The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

“I need you to pay a visit to someone who’s trying to shake me down and put a stop to it, permanently. There’s six IRD plus expenses in it for you.”

New Hope City Spaceport, Late March 2987

Anderson wants Arion to Confront Kinali. That takes us straight to the Confrontation encounter on pages 34-35, and as we already know who the target is I pull the stats from the Criminal Element table on page 58 – of the various criminal tables in that section, this one looks the most like Kinali as I envisage him. All of Team Dolphin are going, and the dice tell me there are four in the opposing team.

“You said you had something for me,” Kinali says. “Something from my list. Weapons.”

“Yes,” Arion says, drawing his pistol. “These ones.”

Initial Setup

Both sides pass 2d6 on the Action Table (p. 71) and Arion gets the Advantage, so Team Dolphin acts first. I decide to go in descending order of Rep this time.

Arion opens the festivities by firing twice at Kinali, hits twice and kills him outright – a good start (+1 IRD). Mr Osheen fires his SMG at the zhuh-zhuh opposite him, hits three times, and blows his head off (+1 IRD). Cori fires twice at the remaining zhuh-zhuh and once at the netrunner sitting next to Kinali; the zhuh ducks back into cover, dragging the netrunner with him. By the time Dmitri clears leather, there’s no-one for him to shoot at.

End of First Activation. Flags are leaders, red crosses Obviously Dead, upside down are ducked back.

That ends the first activation, so everyone takes a Will to Fight test. Team Dolphin stays put thanks to Arion’s Free Will, and the opposition pass 2d6 so carry on. Everyone is now in cover, as shots have been fired. We cycle back to the action table, and this time the enemy activate and recover from duck back. Unfortunately this consumes their turn, so Arion and company open up again.

The zhuh-zhuh merc and netrunner pop back up, sliding eyes and gun barrels over and around corners. Dmitri has been waiting for this and fires at the zhuh.

Dmitri passed 0d6, so the zhuh returns fire. He can only shoot at the person who fired at him, so Dmitri takes all three shots. The zhuh passes 2d6, and as the same roll applies to all shots in this edition of the game, Dmitri is hit three times. The zhuh rolls 3, 3, 5 for damage; all non-military characters wear soft body armour, which applies a +1 to the damage roll, so Dmitri gets 4, 4, and 6. The 6 is an Obviously Dead result; I check to see if hits are applied sequentially, as if so the first hit would take him Out Of the Fight, but the rules are clear (p. 25); all hits from all shooters on the same target are resolved simultaneously. Had he been a Star, as he usually is, he could have used Star Power to soak the damage, but for this season he is a Grunt, so can’t use that option.

Dmitri’s shots go high as a burst from the zhuh’s SMG riddles him, and he collapses across a table. The netrunner has no gun so peers fearfully out from behind her cover, looking for a way out.

That ends the second activation and triggers another Will to Fight test. Arion holds his team steady as despite the casualty they are obviously winning. The enemy also carry on by passing 2d6. Activation passes to Team Dolphin; Arion passes 2d6 and hits the zhuh twice, Cori passes 2d6 and hits the netrunner three times, Osheen passes 1d6 and because the zhuh is in cover he returns fire at Osheen. The zhuh passes 1d6 too, so Osheen returns fire at him, this time passing 2d6 and hitting – one of the damage rolls bumps up to 6, killing the zhuh (+1 IRD).

Arion opens up on the zhuh-zhuh with cries of grief and rage, and Mr Osheen joins him with a more phlegmatic approach while Cori – who hasn’t noticed Dmitri’s blood splattered over her jacket in the chaos – fires at the netrunner, killing her. Osheen and the zhuh-zhuh are playing whack-a-mole with each other, popping up long enough to fire short, controlled bursts, then dropping out of sight into cover. At length, the zhuh zigs when he should’ve zagged, and Mr Osheen puts him down.

Cori runs to Dmitri’s side, but there is nothing she can do for him now.

End of Second Activation

Later, having presented the commlink footage of the fight to Captain Anderson, Arion is paid. The crew don’t feel much like celebrating.

Aftermath

Dmitri is dead.

Arion has 8 Increasing Rep Dice (2 from combat, 6 from completing the mission) and rolls well enough to increase his Rep to 6.

Cori has 3 IRD from combat and interactions. She also increases her Rep. (I had planned to bump her People skill, but given combat is lethal and decided by one’s Rep, and Arion has just gone up one Rep point, Rep seems like a better investment right now.)

Mr Osheen has 1 IRD from combat. He does not advance.

I reset the IRD for the survivors to zero.

Team Dolphin

  • Arion: Rep 6 Star, Ship Crew. People 4, Savvy 5. Hard as Nails, Quick Reflexes. B2, ship (the Dolphin, a Trader). IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 7.
  • Coriander: Rep 5 Doctor. Pep 4, Sav 3. Free Spirit. A3. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 6.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator. Pep 3, Sav 4. Smooth. B2. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 1. KIA.
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 5 Grath Mercenary. Pep 1, Sav 2. Rage. A3. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 4.

GM Notes

Image credits: Counters are made from those in 5150 No Limits Maiden Voyage, battlemat is a section of Pinnacle Entertainment’s Pine Box Businesses map, labels and tags applied in Roll20.

The rally between Mr Osheen and the zhuh-zhuh shows something that happens fairly often in this game; fire triggering return fire like playing ping-pong with bullets. Firefights in 5150 feel very chaotic and fast-moving, and figures can get a lot of shooting in during a single turn.

It’s astonishing how attached one gets to these little collections of statistics. Dmitri has survived countless encounters since 2008, but sooner or later, everyone’s luck runs out. RIP Dmitri, but due to the way the metastory works, it’s possible he could return next time the campaign resets.

“She’s a slave, right? Why don’t we just buy her?”

Yeroilra, 1111 Week 16

During the voyage from Tktk to Yeroilra, Ezh has persuaded the four ihatei the party rescued on Tktk that they owe her a debt of honour for saving their lives, and that they can discharge it by helping her discharge her own debt of honour, namely recovering the younger Bledsoe and her companions from slavery.

This gives her some much-needed local guides and bodyguards, although the rest of the party balk at wearing collars and pretending to be slaves. However, with support from V’lantyn hacking into the local networks from the comfort of the ship and Dr Agatha looking for medical reasons to drop the price, Ezh manages to persuade the locals that their speculative cargo of mining machinery is worth half a dozen slaves who frankly aren’t really that good anyway.

Obviously, this has nothing to do with Ranil sneaking off disguised as a slave and spending some quality time with the mining machinery the locals already have. It’s purely good luck that the Grace O’Malley happens to have exactly the parts Yeroilra needs.

Unfortunately, while Ranil does manage to contact the local slave underground, he blows that contact badly and unintentionally convinces them that he is an agent provocateur working for the aslan of the Glorious Empire. He beats a hasty retreat to the ship and stays there, to avoid any unpleasant incidents.

And Vinnie? Vinnie had to be sedated when the crew’s personal firearms were taken into bonded storage for the duration of their stay.

Realising how dangerous Yeroilra is for them, and reasoning they’ve done what they came to do, the party dusts off and makes for Tktk. Their four ihatei travel with them, as they have been persuaded to join the retainers at Ezh’s landhold on Cordan, which may or may not still be under the control of the squidheads.

In Transit, 1111 Weeks 17-27

The team learns more about life as a slave on Yeroilra than they wanted to from the rescued prisoners, and begins to get along with their Glorious Empire ihatei, although Ezh’s suggestion of keeping at least some of them onboard as muscle for future missions gets a lukewarm reception.

By the time they reach Hecarda, they run into the expanding message shell which tells them the Diplomats are on Ace, having run a scout investigation team to the Ancient base they discovered about seven months ago before spending some time at the court of Ace; the Black Ops team are to divert to Ace and pick up Felix before finally returning to Tktk.

Tktk, 1111 Week 28

Both the Diplomats and the Black Ops team are now in the same place at the same time, so they catch up, compare notes, and decide who should do what for the next few months.

More of that next time…

GM Notes

Once it became apparent that, due to conditions on Yeroilra and the party’s lack of Trokh skills, pretty much the entire rescue mission would be Ezh doing stuff with her NPC entourage while the rest of the players watched, we abstracted that to a Social Conflict with the others making such Support rolls as they could convince me would be useful. The session was also plagued by audio problems, so the Social Conflict helped us make the best use of what time we had.

Between that and Ranil’s critical failure when trying to contact the slave underworld, the party completely bypassed the adventure as written and succeeded in another way entirely.

We were all having fun, so that doesn’t matter, and the slave underworld is still there for future scenarios.

This was the session where the players started to realise that aslan – even Glorious Empire aslan – are people too, and their immediate response to meeting one need not be a hail of laser bolts. Ezh’s player also pointed out that the party is extremely risk averse, and is thereby missing out on a lot of the potential stories. I think they needed to hear that, and it was better not coming from me.

Vinnie’s player was off on holiday, and keeping him sedated while his guns were unavailable seemed entirely appropriate. Shades of Mr T and the A-Team.

Finally, we discussed and agreed on two points of the metagame. First, the parties are spending too much time travelling, and we should shrink their sphere of operations to something they can cross in a few weeks. Second, the two parties need to stay more closely in sync; being a few weeks or months out of step is fine, but when they are 6 months or a year apart, it gets hard for all of us to keep track.

So, next week’s session is likely to be a council of war, where the players root through the open plot threads and decide who tugs on which one.

And here’s a bonus: The campaign’s designer, Gareth Hanrahan, talks about the campaign ten years after first publication on his blog, here. Brought to you courtesy of the ‘Traveller – Pirates of Drinax Referees’ group on Facebook, who alerted me to it.

The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go downtown
Things will be great when you’re downtown
No finer place for sure downtown
Everything’s waiting for you.”
– Petula Clark, Downtown

Downtown New Hope City, Early March 2987

Before we can sort out Toros Kinali for Captain Anderson, there is the small matter of March’s involuntary encounter to deal with. A roll of 5 tells me we have a Defend encounter (p. 44). Further die rolls tell me it happens during the day, downtown, and someone has hired a group of 5 criminals to take us out. The first criminal pregens are on page 58, so I use those.

“You’re going to take Anderson’s job, then,” Cori says.

“Yeah,” Arion replies. “The money’s better, and you know I owe him. Plus, he’s paying our expenses, so I can afford to take you all out to dinner downtown.”

“Beats noodles,” Dmitri observes pragmatically. Mr Osheen remains quiet; he is not concerned by the quality or taste of the fluids he absorbs for nourishment.

Team Dolphin walks on in companionable silence for a while. As they come up on the main square, a squad of five gangers rounds the corner; a couple of basics, a couple of zhuh-zhuhs, and a xeog, four of them toting automatic weapons.

Our first gunfight, and things don’t look good. We start by working through the rules starting on p. 22. Looking at the action table (p. 71) we need to roll vs Rep; Arion passes 2d6, the Rep 4 criminal leader passes 1d6, and a roll of 1 means Team Dolphin has the advantage and therefore begins the fight in cover. As we passed more d6, we go first and have the choice of shooting, charging into melee, or leaving the board. Let’s shoot.

The start of the fight. Counters on their sides are Out Of the Fight, upside down are ducked back, crossed out are Obviously Dead. Flags denote leaders. Labels are my quick reference notes for the fight, and show (left to right) profession group, race, Rep, and weapon.

Arion shoots his Big-Ass Pistol at the enemy leader (B5 on the screenshot). He passes 1d6 with his first shot, but since none of the exceptions apply, he still hits, and a 4 for damage (+1 as he is in soft body armour – everyone is) – is higher than the leader’s Rep, but not a 6, so the leader is Out Of the Fight (+1 IRD). Arion uses his second shot on one of the zhuh-zhuh (Z1), and as he uses the same attack roll for both shots, again passes 1d6 and hits, but only rolls 2 for damage; even with the +1 this is less than the zhuh’s Rep, so he ducks back.

Arion and his crew duck into whatever cover is available, simultaneously drawing their firearms, and start shooting; against four SMGs there is simply no point doing anything else. Arion puts down the enemy leader with a well-placed 12.5mm round, then swivels left and fires at one of the zhuh-zhuhs; the round sends splinters of concrete flying as it slams into a nearby wall, and the zhuh-zhuh ducks into cover.

Cori fires her SMG, sweeping left across the xeog (X2) and the unarmed ganger (B13). She passes 2d6 so hits both; two shots on the xeog give modified scores of 3 and 4, and as the xeog is neither a grath nor someone with an Exotic profession, and has taken a damage result equal to her Rep, she is Out Of the Fight (+1 IRD). The unarmed ganger takes a 6 for damage and is Obviously Dead (+1 IRD).

Cori lines up her SMG on the xeog, and the air fills with the tearing-cloth sound of 10mm caseless rounds rolling off a floating breech. The xeog drops, wounded and in shock, and Cori traverses left, holding the trigger down, into a second target – apparently unarmed, but Cori is not betting her life on that. A headshot drops the second ganger.

Mr Osheen can only see one viable target, a zhuh-zhuh (Z2), so shoots three rounds at him. Alas, boxcars mean he passes 0d6 and the zhuh returns fire, sweeping to his left across Osheen, Dmitri and Arion with one shot each. He passes 2d6 and hits all of them; Osheen ducks back, Dmitri goes OOF, Arion ducks back.

Mr Osheen has the most combat experience of anyone in the crew, and has already dispassionately judged the other four gangers as no longer a threat, so focuses his attention on the zhuh-zhuh opposite him, and fires a long burst. However, the zhuh-zhuh rolls out of the way with the practiced movements of a veteran mercenary, and sweeps his own SMG across the crew, catching Dmitri with one round and forcing Arion and Osheen to duck back. Dmitri lies face down on the ground, bleeding.

Team Dolphin has concluded all shooting and melee for the first round, so both sides now take the Will to Fight test to see if they stay on the table. Arion is a star, so can use his Free Will perk to declare that his crew stands and fights, and does so. Whoever is in charge on the ganger side now, they have Rep 4; they roll 4, 6 and pass 1d6. I figure there are only Exotics left conscious, so use the Exotic result; one leaves the board, and as ducked back figures go first, that’s the one that leaves.

End of first activation. Enemy leader (B5) and xeog (X2) Out Of the Fight, enemy ganger (B13) Obviously Dead, Z1 has fled. Mr Osheen (G1) and Arion (B6) are ducked back, Dmitri (B11) is Out Of the Fight.

There’s a moment of quiet as both sides assess the situation. One of the zhuh-zhuh concludes he is not being paid enough for this and crawls off down an alleyway until he has broken line of sight, at which point he rises to his feet and runs off.

The enemy now becomes active, and as the first shots have been fired, everyone now counts as in cover. We repeat the rolls on the action table and for advantage; both sides pass 2d6 and again Arion gets the advantage. Since both sides passed the same number of dice, the side with advantage counts as having passed more, and can act. Cori fires at the surviving zhuh-zhuh (everyone else is either ducked back or OOF) and forces him to duck back, which means he cannot see or be seen. That concludes the fighting for the second activation, so again both sides take a Will to Fight check. The zhuh-zhuh passes 0d6 and slinks away.

Only Cori and one of the zhuh-zhuhs are left visible and standing, so they both pop up out of cover; Cori is fractionally faster and hoses down the crate the zhuh has taken cover behind. He ducks out of sight, considers the odds, and follows the other zhuh-zhuh away from the shooting.

“Cori!” calls Arion. “Dmitri’s hit!” He scans around him. “Everyone else OK?” The chorus of assent reassures him, and as Cori checks Dmitri over, he cautiously approaches the enemy fallen. One xeog and the human leader are still alive; Cori can check them out after she’s done with Dmitri, and maybe they can answer a couple of questions.

I check the Recovery Table for all three OOF; Dmitri passes 1d6, and since he was recovered from the battlefield by Team Dolphin, he returns to the band. The enemy leader passes 2d6, so he’s fine, but the xeog passes 0d6, which I decide means she has succumbed to her wounds.

Later, Arion visits Dmitri in the Dolphin’s sick bay.

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

“I’ve been better, and that’s the truth,” Dmitri admits. “What was that about?”

“Not sure. We recovered the team leader, but all he knows is he was paid to hit us by someone using an anonymous bulletin board post. There was a xeog too, but she didn’t make it.”

“I’m not entirely surprised, considering who the doctor is and how you reacted to the last xeog we met.”

“Muhsteyjen? That was purely professional, Cori has nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, buddy,” Dmitri grins. “Maybe you’ll believe it. Cori won’t, that’s for sure.”

Team Dolphin

  • Arion: Rep 5 Star, Ship Crew. People 4, Savvy 5. Hard as Nails, Quick Reflexes. B2, ship (the Dolphin, a Trader). IRD 1. Lifetime Rep 2.
  • Coriander: Rep 4 Doctor. Pep 4, Sav 3. Free Spirit. A3. IRD 2. Lifetime Rep 3.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator. Pep 3, Sav 4. Smooth. B2. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 1.
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 5 Grath Mercenary. Pep 1, Sav 2. Rage. A3. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 3.

GM Notes

Fights are a lot shorter and less tactical in this game than in many previous ones from the THW stable; we were lucky in getting the advantage every time, and rolling well. It could easily have gone the other way. Coriander continues to be the team badass even though both Arion and Osheen should be better; the dice love her.

This fight was complex enough to be laid out on a battle board; the counters are all made from those in 5150 No Limits Maiden Voyage, and the battlemat is the Pinebox Businesses one from Savage Worlds’ East Texas University setting. I could have laid things out better, but I was focused on the rules this time and the battlemat is just eye candy in this game, so it had no effect.

Until I’m confident enough to run the game just from the quick reference sheets, I find it helpful to have the rules showing on my PC screen and the quick reference on a tablet nearby, so that instead of flipping pages I just flick my eyes between screens. Time was I would’ve printed everything out, and laminated the QR sheets, but as I get older I rely on electronic devices more and more.

When playing a THW game it is worthwhile looking through the rules for edge cases. In 5150 No Limits Maiden Voyage, there are two points to bear in mind when choosing how many of your band accompany you.

  • Your star is at a disadvantage if outnumbered by 3:1 or more. Due to the rules on p. 28, this can only happen if the star is alone; so don’t go anywhere alone if you can avoid it.
  • The rules on p. 29 mean that the bigger your band is, the less likely random encounters are to end in a fight, so take everyone with you unless you’re actively looking for trouble because you need the Increasing Rep Dice.

No Pirates of Drinax last weekend because of reasons, so here’s my take on the third drop from the Pathfinder for Savage Worlds kickstarter; the bestiary, and books 2 and 3 of the 6-part Rise of the Runelords adventure path.

Bestiary

This is a simple book; it begins with advice to the GM on how to create monsters, and a few pages of special abilities they might have – these are the monsters’ equivalent of Edges, to an extent.

After that, there are statblocks and descriptions for around 160 monsters, of which maybe 15 are repeated from the core rulebook. Most of the classics are here; ankhegs, bugbears, drow, assorted jellies and oozes, town guards, owlbears, gelatinous cubes… Beholders and mind flayers are absent, no doubt for copyright reasons.

Energy drain, one of the more problematic monster abilities in D&D because potentially it means you have to roll back an increasingly complex character to an earlier state as it loses levels, is straightforward in the Savage Worlds version; energy drain targets an attribute, and if successful, it temporarily drops the attribute one die type.

Other abilities that seem new to me in Pathfinder for Savage Worlds include Blindsense, Ethereal, Pack Tactics and of course Class Edges. Resilient, allowing elite Extras to take one or two Wounds before being Incapacitated, is something that occasionally shows up in SW settings under another name. Unstoppable is interesting, as a creature with that ability never takes more than one Wound from an attack, however many you inflict. I may use that for other games.

Rise of the Runelords Book 2: The Skinsaw Murders

This begins with some background and a synopsis, then leads on into a seven-part adventure arc, followed by notes on new creatures and magic items.

While the adventure path has been available for years and you are quite likely to have read it or played it, I feel compelled to limit the spoilers. Essentially this is a murder mystery, played for horror vibes; a string of murders strikes the PCs’ base town, and after interviewing suspects, gathering clues and so forth they find and confront the serial killer responsible, only to find he is a minor cog in a larger conspiracy.

The first book (Burnt Offerings) introduces the PCs to the base town and establishes them as local heroes; this second volume peels back another layer of the onion to show them that something deeper and more sinister than goblin raids is going on.

The campaign as a whole is a fantasy horror story, and this book veers towards the haunted house subgenre.

By the end of this book, the PCs should have acquired their seventh advance, and be at the top of Seasoned Rank.

Rise of the Runelords Book 3: The Hook Mountain Massacre

Again we see a synopsis, followed by specific scenarios – in this case, five of them – and finally new creatures and magic items. One of the scenarios is more of a sidequest, but the others form a sequence.

This third book is still horror, but in the cannibal hillbilly subgenre. Ogres have taken over a mountain fort, slaughtering the garrison, and the heroes must get it back – if and when they succeed, it becomes a base of operations for them. After this, they must save a town from a natural disaster – or is it? – before sorting out the Ogre Menace once and for all.

By this point, you will not be surprised to learn that the ogres are but a prelude to something even more distasteful, and the PCs will have earned 11 advances, putting them at the top of Veteran Rank.

Format

So much for the content. As regards format, I like the way that the books have triggers for advances, conviction, and benny awards, as well as highlighting traps and haunts. I also approve of the insertion of blank pages to simplify double-sided printing.

The maps are nice as well, and I hope future drops include VTT versions of them.

Conclusions

The combination of a relatively flat power curve for PCs, and exploding damage dice, means that SW doesn’t actually need a wide range of monsters; even a lowly goblin can still take out a Legendary hero if it gets lucky. However, I have occasionally felt the need to broaden the monster palette in my SW fantasy games, and the bestiary looks like it will do the job. I’d go so far as to say this is the book from this kickstarter that will see the most use at my table.

As regards the adventures, they are a mixture of NPC interaction and dungeon crawl; I will need to consider which players I invite, as some like horror and some don’t, but like any performer or presenter, the RPG GM needs to consider his audience’s tastes and slant things accordingly; so that in itself is not an issue. I do like the way that NPCs the party meets in one adventure turn up again later on, and generally involve the party in further shenanigans.

Other things I would need to be clear on with my players are that the PCs are meant to be heroes – evil sorcerers need not apply – and that the story arc is largely linear overall.

I could still see myself running this adventure path under SWADE, although I’m in two minds about the Class Edges; they look good for simulating D&D-style classes, but they also look like they introduce some power creep at low level. I might use Zadmar’s Fantasy Archetypes instead, I like those quite a lot.

Finally, I still have to figure out how to prevent certain players from breaking the game by abuse of powers. The easiest way would be to ban them from the game, or at least from playing spellcasters; but these guys have been my friends for decades and I want them in the campaign, so a rules-based limitation would be preferable.

New Hope City Spaceport, Late February 2987

Arion was Out Of the Fight at the end of the last episode. As per pages 25 and 73 we need to check for recovery… Arion rolls 2d6 vs Rep (5) and scores 1, 5; he passes 2d6 and therefore returns to the band. Next, a Chillin’ encounter trying to find another job.

Arion walks into Berengei’s, a little more stiffly than usual, and his arm is around Cori as much for support as affection. The bills still need to be paid, so it’s back on the streets looking for work.

I check p. 32 to see how many jobs are available; Rep 5, roll a 2; 5 – 2 = 3 so there are three jobs to be had. Arion goes Chillin’ (p. 32) and determines there are 1d3+1 PEFs, which turns out to be 2. I would use the pregens on page 65, but decide to take a risk on Decreasing Rep Dice and trade both PEFs for job offers.

Job 1 is to find a supply of items in the spaceport. It pays 3 IRD plus expenses – in this case the 3 DRD for running the ship.

Arion is surprised to see that Mr Bulky is accompanied by the fellow they kidnapped last month, and they seem to be getting on well.

“I must be getting slow,” Arion says. “That last job was just a try-out, wasn’t it?”

“Uh-huh.”

“And the guys who jumped us?”

“Trying them out too. Four of them are still in the hospital, by the way.”

“They started it. Have we earned your name yet?”

“Call me Toros Kinali. It’s as good a name as any.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Toros Bey. And what can we do for you?”

Kinali scales a data file from his commlink to Arion’s.

“A little shopping. There’s a list. I’ll cover the expenses on your ship, and there’ll be a three IRD bonus on successful completion.”

“I’ll think about it. Excuse me, I need a little more anaesthetic right now.” Arion levers himself upright and heads for the bar.

Job 2 is a Mover who wants Arion to confront a Criminal who is trying to squeeze him for hush money. I already have two Movers in the supporting cast, Anderson and Karagoz, and the dice tell me it’s Anderson this time.

A commlink call takes Arion and Cori back to the ship to smarten up, then into a much more expensive establishment downtown, where a pair of familiar figures have reserved a table.

“Arion, good to see you again. And Coriander, lovely as ever.”

“Captain Anderson. And Muhsteyjen. What brings you here?”

“The meat sauces are truly divine. Please, take a menu, my treat.”

Cori can keep the small talk up all night, but Arion quickly tires of being kicked under the table each time Muhsteyjen manages to catch his eye, so decides to force the issue.

“Captain, the meal is lovely, thank you, but why are we here?” Anderson activates the privacy field, and to outside observers they suddenly become muffled and blurry.

“You’ll get indigestion, mixing business and pleasure like this. A civilised person would at least wait for the coffee.”

“Yeah, well, nobody has ever accused me of being civilised. What do you need, and what’s it worth to you?”

“I need you to pay a visit to someone who’s trying to shake me down and put a stop to it, permanently. There’s six IRD plus expenses in it for you.”

“Who is it?”

“Toros Kinali.”

“Of course it is,” Arion sighs.

Team Dolphin

Another month ends, and we roll for advancement again. Arion is on the clock for two different employers, but the expenses are not paid until the job is completed, which leaves him with a net 2 DRD for the month; he rolls 2, 6 and as neither is a 1, he maintains his Rep of 5. His lifetime Rep is now -1, which is not good at all.

Cori and Dimitri each have one Increasing Rep die; they both roll less than their Reps, so no advances for them. Mr Osheen has three IRD and rolls 1, 1, 6; the 6 exceeds his current Rep of 4, so it increases by one – grath are happy to leace to talking and fixing things to others. He is now Rep 5, so Arion needs to improve before Osheen does so again, or the big grath will wander off. I reset the IRD tallies to zero, but add the net IRD to Lifetime Rep.

  • Arion: Rep 5 Star, Ship Crew. People 4, Savvy 5. Hard as Nails, Quick Reflexes. B2, ship (the Dolphin, a Trader). IRD 0. Lifetime Rep -1.
  • Coriander: Rep 4 Doctor. Pep 4, Sav 3. Free Spirit. A3. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 3.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator. Pep 3, Sav 4. Smooth. B2. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 1.
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 5 Grath Mercenary. Pep 1, Sav 2. Rage. A3. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 3.

GM Notes

What I call 1d3 the rules refer to as 1/2d6, but it’s the same thing.

I see on rereading p. 45 that the fine print says jobs gained from employers pay all expenses, including spaceship-related ones. So Arion’s 3 DRD for operating the Dolphin last month should have been paid, and he should have had another three Increasing Rep d6 to roll. Noted for next time, but one of my principles for solitaire play is not to apply such things retroactively. However, the effect is that the 3 DRD for ship operations only matter if you go through the whole month without picking up a job, which can happen, for example if you want to haul cargo on your own.

The dice are telling me that everything happens in the spaceport, not that it matters.

Another of my principles is to build the setting by reusing existing NPCs. So when a Mover wants us to take out a member of the Criminal Element, naturally it’s Anderson wanting Kinali dusted.

Under a black flag we sail and the sea shall be our empire.

Major spoilers ahead!!!

Tktk, 1110 Week 50

Our heroes have developed a healthy respect for feral aslan ragers, and are obliged to gun down another couple of them while completing their exploration of the secret bioweapons lab and reconstruction of events.

They take records and samples, then purge the lab’s databases, mothball it (as they intend to return later) and head out in pursuit of the Dawnseeker, which they know is bound for Sagan to conduct final field trials of the weapon. The evidence they have found suggests that Prince Richter Grehai is behind the plot, and that he is working for the Golden Queen of Yggdrasil.

Sagan, 1110 Week 52

Having a faster ship, they are lying in wait when the Dawnseeker arrives, and in their second act of out-and-out piracy, they attack her without warning and vapourise her with their lasers, taking care to ensure there are no survivors. It’s a hard-fought battle, with the party taking some injuries and their own ship suffering some damage.

Tktk, 1111 Weeks 02-03

Returning to Tktk and the hidden lab, they use its facilities and Dr Agatha’s now considerable medical knowledge to create an antidote, testing it on the captives already in cryosleep at the lab and managing to save four of them. These they put into cold sleep aboard their ship, before blowing up the lab.

The rescued aslan turn out to be from Yeroil’ra, giving them a perfect excuse to visit. Under cover of returning them to their homes, they plan to buy Selma Bledsoe out of slavery and take her back to Tktk.

What could possibly go wrong?

GM Notes

This session went pretty well. Mechanically, it was a mixture of full-fat combat rules, quick encounters, and pure rules-free roleplaying. It was especially clever of them to spend a Benny on narrative control to ensure the aslan they cured were from the next planet they need an excuse to visit.

I felt the players were getting too cocky about mowing down Extras, so all aslan ragers were wild card undead experienced soldiers with the Brawler and Frenzy edges. Making them wild cards in particular had the desired horror movie effect, as they shrugged off gunfire and kept on coming, in much the same way that PCs do against their usual opponents.

I hit on the idea of doing space combat as a staged quick encounter, and that had the best outcome and feel of any SWADE rules I’ve used so far, so I think I’ll adopt that for future ship duels and give up on chases. One huge advantage is that it removes any need for ship conversion rules.

The antidote research would have been a montage in an action-adventure movie, so we did that as a quick encounter as well. A ruling that worked well in both cases was to say that any surplus successes and raises each generated a tangible outcome, Wounds on the enemy ship for the space combat and aslan cured for the lab montage.

V’lantyn again scored a prodigious number of raises on blowing up the lab. It’s uncanny how well the player rolls whenever his PC is trying to create an explosion.

As we closed the session, the players were discussing their current moral dilemmas. Who do they tell about the bioweapon, and how much? Can they disseminate the antidote without awkward questions being asked about why they found it necessary to make one? Will anyone believe Dr Agatha when she says she has no idea how to make the rager virus – especially when she has samples, detailed instructions, and an antidote? Is the Golden Queen going to send a bunch of hitmen after them when she works out what happened to her lab, and who was onplanet at the time?

I think we all know the answer to that last one…

New Hope City Spaceport, Early February 2987

As per p. 46, I check to see what the repercussions for Team Dolphin’s last job are. I roll 1d6 and get a 5; nothing happens. Good – it is possible for someone to come for you after a job, but not this time, which becomes your next Involuntary Encounter. Since that didn’t happen, I roll for the Involuntary Encounter as usual (p. 30) and get a 5, Defend. A roll of 3 tells me this happens at night. A further roll of 3 tells me it’s payback from someone we’ve encountered before, and a couple more rolls tell me that it’s a group of six Gaea Prime Basic Joes – Labour with non-lethal weapons, two Rep 3 and four Rep 2. It’s another melee, but you’ve seen the detail of those last time, so…

Team Dolphin is not exactly rich right now, but they do have enough for dinner out at a spaceport noodle bar.

“You sure know how to show a girl a good time,” Cori snarks as she reaches for the sauce bowls, hoping that if she douses the noodles with enough spice they might taste of something. Mr Osheen slurps up the broth and leaves all the noodles, as usual.

Arion becomes suddenly aware of the staff and the other customers fading away, and a group of six muscular men hefting clubs approaching his crew with an air of purpose.

Team Dolphin activates first and opts to charge into melee, although the opposition has Advantage. We’re not using lethal weapons, and neither are the Joes. Mr Osheen has Rage, so rolls an extra d6 in melee, and Arion has Hard As Nails, which means the first Obviously Dead result against him counts as Out Of the Fight instead.

Two of the men move to engage Arion, another two go for Mr Osheen, and the remaining two split off to deal with Cori and Dmitri.

Things go well at first, with Arion and Mr Osheen each taking down one of their opponents, Arion by sidestepping, grabbing an arm and ramming the man’s head into the counter top, and Osheen by the simpler expedient of punching him in the head. Cori, Dmitri and their two enemies land solid blows on each other and are all bruised.

After that, things start going downhill. While Arion is recovering his stance, his other foe whacks him in the head with a two-by-four and he loses first, interest in the fight, and second, consciousness. Satisfied, his enemy shifts to engage Osheen, who has meanwhile kicked his remaining opponent’s legs from under him. The others are beating the tar out of each other but no-one has any real advantage.

Osheen focuses on his downed opponent, kicking his head into the wall he has slumped against. Fresh from knocking Arion out, clubman number two lands a solid blow on Osheen – so solid, in fact, that he drops the club, having done himself a mischief, and steps back, howling and holding one hand. Osheen absent-mindedly straight-arms him into the opposite wall while looking around for a real threat, and failing to find one. The one facing off against Cori numbs her arm with a whack from his club, but falls back shrieking when she throws the bowl of spicy sauce into his eyes.

“What the hell is in that stuff?” she wonders aloud, resolving not to eat it any more. Osheen intercepts the one remaining enemy and throws him bodily several meters down the street, where he lies, unmoving, but making sounds of pain.

“Let’s go,” says Cori. “Mr Osheen, please bring Arion.”

“May I absorb our assailants’ bodily fluids for nourishment?”

“No, you may not. However, there is a five litre bottle of cooking oil behind the counter, I’m sure no-one will object if you take it.”

“That will suffice,” Mr Osheen agrees. “I can heat it up later.”

“What was that all about?” asks Dmitri as they head back to the ship.

“I guess maybe the guy we snatched last month had friends,” Cori says.

“Strange though,” Dmitri points out, “They just got right into it. Usually there’s some sort of speech about what you did and why they’re justified in smacking you around. There was none of that with these guys.”

“They did not move like trained warriors,” Mr Osheen says, adding his own specialist opinion. “But they were not concerned about fighting a grath hand-to-hand. That is also unusual.”

Dmitri wrinkles his brow. Untrained labourers willing to take on a grath? It makes no sense. Not yet. There’s a piece of the puzzle missing.

Team Dolphin

Each opponent killed, captured or rendered out of the fight is worth one IRD. Fortunately, being clobbered yourself does not incur DRD, so long as there is someone left to carry you away.

  • Arion: Rep 5 Star, Ship Crew. People 4, Savvy 5. Hard as Nails, Quick Reflexes. B2, ship (the Dolphin, a Trader). IRD 1. Lifetime Rep 1+1-3.
  • Coriander: Rep 4 Doctor. Pep 4, Sav 3. Free Spirit. A3. IRD 1. Lifetime Rep 2+1.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator. Pep 3, Sav 4. Smooth. B2. IRD 1. Lifetime Rep 0+1.
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 4 Grath Mercenary. Pep 1, Sav 2. Rage. A3. IRD 3. Lifetime Rep 0+3.

GM Notes

Untrained labourers willing to take on a grath makes no sense to me either, not yet, but the element of surprise is why I play a game instead of writing a novel.

Major spoilers ahead!

Tktk, 1110 Week 50

Ranil and Vinnie call up the others, and they move into the base expecting trouble. Using their various skills, they attempt to reconstruct events in the base but become distracted by a discussion of what biscuits have been left in the meeting room where they found the bodies. All that remains in the obligatory biscuit bowl are crumbs and one coconut biscuit.

“There’s always one coconut biscuit left,” Vinnie sighs.

“I suppose even feral aslan ragers have some taste,” V’lantyn says.

They decide to start by checking out the Operations room, where they are ambushed by a female aslan who retains enough intelligence to shoot Vinnie before he can shoot her. With him temporarily disabled by wounds, Ezh and Ranil charge her and cut her down with their monomolecular melee weapons. She is still alive, so they bind and sedate her, and Dr Agatha treats her wounds after telling Vinnie to “take two of these and call me in the morning”. V’lantyn persuades the ops console to disgorge a partial sequence of events, a staff roster, and the number of potential ragers, which they find disturbingly high. V’lantyn sets the doors throughout the complex to open only on command, rather than when someone approaches them.

They move on to explore the power and life support sections, which are empty but functional, before working their way through the laboratories, where they find more bodies, cylinders they believe contain samples of the bioweapon, and a number of infected aslan in low berths. A couple more aslan ragers stalk them through the complex, providing Vinnie, Ranil and Ezh with a chance to show off their close combat skills; the second of these is a close call, as it shrugs off all their gunfire and gets up close and personal with Vinnie before Ezh manages to stab it from behind.

Vinnie will later swear that he only survived because the aslan paused to apply ketchup before biting him.

Taking stock, they feel certain this is the bioweapon production facility, and that the next step is to hack into the research console and learn more about it. Ezh has to be talked out of emptying her pistol into the console, but V’lantyn points out there is bound to be a backup somewhere.

By this point they have found all the human staff, all but three of the chirpers they seem to have used as pets, and there are somewhere between two and four aslan ragers still unaccounted for.

To be continued…

GM Notes

Shadows of Sindal continues to deliver a fun game at the table, but man, am I ever rusty with the combat rules. I either need to study them in earnest or switch to something simpler than SWADE – an urge which has been growing on me for a while now, but although I used to do it all the time in my youth, I now feel that changing the rules in mid-campaign is a bad move.

Entry to certain areas in the base is supposed to depend on finding the right key card, but it seemed churlish to insist on that when two players have taken d12 (world class) in Hacking and Thievery respectively; that is them telling me they want adventures to include chances for their PCs to shine at doing those things.

One thing to watch out for if you’re running Plague of Sindal: You need to read through the section on the secret base carefully and take notes of what is in which room, as there is no key and the labels on the map don’t match the wording used in the text. You can puzzle it out, but I wouldn’t want to do that on the fly in mid-session.

“You will bring this person back here by the end of the month. Berengei knows where to find me.”

New Hope City Spaceport, Late January 2987

Arion and Cori against a lone Rep 3 Joe should be a walk in the park, but you never know. Let’s see, shall we? Turn to the combat rules on pages 21-25 of your rulebook please class, and we’ll begin.

“Look,” Arion says. “Nobody has to get hurt here. We just need to take you to see someone.”

The leaders are obvious; Arion and the Joe. Arion has Quick Reflexes so counts as Rep 6 rather than his actual Rep 5, I roll for the Joe’s attribute on pages 14-15 and get 1, 5 – Slow to React, which has no effect in melee. A further die roll of 4 means the Joe has Advantage. Arion rolls 2d6 vs Rep on the Action Table (p. 71) and gets 1, 6; he passes 1d6 as a 6 always fails on this table. The Joe rolls 6, 2 and also passes 1d6, but since he has advantage he counts as passing more d6 and has the options of shooting (he can’t – no gun), charging into melee (possible), recovering from duck back (he isn’t ducked back so this makes no sense) or leaving the battle board (probably his best option but he is an NPC so might not do that – he has no free will and must follow the dice). To decide whether he charges or flees, I’ll use the Will to Fight Table (p. 73). He rolls 2d6 vs Rep and scores 1,3; as he has passed 2d6, he carries on and charges. As per p. 24, up to three figures can fight one opponent, so Cori and Arion both get to twat the Joe. Checking p. 24, I roll 1d6 and get a 1; the Joe has a non-lethal melee weapon, Cori rolls a 5 and also has a non-lethal weapon, and Arion (who as a Star can choose what he has) goes with non-lethal as well, since he is supposed to deliver the target alive.

With an inarticulate roar, the Joe charges Arion, laying about him with his improvised pipe club.

The Joe is the active side so goes first. Arion could shoot him on the way in, but that has a high risk of killing him, so chooses not to. All figures move to contact and the melee begins; all of the melee happens on the tables on page 73. First, each side rolls 2d6 vs Rep. The Joe rolls 2, 4 vs Rep 3 and passes 1d6 – note that this is his score against all opponents. Arion scores 6, 6 and passes 0d6; not a good start. Cori rolls 3, 6 vs Rep 4 and also passes 1d6.

Arion resists the urge to draw and shoot, as a 12.5mm caseless round is likely to mess up the target more than Mr Bulky would be happy with. He gets a solid whack from the pipe as a reward for his restraint.

Cori and the Joe have passed the same number of dice, so both suffer a temporary -1 to Rep and fight another round. The Joe has passed 1d6 more than Arion so rolls 1d6 vs Arion’s Rep of 5, and scores a 1; since this is lower than Arion’s Rep, Arion also suffers -1 Rep and fights another round.

Cori and the Joe exchange ineffective blows, but both are tiring rapidly. Arion is shaken for a moment and staggers back, but steps in again, not wanting to leave Cori to face the pipe alone.

Round two: The Joe passes 1d6, Arion passes 2d6, Cori passes 1d6. Cori and the Joe each take -1 Rep against each other, while Arion rolls 1d6 vs the Joe’s effective Rep of 1, and scores a 3, which takes him Out Of the Fight; Arion gains one IRD for causing an opponent to go OOF in combat. As we have completed all melees for the turn, everyone recovers their lost Rep – but the Joe is still OOF. Arion and Cori now leave the battle board taking the Joe with them, which means they have captured that figure. Looking at the Increasing Rep D6 Table on page 69, I could interpret that to mean Arion gets another IRD for capturing the enemy, but that seems like double-counting so I decide not to.

While Cori and the Joe are circling each other looking for openings and panting heavily, Arion picks up a piece of a rotten pallet and smashes it into the Joe’s hand, forcing him to drop his pipe. He follows this up with a blow to the head, and the Joe drops to his knees, the fight gone out of him.

“You don’t get it, do you?” he sobs. “You don’t get it.” That’s as far as he gets before Arion tapes his hands and mouth.

“You OK?” Arion asks Cori, over the muffled noises coming from their captive.

“I’ll be fine. Let me look at those bruises.”

“I’ll show you mine later, if you show me yours. Help me get this guy into the gravsled.”

That done, Arion lifts off, and punches a speeddial button on his commlink.

“Berengei? Yeah, it’s me. I’ve got the package, let Mr Bulky know I’ll deliver it at your place in half an hour. Tell him it turned out to be unconscious, unwilling.”

“I wonder what he did,” Cori muses.

“I don’t know. Do you want to know? I’m not sure I do.” Cori looks at him from beneath a furrowed brow.

“We are the good guys, right?”

But Arion doesn’t answer.

Team Dolphin

It’s the end of the month so we roll for advancement. Dmitri and Mr Osheen haven’t done anything, so they don’t get to roll. Arion has gained 4 IRD vs 3 DRD, so can roll 1d6 to advance; he scores a 3, which is less than his Rep, so he gets nothing beyond keeping the extra IRD for his lifetime total. Cori has gained two IRD and rolls 2d6; 2, 4. Neither of those scores exceeds her Rep, so she doesn’t improve either. Oh well, them’s the breaks.

  • Arion: Rep 5 Star, Ship Crew. People 4, Savvy 5. Hard as Nails, Quick Reflexes. B2, ship (the Dolphin, a Trader). IRD 1. Lifetime Rep 1.
  • Coriander: Rep 4 Doctor. Pep 4, Sav 3. Free Spirit. A3. IRD 2. Lifetime Rep 2.
  • Dmitri: Rep 4 Investigator. Pep 3, Sav 4. Smooth. B2. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 0.
  • Mr Osheen: Rep 4 Grath Mercenary. Pep 1, Sav 2. Rage. A3. IRD 0. Lifetime Rep 0.

GM Notes

The way the rules are written, it’s very easy to run 5150NLMV without figures or terrain, in fact if you do use them they don’t add that much to play. This fight is simple enough not to need any visual aids.

Notice that melee is brutal in this game; two figures enter, one figure leaves, because you get multiple melee rounds per combat turn and you can’t break off combat, you fight until someone is killed or KO’d.

If Increasing Rep Dice give a character a Rep improvement, they can opt to improve one of their skills instead, which is the route I plan to take with Cori; in this version of the rules, skills never degrade, and unlike some other THW rules, rolls of 6 on skill checks are not automatic fails; so once I get Cori up to People-6, she will always pass 3d6 on Interaction rolls, and there is no benefit to advancing it beyond that point. As a side effect, that should give Arion a bit more time to buff his Rep so that his entourage don’t desert him – since he carries the extra three DRD each month for maintaining the ship, there’s a reasonable chance the others will pull ahead of him, in which case they will leave.

It’s always worth improving Rep, as it gives you a cushion against losing it, especially in melee where you generally lose one or more Rep per melee round, and means any followers are more likely to stick around.

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” – H L Mencken

Spoiler alert!!!

All Over the Place, 1110 Weeks 19-50

In possession of the Principled Profiteer‘s itinerary, the Black Ops team intercepts her at Oghma, sneaks up on her in the shadow of a gas giant to avoid detection by the starport, and (as Vinnie puts it) “puts a shot across her dinner table”. The Grace O’Malley has a far superior crew and six heavy lasers in triple turrets, so makes short work of the opposition. Time is limited before the starport realises what is going on, so they content themselves with snagging one cargo container from the wreckage and vaporising the rest as they run for the jump point.

Next they move to Torpol, where they add demountable fuel bladders to extend their jump range, and on to Palindrome via Borite and deep space. At Palindrome they fence their stolen cargo and ask around about bioweapons, Prince Richter Grehai, and the Dawnseeker, before moving on to Theev to establish their credentials as pirates and do some more networking. During the course of this they establish that the Dawnseeker is registered out of Yggdrasil and is Up To Something on Tktk.

They trade their way back to Drinax, and during the journey they receive orders from the Diplomats to rescue the junior Bledsoe from slavery in the Glorious Empire. While they are mulling over how to do this, Ranil comes up with a stroke of genius.

“She’s a slave,” he says. “Why don’t we just buy her?”

When the rest of them have picked their jaws up off the floor, they decide to push the decision of what to do next up the chain of command. Rao points out that since all their clues point to Tktk as a place of interest in all their current missions, there is no need to choose until the reach that world; however, if push comes to shove, King Oleb’s orders take precedence over those from the Diplomats.

Meanwhile, the Scholars’ Tower has investigated DNA samples covertly obtained from Prince Richter Grehai during a party on Drinax, and determined that he is also a legitimate heir to the Sindalian throne.

“Why don’t we marry Rao off to him then?” asks Vinnie. “Then there wouldn’t be any reason for him to fight Oleb.”

Making their way back to Tktk, they meet Dr Bledsoe, assure her of their intention to rescue her daughter, and gather information which will allow them to select her as a purchase from a pool of slaves without actually saying it’s her they want. Meanwhile, an orbital survey by the Grace O’Malley identifies a secret base on the surface; when they descend to investigate, wearing their rubber squid masks to conceal their identities, they find a number of bodies and blood trails inside the base.

As they react to their grisly find, and the horror movie music starts playing on the soundtrack, we roll credits for this episode.

GM Notes

After almost a year of real time and nearly five years game time, one group of PCs are now officially pirates, having committed an unmistakeable act of piracy, namely blowing the Principled Profiteer out of space and stealing part of her cargo.

The team is currently trying to work out whether Richter Grehai is a front man for the Golden Queen of Yggdrasil, GeDeCo, or the Third Imperium, which they believe is secretly behind the alleged pirate base at Theev. They are fairly certain that one of those three is behind the bioweapon, which is being developed in secret on Tktk. They can produce a convincing argument for each being the sponsor for this dastardly act, but are currently leaning towards Yggdrasil. (The adventure doesn’t seem to specify where Richter is from, but I had to pick somewhere, and I thought Yggdrasil would be interesting.)

Most of this session was done with SWADE Quick Encounters and Networking, which seem to work well with this group; there was no credible scenario in which ordinary NPCs in a lightly-armed freighter were going to beat a group of Veteran PCs in a souped-up far trader bristling with heavy lasers, so there was no point playing it out as a detailed Chase even if I were comfortable with the rules.

I have to keep an eye on this kind of disparity, as the campaign is written for Traveller, in which the PCs and NPCs are more or less on a par; in contrast, SWADE PCs are Big Damn Heroes who outperform the average NPC by a country mile.

As you can see, this was a session of zipping around the map gathering information, and creative problem-solving. Next session, though, I expect a bloodbath as the party face off against an unknown number of feral aslan ragers in a tunnel complex…

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