Who were the characters? What did the 5E do after dropping? How did the jungle-dwellers respond?

In the “What’s on your gaming table” thread you also mentioned running two different groups in parallel. Do you have an idea of how the actions of one group can influence the other, if any? Or is that something you’re just going to discover through play?

What’s an APC?

4 Appreciations

Thanks a lot froggy! I’m glad you see these references the same way I do. The way they’ve transcended mere gimmick and taking on a life of their own is a major factor why I really wanted to do this game! I can’t stress how much it just feeling right was the key driver to getting this game off the ground.

I really liked the invasion! Storming the beaches isn’t something you do every day in this hobby! So I had the players make some rolls to simulate the initial invasion engagement and described the general scene. I imagine an invasion scene is more saving throw than skill check mentality given the scale and chaos. But I described to them the concrete goals of “to get onto the mission you must cross the beach, the fortifications, and lastly the breakthrough/support area before hitting the jungles.”

Why dont you see the invasion for yourself!? I’m recording our sessions for posterity and I’d love to get your thoughts if there’s anything you find worth discussing! (Zenopus Station is also up there to see me run through the Holmes starter dungeon.)

Yeah so about those two groups and the game format. Task Force Gygax and Task Force Arneson are what I’m calling the two different slots of the campaign. I actually polled my players if they wanted separate missions (same reality, but different missions), same missions (and same reality, so the other group picks up where the last left off), or a parallel reality (same missions but non-interaction) and they decided the same mission and reality was easiest and fine! The two groups absolutely can influence one another as they’re just the next session scheduled. Leveling up occurs not at the end of the session but upon completion of the mission. So if a mission takes a few sessions, then we’ll level up upon that completion. The other task force could easily complete a mission leftover from the prior.

Task Force Arneson will hit B2 and the Caves of Chaos this Sunday! I’m still deciding on the mission objectives (probably stop Lareth’s ritual). I don’t expect them to get through the whole caves in one go!

Oh and sorry about the abreviations – APC = armored personnel carrier.

1 Appreciation

Oh, there’s a video! I’m definitely watching this.

So the two task forces, are they the same mission, but attacking from different angles? What happens if they might come into contact? I guess we’ll figure it out when it happens is a perfectly valid answer.

So the two task forces, are they the same mission, but attacking from different angles? What happens if they might come into contact? I guess we’ll figure it out when it happens is a perfectly valid answer

They’re linear time missions and my goal as a ref of the game is basically either try to end the session with them extracting out of the mission or dead. I donno what I’ll do in situations where that isnt the case. Maybe like a rescue mission by a future task force would be kinda cool. As you say, we’ll figure it out in play!

I also finally got a chance to follow up the T1’s Moathouse game with B2’s Keep on the Borderlands!

The Caves of C405.

1 Appreciation

Has there been any interesting interactions between the different groups, or some contrasts in how they play?

I listened to the first (Zenopus?).
One interesting bit was the interaction with the australian surfers. As a referee/game master you were quite open about them lying and so on. Was there some kind of reaction roll or what kind of thinking was happening on the referee/GM side in the encounter?