The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Archive for the ‘Vault’ Category

Aslan Border Wars Retrospective

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

The Dark Nebula boardgame is going back in its box, and the box is going back on the shelf. The Aslan Border Wars posts are consigned to the blog’s Vault category, where lurk the things I don’t expect to use again, but can’t quite bring myself to delete.

I don’t expect to repeat this exercise again – although I’ve thought that before, and been wrong. So what have I learned from it? Well, see the post about Crossing the Irrawaddy for the more philosophical version, but here are the lessons.

Overarching metaplots are neither necessary nor desirable, especially in solitaire play.

Hidden planets whose statistics, or existence, are concealed from the players are not very useful; all they do is force the GM to keep extra records. Better to show all the locations and statistics, and put the secrets in the adventures – or in solitaire play, allow them to emerge from the random encounters and events.

Using an old boardgame as a setting does give you a cool map, but you should throw away everything else; trying to follow the boardgame faithfully imposes too many constraints.

I can reuse a setting, but not a campaign story arc. Too much depends on things being fresh for me as the GM as well as the players. I know there are GMs out there who can and do rerun the same campaign for different groups; I’m not one of them.

Meanwhile, Dark Nebula – well done, thou good and faithful servant. Sleep well.


Pirates, Episode 4: Honour Among Thieves, Part 2

Team Harrier: Lennox, Sanpo, Sanders, Harper, Jaker. NPCs: Lehman, Schneider, Sauer, von Wuffenstein.

When last seen, the Harrier was leaving Torpol, bound for Borite. In the intervening fortnight, they’ve picked up another PC, currently known as Jaker, who is a medic; as usual, I shall say he was on the ship the whole time, he just never featured in the action before now. I have also named the NPCs; Lehman and Schneider are the marines, and Sauer the gunner. Lehman is a former member of the Princess’ personal guard, and therefore – they suspect – the one most likely to gun them down if they try to make off with the ship.

We’re still playing the first adventure from the campaign story arc, Honour Among Thieves, and at the present rate of progress I expect it will take another two sessions to complete. This week, they followed their lead to Borite, where they rescued Krrsh, a vargr pirate marooned by his fellows after the attack on the Sarcomond, and captured the chamax he was hiding from by the simple expedient of shooting it until it was unable to resist further and then picking it up using battle dress and carrying it aboard ship. The ship’s engineers have been given the task of building a chamax-proof container for it; they are currently arguing over whether to sell it to the highest bidder or keep it as a ship’s mascot.

Meanwhile, Kirrin persuaded the varg to spill his guts, and they now know why the pirate gang attacked Torpol and Clarke; they also have a further lead, as their new shipmate thinks the pirate boss will have sent his lieutenant to Theev to negotiate with the locals.

The group asked to fast-forward from Borite to Theev, as they want to get on with the adventure. They also insisted that Krrsh’s surname should be von Wuffenstein, and what does it hurt if it is, really?

GM Notes

Running Traveller again has been like putting a pair of comfortable old gloves back on.

So far we have been hand-waving trade, but I will explain that to the group’s quartermaster in a side meeting, as if they stay on the main story arc – don’t look at me like that, it could happen – they will need the trading rules to handle their ill-gotten gains.

I also need to learn the combat rules properly, as I forgot half a dozen things in the excitement. I need to have those rules down pat before they engage in any serious firefights. I suppose I should extend that to ship combat eventually – I’m not keen on having ship combat back in my games, to be honest, but you can’t really do piracy without ship combat.

Looking forward, Harper’s player wants to be a GM, so once the group has finished Honour Among Thieves I’ll hand the group over to him for a session or three, during which I can play; we have agreed that my PC will be the cut-out and loyalty monitor for a mysterious patron, explaining why he only shows up when said patron commissions the group. I feel obliged to call him “Mr. Johnson” because of this.

After that, I’ll run some actual piracy so we can see how the rules for that work. I suspect piracy will become repetitive, and therefore boring, but perhaps jacking a ship or two in between set-piece adventures will work.

Pirates Episode 3: Capricorn 13

Team Uncle: Wivel (survey scout), “Zoom” Izumi (survey scout), Dr Moon Moon (vargr physician), Alrik (vargr pilot).

Episode 3 Screenshot from Discord

Above: Screenshot from the Discord channel where we run the game, showing the advantages of using a published setting: World stats and subsector map from the Traveller Map, which we use to create flight plans and remind ourselves of the worlds’ basic stats, and deck plans for the party’s ship from the Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition core rulebook PDF – at the time being used to illustrate a debate about where any prisoners taken should be kept, and where the vargr treats are stored. I am still not clear how those were related.


The scoutship (Bob’s) Your Uncle is the second ship crewed by our would-be pirates. While Princess Rao is sending the others off in the Harrier hunting raiders as a precursor to piracy, she wants this crew to reconnoitre Sindal Subsector covertly; get solid info on each world and what might induce it to support her cause, without giving away who is looking or why. Oh, and while you’re at it, find the descendant(s) of the Sindalian Emperor and persuade them to endorse the Kingdom of Drinax as the Empire’s legitimate successor.

Rao explains that while the Harrier is nigh-on unique, and thus will be easily recognised by anyone who has seen it before, there are uncounted scout/couriers throughout charted space; it’s much easier for this team to blend in.

1105 Week 1: Drinax

Refuelling, replenishing supplies, briefing with the Princess, flight plan. Everyone knows that Noricum was the capital of the Sindalian Empire, so that is the logical place to start looking for the Emperor’s descendants; the fastest route is Drinax – Torpol – Oghma – Noricum, and this is what the crew decide upon.

1105 Week 2: Jumpspace

Training week 1.

1105 Week 3: Torpol

While shopping for vargr treats in the starport, the team is approached by an official who invites them to meet the starport administrator, Haddo Falx. Falx explains to them that he needs some resourceful people who are not connected to any of the local governments, and who can discretely recover some data for him. He knows the rough location of a site containing a computer core; he wants the core, but the travellers can keep anything else they find, and he will owe them a favour. Finally, he can make their flight plan look like whatever they want, to help with the ‘being discrete’ part.

After some negotiation and debate, the travellers agree, on condition that Falx makes their flight plan look like the outline of a shark to confuse later investigators, if any.

Soon they are cruising over the polar wastes in their scoutship, and Izumi finds a carefully masked power signature inside a cave. Alrik bypasses the lock, and they enter, to find themselves investigating a centuries-old survivalist prepper bunker. They help themselves to a variety of survival and camping gear, plus hunting rifles and pistols of antique make, and decide they will pick up the squad support laser covering the cave mouth on the way out. Alrik’s delicate stomach (Endurance 3) is upset by whatever is in the 200-year old packet with a picture of a happy dog on it, but he recovers over time.

Despite constant anxiety that some local wildlife will leap out and devour them, they reach the control room unharmed and awaken the expert system that runs the place. This explains it is a 12-person scientific bunker; several centuries ago the Kingdom of Drinax had a habit of bombing subordinate worlds if they stepped out of line, and Torpol established a network of bunkers where the wealthy and powerful could retire to sit out the bombing and its aftermath. This station’s function was to monitor the environment for pathogens and radiation, and confirm to larger bunkers when it was safe to emerge again.

Wivel asks for a map of the bunker network, but the expert system explains this is admin-only information and password protected.

Izumi finds the main password on a piece of crumbling paper stuck under one of the desks, and Moon Moon’s delicate surgeon’s fingers make use of it to grant them admin access without destroying the paper. Meanwhile, Wivel slogs back to the ship and returns with an external data drive where they can copy the entire core before delivering it to Haddo Falx.

To be continued…

GM Notes

I’m taking a much more relaxed approach to sessions since the summer, letting them meander wherever they want to go at their own pace. Things are a lot simpler and easier for me with a group of four players, three of whom are quite experienced, having been playing in my games for over five years.

This session was largely improvised; I thought an ambitious man (Falx) on a balkanised planet (Torpol) must want something to help his plans along, so let’s put a MacGuffin in an arctic base and do a rerun of Ice Station Zebra but with spaceships. At this point I have no idea what the information is, and nor does Falx (they know this because Wivel is secretly a psion), but it’s in the computer core somewhere. The party has yet to realise that the real reward is one or more bases they can take over for themselves. All I did as far as preparation goes was have that vague thought and download the map for “Science Outpost Capricorn 13” from Pinterest (and a tip o’ the hat is due to Miska Fredman for drawing and sharing that).

I had expected there to be some fighting this session, but the encounter dice were kind, and as yet there is no danger.

The party has decided to call their ship (Bob’s) Your Uncle so that they can send each other messages about it in clear over unencrypted channels – “Your Uncle says he’s coming to visit you” and so on. Since the group consists of three hotshot pilots and a medic, I expect it to avoid combat, but you never know.

The players decided that they don’t want a designated rules lawyer, and don’t want to bother with trade, so we have adopted my usual approach: Whatever trading you’re doing generates exactly enough money to cover your expenses, anything the characters might reasonably have is in the ship’s locker, and if they want anything special, getting hold of it is an adventure. That all works very well.

Pirates of Drinax Episode 2: Honour Among Thieves, Part 1

Team Harrier: As-yet unnamed PC, Jack Harper, John Sanders, Dr Anthony Sanpo, Brigadier Lennox Kirrin.

As you know, I avoid spoilers for five years after a product is published; but while the current incarnation of Pirates of Drinax was published in 2017, it’s actually an upgraded version of a free-to-download campaign first published in 2011, so I feel at liberty to start letting things slip.

Last time, the royal family of Drinax engaged the party as privateers. As the group was too big for me to run (it’s now back up to nine players) I split them into two groups, one in the ship provided by Drinax, and one in a detached duty scout. This week it was the turn of Team Harrier, who have been tasked with tracking down raiders who hit the nearby worlds of Torpol and Clarke; we start in week 1 of Imperial year 1105…

Week 1: The party uses its ship shares to effect repairs on the ship they’ve been loaned, which is a fixer-upper. They also hire a gunner as none of them can cover that slot, and two marines. Finally they approach Princess Rao with a wish list of what they’d like added to the ship’s locker, which she approves.

Week 2: Jump to Clarke. We’ve established that weeks in jump count towards training.

Week 3: Investigate the attack on Clarke, gather clues.

Week 4: Jump to Torpol (training week 2).

Week 5: Investigate the attack on Torpol, decide that the raiders have gone to Borite, prepare to jump there.

GM Notes

One of the benefits of using published material set in the Official Traveller Universe is being able to use the Traveller Map. Team Harrier is currently here.

There’s also a lot less to write up, as I can refer to the campaign book to refresh my memory of what happened. So far they are following the trail of breadcrumbs without much sign of going off-piste; like the previous group I ran through this adventure, they became very interested in exactly what chemicals the raiders had stolen from Clarke, and why; but I was ready for them this time, and a clear answer, firmly stated, seemed to satisfy them without an extended discussion of why the raiders had targeted that particular facility.

Much time was spent debating how to approach Princess Rao for extra equipment, but the way I see it, she is the de facto ruler of a small nation, who hopes to parlay that into control of an interstellar empire; as we’ve established she is a competent ruler, she is not going to place that plan at risk for the sake of saving a few hundred credits on gear; so their negotiation was easier than they expected.

Unlike the previous group, this team thought of asking for some trade goods to start building up a war chest with, and left with a hold full of precious metals and gems. They were chastened when they realised how expensive running a pirate fleet is going to be, though.

This team now has a designated rules lawyer, whose job is to make sure we don’t stray too far from the rules as written, and a designated trader, whose job is to handle trade (as suggested in the core rulebook) and keep track of what’s in the ship’s locker and funds. That is working very well so far, and the players think it a useful addition.

Finally, one of the players wants to take a turn at being the GM, so this could be even less work than planned; we just need to establish some limits on what each of us can do which might affect the other’s adventures, which will be straightforward enough.

Pirates of Drinax 1: A Chance of Glory

It’s been a long time since the last Old Musky session, and after some discussion and an acknowledgement that this group are pirates at heart, not well suited to playing a naval patrol, we agreed to reboot the campaign in the Trojan Reach, which as a published sector rich in adventures should be less work for me.

There are eight players; two of the PCs are freshly generated, three are pregens from the core rulebook and the starter set, and three are recycled from the Old Musky campaign because why not. I plan to split the players into two groups of four, running in alternate weeks.

Aboard the Harrier: Brigadier Lennox Kirrin, military adviser to King Oleb; Dr Anthony Sanpo, Chief Planetologist of Drinax; John Sanders, engineer; Jack Harper, scavenger. It pleases me that the Doctor and the Brigadier are in the same team – obviously the others are the Doctor’s companions.

About the-whatever-Wivel’s-scoutship-is-called: Dr Moon Moon, Vargr physician; unnamed survey scout; unnamed Vargr pilot; Senior Scout Wivel.

NPCs encountered to date: King Oleb of Drinax (played by Brian Blessed); Crown Princess Rao of Drinax (played by Scarlet Johannsen); Rachando, free trader who runs an emporium on Drinax (played by Michael Emerson).

The first session was heavy on exposition as the players explained who their characters are and why they are here, learned about Drinax and its neighbours, and met the local rulers. Having broken the news to King Oleb that [a] Drinax is not going to be habitable again anytime soon (Dr Sanpo) and [b] Drinax’s military is well-equipped but neither large nor well-trained, the Travellers were secretly commissioned as privateers by King Oleb of Drinax as part of a plan to restore the Kingdom to its former glory. This plan requires them to befriend worlds while harassing shipping and minimising civilian casualties.

Team Harrier has been lent a ship to execute the plan – but it’s a “fixer-upper”. Their first task is to find the raiders who recently struck the nearby worlds of Torpol and Clarke and take them back to face justice. The Harrier is distinctive to the point of being almost unique, so their ability to undertake covert missions is limited.

The other lot are in a ubiquitous Type S scout/courier, so much easier to hide. They will be sent off towards Noricum, to find the descendants of the Sindalian Emperor and persuade them to acknowledge Drinax as the Empire’s rightful successor.

GM Notes

Team Harrier are starting the first adventure of the Pirates of Drinax, which worked well when I ran it over the summer for the crew of the Rattenbury Ghost, and the others are going to scope out the Sindal Subsector and play through the premade adventure seeds in the core rulebook.

I had sworn off running multiple parties in the same setting, but it seems to be happening again anyway, in the Trojan Reach this time; the crew of the Rattenbury Ghost have been there since the summer, and the VTT group started last weekend. Perhaps there will be fewer problems if they are in larger, pregenerated campaign setting? Let’s find out.

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.


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.


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.

Old Musky, Episode 7: Into the Hive

Captain Degazio, PO Harkness, L-Sgt Von Ankh, assorted enthusiastic ithklur.

Changa, 113-3401

On the hull of the alien cruiser, still dead in space, Degazio, Harkness and Von Ankh prepare to board, supported by six ithklur marines (who have now all adopted names such as Teacake, Donut etc. in honour of Cpl Pancake).

Once the hole bored by Cpl Pancake’s PGMP has cooled enough to be safe, the boarding party enters cautiously. There’s no artificial gravity inside, but their suit sensors indicate an atmospheric pressure of about 1.15 standard, 25% chlorine and significant amounts of hydrogen – hydrochloric acid takes up the space occupied by water vapour in terrestrial air. Suit sensors alert the boarders to the fact that their suits will fail in a few hours.

More mundane sensors – flashlights – reveal an organic tunnel leading deeper into the ship, with a junction a few metres inside. Harkness moves up to the junction, and three ithklur follow, fanning out around him for protection. Von Ankh takes a couple more marines and explores one arm of the junction, but it leads to a dead end. Captain Degazio enters and has a marine allocated as a bodyguard.

Von Ankh moves back to the crossroads for a good field of view, and forwards the video from the marines’ helmet cameras to himself, Harkness and Degazio. Two marines head deeper into the ship, while Harkness leads two along a tunnel parallel to the ship’s hull and pries open a wall sphincter at random. Inside, Harkness finds a cache of spherical objects about the size of a basketball. Leaving the marines on guard, he takes this outside and tapes it to the the hull for easy retrieval.

Meanwhile, deeper in the ship, the marines find a chamber dominated by a tall structure made of dark green chitin, which looks like it should revolve. One marine enters a niche in the structure and pushes; it rotates easily and he emerges into another chamber, where he can see the entrance to a crawlspace of some kind.

At this point, the marines Harkness left on watch shout “Movement!” and their helmet cameras show a swarm of man-sized insectoids approaching at speed. The boarding party brace themselves for firing in zero-g, and as the bugs continue to close, open fire with their ACRs on full auto. This kills a few bugs, but fails to stem the tide, so Von Ankh orders the rearmost marines to fire RAM grenades into the onrushing horde. While they are preparing those, Harkness steps out of the tunnel and uses his engineering admin passwords to access the ship’s two triple pulse laser turrets and blast the tunnel from the outside. This is surprisingly effective, considering he is firing blind by dead reckoning, and makes a large hole.

Lt. Degazio is more demurely armed than the others, with revolver and cutlass. Nonetheless, she manages to drop one bug before the RAM grenades fire – and both fall short.

The ensuring carnage is an abject lesson in why you do not charge down a long straight corridor towards a squad with automatic weapons and explosives. Many bugs died to teach the boarding party this lesson. Unfortunately two marines are in the grenade blast radius, and not even combat armour can stop that much damage. Their armour is now holed, with a chlorine atmosphere flowing in and forming hydrochloric acid on contact with their body fluids, and additionally they themselves are perforated by shrapnel.

More bugs flood the tunnels from the direction of the rotating structure, and overrun the boarding party. However, it soon becomes clear that their focus is mending the hole the Old Musky‘s crew came in from, and they have no hostile intentions as such.

Patching their fallen comrades’ suits, the boarders retire through the latest hole they’ve made and return to the ship, where Dr Moon Moon can attempt to save the casualties.

As they exit the alien vessel, the XO’s voice comes over the radio: “Captain? Get out of there, that ship is starting to move!”

To be continued…

GM’s Notes

Not many players this week, which helped as it’s the first time we’ve used the combat rules in earnest. Questions I couldn’t find a quick answer to, and had to make spot rulings for: Is it possible for a high initiative traveller to go “on hold” waiting for someone else to go? (I decided yes, at least until I check the rules.) How much damage does a ship’s hull absorb if you’re shooting at someone inside it? What happens if you’re not braced when you attack in zero-g? I expect those are in the rules somewhere, but I haven’t found them yet.

Ideas I borrowed from Savage Worlds were to let each player control two of the six marines, and have those marines act on the controlling player’s initiative. That sped things up considerably and meant Degazio’s player had something to do – the Captain herself is not well-suited to boarding actions.

Traveller personal combat seems to flow faster and better with this group than Savage Worlds did with the same players; using d6 for everything helps, as does using the same initiative roll on each combat round.

Meanwhile, Von Ankh’s player had missed the first improvement roll from training while overseas, and rolled retroactively, increasing his Zero-G to expertise-1.

Quote of the session: “Why am I in the boarding party? I’m not Captain Kirk!” (Lt. Degazio.)

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