Dark Nebula: 2300AD Edition

I have no real intention of using 2300AD for the Dark Nebula game, but every so often I find myself wool-gathering about how to do it. My conclusion? It would actually work, although with a lot more effort than I am prepared to put in…

CHARACTERS

These are fairly straightforward; the only thing I would need to do is allow for different races, as in 2300AD as written, humans are the only playable race. For this, I would rule that humans must have a Normal body type, while Aslan must be Mesomorphs; additionally, male Aslan may only enter Military careers, while female Aslan may not enter Military careers; and finally, Aslan do Normal damage in hand-to-hand combat, rather than Stun damage, due to their claws.

That would leave me with Ectomorphs and Endomorphs to use as other races later. I’d use kafers from the main rules for the space bugs beyond Simba.

WORLDS

Worlds would have to be generated starting from stellar type, which could be approximated from the star colour on the map. Every planet in every star system, probably somewhere in the region of 500 or so, would need to have its orbital radius, core type, size, density, mass, surface gravity, atmospheric composition and pressure, world type, water, average temperature, and atmospheric oxygen determined; then you do that again for each planet’s moons. (Can you believe we used to do all that with pencil, paper and dice? I can’t imagine having that much time now. You can see why pregenerated settings became popular.)

For habitable worlds with colonies, you then need to determine the colony’s age, level of colonisation effort, settlement character, and bases; those give you a population and a number of development points which you spend to buy power plants and transmission nets, orbital facilities and the means of surface-to-orbit transport, industry, mines, farms, road grids and so forth.

By now, you probably realise why I didn’t go down that route, and jumped directly to world types. As you’ll see when I start looking at worlds in detail, it’s a lot easier to retrofit the important facets of a world to the world type than it is to keep generating worlds until I get a suitable one.

If I were doing this for real, tertiary systems would only have Chunks, secondary systems would have inhospitable worlds and light colonisation effort, primary ones would have habitable worlds and median colonisation effort, and capital systems would have habitable worlds and heavy colonisation. I’d probably have to run the colony age table on by a few hundred years as well, which would be simple enough.

2300AD only has three tech levels, and those are vague indeed; Capital worlds would have New Military technology, primary worlds would have Old Military/New Civil technology, and secondary ones, Old Civil technology. Tertiary worlds wouldn’t have technology, other than whatever you brought with you.

SHIPS

Starships in 2300AD tool around at roughly one light-year per day, and have a maximum range of 7.7 light-years. So on my Dark Nebula map, it takes them roughly a week to travel two hexes; we have to assume that jump routes three or four hexes long are punctuated by brown dwarfs in deep space where the ships can discharge their drives. Ship crews are much larger than in other games, though, with the minimal officially-sanctioned crew being 13; three engineers and two shifts each of five bridge personnel – no one-man scoutships here.

Ship design? Ship combat? Let’s not even go there. It’s just too hard.

Dark Nebula: Outposts

"Outposts are either very new colonies that have not have the requisite time to grow or they are uncolonized worlds that just happen to have a naval or corporate base on the surface." – Stars Without Number

I want to keep up the momentum of three posts per week, but as I’m throttling back on reviews, the Wednesday slot will be free for other things most weeks…

One thing that thinking about the Stars Without Number version of the Nebula threw into stark relief for me was the outposts.

Using my guidelines, any secondary system with only one or two routes is an outpost. The SWN definition implies that worlds with a population of less than 10,000 are not viable in the long term, and that therefore they have been settled by worlds emerging onto the interstellar stage again after the interregnum called the Silence.

I like this idea for two reasons; firstly, it reduces the amount of work I have to do, because it reduces the number of cultures in play; and secondly, it mirrors the real world – whatever you think of it politically, Britain has about 3,000 citizens on the Falkland Islands; that’s an SWN outpost, right there, and it’s half a world away. Without some consideration like this to hold me in check, I tend to develop very tightly clustered pocket empires, and the real world doesn’t necessarily do that.

In Classic Traveller terms, all outpost worlds have just developed government type 6 – "a colony or conquered area". Actually, Valka’s government type is in the process of changing to that as well, which means world profiles will change as the campaign develops; how cool is that?

KILRAI’

On the Hierate side of Daanarni, which I think of as the Kilrai’ Sector, the outposts are: Alis, Amani, Craco/Drax, Hasara, Kinada, Mir, Pasar, Rosa, Simsek.

Rosa is easy. There’s no threat for it to defend against, so it’s a Hierate corporate or research base of some kind.

Alis is also straightforward. It’s right next to Ria, and we know the government has just been overthrown by rebels, so I’m going to call that a prison colony where the previous government was keeping dissidents.

For Hasara, I reach back to the Arioniad and decide this is a combination of a scientific outpost studying Daanarni (and getting a warning out if it goes nova), and a waystation on a trade route to Ria and Godoro. It’s easier to get to Mizah from here than any other primary world, so Hasara is an outpost of the Mizah Combine. That means I can scratch Nepalese off the list of cultures I need to flesh out; there probably was some kind of Nepalese colony here at one time, but it died out, leaving only its decorations behind; once Mizah started exploring after the Silence, it set up a base here. I could call that a scout base of sorts, I suppose.

Amani, Kinada and Mir form a chain running from Astel/Dim offmap. There’s no arable land there, so that looks to me like the Hierate is setting up a chain of waystations leading somewhere offmap. Where are they going? Why? I’ll park that for now, but there’s another campaign-level plot thread. If I were using it immediately, I’d have a patron commission the PCs to find out, make it a big secret, and work out what it was based on their actions.

Pasar and Craco/Drax are most likely colonies from Godoro, which with a population of tens of millions is big enough to consider that kind of thing. Godoro doesn’t have the capability to build its own starships, so it must have bought or leased them from somewhere else. The Mizah Combine perhaps? Either way, that sounds more like a corporate activity than a government one, so Godoro has corporations with an offworld reach. Have to flesh those out at some point.

Simsek feels like it ought to be a refuelling waystation on a trade route between the Hierate and the Confederation. There should be such a trade route, so that the PCs on Mizah get to see the occasional Hierate citizens.

VECINOS

The right-hand side of the map, which I think of as Vecinos Sector, has fewer outposts: Eski, Karpos, N1, Omaro/Umuru, Osa.

  • N1 is probably a research outpost studying the Nebula. Mizah is closest, so again let’s say founded by Mizah.
  • Omaro/Umuru has already been established as a breakaway religious sect, so we’ll leave it at that; it’s OK for there to be something you wouldn’t predict from the rest of this line of thought, the real world is like that too.
  • Osa is likely also a research base, and since the boardgame tells us both pocket empires are potentially interested in the Nebula, let’s make this a Confed outpost.
  • Karpos looks like it ought to be a feeler from another empire offmap; I don’t have to work that out yet, but make a note that it is so.
  • I don’t have a clue what’s going on at Eski, but Bulanese corporations probably have a hand in it.

REFLECTIONS

There’s a lot more corporate and trade activity going on in the Nebula region than I expected. I was expecting quite a few of these to be naval bases, but when I listen to what the map tells me, they are mostly trade or research outposts.

I really don’t need the double systems. I can see why Traveller dropped them. Maybe I’ll make them secondary worlds  covered under the mainworld writeup.

Shepherd, Episode 6: Spider Fighting

"We need to get bigger guns. BIG F*CKING GUNS!" – Split Second

Simba, 039-3015 to 059-3015

We had about half a second to decide what to do. I had a survival knife and a Confederation-issue 10mm sidearm, Egemen had a crowbar, and Tunaydin had a very nice smile, but I didn’t think that would do her any good.

Fortunately, the Confederation maintain a small military base – Camp Erzurum – on Simba, which they use for hostile environment training and field testing equipment. Anything that makes it into Confed standard issue will work on Simba, at least for a while. I had even had the presence of mind to fit the oversized winter trigger so I could use it in my mittens.

Egemen instinctively stepped between Tunaydin and the spiders while I was fumbling the pistol out of a big pocket. I would’ve given Tunaydin the knife, so she at least had something, but I couldn’t spare the time because the spiders were running at us now…

Erzurum has actually been there for a while, but only now becomes relevant to the story – on a whim, I diced on the 2300AD base table about three weeks ago to see if there was anything present while I was refreshing my memory on Glacier worlds, and the only thing that came up was a military base. It had to belong to either Mizah or Confed, and we know Confed is more expansionist than Mizah because it has more worlds under its control. (See, the map helps me all the time.)

I’d already decided that all the serious fighting happens in space, so it seems more likely to be a testing and training facility than a fortification.

And speaking of serious fighting… the party consists of a Wild Card (Greg) and five Extras (two lovebirds, two drivers, and a grad student). While the actual statblocks for the opposition are orcs, as an homage to both the imagoes in the Arioniad and the kafers in 2300AD, they look like humanoid spiders as a trapping. SWDEE p. 163 tells me a giant spider nest contains 1d6+2 spiders, and that sounds good enough for now; I roll a 4, so there are six of the blighters. I decide that the grad student is unarmed, but that each crawler driver has Healing d6, Shooting d6 and a hunting rifle (equivalent to an M-1 Garand) for defence against a local predator, which I shall call the Simban Ice Lion, although it’s actually more like a polar bear.

It’s been a few months since I’ve run a SW combat, so let’s take this slowly and didactically. First, I lay out the combat; two crawlers (from The Last Parsec figure flats), a spaceship (Wydraz), some figures for the good guys (eM4) and some bugs (represented by Reaper orcs). All human Extras will move on Greg’s card to save time; all bugs will move on the same card, and their tactics are simple; close with the nearest human, gang up, wild attack, claw and bite it to death, and repeat on next nearest human.

The humans will fall back on the crawlers in as close to good order as they can manage, and try to board without letting the spiders inside.

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TURN 1

Initiative: Greg, 5 of Clubs; bugs, 4 of Spades. Excellent, the humans go first. That’ll help.

Tunaydin and Egemen both turn and run for Tunaydin’s crawler. Both manage a 6 on their running die, so make a 12" move and right away they are up to the crawler’s hatch. Greg also runs, but only gets a 2 on the running die so only makes 8". (Note that the running die is not a trait roll, therefore it cannot ace and you can’t spend a benny to reroll it.) I did consider moving the red crawler forwards between Greg and the bugs, but if you look at the turning template you’ll see it would run over him first – not good. So instead both drivers grab their rifles and make for their respective crawler hatches, taking all turn to do so (because they are in a vehicle I apply my usual house rule, speed is halved but they count as in cover).

Greg gets one Multi-Action Penalty because he is trying to draw and fire in one turn, and a second one because he is running. He rolls to hit with his pistol, hoping to thin out the enemy; Shooting d6-4 with wild die and he misses horribly.

Egemen has his prybar to hand already, and Tunaydin has no weapon.

Now the bugs attack, and as per their standing orders they run at Greg they also roll 6 so move 12". That brings three of them into base-to-base contact and thus melee, with the second rank close behind; three attacks with Fighting d6, +2 for Wild Attack, +2 for Gang-Up Bonus, -2 Multi-Action Penalty because they ran this turn. Attack rolls of 1, 2 and 5 give them one miss, two hits. First the hit; 2d8+2 damage = 10, vs 7 Toughness is Shaken – Greg is down. Then the hit with a raise; 2d8+1d6+2 = 14, Success with two raises – seriously bad news, time to spend a benny to soak damage. Vigour d6 = 4, wild die = 2; success, so Greg soaks one wound. I consider spending a second benny, but suspect he will need it next turn. He is Shaken and Wounded, so I lay the figure on its side and give it a red chip for a wound; trait rolls next turn are at -1.

The bugs also have "GM bennies", but they seem to be doing well enough for the moment.

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TURN 2

Initiative: Greg Jack of Clubs, bugs 5 of Spades; humans go first again, just as well.

Tunaydin cycles the crawler hatch and clambers inside. Egemen turns at bay but doesn’t fancy his odds if he joins the melee. Greg first tries to recover from Shaken, which is a Spirit roll; Spirit d6-1 = 4, wild die d6-1 = 3 – success, so Greg would recover but it would take him all round and he would forfeit his action this turn. Considering he is about to be surrounded by six bugs, that sounds like a bad idea, so he spends a second benny to remove the Shaken condition, which you can do at any time; briefly he considers plugging the bug in front of him, but decides that using the Withdraw and Defend options is better. He breaks contact, and each bug in contact gets one free attack against Parry 6 (Greg’s Parry of 4, +2 for Defend) as he flees; the bugs roll 1, 2 and 2 respectively, boosted to 3, 4, 4 by the gang-up bonus, but they can’t use their Wild Attack as it is an action. Greg stumbles 6" towards the crawler hatch, as if he runs he can’t also Defend, and the +2 Parry against the bugs’ next attack is going to be crucial.

The two crawler drivers use their movement to flip open the top hatches and stick their heads and rifles out; each targets a bug in the front rank using a double-tap, which the M-1 can do as it is semi-automatic. One misses, one aces and hits with a raise, doing 12 damage at AP2, which against Toughness 8 (1) is success with a raise, which should kill the bug. Relucantantly I spend a GM benny to give it a soak roll, and it shrugs off the damage.

Now the bugs again give chase, and two easily catch Greg; but they rolled 1 on the running die, and his angling around the crawler tracks means they get in each other’s way, and four of them are out of contact. The two who can attack are now rolling at a net +1, and against Greg’s current Parry of 6, they fail to hit.

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TURN 3

Initiative: Greg 7 of Diamonds, bugs 2 of Clubs. Greg’s life is being saved by lucky initiative draws here.

Withdrawing with Defend has worked well so far, so Greg does it again, which is good enough to get him to the hatch, and he uses his action to open it. If he can survive one more turn, he’s golden.

Egemen climbs inside the other crawler and slams the door closed. The drivers continue to fire, and one hits, but the bug shrugs off the damage.

The bugs corner Greg against the side of the crawler, but only three of them can get at him because he now has his back to it. Two of them hit despite his boosted Parry; the first rolls 10 damage, Shaking him, and Greg uses his last benny to avoid being Shaken. The second does 15 damage; Shaken, and two Wounds, taking him to Shaken and three Wounds. Things are not looking good for the home team.

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TURN 4

Initiative: Greg draws an 8, and the bugs a 9 – it had to happen at some point, the bugs go first, and the Shaken Greg can’t Defend. Two bugs hit him, the armour saves him from one strike but the second one delivers another Wound, taking him to Incapacitated. He immediately makes a Vigour roll; Vigour d6-3 = 2, Wild Die d6-3 = -1. Greg has a permanent injury and is Bleeding Out; rolls of 6, then 2, tell me his Agility is permanently reduced one die type, to d6. That could have been worse, he can use an advance to boost it back to d8 later.

The last I remember was turning to put my back to the side of the crawler, and trying to fend off the bugs. I caught a couple of good slashes, and one did a lot of damage; it was three weeks before I was out of hospital, and months before I was fully recovered.

Greg can’t act, but Abeid still can. He drops the rifle, uses his movement to dodge through the crawler to the hatch, and his action to pull Greg inside.

Afterwards, the others told me that Abeid had risked his own life to pull me away from the bugs and into the crawler.

Meanwhile, the other driver finally manages to kill one bug, leaving five. Everything now hinges on the last initiative draw.

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TURN 5

Initative: Greg Jack of Hearts, bugs 2 of Hearts. This means Abeid uses his action to slam the hatch closed in the bugs’ faces, while Tunaydin’s crawler starts up and moves off.

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TURN 6

Initiative is now irrelevant, because the bugs can’t get in, but we’re still in combat time because Greg is Bleeding Out. Luckily Abeid manages to roll a 4 on his Healing, which stops the bleeding.

That takes us out of combat time. The Extras sort themselves out and drive off, leaving the bugs to freeze to death.

AFTERMATH

Every five days, Greg makes a Vigour roll at +2 (due to the local tech level) to recover. His rolls are adequate, but not stunning, and it takes him 20 days to recover back to full health.

Status at scene end: Fuel 14, Food 23, $114,150, cargo 5 Fuel. It seems reasonable the Joker is on half power, so it has only lost 10 days of fuel.

  • Did Egemen and Tunaydin wait for Greg to heal (50:50)? 44% – yes.
  • Did they have the chance to leave (50:50)? 26% – yes.
  • Was that to do with him (Unlikely)? 62% – no. Most likely then Tunaydin carried on with her research, whatever it is, and Egemen stayed with her.

LIST UPDATES

Characters

Greg Shepherd; Princess Sofia of Ria (deceased); People’s Republic of Ria; insectoid raiders; Solomani Confederation; Aslanic Hierate; Egemen Kaptan, Happy Corporate Exec; Tunaydin Uygun, Egemen’s girlfriend, Creative (and patriotic) Scientist; Abeid, Crude crawler driver.

Chaos Factor: Still 6.

Plot Threads

Avoid capture by the PRR; understand that Sofia’s slate is a mystery (then solve it); take Egemen back to Mizah; learn what Tunaydin was doing at the wreck site.

REFLECTIONS

In hindsight, it would have been better to use Brass Jester’s suggestion of solo combat as a modified chase situation. Especially since this was, in fact, a chase.

Given that I didn’t do that, and the odds, it might have been better mechanically for everyone to Withdraw using the Defend option on turn 1. Splitting the party and running for it nearly got Greg killed, several times. However, Tunaydin and Egemen would have probably have died if they hadn’t (a) run for it and (b) rolled so well on their running dice.

I forgot the bugs had GM bennies in turns 2 and 3, which I often do in group play as well. Had the bugs used those to reroll hits in turn 3, they might have been able to finish Greg off before the Extras could intervene.

Abeid came to see me the day I was discharged, and handed Egemen a bill. He looked at me as he did it, though.

"You owe me for a new rifle, and cleaning out my crawler. There’s still blood on it in places."

Egemen waved airily. "I’m good for it. I can cover it on expenses." I think he still felt guilty about hustling Tunaydin into her crawler and leaving me to face six bugs alone. I like to think I would have done something different, but you never know until you’re in that situation; he’d paid for the best medical care Simba had to offer, which was enough of an apology for me.

"I also owe you my life, Abeid," I said. "Thank you. I don’t know how I can repay you, but if you ever need anything I can give you – it’s yours."

"I’m sure I can think of something," he grinned.

Dark Nebula: Stars Without Number Edition

Third in the list of SF RPGs for Dark Nebula is Stars Without Number, which I’ve done after the Traveller version largely so I can draw on that for population levels.

ATMOSPHERE, TEMPERATURE, BIOSPHERE

As usual for the actual world characteristics, these are hard to extract from the map in detail, but we can place some constraints.

  • Primary systems must have an atmosphere which is a breatheable mix; a temperature which is cold, temperate, warm, or possibly variable; and probably have a human-miscible biosphere, although others are possible.
  • Secondary systems may have some of the features of a primary system, but not all – otherwise they would be primary.
  • Tertiary systems have no planets, so there’s nothing to work out.

POPULATION

You may recall my rules for Traveller population levels:

  • Capital systems have population level 9.
  • Primary systems other than capitals have a population level equal to their number of charted hyperspace routes plus three; for example, Mizah has five routes and thus population level 8.
  • Secondary systems have a population level equal to their number of charted hyperspace routes plus one; Hasara, with two routes, has population level 3.
  • Tertiary systems have population level 0, as does any system inside the Dark Nebula – at least, as far as anyone knows.

Those translate now into SWN population as follows:

Traveller Population SWN Population
1-3 Outpost
4 Tens of Thousands
5 Hundreds of Thousands
6-8 Millions
9 Billions

Notice that as a result of the above, there are no failed colonies – statistically, there should be several, so I’ll shove those on the secondary systems in the Dark Nebula itself. Alien civilizations are placed by GM fiat, at Kuzu and Gazzain. There may be one on Bulan as well, I haven’t decided yet.

TECH LEVEL

Capital systems get Tech Level 5. Everywhere else gets Tech Level 4 for the moment, because given what I’ve already established, it seems to me that this region is further along in its recovery from the Interregnum than the typical SWN sector.

TAGS

These are mostly going to be assigned by GM fiat as solo play fleshes out the sector, but there are some obvious ones…

  • Kuzu and Maadin both get Regional Hegemon (they’re the local superpowers) and Major Spaceyard (somewhere is building all of those dreadnoughts, and it’s most likely the capital worlds).
  • Mizah gets Trade Hub because of its multitude of trade routes, and also so that it is friendly to spacefaring PCs.
  • Anywhere with a Failed Colony population gets the Abandoned Colony tag; anywhere with Outpost population gets the Outpost World tag.
  • Simba gets Hostile Space because of the insectoid raiders.

FACTIONS

These remain largely unchanged from my earlier attempts:

  • Kuzu and Maadin both have a Regional Hegemon faction, which has the Planetary Government tag for each world in its fledgling empire.
  • Primary worlds other than Kuzu and Maadin have a Backwater Planet faction as their local government.
  • Secondary worlds have a Colony World faction as their local government.
  • Mizah has a Mercantile Combine running the counters assigned to it by the neutral counter draw – a Transport and some mercenary Jump Troops.
  • Any world occupied by the Confederation or the Hierate as the strategic game progresses will develop a Rebel Freedom Fighters faction.
  • I think I might base the Psionics Institute on the Eugenics Cult template. We’ll see about that later.

As you can see, the main problem I will face is getting carried away into developing an enormously detailed setting. Oh well, as long as I have no group to play with, where’s the harm in that?

B&B Adventures as at February 2015

“In the lands of the North, where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in the dark night that is very long, the men of the Northlands sit by the great log fires, and they tell a tale…” – The Saga of Noggin the Nog

Long ago, I took a map of the Dread Sea Dominions and marked upon it all the Beasts & Barbarians adventures, and I promised that I would update it periodically. Alas, that is no longer practical, because the adventures in the Borderlands, Faberterra, Kyros and Zandor – the most popular locations – are clustered too close together now. But I can give you a list! You know where your party is, so check that area and see what’s around them…

ADVENTURES

GE = Beasts & Barbarians Golden Edition; BOD = Beasts of the Dominions.

The Borderlands: The Amulet of Dogskull (first part); The Betrayers of Rhybard (BOD); The Carnival of Nal Sagath; Moonless Night Over Grimdell; Wolves in the Borderlands (this is the one that persuaded me to buy B&B).

The Cairnlands: The Cliff Queen’s Court; The Price of Peace (BOD).

Caldeia: Death’s Cargo (BOD – second part).

Ekul: Shadows Over Ekul.

Faberterra: The Dread Shard; Green World; Main Attraction (BOD).

The Dread Sea: Eyes of the Night (BOD).

The Independent Cities: Death’s Cargo (BOD – first part).

The Iron Mountains: The Queen of the Lost Valley.

The Ivory Savannah: Hunter’s Moon (BOD)

Jalizar, City of Thieves: Grains of Death.

Kyros: A Matter of Love (BOD); Citadel of the Winged Gods; Thieves in the Night (Savage Insider #3).

Northeim: The Amulet of Dogskull (second part).

The Red Desert: Death of a Tyrant (this is the one the Shadows of Keron group enjoyed the most, I think).

Syranthia: The Skinner of Syranthia; The Whispered (BOD).

Tricarnia: Hosts (BOD).

Zandor: Vengeance of the Branded Devils (GE); Windborn (BOD). Jalizar is part of Zandor, so adventures there are technically in Zandor too.

PLACES WITH NO ADVENTURES YET

Ascaia, the Amazons’ Island; Caledland; the Cannibal Islands; the Fallen Realm of Keron; the Finger Islands; Gis, City of the Alchemists; the Islands of the Maimed Ones; the Land of the Idols; Lhoban; the Lush Jungle; the Troll Mountains; Valkheim; the Valk Steppe; the Verdant Belt.

Shadows of Keron, Episode 30: Hunter’s Moon

You’ll have to wait a bit longer for the next episode of Shepherd’s adventures, because Shadows of Keron lurched briefly back into life over the weekend. Four of us found ourselves in a windswept cottage in Oxfordshire with a bunch of dice, more whiskey than the mind can comfortably conceive of, and a copy of Beasts of the Dominions.

HUNTER’S MOON

Since the group was last seen in the Ivory Savannah, that is where we pick up their story again. I had packed BoD because what one needs in these circumstances is a short, picaresque adventure that can be finished in a few hours; and in the Ivory Savannah we find Hunter’s Moon, an everyday story of tribesmen, merchant caravans, the Elephants’ Graveyard, and Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.

We established earlier that the group splintered at some point between Ekul and the Brown Sea, and is making its way home in penny packets. While our series regulars are off dealing death to Kumal the Smiling and picking up a piece of treasure they will really regret finding, three of the fellowship have taken passage with a merchant caravan across the Savannah, intending to cross that, then the Red Desert, and thus at last come home to the Independent Cities.

These worthies are Peter Perfect the Paladin, Seasoned holy warrior of Hulian; Abishag, Seasoned halfling thief (don’t ask); and Alihulk Junior, Seasoned fighting man and the living embodiment of the phrase "No retreat – no surrender".

I will limit my report of the scenario to avoid spoilers, but here are a couple of vignettes for you:

  • Alihulk attempting to catch a man-eating lion by covering himself in raw meat and sleeping outdoors. He attracted a lot in the way of noisome vermin, but no lions.
  • Peter replaying the famous motion tracker scene from Aliens using Detect Arcana and a Thing Man Was Not Meant To Know.
  • Alihulk, mounted on a lame warpony, chasing down a burning lion (set on fire by Peter Perfect) and grappling it. That really didn’t end well for either party.

Hunter’s Moon worked well. The plot is very linear, but the players naturally followed it without apparently noticing that, and with no steering from me. A fine time was had by all.

LATIFUNDIUM

As veteran roleplayers, the party got through Hunter’s Moon more quickly than I’d expected, and I felt Alihulk and Abishag deserved some time in the spotlight as Peter had shone in that scenario.

So it was that they encountered an old witch in a walking hut (Baba Yaga-style) who had seen Alihulk’s father and brother earlier. Learning that the father, Alihulk Senior, had moved to Caldeia to become a dark sorceror – he is Alihulk Junior’s enemy, which is intriguing – and that Alihulk Junior’s younger brother had followed him there some time later, the party decided to follow them down the Buffalo River to Caldeia.

Peter Perfect was bent on overthrowing this stronghold of slavery and dark sorcery; Alihulk aimed to confront his father; and Abishag is designed for city work, so we ought to get him into a city for a bit.

I had a vague plan, based on Alihulk Senior being somehow connected with the Disciples of the Black Temple, a couple of recycled NPCs, and a copy of the Mythic GME tables, and this proved to be enough. In fact, it flowed more smoothly than Hunter’s Moon, because I didn’t need to look anything up.

The first sign of civilisation they found was a slave plantation. After maiming a slave overseer because he wouldn’t free the slaves, they decided to enter the villa and have it out with the plantation manager, who they had learned ran the place on behalf of a priest prince. There, Peter and Alihulk were mistaken for guests at the evening’s orgy, and Abishag for part of the entertainment. Taking ruthless advantage of this, they attempted to suborn the plantation manager with a plan for a more cost-efficient plantation operated by freedmen, and offered to stand in for the stable boys who would otherwise have to handle the Priest-Prince’s giant bat steed ("We usually have to replace a couple of stable boys when he visits on that, it’s vicious.").

After much planning, they settled on ambushing the Priest-Prince as he arrived, using Lower Trait to discomfit his steed. He had realised something was wrong on the approach, and consequently survived the crash-landing because he had Deflection and Armour running, which also helped him with assorted stabbings. While his Amazon bodyguard was being run through by Alihulk, the Priest-Prince made a run for the edge of the roof, intending to leap off and trust to his Armour to save him from the fall; but Peter rugby-tackled him and then stabbed him fatally.

The plantation manager, arriving to greet his master, took in the scene quickly and realised that his life was forfeit. Secretly, he also has a thing for the Amazon, so ran to save her. Learning that the Amazons are loyal to whoever pays them, and that the death of her principal makes her life forfeit and her contract void, Peter heals her, and the party decamp before the three other Priest-Princes expected at the orgy can arrive.

They are now on the outskirts of Caldeia, planning their next move. Little do they know that Baaltasar the plantation manager is in fact a renegade Disciple of the Black Temple, on the run.

Good fun. Shadows of Keron practically writes itself by now.

NEXT TIME, ON HALFWAY STATION…

…we return to Greg Shepherd. I’ll have to do a couple of weeks with double episodes if I’m to reach the self-imposed goal of 26 episodes by the half-year point.

Dark Nebula: Traveller Edition

I keep coming back to the idea of using the Dark Nebula as a sandbox setting that I can run under any of my SF RPGs; the legacy of the Arioniad, perhaps. So for the next few posts I’m looking at some possibilities; as usual I will squeeze as much juice from the map as I can.

The topic for the second post in the series is Traveller because, as you’ll see next time, it’s easier to work out Stars Without Number in a consistent manner if I do Traveller first.

STARPORTS

What we already know:

  • Primary systems (including the two capitals, Kuzu and Maadin) can perform civilised maintenance on starships, and refuel them. They have good planetary defences. Some independent Primary systems can build Transport starships, others can build military non-starships called Monitors.
  • Secondary systems can perform civilised maintenance on Monitors, and refuel any ship. They have average planetary defences.
  • Tertiary systems can’t maintain or refuel any kind of ship, and have no defences.

Let’s ignore the non-starships, because they complicate things. Civilised starship maintenance I will equate with the capability to carry out annual overhauls; that means all Primary worlds must have at least a Class B starport, which I’ll bump to Class A for all the ones inside the Hierate or Confederation, and Mizah, which as we’ve seen begins the game with a Transport squadron. Given the amount of ships they can handle in a boardgame turn, they have liquid water and/or a gas giant, probably both. Note also that all primary worlds have offices of the Travellers’ Aid Society.

Secondary systems can provide fuel (not necessarily refined fuel, because the consumers in the boardgame are military units) but not maintenance; that makes them Class C-E, with liquid water or a gas giant. I can get roughly the right statistical distribution if I say that Secondary systems with 4-5 jump routes are Class C, those with 3 routes are Class D, and those with 1-2 are Class E. Inside the Nebula, though, all of them are effectively Class E; without the ability to make hyperspace jumps, why would you build a starport? This puts me slightly at odds with the Savage Worlds view of things, though, since a SW Basic spaceport would be at least a Class D. Have to decide which way I want to bounce on that one at some point.

Tertiary systems always have Class X starports, because they have no planets, thus no flat spots of bedrock to use as a Class E, and no gas giants for wilderness refuelling. It is also implied (though not explicitly stated) that they have no population.

Oh look, we’ve done gas giants by accident on the way through. Let’s do bases as well while we’re at it; A Class ports in the Confederation and Hierate get both naval and scout bases, Mizah gets a Confed scout base to support offmap activities against insectoid raiders and because scouts, and Godoro gets a naval base because of all the Monitors.

Travel zones? All Tertiary systems are Amber, because you can’t refuel there. Hope you brought a tanker. Or some low berths… Simba is also Amber because of the insectoid raiders offmap beyond it; whatever they’re raiding, Simba will get hit first on the way in, and last on the way out. I may add other zones later, and once the war kicks off in earnest, pretty much everything will be Amber, if not Red.

(As an aside, we now have everything you would be able to see on a CT starmap; world name, starport class, gas giants, bases and travel zones. At some point I may create CT starmaps to show that, just for the fun of it. But not today.)

SIZE, ATMOSPHERE, HYDROGRAPHICS

These are actually the hardest things to work out from the map.

What we already know: Primary systems are naturally habitable. Secondary systems are not, but have planets. Tertiary systems have no planets.

Straight away, this tells us that tertiary systems have size, atmosphere and hydrographic percentage all at zero.

In the Rules As Written, naturally habitable means an atmosphere type of 5, 6 or 8, since otherwise you need some sort of breathing apparatus; and there seems to be a scientific consensus that a habitable world would need liquid water, so a non-zero hydrographic rating is also appropriate. Primary systems therefore have both those attributes, and secondary ones may have one of them, but not both.

POPULATION

What we already know: All Primary and Secondary systems are inhabited by intelligent race beings. We don’t know which ones are where, so I’ll put what I like, where I like, when I feel like it; but by default it’s all humans, except for the Hierate, which are Aslan/Rakashans/reskinned Hochogs.

After some experimentation, I settled on these rulings; the best I can tell you is that they give a spread of populations I’m happy with:

  • Capital systems have population level 9.
  • Primary systems other than capitals have a population level equal to their number of charted hyperspace routes plus three; for example, Mizah has five routes and thus population level 8.
  • Secondary systems have a population level equal to their number of charted hyperspace routes plus one; Hasara, with two routes, has population level 3.
  • Tertiary systems have population level 0, as does any system inside the Dark Nebula – at least, as far as anyone knows.

GOVERNMENT TYPE AND LAW LEVEL

Government and Law Level are assigned using an equivalent nation; as an example, Mizah is a Turkish word, so I base it on Turkey, giving it government type 4 (it’s a parliamentary democracy) and law level 4 (pistols may be owned by private individuals with a licence, but assault and automatic weapons are banned – you can check this stuff easily here).

TECH LEVEL

What we already know:

  • Some systems can build starships, and we’ve already seen that those worlds are Gazzain, Kuzu, Maadin, Mizah, Omyl, and Vaxt.
  • Based on the allocation of neutral counters, we also know that Godoro can build non-starships.
  • All Primary and Secondary systems have access to planetary defences, described as beam and missile batteries. (The Dark Nebula rules are silent on whether these are in orbit or ground-based, how many there are, what kind of beams and so forth. I could approximate how powerful they are if I had enough detail on the ships, but let’s not worry about that for now.)
  • Secondary systems are not naturally habitable, so must have access to suitable life-support technology.
  • The neutral counter draw also tells me that Bulan can build grav tanks.

The lowest-tech beam weapons in Traveller are beam lasers, which appear at Tech Level 9 (missiles are TL 7). So all Primary and Secondary systems have access to at least TL 9 items, whether they can make them or not. The worlds with Class A starports must have at least TL 10, because starships; since one of the benefits you can get from researching the Nebula worlds is in effect an experimental jump-2 drive, arguably no world has better than TL 10, and that research bumps you to TL 11.

If I go down that route, I have to say that a jump-1 drive can take you anywhere on a charted jump route, but (as per Dark Nebula) you actually have to stop in each system, unlike the shorted jump routes in CT 1977, which would allow a jump-3 ship to travel from (say) Hasara to Simsek in one jump. In that case, merchant shipping wouldn’t have anything better than jump-1, and military ships would only have bigger drives as a way of retaining jump capability in the face of battle damage.

Instead, I’m going to say that Capital systems have TL 13, because I already know the players are going to want powered armour, and it explains where all the randomly-encountered Type C Cruisers come from – wouldn’t want to start redesigning those.

So: Capital systems TL 13, Tertiary and Nebula systems TL 0, everywhere else as close to TL 10 as die rolls would permit.

REFLECTIONS

This is actually quite straightforward, isn’t it? Although I suspect the systems are going to be quite homogenous. That’s fine with me though.

Next up: Stars Without Number

JumpCorp Requisition Kit

More Last Parsec goodies! Is there no limit to the bounty of the Kickstarter system?

Well, maybe. But this time, I got four form-fillable PDF files which allow me to create my own JumpCorp ID badge (complete with photo), death certificate, heath and safety incident report, and supply requisition form. Nothing you couldn’t do yourself with a little time and a word processor, but they made me smile.

Maybe the mercantile combine on Mizah in the Dark Nebula campaign should be renamed JumpCorp, then I can use them to create props for the players. Especially the death certificates – "Yeah, the Captain prefilled these when you boarded, it saves time later…"

Shepherd, Episode 5: The Crash Site

Simba, 039-3015

I’ve skipped over the journey across the ice sheet to the crash site. If a PC were driving I’d treat this as a dramatic task (SWDEE pp. 95-96), but who wants their character to die because a minor NPC blew a dramatically unimportant die roll? So they just arrive.

It was dark when we got to the crash site. The fire-blackened ribs poking up out of the snow made the wreck itself look like a giant insect. There was no obvious sign of life, other than the headlights of what was presumably Tunaydin’s crawler shining on a hole in the wreckage. Then, movement; something metallic, about the size of a dog, clambered off the crawler’s side and staggered across to the hull, the high winds making it weave like a drunkard.

Smart girl. No point going in there blind yourself when you can send a drone first to check for bugs.

Egemen, meanwhile, had commandeered the radio and was calling the other crawler. I was too busy looking at what was left of the insectoid raider to pay attention while he exchanged sweet nothings with Tunaydin; I’d never seen one before, they haven’t made it past Simba yet, for whatever reason. Long may it stay that way.

By the time I’d finished gawking, Egemen and Tunaydin had decided they were going to get out and ferret about in the wreckage. Tunaydin said the drone had found something interesting, and I wanted to see what the raider was like on the inside. So we three clambered down from the crawlers, Egemen and Tunaydin embraced awkwardly through about twenty centimetres of insulating fabric and bumped faceplates in lieu of a kiss, and we trudged over to the wreck, and through the hole, into a compartment of some sort, too smashed and burned for me to make out what it had originally been like.

A voice came over the commnet which I later learned belonged to Tunaydin’s grad student. "Tunaydin, we lost the drone."

"What do you mean, we lost the drone?"

"The video feed just went to static."

"Maybe the weather is too much for it?" asked Egemen. We stood looking at each other through our facemasks for a moment, which seems stupid in hindsight.

"Buibui!" called Abeid over the local net. "Spider!" And it did look a bit like a spider, apart from being nearly as big as me. It waved a broken piece of drone over its head in triumph, and scuttled down the shattered hull plates towards us.

Behind it, more followed.

You know, I didn’t feel the need for any rules or dice at all there. That happens sometimes, in solo as well as group play.

BENNIES

Something I need to consider is how fast Greg’s bennies recharge in a solo game. In the last episode I settled on four scenes being roughly equivalent to a session, so bennies refresh at the start of scene 1, and every four episodes thereafter; which means Greg is back on three bennies now. Just as well, I think.

LISTS

No change from last time. I won’t add the grad student or Tunaydin’s driver to the NPC lists unless they survive the bug splatfest.

-o0o-

Five scenes in and no fighting yet? Call this pulp adventure? Who writes this stuff, anyway?

I can fix that for ya. Next time: Spider fighting. Yes, that’s a real thing.

Dark Nebula: Savage Worlds Edition

Over the next few weeks I’m going to flesh out the worlds of the Dark Nebula in high-level game terms for several game systems.

Yes, I know I don’t need to, and probably shouldn’t because it distracts me from the storyline; but this, too, is an enjoyable solo gaming activity, in its own way.

Let’s start with Savage Worlds and the Science Fiction Companion’s World Maker. As usual, I’ll extract whatever I can from the map. Also as usual, Savage Worlds plays fast and loose with everything, so it’s the easiest one to do.

GRAVITY, DOMINANT TERRAIN, ATMOSPHERE

These are the hardest parts to derive from the map. We already know that tertiary systems have no planets, so we can ignore those – there’s nothing to describe.

Primary systems are naturally habitable, so they can’t have zero gravity, super-heavy gravity, an artificial habitat or atmospheres rated as "none" or "hazardous". Secondary systems are not naturally habitable, so they must have at least one of those things.

Without detailed explanations of (for example) what super-heavy gravity actually is, I can’t really justify those rulings except by saying I’ve been immersed in SF in all its forms for over 40 years, and those feel right to me; but your mileage may vary.

POPULATION DENSITY

Population density is completely and deliberately decoupled from population level, so there is no conflict with other rules. This is an example of the bottom-up, party-level focus of Savage Worlds; the PCs don’t know, and don’t care, how many people are on the planet as a whole, but can take a guess at how many there are in blaster range, or what the chances are of somebody responding to their distress flare.

I did spend quite a lot of time working population density levels out in detail from UN statistics, historical records and planetary surface area, but let me save you the effort; cities and orbital stations are Extremely Dense at any technology level, and anywhere else is whatever you feel like.

DOMINANT GOVERNMENT, DOMINANT LAW, CUSTOMS

I can extract all of these from real-world knowledge, using the language the world is named in to look up a contemporary culture. For example, Mizah having a Turkish culture, I can effortlessly declare the government a Republic, the law level Strict, and the custom "significant clothing for females", since in real life many, but by no means all, choose to wear the tesettür, a headscarf and light topcoat.

TECHNOLOGY LEVEL

Here, I assign Primary worlds Average (the baseline), Capital worlds Above Average (because they build bigger, nastier warships), Secondary worlds Below Average (because Secondary), and Tertiary worlds (or Secondary ones in the Nebula) don’t have technology.

For Bulan, I have to do one of three things: Assign it Ultra Tech (because the neutral counter draw gave it grav tanks), downgrade its armoured brigade to hovertanks, or say that in this campaign grav technology is Average, not Ultra Tech; but I don’t have to decide that yet.

SPACEPORT

Since the Sci-Fi Companion specifies how many ships a port can handle, I can compare that to "aircraft movements" at contemporary airports so that I know how to describe them to players; I assume that the maximum traffic volume per day (half the aircraft movements) is the same as the number of ships handled. Since no other system I am looking at does that, there is no clash between rules sets.

System Spaceport Ships Example
Tertiary None None No airport.
Secondary Basic Tens Stornoway
Primary Small Hundreds Stansted
Capital Large Thousands Heathrow

Update 8th February: Table corrected as per comments from Jim C – thanks Jim!

Nothing on the map deserves an Extensive spaceport, which would be like Chicago O’Hare on acid, with a large side of fries and unlimited coffee refills.

Job done, and so easy to remember I don’t need to mark it on the map. I might even steal terminal maps from the airport websites.

Next up: Traveller…

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