The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Archive for March, 2018

Arion, Episode 13: The Kith

Another jump, and again I check the tables in Solo for events and encounters…

  • Starport Encounter on Tangga (p. 39): 22 – Meet one of your contacts who needs help. The only potential contact on Tangga was Dr Yasar, and we’ve already helped him by running a mission for him and getting him offworld, so I drive on.
  • Starship Encounter leaving Tangga (pp. 40-46): A Type S, most likely an Archive Surveyor en route to Hasara, which warns Arion about a gravitic disturbance.
  • Onboard Events table in jump (p. 56): 22 – crew member becomes sullen and uncommunicative. Based on what we’ve seen so far, that ought to be Isabella.
  • PC Reaction Tables in jump (pp. 19-20): 2d6 vs 8+ = 8; a fragile peace is maintained aboard ship.
  • Starship Encounter arriving at Mizah (pp. 40-46): A mining cutter, which politely ignores us.
  • Starport Encounter on Mizah (p. 39): 54 – meet an existing contact. Arion has none, but it’s dramatically appropriate to introduce Ray the bartender at this point so we’ll do that.

I am checking for piracy warnings by the way (p. 40), it’s just that there haven’t been any yet.

Captain’s Log, Mizah, 091-3401

A couple of ship encounters this week, but nothing significant; leaving Tangga, we encountered the Archive courier run to Hasara, so we exchanged data bursts as normal – the Dolphin is doing a fine job of masquerading as an Archive courier, but there is no disguising the fact that it’s not the one I left in. Arriving in the Mizah system we passed a mining cutter while lining up for orbital insertion; we politely ignored each other apart from transponder signals. Both passengers kept to the quarters most of the week; Isabella is still sullen, and Doctor Yasar is simply uncommunicative, probably writing his next article for publication while I lay waste to his coffee supply.

Kiraathan Coffee House, 091-3401

“Arion. Back I see, hear you lost another scoutship?”

“Aw come on Ray, it’s only the second one, it’s not like I make a habit of it.”

“So you say. Anyway; coffee, brandy, beer? And who’s this young lady?”

“Two coffees please. Ray, this is Isabella Talamantes, she’s been travelling with me for a couple of months now and I’ve been training her as a pilot and engineer. She’s kith now. Isabella, this is Ray, he knows everybody.”

They take their coffees and move to an alcove lined with bookshelves.

“What’s kith mean? You keep doing this, telling people things about me I haven’t agreed to.”

“This is the last time, I promise. Remember I said that the Rule of Man was run in English? Well, this sector was colonised by groups that didn’t speak English, mostly Turkish, Swahili and Indonesian. That meant the English speakers were an ethnic minority, mostly spacers, and now we’re semi-nomadic, but we always have something to do with starships. We call ourselves the kith, and we look out for each other, because nobody else does. So if things go badly at the Tekke, you come here, and if I’m not here, you ask Ray for help. The kith take care of their own, and you’re one of us now; I vouched for you, and Ray will spread the word.”

“That’s… kind of you.”

“Yeah, well, I can’t get your family back for you, but you can share mine. I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do.”

GM Notes

Page 53 of Solo implies I should be rolling a PC reaction for each PC, but pages 19-20 imply one for the group, and I’ll keep on using the latter as I think this could easily be overdone. As my friend Murray once observed, the starship is just a way to get the PCs to the next scenario, and I don’t want the shipboard events to overshadow those planetside.

This episode wraps up the first story arc, and I think you have the gist of how Solo works now, so in future I won’t explain it so much.

Credit where it’s due; the kith are taken from short stories by Poul Anderson, whose writing influences my sci-fi campaigns as much as Traveller itself. In his stories the kith are isolated by relativistic time dilation, but in the Dark Nebula they are isolated by language; this is a hangover from the Stars Without Number version of the setting, in which I asked myself: Why would all PCs speak English (as stated in the rules) when almost none of the planets use it (as inferred from the world names)?

By vouching for Isabella, an outsider to the kith, Arion has accepted responsibility for her future actions and their impact on the kith. As in the Mafia, this is an action not taken lightly, and one ripe with story possibilities.


Aslan Border Wars 7: Summary of Late 3401 AD

This playthrough has now gone far enough for me to allocate dates to the activities, so here is a summary and recap of events up to the end of 3401 AD in the Dark Nebula…

The Eve of the War: 188-3401

The Eve of the War: 188-3401

The Initial Advance: 189-3401 to 294-3401

Aslan Initial Advance: 189-3401 to 294-3401

Events by week ending date:

  • 189-3401: Council of 29 on Kuzu announces military buildup, commissioning CL, CS, DD and an armoured brigade.
  • 196-3401: Aslan forces at Panas jump to Enjiwa.
  • 203-3401: Aslan forces refuel at Enjiwa.
  • 210-3401: Aslan force split; CL and DD jump to Valka; main force of 4 TR, DD, CS, AO jumps to Dno.
  • 217-3401: Aslan CL and DD at Valka begin negotiations. Main force refuels at Dno.
  • 224-3401: Aslan main force jumps to Godoro.
  • 231-3401: Aslan main force begins negotiations at Godoro. Solomani spy ship jumps from Godoro to Daanarni, carrying news of aslan forces’ arrival.
  • 238-3401: Solomani spy ship refuels at Daanarni using classified methods.
  • 245-3401: Solomani spy ship jumps to Hasara.
  • 252-3401: Solomani spy ship refuels at Hasara.
  • 259-3401: Solomani spy ship jumps to Tangga.
  • 266-3401: Solomani spy ship refuels at Tangga.
  • 273-3401: Solomani spy ship jumps to Kov.
  • 280-3401: Solomani spy ship refuels at Kov.
  • 287-3401: Solomani spy ship jumps to Gazzain.
  • 294-3401: Solomani spy ship is debriefed at Gazzain. Solomani fleet at Gazzain implements contingency orders and prepares to jump.

Solomani Initial Response: 295-3401 to 336-3401

Solomani Initial Response: 295-3401 to 336-3401

Events by week ending date:

  • 301-3401: Solomani DD and EX jump from Gazzain to Kov.
  • 308-3401: Solomani DD and EX refuel at Kov.
  • 315-3401: Solomani DD and EX jump to Tangga.
  • 322-3401: Solomani DD and EX refuel at Tangga.
  • 329-3401: Solomani DD jumps to Hasara.
  • 336-3401: Solomani DD refuels at Hasara.

War breaks Out: 337-3401 to 364-3401

War Breaks Out: 337-3401 to 364-3401

Events by week ending date:

  • 343-3401: Negotiations at Valka begin to break down after 19 weeks of tense talks. Aslan units remain in place.
  • 350-3401: Valkan orbital defence grid begins harassing aslan fleet with jamming and fire control locks.
  • 357-3401: Aslan DD and CL begin ineffective orbital bombardment of Valkan military bases. Valkan planetary defences open fire on aslan vessels, with no significant effects.
  • 364-3401: Lacking enough troops to invade Valka, aslan fleet retires to the outer system where Valkan beam and missile fire cannot engage it effectively. Valka prematurely claims victory.

GM Notes

Working through this in detail throws up some errors I made in timing earlier, but when you get right down to it, who cares? I am assuming each phase and subphase takes at least one week, even if nothing happens in it, and a gentlemanly approach to interstellar movement, with each jump taking one week to do and one week to recover from, and both sides waiting for news to arrive before acting or reacting; and even so the first aslan player turn has taken about six months instead of the year it would take according to the boardgame. I can see that some sacrifices have to be made to align the boardgame and the RPG campaigns, and the latter take priority; it suits me for this first turn to move quickly, so that the RPG groups have some breathing space before war breaks out, but the fighting still begins in the right year according to canon. I may review the pace in future game years.

This brings home to me that although the board game moves at a rapid pace for the players representing the guiding will of interstellar states, for individual characters it grinds on slowly, with long periods when nothing of strategic import seems to happen – these gaps are where theĀ  RPG adventures will occur.

Meanwhile, as the Old Musky and Arioniad campaigns are both moving forwards in real time, more or less, the board game doesn’t need to advance any further until Christmas, which will free up this weekly slot for other things. Another game review, then? Don’t mind if I do…

Arion, Episode 12: Tangga

Tangga, 084-3401

Due to the extreme law level, I don’t expect any serious trouble for Our Heroes on Tangga. However, as per the checklist on Solo p. 53, I need a world encounter roll, which may lead to engagement with patrons or colourful locals.

  • World encounter (p. 58): 1, 6. A patron wants to hire Arion. That leads to several other rolls…
  • Who is the patron (p. 59)? 4, 2 – a scientist. OK, that makes sense, Arion works for the Great Archive and that is at its heart an academic organisation, as well as being the nearest notable scientific body. In fact, the scientist may well be an Archive Adept; if not, he (gender randomly determined) is probably from the University of Zonguldak on Mizah.
  • What do they want done (p. 59)? 3, 6 – spy on a location. Hmm. Well, the notable thing about Tangga scientifically speaking is the weird rock formations, so it’s most likely to be those.
  • What is the mission target (p. 60)? 2, 2 – a chemical canister.


“Arion, there’s a Doctor Olgun Yasar on the comm, says he knows you from Mizah and he’d love to come over and catch up over a coffee. He also says he knows what Archive ship’s coffee is like so he’ll bring some of the good stuff.”

“I wish you’d call me Captain. It’d be good for morale.”


“Errrm… mine, mostly, I suppose. Anyway, I don’t remember him, but I’m prepared to take the risk for some decent coffee. Maybe the smell will draw Isabella out of her stateroom…”

The good Doctor arrives and enters, shaking a bag with an enticing scent. It’s not long before coffee is brewing, and Isabella emerges, to be introduced to their new friend, who insists the external viewports be closed because “the view of the surface makes him feel cold”.

This done, and coffee shared out, Arion says “Forgive me, Doctor, but I’m afraid I don’t remember you.”

“That’s because we’ve never met,” the Doctor explains. “I wanted to talk in private, and you know what police surveillance is like on Tangga.”

Arion has been here before, and nods in agreement.

“I’m here from the University of Zonguldak to study the local rock formations, which as you may know have a surprising resemblance to ziggurats. I need your help, and because of the long relationship between the Archive and the University I hoped you might agree.”

“I make it a rule not to say ‘no’ until I know what I’m saying ‘no’ to,” Arion says. “What would you like us to do?”

“I want you to take a look at one particular area of rock formations, and take me and the recordings to the University.”

“That sounds like something you could do without involving us,” Arion observes. “What haven’t you told us?”

“I’m being watched.”

“Well, that goes without saying. This is Tangga, after all.”

“Yes, but they won’t give me permission to go there. It’s off-limits to offworlders. So either Tanggan surveillance isn’t as universal as they would like us to think, or the government is up to something they don’t want made public.”

Arion could – and arguably should – refuse and move on, but where’s the fun in that? This calls for a Plan (pp. 22-25); using his standing in the Archive, Arion will request a flight plan to survey some nearby area where offworlders are permitted, but one of his probe drones will wander into the target area due to ‘equipment failure’, and if necessary self-destruct before capture. This plan seems solid, because most of it is stuff an Archive Surveyor would be expected to do normally, and Arion has the gear and knowledge to carry it off. It’s also safe, because while the Tanggans might arrest him, they are unlikely to kill anyone.

  • Resolve the plan: 2d6 vs 8+ = 9, success.
  • Consequences: 2d6 vs 8+ = 9, good consequence; 2d6 = 6, tracks covered successfully, no evidence left behind.

Arion’s request for a flight plan to observe the rock formations goes without a hitch; it’s more or less expected that the Archive would ask him to survey part of the planet during the stopover – his job title is Surveyor, after all.

Flying a probe drone nap-of-earth into the target area goes undetected, but reveals nothing of importance.

“What were you expecting to find, Doctor? Because unless it was more rocks, we have nothing for you.”

“I thought somebody might be dumping chemical waste there illegally, and maybe bribing the government to cover it up.”

“Not seeing any of that. You still want a ride to Mizah?” Doctor Yasar sighs.

“Yes please. I should report back anyway, and the probe data is still useful, geologically speaking. Give me a few hours to get my stuff packed, I’ll be right back.”

GM Notes

Sometimes, things just go smoothly. Meanwhile, however, a roll on the Tell Me, D6 tables to determine if the good Doctor is on the level generates a 1 – bad, bad, bad. He’s up to no good. Maybe we’ll find out what next episode, on the trip to Mizah.

Meanwhile, Arion continues to serve his purposes; firstly, solitaire gaming is fun; secondly, it helps flesh out the setting, by poking into nooks and crannies that no amount of GM preparation would expose; and third, it anchors me in the setting – I’ve had at least five ideas for new settings since January, and my investment of effort in the Arioniad reduces the odds of me diverting scarce prep time into yet another setting.

Thus do I turn what a behavioural economist would call the sunk-cost fallacy and status quo bias to my advantage. There’s a whole post to be written about the behavioural economics of roleplaying, but that is for another day.

Aslan Border Wars 6: 1-AH-FG

Turn 1, aslan player turn, aslan second movement and combat phases.

War Breaks Out: 337-3401 to 364-3401

Week 25, and the aslan fleets consider their next move. If they were going to hit the Fastnesses or the Solomani Confederation, they should have done it before now, as Confed has put ships in Hasara and Tangga which means the Hierate would have to spend this turn fighting them before reaching any worthwhile systems. However, Mizah and Gazzain are both tough nuts to crack, and invading them would mean heavy losses.

The only other primary system in reach is Ria, but that is only valuable if the aslan can hold Daanarni to establish a supply route back to the Hierate. Moving any ship except a scout to secondary systems risks losing them to unlucky maintenance rolls.

So I think the Hierate’s best option is one last try at persuading Godoro and Valka to join them, which they do in week 26, and if that doesn’t work, bomb them back into the stone age next turn and land troops.

Godoro: 1d6+1 = 4. Negotiations continue. I think these guys are going to get flattened next turn.

Valka: 1d6+0 = 1. Oops. The Valkans have started shooting. Now, the aslan cannot voluntarily initiate combat while negotiating, but they can respond if attacked, which they have just been.

There is no space combat subphase, because only the aslan have ships present. Likewise, there will be no surface combat subphase because only the Valkans have troops present – a tactical error on my part, the aslan should have had a couple of transports with troop units insystem in case things went south. I had remembered ships taking part in surface combat, and had planned to land the destroyer to do that, but a close rereading of the rules shows that ships on the ground are helpless, and only engage in combat if there are no troops left to defend them. So if anyone had a ship on the ground already, it could take part in the defence, but only by acting as a bullet sponge.

However, there can be an interface combat subphase, in which the aslan task force attempts to blow the defenders to smithereens and the defenders reply in kind. The aslan have one destroyer (DD, 2-2-2) and one light cruiser (CL, 5-2-4) giving them a total of 4 missile factors for bombardment. Aaaand this is the point where I notice you need at least 7 missile factors to stand a chance of doing anything useful. Oops again.

A primary system rolls 1d6 for each incoming ship, and destroys it on a 1 or 2. Fortunately for the aslan, Valka’s planetary defences roll 3, 3 – both ships escape unscathed.

Adventure Possibilities

I mentioned spy ships last time, and they will remain an option throughout the war. I am mentally picturing the Type T patrol corvette as a sci-fi equivalent of fast attack craft (PT-109, anyone?) so the scenarios of inserting or recovering agents and spec ops teams, reconnaissance, intercepting courier vessels and whatnot are good for them, while merchants will continue trading but for dramatic purposes will be suspected, correctly, of carrying spies.

At this point Confed might also issue letters of marque and reprisal to Mizah Combine or pirate vessels (which we have established in play are present in the Fastnesses and Dark Nebula clusters).

Did a PC team on Valka deliberately force negotiations to break down? Are they involved in spiriting away the Valkan government, or other VIPS, to a safe haven – and where is safe now, anyway? Did they just happen to be there when the shooting started, and have to get away unscathed?

Meanwhile, Mizah has a PDF unit (in Traveller this would probably be a deep meson gun site) and Confed doesn’t. PCs working for Confed could be tasked with finding out about the PDF, and possibly sabotaging it at a critical moment in any future negotiations.

GM Notes

So, future historians will date the start of the Aslan Border Wars from this point. To align with Traveller canon, the shooting must start within 3401 AD; as far as I know, canon is silent on exactly when that happens, so I shall rule it happens in the final week of 3401. Rolling back 26 weeks tells me that the aslan left Panas in the first week of July.

For the next post in this thread, expect detailed dates for what has happened so far. After that, I’ll pause to let the PCs catch up, in case any of them are reading! It will be 3-4 months into 3402 before news of war breaking out reaches them.

Meanwhile, the aslan have not exactly covered themselves in glory so far. Confed has more troop units than the Hierate, assuming we limit ourselves to the counter mix, so they really need to be able to hire mercenaries. Now, however, honor demands vengeance!

Anyone following the game is welcome to comment, or suggest strategies for either side!

Aslan Border Wars 5: 1-AH-DE

Aslanic turn 1, Solomani reaction movement and combat phases.

Solomani Initial Response: 295-3401 to 336-3401

Dark Nebula is a game in which the active player’s turn is interrupted by the inactive one; in this case, although it is the aslanic player turn, the solomani are allowed a reaction movement phase and a reaction combat phase before the aslan move again; this is like a normal turn, except that the inactive player can only move one counter stack, and then only for three jumps, although not everything has to go to the same destination. Combat is handled normally.

In this case, I’ve already decided the Solomani reaction stack is at Gazzain, although I could change my mind now, and the farthest any of it can get is Hasara; so during its reaction movement phase, Confed moves its destroyer from Gazzain to Hasara, and its exploratory cruiser from Gazzain to Tangga, to give it some defence in depth – any invading force has to stop and deal with units in each system, which gives Confed at least one turn’s breathing room to rearm.

I could move the transports as well, but Mizah is too tough a nut to crack – better to build a couple of strike cruisers and negotiate from strength – and invading secondary systems risks losing units too early in the game; even if successful, it strands units in low-value systems.

This is the first point at which Arion and the Old Musky crew would notice things happening, so now I should press on until fighting breaks out, then work backwards from that, allocating dates to what has happened so far. Ignoring the setup, I arbitrarily allocate one week to the aslanic maintenance and production phase; the aslan first movement phase takes about six weeks, and the first combat phase is probably a week of negotiations, during which a Solomani spy ship in the Godoro system starts its 10 week trip back to Gazzain to report that the Aslan are coming out. The Solomani reaction movement phase is also about six weeks, and I’ll call the unused reaction combat phase one week as well; so whenever we started, we’ve spent about 24 weeks thus far, and the start can’t have been any later than late July 3401 for the war to begin on schedule.

I’m assuming that Confed has contingency plans and the base on Gazzain has authority to execute them if necessary, otherwise it would take another 1-2 months for news to reach Maadin and orders to come back – this is the big advantage of not having FTL radio in SF RPGs, the commander on the spot can’t pick up the phone and ask HQ what to do, he has to decide for himself.

In hindsight, Confed should have deployed three scouts into the reaction stack, one to hold Gazzain, one to hold Tangga, and a third one to go with the destroyer and exploration ship to Mizah and negotiate. I console myself with the thought that real history is full of suboptimal strategic choices.

Adventure Possibilities

From this point on, I’m going to note possible scenarios or other Player Character involvement in the war.

In the boardgame, both sides have perfect knowledge of each other’s movements and units. Since no information travels faster than a ship, at the RPG level that means there are Confed and Hierate spy ships everywhere, which in turn means all of the planetless tertiary systems have stealthed ships waiting to refuel the spy ships; or perhaps, as in 2300AD, there are planetoid chunks of rock and ice debris for this, with automated refuelling bases on them. One could start a naval campaign with the PCs as the crew of a spy ship, their first mission triggering when one side or the other appears in the system they’re watching, and they must escape with the news.

Or, the PCs could be agents inserted onto that world, abandoned when their supporting ship jumps out, with contingency orders to organise a resistance movement.

Later, agents undercover as the crew of a far trader circling the Moralon cluster (Godoro, Valka and nearby systems) could gather intel and hand it off to a patrol corvette hidden in the Godoro system.

There’s a lot to do in the Dark Nebula.

GM Notes

I’ve realised that I’m going to need the position snapshots as some sort of computer images, if only because copying the previous turn’s positions will take longer and likely introduce errors as well. My first thought was Hex Map Pro, which I used successfully in the past for that, but it disappeared from the iTunes app store while I wasn’t using it. I hate it when that happens. So I’m using Hexographer for the moment. At some point I will need to show which counters are in space and which are on the ground; I’ll probably put surface units in italics or something.

Arion, Episode 11: Sulking

077-3401, Jumpspace

Another week in jump… according to Solo p. 53, that calls for a starport encounter, a starship encounter, an onboard event, a reaction table, a second starship encounter, and finally a starport encounter.

  • Starport encounter (Hasara, p. 39): 22 – Meet a contact who needs help. Hmm, the only potential contact here is the hunter from episode 10, what can he want?
  • Starship encounter (leaving Hasara, pp. 40-46): 600 ton mining derrick, asks for info on world just left.
  • Onboard event (jump, p. 56): Training session – hijack.
  • Reaction (jump): 2d6=5, 1d6=1. Random dice rolls show that Isabella withdraws, physically and socially, seeking solace.
  • Starship encounter (arrival at Tangga): 400 ton subsidised merchant, comms out, radio silence.
  • Starport encounter (Tangga): 66 – nothing out of the ordinary.

Now to hang that together as a narrative…

Captain’s Log, 077-3401

I suppose I should get back into the habit of doing this. Let’s see, what’s happened lately?

The whatever-he-was from Ria approached us, and said he needed a ride offworld; but since he’d already tried to kill me with a sandbug I said “no”. I did that over the external speakers with the airlock door closed. I feel bad about it, if that’s any consolation. There will be another Archive surveyor through Hasara in a few weeks so it’s not like I marooned him there. If he’s with the Royalists he’ll understand, and if he’s with the rebels, we definitely don’t want him on board. I can’t tell who is on which side, so he’ll have to walk.

We left Hasara Downport with no problems, exchanging hails with an incoming asteroid miner. They wanted to know if anything exciting had happened since the last visit; I said they should watch out for sandbugs, found one in the Archive surveyors’ lounge. It’s a wonder it could move at all, given the air pressure in the lounge is over a thousand times what it is outside. They’re tough little devils.

Isabella spent most of this jump moping in her cabin. She’s had a rough time lately, but it’s getting harder to draw her out of herself; not even playing hijack defence with simunition and holographic targets got her moving. She has stopped attending the flying lessons and pistol practice. I’m not sure what to try next; maybe the Archive proper will have better ideas or better luck. The Dolphin says she’s reading a lot of pre-spaceflight Russian novels in translation, and in its opinion that’s not good for anyone’s mental health, although it speaks well for her ability to concentrate.

We’re on finals for Tangga Downport now. We just passed a Type R, outbound for Salia, but they didn’t hail us, or we them. Have to leave all the weapons aboard ship when we land, but the Tanggan Port Authority will assign us each a personal drone to follow us around, record whatever we do, and share it with the local police; that will cramp our style considerably, but on the plus side it will make it hard to get into any real trouble. I’ll check in with the Archive outpost once we’re down and exchange news.

Sad to say, I actually prefer Isabella hiding in her cabin to Isabella flouncing around the ship shouting at me in Spanish, but neither one is good for her. Still, only another two weeks to Mizah. By then, she needs to have decided what she wants to do.

GM Notes

One of the main reasons why the solitaire player needs to write stuff down; it could be several years in real time before Arion returns to Hasara, by which point I could have forgotten all about any contacts. As it is, I flip open the relevant notebook or web page, and discover that the hunter from the previous episode rolled a good enough reaction to be a contact.

Just because Mr Hunter asks for Arion’s help doesn’t mean he gets it, though; maybe he won’t be so friendly if we meet him again, but that has story possibilities too.

On the game front, as always in a solitaire Traveller(ish) game, time hangs heavy in vacuum, and I can see that eventually the onboard reactions and events could become repetitive; maybe Arion should spend more time on the ground.

Aslan Border Wars: 1-AH-C

Here we enter the first aslan combat phase, which is the point at which I can first roll to see whether Godoro and Valka join the aslan or resist.

This is pretty straightforward; I roll one die for each world, adding +1 per 10 missile factors in the system; on a 1, fighting breaks out, and on a 6, the neutral forces ally with the aslan.

Godoro: 1d6+1 = 5; negotiations continue into the next aslan combat phase.

Valka: 1d6+0 = 4, and again negotiations continue.

If either had allied with the aslan, their forces could have been hired as mercenaries, but the Hierate would have to leave a unit in system to retain control. The aslan can’t negotiate and attack in the same phase, so this will roll forward into their next combat phase.

No map for you this time, as it would look exactly the same as the last one.

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