The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

This year, I’ve run 40 episodes of the Arioniad using a mashup of Savage Worlds, Mongoose Traveller 2, and Zozer Games’ Solo. Here, I’ll focus on how Solo works as a game engine, and what else I’ve learned from the experiment.

Solo

As a solitaire game engine, Solo works very well. Although designed to support Traveller, it doesn’t ask for much from those rules; give it a starport class and a law level for each world you visit, and it’s happy. As far as characters go, Solo asks only that you know whether a given PC is an asset or a hindrance for your latest cunning plan, and abstracts physical, social and mental combat into a couple of dice rolls. I especially like the way it’s possible to fail in a lucky way, or succeed at a cost.

The central mechanic, the Plan, is completely portable to any solitaire RPG, although the situations it exists to resolve are driven by Solo’s encounter and event tables, and those are tied to space opera, so for fantasy or horror you’d need to modify them.

At this point it’s taking me about half an hour to run through each episode, making it ideal to slot into lunch breaks at work or those odd slots while dinner is cooking or I’m waiting for the shower water to heat up. No more than five minutes of that is dice rolling and looking up tables; most of it is figuring out what narrative ties the dice rolls together. This suits me very well.

Other Lessons

Sticking to a rigid weekly schedule of posts, with one game week per real week, did bring home just how big space is, but meant that sometimes I’ve ignored things that looked interesting, or written a post about a situation I wasn’t really inspired by, just to keep things moving at a self-imposed pace. In a group game, having a regular ‘drumbeat’ keeps things fresh in the players’ minds and simplifies scheduling the next session; but these are not required for a solitaire game, so it would be better to discard this constraint, and let the dice take me where they will, at their own pace.

In a year of wandering, Arion has visited 13 systems out of the 52 on the map, and of those 13, maybe 6 have the potential for further adventures. Even as their creator, I must admit that very few of these systems are going to interest me long-term, and a lot of gaming time is expended travelling across multiple uninteresting systems to the next scenario. The Savage Worlds approach, where every world is one jump away from every other world, makes a lot of sense from that perspective; otherwise, it’s better to press Fast Forward occasionally and zip the PCs across the map to the next obvious plot point, like Indiana Jones.

Having an overarching metaplot, in this case the Aslan Border Wars, is neither necessary nor desirable. It generates more work without any real benefits, and this is especially true for the solitaire player. All I actually needed to know was that Arion is based on a rich trade hub world in the no-man’s-land between two rival states.

Where Next?

I think Arion needs to lie fallow for a while now, as I feel a little burned out. He will return, no doubt, as he and his little band are my favourite characters, and I generally prefer science fiction to fantasy. There are a number of options.

As far as rules go, the Savage Worlds/Traveller mashup works very well, since each game has rules I can use to replace areas I dislike in the other; I prefer Savage Worlds for characters and combat, Traveller for ships and worlds. Stars Without Number has superior rules to both in a number of areas, notably world generation, but doesn’t mash up easily with either of them. Solo needs only minor tweaks to work with any of them. Fringe Space is another option; it doesn’t mash up well with anything, but being completely self-contained, it doesn’t need to.

Turning to settings, while one can always create homebrew settings, they’re a lot of work for very little reward. This means Traveller and Fringe Space have an edge; Traveller luxuriates in richly-detailed published settings, and Fringe Space has an emergent setting which is created organically during play. Stars Without Number has no published setting to speak of, and I struggle to get my head around SW’s Last Parsec.

So, it’s most likely that when Arion returns, it will be a Savage Worlds/Solo/Traveller mashup again, somewhere in or around the Third Imperium. Fringe Space is the second most likely, with Stars Without Number in third place.

Advertisements

RPG-a-Day 2018

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Good lord, I missed it again. There’s an August every year, you’d think it would have stopped being a surprise by now…

1. What do you love about RPGs?

They’re co-operative, they liberate the imagination, and they allow you to experiment with being different people. What if you were the best – or worst – possible version of yourself? What if you could do whatever you want? What if you were an honest-to-Ghod hero for a change? What would that be like?

2. What do you look for in an RPG?

Simplicity, elegance, completeness. The complexity should come from the story, not the game itself, which should be simple enough not to get in the way; the rules should have elegance in the mathematical sense, and cover everything you need for that genre or style of play.

3. What gives a game staying power?

It must be fun. It must cater for a wide range of play styles. It must liberate the imagination rather than constrain it. It must be simple enough for a casual player, but with enough optional complexity for a grognard. It must be well-supported, with a range of setting and adventure material. A free-to-download quick-start version is a big help, too.

4. Most memorable NPC?

The one I always think of first is Sumil, the thief’s sidekick in our CSI: Shadipuur D&D campaign. Taciturn, loyal, and as a 15th(?) level monk in an OD&D game an absolute combat god.

5. Favourite recurring NPC?

Kumal the Smiling, the PCs’ nemesis for years in Beasts & Barbarians. There was nothing special about that character, and he had no plot immunity at all, but the dice loved him. The players shot him, hit him with axes, set him on fire, threw him down wells, left him to be carried off by giant hawks – none of it worked, he always came back a few sessions later with an even bigger grudge against them. We were all sad when they finally killed him.

6. How can players make a world seem real?

By investing emotion and effort in their PCs’ relationships with NPCs and each other.

7. How can a GM make the stakes important?

Those NPCs the players are invested in? Threaten them.

8. How can we get more people playing?

Word of mouth works best for me. If your players are enthusiastic, they will tell their friends, and your group will grow and eventually fission.

9. How has a game surprised you?

To be honest, this really doesn’t happen much any more, and I rather wish it would.

10. How has gaming changed you?

It has made me a mine of useless information. Want to know where to shoot a BTR-70 to take it out with a rifle? Wonder why you’re supposed to put your mask on before helping other passengers? Want to know what the Old Norse word for wolf is? Just ask.

Also, I credit it with my world view: Friends and family matter; skills matter; wealth and possessions don’t. I learned that from playing D&D.

11. Wildest character name?

Two, both from the same player: Szrbcz, gung ho space marine, and Uptanogud, sorcerous con-man.

12. Wildest character concept?

Two 13th Age characters whose uniques were “everybody forgets me at midnight” and “my memory was erased by one of the Icons, I can’t remember which”. That only scratches the surface of their weirdness. The one with no memory, for example, did everything with turnips.

13. Describe how your play has evolved?

It has become progressively simpler, more straightforward and more improvisational over the decades. Hence the opening quotation. You need an simple plot outline, a few interesting character archetypes, and simple rules for common situations. The rest of the time you can just wing it, either as a player or a GM.

14. Describe a failure that became amazing?

There was a D&D adventure a few years ago which hinged on reuniting star-crossed lovers, who we later discovered had been forced apart by the schemes of the girl’s sister, and doing so by a specific time. After many encounters with brigands and the supernatural, we recovered the young man and got him to the girl’s house with only minutes to spare. The only way to reach her in time was to build a human pyramid and send the boy up it to his girl’s balcony with a rose.

As he neared the top, we saw her sister moving up to push her out of the window – and everything we tried failed; spells, warnings, and you can’t fight well while part of a human pyramid. One quick shove, and out fell the girl. Could her NPC boyfriend catch her, we asked in desperation?

On a natural 20, yes he could, and the crowd went wild as the human pyramid collapsed as gently as we could manage, lowering the couple gently to the ground. It turned out much better than anything we could have planned.

15. Describe a tricky RPG experience that you enjoyed?

My OD&D GM has a real knack for puzzles. The one we never solved was when we had to find a missing painting. We couldn’t find anyone who had ever seen it; we had quite a lengthy description from an old diary – but every noun in the description was the word “cob”, which has multiple meanings in English. There was a cob in the foreground, cobbing another cob, for example. Was it a horse? A swan? A spider? A loaf of bread? We had no idea.

16. Describe your plans for your next game?

In November I hope to start running the Dracula Dossier under Savage Worlds. I plan to shake things up a bit by introducing a variety of indie game techniques – flashbacks, player-facing die rolls, shared responsibility, full-on improvisation and so on. You’ll see how that goes in session writeups.

17. Describe the best compliment you’ve had while gaming?

As I often do, I’ll give you two of those.

“Thanks for the game, I enjoyed it.” This is the one I aim for as a GM.

“You are disturbingly good at being Chaotic Neutral.” I’ll just leave that hanging there, I think.

18. What art inspires your game?

Monocolour Zen drawings, where what is left out – the white space – is almost more important than the lines, which merely suggest what is there. That inspires my approach more than locations or NPCs.

19. What music enhances your game?

Classic rock inspires it, but silence enhances it. You don’t need a soundtrack.

20. Which game mechanic inspires your play the most?

Actually, none of ’em. Mechanics in my games are as unobtrusive as I can make them.

21. Which dice mechanic appeals to you?

Exploding dice; if you roll the maximum possible on a die, you keep that score, roll again, and add the new roll to your total. This generates some truly awesome outcomes in play, and means that low-level monsters remain viable threats even for the most experienced PCs.

22. Which non-dice system appeals to you?

The “Uniques” in 13th Age – each player can state one thing about their PC which is only true for that character, and cannot be true for any other character in the game world, for example “I am the only acrobat ever to escape the Diabolist’s Circus of Pain”.

23. Which game do you hope to play again?

I’m happy with what I’m running as a GM – Traveller and Savage Worlds – but as a player, I miss Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 2nd Edition.

24. Which RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

All Things Zombie, although it’s debatable whether it’s an RPG or a skirmish wargame. Try it, you might like it.

25. Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year?

Mongoose Traveller 2. Now that I’ve been persuaded to use it, I find it very clean and elegant in play. I especially like the way character generation sets up relationships between the PCs and with NPCs they encountered during their careers – as my son said at the end of chargen, “I feel like we’ve already played a campaign with these characters.”

26. Your gaming ambition for the next year?

Finding the inspiration and energy to excite and inspire my players as we step into the Dracula Dossier and the Pirates of Drinax. I hope I can do them justice.

27. Share a great stream/actual play?

Tinker Tailor Vampire Die on ENWorld – Night’s Black Agents session writeups. I hope I can do as well when I come to run the Dracula Dossier.

28. Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for?

In alphabetical order: Ken Hite, Umberto Pignatelli, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. There are many others whose writing I admire and enjoy, but those are the three who inspire me to run games.

29. Share a friendship you have because of RPGs?

All of ’em, most importantly my best friend – my wife. She doesn’t play, but I met her through friends who do.

30. Share something you learned about playing your character?

All my PCs develop their personalities in reaction to the dice rolls and interactions at the table; you start off with an idea, but that emergent behaviour in play changes them.

Most recently, Fullangr Brimison, revenge-driven dwarf vampire hunter, has started to focus on rebuilding his decimated clan more than killing the vampires responsible. Because there’s always another vampire.

31. Share why you take part in RPG-a-Day?

The questions make me think, and remind me of good times gone by. Hopefully the answers make you think too, or at least amuse you.

Team Uncle: Wivel (survey scout), “Zoom” Izumi (survey scout), Dr Moon Moon (vargr physician), Alrik (vargr pilot).

Episode 3 Screenshot from Discord

Above: Screenshot from the Discord channel where we run the game, showing the advantages of using a published setting: World stats and subsector map from the Traveller Map, which we use to create flight plans and remind ourselves of the worlds’ basic stats, and deck plans for the party’s ship from the Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition core rulebook PDF – at the time being used to illustrate a debate about where any prisoners taken should be kept, and where the vargr treats are stored. I am still not clear how those were related.

-o0o-

The scoutship (Bob’s) Your Uncle is the second ship crewed by our would-be pirates. While Princess Rao is sending the others off in the Harrier hunting raiders as a precursor to piracy, she wants this crew to reconnoitre Sindal Subsector covertly; get solid info on each world and what might induce it to support her cause, without giving away who is looking or why. Oh, and while you’re at it, find the descendant(s) of the Sindalian Emperor and persuade them to endorse the Kingdom of Drinax as the Empire’s legitimate successor.

Rao explains that while the Harrier is nigh-on unique, and thus will be easily recognised by anyone who has seen it before, there are uncounted scout/couriers throughout charted space; it’s much easier for this team to blend in.

1105 Week 1: Drinax

Refuelling, replenishing supplies, briefing with the Princess, flight plan. Everyone knows that Noricum was the capital of the Sindalian Empire, so that is the logical place to start looking for the Emperor’s descendants; the fastest route is Drinax – Torpol – Oghma – Noricum, and this is what the crew decide upon.

1105 Week 2: Jumpspace

Training week 1.

1105 Week 3: Torpol

While shopping for vargr treats in the starport, the team is approached by an official who invites them to meet the starport administrator, Haddo Falx. Falx explains to them that he needs some resourceful people who are not connected to any of the local governments, and who can discretely recover some data for him. He knows the rough location of a site containing a computer core; he wants the core, but the travellers can keep anything else they find, and he will owe them a favour. Finally, he can make their flight plan look like whatever they want, to help with the ‘being discrete’ part.

After some negotiation and debate, the travellers agree, on condition that Falx makes their flight plan look like the outline of a shark to confuse later investigators, if any.

Soon they are cruising over the polar wastes in their scoutship, and Izumi finds a carefully masked power signature inside a cave. Alrik bypasses the lock, and they enter, to find themselves investigating a centuries-old survivalist prepper bunker. They help themselves to a variety of survival and camping gear, plus hunting rifles and pistols of antique make, and decide they will pick up the squad support laser covering the cave mouth on the way out. Alrik’s delicate stomach (Endurance 3) is upset by whatever is in the 200-year old packet with a picture of a happy dog on it, but he recovers over time.

Despite constant anxiety that some local wildlife will leap out and devour them, they reach the control room unharmed and awaken the expert system that runs the place. This explains it is a 12-person scientific bunker; several centuries ago the Kingdom of Drinax had a habit of bombing subordinate worlds if they stepped out of line, and Torpol established a network of bunkers where the wealthy and powerful could retire to sit out the bombing and its aftermath. This station’s function was to monitor the environment for pathogens and radiation, and confirm to larger bunkers when it was safe to emerge again.

Wivel asks for a map of the bunker network, but the expert system explains this is admin-only information and password protected.

Izumi finds the main password on a piece of crumbling paper stuck under one of the desks, and Moon Moon’s delicate surgeon’s fingers make use of it to grant them admin access without destroying the paper. Meanwhile, Wivel slogs back to the ship and returns with an external data drive where they can copy the entire core before delivering it to Haddo Falx.

To be continued…

GM Notes

I’m taking a much more relaxed approach to sessions since the summer, letting them meander wherever they want to go at their own pace. Things are a lot simpler and easier for me with a group of four players, three of whom are quite experienced, having been playing in my games for over five years.

This session was largely improvised; I thought an ambitious man (Falx) on a balkanised planet (Torpol) must want something to help his plans along, so let’s put a MacGuffin in an arctic base and do a rerun of Ice Station Zebra but with spaceships. At this point I have no idea what the information is, and nor does Falx (they know this because Wivel is secretly a psion), but it’s in the computer core somewhere. The party has yet to realise that the real reward is one or more bases they can take over for themselves. All I did as far as preparation goes was have that vague thought and download the map for “Science Outpost Capricorn 13” from Pinterest (and a tip o’ the hat is due to Miska Fredman for drawing and sharing that).

I had expected there to be some fighting this session, but the encounter dice were kind, and as yet there is no danger.

The party has decided to call their ship (Bob’s) Your Uncle so that they can send each other messages about it in clear over unencrypted channels – “Your Uncle says he’s coming to visit you” and so on. Since the group consists of three hotshot pilots and a medic, I expect it to avoid combat, but you never know.

The players decided that they don’t want a designated rules lawyer, and don’t want to bother with trade, so we have adopted my usual approach: Whatever trading you’re doing generates exactly enough money to cover your expenses, anything the characters might reasonably have is in the ship’s locker, and if they want anything special, getting hold of it is an adventure. That all works very well.

Ten weeks later…

Mizah, 343-3401

Aksunar Karagoz looks up from his desktop, currently displaying choice selections from Arion’s report, and gazes across the desk at Arion, Coriander and Dmitri.

“That’s quite a story,” he says at length. “So to summarise, there’s a previously unknown alien race at Karpos, which wasn’t there when the Rule of Man set up their base on the system; Confed is involved in a low-key, covert war with them, for unknown reasons; and everywhere rimward of Bulan is overrun with pirates and smugglers. That about cover it?”

“Pretty much,” Arion agrees.

“How much should we worry about these aliens?”

“They didn’t seem that hostile, to be honest. The drone data suggests Karpos is a military outpost for them, but they haven’t shown any interest in expanding coreward. Given the numbers they have and the technology we saw, a handful of Confed patrol corvettes wouldn’t hold them off; if I had to guess, I’d say they’re waiting for something.”

“Do you know what?”

“No idea, sorry,” Arion shrugs.

Karagoz taps his teeth thoughtfully with a thumb. “We all know it’s only a matter of time before Confed and the Hierate start fighting. Maybe these new aliens are co-belligerents with the aslan? One gets all the Earthlike worlds, the other gets all the Venus-like worlds?”

Arion spreads his hands, gesturing to indicate “I don’t know.” Karagoz sighs.

“Well, get some rest. The Dolphin will be in drydock for at least two weeks, maybe three, for annual maintenance – you’re on leave until that’s over. Have fun, relax, and come back in the new year. You might want to drop in on the Archive and see Isabella.”

“Who’s Isabella?” asks Coriander with an edge in her voice.

“Umm, this girl I know… no, listen, I can explain…”

Elsewhere

In a darkness lit only by the glow of monitor screens, a female voice speaks.

“Well, that one moves like he’s got a purpose. Are you going to promote him to level two?”

“Not yet,” replies a male voice. “Let’s give him a run in a different environment first, see how he copes with that.”

“You know, every run increases the risk that he figures out what’s going on.”

“That’s why I steered him towards Coriander early on. He’s one of the least introspective agents ever, and when he’s focused on her, the odds of him working anything out by himself are low enough to be acceptable.”

“I hope so. Remember the last one that went rogue? It took forever to dig him out. And I’m not sure we got him even then, he could still be out there.”

“Yeah, well, we do select for resourcefulness. That’s a double-edged blade.”

GM Notes

There’s nothing I want to focus on between Bulan and Mizah, so rather than slog through the intervening systems I decided to fast forward to Mizah and set the game aside until I’ve figured out what would be the most fun to do next.

However, I’ve learned quite a bit from this season’s antics, so a retrospective seems in order; watch out for that next week.

There are some games that I pretty much always buy again when a new edition comes out, mostly out of nostalgia I suppose. These are Dungeons & Dragons (although I have resisted 5th Edition so far), Savage Worlds, All Things Zombie, and Traveller

TL:DR

This is the starter set for Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition, which at the time of writing costs £50-55 in dead tree format and a bit over £30 as a PDF download. As a starter set, it’s aimed at inexperienced players and intended to introduce them to the hobby.

I’ve already reviewed Mongoose Traveller 2 here, so this will be a quick overview with a focus on what’s different from the core rulebook; mostly, it has pregen PCs and a few ready-to-run adventures.

Do I Need This?

If you’re reading my blog, probably not; but if you know some kids around 12 or so and want to introduce them to SF roleplaying, this would be one good place to start. (Alternatives would be the Classic Traveller Starter Set or Stars Without Number.)

I thought at first that £50 was a bit steep, when my first set of Traveller cost me £6; but taking into account inflation over the 40-odd years since then, that would be the equivalent of over £40 today. As Albie Fiore used to say, “Where else can you get an evening’s entertainment for six people for that kind of money?”

I was disappointed in the adventure and the enemy aliens, but bear in mind I am not the target demographic; twelve-year-old me would have been all over it like a rash in a cheap suit.

Tell Me More…

The first thing one notices is that the starter set is several items rather than one big book. Specifically, the set contains:

Book 1: Characters and Combat (129 pages). This has an introduction, and the rules for character creation, skills, tasks, combat, equipment and vehicles. Think of it as the players’ guide; it’s basically the bits of the core rulebook you need to play a character, and it looks to me like they have been simply copied from the main book.

Book 2: Spacecraft and Worlds (105 pages). This is more of a Game Master guide, and covers encounters, environmental hazards, spacecraft, ship operations and ship combat, psionics, trade, and world creation. Again, looks like the main book reformatted.

Book 3: The Fall of Tinath (105 pages). This is a campaign in four main scenarios which pits the travellers against the Esseray, aliens previously hinted at in Traveller 5 but (so far as I know) not detailed before. This book covers the Athwa subsector, the world of Tinath where much of the action occurs, a GM’s view of the Esseray, a cast of NPCs and advice on how to run the game, aimed at the inexperienced GM.

You can find Tinath on the Traveller Map, but it is pretty much on the other side of the galactic core from Charted Space. There’s a story to be told there about how humans got there, and when, and why their civilisation and equipment is so much like that of the Third Imperium. The key thing is it’s far enough away that it’s completely isolated from other Traveller products, giving the referee a free hand. It’s the only subsector in Calidan which has been detailed, and the GM is encouraged to fill in the blanks.

There are six pregenerated player characters, and a variety of maps; Athwa, Calidan, blank subsector, blank sector.

The PDF version also includes some printer-friendly deck plans, which I like because I don’t get on with the isometric ones Mongoose currently prefers. I don’t think they are in the hard copy version.

Team Harrier: As-yet unnamed PC, Jack Harper, John Sanders, Dr Anthony Sanpo, Brigadier Lennox Kirrin.

As you know, I avoid spoilers for five years after a product is published; but while the current incarnation of Pirates of Drinax was published in 2017, it’s actually an upgraded version of a free-to-download campaign first published in 2011, so I feel at liberty to start letting things slip.

Last time, the royal family of Drinax engaged the party as privateers. As the group was too big for me to run (it’s now back up to nine players) I split them into two groups, one in the ship provided by Drinax, and one in a detached duty scout. This week it was the turn of Team Harrier, who have been tasked with tracking down raiders who hit the nearby worlds of Torpol and Clarke; we start in week 1 of Imperial year 1105…

Week 1: The party uses its ship shares to effect repairs on the ship they’ve been loaned, which is a fixer-upper. They also hire a gunner as none of them can cover that slot, and two marines. Finally they approach Princess Rao with a wish list of what they’d like added to the ship’s locker, which she approves.

Week 2: Jump to Clarke. We’ve established that weeks in jump count towards training.

Week 3: Investigate the attack on Clarke, gather clues.

Week 4: Jump to Torpol (training week 2).

Week 5: Investigate the attack on Torpol, decide that the raiders have gone to Borite, prepare to jump there.

GM Notes

One of the benefits of using published material set in the Official Traveller Universe is being able to use the Traveller Map. Team Harrier is currently here.

There’s also a lot less to write up, as I can refer to the campaign book to refresh my memory of what happened. So far they are following the trail of breadcrumbs without much sign of going off-piste; like the previous group I ran through this adventure, they became very interested in exactly what chemicals the raiders had stolen from Clarke, and why; but I was ready for them this time, and a clear answer, firmly stated, seemed to satisfy them without an extended discussion of why the raiders had targeted that particular facility.

Much time was spent debating how to approach Princess Rao for extra equipment, but the way I see it, she is the de facto ruler of a small nation, who hopes to parlay that into control of an interstellar empire; as we’ve established she is a competent ruler, she is not going to place that plan at risk for the sake of saving a few hundred credits on gear; so their negotiation was easier than they expected.

Unlike the previous group, this team thought of asking for some trade goods to start building up a war chest with, and left with a hold full of precious metals and gems. They were chastened when they realised how expensive running a pirate fleet is going to be, though.

This team now has a designated rules lawyer, whose job is to make sure we don’t stray too far from the rules as written, and a designated trader, whose job is to handle trade (as suggested in the core rulebook) and keep track of what’s in the ship’s locker and funds. That is working very well so far, and the players think it a useful addition.

Finally, one of the players wants to take a turn at being the GM, so this could be even less work than planned; we just need to establish some limits on what each of us can do which might affect the other’s adventures, which will be straightforward enough.

Bulan, 273-3401

  • World encounter (p.58-60): A crime, but we manage to avoid losing anything.
  • Plan (p. 23): Go hang out at the Birdwatchers bar, drop off a package in the agreed dead drop, and see what happens. That’s a shaky, dangerous plan. A roll of 9 shows it fails, but further rolls of 11 and 5 show that there was a good outcome, specifically it took half the expected time.

“This isn’t likely to work,” says Dmitri, over boat drinks at the Birdwatchers. “The are at least two groups looking for Ihsan; one wants him dead – probably us too, because they have to assume we’ve found out what he knows – and the other knows he’s the better part of two months late for the rendezvous and their contact on Changa is blown. Either of them might have people here watching to see who shows up, but the smart move would be to roll up their network and start over.”

“Just put that back in my pocket and walk away,” Arion says, and turns to look at a local urchin. “These are my party clothes and I don’t want to get blood on them again. Understand?” The child turns to run, but before he can get away, Arion grabs him by the wrist and takes back his wallet.

“You’re new at this, aren’t you?” Dmitri asks the urchin. “Look, if you’re going to pick pockets, you need friends to box in the target and distract him.” He reaches into his own wallet and pulls out a note. “Here, get yourself something to eat, you’ll think better.” The urchin takes the note and runs off.

“And you, Arion,” Dmitri says, “Follow the local rules please. Most places where they still use cash and have pickpockets, the done thing is to leave a low-value note visible in one back pocket. That gets taken, and nobody gets their head smashed in with a pipe. Think of it as a toll.”

“Come on,” says Coriander. “Dmitri’s right, we’ve been here hours and no-one has shown up. Ihsan, you sure you want to stay on Bulan?”

“Yes. Look at it – it’s beautiful. Warm weather, beaches, boat drinks…”

“You sure you’ll be okay?”

“Sure. I’m a good mechanic. Everyone needs a mechanic sooner or later.”

Dmitri adds a cautionary note. “Ihsan, one thing. See all those guys with the high, tight haircuts? And the big lizards? Confed marines. If I were you, I’d keep my head down. Talking about Karpos or piracy will get you an all-expenses paid vacation in a Confed interrogation facility, and maybe a bullet in the back of your head.”

GM Notes

Here we see a current trend in RPGs; it’s possible to fail but in a lucky way, or succeed but at a cost. Fantasy Flight Games implement this using funky custom dice, and Solo deals with it by the way the plan resolution rolls interact. I prefer the latter.

I’ve decided not to pursue what Ihsan is up to, as previous solitaire games have shown me that the optimum party size for me over the long term is 3-4 PCs, and I already have a basic group of three humans and an AI. So this writes Ihsan out of the story. He’s untrustworthy, so he probably stole something – maybe a tool kit, if he’s going to set himself up as a mechanic – and he might try to sell information and wind up in an unmarked shallow grave, but if so it will happen offscreen.

Tag Cloud