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Rattenbury Ghost Episode 2: Honour Among Thieves

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.

Route and Timeline

Their route was Drinax, Torpal, Clarke, Torpal again, Borite, Noricum, Theev, Palindrome, Noricum, Borite, Torpol for the third time, and finally back to Drinax. Allowing for extra time spent on a couple of worlds, they finished the first scenario at some point during week 28; let’s round that up to 196-1105. Two days for the players, seven months for the characters.

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.

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Rattenbury Ghost, Episode 1: When the Going Gets Tough…

“There are 106 miles to Chicago, we have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” – The Blues Brothers

This group (the crew of the Collateral Damage) now has only two of the original eight players left, and by the end of this session had ditched their ship, stolen another one, and disappeared into the Big Dark. This session laid the groundwork for a soft reboot of the campaign, as you will see.

While we’re at it, let’s shake up the format of session writeups.

What the Players Said

“Thanks for the game, Andy, you put a lot of work in on that scenario.”

Game Prep

Actually, no, I didn’t put a lot of work in. Here’s how I did it…

The loss of the last two players had left the crew with no pilot and no medic, so they needed new blood; I decided to make these wild cards so that their party has about the right power level for published scenarios, which are usually designed for 4-6 players. I pulled the Pilot and Scientist archetypes from the core Savage Worlds rules, edited the skills a little, and used Gold & Glory: Seven Deadly Dungeons to determine their genders and Hindrances; both are human females, according to the cards, and the crew now includes an arrogant, big-mouthed pilot and a medic with bad luck who is all thumbs. The players dubbed them Germaine and Dr Zed. Why Germaine, I asked them. “It isn’t germane,” they said. I walked into that one.

I had asked the players by email what their intentions were before the session. Dyson wanted more parts to buff the ship. Big Ted wanted loot and more guns. They finished the last session on Toyis, a world where civilisation collapsed centuries ago and which is now dominated by the descendants of genetically-engineered flying housecats (I borrowed this planet from the Bulldogs! supplement Ports of Call). So somewhere nearby is the pre-collapse starport, buried under 600 years of jungle growth; their ship is built from the same blueprints that tramp freighters used before the collapse, so the parts should fit. The players agreed that looting the old star port would make a good adventure.

Thinking about this, I decided that their opposition would be a pirate crew also looking for parts, and feral descendants of starport security’s genetically-engineered infantry weapons – stiff lizards using puffs of steam to fire flesh-boring beetles (which I lifted from Harry Harrison’s novel East of Eden). That took about 15 minutes.

It seemed a bit thin, though, so I pulled some maps from my games collection; GEV, which I used for the area around the starport, and White Dwarf 43, from which I extracted the maps for the Type C starport, the scout base, and the parkbays. I’ve observed over the years that detailed maps can be counted on to fill out a session – first, the players spend some time looking at and discussing the map, and second, they pounce on details on the map and come up with plans to explore and ideas for what might be in each location. (“We should check out the telemetry shack, it probably has some electronics components we can use.”) By following these hints, you avoid having to prepare the treasure and also make the players feel good because their plan worked.

That took about an hour, because I scanned the maps and tidied them up on the computer. However, while I was doing that I decided on the plotlines and maps for two followup scenarios in case we had time left over and sorted out the maps for those as well, so actually only 20 minutes prep for this particular scenario.

Encounters? Grab some standard Savage Worlds items from the core rulebook and reskin them; the pirates are Soldiers led by Wild Card Experienced Soldiers, the lizards are Venomous Snakes with ranged attacks. Less than a minute, because I have the rulebook with me, I just need to decided which monsters to use.

Total prep time: 35 minutes for this scenario, and an extra 40 minutes for two backup scenarios.

How It Went

The players decided to start with the scout base, expecting guns and armour in the security areas, and dungeon-crawled their way through it. They were disappointed with the paucity of lethal toys in the Marine barracks, so I threw them a fish in the form of a disabled suit of powered armour, which Dyson will try to fix up before the next session. They moved on to the defence stores, encountering the feral lizards. They blew these up with Big Ted’s plasma gun, which is thankfully starting to run low on ammo. I threw a couple of pirates at them; they gunned these down, but not before losing both their flying cats (local thugs they had hired as scouts), one roasted by a laser rifle in mid-air, and one who fled because he hadn’t signed up for that. Big Ted ate the dead cat, but failed his Vigour roll and threw up at the smell of singed fur. (This led to an extended discussion of the Srinivasan Effect and why being hit with a laser weapon is not as clinical as you might think.)

They made their way south towards the repair yard, encountering small groups of pirates each time they seemed to lose focus. They kept trying to capture pirates for interrogation, but failed; usually because they overdid the damage output, but once because Dr Zed rolled snake eyes when healing an incapacitated pirate. They thought that was hilarious, so let it stand rather than using her bennies to reroll. On the way, they also recovered their missing flying cat, White Star, an arrogant, lazy, greedy creature.

Eventually they found the pirate ship grounded in a clearing. They decided it was in better shape than their own, so came up with a cunning plan to board it and seize control, killing all the crew but one, who seemed amenable to working under new management.

Finding the repair yards already picked clean, they flew off in their new ship, which they have called the Rattenbury Ghost. They quickly decided that this would be a good point to resign informally from their current employer and set off as self-employed free traders and/or pirates, so stripped their old ship of everything useful and loaded it onto the new one to be used for upgrades. They persuaded White Star to come with them as the ship’s cat.

Wrapup

The end of one session is a good place to start the prep for the next, by asking the players a few questions. Their decisions during the session indicated to me that they are ready for a change of pace.

What next? I asked. Hire some crew, they said; they have one pilot, one engineer, one medic and whatever the Hell Big Ted is; losing a single character disables the group, as the characters haven’t cross-trained and have no intention of doing so. That sounds like a visit to a big starport.

What level of detail did they want in trading? None, they said. We agreed to run this off their Edges and Hindrances; at the moment neither has Poverty, Rich, or Filthy Rich, so they’re getting by, trading exactly balances their expenditure but if they want loot they have to adventure for it.

How did they want to see the campaign develop? An overall storyline, they said, and a star map so they can choose where to go next. Also, a bit more detail on the new ship and how their modifications affect it – we’ve been handwaving that so far. I have about three months before the next game with this group, so I’ve got time to sort all that out, including stats for the new ship’s cat…

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