The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Previously, on Pirates of Drinax: The Diplomats worked their way through Thebus and Number One looking for clues. They think they have enough to lead them to the next stage of their quest for the fabled Treasures (we’ll see), and have jumped to Ace, whose name keeps coming up in their research…

(There are spoilers ahead; I am unrepentant, as Pirates of Drinax was first published for Mongoose Traveller first edition between 2011 and 2016, which puts it outside my usual five year moratorium.)

Ace, 1108 Week 52 – 1109 Week 4

Arriving at Ace, the Diplomats find four ships of the Proactive Recycling Company present, along with an aslan trader accompanied by a scout. They know the aslan trader; it’s the one which brought Professor hault-Belzoni to Drinax.

Given that the Prof is a blabbermouth, and they were on Drinax at the same time as the trader (captained by an aslan called Failokh), they deduce that: [a] Failokh knows more about the Sindalian Empire, its fall, messenger globes and the treasure of Sindal than is good for either him or them, [b] Failokh knows they have the professor and at least one messenger globe, and [c] Failokh has most likely come to Ace to wait for them; he knows they’re up to something to do with the treasure and wants either a cut or to take it from them.

Not wanting to ‘perform in public’, as they put it, they decide they may as well make their standard join-the-kingdom pitch to the Sages of Ace, who they quickly realise are the power behind the throne. As usual when they are doing this as a cover for their real activities, Felix’s Persuasion roll goes off the charts again (nine raises), and they offer him the position of King of Ace, since there is a prophecy that the next king will be an offworlder who will sort out those pesky pirates for good.

This time, Felix accepts, realising that the position is essentially a figurehead and so long as he leaves the Sages running things on a day to day basis, all will be well. The party agree that Ace is big enough to be a Duchy in their nascent kingdom, and the obvious Duke is King Felix.

By now, the PRC has got bored and pushed off, but Failokh is still in port, being suspiciously picky about speculative cargo. They decide he is stalling, and King Felix instructs the Sages to arrest the trader crew on suspicion of espionage while the Lady Mary takes off and offers the orbiting scoutship a choice of landing and being arrested, or being a firing test for their particle accelerators. The captain decides to land, and is imprisoned like the trader crew. They seize both vessels as additions to the Drinaxian Navy, and since Failokh’s group are actually pirates, they find enough evidence to justify locking them up indefinitely.

Next, they use their particle accelerators to execute the firing solutions found in the various messenger globes, which produces an artificial aurora borealis in the form of a starmap 800 kilometres across, showing a location in deep space two parsecs away. Clearly, X marks the spot.

In Transit: 1109 Weeks 5-7

Krrsh takes command of the new trader, and the party scrape together skeleton crews for their new acquisitions from the local system defence units and their existing crews. Leaving the Ching Shih and the new scout at Ace as a temporary defence force, they take the Lady Mary and the new trader via Number One to Salif. The point of this is that they can then jump in and out of the target location using J-2 drives.

While they’re they, given that they are openly travelling as ambassadors of Drinax, they decide they might as well try their join-the-kingdom pitch on Tiznee Zazzle, former pop star and current ruler of Salif.

Salif, 1109 Weeks 8-10

The party negotiate with Tiznee Zazzle, and find that her goals are almost perfectly aligned with Princess Rao’s position. But she needs help; she has become immune to her regular anagathics. She needs advanced medical treatment (TL14+) to tweak her genetic code so she can continue to take the drugs. However, to maintain her mystique, her followers cannot know about her problem. Get her the treatment she needs, guarantee her support and a suitable position in the new Kingdom, and she is on board.

Deep Space, 1109 Weeks 11-12

After a week in jumpspace, the Lady Mary emerges in deep space to find a long-abandoned Sindalian base. They are pleased to find large quantities of fuel, and even more pleased to note two Harrier-class commerce raiders docked (these later prove to have been cannibalised for parts).

An ancient, scratchy recording by Admiral Gani Peras of the Sindalian Star Guard asks them to enter their ducal-level codes or the station will self-destruct. When they comply, a second message is played, explaining that she has done her duty and imploring them to use what they find inside wisely, which the players find both exciting and spooky. They explore cautiously, expecting alien predators, guard robots and who knows what else, but the station is merely empty and abandoned.

Empty, that is, until they reach the main cargo bay. Their torch beams play over the treasure of Sindal; row after row after row of torpedo warheads, variously marked with warning symbols for radiation and biohazards.

To be continued…

GM Notes

Notice that the Diplomats have now gone over the edge and are openly recruiting for the revised Kingdom of Drinax. Given their standing with both major powers has decayed back to its default position, nobody cares. They will have to come up with something to attract attention – but that is for another day.

I’d expected them to fight the pirates, but they came up with a solid plan for taking them into custody without firing a shot, and it seemed churlish to take that victory away from them just because I want to explore ship combat further.

Unlike most planets in the Area of Operations, Salif doesn’t have a predefined set of policy goals, but it was easy enough to generate them from the information in the campaign book (the author saw this one coming).

The scenario as written assumes the PCs jump blind into an empty hex and trust to luck that they can find enough fuel to get back again, but actually that’s not necessary if they’re prepared to spend a little while travelling to come at the empty hex from a different direction.

I was pleased with the session end, as the Diplomats pushed into the station’s main cargo bay in the darkness, their torch beams flickering until they alighted on row after row of torpedo warheads. If I were a GM who used background music, Evil Clowns by Black Kali Ma would have started fading up at that point, and now it is the Sindalian Empire theme, at least in my head.

A great place to roll credits, I thought.

Savage Worlds swarms are among the most versatile and underused monsters in the bestiary.

Yes, you can use them for swarms of ants, rats, scorpions, wasps and other vermin which irritate adventurers, but simply by changing the way you describe them, they can do service as many other types of monster as well, so long as that monster covers an area, hits automatically, and ignores cutting or piercing weapons – even those limits are easy to tweak.

For a start, any of the D&D moulds or jellies can be represented by a swarm. Green slime, ochre jelly, black pudding, gelatinous cube – all swarms in my dungeons.

Then there are small nuisance creatures like snotlings, pixies, stirges… Swarms, but you can hurt them with cutting or piercing weapons.

This also works for some traps. Pool of acid? Swarm, but it doesn’t move.

Grey goo? Swarm. Starship repair robots? Swarm. Traveller Eater or Filter animal encounter? Swarm. Bunch of zombies? Swarm. Bunch of preschoolers on a trip? Swarm.

We last saw the Diplomats heading for the outer system of Thebus, looking for a Sindalian Empire courier lost two thousand years ago… Here there be spoilers!

Thebus, 1108 Weeks 46-48

Constrained by the Ching Shih‘s 1G acceleration, it takes the group nearly a week to reach the coordinates where the courier should be. However, Khugi is unable to find it using the ship’s sensors (GM: Due to a critical failure).

“It must have some kind of stealth technology,” he says. “We’ll have to go to visual scans.”

Everyone hauls out binoculars and looks around; it’s Jade who finds the ship, then Krrsh jockeys the Ching Shih closer and Stoner uses the grappling claws to lock onto it, making boarding very simple. Khugi, Felix and Stoner examine the wreckage, and recover the messenger globe they seek as well as the ship’s black box.

They return to Thebus itself, despite protestations from Professor hault-Belzoni who wants to explore the wreckage, and spend some time in negotiation with what passes for government locally, but decide it’s too far from Drinax to incorporate into their burgeoning alliance just yet.

They have reason to suspect another messenger globe might be found on Number One, so decide to go there rather than directly to Ace, whose name keeps cropping up in the globes, so it must be important.

Flashback: Drinax, 1108 Weeks 32-34

Feeling inconvenienced by King Oleb’s positions on key political matters, the Diplomats spend several weeks trying to change his mind. They manage to shift his position on security to match that of Prince Harrick, Princess Rao, and most of the planets they have negotiated with so far, but he insists he will be an absolute autocrat and Drinax will keep its technology to itself. However, he understands they may need to be economical with the truth to add member worlds to the kingdom, so he will not contradict them in public. It’s a start.

Jumpspace, 1108 Week 49

hault-Belzoni’s knowledge of the Sindalian Empire comes in handy and he is able to narrow down their search from the entire system to one city, Dragonsdome. Surely there must be some records of the courier’s arrival?

Number One, 1108 Week 50

The Diplomats quickly establish that the records they need are in the private archive of the Warden, the hereditary ruler of Number One and an eight-year-old girl. Presenting themselves as ambassadors of the Kingdom of Drinax, they are granted an audience. Xaronne delights the Warden with tales of their adventures while Stoner play-acts the painful deaths of the pirates they have killed. This gains them access to the archives, where they deduce the location of the Sindalian courier.

However, they are unable to find it. Khugi is unworried, pointing out that given where they think it is, the chances of it having survived the adverse environment for two milennia are slim at best. They identify a way to improve their search pattern, but persuaded by Khugi’s arguments, decide not to bother, and shape course for Ace.

Jumpspace, 1108 Week 51

The Diplomats plot their next move. They think they have enough information, ships, and particle accelerators to take the next step. They have gathered information on all nearby worlds. The Treasure of Sindal is surely theirs for the taking.

To be continued…

GM Notes

While everyone enjoyed dealing with the Warden, the scenario on Number One didn’t pan out as expected. This was partly because I became confused between the courier (the ship) and the courier (the pilot of the ship) and sent them to the wrong place, and partly because Khugi’s player was adamant that nothing could have survived 2,000 years in that environment. However, a previous mistake when I told them three messenger globes would be enough means they can still proceed to the next stage, and anyway it builds character to fail occasionally. If you’re running Treasures of Sindal, be careful how you steer the group towards the globe’s location.

I had glossed over exactly which ships they had with them, but looking at the notes I keep on which of their fleet is where doing what, week by week, it was clear that they would have the Ching Shih and the Lady Mary, so that was retconned in. That required them to lay over at Drinax for a few weeks, so they decided to insert a flashback where they try to change Oleb’s views on a few things.

I skipped past the encounter with the rival pirate gang again, because I wasn’t in the mood for it; but we do need to have some ship and personal combat in the near future or I’ll forget how to do them. The rule that is seeing the most use at the moment is Support, they have really grasped the value of that and like the fact that any character can potentially be of some use in any roll; this is a definite improvement over the Deluxe edition, where supporting PCs had to use the same skill as the lead one.

On the character front, I was pleased to see Xaronne’s Performance skill in use for the first time in the campaign, and also to see Jade’s player taking a more active role than usual.

This is the final part of the monster Deepnight Revelation kickstarter I backed last year. 121 page PDF from Mongoose, price unknown. Mongoose had some kind of glitch which delayed the delivery of this to backers, so I’m a bit late in looking at it.

What’s Inside?

There’s an introduction explaining how to use the book as part of a Deepnight Revelation campaign, some notes on points of interest, three encounters, three incidents, four adventures, and a selection of animal and environmental encounters. Let’s take them in that order.

The points of interest are 11 worlds, none especially threatening, which can be inserted into any of the numerous blank spots along the ship’s course, and reused several times with minor tweaks. These could be useful in any campaign with uninhabited worlds.

The encounters each describe an alien race that could be encountered anywhere convenient for the referee, with rules for using any of them as playable races and High Guard additions for the Haix, both rules and ships. The Haix have a small core domain but their trading ships could be encountered some way from it; the Dewdellae settled a wide area using slower-than-light starships, though they are no longer space travellers; the Firbolg are a clade of related species found in a variety of places operating in a range of tech levels.

The Haix and Dewdellae interact, so are intended to be used in the same general area, probably the Far Side of Nowhere, while the Firbolg are explicitly assumed to be based either there or on the Voidshore. The Firbolg are intended to give the referee a tool to populate a number of planets without having to create a new species each time.

The incidents are adventure seeds each a couple of pages long; Shark Among the Pigeons shows the Travellers the interaction between Dewdellae and Haix, so needs to be set in a region where both are present; Wind of Destruction sees the Travellers stumbling across an astrophysical phenomenon; Peacemongering is about the reaction of a balkanised and suspicious world to their arrival.

As to the adventures… Hillforts of Entrata is about First Contact with a bronze age society; it’s a classic Star Trek type adventure, and could be positioned anywhere along the route, really, although it works best in Firbolg space. Disputed Birthright is set in the Far Side of Nowhere by default, and involves factional strife among the super-droyne mentioned in earlier products in this line; it’s a horror-mystery adventure. Revelations in Kenvab – again set in the Far Side of Nowhere by default – places the Travellers at a freeport where there are some interesting curios the trader won’t give up for money or threats… but there is a mystery he would like solved. Finally, Dreaming in Real Time has the Travellers meeting a lost colony ship which is having a Really Bad Day.

The last part of the book covers 18 new animal and environmental encounters, split by the type of world they might be found on – two per world type.

Then, we close with a page of final notes and an index. The notes stress that this campaign is not about the final destination and what awaits the Travellers there; it is about savouring the various incidents along the way. The reward is not money; the reward is what the players learn and encounter during the course of the campaign, and if they manage to save the Galaxy while they’re at it, so much the better.

What Do I Think?

I’d struggle to make collecting scientific samples into an exciting adventure without introducing an implausible level of equipment failures and apex predators. In a TV show they’d get away with this by focusing on the soap opera of crew interactions with the scientific mission as a backdrop, but neither I nor my players would enjoy that as a game. I’m sure some people would, and Deepnight Revelation is more for them than me.

I would have preferred something like the Incidents from this book scattered through the others; I would have found that much easier to turn into a campaign for my group.

The content is actually tied quite closely to the Far Side of Nowhere, and most naturally fits that part of the journey, although much could be relocated elsewhere if you wanted to. I wonder if it was originally intended to be part of that book?

Having massacred the ihatei plotting to invade Paal to rid it of its supposed secret masters, the superintelligent squid, the Diplomats now strike while the iron is hot, negotiating a treaty with the human rulers…

Paal, 1108 Weeks 17-27

The actual negotiations are not too difficult, as Paal is already a Haven and has just witnessed an impressive demonstration of the firepower Drinax and its treaty partner Pourne can bring to bear in their defence.

No, the hard part is figuring out which of the dozens of independent nations to negotiate with; they settle on the four nations with the most clout, the Starport Authority, and the Railway Institute – the latter two are pan-governmental and are practiced in negotiating deals with multiple nation states. The Drinaxians make it clear that they need to go off and do some grown-up stuff for a bit, and when they get back, they want to negotiate with a single person who is empowered to speak for the planet and will be made a Drinaxian noble so that he has sufficient influence at court.

Everything is going swimmingly until Felix’s luck strikes again, and he rolls an incredible series of aces on his Persuasion roll, ending with a score so high that the assembled powers offer him the position of God-Emperor of Paal with the current heads of state acting as his advisory council, should he deign to listen to them. Meanwhile, Paal cheerfully signs up as the third member of the Drinax-Pourne-Paal Naval Mutual Defence Alliance.

Felix doesn’t want to be God-Emperor of a hick agri-world in the neck end of nowhere, though, and falls back on “We can discuss details later,” and “Of course I owe fealty to King Oleb so he would need to be consulted.” This is not going to go the way he wants, as we shall shortly see…

In Transit, 1108 Weeks 28-30

Our Heroes send a coded message to Tech-World via the Ching Shih that they want to buy a particle accelerator for none-of-your-business and have it shipped back to Drinax, then they make their way back to Drinax via Pourne.

While at Pourne they persuade the Pourne government to send crews to salvage the ihatei wreckage and start to bootstrap Paal’s technology (for a price, of course).

There is also much talk of how to use the megafreighter Yarrow to evacuate Drinax if necessary, and how they might pay for its running costs. They decide to talk Lord Wrax into sending a Vespexer crew under Drinaxian officers to repair the Yarrow in Marduk orbit.

Drinax, 1108 Weeks 31-39

A couple of months are spent politicking on Drinax, waiting for the particle accelerator to arrive, and reporting back to their sponsor, Princess Rao.

Rao likes the idea of Felix being God-Emperor of Paal, as it gives her a loyal subordinate in charge. She doesn’t like the idea of the Yarrow as the flagship of the Drinaxian Navy, because she can’t afford to operate it. However, if the party can think of a way to fund it themselves, fair enough.

Lord Wrax agrees to their scheme, and also to loan them his prized particle accelerator, but only on condition he can send an observer along with them. Baron hault-Belzoni is also offered a place on the expedition to recover the Treasures of Sindal, on the grounds that otherwise he will stow away.

In Transit, 1108 Weeks 40-44

An uneventful period.

Thebus, 1108 Week 45

Our heroes now encounter the Proactive Recycling Company and get off on the wrong foot, exchanging some harsh words and not a few laser blasts. The PRC come off worse, and disengage, allowing the party to pick through their orbital junkpile. Here, they find the coordinates of the Sindalian courier they’re looking for…

To be continued…

GM Notes

Felix’s Persuasion skill continues to amuse. Most of the time it’s OK, but occasionally it goes completely nuts and gains him fanatically loyal followers which he then spends months trying to get rid of. The Templars from Neumann have only just given up trying to convert Drinax and gone home, and now it looks like the entire population of Paal have fallen in love with him.

Meanwhile, the rest of the party has decided that he ought to marry Rao at the end of the campaign.

As none of us are very fond of the new Chase rules, and it saves me a lot of work converting ships, this space combat was run as a Dangerous Staged Quick Encounter. It was more fun than a Chase, but still doesn’t feel quite right. I expect another punch-up shortly so need to think about space combat some more.

I have ditched trading altogether now in favour of the concept of ‘group advances’; when the PCs get an advance, so does the group as a whole, and they can use it to upgrade a ship, or a base, or anything else they can talk me into. So far they have been using it to fix up the Lady Mary, but that is about done now so we’ll have to think of something else to do with them. Maybe a look at the Rippers! lodge rules would be beneficial?

A few products I’ve picked up throughout the year and didn’t get around to reviewing… they’re pretty small, so they get capsule reviews.

Distant Journeys

Two-page PDF published under the Savage Worlds Adventurers’ Guild, expanding SWADE’s Staged Encounters to cover long-distance travel.

This looks to me like a Savaged version of the travel rules in the original The One Ring game – those have been converted for several other games since. The party allocates characters to four different roles, and each role in turn makes a skill roll to see how well they do. The success or failure of each roll generates consequences such as fatigue, or possibly an encounter with something hostile.

Like most RPG products it has a default assumption that you’re playing high fantasy, but there’s nothing a few trappings wouldn’t take care of for another setting.

This one is likely to get used at some point.

Fast Lane Hacking

Another SWAG product, three-page PDF expanding hacking rules as a kind of Dramatic Task. There’s a new edge, a setting rule, new gear (cyber decks and utilities), and a five-step system for hacking into that corporate mainframe.

Unusually, this one is focused on the cyberpunk genre, but would work for a modern-day hacker as well.

This one will probably not get used, because I don’t run cyberpunk games – they’re too much like the day job, if somewhat more exciting.

Savage Worlds Solo Players Guide

More SWAG, this time 15 pages. This includes discussion and guidance on how to play a game of Savage Worlds without a GM, and tools to do so; the Closed Question Oracle which answers yes/no questions, an Open Question Oracle to generate improvisational prompts and surprises, and commentary on NPC reactions, bennies and whatnot. To me, it feels like a Savage Worlds implementation of the Mythic GM Emulator.

Personally, I think solo play needs some sort of random encounter table. One could use the Open Question Oracle for this, at a pinch.

I already have a large number of solitaire gaming rules, and I prefer those to this product.

SWADE Chase Examples

What it says on the tin. This one is from Pinnacle and includes actual play examples of two foot chases, a car chase, and a space dogfight.

The authors also note that if you’re interested in the outcome of a chase, but not the turn by turn details, it can be replaced by a Quick Encounter.

I struggled with the new chase rules and found these useful, but the light bulb moment was the second foot chase, which is actually a dungeon crawl – encounters using the chase rules need not be actual chases!

The narrative now switches tracks to focus on the Diplomats for a while. We know that they spend the first 12 weeks of 1108 negotiating a treaty with the government of Pourne, after which they learn of the ihatei assault on Paal and move to deal with it…

Pourne, 1108 Weeks 01-12

To summarise events:

Week 1: Travelling to Pourne aboard the Lady Mary.

Weeks 2-3: Initial conversations. The government of Pourne welcomes Drinax’s diplomats but politely tells them this is a local planet for local people, and there’s nothing for them here. (They are paranoid xenophobes.) The Diplomats point out that The Aslan Are Coming! and the Drinaxians may be foreign but at least they’re not furry.

Weeks 4-5: Government. Pourne says the new Kingdom of Drinax, should they join it, should have a parliament in which all worlds have an equal voice. The party counters with the idea of a feudal state in which Pourne would be a dukedom. Other, lesser, worlds would have a lesser voice, after all they could be scheming against Pourne – this last point strikes home.

Weeks 6-7: Security. Pourne wants the primary purpose of any alliance to be defence against external threats. The Diplomats argue that this would be counter-productive and economic impact and technological investment also need to be considered, and sway some of the attendees to their viewpoint.

Weeks 8-9: Technology. Pourne wants the primary purpose of the alliance to be technological uplift, TL 16 here we come. (Yes, they have two mutually incompatible primary goals, this is a bureaucracy and these talks are with a different set of representatives.) The Diplomats propose that Pourne should upskill itself with educational support from Drinax, and point out that Tech-World is already an ally.

Weeks 10-11: Negotiations conclude. Pourne thinks Drinax needs them more than they need Drinax, but signs up to a mutual defence and trade pact, improving its status from Suspicious to Neutral.

At this point the Black Ops team arrives in Grace O’Malley and warns that the ihatei from Kteiroa are going to invade Paal because they think it is secretly controlled by superintelligent squid, which, errm, they sort of made up to divert the aslan from hitting Drinax or Asim instead.

While the NPC crew are preparing for space, the Diplomats take a couple of days to identify a damaged scoutship for the Bureau of Investigation, which is concerned it may be the vanguard of an invasion. They successfully identify it as an Oghman raider, and advise that while the Oghmans are indeed a threat, they’re nothing the Pourne Navy can’t handle. The friends they make doing this apply their influence in Drinax’s favour, and Pourne shifts again, to Tolerant.

Week 12 sees the Diplomats and the Black Ops team both in jumpspace, headed for Paal – in the company of a rapid reaction force from the Pourne Navy, having invoked the mutual defence part of the treaty.

Paal, 1108 Weeks 13-16

Week 13: While the Grace O’Malley refuels covertly in the outer system and heads off to Cordan, the Lady Mary leads the Pourne Navy task force and a swarm of AI-controlled missiles previously bought on Tech-World against the ihatei, hitting them while they are emerging from jumpspace and trying to land, inflicting 20% casualties on the intruders.

Week 14: While the Pourne Navy interdicts the ihatei from orbit, Lady Mary and her crew use their superior avionics and drones to provide surveillance and jamming. Aslan casualties are 50% by the end of the week, and losses among Paal’s militias reach 10%.

Week 15: The meat grinder continues, with aslan casualties reaching 80% – but their morale holds, and they turn at bay. Old Elyo remains in command, and the aging leader wants nothing more than a glorious death in combat.

Week 16: The aslan break and try to withdraw, but the Diplomats decide letting any of them go would send the wrong message, and the Pourne Navy wipes them out to a cat as they try to claw their way back out of the gravity well. This total victory tips Paal over the edge politically, and it is now a Haven for our pirates.

As the credits roll, Our Heroes decide they should strike while the iron is hot and try to negotiate a treaty with Paal as well. They descend from orbit, leaving the Pourne task force to “provide security”…

GM Notes

I’ve been ill recently, wanted to see the Diplomats catch up with the Black Ops guys, and didn’t see a way to get a good adventure for this group out of either of those situations; so we used the Social Conflict and Mass Battle rules respectively to deal with them. Each situation took about an hour to work through, so it wasn’t as fast as I expected, but then this is the first time we’ve used either subsystem.

Social Conflict worked well, offering a good balance of roleplaying and abstract resolution. Mass Battles seemed to be very sensitive to any discrepancy in Force Tokens between the two sides, and also seems to be focused on situations where the party is a small cog in a large machine, conducting some sort of important spec ops mission while the broader battle rages around them; so I don’t think I was using it to best advantage. I also didn’t allow for the party bringing a planetary navy with them to the fight, but it was a logical extension of what they’d just negotiated. (They wanted to bring the army as well, but I said a bureaucracy couldn’t move as fast as they wanted.) So, Social Conflict fine as is, Mass Battle needs further study.

One thing I do like about SWADE is the way you can zoom in or out of the detail like this to fast-forward through things which are important to the story line, but which don’t especially interest the players or the GM – or which you don’t have time for in a short session.

Without any of the players really noticing, they have started the ball rolling to assemble the new Kingdom of Drinax; events, some of which they manufactured, have just pushed them over the edge. Now, they’re out in the long grass where the big dogs go, and the Imperium and the Hierate will start to take notice…

One of these days I’ll get these races right. Hopefully, third time lucky.

This rewrite is driven by player complaints that the earlier version of aslan limits their choices too much and produces characters which are too much alike; this seems tied to them not wanting to have mental Hindrances such as Code of Honour forced on them. I also noted that different editions of Traveller have treated the races in different ways. Finally, I considered that as SWADE is a point-buy system, the characteristic modifiers are not required – if you want a strong aslan, you buy up Strength, you don’t need a dice roll modifier to increase your chances of a strong PC; however, if you look at the races in the core rulebook, other races have attribute boosts, so I discarded that last idea.

Figures in [ ] are the racial points costs, which should balance to +2.


Aslan have always had dewclaws. Sometimes they have heightened senses or the ability to leap into combat, sometimes not. Usually, but not initially, they have been portrayed as bigger than humans. The code of honour and the hunger for land have always been there for aslan raised in the Hierate, but seem to be cultural rather than innate, as in most editions of the rules, aslan raised in the Third Imperium, among humans, don’t have them.

  • Attribute Increase (Strength) [2]: Aslan begin with Strength d6 and may increase it to d12+1.
  • Claws [2]: Aslan have a retractable dewclaw in each thumb which inflicts Str+d4 damage.
  • Size +1 [1]: Aslan are larger than the average human. They gain +1 Toughness and may increase Strength further, to a racial maximum of d12+2.
  • Attribute Penalty (Agility) [-2]: Aslan suffer a -1 penalty on Agility rolls, but not on skills linked to Agility.
  • Hindrance (Minor): All Thumbs [-1]: Aslan are less dexterous than humans, because they have jackknives built into their thumbs and only three fingers. They suffer a -2 penalty when using mechanical or electrical devices, and a Critical Failure when using such a device means they have broken it.


Vargr have always been small and had fangs. Sometimes, but not always, they have heightened senses.

  • Attribute Increase (Agility) [2]: Vargr begin with Agility d6 and may increase it to d12+1.
  • Bite [1]: Vargr have fangs which cause Str+d4 damage.
  • Skill Bonus (Notice) [2]: Vargr have superior senses of smell and hearing, and enjoy a +2 bonus on Notice rolls which rely on either of those senses.
  • Attribute Penalty (Strength) [-2]: Vargr suffer a -1 penalty on Strength rolls, but not on skills linked to Strength.
  • Size -1 [-1]: Vargr are smaller than the average human and reduce Size and Toughness by one point.


Ship missiles are now Hellfires rather than Sidewinders, so they do more damage than lasers, which is right and proper; and I noticed the rule that point defence rolls against missiles are at -6, which means most of the time they don’t matter. Neither of those seems worth a post.

The various parts of my Savage Traveller guidelines keep changing, so I’m going to shift them to a page in the top-level menu and just update that instead.

This has recently appeared on the Pinnacle website here; I’ve long been a fan of the Savage Worlds test drives, so I thought I’d take a look.

This is a 12 page free-to-download PDF, full colour everywhere but easily suppressed to something print-friendly by deselecting layers.

Broadly speaking you have a cover, five pages of rules, a two-page scenario, six pregenerated PCs, and a page of cards for the supernatural powers two of the PCs have.

The first thing I noticed is that it’s tightly focused on the Weird West and the Deadlands setting. I suppose the rules are portable enough, but there’s nothing here that would help you play any other setting or adventure, really.

The second thing was that there are no character creation or advancement rules, just the pregens. I can see why you’d do that in a test drive, because you want people to dive in and play without worrying about whether they’ve spent build points correctly or created a viable PC; but it would be handy for them to be able to tweak that pregen and advance it for a few sessions.

The third thing is that there’s no gear listed apart from what the pregens have. So long as you’re running Deadlands, that’s not an issue; as soon as you want to run something else, it is.

Now, there is no reason why I should expect Pinnacle to give me enough of the core rules to create and run a campaign in a free handout, but I really liked it when they did. You could give a new player a copy of the SW Deluxe handout (the most recent one was focused on Lankhmar) and be confident that they could create a viable (if human) PC of their own and equip it for any genre from the ancient world to the present day with no more than a couple of questions. You could slap a copy in your bag and be confident you could run a session from it wherever and whenever you were, so long as you had your dice, pencils and paper. And I did, lots of times. Even when I had the full rules with me, I would often run sessions just from the Test Drive because it was quick and easy to use.

No complaints here – it’s free, and they make it pretty clear from the cover that “it’s all about the Deadlands, baby”, but as with a number of things about SWADE, I think Deluxe did this better. Maybe when they are not pushing Deadlands so hard – the new edition is freshly released, after all, and it has always been the flagship setting – they might come back to this and do something I like better. However, it looks like their production queue is full until late 2022 at the earliest.

TL:DR: Fine if you want Deadlands, otherwise not as good as its Deluxe equivalent.

Previously, on the Pirates of Drinax: The Drinaxi black ops team has been rudely interrupted by a marine in battle dress while trying to break into the vault of the treasure ship Martin II. Now, read on – and ahead there be spoilers both for the Pirates of Drinax and Shadows of Sindal.

Arunisiir, 1108 Week 45

“Step away from my troopers!” slurs the marine commander. Vlantyn and Ranil comply, distracting him while Dr Agatha and Vinnie take the lift down to D Deck, and emerge where they can see the commander’s legs and lower body on the ladder to C Deck. Dr Agatha intends to close and sedate him, but belatedly the commander realises that he needs to climb out and retreat into the refectory or Vlantyn and Ranil will be on top of him. Vinnie sees him start to move and looses a burst of laser rifle fire which penetrates even his battle dress and incapacitates him.

In his suit, the commander weighs some 200 kilos so they decide to leave him where he is. Those downstairs take the lift back up, and there is now nothing to stop them opening the vault, which they do.

Vlantyn has previously dismounted the grav modules from Grace O’Malley’s air/raft, and summons the Vespexers to start unloading. It’s a slow process, as they have to manhandle one-ton cargo modules out of the vault, into the lift, down to D Deck, across the corridor and through Ezh’s makeshift tunnel into the Grace.

Vlantyn realises that the guard on the rear airlock will eventually notice this, so takes him some sedative-spiked coffee. This fails to incapacitate him, but he does feel a bit queasy, so Dr Agatha is summoned; she first gives him more sedatives, which have no effect, then tries to persuade him to leave his post, but he refuses, so Vinnie clobbers him with a spanner. They tie him up but leave him in the corridor.

Figuring he’s done his part, Vinnie scoops up all the gems, rare objets d’art and documents he can find in the vault, and runs off to his stateroom, where he will later be found on his bed, running his fingers through millions of Credits worth of jewellery and gemstones.

The Vespexers establish a human and grav module chain and have soon transferred five tons of goods – an even mixture of pharmaceuticals, which Dr Agatha can appraise quickly to select the good stuff, and data drums full of encrypted mail, which Ezh argues assertively must be worth something or they wouldn’t be in the vault of a treasure ship.

At this point, the purser manages to stagger down from C Deck and collapses at Vlantyn’s feet, pulling a document from inside his jacket. “You found this in the vault,” he gasps. “Understand?”

They decide to stuff him and the document in a crate, sling them across to their ship, and sort it out later. They also decide that failing to tie up the other crew members they’ve drugged was a tactical error, and go round the ship zip-tying them to avoid further surprises.

Shortly, two more crew return from the bar, and notice the incapacitated guard. Our Heroes feign surprise and try to persuade them to help with him, but they’re not buying it, and when Ranil sees one make a lunge for a big red button by the hatch, he intervenes, slugging the would-be whistleblower. However, he shrugs it off and punches the button; at once alarms sound throughout the Martin II and Ezh will later report that coloured strobes started flashing on the hull at the same time.

They decide it’s time to go and shepherd the final crate through into their own hold. Ezh had previously filed a flight plan for the earliest time they might have been able to leave, and the engineer has been faking minor breakdowns to account for the delay ever since; with only a handful of ships in port, missing a slot isn’t a big deal, especially on a world with law level 0.

Vlantyn and Dr Agatha jam the alarms radiating from the treasure ship while Vinnie sweet-talks the control tower from his bed, and Ezh takes the ship up with a studied calm – nothing to see here folks, move along.

The party’s luck holds, and they reach a safe distance before the close escort in orbit notices anything wrong. As they prepare the jump, they notice the Imperial rescue fleet jumping insystem at the limit of their sensors.

In Transit, 1108 Weeks 46-50

The party jump to Blue, then Torpol, where they file a flight plan for Oghma but actually swerve off the Florian Route and jump to Drinax instead. During this last leg, they reset their own identities and the ship’s to the ones registered on Cordan.

While in jumpspace, they talk to the Martin II‘s Purser (kidnapped) and Astrogator (agreed to leave with them) and review their loot. The most interesting item is that the Purser brought with him; it appears to be a treaty between the Imperium and the Aslan Hierate which is political dynamite as it overturns the Peace of Ftahalr and sells out many worlds in the current buffer zone which depend on Imperial protection against the aslan. However, as Vlantyn points out, if it were real it would have been in the vault – the fact that the Purser wants you to pretend you found it in there means it must be a forgery.

They deduce from various clues and interviews that both their guests are working for GeDeCo, and piece together GeDeCo’s scheme to incite war between the Hierate and the Imperium; they decide this is above their pay grade and resolve to hand the treaty and the Purser over to Princess Rao when they get back to Drinax. They are no clearer on who was behind the other rival faction – the ones who blew up the jump drive by mistake.

Drinax, 1108 Weeks 51-52

While the Grace O’Malley is undergoing her annual overhaul, the party have their loot appraised and discover that even after handing over a 10% cut to King Oleb they have about MCr 2.7 each. The Imperium meanwhile has put a bounty of Cr 78,000 each on the heads of the pirates who robbed the Martin II.

Princess Rao is pleased with the treaty and thinks it best to leak it unattributably, and soon – but that falls into the Diplomats’ line of work.

One of the objets d’art is a small golden rod with data storage components, which the Scholars’ Tower determines is the key to a hidden bunker on Paal, a former vassal world of Sindal and later Drinax. King Oleb believes the bunker would hold either regalia which would improve his claim to the throne of the Sindalian Empire, or vast quantities of money; either way, his orders are the same – go there, break in, and plunder it.

GM Notes

Finally the dice turned against the PCs; the marines simply refused to be persuaded or sedated, so more direct measures were required – and battle dress proved surprisingly vulnerable to laser rifles; I’m starting to understand why Pinnacle did not feel the need to include that many SF weapons in the core rules. However, the party did manage to sneak away before the close escort realised what was going on, and escaped with their loot. They never encountered the pirate gang behind the other infiltrators, but will learn of the gang’s activities from news bulletins over the next few months.

The spotlight now turns back to the diplomatic party for a while; they need to negotiate treaties on several worlds, sort out the aslan invasion of Paal which the black ops team set up to divert ihatei away from Drinax, and then finish off the adventure they were partway through when we left them.

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