Review: Interstellar Overthruster

This is a 63 page A5-or-so booklet from Albatross Press, written by Jed McClure and illustrated by Ezra Clayton Daniels. As it says on the cover, it is a set of hexcrawl rules for uncharted space. As an added bonus, I’ll also talk about the matching campaign seed, A Star for Queen Zoe, same format but only 35 pages.

Interstellar Overthruster

This attracted my attention because of how it’s intended to be used; the idea is that you generate your campaign’s sector of space on the fly, at the table, using dice, hex paper and other stationery supplies – you need a couple of different coloured pens and something to colour in the hexes as you go.

Now, be warned, creating random sectors is all IO does, so you will need another RPG for characters, combat both personal and space, chases, and whatnot. As written, IO assumes that you’re using something Old School or a retroclone – Traveller, Thousand Suns, Stars Without Number, that kind of thing – but really anything will work, so long as the mini-game that is IO can be swapped for any space exploration rules your RPG might have.

IO’s approach has several advantages. First, the GM has minimal prep work; at most, you need a homeworld and a reason for the PCs to be exploring – A Star for Queen Zoe addresses both, more of that below.

Second, neither the GM nor the players have any setting to learn, except maybe the campaign seed. The rest of the setting emerges in play. (It is assumed a previous interstellar empire collapsed, and the PCs’ homeworld is just re-emerging into space – a standard SF trope.)

However, if you use it as designed, the GM has to be comfortable with improvising plotlines – nobody has any idea what’s coming next.

At the table, exploration proceeds in three phases. First, the PCs scan adjacent hexes – this tells the players whether there is a system present, which matters as you can jump into an empty hex but not out again, and what zones the hex is in – more on this later as it is a cool innovation.

Second, the PCs pick a system, hyperjump there, and scan it to find what planets and lifeforms are present. This is based on a percentile die roll against a table with a full 100 different entries; as I understand the rules you have a traditional 8 x 10 hexgrid and roughly a one in three chance of a system in each hex, so you might reasonably expect to generate a number of sectors before things get repetitive. Each planet also gets a percentile roll on a table with a full 100 entries – much of the book is taken up with these tables.

Third, if the second step detected intelligent life and the PCs decide to land, they find out about local culture, technology, trade and so on. Intelligent life may be low-tech locals, whether human or alien, or it may be an outpost of another pocket empire. This is done with die rolls on half a dozen other tables, as is traditional. Finally there is another full 100 table of cosmic strangeness – the intention here is that every habitable world has something unusual and interesting about it. To an extent, these are scenario seeds, and pretty much the only part of the book that I would be cautious about letting the players see; the rest of this step could be replaced by normal world generation from the SF RPG of your choice.

There is an element of resource management to encourage the players to explore worlds that lack an obvious reward (“we need to stop and forage, we’re almost out of food”).

I mentioned zones. I’ve seen random generation of starmaps on the fly before – one of the Classic Traveller supplements had a mod for this, for example – but zones are new so far as I know. When you scan a hex, you may discover that it is part of a zone, which may be a natural phenomenon such as a nebula, a state controlled by another spacefaring race, or an area of weird energy. (You colour in zones as you scan, to keep track of what’s where, and a single hex can potentially be in several zones.) Normally I would generate all the systems in the sector, then place empires and other zones manually, but this system lets you create them on the fly, thus reducing prep time.

A Star for Queen Zoe

You could just say “you lot are the crew of a scout ship and your mission is to explore this new sector” and not worry about their homeworld, but you do need some motivation for the PCs to be exploring. You could always make up your own, which is why this is a separate booklet, but A Star for Queen Zoe details Essex, a possible homeworld for the PCs, characterised by multiple competing states, 18th century technology (limited by available materials more than knowledge), and the recent discovery of a functional starship. Queen Zoe finds herself in urgent need of an offworld colony and commissions her (hopefully) loyal PCs to find one for her, thus providing the motivation for exploration. The plotline will be familiar if you’ve read King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle.

The booklet mentions the usefulness of political developments at home while the PCs are offworld, so at first I expected something like Stars Without Numbers’ faction rules to move that forward, and was a little disappointed not to see them; but they aren’t strictly necessary.

Coda

Put these two together with the SF RPG of your choice, and you have a campaign ready to go, no prep needed beyond creating characters. That’s very attractive, and worth a tryout at some point; but as you will see next time, I have other fish to fry for the moment…

Arion, Episode 21: Boarding Action

Continuing the simulation theme and exploring another part of the Fringe Space rules I haven’t tried, let’s take a look at the abstract boarding system. These are optional rules for use if you don’t want to play out the boarding action as a Confrontation encounter on the tabletop.

Let’s suppose that our simulated Navy cutter had won the dogfight in episode 20, reduced the Dolphin’s Thrust to zero, won the next round on the Dogfight table, and opted to board. This takes us from p. 52 to p. 86 where the Boarding table lives.

Let’s further suppose that both sides are at full Hull and bonus dice. First I check whether the Navy will use their bonus dice; on a roll of 6 on one die, they elect not to. Each captain now rolls (Rep + Hull) d6; Arion rolls (5 + 3) d6 = 66561315 for 3 successes, and the Navy get (3 + 4) d6 = 2312351 for 6 successes, plus an extra d6 for having a Cutter’s Marine Detachment (3 = +1 success), plus one success for being a military vessel. Total: Arion 3, Navy 8 – a fairly convincing win for the Navy.

(On average luck, Arion would have got 4 successes and the Navy 5 – still a win for the Navy but by a smaller margin.)

The Navy force the crew of the Dolphin to surrender, and we go to the Terms of Surrender table. Here we roll against the boarder’s Rep (3); 2d6 (usual) +1d6 (military boarders) -1d6 (crew resisted boarding) = 2d6 overall. A score of 11 = pass 2d6; as the Dolphin is not a military vessel, the boarders take all cargo and valuables, but leave the crew and passengers alive and allow them to leave with their ship.

AFTERMATH

Again, a simulation, so no increasing or decreasing Rep rolls.

REFLECTIONS

Again, a fast, simple set of rules, easy to use, and no requirement for figures or terrain.

Had I been playing to win, rather than to test out the rules, I would either have played this as a Confrontation, where Arion’s Rep and attributes would offer more of an advantage, or have burned bonus dice on the boarding table roll – two, I think, to offset the Navy’s statistical advantage, but with dice rolls like that it probably wouldn’t have helped.

Interestingly, if you think you are going to lose the boarding action, you are better off if the boarding captain has a high Rep – low Rep ones are more likely to panic and kill you all, there was a 25% chance of that in this example.

Next time, on the Arioniad: Back to the actual story…

Review: Star Wars – the Edge of the Empire

I only bought this because it’s what the WFRP3 group I play in wants to do next, but actually it’s better than I expected. It’s 440 pages of full-colour hardback rulebook from Fantasy Flight Games, and my heart sinks at the thought of doing a detailed review, so you’ll have to settle for a capsule summary. I will note that at £40 this is easily the most expensive gaming item I have bought – or intend to buy – this year, and it would have been worse if my FLGS had had the dice in stock as well.

In a nutshell, this is what WFRP3 should have been; all of the irritating little cards and tokens (and the big slipcase box you need to keep them in) are gone, in favour of a more traditional rulebook and character sheet. The game is set in the Star Wars universe around the time of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and player characters are fringer rogues – smugglers, bounty hunters, mercenaries and so on. Character generation is point-buy, and although I haven’t played it in anger yet, it looks like character development will focus on picking items from a talent tree; there aren’t many skills, and characteristics are very, very expensive.

The custom dice are still there, and whenever you try to do something you build a pool of dice of various types and colours depending on your characteristics and skills, circumstances, gear, what your opponent is like, how hard the task is and so on. You roll the pool, take note of which symbols cancel out which other symbols, and if you still have at least one success symbol, you succeed. The other surviving symbols give information to inspire how the scene is narrated; you might succeed but suffer side effects, or you might fail in a really lucky way. The dice pools look like they will be smaller than in WFRP3, where a dozen or more dice in the pool are not uncommon; characteristics in EotE are much harder to improve, skill dice replace characteristic dice rather than being added to the pool, and some talents act to remove disadvantageous dice from the pool; so 5-6 dice seems more likely. This means that characteristics are more important in EotE, as they limit how much skill you can apply to a given roll.

The various combat action cards of WFRP3 are replaced by a simple rule, that each success symbol grants +1 damage. That wasn’t so hard, was it FFG? Combat is, if anything, even more abstract than WFRP3 – sort of Classic Travellerish, with range bands. This is a shame, as it suggests they won’t bring out any pre-painted miniatures to support it.

I’m not going to talk about the setting. Watch the movies, it’s more fun that way. You know better than to watch Episodes I-III, right?

CONCLUSIONS

I can’t help feeling there is a better way to introduce narrative hooks than a dozen expensive custom dice, but it’s a tight little system and it ought to play well at the table. Too complicated for me to run, and I would like the rules to be available as a PDF, but a decent effort on the whole, and it’ll get played, which is more than can be said for most things I review.

Arion, Episode 20: Dogfight

I haven’t tried out the Fringe Space ship combat rules yet, so let’s imagine for a moment that encountering the cutter last episode had turned into a fight – picture it as a combat simulation for Arion to hone his skills and while away the long nights in hyperspace. As I’m new to this part of the THW rules system you get a didactic post with little narrative voice this time.

SETUP

Arion is flying a stock trader, which has Thrust 3, Firepower 2, and Hull 3. The minimum crew is 3, and there are only two crewmembers aboard, so Arion is at -1 Rep. However, even reduced to Rep 4, he still has Ace and Steely Eyes, so he will count +1d6 and +2 successes on the Dogfight table, and +1 success on the Taking Control table. Although the rules are slightly ambiguous on this point, I decide that as Arion has an effective Rep of 4, he begins with 4 bonus dice.

The opposition is a Star Navy cutter, which has Thrust 3, Firepower 4 and Hull 4. We’ll assume a full crew. Her captain has Rep 3 and Rage, giving him +1d6 on the Taking Control table. He thus has 3 bonus dice.

Each captain rolls 1d6, Arion getting 3 and the Navy captain getting 5. Navy therefore draws the first chance card. There appear to be 11 of these (the ones in orange type on p. 100) so shuffle and draw – Asteroid, opposing ship loses one success on the Dogfight table to dodge an asteroid. The Navy will play this as soon as possible, as per the rules for NPCs (p. 49).

TURN 1

We begin on the Dogfight Table, and there are only two ships so who fights who is obvious. Each captain rolls Rep dice, looking for successes; Arion gets 2422 = 3 successes, +1 for being an Ace, +1 for having Steely Eyes, -1 because of the Asteroid card which the Navy plays as soon as possible, i.e. now. Total, 4 successes. The Navy meanwhile rolls 263 = 2 successes.

We move to the Taking Control table, with Arion counting +2d6 as he scored two more successes, and again both captains roll Rep. Arion gets a modified 5 successes (2 from dice, +1 Ace, +2 from successes on Dogfight table), Navy 2 successes (1 from dice, +1 for being military). Arion lines up a shot and we move to the Fire table.

Arion scored 3 more successes than the Navy, so now rolls 3d6 vs the Dolphin’s Firepower (2); 252 = 2 hits, which I allocate against the enemy Hull (no witnesses!) reducing it to 2.

The Navy now go to the Continue On table to see whether they fancy dancing some more with somebody this good. Navy rolls 2d6, -2d6 for the two Hull hits taken, +1d6 for being military, so 1d6 overall. They roll a 4, and pass 0d6. This means they run for it.

Each side now rolls 1d6 + Thrust; Arion gets 4 + 3 = 7, and Navy gets 4 + 3 = 7. Since the Navy’s total is not greater than that of all pursuing ships, they surrender.

AFTERMATH

Since I declared this as a simulation up front, there are no Rep dice, positive or negative. Had this been a real fight, Arion would have got two increasing Rep d6, one for firing at an enemy and causing damage (though you can only claim that once per month) and one for destroying or capturing an enemy ship.

REFLECTIONS

Even as a novice, this is a very quick and simple combat system – you’ll notice that for a one-on-one dogfight no counters or models are necessary, although I would want to use them if there were more than one ship on a side.

I don’t like the chance cards and won’t use them again. That’s just me, probably, I’m going off drawing cards in general at the moment (which bodes ill for Savage Worlds, but that’s another story).

Life is good when you’re a Steely-Eyed Ace. Especially when the opposition has a rubbish captain.

Full Circle

About a year ago now, Charles Blakely made this comment on the post about Witness Protection RPGs: “Which games that you have GM’d before would you like to dig into deeper? That is, which ones could you go back and do more with due to whatever factors – more time, more resources, more inspiration, etc.”?

I’ve been musing on that comment ever since, so this post is a belated reply to it. As you’ll see, Charles, it takes me full circle; I’ve run a lot of games over the last 40 years, but most of them are not things I’d want to go back to, and of the few that I did consider, only one really seems viable.

The Runners-Up

Classic Traveller. I’m not sure this counts as digging deeper, because it would be so heavily modded; I’d replace Book 1 with Savage Worlds Deluxe, I’d only use the iconic ships from Book 2 (probably with the deck plans from Moon Toad Publishing), and I’d apply stucco from Stars Without Number to Book 3. I still think that given enough time and thought, I could make the Dark Nebula boardgame a nice little setting, with worlds dual-statted for CT and SWN; but there wouldn’t be much actual Traveller left by the time I’d finished.

2300AD and Empire of the Petal Throne: Nice backgrounds in both cases; again I’d Savage them, because I prefer the SW rules; but EPT’s setting is both unique and complex, and I’ve run 2300AD for the better part of 20 years already – I’ve told all the stories I want to tell in that setting. I could recycle the old adventures for a new generation, but my experience is that doesn’t work too well – once I’ve run a particular adventure, it’s normally best to move on to something fresh.

We Have A Winner: Original Dungeons & Dragons

I could run a kick-ass game of OD&D now. I’d build it with these:

  • The house rules from Delta’s D&D Hotspot.
  • The map from SPI’s Demons boardgame as the wilderness map (and the premise of that game, sorcerors using demons to hunt for treasure while being pursued by secular powers, as the main plotline). I’d blow it up to 25 miles per hex to make it country-sized, and put the megadungeon in the mountain just south of Murad, which would be the PCs’ base town.
  • The sandbox creation rules in Sine Nomine Publishing’s Labyrinth Lord sourcebooks, Red Tide and An Echo, Resounding. If and when the PCs ventured off-map, I’d also use some elements of Spears of the Dawn to create the other regions around the borders of the main map.
  • Maps from Black Hand Source; Ancient Cities 2 for Murad, Ancient Cities Special Edition for the megadungeon.
  • Bits of Zak S’ Vornheim city kit.
  • A variant of the Peril rules from Moria for Decipher’s Lord of the Rings RPG; this would make it possible to run a megadungeon without stocking it first, which I find very boring.
  • At least some of the Icons from 13th Age; all 13 might be a bit much.
  • A more nuanced understanding of history and politics than I had in the 1970s.

I could probably set this up so that it could be played using OD&D, 5th Edition, or Savage Worlds; and maybe someday I will. You’ll notice it’s closely related to where the Irongrave campaign ended up, just before Beasts & Barbarians killed it and took its stuff.

What’s Stopping You?

Not a lot, actually – a little time, a little effort, a few players; but I already have the Pawns of Destiny and the Collateral Damage in flight, so let’s park it a while longer.

Four Against Darkness, Episode 1

“You can run D&D with just some PCs and a dungeon. I think that’s totally legit.” – Jeff Rients

For this more detailed trial run of 4AD, I’m going to make a couple of changes to the recommended map. First, henceforth the dungeon entrance will be at the top of the map, where you start reading; second, the sheet is going to be 27 x 19 squares rather than 20 x 28. This allows me to align the rooms centrally (most are an odd number of squares wide) and is better suited to a computer screen, which is wider than it is tall.

Our party tonight consists of Sable the Mage (who has memorised Fireball, Lightning and Sleep), his bodyguard and paramour Issa the Snow Barbarian, Ivan the rogue and Brother Aloysius the cleric. All are level 1, and between them they have 36 gp, which they save for the moment. Sable takes the lantern. Trekking cross-country, they find the stone doors marked on the map Sable purloined from the library in the Wizard’s Guild. With some effort, they force the doors open, and Issa and Aloysius take the front rank.

4AD01

Room 1 (as Sable marks it on the map he is scribing in his commonplace book) is apparently empty, apart from three doors leading deeper into the complex. Sable directs the party to search the room (p. 53), but it remains stubbornly empty. Preparing for combat once more, the group selects the left-hand door, and a short corridor leads them to room 2, which appears to be a dead end. However, no time to think about that now, as it also appears to be home to six hobgoblins. Sable casts Sleep on them, and all six lose consciousness.

“No doubt as a barbarian you have a code of honour which argues against slaying incapacitated foes…” Sable begins.

“They had their chance,” Issa interrupts, methodically slitting throats. “It doesn’t get fairer than that, down here.”

While this debate is going on, Ivan searches the bodies (roll at +1 on the treasure table, p. 34), and finds a pouch full of Fools’ Gold. The party retrace their steps into room 1, where luckily there is no ambush awaiting them. Picking the middle door this time, they find an even shorter corridor leading to a somewhat smaller room, this time with two other exits. This contains a troll, which the party immediately attacks; Sable and Aloysius miss it, but Issa kills it, and then Ivan chops it into tiny pieces so that it doesn’t regenerate. Ivan reports disgustedly that the troll had but a single gold piece to its name.

Rather than risk an unnecessary ambush by returning to room 1, the group heads through the door opposite, beyond which lies an empty four-way intersection (4). Searching this for secret doors and compartments, they find a clue – a section of defaced and barely legible runic script carved into the wall, which Sable copies into his book.

Turning left at the intersection, they find a door leading to a large, L-shaped room (5) with two other exits. A dead adventurer lies on the floor, his arm outstretched towards a small jewellery box which Ivan thoughtfully appropriates; this proves to contain a jewelled necklace worth 80 gp. Ahead lies another door, beyond which is an odd-shaped room (6) containing a pair of zombies, who quickly fall before Issa’s axe; at this point they prove to be guarding a +1 magic mace, which is handed to Brother Aloysius. Picking the furthest door, they move on, into a square room (7) full of giant centipedes – these put up a stiff resistance but are vanquished without poisoning anyone. Sadly, they have no loot.

The next room (8) proves to contain a small dragon, and given how vicious they are, Sable attempts to parley. The dragon demands all the party’s gold, with a minimum of 100 gold or one magic item. Ivan steps forward and hands over the Fools’ Gold he acquired earlier in room 2, and the party’s own 36 gp, reasoning that even if the dragon doesn’t accept the Fools’ Gold as 74 gp, it’s still a magic item, so counts either way. Muttering under their breath, the party retreats into room 7 where they are ambushed by 6 skeletal rats. These put up the stiffest fight yet, managing to inflict a wound on Ivan before they fall to Brother Alyosius’ magic mace. No treasure though.

Heading away from the dragon, the party encounters a Y junction (9), which remains stubbornly empty even when searched. Both doors prove to lead to the same, small room (10) – home to 6 skeletons, which are killed in a short but vicious melee; the party recovers 4 gp. The party has now killed over 10 minions, so one character gets a chance to level up; I pick Sable, and roll a 6 on one die – this is more than his current level, so he advances, and being a wizard gets a new spell; I pick another Lightning Bolt, as I already know there is a dragon about, and they are immune to Sleep and Fireball.

Perforce heading back towards the dragon, the party is ambushed by a catoblepas in room 7, whose deadly gaze costs Aloysius a life. Issa and Aloysius are both badly injured before the beast is felled, so while Ivan is looting the body, finding a potion of healing, Aloysius casts his first healing of the adventure, restoring everyone to full health.

Continuing to room 6 in search of unexplored areas, the group is attacked by an orc brute – thanks to exploding dice, this is down to one hit point by the time it gets a chance to react, whereupon it clocks Brother Aloysius for two hits before Ivan yerks it under the fifth rib and puts it down, purloining 6 gp from it almost before it hits the ground. Killing a boss monster triggers another levelling up opportunity, and Issa advances to level 2.

Taking the only unexplored exit from room 6 leads to a square room (11) which appears to be a dead end; it is empty apart from a blessed temple, at whose shrine Aloysius gains +1 attack against undead or demons (which expires when the group kills one). The group retraces its steps to room 5, and takes the only unexplored exit there, which leads them down a long, featureless corridor to a small chamber wherein lurk 3 orcs. Two fall, the third fails to hit Issa, who cleaves it to the brisket. Ivan relieves the bodies of 2 gp, bringing their current total to 12 gp.

Back to the four-way intersection (4) without incident, and turn left; a short empty corridor (13) leads to another short, empty corridor (14) which in turn leads to another corridor (15) – where Brother Aloysius narrowly escapes injury from a dart trap as he bends down to pick up a potion of healing, no doubt dropped by an earlier explorer. Beyond that is yet another corridor (16), full of vampire frogs, one of which bites Aloysius before they are put down. Aloysius heals himself. The frogs are guarding another potion of healing; Sable takes that, as Issa has 9 hit points of her own now, and the other two already have one each. Trudging on, the team finds themselves in an empty four-way intersection (17) and goes straight across, following the corridor to a small, cramped room containing a weird monster – another catoblepas, the other half of a mated pair perhaps? Before it falls to their blades, Issa and Sable have each lost a life. Tangled in its matted fur is a scroll of Blessing, which Aloysius gets.

Returning to the last intersection (17), the party turns right, but finds their way blocked by rubble (because the room would be off the map). Back to the intersection and across it, to a roundish room (20) where a giant stone block (level 5) falls from the ceiling onto Ivan, inflicting 2 damage on him. Beyond the far door lies a large square chamber (21), occupied by 10 rats, but an enraged Aloysius smashes them to bits before they can bite anyone. To the party’s left is a short corridor ending in another door, but that opens onto another rubble-blocked vista (22) and they abandon that route, heading back to the chamber and across it to its only remaining exit; that proves to lead to a truncated rectangular room (23) where 5 orcs are camped. Three of them are cut down before they can react, their return strikes miss, and Issa decapitates both the survivors, one of whom is wearing a fine ring worth 130 gp. This brutal slaughter takes the minion death count up to 23, meaning someone can roll to advance; I choose Ivan, but he rolls a 1 and fails to improve. Meanwhile Issa opens the last door in this room, discovering a short, rubble-blocked corridor which the orcs have been using as a privy.

Closing that door against the smell, the team return to area 16 and take the north door into a corridor (25), where Issa falls into a trapdoor and loses a life. The others use their rope to pull her out, together with the Wand of Sleep she found at the bottom, and Aloysius uses his last healing of the trip to heal everyone. Pressing on brings them to another empty corridor (26), and ignoring the doors they march north – this leads them back to the entrance room (1) – I moved one of the doors around as it made more sense to make that connection than squeeze another area into the one available square. Another trapdoor yawns before Issa and she avoids this one, picking up a second +1 mace – as a barbarian she has an innate fear of magic, so hands it to Ivan, muttering about him not needing to worry about edge alignment now. They take the west door out of area 27 and enter a room full of skeletal rats (28), which give Ivan a nasty bite before they are slain. Ironically, they guard a potion of healing.

Room 29 is small, oddly shaped, and inhabited by 17 rats – Ivan gets bitten again in the course of dealing with these. The party now returns to area 26 to try the doors there. The west door leads to a short, empty corridor going nowhere (30); a good place for stairs leading down, but obviously things have not progressed that far. The east door can pretty much only lead back to area 4, but inside this strangely-shaped area (31) a chaos lord is lurking, and he begins by unleashing his Hellfire Blast on the party, taking a life from each member. By the time the chaos lord is dealt with, the party has lost 9 lives between them and is in pretty bad shape. Everyone who has one quaffs a potion of healing, after which only Issa is still wounded (because she stubbornly refuses to drink one). I pick Aloysius to level up, which he does barely. Ivan meanwhile acquires 4 gp and a jewelled gorget worth 120 gp.

Three doors left; moving back to room 3, the party kicks open the remaining door there to find an empty cupboard (33). With only two unopened doors left in the complex, our heroes trudge back to area 16 and take the south door. Beyond this is a dead-end room (32) dominated by an ogre; Issa loses another two life killing it – a high price to pay for 3 gp.

It’s dragon time. Back to room 8 and the dragon. Sable starts with a Lighning Bolt, zapping it for two life – now it has three left. Aloysius removes another one, but the others miss. The dragon retaliates, biting Issa and Aloysius. Sable fires his second Lightning Bolt and misses. Ouch. Luckily both Issa and Aloysius land their blows, and the dragon expires. Its hoard contains 10 gp, a wand of Sleep, and a potion of healing. That’s got to be worth a levelling up roll, Ivan gets it and succeeds.

There’s one place left to go, south from the dragon’s lair, and that room (34) has 6 hobgoblins in it. Pity to waste the Fireball, so in it goes; that plus several rounds of frenzied slashing and macework polishes them off without serious incident, leaving our heroes to loot jewellery worth 30 gp.

Escaping the now cleaned-out dungeon without incident, the party takes stock. They have two +1 maces, a potion of healing, a scroll of blessing and a fully-charged wand of sleep, plus 319 gp. Issa is half-dead, but that’s her own stubborn fault because she won’t drink potions of healing. Everyone has made it to second level.

Off to the pub, then.

Reflections

This is definitely a fun little game, but I would prefer it to be shorter – the last ten rooms were a bit of a slog. I should be able to achieve a faster game by making the map smaller, so I’ll try that next time; statistically that should make it a tiny bit easier to level up, as some of the quests depend on clearing out the map, but I don’t think it’s a game-breaker. The alternative is to split a game across multiple sessions, which is also entirely feasible.

The game plays very nicely just from the quick reference sheets. The main thing I had to keep checking was when PCs do, or do not, add their level to rolls; the main thing I kept getting wrong was how many opponents attacked each PC. Both of those will come more easily with practice.

Credits: Rules – Four Against Darkness by Ganesha Games. Map drawn in Dungeonographer.

Arion, Episode 19: The Searchers

April 2220 Setup

It’s not clear where in the strategic turn sequence (page 21) resolving Job Offers should go, but it makes most sense to me if they occur at the beginning of the turn, before random encounters. This is because any jobs hauling cargo or passengers will dictate strategic movement, and if Job Offers happen after that, Arion loses a month between jobs, which a hardscrabble free trader can’t afford. So:

  • Job Offers (4): [1] Joe #6, Manufacturing, Cargo Hauling, Ring 1 Sector 2 3/2 Gaea Prime, Rep -1 +3. [2] Joe #9, Specialist, Rescue. Rep -1 +3. [3] Criminal #9, Hacker, Rescue. Rep -1 +3. [4] Joe #6, Specialist, Rescue. Three rescue jobs in a row? I’ll lump the three of them together and use them as an excuse for travel; spending three decreasing Rep dice to take the jobs sounds like tooling up. I’ll decline the cargo hauling job.
  • Starting location: Fermanagh, Ring 1, Sector 4. Random Event: No. Campaign Movement: Yes, move to sector 1 to gain access to inter-ring travel. Encounter: None (they are optional, and I want to start moving).
  • PEFs (3): [1] Something’s Out There [2] Star Navy Cutter [3] Something’s Out There.

Fermanagh, April 2220

“Mr Osheen, I think it’s time we left Fermanagh.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“We need money, though.” Arion browses to the spaceport jobs board on the main display.

“Hmm. Running cargo to Gaea Prime space, I think not; the police there would shoot you on sight, Mr Osheen. Hmm. Look at this; three separate rewards for finding and returning missing persons… Ah, I see, while I was having fun with Ms MacDonald there was a raid by Hishen slavers. I wonder if they’re connected to that Razor I bumped into? No matter. Mr Osheen, what equipment do you think we should pick up for this mission? We need to rescue three unarmed civilians, I don’t know where they are but they will be under armed guard.” The grath looks the captain up and down, and considers for a moment.

“You should wear your body armour and get two machine pistols. We will require a squad support weapon, body armour, and the largest available blender.”

“What’s the blender for?”

“It will simplify consuming our enemies’ bodily fluids for nourishment.”

“Ooookaaay… I’m going to take us to a place I know in Ring 5, we can go shopping and find out where the slavers are; then we can ask them where they took the slaves. Hopefully all to the same buyer.”

“Will questioning the slavers create an opportunity to absorb their bodily fluids for nourishment?”

“Almost certainly.”

Deep Space, Ring 1, April 2220

The Dolphin encounters a Star Navy Cutter, whose captain is a Rep 3 Basic with the Rage attribute; fortunately, as we are outgunned, Arion wins the Talk the Talk; the ships exchange pleasantries then go their separate ways. There is no need to record the NPC captain.

Admin

Arion began with a lifetime Rep of 7. He deducts 2 for crew upkeep (one for him and one for Osheen), and three for the jobs he has taken on. He hasn’t done anything that would increase Rep, so there are 5 decreasing Rep dice and a final Lifetime Rep of 2. Arion rolls 22435 for the decreasing Rep dice, and retains his Rep of 5.

Reflections

I see a story arc is already emerging; find the slavers, find the slaves, bring them back. This will likely lead to ongoing animosity with one or more of Razors, Hishen, and pirates.

Much like other story-driven THW games, you get some months in Fringe Space when nothing much happens.