Archive for the ‘Dark Nebula’ Category

“The dinner-table is often the terrain of critical conversations, for it is there one has the better of one’s interlocutor. There is no escape without scandal, there is no turning aside without self-betrayal. To invite a person to dinner is to place them under observation. Every dining-room is a temporary prison where politeness chains the guests to the laden board.” – Maurice Renard, The Hands Of Orlac

1412 Ria D768534-7 Ag Ni GG

The ship’s boat from the Dromedary deposits Arion at Ria starport and he walks out into the muggy heat with the clothes on his back (Great Archive Surveyor coveralls, indifferently laundered aboard ship) and a spacesuit. Neither the ship’s boat nor the laser turrets are standard fittings on a subsidised liner fresh out of the yards, so Arion surmises that the Dromedary is intended to trade with backwater planets in hostile space. Ria seems to tick both boxes.

Looking at Solo p.53, I need to make a world encounter roll (p. 58), which will lead me to other rolls as appropriate. I roll 3, 2 and learn that the local community is either not what it seems, or very welcoming.

The starport is about as basic as you can get and still be an actual functioning starport, a decrepit set of landing pads and a few buildings. Arion needs to find passage back to Mizah, or at least Hasara where an Archive ship will eventually turn up, and suspects he’ll need money for that – lots of it. Before making any decisions, he needs more information, and the best place to get that is at the starport office, a mouldy-looking edifice with a couple of soldiers (armed with what look like simple chemical slugthrowers) and a man in a suit loitering outside. All three have luxuriant moustaches, which Arion will shortly learn are the local fashion. The suited man waves at Arion to attract his attention, then walks briskly up to him, with the soldiers ambling along behind, as if their presence were more for show than because of any real threat.

“Senor Metaxas? I heard from traffic control that you were arriving. I am Luis González, pleased to meet you.” González is speaking accented English, the lingua franca of spacers across the sector.

“Likewise, I’m sure. Yes, I’m Metaxas. How can I help you?”

“We don’t often see anyone from outside this system, especially not a Surveyor from the Great Archive. King Adriano Talamantes invites you to dine with him tonight, and bring him news of the outside galaxy.”

Arion thinks for a moment, covering his indecision by lowering his heavy spacesuit to the ground. He’s not likely to get a better offer than this, and while he is wary of local despots, the soldiers can likely shoot him if he runs, or overpower him if he doesn’t. Might as well go without the handcuffs, then, and eat a fine dinner instead of prison slops. Since Arion knows Archive ships don’t normally go as far as Ria, and individual free traders haven’t got the range for this run, the King must be getting all his external information from the Combine, and the implication of the invitation is that he doesn’t entirely trust them; Arion may be able to turn that to his advantage.

“I would be delighted to accept your kind offer, Senor González,” he says. “When am I expected, and what is the best way to the palace?”

“Don’t worry,” smiles González, “We will take you there right away.”

-o0o-

A few hours later, Arion finds himself clean-shaven (except for the beginnings of a local-style moustache – may as well fit in), showered, dressed in borrowed finery rather than a tatty surveyor’s coverall, and at table with Luis González, King Adriano Talamantes, Queen Delfina, and Princess Isabella, the ten-year old heir to the throne. Waiters bustle in and out with various courses, and discreet guards in dress uniforms stand behind the King to either side of him.

By the time they get to what passes for coffee locally, the ice has been broken and the five of them have moved past the polite small talk, including Arion’s descriptions of life across the handful of worlds in the Fastnesses and the family’s explanations of local history, geography and crops.

“I must tell you, Senor Metaxas,” the King begins, gesturing with his coffee cup, “that Captain Anderson tells me we should fear the Archive, that it is dominated by people with a liberal socialist agenda, hostile to our way of life here.” Arion frowns, considering his next words carefully; the prison cell is still a possibility.

“There is rivalry between the Combine and the Archive,” he says, “And a wise ruler wouldn’t take anything either of us says at face value. Captain Anderson has given you the Combine view of things; allow me to present the Archive’s. You know, of course, that before the Interregnum, a great human empire controlled this region of space, with its capital on mother Earth. Before that empire fell, it established centres of learning on major worlds, to ensure colonists had access to a basic knowledge of technology, culture and history. One of these was the forerunner of the Great Archive on Mizah; after the empire fell, it worked with the planetary government to save as many people as it could, and rebuild.”

“Captain Anderson tells me that the Archive has taken over the government of Mizah from within. Like some kind of parasitic wasp, he says. Whatever a wasp is.”

“It’s true that the Archive and the government have worked closely together for centuries. What Anderson may not have told you is that the Combine was once a faction within the Archive. We are essentially a quasi-religious academic organisation, focused on humanitarian aid and research, sharing our knowledge freely with other worlds. Some time ago, a group of the Archive’s Adepts started saying that we should sell our tools and knowledge rather than giving them away, and that since what other worlds most wanted to buy was weapons, we should sell those. That led to a schism between the academic and commercial interests in the Archive, with the commercial elements leaving to form the Combine.”

“I see. Captain Anderson argues that what people are freely given, they do not value, and that the Archive imposes its will on other worlds over generations, by insinuating its ideas into the minds of the young.”

“The Archive’s eventual goal is to uplift every system in this region to the old empire’s level of technology, thus eliminating hunger, disease and oppression. We hope this will lead to harmony, to a voluntary association of free worlds.”

“With crystal spires and togas for all, no doubt. The rebels in the swamps say I oppress them. Captain Anderson says that emissaries of the Archive are spreading sedition and firearms among them.”

“Then why invite me here? Why not just arrest me?”

“Because all I know about the Archive, about the whole galaxy since the empire fell, is what Captain Anderson has told me. Asking him if it is true gains me nothing. But you…” The King waggles a finger and smiles. “You do not know what he has told me. So where both of you agree, I can take that as the truth. Where you disagree, one of you is lying. So I hope you will accept my invitation to stay for a while, and understand that the guard outside your room is there for your protection.”

Arion considers his options, and comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t really have any.

“How could I refuse such a kind offer? I can think of no better place to stay during my time here.”

GM Notes

This week I’ll talk a bit about how the worlds of the Nebula are being created.

I start with the number of jump routes it has, and use those for a first cut of the starport (one route is class E, two routes D, and so on) and population level – inhospitable secondary systems have a population level of the number of routes plus one, habitable primary systems add another two to that. I override that in two cases; tertiary systems always have a world profile of E000000-0, and the two homeworlds (Kuzu and Maadin) have starport type A and population 9. So Ria begins with starport D and population 5.

Then I use Google translate and other sources to find out what the name means, and in which language. Ria is interesting as it means a number of different things; a drowned river valley in English, “river” in a number of Romance languages, a corn-drying kiln in Swedish, a moustache in Vietnamese, or “blood” in Woi (spoken in Indonesia).

I muse on that for a while and imagine the kind of world that would be an appropriate name for. The goal here is that if the players in a group game ever figure it out, they’ll say “Ohhh… Of course, it would be called that, would’t it?” I chose this approach because I’m not very good at doing it the other way round, figuring out a relevant name for a world based on the stats, and tend to drift into analysis paralysis. It also has the benefit that it tells me which culture or cultures originally settled the place, giving me a ready source of names, traditional menus and customs, and so on.

In the case of Ria, the image that comes to mind is a rural, agricultural planet, primarily focussed on growing corn along a river valley, with one major town just upstream of a tropical river delta, split politically between a Spanish-speaking ruling class and a mixed bag of farm labourers from other cultures, and a group of flatboat-mounted guerillas hiding in the delta’s marshes and seeking to overthrow the rulers. Possibly the first thing a visitor notices are the impressive mustachios sported by all adult males. Then I assigned the rest of the profile to fit that picture. Note that the boardgame implies all primary and secondary worlds have antiship defences (laser and missile turrets), and by extension either a Tech Level of 7+ or some sort of arrangement with another planet which armed them. Bases I assign by looking at the map and placing them where I think it makes sense and fits with the profile; there’s no reason for Ria to have any bases, so it doesn’t.

As we explore the subsectors further, you’ll see the region was largely colonised by Turkey, Indonesia and the proposed East African Union.

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Arion, 014-3401: Dromedary

Posted: 11 November 2017 in Dark Nebula
Tags: , ,

“How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? see thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done; thou art a swift dromedary traversing her ways.” – King James Bible, Jeremiah 2:23

Aboard the Dromedary.

I roll for in-game reactions (Solo pp. 19-20) and an onboard event (Solo, p. 56): There’s only one active PC yet – Arion – who rolls a 6 and therefore fails to avoid a bad reaction; a further roll of 4 shows that a choice is made and he doesn’t like it. The onboard event is 43 – a power failure.

The Captain’s day cabin is spacious, by shipboard standards, and Captain Anderson sits at a small desk, interviewing Arion, who is dressed in an ill-fitting pair of Combine overalls and perched awkwardly on a folding chair. The scene is dimly lit by emergency lights, and the air conditioning is off.

“Our sensors confirm there’s wreckage from an Archive Surveyor, and the origin of your trajectory matches where it would have been when you left. So your story checks out. But tell me, why would pirates blow your ship up? First, they’re breaking no laws by being here; second, there’s no-one to enforce them if they were; third, a ship with an Archive transponder has nothing worth stealing – no offence – and fourth, the Archive is too powerful to upset for no reason.”

“None taken. I saw too much. I saw who they were meeting out here. Hierate scouts.”

“You sure?”

“Hraye III class with a fuel slab, squawking a clan recognition code. Unmistakable.”

“Pfft. Half the pirates out here are from the Hierate.”

“True, but they don’t squawk clan codes. And honour dictates that anyone using those codes be a member of the right clan, and vice versa. The code tells you who it was. No room for error.”

“Hmm.”

“Hmm indeed. So Captain, thank you for picking me up, but I need to impose on you further – I need to report back to Mizah right away.”

“Surveyor, the law is clear. I grant you’re a distressed spacefarer, and the Archive is good for your transport costs. But I can’t turn 600 tons of ship around and break my Bond to get you home three weeks sooner. Do you have any idea how much that would cost?”

“Don’t you see how important this is? The Hierate and Confed have been rattling sabres at each other for years, this could be the start of outright war – and if the Hierate barrels through here fangs out and hair on fire, they’re going to hit Mizah first.”

“But they might not.”

“But…” Before Arion can argue any more, Anderson interrupts, the steel any trader captain must have at his core being displayed for the first time.

“But me no buts, Surveyor. The law says I drop you at the next port of call and submit an invoice the next time I’m at an Archive facility. I have no obligation to deadhead you halfway across the sector first, and no obligation to reroute my ship for your convenience. Unless you have written authority from the Great Archive to pay the penalty clauses for breaking my Bond, which I know you do not because we searched you for contraband and weapons when we brought you aboard.”

The lights flicker back on and the air conditioning starts up again. “Finally!” Anderson mutters, then continues in a louder voice.

“Now that power has been restored, we can jump. And we will. You can either keep out of the way, or help with running the ship, but any more complaints about the route and you’ll find yourself in cryosleep in a low berth. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Captain.” Arion leaves the office. He is seething inside, but if he’s put into cryosleep, who knows where – or when – he’ll wake up?

GM NOTES

This story thread came about as I thought it was time we found out how Arion met Anderson, how the pirates were involved, and why Arion started working for him. I have no idea what happened, but the dice will tell us soon enough.

For this campaign, I’m determined that each post should have part of the story in it, so I’ll keep the commentary on rules and setting design in the GM Notes section, rather than in separate posts as I’ve done in the past. This time, as Arion is in jumpspace, let’s look at FTL travel, and the implications for the rules and the campaign. I expect that will make more sense if we have the map in front of us, so here it is.

The Dark Nebula boardgame makes several assumptions about hyperspace jumps. First, you can only move along the routes on the map (at least until you uncover the secrets of the Nebula itself). Second, you can’t leave a tertiary system unless there is a tanker present to refuel you with hydrogen harvested from the star. Third, in a two-year turn you can go anywhere on the map, stopping only for enemy units, tertiary systems without a tanker, or uncharted jump routes; since there are about 80 routes on the map and each side has three movement phases per turn, the theoretical minimum jump time is roughly three days, and is probably more than that. Finally, you can’t bypass any star system on your route (otherwise the tactic of blocking fleets with a sacrificial scoutship wouldn’t work).

Savage Worlds itself is silent on the topic, but the Sci Fi Companion says that a ship can jump to any system regardless of distance, potentially in zero time if it’s prepared to expend enough fuel, and The Last Parsec adds the idea that the jump is faster and less risky if the system has a hyperspace beacon. To match Dark Nebula I could say that astrogation beacons communicate with each other faster-than-light (explaining how each player in the boardgame has perfect knowledge of the enemy’s movements), that beacons only allow travel along specific routes; and that tertiary systems have no beacons. In that case, tanker units would be a kind of self-propelled beacon.

Traveller limits ship movement by the amount of fuel carried and the rating of the jump drive installed, rather than by specific jump routes; refuelling at a planet is still needed, but you can bypass systems as long as you have the fuel and drive rating to do it. Aligning Traveller with the Dark Nebula is straightforward; I usually rationalise the jump routes by saying that the map is a 2-D representation of 3-D space, and systems that appear to be next to each other may be too far apart vertically to allow a jump. Saying that the boardgame’s ships have jump-3 gives a close enough match for strategic mobility – Bors, Daanarni and Taida Na remain impassable without some means of refuelling, and while you shouldn’t be able to access Ria, Osa or Karpos I can live with that – I want Arion to visit Ria and Karpos. As the map is drawn, J-1 pretty much limits you to Mizah and its neighbours, J-2 is good for exploring either subsector but won’t get you from one to the other, J-3 lets you travel between subsectors, and J-4 lets you leave the map. That progression has a certain elegance to it, don’t you think?

(If running multiple campaigns a generation or more apart on the timeline, I could argue that the drives in the various games are the same kind of hyperspace motor at different technology levels; first the DN drive, then the Traveller one, and finally the SW version. But ain’t nobody got time for dat.)

TL, DR: Traveller jump drive wins. There’s a good campaign to be played using the official Savage Worlds hyperdrive, but it’s not this one. Maybe next time.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

1514 Daanarni E000000-0 Ni.

Daanarni is blindingly bright; a blue-white supergiant. You can read by it in the next star system but one, that’s how bright it is. So look away into the blackness, and after your eyes or your screen filters have adjusted, you may be able to make out a small, bright dot. Zoom in on that, and keep zooming, and eventually you’ll see a human figure in a deep space pressure suit, solar panels cranked out of the backpack like wings. It was the light glancing off those that caught your eye. It doesn’t look like he’s going to run out of power any time soon, whatever else he’s short of.

One of the panels reels in, just a little, and after a while extends back out again. You realise he’s using the radiation pressure and the solar wind to tack across the system, quite possibly just to keep his mind off wondering how long he’s got left before the air and water recyclers break down or he starves to death. Or whether he could open the faceplate just a crack, just long enough to scratch that God-damned ITCH on his nose.

You’re just starting to get bored with watching his glacial progress when the familiar disk-and-slab shape of a subsidised liner winks into existence, not too far away from him and on an intercept course, or nearly so. Its turrets swivel to align lasers on him, the ship’s computer having registered him as a potential threat; after a few seconds it picks up the suit’s transponder and moves the ship itself elegantly aside instead. You scan through the appropriate radio frequencies, and shortly pick up traffic between suit and ship.

“…I say again, this is Surveyor Arion Metaxas of the GAS Bozcaada out of Mizah. Well, technically I suppose it’s not so much a ship, more an expanding ball of gas fluorescing in the far ultraviolet, but… Sorry, I’ve been out here quite a while. Permission to come aboard? I’ll be good, I promise, and the Archive would be ever so grateful, I’m sure. I certainly will. Oh, and there were some pirates in the system a while ago, you might want to keep an eye out for those.”

“Hang tight, Surveyor, this is the Combine liner Dromedary, Captain Anderson commanding. Give us a few minutes and we’ll reel you in.”

At length, a hatch opens in the Dromedary and a pair of suited figures appears. They tether themselves to the ship, then jet across to intercept Arion on manoeuvring thrusters while he reels in the solar panels. Catching him easily, they escort him back to the ship, and all three disappear inside.

To be continued…

-o0o-

Fade up theme music (Joe Satriani: The Traveler). Roll credits…

DARK NEBULA SEASON 1: THE TRAVELLER

Starring Andy Slack as Arion Metaxas

Also starring…

  • Karen Gillan as Coriander
  • Vin Diesel as Dmitri
  • John Lithgow as Perry Anderson

Produced and directed by Andy Slack

Written by a bunch of dice and large quantities of single malt.

Music by Joe Satriani.

Based on the boardgame by GDW, Solo by Zozer Games, and Savage Worlds by Pinnacle Entertainment.

With additional material from Classic Traveller by GDW and Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publications.