The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

The Drinaxian Black Ops team is stooging around Oghma, picking off returning raiders, while debating what to do next… Spoilers ahead!

Oghma, 1109 Week 52 – 1110 Week 04

After extensive discussion, the Black Ops team decides on a plan. Convinced that they are out of their depth, they have sent a message to Drinax asking for help, specifically somebody with the Ducal codes in the hope that Khourge the Blind is actually a Sindalian AI who will accept King Oleb as the legitimate heir to the throne of the Empire if presented with said codes. They settle in to buy time for either the codes, or the Pourne Navy, to turn up and help them out; if all the Oghmans boil out at once, the GeDeCo facility is toast, and them with it.

Over the next few weeks, they spoof Oghman communications to present the impression of tension building towards civil war, and cap this off by using the EMP from their one and only nuke to disable the power and communications infrastructure at the starport, and that plus some rocks gathered up in the outer system to trigger Kessler Syndrome in the orbital defence array. With Khourge occupied trying to rebuild the shipyard, which they slagged previously by melting down a fission reactor, this does in fact trigger a civil war as warlord Grydin attacks warlord Brodi, in the mistaken opinion that Brodi is behind the attack on the shipyard. Warlord Ingre waits to see who wins that before committing her forces, and warlord Hink reaches out to the GeDeCo starport – with the surface starport and shipyard both gone, and chunks of flaming debris falling from the skies everywhere, he thinks it’s time to talk. The GeDeCo head of station is of the opinion that Oghma had it coming and won’t lift a finger to help them.

There’s only one person on Drinax Oleb trusts to handle this, so Princess Rao turns up with the ducal codes, and talks the AI into accepting her as envoy plenipotentiary for the Sindalian Empire’s successor state. She thinks she can do business with Hink. The Black Ops team recommend to her that she engages the Oghmans as mercenaries, and deploys them against the Glorious Empire, paying them in food and technology. Everyone agrees it’s too soon to trust them with proper ships.

1110 Weeks 05 to 07 are spent in transit back to Drinax, where the team reluctantly hands back their Harrier and are issued a far trader in exchange. It will take some time to repair the claw marks where Ezh was dragged out of the ship.

Drinax, 1110 Weeks 08-09

The team take their annual leave while their ship is overhauled, and while Vinnie and Ranil obey King Oleb’s instruction to get falling down drunk for two weeks, Dr Agatha researches their next mission and destination, and learns the approximate location of the treasure vault Oleb wants them to clean out.

Meanwhile, Ezh and V’lantyn make a point of strengthening their friendship with Kasiyl the aslan outcast, which they have been cultivating for about a year in game time. V’lantyn gives Kasiyl a blade of his own making, which Kasiyl is delighted with, and Ezh opens up to him about the mistreatment her father suffered at her clan’s hands. Kasiyl knows how that feels, and asks if – when the time is right – they would accompany him back into the Hierate, and help him restore his honour? Ezh agrees readily.

1110 weeks 10-12 are spent in transit, with the team arriving on Paal in week 13.

GM Notes

This was a good time to discuss the way the campaign is going, like adults, and make a few changes.

First, the squid. An enemy that the party refuse to go within five parsecs of because they are so scared of it is very successful, but not terribly useful in the game. So, we agreed to replace them with Commander Jagad, who has a definite grudge against the same PCs. The squid, being extremely secretive, not native to Cordan, and aware that their cover has been blown, will commandeer a passing freighter and depart to places unknown. Commander Jagad will return in a close escort, and demonstrate to the players why they should let me nerf particle accelerators.

Second, Tracey Island. Nobody is really interested in having a fief on Cordan, so since Princess Rao wants a base of operations there, they can deliver some NPCs there to run it for her, and drop in as and when they want.

Third, the Ann Bonney. The Diplomats are the public face of Drinax, so it makes sense for them to have a shiny, conspicuous ship; but the Black Ops team are deniable doers of dirty deeds, so we switched them into a tramp freighter on their return to Drinax, despite token in-character protests from Vinnie and Ezh. They can be the crew, because they insist on keeping the ship close at hand in case they need to run for it.

Finally, freedom of action. The Diplomats are Drinaxian nobles, personal friends of the royal family, and have a track record of continuous success, so it makes sense that they can pick and choose what they do. The Black Ops team score lower on all those, so they will be given orders. Experience over recent years has been that giving the players more choice of scenarios doesn’t really help, they just get more picky. So let’s hope that the Diplomats make good use of their freedom of action.

As to the session itself, I think Makergod has about run its course; another group, one more interested in infiltrating Oghman society and engineering regime change from within, could have stretched this out another half dozen sessions, but this group backed away from several chances to do that and remained focused on the Death From Space options. I favour fun over realism; so as long as we’re all having fun and they can suspend their disbelief in the outcome, I’ll take that as a win. It also presented a credible backdrop for them spending a few Group Advances they had stacked up to shift Oghma to Friendly status.

I think they are being overly risk-averse and underestimating their capabilities, but if they feel they’re out of their depth and want someone else to solve the problem for them, I’ll allow that rather than force them down a path they don’t want to take. This is supposed to be fun, after all.

Sometimes, though, things just fall into place, and the interaction between Ezh and Kasiyl did just that. As if it were planned, the conversation between them pushed all the right buttons for both sides, setting up the storyline for The Prodigal Outcast scenario in a few sessions’ time.

Meanwhile, on to Paal, and Shadows of Sindal…

Here’s the first drop from the last couple of Kickstarters I backed, Pathfinder for Savage Worlds. Bear in mind that this is a beta release, so the final product may differ, and this is only a skim read rather than a detailed examination – no point investing a huge amount of time until the rules stabilise.

This is the core rulebook, a version of the current Adventure Edition modified to fit the tropes of Pathfinder (cough D&D cough) and the world of Golarion in which Pathfinder adventures are set. Consequently, if you only want to play in Golarion, you don’t need SWADE as well, just this book – though if you want to be the GM, you’ll need the Bestiary as well; more on that in a later post.

As I already have, and have reviewed, the SWADE rules on which this product is based, I’ll focus on changes for this post.

If You’ve Never Played Savage Worlds Before

It’s a roleplaying game designed for speed both in preparation and play, and for use across multiple genres and play styles. It’s based on skills rather than classes and levels, has a point-buy character generation system, and rates character attributes and skills as die types – d4, d6 and so on.

To do something, a character rolls the appropriate die for the relevant skill or attribute, and tries to meet or beat a target number; this is the enemy’s Parry to hit them, their Toughness to damage them, and otherwise usually a 4. More experienced characters roll dice with more sides, giving them a better chance of success.

Player characters are differentiated from the rabble by having Bennies (‘luck points’) which they can spend to reroll dice, and a Wild Die – a d6 they roll in addition to their attribute or skill die, and if they like the Wild Die’s score better, they can use that instead.

What’s New?

Ancestries. Or races, as I persist in calling them. The usual SWADE races have been replaced with dwarf, elf, half-elf, half-orc, halfling, human, and gnome. So no rakashans or saurians, for example. Additionally, the racial profiles for ancestries are different from those in basic SWADE, the better to reflect Pathfinder.

Cantrips. You can now cast a one power point version of a power to do something cool, useful, but minor. Use your fire bolt at low power to light a campfire, for example. (Personally, I would allow PCs to do something like this just with an arcane skill roll.) While we’re talking about spells, there are a few new ones; Planar Binding (demon summoning), Planar Travel, Sanctuary, Scrying, Wish.

Class Edges. These encourage characters to emulate the iconic character classes of Pathfinder. Each PC gets one class edge free, which is the start of a tree of edges allowing you to mimic the development of a class-and-level PC; you pick up a new edge from the tree at each Rank. If you don’t want to do that, you can swap the class edge for a background or professional edge. Some class edges also function as an arcane background. Some edges, like Berserk, have been subsumed into class edges and appear not to be available otherwise.

Each class edge is accompanied by one of Pathfinder’s iconic characters, rated for Savage Worlds and with a full list of advances if you don’t want to work those out yourself. This is a really good idea, effectively pregens with recommended advances.

A second new group of edges, Prestige Edges, is introduced to replicate the prestige classes available in Pathfinder.

The ancestries and class edges combine to make PCs a little more powerful than in vanilla SWADE, I’d say the equivalent of two advances worth, so a beginning Novice character here is almost as good as a Seasoned one normally. I dislike this kind of power creep, but in honesty it doesn’t make much difference in play.

Deities, Languages and Planes. SWADE doesn’t specify these, as they are specific to individual settings and it is a generic rules set, but they are significant features of Pathfinder, so they need to be added.

Downtime. Whenever a PC has a week to spare between adventures, he or she can opt to do something like carouse, train, earn some money, or just chill out. There are seven possibilities, each with a mechanical benefit. I like this and might plagiarise it for use in other campaigns.

Encounters. Savage Worlds doesn’t generally try to balance encounters – you’re expected to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run – but Pathfinder and D&D do, so someone coming from those game systems would expect some advice on balancing encounters, and here it is; essentially, if the PCs and the opposition are about equal, you pit them against two Extras per PC plus a single Wild Card boss (who himself is probably worth three Extras). I’ve never balanced encounters for PCs and I’m not going to start now; you meet what you meet, and it’s up to you how you deal with it. This is interesting to see, though.

Gear. You can now put spikes on your armour and shields, giving bonuses on damage in some circumstances. You can buy alchemical items like everburning torches. There’s also a separate chapter on buying, creating and using magic items, which suits the high-magic reality of Golarion – vanilla SWADE doesn’t have this, although artificers and weird scientists can effectively build them as one-of-a-kind items you can’t just nip out to the shops and fill your shopping cart with healing potions. If you’re looking for a Cape of the Mountebank or Ioun Stones, that chapter is where you’ll find them.

Skills. A couple of minor changes, for example Research is now part of Academics, but Science is now separate.

Traps. I hesitate to call the section on traps ‘rules’ as it is very straightforward; a Notice roll to find one, and a Thievery roll to disarm it. Traps may be mechanical, magical, or haunts, the last being the effects of restless spirits.

What’s Changed?

The illustrations are, as you might expect, specific to the setting rather than covering multiple settings as in SWADE.

Advancement in SWADE ranges from one advance every session to one per three sessions; this book recommends slowing that even further for long campaigns, one per 2-3 sessions initially, slowing to one per 4-5 at Heroic Rank, and possibly requiring the heroes to complete a specific objective before they can take an advance.

Costs are in gold pieces rather than generic $, and starting amounts are different too. Gear is focused more on the mediaeval period, but adds more items available in that period.

There are a few changes in the combat rules, I’d have to try those out before I understand how significant they are. For example, being flanked seems to be more dangerous than before as shields don’t always count. However, the Joker’s Wild and Wound Cap setting rules are permanently in play, meaning that you can never take more than four wounds from a single attack, and increasing the flow of Bennies. Enemy Wild Cards appear to have three Bennies each now instead of two, as well. So overall, this is probably a wash.

What’s Gone?

Arcane Backgrounds, other than Magic, Miracles, or those provided via Class Edges.

Chases. They may come back later on though, because they do serve a useful purpose and as well as being the section of the rules I have most trouble with personally, they are something that the authors change repeatedly, both between editions and during development of a new version.

Guns and SF equipment, obviously. Although I think Pathfinder has a gunslinger class, so we might see something like flintlocks later on, possibly in the promised Companion book. Personally, I prefer not to include gunpowder in my fantasy campaigns, so I’m fine with this. There are cannons and bombards under special weapons, though.

Most of the Bestiary is gone, but that is most likely because a separate Bestiary volume is planned. Here you’ll find several types of humans (townsfolk, town guards and whatnot) and a sampling of animals and undead. If you want to GM Pathfinder for Savage Worlds, you’ll need the Bestiary as well.

Conclusions

There are a lot of minor tweaks here, but with one exception, no more than you would find when moving from one SW campaign to another. That exception is a big one, though; the introduction of Class Edges to encourage players to follow the iconic character classes both in character creation and ongoing play. I’m pleased to see those are optional, and also pleased to see them presented as a range of pregens with recommended advancement paths.

Previously, on Pirates of Drinax… Infiltrating the Asphodel Manufactory where the Oghman raiders’ ships are built, the Drinaxian Black Ops team has taken control of the computer core – but not in time to stop a massive data upload. Now, with alarms blaring and the sound of many booted feet charging their position, they must decide what to do, and quickly…

Oghma, 1109 Weeks 47-51

The team decides to hold the complex against the incoming raiders long enough for Vlantyn to leave some nasty surprises, then leave the way they came in, freeing slaves as they go and hoping to find a way to get them out safely.

Vlantyn’s hacking of the main computer goes well, and he is able to cut the power to everything except the one train bound for Slouryn, the surveillance cameras, and the complex the team is holed up in.

While Vlantyn is at work, Dr Agatha works the doors so that Vinnie, Ezh and Ranil can pop out and shoot or grenade approaching raiders before Agatha closes them again. Half a dozen casualties suffice to dissuade the raiders from pressing their attack for the moment, and instead they take out their frustrations on the cameras, so the team gradually loses their surveillance advantage.

Vlantyn now sets the complex’s fission reactor to go into meltdown in six hours, and orders the security robots to shoot any human carrying a gun. Ezh realises this means she can act with impunity, as she is not human, but is disappointed when the others realise they now need a non-human to carry their guns. Vinnie argues that the squid masks everyone is wearing on their vacc suit helmets will trick the robots into thinking they are not human, but nobody else is willing to risk their lives on that idea.

The team now falls back from the computer core, managing to avoid the Oghman guards (who in any case all have guns and are somewhat preoccupied with not being killed by the security robots) and freeing slaves as they go. They move into the cargo distribution centre, then the shipyard, then the slave barracks, and finally Ranil and Dr Agatha sneak the slaves into the Slouryn train terminal while Ezh, Vinnie and Vlantyn hold off attacking raiders.

Here they face a moral dilemma; they have accumulated several hundred freed slaves and can only take a few dozen offworld. Things turn ugly as the former slaves work this out, but Dr Agatha and Ezh are able to calm them down long enough to load up the train with everyone it can carry and get the hell out of Dodge – leaving the other slaves to fend for themselves.

Leaving the train with a few dozen slaves, the team exits the train tunnels via a ruined maintenance shed they found earlier, and call for evac.

Reversing the infiltration course plotted for them by one of the finest astrogators and EW officers in the sector (Khugi), the team makes good its escape; life support is hideously overloaded, but works long enough for the trip to the GeDeCo starport in the outer system. After offloading the former slaves, the team offers their services to GeDeCo in bolstering the starport’s defences, and spends the next few weeks zapping returning Oghman raiders – and deciding what to do next. During this time they learn that most of the slaves they freed were either recaptured or irradiated when the fission reactor melted down.

No-one is keen on going back to Cordan to face off against the superintelligent psionic squid (who are not mind flayers at all, oh dear me no), and the orders to rescue prisoners from the Glorious Empire haven’t been issued yet, leaving them with the options of finding and looting a hidden bunker on Paal or filling in the gaps in Drinax’s burgeoning empire; the obvious choices are Oghma, Hilfer and Torpol, which would give them a nearly contiguous strip of allied systems able to levy tariffs on both major trade routes.

GM Notes

Dice rolls were amusingly extreme this session, which I like about Savage Worlds; they ranged from Vlantyn rolling a 31 (success and six raises) to hack the main computer to the NPC backup crew’s critical failure to start the ship up when they called for extraction.

The defence of the computer core was handled using the full combat rules, which we are getting steadily more fluent in; the escape from the complex was run as an Agility-based chase, as while the PCs had grav belts, the rescued slaves did not. For the chase, my lack of familiarity with the rules meant I was winging a lot of it, but with only 10 minutes to go to the scheduled end of the session I didn’t want to stop to look things up.

I like to pose moral dilemmas to the players, and here the obvious one was this: Since they couldn’t save everyone, how would they choose who to save? Those getting on the ship were chosen with ruthless pragmatism by Vinnie – closest 30 to the front. As for the rest, the players basically told them their options and left them to work it out for themselves. To be fair, there’s no easy answer, and there was a lot of time pressure – on the players as the session drew to a close, and on the PCs as some very tough Oghman raiders are closing in on them.

Why was there a fission reactor in the complex when it has ample geothermal power? It is the Way of the Bond Movie; if you’re not prepared to let the players take over the villain’s base, you must ensure it is destroyed before they can do so. This setup meant they were having too much fun plotting to blow up the base to wonder how useful it would be if they took it over, or why the fission pile was there at all.

The players continue to play it safe by not getting into fights they don’t think they can win. This is fine for the moment, as I have lots of adventure material left; but at some point it could become a problem. They especially want to avoid the mind flayers, even at the cost of abandoning their fief on Cordan and never going there again; but what they have forgotten is that two of them took the ilithids as Enemies. If the PCs will not go to the squid, the squid must go to the PCs…

While we’re looking at the Pirates of Drinax from a mid-campaign GM’s perspective, let’s do the same for the Savage Traveller rules I’m running it under.

In general, I’m happy with how Savage Worlds Adventure Edition performs, and it meshes with Traveller very well. Looking at specifics…

Psionics: As usual in recent SW campaigns, players were divided between those who thought PCs with Arcane Backgrounds were grossly overpowered game-breakers, and those who thought it was impossible to play one because of the restrictions imposed (in this case, taking Secret as a Major Hindrance). This was brought to the fore by two strongly anti-psionic PCs who publicly stated their intention to kill the psionic PC if they ever found out about her powers.

Aslan: As usual any time I stat up aslan in any rules system, some players felt the racial package made all aslan the same; this seems to be caused by the Code of Honour Hindrance I prefer them to have, as no one ever complains about physical disadvantages. From now on, I’ll just use the rakashan profile from the core rules and have done with it, I’ve been having this argument with various people for over 20 years now and I don’t want to debate the point any further. (Aslan have been getting gradually bigger and stronger in every edition of Traveller since the 1970s, so this actually resets them to about human-sized, where they started; the 2.8 metre towers of muscle in Pirates of Drinax are a relatively new interpretation.)

I could’ve avoided those problems either by banning aslan and psionic PCs, or by using one of the numerous Traveller or Cepheus Engine rule systems, but the former would rule out some interesting adventure possibilities, and the latter would trip up over another strong feeling some players have that PCs should advance every session, or every other session at most. I blame WFRP3 for that.

For NPCs, it’s easiest to say that human Extras use the Soldier template, while aslan ones use the Experienced Soldier template.

Edges: You could make owning a ship an edge, or several, but it’s simpler and easier just to let the group pick one from a shortlist of ones I don’t mind them having. At least that way you don’t wind up with a small fleet as every PC takes the shipowner edge. Membership in the Travellers’ Aid Society is essentially a trapping on the Rich Edge, and nobility can be represented by the Aristocrat Edge, with or without Rich backing it up.

Gear: Less is more. You don’t need rules for, say, respirators any more than you need rules for umbrellas. You don’t need loads of extra gear, weapons and armour, because lasers, light civilian body armour and infantry battle suits are so good you don’t need extra high-tech weapons or armour. So in future I’ll run things from the core rules as written, although I will continue to ban laser swords, as they don’t really go with the setting.

I did unbend far enough to allow Ezh the aslan warrior woman two non-standard weapons; a monomolecular assegai, whose damage and AP are midway between the sword and the knife, and a bow that fires explosive arrows (which are basically ranged bang-sticks). These she got from Tech-World.

Starships: Using stock Traveller designs with some quick-and-dirty conversion guidelines works well, but in hindsight I should have limited weapons to heavy lasers, gatling lasers, and missiles. Particle accelerators as I converted them are overpowered – you can tell that by the unanimous resistance from the players to nerfing them – and nobody uses sandcasters. Manoeuvre drive rating -3 for Handling works well, as does using tonnage on the SWADE Vehicle Guide size table to define Toughness, armour and Wounds. The Chase rules still feel awkward to me, but most times you’re better off with a Dramatic Task, Quick Encounter or Mass Battle anyway – the Chase rules are for your big, dramatic set-piece finale, if that happens to be a chase. Maybe I should play a few more Chases off-screen to get a better feel for them, they are the rules I’m having the most trouble with.

As well as broadening the range of adventures I can run, having two parties operating more or less in parallel serves to slow down the rate of advancement. My SW campaigns tend to peter out shortly after PCs hit Legendary Rank, which happens around 30-50 sessions into the game; having two parties extends the campaign life, hopefully to somewhere in the 80-100 session range, or at our present rate, two years in real time.

Group Advances worked well in the early game to represent the huge quantities of cash successful merchants and pirates have sloshing around, but around episode 40 or so, once the players had fixed up their Harriers and shifted the allegiances of a couple of planets, they stopped using them. If I’d started them with a fixed-up Harrier and hand-waved trade entirely, I think that would have worked equally well.

In conclusion, I over-complicated Savage Traveller; you can do almost everything with the core rulebook, and I’m reverting to that wherever I can. The only thing the players have balked at removing is their ships’ particle accelerators, and what I should have done is made those quad-linked heavy lasers from the outset. Next time, Gadget, next time.

Softer Ride

“I ain’t gonna work, I ain’t gonna work no more.” – Status Quo, Softer Ride

I had planned to retire in 2023, but circumstances this year have given me a chance to go earlier, and I’ve seized it with both hands. As of now, I’m done, and the third act starts in earnest.

It’s a big change, and I suspect my planning hasn’t covered all the angles; also, I had hoped to retire in an economically stable time, but that ship sailed a while ago, and it’ll be many years before it returns, if it ever does.

While this gives me a lot more time to focus on things that matter to me, I’m not sure how much difference it will make on the gaming front; I’ll probably have the time for more campaigns, but whether I’ll have the motivation remains to be seen.

I also expect to have more time to blog, although again it’s not yet clear whether I actually will or not.

I will cut back on buying new games and backing Kickstarters, but that’s more about sending a message to my family about my being financially responsible than it is about the actual expense – gaming, at least the way I do it, is a relatively cheap hobby.

Now, to find out if I really have enough money to retire or not. Alea jacta est!

One thing I am commonly asked about is my opinion of the Pirates of Drinax, so here are my thoughts – no game this week as it clashed with Amber Con North West.

TL:DR

This is the best Traveller adventure and setting I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended. It will be hard for me to improve on it in future campaigns.

I reviewed it here before we started playing; this post is the GM’s view from roughly halfway through the campaign.

The Good

As a story arc, Pirates has ten set piece adventures that can be played in pretty much any order, except that Blood of the Star Dragon needs to go near the end, and Finale has to be right at the end. Most of these we’ve played have taken 8-10 hours each to play through, and usually we bypass about half the content either by the players’ Cunning Plans or because I can see they’re not really interested in something.

As a sandbox, the Trojan Reach has 327 worlds (roughly 25% chance of a world per hex overall); about a third of those have some sort of description, and about 10% of them have specific capsule adventures over and above the 10 big set-pieces. The capsule adventures are taking about 4 hours each to run on average. The Reach is so large and detailed that I could – and might – run multiple campaigns in it, some of which could easily have nothing to do with Drinax and its ambitions of empire.

So on the whole, you might reasonably expect to get about fifty 4-hour sessions out of the basic set, and that’s before you start running any actual piracy. It’s also easy to slot in any number of homebrew adventures, other published adventures (notably those by Christopher Griffen and Mongoose’s Reach Adventures), and expansions of capsule adventures mentioned in the various books. At this point, we’re playing almost every week and I expect the campaign to last about two years in real time, and about ten years of game time.

The campaign is also good at accommodating different play styles. My players are not at all interested in being pirates, but they do like the political intrigues and the black ops missions; bypassing the actual piracy hasn’t caused any problems at all, but has probably reduced the length of the campaign by 25-50%.

The adventures we’ve enjoyed the most so far are Treasure Ship, Demon’s Eye, the Vorito Gambit, and the Cordan Conflict. All except the last are in the basic set, the last is now in the Drinaxian Companion. I’m also impressed with Christopher Griffen’s adventures, but we haven’t really finished those yet so I am reserving judgement until we do. Makergod and the partially-completed trilogy set around the Golden Empire could easily be run as mini-campaigns in their own right.

The Bad

Given how important the Aslan Route and the Florian Route are to the story, I’m surprised they’re not marked on either the sector map or any of the subsector or adventure maps. If you’re running this campaign, I strongly recommend having some kind of map showing those routes.

There are a number of continuity errors that seem to have crept in over the years. For example, the Dolberg in the 2nd Edition core rules (governed by psychic space whales) doesn’t match up with the Dolberg in the Pirates of Drinax (under GeDeCo’s thumb). A number of the world descriptions don’t match up with the world profiles, for example: Does Tech-World have a population of 1, or 4? Is Cordan’s atmosphere breathable, or not? Do Argona’s glaciers cover 10% of the surface, or 75%? Also, I’m sure I caught a couple of cases where the profile was different in different places. None of this stops the campaign working, but it’s worthwhile checking for it before each session and deciding which version of a world is going to be canon for your game.

It did niggle that there are so many bits of Sindalian technology still functional after two thousand years. Although I have personally seen still-functioning Roman aqueducts that old, at least one of which lasted that long without maintenance, so I guess it could happen. The players don’t worry about it, so it’s OK.

It’s just as well the group didn’t want to be pirates, as that would have involved a lot of space combat and detailed treasure valuation; I’m still not happy with how SWADE does space combat (chases), and neither my players nor I have the patience for speculative trading any more. I haven’t tried Mongoose Traveller space combat, and it may work better than SWADE.

The Ugly (or Not)

The adventures are a mix of heists and diplomacy, and I’ve found it helpful to run dual parties, one for each kind of adventure, because the players created some very focused PCs who were not interested in certain adventures. That meant dropping The Game of Sun & Shadow, as it demands a separate set of characters to give ‘the view from the gallery’; the players didn’t want a third set of PCs in the same campaign – understandable, as they’re all playing in other campaigns and felt their attention was being spread too thin. I wasn’t bothered by this as it’s not an adventure I was especially excited about running; it’s adversarial in that the new set of PCs are Imperial Navy personnel tasked with hunting down pirates (yes, including the players’ other PCs).

If you intend to use the other published adventures, such as Makergod or those in Shadows of Sindal, it’s worth getting those you plan to use up front and having some idea of the sequence you want to run them in, and the timing. Shadows of Sindal in particular will be tricky for me to fit in at this stage of the campaign, and I wouldn’t want to leave it any later.

My players – one in particular – wanted to stay close to Drinax, and chafed at wandering off into distant parts of the Trojan Reach, especially during Demon’s Eye. So I zoomed in on an Area of Operations within six parsecs of Blue, which covers the majority of worlds involved in the ten core adventures, with occasional forays off map. (Interestingly, that area contains about 40 worlds, which is what a subsector would have under the core Rules As Written.) In any future campaigns, I would focus on a smaller area, possibly the Borderlands – a jump-4 map centred on Arunisiir would be a good fit, with 23 worlds.

However, while I thought granting them a small fief on Cordan to use as a base of operations would appeal to them, they don’t seem that bothered about it. As usual in SF campaigns, the base of operations is the party’s ship, and they wander all over the place. They do like the opulence and gimmicks of the Harrier-class commerce raider, though, and I recommend giving your players access to that early on.

My sessions, conducted over Roll20 and Discord during the pandemic, have been about two hours long because of constraints on player availability; SWADE handles that easily because you can adjust the level of abstraction from full-on personal combat, say, to Quick Encounters to Mass Battles. If we’d been using Mongoose Traveller 2, which doesn’t have that option, either sessions would have been about twice as long or there would have been more of them.

Overall

The setting and the campaign are both superb. I dithered over getting Pirates for some time, but once I’d bought it, I transitioned all active players out of the homebrew settings I’d been running for 20-odd years, on and off, and into the Trojan Reach. I have not regretted that since.

“Xeog lineage can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Shikar Empire. Most Xeog are part of a devout religious order whose sole purpose is to see the return of the Shikar Empire. Those are not the ones you’re likely to run into. Those have made a science of moving stealthily through the universe. No, the ones that you will mostly encounter are the divas, the ones that enjoy the attention.” – 5150 Fringe Space

Here’s the final episode of Savaged 5150 races, at least for now; there are others, but I’m not minded to go there just yet.

Xeogs

The blue- (and green-) skinned space babes of the 5150 universe. There’s nothing here you couldn’t do with a standard human PC build except the Racial Enemy, and you could replace that with something like a Vow.

  • Attribute Increase (Strength) [+2].
  • Edge: Attractive [+2].
  • Hindrance: Quirk (insatiable hedonist) [-1].
  • Racial Enemies (Hishen Empire) [-1]. -2 Persuasion when dealing with Grath, Hishen, or Razors; may become hostile with negligible provocation.

Zhuh-Zhuh

These are basically intelligent gorillas and monkeys. You could argue for them having Outsider, as they are second-class citizens in the Gaean Hegemony, but officially they are Trusted Aliens and allowed to serve as soldiers or police, so I decided not to do that. You could build either one as a beginning human PC.

Zhuh-Zhuh

  • Edge: Berserk [+2]
  • Edge: Brawny [+2]
  • Hindrance: Impulsive [-2]

Muggie Zhuh-Zhuh

  • Parry [+1]: Parry is enhanced by a prehensile tail.
  • Size -1 [-1]. Reduce Size and Toughness by one.
  • Skill (Athletics) [+2]. Muggie Zhuh-Zhuh are excellent climbers; they begin with Athletics d6 and may increase it to d12+1.

Bugs

These are, for the most part, giant space bugs; I can’t see them as playable characters. I use giant spiders from the Bestiary chapter; for brain bugs, give them normal intelligence and psychic control over the rabble; for flyers, add the Fly special ability; for pukers, add the Breath Weapon special ability.

Close enough for government work.

GM Notes

Actually, there was a PC giant spider in one campaign, back in the day… that was running under The Fantasy Trip if I recall correctly; the spider was a mage with a permanent illusory disguise which made him appear human. The player concerned did this just to annoy another player whose PC had arachnophobia, who knew there was “something creepy about that guy” but couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Good times.

The Black Ops team is somewhere under the Ochre Caldera, infiltrating the Asphodel Manufactory… Here there be spoilers!

Timing their approach for the quietest part of the train timetable, the team flies along the train tunnel on grav belts to the terminus, which they find deserted.

Ignoring the various cargo lift shafts, they make their way down the emergency stairs, deeper into the complex, where they split up and look for clues. While Ranil and Ezh scout ahead as stealthily as they can manage – in Ezh’s case, not very; in Ranil’s case, so well that the others start to wonder if he ever really existed or they just imagined him – Vlantyn and Dr Agatha find a schematic map of the complex, allowing them to work out where the power plant and computer core are.

Vinnie, meanwhile, has found a security robot and the pair open up on each other. The final score is Vinnie: 1, security bot: 0, but before it drops it triggers the intruder alarm.

This means the approach to the computer core is less an action of covert stealth, and more of a running gun battle through the corridors, during the course of which Ezh accidentally shoots Vlantyn in the back with an explosive arrow and covers Vinnie in burning debris. Barging into the control room, they gun down the Oghman and robot guards as slave technicians scatter like a flock of seagulls.

In charge of the core is Khourge the Blind himself, who tries to negotiate with them; Vinnie, who is impulsive and trigger-happy, decides Khourge is just stalling to give the AI time to upload itself to a backup site and shoots him, triggering an all-out fight which begins with laser fire and ends in a stabfest as Ranil, Ezh and Vlantyn use fisticuffs and melee weapons to bring Khourge down, whereupon Vinnie zaps him with twin laser SMGs, ending him. All this damage reveals that Khourge is some kind of robot or cyborg, hence his durability.

Panting, our heroes look around for other threats. Over the sound of the still-blaring intruder alarm, the sound of many booted feet hurrying towards them can be heard down the corridor.

To be continued…

GM Notes

Another session in which not much story happened, but this time because of the run-and-gun approach to the control centre and the fight inside, which took up over half the session. As usual with experienced players, the combats are taking about two minutes per person per combat round, even with the most experienced ones like Vinnie’s player pre-rolling hits and damage so that when it gets to their turn they simply designate a target and tell me how badly it gets hurt.

It’s a long time since I’ve seen this many critical failures in a session. Ezh shot Vlantyn and Shook Vinnie as well, Vinnie failed to recover from Shaken… it got to the point where aspersions were cast on just how random the Roll20 dice engine actually is.

Dr Agatha blew up a security robot with spectacular amounts of damage, but missed every time she aimed at Khourge or an Oghman; we decided this must be due to her Hippocratic Oath. (“Khourge just looks too much like a person, Agatha, that’s why you can’t shoot him.”)

Khourge was tough to take down, as I’d been hoarding GM Bennies and they had to burn through those before they could actually damage him. Laser weapons are so effective in SWADE that I can see why there are no other SF ranged weapons in the core rules; you don’t need them. So, we have decided to drop the various other items I’d added, such as snub pistols and ACRs; I’ll update the house rules pages once I have the motivation. Light civilian body armour is also remarkably effective, especially against slugthrowers where the 4 points of damage reduction against bullets comes into play.

As a group, we are all grognards and have outgrown detailed dungeon crawling, so I think the escape from Asphodel next session will be handled as a Dramatic Task. While it helps that everyone has the rulebook and so can look up the answers to their own questions, I am definitely rusty with personal combat, so I need to work more of it in over the next few episodes.

“Inhabitants of the middle of the Nine Rings, the Hishen Empire are the most technologically advanced of all the clone races. Like Gaea Prime, they also prize order above all else, but order under their control. Slightly less than human in size, these gray skinned beings are the bane of freedom. The sole purpose of the Hishen is to expand their domain and subjugate any and all races they meet… Any non-Hishen aliens found in Hishen service are slaves.” – 5150 Fringe Space

Numbers in [ ] are the points cost for race construction, and should balance to +2 for playable races.

Hishen Warrior Drones [-2]

Really, these guys are mooks. There’s no way to stay true to the source material and have them be a viable player race. They’re more like goblins than anything, and for a quick and dirty conversion you could use the goblin statblock from the bestiary for them; I seriously considered making them a swarm. Where are the Hishen rulers you ask? They have better sense than to come out where adventurers can shoot at them.

  • Cannot Speak [-1]. Communicates by incessant insect-like clicking and droning.
  • Driven [-1]. More slaves for the Empire!
  • Menacing [+2]. +2 to Intimidation rolls.
  • Reduced Pace [-1]. Pace 5, running die d4.
  • Size -1 [-1]. Reduce Size and Toughness by one.

Grath Mercenaries [+2]

Grath are fun, as you may have seen from observing Mr Osheen in the Arioniad. If you want a big, dumb thug, these are the guys. If you don’t want to bother with a full racial profile, treat them as zombies from the bestiary chapter.

  • Attribute Penalty (Smarts) [-3]. -2 penalty on Smarts rolls.
  • Edge: Brawny [+2].
  • Edge: Berserk [+2].
  • Hindrance: Loyal [-1].
  • Hindrance: Outsider (Major) [-2]. Shot on sight in Gaea Prime space, distrusted elsewhere.
  • Hindrance: Ugly [-2]. -2 to Persuasion rolls.
  • No Vital Organs [+1]. No extra damage from called shots.
  • Reduced Pace [-1]. Pace 5, running die d4.
  • Regeneration [+3]. Natural healing roll once per day, may heal permanent injuries.
  • Sleep Reduction 2 [+2]. Never sleeps.

Razors [+2]

Razors are just plain bad news. The only positive is that they’re cowardly, so if they think they’re in danger, they’ll withdraw and live to fight another day. They make good evil masterminds. Their stats vary from rulebook to rulebook, so you can make a quick-and-dirty version by taking a human character and giving it Arcane Background (Gifted) and the blast power for its free Edge.

  • Attribute Increase (Strength) [+2].
  • Claws [+1]
  • Hindrance: Cautious [-1].
  • Hindrance: Ruthless (Major) [-2].
  • Hindrance: Ugly [-2]. -2 to Persuasion rolls.
  • Infravision [+1].
  • Parry [+1]. Good reflexes enhance Parry.
  • Poisonous Touch [+1]. Victims must make a Vigour save or suffer Mild poison effects.
  • Power (Blast) [+2]. This includes the power itself and the Gifted Arcane Background.
  • Racial Enemy (Xeogs). [-1]. Razors hate Xeogs, and it’s mutual.

The Black Ops team are perched on the edge of the Ochre Caldera, their ship’s holographic hull disguising them as a snowdrift, plotting their next move against the Oghman Raiders…

After extensive discussion, the team decide not to fire their nuclear missile into one of the exhaust vents for the Asphodel Manufactory until they know more, and relocate the ship next to a maintenance hut which they believe conceals a shaft into the railway tunnel between Slouryn and Asphodel.

Vinnie convinces the others that Khourge the Blind is a front for the superintelligent squid from Paal (who are currently running amok on Cordan), and so they don (in order) psionic shield helmets, vacc suits, grav belts, rubber squid masks over their helmets, and then propeller beanies on top of the squid masks. They have a timetable for the trains on this route, so break into the maintenance hut and descend down an access shaft on grav belts and fly along the tunnel.

At length, they encounter a group of escaped slaves, and pump them for information in exchange for food, warm clothes, and passage offworld. The slaves have been given a pile of parts and told to build a small and primitive starship, under the lackadaisical gaze of robot guards. This plus their own investigations of a railway power substation paint a picture of a former Sindalian core world, fallen on hard times and clinging on by its fingernails with slave labour to keep the remnants of its technology barely functional.

Evacuating the fugitives to their ship, the team prepares to follow the train tracks to the Asphodel terminus, and whatever they may find there…

GM Notes

When I write this up, it’s obvious that not very much happened this session. That’s because the players spent most of it debating what to do. One was strongly in favour of nuking Oghma and moving on, three were against but didn’t know what else they could do, and one didn’t mind either way. Their positions were based partly on inaccurate memories of the position on Oghma from seven months ago in real time, and once reminded of the actual position they rowed back from “nuke ’em from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure” to “let’s sneak in and find out what’s going on”.

The guards are not that worried about escaped slaves; where are they going to go? They have no food, they can’t breathe the air, it’s -30 Centigrade out there, and they’re hundreds of kilometres from the nearest habitation, which is populated by xenophobic raiders.

I did allow the players to spend Bennies for narrative control in flashback, which saves a lot of time and energy as well as emulating such scenes in the action movies I use as a template for these adventures. As a result of this, they now have one nuclear missile (looted from Falmouth Station), Ragnar (their Oghman captive) in a low berth, four Vespexer crewmen to look after the ship while they’re off on their mission, and an air/raft lashed down in the cargo hold. My thinking is that if Princess Rao is giving them constructive possession of a MCr 350 commerce raider for a vital mission, she’s not going to risk failure for minor items like that, they can have them for the asking – and letting them ask this way avoids bogging the game down in hours of pre-mission planning, the characters might have done it that way, but that doesn’t mean the players have to.

I would normally not have allowed them to draw oversized squid masks from the ship’s locker, but the idea amused me so much that I let it roll. Vinnie’s idea was that they could pass for squidheads and get past the guards that way, protected against their psionics by the psi shield helmets. I have no idea what the beanies are for.

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