The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

“The dinner-table is often the terrain of critical conversations, for it is there one has the better of one’s interlocutor. There is no escape without scandal, there is no turning aside without self-betrayal. To invite a person to dinner is to place them under observation. Every dining-room is a temporary prison where politeness chains the guests to the laden board.” – Maurice Renard, The Hands Of Orlac

0602 Ria D768634-6 Ag Ni GG. 021-3401.

The ship’s boat from the Dromedary deposits Arion at Ria starport and he walks out into the muggy heat with the clothes on his back (Great Archive Surveyor coveralls, indifferently laundered aboard ship) and a spacesuit. Neither the ship’s boat nor the laser turrets are standard fittings on a subsidised liner fresh out of the yards, so Arion surmises that the Dromedary is intended to trade with backwater planets in hostile space. Ria seems to tick both boxes.

Looking at Solo p.53, I need to make a world encounter roll (p. 58), which will lead me to other rolls as appropriate. I roll 3, 2 and learn that the local community is either not what it seems, or very welcoming.

The starport is about as basic as you can get and still be an actual functioning starport, a decrepit set of landing pads and a few buildings. Arion needs to find passage back to Mizah, or at least Hasara where an Archive ship will eventually turn up, and suspects he’ll need money for that – lots of it. Before making any decisions, he needs more information, and the best place to get that is at the starport office, a mouldy-looking edifice with a couple of soldiers (armed with what look like simple chemical slugthrowers) and a man in a suit loitering outside. All three have luxuriant moustaches, which Arion will shortly learn are the local fashion. The suited man waves at Arion to attract his attention, then walks briskly up to him, with the soldiers ambling along behind, as if their presence were more for show than because of any real threat.

“Senor Metaxas? I heard from traffic control that you were arriving. I am Luis González, pleased to meet you.” González is speaking accented English, the lingua franca of spacers across the sector.

“Likewise, I’m sure. Yes, I’m Metaxas. How can I help you?”

“We don’t often see anyone from outside this system, especially not a Surveyor from the Great Archive. King Adriano Talamantes invites you to dine with him tonight, and bring him news of the outside galaxy.”

Arion thinks for a moment, covering his indecision by lowering his heavy spacesuit to the ground. He’s not likely to get a better offer than this, and while he is wary of local despots, the soldiers can likely shoot him if he runs, or overpower him if he doesn’t. Might as well go without the handcuffs, then, and eat a fine dinner instead of prison slops. Since Arion knows Archive ships don’t normally go as far as Ria, and individual free traders haven’t got the range for this run, the King must be getting all his external information from the Combine, and the implication of the invitation is that he doesn’t entirely trust them; Arion may be able to turn that to his advantage.

“I would be delighted to accept your kind offer, Senor González,” he says. “When am I expected, and what is the best way to the palace?”

“Don’t worry,” smiles González, “We will take you there right away.”

-o0o-

A few hours later, Arion finds himself clean-shaven (except for the beginnings of a local-style moustache – may as well fit in), showered, dressed in borrowed finery rather than a tatty surveyor’s coverall, and at table with Luis González, King Adriano Talamantes, Queen Delfina, and Princess Isabella, the ten-year old heir to the throne. Waiters bustle in and out with various courses, and discreet guards in dress uniforms stand behind the King to either side of him.

By the time they get to what passes for coffee locally, the ice has been broken and the five of them have moved past the polite small talk, including Arion’s descriptions of life across the handful of worlds in the Fastnesses and the family’s explanations of local history, geography and crops.

“I must tell you, Senor Metaxas,” the King begins, gesturing with his coffee cup, “that Captain Anderson tells me we should fear the Archive, that it is dominated by people with a liberal socialist agenda, hostile to our way of life here.” Arion frowns, considering his next words carefully; the prison cell is still a possibility.

“There is rivalry between the Combine and the Archive,” he says, “And a wise ruler wouldn’t take anything either of us says at face value. Captain Anderson has given you the Combine view of things; allow me to present the Archive’s. You know, of course, that before the Interregnum, a great human empire controlled this region of space, with its capital on mother Earth. Before that empire fell, it established centres of learning on major worlds, to ensure colonists had access to a basic knowledge of technology, culture and history. One of these was the forerunner of the Great Archive on Mizah; after the empire fell, it worked with the planetary government to save as many people as it could, and rebuild.”

“Captain Anderson tells me that the Archive has taken over the government of Mizah from within. Like some kind of parasitic wasp, he says. Whatever a wasp is.”

“It’s true that the Archive and the government have worked closely together for centuries. What Anderson may not have told you is that the Combine was once a faction within the Archive. We are essentially a quasi-religious academic organisation, focused on humanitarian aid and research, sharing our knowledge freely with other worlds. Some time ago, a group of the Archive’s Adepts started saying that we should sell our tools and knowledge rather than giving them away, and that since what other worlds most wanted to buy was weapons, we should sell those. That led to a schism between the academic and commercial interests in the Archive, with the commercial elements leaving to form the Combine.”

“I see. Captain Anderson argues that what people are freely given, they do not value, and that the Archive imposes its will on other worlds over generations, by insinuating its ideas into the minds of the young.”

“The Archive’s eventual goal is to uplift every system in this region to the Rule of Man’s level of technology, thus eliminating hunger, disease and oppression. We hope this will lead to harmony, to a voluntary association of free worlds.”

“With crystal spires and togas for all, no doubt. The rebels in the swamps say I oppress them. Captain Anderson says that emissaries of the Archive are spreading sedition and firearms among them.”

“Then why invite me here? Why not just arrest me?”

“Because all I know about the Archive, about the whole galaxy since the Rule of Man fell, is what Captain Anderson has told me. Asking him if it is true gains me nothing. But you…” The King waggles a finger and smiles. “You do not know what he has told me. So where both of you agree, I can take that as the truth. Where you disagree, one of you is lying. So I hope you will accept my invitation to stay for a while, and understand that the guard outside your room is there for your protection.”

Arion considers his options, and comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t really have any.

“How could I refuse such a kind offer? I can think of no better place to stay during my time here.”

GM’s Notes

This week I’ll talk a bit about how the map and worlds of the Nebula were created.

I’ve been using the same technique with the map since 1998; shrink it to one parsec per hex, rotate it 180 degrees so Maadin and Kuzu are in places that match canon better, and drop the less interesting world in double systems.

For worlds, I start with the number of charted jump routes. That gives me the starport type – one route for E, two for D and so on; the two exceptions are Maadin, which as a faction capital should have an A class starport, and tertiary systems, which have no planets and therefore no starport. Ria, with two routes, has a class D starport. I assign bases by hand to match the overall strategic situation; this means Ria has no bases.

Population level is the number of charted routes, plus one per secondary world, plus three per primary world. So Ria has a population of 6; 2 for the routes, 3 for the primary world (Ria) and one for the secondary world (Alis) which doesn’t show up on the map, but still affects the statblock.

Then I use Google translate and other sources to find out what the name means, and in which language. Ria is interesting as it means a number of different things; a drowned river valley in English, “river” in a number of Romance languages, a corn-drying kiln in Swedish, a moustache in Vietnamese, or “blood” in Woi (spoken in Indonesia). I muse on that for a while and imagine the kind of world that would be an appropriate name for. This also tells me which culture or cultures originally settled the place, giving me a ready source of names, traditional foods and customs, and so on.

In the case of Ria, the image that comes to mind is a rural, agricultural planet, primarily focused on growing corn along a river valley, with one major town just upstream of a tropical river delta, split politically between a Spanish-speaking ruling class and a mixed bag of farm labourers from other cultures, and a group of flatboat-mounted guerillas hiding in the delta’s marshes and seeking to overthrow the rulers. Possibly the first thing a visitor notices are the impressive mustachios sported by all adult males. (I like the Mongoose Traveller faction and cultural rules, but sometimes you just don’t need ’em.)

The rest of the world profile is either assigned (if it’s obvious from what I have so far) or diced randomly, except that primary worlds must have atmosphere 5, 6 or 8, and secondary ones may not.

I give each world the lowest tech level possible, to fit the concept of a region returning to space after centuries of the Long Night, except for Maadin and Kuzu which get a 12 so they can build jump-3 ships. The boardgame says all worlds have antiship defences; if these can be built locally (say, TL 7+), they are, otherwise someone from outside must have installed them – who, exactly, is a potential scenario for later.

Although I’ve been using this sector on and off since the late 1990s, the shift to Mongoose Traveller made some changes. Chiefly, TL modifiers have changed, and some environments have minimum TLs; the overall effect is to push up the average TL slightly. Temperature now affects atmosphere and thus indirectly TL. The rules for government factions, cultural divergence and trade don’t affect the profile directly, but they are pretty good.

Overall, diehard advocate of the 1977 Little Black Books that I am, I must admit that in some areas, later editions have improved the game.

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The Aslan player deploys first, and after the Solomani have also deployed, the aslan move first. In effect then, the solomani miss their first turn, which is the first half of turn 1.

So we are at the start of the aslanic player turn, and the first phase is “A: Maintenance and Production”. We begin by computing the aslanic income; 10 Resource Units (budget), plus 4 per connected primary system (2 x 4 = 8) and one per connected secondary system (4 x 1 = 4). The aslan have 22 RU to spend, and as it’s not obvious what they’re up to yet, I roll randomly again to see what they have bought, on a table of my own design; maybe this will change my view that they intend to cow neutral worlds into submission by threatening them with strike cruisers.

According to my dice, the aslan purchase one each of DD, CL, CS and armoured troops. Looks like they are still going missile-heavy. Their immediate target, then, is most likely Godoro.

These units are placed on the production track and will enter play at the start of aslanic turn 2. News of the military buildup will reach Maadin no sooner than 18 weeks after it begins at Kuzu.

I don’t know what date this happens; it should be at the start of 3402, as the boardgame uses two-year turns, and I want to stretch things a little to allow the first battle to occur just inside 3401, the canonical start date for the wars in the Traveller universe.

After a lengthy interrogation and an even lengthier debate about what to do with their captive werewolf, or Phaedrus the carpet seller as he is known in human form, the Pawns decided by a narrow margin to kill him and dispose of the body with the other carcasses that any gladiatorial arena produces in bulk. The Monk powered up and obliged before he could transform and defend himself effectively.

After much further debate about what to do next, they agreed to replenish their potion stocks, rest up, and head back into Greytowers in search of the werewolf’s lair. This went splendidly until they stumbled upon a ruined building occupied by a nest of eight giant spiders, led by the formidable Ol’ Three Legs.

A long and complex melee ensued, with the giant spiders dividing into a webbing team on top of a ruined building, methodically immobilising anything that looked like a threat, and a melee team biting anything they could get at. By the time they had disposed of the bulk of the pack, and Ol’ Three Legs had retired in good order, the Monk was incapacitated and Dorjee was running low on potions. Max, their tracker, led them to the lair – a ruined tower – regardless, and Ash climbed nimbly up the side of it and sneaked inside, where he could hear conversation on the first floor. Satisfied they had found their prey, they retreated to heal and replenish their stores.

While doing that, they hit on two ideas: Warning Tamaria that someone inside House Talum had set her up to be kidnapped and killed (Phaedrus told them this, and they suspect the culprit is the majordomo), and talking the Amazons into coming along on their next raid into Greytowers to avenge their sister.

The raid was planned and executed with panache and precision; Ash, Max and Zosimus climbed the tower and cleared it from the top down, bursting into a room where the surviving cultists were arguing over who was in charge now the werewolf had disappeared. Max leapt onto their table, which collapsed under his weight, and made a mighty sweep attack, killing five of them. The remainder fled downstairs and out of the door, where they found five tooled-up Amazons waiting for them. Best we draw a veil over their fate.

The party is not sure they have dealt with all the cultists, but feel certain they have killed anyone who matters. Feeling no particular urgency about aligning themselves with a faction, they agreed their next move is to venture into the Sewers in search of rare and valuable lotus, in the course of which they hope to find out why Cairnlanders feel so at home down there.

GM’s Notes

I couldn’t see myself getting a full five-hour session out of the party’s plans so I re-introduced them to giant spiders. Giant spiders in Savage Worlds are well naughty and even after they had scared away half the pack with a fear potion, a combination of webbing the fighters and biting anything in reach proved highly effective. Had the Monk not had the wisdom to retain a benny for his incapacitation roll, he would have died from spider bites, and he is a combat monster the other fighters view with great respect. If the spiders had been playing with a full team, I think they might have won, even against six Heroic PCs.

Ol’ Three Legs was so named because the miniature we used has been in play since the 1970s and has lost five legs to being dropped at various times over the decades. In honour of her long and distinguished service to the group, she was made a Wild Card.

Wild Card giant spiders go beyond well naughty into out-and-out evil, and I commend them to the House.

U’wahz the Sage has decided that there is a dark side to the Great Library and is providing detailed notes on its structure and purposes, but has yet to use his superpower to make this true. Despite repeated entreaties from the rest of the party, neither did he use it to cement into the setting their idea that all Jademen are heavily into bondage. Not sure where that came from but it may be related to Dorjee learning Entangle at the beginning of the session.

So far I’m finding Jalizar and homebrew adventures much more relaxing and easier to run than adventures from any other source. I don’t think this is about the adventures, it’s more because I have decided to let things flow at their own pace, rather than trying to finish each session at a particular point in the story. Now that I should have done years ago.

Arion, Episode 2: Dromedary

“How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done; thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways.” – King James Bible, Jeremiah 2:23

Aboard the Dromedary. 014-3401.

I roll for in-game reactions (Solo pp. 19-20) and an onboard event (Solo, p. 56): There’s only one active PC yet – Arion – who rolls a 6 and therefore fails to avoid a bad reaction; a further roll of 4 shows that a choice is made and he doesn’t like it. The onboard event is 43 – a power failure.

The Captain’s day cabin is spacious, by shipboard standards, and Captain Anderson sits at a small desk, interviewing Arion, who is dressed in an ill-fitting pair of Combine overalls and perched awkwardly on a folding chair. The scene is dimly lit by emergency lights, and the air conditioning is off.

“Our sensors confirm there’s wreckage from an Archive Surveyor, and the origin of your trajectory matches where it would have been when you left. So your story checks out. But tell me, why would pirates blow your ship up? First, they’re breaking no laws by being here; second, there’s no-one to enforce them if they were; third, a ship with an Archive transponder has nothing worth stealing – no offence – and fourth, the Archive is too powerful to upset for no reason.”

“None taken. I saw too much. I saw who they were meeting out here. Hierate scouts.”

“You sure?”

Hraye III class with a fuel slab, squawking a clan recognition code. Unmistakable.”

“Pfft. Half the pirates out here are from the Hierate.”

“True, but they don’t squawk clan codes. And honour dictates that anyone using those codes be a member of the right clan, and vice versa. The code tells you who it was. No room for error.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm indeed. So Captain, thank you for picking me up, but I need to impose on you further – I need to report back to Mizah right away.”

“Surveyor, the law is clear. I grant you’re a distressed spacefarer, and the Archive is good for your transport costs. But I can’t turn 600 tons of ship around and break my Bond to get you home three weeks sooner. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“Don’t you see how important this is? The Hierate and Confed have been rattling sabres at each other for years, this could be the start of outright war – and if the Hierate barrels through here fangs out and hair on fire, they’re going to hit Mizah first.”

“But they might not.”

“But…” Before Arion can argue any more, Anderson interrupts, the steel any trader captain must have at his core being displayed for the first time.

“But me no buts, Surveyor. The law says I drop you at the next port of call and submit an invoice the next time I’m at an Archive facility. I have no obligation to deadhead you halfway across the sector first, and no obligation to reroute my ship for your convenience. Unless you have written authority from the Great Archive to pay the penalty clauses for breaking my Bond, which I know you do not because we searched you for contraband and weapons when we brought you aboard.”

The lights flicker back on and the air conditioning starts up again. “Finally!” Anderson mutters, then continues in a louder voice.

“Now that power has been restored, we can jump. And we will. You can either keep out of the way, or help with running the ship, but any more complaints about the route and you’ll find yourself in cryosleep in a low berth. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Captain.” Arion leaves the office. He is seething inside, but if he’s put into cryosleep, who knows where – or when – he’ll wake up?

GM Notes: Ships

For this campaign, I’m determined that each post should have part of the story in it, so I’ll keep the commentary on rules and setting design in the GM Notes section, rather than in separate posts as I’ve done in the past. This time, as Arion is in jumpspace, let’s look at ships and FTL travel, and the implications for the rules and the campaign.

The Dark Nebula boardgame which I’m using as the inspiration for the setting assumes:

  • You can only move along charted jump routes, at least until you uncover the secrets of the Nebula.
  • You can’t leave a tertiary system unless there is a tanker present.
  • In a two-year turn you can go anywhere on the map, stopping only for tertiary systems and enemy units. There are about 80 routes on the map, and several movement phases per turn, so the old Traveller standby of one week per jump is reasonable.
  • You can’t bypass any star system on your route (otherwise the tactic of blocking fleets with a sacrificial scoutship wouldn’t work).

Traveller is thus a better match to the game than the Savage Worlds Sci Fi Companion for FTL travel; SW hyperdrives can take you anywhere on the map, and in zero time if you’re prepared to spend enough fuel. There’s a good campaign to be played using the SW hyperdrive, but it’s not this one, because I find it difficult to run a game such as this if there are no choke points and no trade routes.

Aligning Traveller with Dark Nebula is simple; I rationalise the jump routes by saying that the map is a 2-D representation of 3-D space, and systems that appear to be next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump. Jump-3 gives a close enough match for strategic mobility in the boardgame – Bors, Daanarni and Taida Na remain impassable without some means of refuelling, and while you shouldn’t be able to access Ria, Osa or Karpos I can live with that – I want Arion to visit Ria and Karpos. (Note that a maximum of jump-3 implies a maximum tech level of 12 in the Nebula, which suits me just fine.)

As the map is drawn, J-1 pretty much limits you to Mizah and its neighbours, J-2 is good for exploring either subsector but won’t get you from one to the other, J-3 lets you travel between subsectors, and J-4 lets you leave the map. That progression has a certain elegance to it, don’t you think?

How big are the ships? Well, capital ship squadrons in Dark Nebula can each carry a reinforced infantry division; as Traveller mostly follows contemporary US military organisation, that tells us that 3-10 ships can carry 10 to 15 thousand troops. Classic Traveller Book 5 shows that warships have at most 6% of their tonnage dedicated to ship’s troops, so a capital ship squadron carrying 15,000 troops totals 500,000 tons, and individual ships are somewhere between 50,000 tons (if there are 10 of them) and 170,000 (if there are three). Let’s call that hundreds of thousands of tons per ship.

To be stand in the line in Book 5 combat, or Adventure 6 naval campaigns, cruisers need a spinal mount, which means they are in the tens of thousands of tons. This gives us another elegant progression; capital ships are hundreds of thousands of tons, cruisers tens of thousands, destroyers thousands, and small ships operated by PCs, hundreds. As a bonus, weapon factors in Book 5 and Dark Nebula are broadly equivalent.

I don’t expect to design any ships for the Nebula campaigns, but this gives me a rough idea of the size, armament, and movement capabilities of all the boardgame counters the party might meet, which is good enough for roleplaying purposes.

“Designing adventures can be a bit daunting. The thing is, you shouldn’t bust a gut over it. The more it is planned out, the less easy it will be to play.” – Barbarians of Lemuria

Newly arrived in Jalizar, and having paid their respects to the Thieves’ Guild (Ash) and House Tankara (Dorjee Pema), and rented suitable accommodations in Loomhouses, the party repairs to the Dog & Bastard tavern to meet the neighbours. While they are engaged in this, one after the other, three groups enter and announce they are looking for a missing girl; House Jarikos troopers (who offer a large reward), off-duty members of the Serpent Guard (who offer to abstain from violence), and a few Copper Helms (who want everyone to know they are leaving no stone unturned). The girl is Tamiria, wife of Lord Crumbal of House Jarikos, who disappeared while out at night. Her Amazon bodyguard has been killed. The combination of a pretty girl and a large sum of money is irresistable to Ash, so they go in search of her at once.

U’wahz the Sage talks his way into an audience with Lord Crumbal, and thence the majordomo, who agrees to meet him later. Max and Zosimus investigate the scene of the crime, finding nothing; but when Zosimus starts chatting up the local serving maids, they discover that Tamiria regularly went out alone except for the bodyguard, and in their opinion is having an affair with Lord Perikles of House Talum. Thanks to a truly astonishing Tracking roll, Max follows the trail of four men carrying something heavy through muddy streets trampled by hundreds of feet towards Greytowers, where the tracks become mingled with those of very large dogs and even larger spiders. Dorjee Pema and the Monk check out Market Square, and by expending a few Moons learn that a group of four men were seen carrying a wriggling carpet towards Greytowers. Ash, meanwhile, contacts the Thieves’ Guild, who deny all knowledge of the kidnapping and give him permission to recover the girl, subject to their usual 10% cut of any reward.

They meet back at the Dog & Bastard, exchange information, and troop off to meet the majordomo. He is not especially interested in recovering the girl, who he sees as a worthless gold-digger with no breeding, but does allow them to look for her and is persuaded to loan the party a tracker dog and its handler. They drop in to see the squad of Amazon mercenaries working for the House, but while they gain access to the dead Amazon’s armour and weapons – from the marks on which they deduce the attackers are either men with a large wild beast, or a werewolf with henchmen – the Amazons don’t want to talk to them.

Borrowing some of Tamiria’s clothes to give the dog a scent, they march off towards Greytowers and venture inside. They note they are being followed, and wave their shadow up to join them; he admits to representing a fourth party interested in recovering the girl, and offers to beat House Jarikos’ offer. He joins them, and they move on. Shortly, they encounter a screaming girl, running towards them covered in blood, and pursued by several nondescript thugs, with what sounds like big dogs baying in the distance. Max makes short work of most of the thugs, while Zosimus toys with the other for some time (each repeatedly missed the other, which in Zosimus’ case is quite unusual).

It is at this point that Dorjee notices the werewolf flanking them through the ruined alleys, and just has time to shriek a warning before it is upon them. All NPCs flee in terror, and Ash follows them – he is unmoved by the fear check, but is concerned that if they lose track of Tamiria, they won’t get paid. The fully-armed and operational Battle Monk (he takes a while to power up for combat) now engages the werewolf, while Dorjee almost manages to smash a puppet potion over its head. A short and furious melee ensues, with the werewolf’s invulnerability protecting it until the Monk hits on the idea of improvising cesti from the silver Moons in his purse, and then it’s just a matter of time – the werewolf tries to flee once wounded, but the Monk punches its lights out, and the heroes capture it while it is incapacitated.

Catching up with Ash and the others, they learn that Tamiria is indeed having an affair with someone in House Talum, that the dog-handler is in on this and has been letting her out at night, and their mysterious shadow works for House Talum. Despite the party’s best efforts to persuade her to leave Lord Crumbal – they are hoping to trigger a war between the two Houses which will give them employment – she opts to return to Jarikos, at least for the moment.

While Ash collects their reward(s) and pays his Guild tithe, Zosimus, Max and U’wahz (who is taking copious notes) drag their unconscious captive to the arena and bribe the animal trainers to rent them a cell which is as werewolf-proof as possible.

Leaving one of their number on watch to question the werewolf when it wakes up, they place orders for silver weapons with a bemused armourer and head back into Greytowers, reasoning that they will find the werewolf’s lair, its loot, and an explanation of why the werewolf wanted this particular girl – she is hardly the easiest target.

GM Notes

Surprisingly, although I’ve been running B&B for five or six years now, this was the first scenario I’ve built using the adventure generator. I drew 4 of diamonds, 8 of diamonds, king of hearts and two of clubs, which gave me: setting – wilderlands, adversary – power lord, conflict – desire, reward – relationship, getting into the action – wrong place and time, atmosphere – hunt, plot twist – repercussions, climax – sacrifice. It took me about three days’ mulling that over to create something which more or less matched those draws and fitted Jalizar, but in the end it was an enjoyable scenario for all concerned. I imagine it will get faster and easier with practice.

However, the group found a plot hole: Why is the werewolf after Tamiria in particular? I was expecting it either to die or escape, but they captured it for interrogation instead thanks to some good dice rolls and the four attacks per turn at horrendous damage that the Monk now cranks out. So now I have to figure out who it is and what it’s up to.

The Dog & Bastard is taken from a one-page dungeon by Kelvin Green. It’s a name so cool it has to be used. I would’ve used the Headless Chicken, but as I recall that is in Thousand Chimneys.

One werewolf was a pretty good match for a party of six Heroic characters. In hindsight it should have run as soon as it was wounded, and become a recurring nemesis. If Dorjee had managed to nail it with the puppet potion, things could have become very interesting; I must remember he can do that now.

Aslan Border Wars 1: Setup

This thread is about the Dark Nebula boardgame, and how I’m adapting it as the setting for my science fiction campaigns.

Why? Several reasons. Firstly, I love the map. Secondly, the Aslan Border Wars are part of Traveller canon, but are in a time and a place that hasn’t been explored in detail in official products; the Dark Nebula sector in 3401 AD, during the Long Night. This means I can use (or ignore) what I like from the Official Traveller universe without upsetting the Traveller fans in my group, and minimise the risk of information overload for those players new to the game.

This will be an intermittent thread, because while the roleplaying campaigns advance a week or so at a time, the boardgame advances in two-year turns, and the Confederation effectively misses its first turn; the war will kick off in earnest late in 3401, which could easily be December 2018 in real time. So, there’s no rush.

Here’s the initial setup; from here on, I’ll work through things a phase at a time.

Map Tile Draw

I’ve already assumed that all eight maps are drawn, and placed so that the hex numbers match up. There’s nothing but extra work to be gained by changing that now.

Initial Purchases

I’ve spent years trying to figure out the optimum strategy for both sides, and use that to determine their unit purchases; it has never worked. So this time I’m randomly selecting units, and deducing the strategy from that.

We start with both sides buying all the RU 1 and 2 units available, because you’d be mad not to, except for one scout, which makes the next stage work better for some reason. Then, each side rolls randomly to select units from the next cheapest 20 until the initial budget of 40 has been exactly spent. This gives us:

Aslanic Hierate: 4 x SC, 4 x TR, 1 x AO, 4 x RT, 1 x DD, 1 x AT, 1 x CL, 1 x CS. The Hierate is heavy on missile factors, suggesting they intend to negotiate for allies, and the obvious places are Godoro, followed by Valka. The Hierate puts scouts at Vaxt and Xida and another scout and a troop unit at Kuzu; if the Solomani figure out a way to invade Kuzu on their first turn, this will slow them down. Everything else starts at Panas and is designated as the reaction force stack.

Solomani Confederation: 3 x SC, 5 x TR, 1 x AO, 7 x RT, 1 x DD, 1 x AT, 1 x EX. Confed’s strategy must be to open up the route from Osa to Taida Na, giving them a back door into Hierate space. If the aslan load up on heavy combat units and charge Maadin, fangs out and hair on fire, the Solomani need something in the way to slow them down; one scout each at Maadin, Icat and Kamat, a troop unit on Maadin, and everything else at Gazzain, designated as the reaction stack.

Neutral units are drawn as usual, but allocated to primary worlds randomly. The draw gives us:

  • Bulan: M (8-0-8)
  • Godoro: RT
  • Mizah: PDF, 2 x TR
  • Ria: M (8-2-7)
  • Valka: JT

I’m pleased that Mizah and Godoro have drawn things that are appropriate for their established backstory, I’m OK with Valka, but Ria and Godoro will take some explaining.

That’s fine though; this is nature telling me there are scenarios in those systems, which is after all the whole point of the exercise.

“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Daanarni, 007-3401.

Daanarni is blindingly bright; a blue-white supergiant. You can read by it in the next star system but one, that’s how bright it is. So look away into the blackness, and after your eyes or your screen filters have adjusted, you may be able to make out a small, bright dot. Zoom in on that, and keep zooming, and eventually you’ll see a human figure in a deep space pressure suit, solar panels cranked out of the backpack like wings. It was the light glancing off those that caught your eye. It doesn’t look like he’s going to run out of power any time soon, whatever else he’s short of.

One of the panels reels in, just a little, and after a while extends back out again. You realise he’s using the radiation pressure and the solar wind to tack across the system, quite possibly just to keep his mind off wondering how long he’s got left before the air and water recyclers break down or he starves to death. Or whether he could open the faceplate just a crack, just long enough to scratch that God-damned ITCH on his nose.

You’re just starting to get bored with watching his glacial progress when the familiar disk-and-slab shape of a subsidised liner winks into existence, not too far away from him and on an intercept course, or nearly so. Its turrets swivel to align lasers on him, the ship’s computer having registered him as a potential threat; after a few seconds it picks up the suit’s transponder and moves the ship itself elegantly aside instead. You scan through the appropriate radio frequencies, and shortly pick up traffic between suit and ship.

“…I say again, this is Surveyor Arion Metaxas of the GAS Bozcaada out of Mizah. Well, technically I suppose it’s not so much a ship, more an expanding ball of gas fluorescing in the far ultraviolet, but… Sorry, I’ve been out here quite a while. Permission to come aboard? I’ll be good, I promise, and the Archive would be ever so grateful, I’m sure. I certainly will. Oh, and there were some pirates in the system a while ago, you might want to keep an eye out for those.”

“Hang tight, Surveyor, this is the Combine liner Dromedary, Captain Anderson commanding. Give us a few minutes and we’ll reel you in.”

At length, a hatch opens in the Dromedary and a pair of suited figures appears. They tether themselves to the ship, then jet across to intercept Arion on manoeuvring thrusters while he reels in the solar panels. Catching him easily, they escort him back to the ship, and all three disappear inside.

To be continued…

-o0o-

Fade up theme music (Joe Satriani: The Traveler). Roll credits…

ARIONIAD SEASON 1: THE TRAVELLER

Starring Andy Slack as Arion Metaxas

Also starring…

  • Karen Gillan as Coriander
  • Vin Diesel as Dmitri
  • John Lithgow as Perry Anderson
  • Alan Rickman as Schrodinger

Produced and directed by Andy Slack

Written by a bunch of dice and large quantities of single malt.

Music by Joe Satriani.

Based on the boardgame by GDW, Solo by Zozer Games, and Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment.

With additional material from Traveller by GDW and Mongoose Publishing, and Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publications.

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