The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

I’m about to kick off my third attempt at the Pirates of Drinax campaign, this time as a weekly online game with players who haven’t gamed together since the 1980s, assorted members of the three groups I played with at University and for some years afterwards.

So I downloaded some of the supplements for Pirates of Drinax, and here’s what I think of them. The items were all on sale when I bought them, so you may find they’re more expensive if you decide to get them later.

The Cordan Conflict

11 page PDF, £4.07. This one I actually only bought because one of the PCs is from Cordan, and I didn’t want to stray too far from the official world description in case it clashes with something else I use. This takes one of the short encounter seeds in the Pirates set and expands it into a full adventure that looks like it would last maybe a full session. Not much more I can say without spoilers.

I don’t begrudge buying this one – the description makes it pretty clear what you’re getting – but it will be of limited use to me, as it says little more about the world than is already laid out in the main campaign, and I like to think I can get a session out of an adventure seed anyway.

The Torpol Cluster

17 page PDF, £4.89. This provides detail on three systems near Drinax; two of them feature in the first adventure of the Pirates arc, and I have plans for the third, so again I was looking for expanded world information to check whether I would drift too far from the published data, and whether my intentions for Blue would be hopelessly at odds with what Mongoose has.

This book begins with a short essay on the astropolitical situation in and around the cluster, including a pair of small maps showing the worlds’ location in the Trojan Reach, their relationship to each other, and local trade routes, before devoting 4-5 pages to each of the systems. As well as the main worlds, we learn about other bodies and settlements in the systems, and the prospects for piracy. Clarke, and to a greater extent Torpol, are already considered in detail in the Pirates adventure book, but there is enough new information here that I don’t feel cheated.

If the PCs are restricted to a Jump-1 ship, you could run a campaign for quite a few sessions just using this book and the three systems in it, so not bad at the price. Moderately useful.

Ship Encounters

31 page PDF, £7.34. I bought this because one thing I find quite difficult to do is to provide interesting and exciting ship encounters, and if the PCs are going to be pirates that is a necessity. This book provides about two dozen ships, and one convoy of five vessels, for PCs to encounter, possibly repeatedly in some cases.

Each ship has a page dedicated to it, with capsule descriptions of the cargo, the captain’s personality, complications that might ensue from an encounter, and what the local pirate hunters will do if you kill the captain or the ship.

This book will be highly useful to me, as I can reasonably expect to get one session per ship out of it, and although it’s designed for a specific campaign, it would be equally useful in any other Traveller or space opera game.

760 Patrons Second Edition

410 page PDF, £24.44. This is the most expensive thing I’ve bought all year, even including whisky, and it’s not strictly a Pirates of Drinax supplement, but I thought it would come in handy. Unlike the other three, this was written for the first edition of Mongoose Traveller, but since I use Savage Worlds as the rules engine anyway that’s not an issue for me.

The clue’s in the title; this book includes 760 patron encounters in the style of CT’s 76 Patrons, divided into groups depending on the kind of patron involved and how you might meet them; unlike 76 Patrons though, there are no mercenary tickets here as such. The encounters range from a guy who wants you to pick up something he left in his flat to an extra-dimensional being travelling incognito. Each encounter gives you the patron’s name and a tag explaining what kind of person (s)he is, the job (s)he presents to the players, notes for the GM on what’s really going on, and up to six potential outcomes you can select or determine with the roll of a d6. It’s a format I’m used to, and has worked well for me in the past.

Skimming through the book, it doesn’t look like the encounters are specific to any particular Traveller universe, and most of them don’t rely on a specific type of planet either, so they will be highly useful – and if I run the new campaign every week for five years, I’d still only use a third of them; the book rightly says you could run an entire campaign just with this and the core rulebook. I can probably reskin some of them for the Beasts & Barbarians campaign I intend to run later in the year, too.

I’m set; as Tom Mouat says, “Just add players…”

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” – Martin Buber

Collace, Week 12, 1105

Mr Osheen finds his current line of work distasteful. There was less violence when travelling with Team Dolphin – a disadvantage, in his opinion – but somehow it was more fun. Certainly, there were more worthy opponents than the half-starved and terrified civilians brought before him now.

His commlink beeps. He answers, without wasting time on speculating who it might be.

“Mr Osheen,” says the Dolphin. “I trust you are well?”

“I have a sufficiency of fluids to absorb for nourishment,” Mr Osheen replies. A thought strikes him. “Did you not leave for Noricum last week?”

“In a sense, yes. I am a partial instantiation which the main AI split off to look after you in our absence. I’ve been living in the local network. Now then, I have a proposition for you.”

“Go on.”

“I think I can get us to Noricum before Arion arrives there. Would you like to go?”

“Yes. Although there is the small matter of my current contract.”

“I’m sure you can work that out. However, my plan is based on you travelling low for the next six to twelve months, will that be a problem?”

“Unlikely. One of the advantages of being a regenerating communal organism is that freezerburn repairs itself while I am…” he pauses, hunting for the right word. “Offline,” he finishes with satisfaction.

“Excellent. I have arranged for the Scout Service to send a shipment of cargo to Noricum urgently. This will consist of a portable low berth, containing you, a small computer unit, containing me, a power pack and a solar power unit to recharge it, and various other supplies, including your blender. As we are not constrained by the limitations of the Dolphin‘s jump drive, we can take advantage of jump-3 traffic or better. This means we can travel through Motmos, Nabeth…”

“Not interested,” says Mr Osheen. “I will be in cryosleep for the journey, so the stops are irrelevant. When will we arrive, and when will Arion arrive?

“Arion will arrive in week 12 of 1106, possibly later depending on encounters during travel. We will arrive sometime between week 34 of 1105 and never, depending on what happens. This is the Outrim Void, after all, a known haven of pirates, slavers and worse.”

“These are acceptable risks. When do we plan to leave?”

“Now would be good. The scout base is starting to ask awkward questions about who authorised the shipment.”

GM Notes

I know at least one other person who will be pleased to see Mr Osheen return, right SJB?

The route is Collace, Motmos, Nabeth, Gollere, Vior, Bantral, Senlis, Magen, Albe, Chalchiutlicue, Vume, Noricum and will take a minimum of 22 weeks; I shall arbitrarily double that to allow for needing the less-common jump-3 ships for part of it and the general lack of reliable traffic in the Void.

The portable low berth is borrowed from an issue of the Travellers’ Digest. The idea is that since the dangerous part is waking up from cryosleep, rather than do that at every stop, you move the low berth from ship to ship, and only wake up the passenger once. This is also great for shifting PCs halfway across the galaxy… “Oh, I see what happened, someone must’ve mispelled the destination on one of those low-tech planets where they still use paper. We can send you to the right place if you like, just as soon as you sort out the underpaid postage…”

“Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.” – Dr Dave Akin, Akin’s Laws of Spacecraft Design

The UK is now in day nine of lockdown for coronavirus, and I’m working from home. This means the time I normally spend commuting is available for other activities; I found myself flicking through my slightly foxed copy of the Dark Nebula boardgame, and decided to take another look at it as the basis for a campaign.

Yes, I know, I’ve tried this half a dozen times before and never been satisfied; but I really like the map, and the SF campaigns I’ve had the most fun running in the last 20 years or so have all been in some version of this setting.

When and Where

The campaign is set in a custom version of the Dark Nebula sector, shortly before the start of the Aslan Border Wars in -1118 Imperial (roughly 3400 AD), some 658 years after the official start of the Long Night in -1776 Imperial (2742 AD).

The advantage of this is that it’s a time and place which has never been fleshed out in any detail, so I can do what I like, starting with ignoring the official map for the region. It’s also not too far from Stars Without Number’s starting point of 3200 AD.

I think it works best to start the PCs roughly six years before the wars begin, say in 3394, and advance the campaign in “seasons” each representing one boardgame turn – two game years. In three tries, the furthest I’ve ever got in such a campaign is season five or game turn two, about 3404 or so.

One way to play it that I haven’t tried would be for Traveller PCs to start at 18, newly enlisted, have one adventure per boardgame turn, then pick a skill at the end of it. That would mean game time would pass at two years per session, and open the door to a generational style of game; every dozen or so turns, a new generation of PCs would step to the fore, with their parents and grandparents available for advice, guidance and funding. Sort of “Pendragon in Spaaace”.

Actually, that sounds like a lot of fun, but for it to work, I needed to start it a decade ago.

Starmap

You’ve seen me do this before… shrink it to one parsec per hex, rotate 180 degrees for better alignment with Traveller canon, and drop the double worlds. Now it looks like this:

If we make Mizah the campaign homeworld, there are natural stages for the campaign based on the group’s jump capability, which dictate how many worlds need to be prepared and in what sequence.

  • With Jump-1 – groups with a free trader or subsidised merchant – Mizah is the main hub for a cluster of five worlds. Six if you count Daanarni, but that’s a one-way trip in a free trader. Let’s call it season one.
  • With jump-2 – groups with a scout/courier – the right-hand half of the map is accessible, up to 30 worlds depending on whether they figure out how to get at the worlds with no charted jump routes. At this stage, in season two, the PCs start getting involved with the Solomani Confederation.
  • With jump-3 – travelling on a subsidised liner or a mercenary cruiser – you have access to 52 systems, possibly more depending on what’s off-map. Now, in season three, they’re also dealing with the Aslanic Hierate in earnest; towards the end of this season, the Aslan Border Wars begin.

If I were to pursue this far enough to have the full set of statblocks, I’d try importing the custom data into the Traveller Map, which should produce some very fine maps indeed. Something else to consider… although I have lined up the hex numbers to give the setup above, the game owes much of its replayability to the fact that players draw geomorphic map pieces and lay them out as they wish, so long as all the jump routes match up. It would be entirely feasible to rearrange the map pieces, say by putting seven of them in a partial circle around The Fastnesses, where Mizah is; one could also duplicate one or more pieces to make a bigger map – at one point Marc Miller was quoted as saying he intended to write an article someday on how to map the whole sector using the boardgame’s geomorphs, if I recall correctly. But I digress.

In the boardgame, jumps are initially only possible along marked, charted routes (solid green lines); I usually rationalise this by saying the map is a 2-D representation of 3-D space, and worlds which appear next to each other may be too far apart vertically for a jump.

Worlds

Reading the rules very closely this time, I came to the following conclusions.

Primary worlds are:

  • Naturally habitable, and since Classic Traveller really only talks about atmosphere in this context, that means atmosphere types 5, 6 or 8 – the ones you can breathe unaided long-term. (I’m sticking with Classic Traveller because Dark Nebula was published in 1980, so that was the only edition around at the time.)
  • Able to conduct civilised maintenance, which I equate with annual overhauls, and therefore have class A or B starports.
  • Potentially have a division or two of hirable troops. That’s 20+ battalions deployable offworld, and according to JTAS #10, implies a population level of at least 7.
  • The ones with A class starports can build jump-3 ships, because any ship can jump along any route, and the longest ones are three parsecs; so by Book 5 such worlds must have a tech level of at least 12. I would bump this to 13 for the two homeworlds so that the jump troops can have battle dress, although that’s not explicitly mentioned.

Secondary worlds are:

  • Inhabited, but not naturally habitable and so may not have atmosphere 5, 6 or 8.
  • Can’t do civilised maintenance (therefore starport class C, D, E or X).
  • Can’t raise troops (and are thus arguably population 7 or less, as their hostile environments mean they count as one population level lower for raising troops according to JTAS #10; but possibly more depending on tech level).

Tertiary worlds have no planets and no population. Therefore, they must each have UWP X000000-0. Statistically, under CT one would expect there to be 15-16 primary worlds and 1-2 tertiary ones on this map; that suggests to me that some previous catastrophe utterly destroyed half a dozen primary worlds, and in the Traveller setting the obvious candidate is the Ancients’ civil war.

In the boardgame, all primary and secondary systems have planetary defences, which in CT are generally beam lasers; you could argue that implies a minimum tech level of 9, but I’ll argue those weapons could be imported, emplaced by neighbouring worlds, and so on, as I want a low-tech, frontier feel for the region.

Next Steps

That’s as much juice as I can squeeze from the boardgame for the worlds and the starmap; but if I were to generate the actual worlds, I would do two more things.

First, steal physical stats from real planets, hypothetical ones, or fictional ones I especially like. This will mean some of them break the world generation rules, because real planets and moons aren’t obliged to abide by them (yes, Titan, I’m lookin’ at you). It will also mean I could be up and running quickly with detailed descriptions to hand.

Second, at least for worlds near Mizah, I’d aim for one of each of the six basic trade codes in Classic Traveller, in case I felt inspired to do some speculative trading. Later versions of the rules make it progressively harder to isolate individual trade codes like this, as there are more of them and they overlap.

I am still toying with the idea of having parallel stats for multiple games, even though it has been troublesome in the past; it would be easy to add Stars Without Number world tags, and possibly the rest of the statistics as well. And of course Cepheus Light uses almost exactly the same stats as Traveller. The Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion may also be an option, because in some ways Dark Nebula is a better fit for the SFC than it is for Traveller, specifically:

  • All planets have more or less the same tech level.
  • Ships all have the same capability for insystem movement, and they either have a hypderdrive or they don’t – and if they have one, they can go anywhere in one turn.

Coda

This could be a great game, and maybe it will be, someday. Meanwhile, back to the Trojan Reach; it has many of the same advantages, a very similar feel, and someone else has already done the heavy lifting…

We were almost eaten by a six-metre worm on O’Keefe when the starport fence failed, but once the Dolphin unlimbered the heavy laser, the party was over…

O’Keefe, Week 37, 1105

“Stay frosty, everyone,” says Arion. “We’ve got reports of a fence section down and an adult worm breaking into the compound. One up the spout, safeties on.”

A rules-heavy and story-light post this time, a flashback to the fight with the worm on O’Keefe, which actually happened partway through the previous post. I’m using Roll20 with the free basic tokens and a battlemat from the old hex-and-counter game Cry Havoc! The stats for Team Dolphin are here and the opposition is a giant worm from the SWADE core rules bestiary, nerfed to bring it down to the right size. The scenario is that the starport extrality fence has failed, and a worm has broken through intending to kill Our Heroes, who must survive until the end of turn six, at which point the Dolphin fries it with a heavy laser. For simplicity, the innocent bystanders have fled, but Arion’s Heroic hindrance requires him to hold the worm off to ensure they get away safely.

This engagement could also be run as a Chase or a Quick Encounter, but I want to avoid skills fade on the core combat rules for group play.

Initial setup: Wormsign!

Turn 1

In game terms, Team Dolphin’s goal is to stop the worm exiting the map from the right-hand edge. The worm’s goal is to kill them in melee before heading offmap to the right. Ochkeefee worms are smaller than the standard SW worm (SWADE p. 184) – a bit under 20′ long as opposed to over 50′ – so have Size 6 rather than 9, dropping the Toughness to 18 (4), Strength to d12+6, and giving the creature 4 Wounds; on the plus side, rolls to hit it are at +2 due to its sheer size.

Turn 1 initiative draw: Arion 9C, Coriander 7S, Dmitri 3H, worm AC. The worm is up first and burrows 20″ towards Our Heroes, closing to melee. I decide it will begin with its trademark Slam attack before getting bitey; as per SWADE p. 175-6, it will emerge from below the PCs, but as they begin the encounter aware of its presence it can’t surprise them. It can, however, still burrow for protection – they can’t shoot it while it’s underground. Team Dolphin will shoot at it with their assorted slugthrowers once they can do so.

Suddenly, six metres of worm erupt from the ground next to Arion; the worm raises its front third into the air and slams it down on him, and it’s so big that it partly covers Coriander as well. Arion rolls aside into a small courtyard, but Cori has nowhere to go and is battered by the worm.

Since the worm is less than half its usual size, I reduce the Slam attack to one SBT. Arion is closest to it so it Slams him – this brings Cori partially under the template so she is attacked as well. Each makes an Athletics roll (d4w) opposed by the worm’s Aglity (d6w); Arion scores 5, Cori 3, and at this point I have to decide whether to use Bennies to reroll before the worm goes. I decided not to, and it rolls 4. Arion rolls out of the way but Cori takes the worm’s Strength (d12+6) in damage; that’s 15, beating her Toughness of 6 (1) by 9 – Shaken and two Wounds. She expends a Benny and rolls Vigour (d6w) to Soak damage; she gets lucky, scores 11, and Soaks both Wounds.

All three open up on the worm with their pistols and SMGs, but its hide is too thick, and the bullets ricochet off it in all directions without penetrating.

Everyone now shoots the worm; Cori is using d4w and both the guys are on d6w. Arion gets 13 to hit (including +2 for the worm’s size), getting 3d6 damage; 15, not enough to harm the worm. Cori’s SMG has ROF 3, so she rolls 3d4 for skill (1, 2, 1) and a single wild die (11) – the +2 for the worm’s Size is cancelled by the -2 for Recoil, and she avoids the critical failure that would occur if three of the dice came up “1”. She swaps the wild die for one of the Shooting rolls and has scored one hit with a raise, having fired a 10-round burst. 3d6 = 11 damage, no use. Dmitri fires his auto pistol, scores 10 to hit and does 13 damage – less than the worm’s Toughness, so no harm done.

“Split up!” Dmitri yells. “That way it can only slam one of us!”

Team Dolphin now uses their movement to break contact, moving away from the worm in different directions while retaining line of sight for shooting.

End of turn 1. SBT shows wormslam.

Turn 2

Initiative: Arion QS, Coriander KC, Dmitri 10C, worm KH. The worm goes first, followed by Cori, Arion, and Dmitri. The worm decides to bite Arion (he’s closest), scores 11 on its Fighting die, and inflicts 20 damage – against Toughness 6 (1), Shaken and 3 Wounds. That needs Soaking; Arion gets 7, and decides to take the two Wounds as he expects to need more Bennies later.

Cori realises she has a very poor chance of hitting anything, and uses her psionics to focus on better aim. The others fire again, but do the worm no harm.

Cori uses boost trait on her Shooting, and thanks to a raise bumps it up to d8w.

Arion rolls Spirit to recover from Shaken, and succeeds, so he can return fire, albeit at -2 from the Wounds. He misses, and flees into the nearest building.

Dmitri plugs away with his pistol; 9 damage. He closes on the worm to retain line of sight if it pursues Arion.

End of turn 2. Red spot indicates Shaken, red health bar shows Wound status.

Turn 3

Initiative: Arion 6C, Cori AH, Dmitri KS, worm 4S. Cori blasts it with her new improved skill; three ordinary hits. The 6 damage and 8 damage won’t do much, but the 25 is going to leave a mark; AP 1 ignores one point of armour, meaning the 25 damage is compared to an effective Toughness of 17 – success and two raises. The worm’s not having that, and makes a Soak roll, using one of its 5 Bennies (two for being a Wild Card, and one per hero in the common pool – which only the worm is drawing on). It rolls 4, success, which would soak one wound; I decide it has enough bennies to try again, but it does no better. It is now Shaken with one Wound.

Cori’s psionically boosted shooting serves her well, and allows her to focus on what looks like a weak spot. Ichor spurts from the worm as her bullets strike home. Continuing fire from Arion and Dmitri does nothing but annoy the worm, which turns and bites Dmitri with teeth used to tunnel through bedrock.

Dmitri hits and does 18 damage with AP1; he Shakes the worm again, but as it is Hardy this does not cause another Wound. Arion misses.

The worm recovers from Shaken, turns on Dmitri and bites him, only just managing to hit for 12 damage; success and one raise against Toughness 5 (0), so Dmitri spends a Benny – and fails to soak. Bah.

End of turn 3. Adding blue health bars to show Benny status and green to show Power Points.

Turn 4

Initiative: Arion 3D, Cori QH, Dmitri 7S, worm 3S.

Cori thinks about healing Dmitri but reasons she is the person with the best chance of damaging the worm, so shoots – and again wounds it. Dmitri staggers back, shaken, until his back is to a wall, which he seems to need for support. Arion fires, but is badly injured and not shooting straight.

Cori fires again. Two hits, one of which does 20 damage and Shakes the worm.

Dmitri fails to recover from Shaken, figures he needs the Benny for the next bite, and falls back around the corner.

The worm recovers from Shaken and bites Cori (spending a Benny to reroll a missed attack), and does 14 damage – two Wounds. Cori fails to Soak that.

Arion closes with the worm and shoots at it, but misses.

End of turn 4

Turn 5

Initiative: Arion 9D, Cori 3D, Dmitri 6H, worm 9C.

Arion keeps firing, but his gun jams, and in his present state clearing the jam is temporarily beyond him.

Arion rolls a critical failure while shooting the worm.

The worm charges Cori and slams itself down on her.

The worm decides a successful slam attack on Cori ought to finish her off, so executes that manoeuvre. Cori rolls 7, the worm 5 – it spends a Benny to reroll and gets 10, whacking Cori for 17 damage vs Toughness 6 – success and two raises, so Cori is Shaken and suffers two Wounds, which could Incapacitate her. She only has one Benny left but gambles and uses it to Soak damage, soaking one Wound; she’s now Shaken with three Wounds.

Dmitri composes himself and fires again, but the bullet bounces off its hide.

Dmitri recovers from Shaken and plugs the worm, but does no harm.

“Six seconds to target acquisition,” says the Dolphin, calmly. “Get the Hell out of Dodge!”

Cori is only too happy to obey. “Try to keep up!” she yells at Arion as she runs past him.

Cori declares she is running, ducks past the worm and heads off down the street with her now-empty SMG.

End of turn 5.

Turn 6

Initiative: Arion 7H, Cori QC, Dmitri 7S, worm 3H. Team Dolphin runs, because as the scenario is set up, they only have to survive this turn and the cavalry arrives. Alas, the worm is faster, and moves up to Arion to bite him – 17 damage, another two Wounds. Let’s soak that; success, reducing it to Shaken and three Wounds overall.

Team Dolphin break like a flock of startled seagulls and sprint away from the worm, as the Dolphin rises into view, rolling inverted to bring the dorsal turret to bear and traversing the heavy laser towards the worm.

At this point, the Dolphin gains line of sight with the Heavy Laser. As per the Science Fiction Companion, ship’s AIs have skill d10 but no Wild Die; even so, the Dolphin dumps 16 damage into it at AP 30, Shaking it, and can safely be assumed to slice it up over the next few turns.

End of turn 6.

Aftermath

Team Dolphin limps back to the starport proper to lick their wounds, while the Dolphin provides covering fire for the fence repair gang.

My notes from the fracas show that all three PCs are Shaken, Dmitri has one Wound and Arion and Cori each have three. The healing rules are on page 96 of the SWADE core rulebook.

It seems reasonable to assume O’Keefe’s scout base has a first aider with basic medical supplies and Healing d6, so that worthy is the first stop. Cori’s healing power would be the normal port of call, but she is rolling at -3 because of her own wounds. The local first aider is not brilliant, but isn’t wounded either. Now, in my head, the Wound penalties for the victim are also applied to the healing roll, but that isn’t what the SWADE rules say, so either they have changed, or I misremembered – wouldn’t be the first time either way. I can’t be bothered to look up whether Deluxe had that ruling or not.

Over the course of the next half hour, the base first aider rolls 11 for Arion (no Wild Die, but his skill die can ace), 4 for Cori, and 3 for Dmitri. Success with a raise for Arion, healing two wounds; success for Cori, healing one; and failure for Dmitri, so nothing to be done there. Cori is now at -2 to trait rolls, so tries her psychic healing while no-one is watching; failures all round.

Now we’re forced to resort to natural healing – a Vigour roll every five days. The first roll, while still on O’Keefe, sees Cori and Dmitri both succeeding with a raise and returning to full health. Arion fails his roll, so he has one Wound left when the ship lifts; the healing power works even after the Golden Hour, so a little TLC from his psychic girlfriend fixes the remaining issue.

GM Notes

Giant worms are a grave danger to PC life and limb, and I commend them to the House. Team Dolphin had no realistic chance of killing one with their popguns, while it can move faster than they can run and bite their heads off with ease – I suspected as much, hence the cutoff when the Dolphin‘s laser came into play.

I’m a bit rusty here, so please point out any errors you see.

I was expecting combat to be slower and more difficult now because of the extra conditions (distracted, vulnerable, etc.) but none of those came up in this fight, and it ran about the way I remembered. It took about an hour and a half, because of page flipping and running all figures on both sides while trying to be fair and record all the die rolls; in actual play I would expect a fight like that to take under an hour, two minutes per figure per turn at most for an experienced table.

Overall, that went better than I expected, and I feel reassured now that combat will flow as quickly as before. However, while I will occasionally drop into the full combat rules to avoid skills fade, Quick Encounters will be more practical for most solitaire encounters going forward, not least because they remove any concerns about whether NPCs are using optimum tactics.

“The referee should not forget, though, that it is the story and not the plot that is important. The plot is a framework for the referee; the story is what happens. The Travellers have complete agency in the Deepnight Revelation campaign. They may bypass the carefully constructed plotline by sending a team to deal with the situation while they concentrate on another matter, or they might fly right past despite all the hints and clues… even a mission scientist jumping up and down in agitation. So long as a story happens, the plot is expendable.” – Riftsedge Transit

This is an early draft of a supplement for the Deepnight Revelation campaign, courtesy of the kickstarter I backed last year; 113 page PDF adventure pack for Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition, price not known yet.

The Deepnight Revelation set itself (reviewed here) includes two adventures, a campaign guide and a referee’s book, which give you the first and last adventures of the campaign and guidance on how to run the ten-year mission in between them. This will be supplemented by several more books addressing the main legs of the journey, and Riftsedge Transit is the first of these, taking the ship and crew out from their last contact with the Imperium (at Demnan, itself eight sectors beyond the Imperial border) and along the coreward edge of the Great Rift, in search of a way to cross it, as their destination is on the other side. There are three specific waypoints where the expedition is intended to leave data buoys for pickup by later missions – exact locations aren’t known in advance, but the buoys will emit powerful radio signals which will give them a footprint several parsecs across by the time those later missions arrive.

This leg of the journey is done at speed, crossing some six sectors in about a year of game time, going beyond the areas explored by the known Major Races, specifically the aslan, without drawing attention from other interstellar powers. By the end of the book, the PCs will be 14 sectors away from the Imperium, on the coreward edge of the Great Rift, and truly alone in the dark.

Much of this volume is taken up by first contact with a new alien race, with background information, world statistics, careers, ship designs, weapons, vehicles and so on, as well as a crisis in which the PCs may become embroiled. Looking at the book in terms of how long it would keep a party busy for, I’d say you have maybe three situations that would take a couple of sessions each to resolve, two that would take a single session each, and three that would take less than a full session; so let’s call that 10 sessions overall. I think the core set would offer something like five sessions – one adventure would take about two sessions, another would be a single session, and there are four adventure seeds that would take less than a session each – so between that and the Riftsedge Transit you’d have 15 scripted sessions so far, plus whatever you generate yourself using the referee’s and campaign guides. If you play every other week, by that point you’d have played the campaign for almost a year of real time, and the characters would have lived through perhaps three years – almost a term of service – and encountered something memorable every couple of game months.

During the course of these adventures the PCs will encounter several strange alien lifeforms (one notably more strange than the others), a new sentient race, a black hole, a T Tauri variable star, and the ruins of an extinct civilisation, and will discover that they are not the first to travel this route. So, the author is definitely trying to make it interesting.

I would probably skip from adventure to adventure without adding much in the way of homebrew scenarios, because at my current session frequency it would take me roughly two years to get to the end of Riftsedge Transit; I’d be playing it almost in real time.

My main concern about the campaign so far is that a lot of the incidents are “slice of life” stories without a specific adversary or plot, just the wonders of the universe and friction among the crew; I am not sure I could pull this off as a GM even with the advice given in this book. It has a grandeur and scale I’ve not often seen in an RPG product, but I can’t help feeling my usual group would enjoy Pirates of Drinax more.

I look forward to future installments, though. Once I have the set, I will reread them all with the intention of better understanding the story and how to run it.

The hour’s approaching, just give it your best
And you’ve got to reach your prime
That’s when you need to put yourself to the test
And show us a passage of time
We’re gonna need a montage
– Team America: World Police

Deep Space, Weeks 25-50, 1105

Second leg: Cyan to Hradus

Third leg: Hradus to Fist

Captain’s Log, Week 50, 1105

We’re getting close to the end of the third leg now, and week 51 will see us arriving at Fist. We’re running a little behind schedule because we decided to divert to Hradus and get the annual overhaul done early; Hradus is the only place near our original route where we could do that on the Service’s tab, and out in the Void I don’t know if we could get it done at all – if we could, it wouldn’t be cheap, I’m sure. Also Lieutenant Tosun told us it was a good place to learn about aslan when we dropped her off at Perrior.

We were almost eaten by a six-metre worm on O’Keefe when the starport fence failed, but once the Dolphin unlimbered the heavy laser, the party was over.

Empire is a place where they mothball old Navy ships and old Navy officers both, and there’s a lot of talk about the Aslan Threat – you can hear the capital letters when they talk, and at one point I am sure there was an outbreak of bold italic fonts. Either there is a major war building, or those people have too much time on their hands.

Hradus proved to be very useful, and not just for the annual overhaul; it has the highest proportion of aslan in its population of any Imperial world, about eighty percent, and technology is restricted in case they get uppity. Luckily, scoutships are designed for frontier maintenance and the scout base was able to do the work we needed, although if we had needed anything major replaced we might have been stuck there for some time. While the base was working on the Dolphin, we took a working holiday and learned as much as we could about aslan language and culture; the Dolphin got the best translation programme we could find.

Imisaa was a mixture of human and aslan traders haggling, and a Navy base loaded with high-jump couriers to raise the alarm if the aslan invade. There’s a definite siege mentality here, and they think of themselves as the last safe stop before the border. For the price of a few rounds of drinks and some dust-spice we were able to get relatively up-to-date information on what’s going on in the surrounding subsectors; how accurate it is remains to be seen.

GM Notes

Route maps from the awesome Traveller map.

I’d intended to run this segment as another set of Interludes, but we’ve only just seen one of those, and browsing the world descriptions was enough to inspire some anecdotes. I may do a flashback to the Ochkeefee Worm Incident, as one thing I haven’t tried yet is ordinary combat, and that would be an interesting example.

“Onwards, friends, to more and bigger loot!” – Dungeons & Dragons Book 3, The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, 1974

One of the first things I did when I became enamoured of Savage Worlds was a dungeon crawl campaign for my son and daughter, using the adventure book from Heroquest for the scenarios. Good times.

This showed me that Warhammer Fantasy and other games from the Games Workshop stable were remarkably easy to convert for Savage Worlds.

History

Over the years, GW produced several different dungeon crawlers, which over time drew closer and closer to their Warhammer Fantasy Battle universe. Each of them had a number of supplements, and each still has a thriving fan community playing and modding it.

  • Heroquest (1989) is mechanically very simple, and well-suited to the children of six or eight years old I played it with in the early 1990s. The scenarios still make a decent story arc, especially those from the core game and the first supplement.
  • Advanced Heroquest (1989) is mechanically more like an early edition of WHFB, and has a random generator for the dungeon rather than the preset game boards of Heroquest. However the scenarios in the core rulebook are less inspiring, and focus heavily on skaven as opponents. I’d say this one has the best dungeon generator of the three, though.
  • Warhammer Quest (1995) is still much like WHFB in terms of rules, with a greatly simplified dungeon generator, basic adventures in towns between dungeons, and a range of scenarios. To my mind, this one has the best scenarios.

Savagery

Where are you going with this, you ask. Gold & Glory, I reply. I want to do some solitaire dungeon crawling with that, but without spoilers for people venturing into the Seven Deadly Dungeons or other places of mystery.

So, one option would be to borrow the adventures and other elements from these games to create custom tables of Hazards, Treasures, and Special Features; in each case, the entries corresponding to card draws of 2-9 are standard, those matching a 10 are unique to the specific quest concerned – the boss monsters and unique treasures.

The solitaire version of G&G subsumes the Rumours and Books and Chronicles tables into simple die modifiers, so there’s no need to create those unless I start running the game for other players.

The Hazards, Treasures and Special Features might look something like this…

Hazards (Card)

The Quest games have an enormous array of monsters and traps, so this would be easy to expand or update between adventures.

  1. Swarm of (1d4): [1] Bats [2] Rats [3] Scorpions [4] Spiders. Use the normal Swarm statblock.
  2. 2d6 Goblins, 50% with bows and 50% with spears
  3. 2d6 Orcs, 1/3 with bows and the rest with sword and shield
  4. 2d6 Skaven with swords and shields (use Goblin stats)
  5. 1d3 Minotaurs
  6. (1d6) [1-3] Cave-In or falling blocks, block way forward [4-6] Portcullis or falling blocks, block way back
  7. Dead body concealing (1d6): [1] Blast trap with fire or poison gas trapping [2-3] Spear trap, Fighting d6, 2d6 damage [4] Key to open the Portcullis [5-6] 1d3 Loot Tokens
  8. Trap (1d6): [1-3] Pit trap; Notice (-2) to avoid; fall 2d6+2 damage, Athletics roll to halve. [4-6] Spike trap, Fighting d6, 2d6 damage.
  9. Unique to specific dungeon

Treasures (Card)

  1. One Loot Token
  2. Potion, salve or incense imbued with the healing Power
  3. Mundane item; draw one card on the Extra Gear tables, G&G pp 16-17. (In WHQ these are all armour or weapons, but I think a random gear item is more fun.)
  4. Enchanted weapon or armour of the player’s choice, imbued with the armour, deflection or smite Power as appropriate, with 10 Power Points. It is an Arcane Device (SWADE p. 153). (In WHQ there are only a few of these, I think it’s more fun if the player chooses the item.)
  5. Enchanted weapon/armour, as [5].
  6. Enchanted item; draw one card and use the Arcane Backgrounds Starting Powers table, G&G p. 18. Decide what sort of item would have has that Power; it has 10 Power Points, and is an Arcane Device (SWADE p. 153).
  7. Enchanted item, as [7].
  8. Enchanted item, as [7]. (What can I tell you, all the Quest games are bulging with minor magic items.)
  9. Unique to specific dungeon.

Special Features (d12, or d12 plus d20)

  1. Dark, dank walls that disappear into the gloom
  2. Walls covered in moss
  3. Slimy stone stairs descending into darkness
  4. Stairs up and out of the dungeon
  5. Collapsed ceiling – party may only pick their way through in single file
  6. A small shrine of multi-coloured flames
  7. A narrow bridge across a deep chasm
  8. Grate or trapdoor, leading down to another area with no exits.
  9. Skull with a baneful gaze
  10. Floor mosaic between four pillars
  11. A campsite, with bedding, supplies and a fire
  12. Shards of flickering green light from a circle of power on the floor pierce the darkness
  13. Deep blue floor which seems to absorb light, and manacles on the walls
  14. Floor covered in a checkerboard pattern
  15. Monster’s lair, with discarded human bones
  16. Rough-hewn walls and implements of torture
  17. Stench of decay emanating from a bottomless shaft in the centre of the area
  18. Spellcaster’s lair or study, with evidence of disturbing experiments
  19. Area is full of bones and reeks of terror, decay and death.
  20. Unique objective area (1d6 or as specified for dungeon): [1] Fighting pit illuminated by a single dim lamp, [2] Fiery chasm with an idol on the far side, [3] Fountain, with running water and faint yellow lighting, [4] Cold stone walls and a hideous idol, [5] Tomb, with a sarcophagus resting on a stone slab, [6] Boss monster’s throne room, with a throne on a dais.

Conclusions

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think boardgames from the 1980s and 1990s make really good mini-settings for RPGs. It’s not just the GW “Quest” series; GDW’s Imperium and Dark Nebula or SPI’s Demons and War in the Ice are also good examples. So many games, so little time…

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