The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Jumpspace, 224-3401

  • Starport Encounter leaving Duduki (p. 39): No, nobody lives there.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Duduki (pp. 40-46): No.
  • Onboard Events in jump (p. 56): Shipboard romance again… One can only assume things are getting torrid between Arion and Coriander.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 8 – no problems.
  • Starship Encounter arriving Karpos (pp. 40-46): 400 dt surveyor.
  • Piracy warning arriving (p. 40): No.
  • Starport Encounter arriving (p. 39): Damaged ship arrives.

Dolphin, please run through what you know about Karpos one more time,” asks Arion.

“Very well,” the Dolphin says, without any trace of the impatience a human might be expected to show. “Bear in mind the information is six centuries out of date… basically a bit larger than Earth; insidious, corrosive atmosphere, no free-standing water – those things have probably not changed. There was a scout base answerable to the subsector government at Maadin, and about a thousand assorted explorers and scientists; this was pretty much the frontier, the Rule of Man hadn’t gone much further out. They had interstellar technology, but it was all imported, no local manufacturing; I’d be surprised if the base survived, isolated as it was.”

“So we’re expecting a tomb world,” Arion muses. “Why is Confed interdicting it?”

“Let’s find out,” says Dmitri; and the Dolphin steps out of jumpspace, narrowly missing another vessel.

“What the hell was that?” asks Arion, taking evasive action. “Ihsan, sensors active, full spherical scan; find me a gas giant, and I’ll try not to hit anything.”

“That was an alien ship, unknown design,” the Dolphin reports, throwing its vector on screen. “There’s another one here…” A second trace appears, starting from a dot and slowly growing a trajectory on screen as the Dolphin refines its course estimates. “That one is tumbling so I suspect it’s damaged.”

“Any Confed ships around?”

“Not that I can see.”

“Damn, what have we got ourselves into now?”

“Another fine mess, I expect.”

GM Notes

When Dolphin’s records were accurate, Karpos was D9C0366-A S De Lo Ni and it was an Amber zone. Obviously something has happened.

It’s intriguing how many insidious and corrosive atmospheres there are in this corner of the map. I never really noticed that before, as it’s only this year that adventurers have gone beyond Bulan.

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“If your TV signals are getting to another star, you’re losing money.” – Randall Munroe

Duduki, 217-3401

No encounter or event rolls this week. There really is nothing in the Duduki system.

“Why are we not jumping straight on to Karpos?” says Dmitri. Arion considers for a moment before replying.

“First, Ihsan and I are going over the ship with a fine-toothed comb, looking for potential problems and fixing them. We don’t know anything about Karpos except that the Confederation Navy has it covertly interdicted. Once we arrive, we may need to refuel and jump out in a hurry. If we could refuel here, I’d be doing it.”

“Okay, I get that,” Dmitri frowns, “But we’ve just spent a week in jumpspace when we could’ve done that, and there’s another week of that coming up.”

“Second, we can do some remote sensing. I can move the ship around and integrate signals over time to fake a really big telescope. We can look for radio or radar signals. We can run spectroscopic analysis on light from the star, and if we get really lucky, on light from the planet as well. That would tell us things about local life and industry. If we watch long enough, we could figure out the planet’s water cycle, if it has one.”

“Or,” says Coriander brightly, as she enters the bridge, “We could ask the Dolphin. She’s a Rule of Man ship, she probably knows – I mean, we know they got that far, right?”

“Oh. Yes. Yes, I suppose we could do that,” Arion admits sheepishly.

“Why didn’t you say something, Dolphin?” Coriander asks.

“They were having such fun. It seemed rude to interrupt.”

The annual gamesfest with old college buddies rolled around again last weekend, and this year I decided to try out the Pirates of Drinax campaign; for various reasons, this group is very tolerant of switching settings so long as their PCs and ship remain reasonably stable.

We played three sessions spread over two days, which took us all the way through the first plot point adventure, Honour Among Thieves. Now, it is my self-imposed rule not to share spoilers until a product is at least five years old, and Pirates was published in 2017, so we’re not there yet. This first scenario is a linear adventure, and apart from visiting the worlds in the wrong sequence, the group stuck surprisingly close to the storyline and had a good time doing it. It’s a fairly cerebral adventure, involving piecing together clues to find a wanted pirate, and one of the players loves the fights above all; so a few of those had to be added in, but that was easy enough to do. There is the potential for ship combat, but the players went to great lengths to avoid it, and in the one instance where they couldn’t, they used misdirection and ambush to gain a quick and easy victory. The players got their man, Big Ted gained the grudging respect of aslan ihatei for being a melee combat god, and Princess Rao of Drinax rolled the maximum possible positive reaction to Dyson, who by that point had +5 Charisma to boot; subtle hints along the lines of “oh, if only you were a worthy suitor in my father’s eyes” were dropped, and it will be interesting to see where Dyson’s player takes that.

During the course of the adventure they found the sector’s hidden pirate base; the overall campaign storyline paints them as privateers for a minor but ambitious state, but after extended discussion they decided they can only pull that off by eliminating the competition, so they plan to go well off-piste next session by selling the location of the pirate base to the Imperial Navy and standing back while the Navy pounds it into slag. Little do they know the hornets’ nest they will stir up by doing so.

They’ve also decided that being pirates in a Far Trader isn’t going to be good for their health, and have set their hearts on stealing a Gazelle class Close Escort, which Big Ted’s player has a particular fondness for and tries to acquire in any Traveller campaign.

Lessons

This adventure exposed a flaw in my Savaging of Traveller, namely that Savage Worlds ships have far too great a jump range. The easiest way to solve that seems to be multiplying the energy cost for hyperspace jumps by 10 x the number of hexes jumped; further experimentation is needed, but I have until next year to work that out as the group really only meets once per annum. In the long run, it may be better to revert to using Traveller ships with my adaptation of the SW chase rules; I can’t see myself going back to Traveller ship combat at this point.

As usual, the players homed in on details that didn’t really matter and obsessed over them, trying to work out (for example) why the pirate they were hunting had stolen particular items; the answer “because that was the easiest thing to steal” didn’t satisfy them, and they kept digging for a plot twist that wasn’t there. Not sure how to avoid that, because whatever they pounce on next time, I won’t see it coming.

It would have been helpful to take a map of the sector, which I forgot to print out; when the adventure demands you decide which systems to visit in which order, and figure out where a fugitive has gone, a map is useful. I haven’t needed a star map for (literally) years now, so that was a surprise too. It would also be useful to copy the world profile and trade classifications to the world writeups in the sector book, as it would reduce page-flipping.

Reflections

It struck me as we were setting up that this is most likely the last campaign I’ll run for these guys. We’re all on the high side of 60, none of us are in good health, we only get together once or twice each year, and there are at least 8-10 years’ worth of sessions in Pirates of Drinax even if we only play the plot point scenarios and ignore the side quests. I could start another campaign, but that would only mean both would remain unfinished. It hardly seems worth changing the rules with only 10 sessions left to go.

These are sobering thoughts.

Jumpspace, 210-3401

  • Starport Encounter leaving Changa (p. 39): 36 – Free trader crew arrested and their ship seized. That could be a scenario, but we’re on a mission here, so I decide not to get involved.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Changa (pp. 40-46): Seeker. Politely ignores us.
  • Onboard Events in jump (p. 56): Shipboard romance. I think we know who that is.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 9 – no problems.
  • Starship Encounter arriving Duduki (pp. 40-46): No encounter. Hardly surprising.
  • Piracy warning arriving Duduki (p. 40): No.
  • Starport Encounter arriving Duduki (p. 39): No.

“We going to Bulan?” asks Ihsan hopefully. “Boat drinks on the beach?”

“Not so much,” says Arion. Dmitri opens his mouth to warn against revealing their destination, then realises Ihsan will find out in a few days anyway, and closes it again.

“Duduki,” Arion goes on.

“Why, for the love of Allah? There’s literally nothing there.”

“To see what’s on the other side. Karpos, to start with. Then who knows what else? There could be anything out there. Cheer up; you’re a trade pioneer, you’re supposed to find new markets.”

GM Notes

Not much happening this time, but that is to be expected as the Dolphin is jumping into the middle of nowhere; and random dice rolls do this from time to time.

If I hadn’t already decided Arion and Coriander were going to be an item, the shipboard romance event would have been when it happened – but why wait for the dice?

Changa, 203-3401

World encounter (p.58-60). We learned last time that someone wants to leave Changa quite badly, so let’s use this to build on that outcome. 66: Another off-worlder befriends you, they are in a spot of bother, would you help? That’ll do nicely, and I roll on the patron table to find out who and the mission table to find out what they were doing: Scout pilot, research a target. Asking the dice a few questions reveals who it is…

“Changa isn’t what I expected when they said ‘pirate heaven’,” Arion observes. And indeed, while it looks primitive by Mizah’s standards, it also looks surprisingly free of bodies and bullet holes.

“In a way, it’s more honest,” says Dmitri. “Most places we pay a berthing fee. Here, I gave roughly the same amount to that street gang over there, and in exchange they stop people vandalising the Dolphin.” He waves at the street gang; they wave back, thus establishing in the minds of passersby that the Dolphin‘s crew is connected with them somehow, and not to be trifled with, at least not without consequences.

“Is there anything on sale here that a civilised person would want to buy?” asks Coriander.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s something for everyone,” Dmitri says. “Nothing’s illegal, you see.”

A man in ship crew coveralls, somewhat the worse for wear, emerges from the crowd and takes up a companionable pace next to the trio. The name tag says ‘Tahir’.

“Hi,” he says. “Kith?”

“Yes,” says Arion, “and these two are with me.”

“Allah’a shikush,” he says in relief. “Look, I need to get off this rock in a hurry, you have a spare berth? I’m qualified, I can work my passage. My name is Ihsan Tahir, I’m a Combine trade pioneer.”

Arion, Coriander and Dmitri look at each other, and exchange the slightest of nods.

“Kith are kith,” Arion says decisively. “We need to pick up some supplies, you can wait for us here – we’ll be back in a couple of hours. I’m Arion; this is Coriander, and this is Dmitri.”

Tahir thanks the crew profusely and moves over to the Dolphin to wait.

“I expected you’d be against this, Dmitri,” Arion says. “I thought you’d be all ‘operational security’ and ‘he knows too much already’.”

Dmitri shrugs. “Kith are kith,” he says. “We might need help ourselves someday, and that will be harder to get if we have a reputation for breaking the code, which we would get if we turned him down – and people would start asking awkward questions about why we did that. It could be useful to have an inside man in the Combine. And besides, we can always kill him later.”

The Tell Me, D6 table on p. 37 reveals Ihsan Tahir is untrustworthy, so that may indeed be necessary at some point. If he doesn’t get the crew first.

GM Notes

Changa is B325520-8 and settled by the East African Federation during the Rule of Man. I had originally intended for Osa to be the hidden pirate base, but then Changa rolled up law level 0 and that made it a better candidate. Their attitude is not so much “Arr, matey, we be pirates!” as it is “Whatever, man, just don’t get blood on the carpet.” They simply don’t care what you get up to offworld, or where your cargo came from.

If you think pirate havens can’t happen in a technically advanced society, I invite you to look at the recent history of Somalia or Thailand.

The code of the kith was a throwaway line a couple of episodes ago, but actually it gives me another excuse for NPC interactions, and as long as I don’t document it, it can mean whatever I need at the time. This time, it has set up conflicting obligations for the PCs, and they normally result in a good yarn. I usually have storylines in mind for the characters, but I will run Ihsan strictly by the dice and the rules, and see what he does. Who is after him and why? I’ll leave that until we pass through Changa again on the way back.

The third of three core books for the Hellfrost setting for Savage Worlds, the others being the Player’s Guide and the Gazetteer; 132 page PDF, written by Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams and published by Triple Ace Games.

The Bestiary opens with an introductory chapter which talks about treasure, monstrous abilities, encounters and archetypes, and closes with a section on creating relics (which is what Savage Worlds calls magic items).

Both of these sections are solid, sensible stuff, without much in the way of tables. Hellfrost as a setting is relatively old now, having first been published in 2009, so if you’re using the current edition of the rules you’ll find some things like random encounters in the core SW rulebook. Other things like treasure aren’t in SW itself.

The bulk of the book, though, is monsters. There are writeups and statblocks for over 150 monsters and NPCs. Savage Worlds doesn’t have an extensive range of monsters itself, but you’ll find many of the “missing” standard monsters here – gargoyles, giants, golems, hellhounds, lizardmen and so forth – as well as many new opponents. Obviously, these are usable in other settings as well.

The PCs’ opponents will usually be intelligent creatures such as men, orcs or goblins, with true monsters being intentionally rare, like the relics – magic items in Hellfrost are always placed intentionally by the GM, they don’t turn up at random. This is how I run things by default, so it’s fine for me. If you want D&D style random encounter and treasure tables, mind, you’re on your own.

Regular readers will know I pay little attention to gear chapters in RPGs, simply because they don’t interest me very much. It turns out the same is true for monster manuals, in this case because my PCs almost always face human beings rather than clawed and tentacled monstrosities. Is it a good product? Yes. Will I use it? Not very much, I expect.

Jumpspace, 196-3401

  • Starport Encounter leaving Bulan (p. 39): Port personnel confuse us with someone else, in a good way.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Bulan (pp. 40-46): Private small craft. Matches the description of a ship that went missing last year.
  • Onboard Events in jump (p. 56): Typical trip, nothing special.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 12. My, they’re happy this week.
  • Starship Encounter arriving Changa (pp. 40-46): Nothing.
  • Piracy warning arriving Changa (p. 40): No.
  • Starport Encounter arriving Changa (p. 39): Someone needs to get offworld, fast – but it’s not as simple as that… actually that sounds like it should be part of the adventure on Changa, so let’s leave it until next time.

An unusually somber Dmitri enters the bridge to find Arion and Coriander watching the stars through the bridge transparency, arms around each other.

“Took you long enough,” he says, surprising them both. They are past the stage of jumping apart and pretending nothing was going on, though.

“Listen,” Dmitri continues. “Next stop, Changa, right? Now we’ve arrived, you need your game faces on, because Bulan was the last outpost of civilisation, and from here on out, we’re in bandit country. Confed Navy calls this place Pirate Heaven, and not without reason. Their government policy is decided on the fly by direct votes of all citizens, which means it’s unstable as silver fulminate, and if they had any laws, which for practical purposes they do not, they would be a contradictory mess and get revoked by plebiscite as soon as anyone could gather enough support.”

“Then I shall take the precaution of hacking into their primitive systems in case we need to gain temporary control of the government,” the Dolphin announces. “Let me know if you need a plebiscite, and what you would like the outcome to be.”

“Is that legal?”

“Not yet, but I’m sure it could be, if that’s what you want.”

GM Notes

None of the dice rolls really sparked my interest, to be honest. When my players ignore the plot hooks and drift off somewhere else, I let them do so; so why not allow myself the same leeway?

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