We travel not for trafficking alone:
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We make the Golden Journey to Samarkand.
- James Elroy Fletcher, The Golden Journey to Samarkand
What I’m finding is that interstellar trading, simple though it is in the Science Fiction Companion, is very boring for me. You may enjoy it, and if you do, more power to you; it’s just not what my games are about these days.
I spent some time crafting a faster, easier system, and some time researching how contemporary tramp freighters actually operate – mostly on charters arranged by brokers, it turns out; speculative trading of the kind SF RPGs emulate has practically disappeared since (and possibly because of) the invention of radio.
None of that made it any more fun, sadly. So I’ve circled back around to the Daring Tales of the Space Lanes approach; the characters spend a lot of time trading, but that all happens off-camera and generates just enough money to offset the ship’s operating expenses; the players don’t get involved in it.
Since this has been the outcome whatever setting and rules I’ve used since the late 1980s, I’m going to knock trading on the head now; you won’t see it here again.
That does leave me with the question of how much money PCs should reasonably have available, so for the time being I shall adapt the Savings rules from Beasts & Barbarians, summarised and modified as follows:
- At the end of each adventure, PCs get paid or fence their loot, replenish supplies, and replace lost items.
- They retain $500 per Rank (more than in B&B because the SF PC tends to have more, and more expensive, gear) for emergencies. This is adjusted by the Rich and Filthy Rich Edges, and the Poverty Hindrance, as usual.
- They then spend everything else they made on the adventure before the next one starts – on the traditional “ale and whores”, starship repairs, training, collection of pet fish, or whatever.
I’m also bored by the hyperspace astrogation rolls and variable trip time. Henceforth jumps succeed and take a week each, and we’re not interested in how much of that week is in hyperspace and how much in realspace. So there.
So much for trafficking. On with the lust for knowing what should not be known!
"Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six." – Booker T Washington
The second gunman didn’t have any more information, or a good idea for how I could let him live. So I spaced him too, and the dead body, and had the Joker vaporise all the corpses with the laser turret.
It was 8 days back to Mizah, and I spent most of them turning it over in my head. Was there a way I could’ve let them live and stayed safe myself? I couldn’t think of one. I would spend a lot of time over the next couple of years asking myself that question.
Greg needs to get back to Hasara, and the best way to do that is via Tangga. So he sells the Ore at $2,800 per unit, and buys Timber at $800 per unit, since that is the thing with the best markup at Tangga.
It’s 9 days to Tangga; a 5 of Diamonds means no encounter.
Greg sells the Timber at $1200 per unit, checks the prices at Hasara, and buys 5 units of Technology. He refuels and replenishes stores, then jumps for Hasara, which takes 3 days; he burns an extra two days of fuel to arrive just before the commodity prices change. Again, there is no encounter.
Greg arrives, refuels, and sells his cargo. Tomorrow, the prices will all change and he will pick up another cargo. Then, he will descend to the Hasaran Badlands and recover Sofia’s data slate. I think that’s important enough to warrant a scene to itself, don’t you?
Status at Scene End
Level Up! Greg gets an advance, but spends it to restore the Agility die step he lost when savaged by bugs on Simba. Oh well, easy come, easy go…
Hasara, 090-3015. Fuel 25, Food 25, $159,580, Cargo hold empty. Bennies: 1 (more unheroic behaviour).
Chaos Factor: 5.
Characters: Greg, Sofia (deceased), PRR, insectoid raiders, Confed, Hierate, Egemen Kaptan (happy corporate exec), Tunaydin Uygun (creative, patriotic scientist), Abeid (crude crawler driver), Tunaydin’s grad student, Takanashi Hiro (celebrity-watching port official).
Plot Threads: Avoid capture by PRR; recover Sofia’s slate from Hasara; solve mystery of Sofia’s slate.
“No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire.”
― L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz
I should be on episode 10 by now, so here’s the first catchup episode…
Let’s get some housekeeping out of the way first; Greg sells 5 Food for $25,000, and buys 5 Ore for $3,500, 12 fuel for $7,200, and 6 food for $60, taking his cash in hand to $121,470. Then he leaves Omaro with his prisoners, as he needs a quiet conversation with them. This is not at all how I saw the visit to Omaro going, but that’s the Mythic Game Master Emulator for you; full of surprises.
By the time the lead gunman came round, he was sitting uncomfortably on the floor of the main airlock, trussed up in cable ties.
“Hello,” I said. “As you can see, you are in an airlock. I have control of the temperature, air pressure, and gravity in there.” He said nothing, but I could see him testing his bonds and looking around for opportunities of escape. I hoped I hadn’t left him any, but if I had, there was always the outer door control.
“What about my men?” he asked. “Dead,” I said. “Never bring a pistol to a starship fight, my friend.” Actually one of them was still alive, but I wanted him to feel isolated.
“You won’t get away with this, pirate,” he spat. He could be right on that one, but that line of thought wouldn’t get either of us anywhere.
“I’m new to this interrogation thing,” I said, “But I’m sure you’ve done it before, so let’s try this; you ask me your questions, and I’ll answer them. I might ask some myself to clarify points. If I don’t like your questions, I’ll put the airlock on a rinse cycle. How does that sound?”
He responded with a torrent of obscenity and personal insults, so I used the grav plates to rattle him around a bit.
“Ask me a question,” I prompted. I could see I had confused him, which was the plan, but after a bit more rattling he complied.
“Where is she?” he asked. “Sofia?”
“Somewhere you can’t find her or hurt her ever again,” I said. This was at least half-true, because she was in an unmarked grave on Hasara. I could see him thinking furiously.
“Look,” he said. “No offence, but you’re a small fish. Give us the girl and we can cut a deal.” I rattled him around the airlock again.
“I’m sorry, but you didn’t frame your response in the form of a question,” I said. “Please try again.”
“Where is the girl’s data slate?” he asked.
“She still has it,” I said. “What do you want with her and the slate? Oh, and this time it’s okay not to respond with a question.”
“I don’t know. I was just told to bring them both back to Ria.” I rattled him again.
“You’re lying. You’re five weeks from Ria, so there’s a ten week turnaround if you ask for new orders. You must have more autonomy than that, so you have to know why you’re doing this.” And they must have some plan for flying the ship back to Ria without my cooperation, because whatever their attitudes to inherited wealth the rebels wouldn’t leave fifteen million credits worth of starship sitting around waiting to be stolen. I started the airlock cycling this time.
This looks like a good time to find out what’s on that slate, so let’s think… Is the slate a treasure map (Likely)? 75% – yes (only just). That explains why the gunmen are Gung Ho; the PRR is trusting them to bring back the cash instead of just disappearing with it. Unless they’ve already gone rogue (50/50)? 93%, no.
“Wait!” he said. So I stopped the cycle.
“Sofia’s family had a lot of money offworld,” he said. “We think her slate explains where it is, and how to get to it.”
“The rebels – pardon me, the new government – must trust you very much. What stops you just disappearing with the money when you find it?”
Unconsciously, he sat up straighter. I saw a trickle of blood from one temple where he had banged into something.
“Unlike you,” he said, “Some of us can’t be bought with a few measly credits.”
“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve been very helpful. Now, I have one last question for you: Can you think of any way I can keep you on this ship that absolutely guarantees I will stay alive, free, and in control of it?”
The accused stood mute. I sighed. I was really hoping he’d have a credible answer for that.
“Neither can I,” I said, and opened the outer airlock door.
Status at Scene End
Omaro, 068-3015. Fuel 25, Food 25, $121,470, Cargo 5 Ore for Mizah. Bennies: 2 (one lost for unheroic behaviour).
Chaos Factor: 5.
Characters: Greg, Sofia (deceased), PRR, insectoid raiders, Confed, Hierate, Egemen Kaptan (happy corporate exec), Tunaydin Uygun (creative, patriotic scientist), Abeid (crude crawler driver), Tunaydin’s grad student, Takanashi Hiro (celebrity-watching port official).
Plot Threads: Avoid capture by PRR; recover Sofia’s slate and decode it.
“Ĉu vi parolas Esperanton?” the port official wanted to know. Which sounded unusual, coming from a pureblooded ethnic Japanese; but this far from Manhome Earth, you tend to get the cultures that were poor, or strange, or just wanted to be left alone, and who am I to judge?
I didn’t know what the right reply was, so I settled for a puzzled look and “Türkçe biliyor musunuz?”
I got a blank look back. Okay then, how about “Do you speak English?”
I turned out he did, which is not that uncommon among spacers and ground crew; when the region was cut off from Earth during the interregnum, none of the worlds in it had a majority of English speakers – they were in the first wave of the diaspora and got nice worlds close to Earth, not places like Omaro – but English has been the language of trade and traffic control in space for centuries, and a lot of ship crews were marooned here; over time they formed a kind of traveller subculture. Like me, they grew up around ships, and in ships, and talking about ships, in the ships’ language; so it’s not too surprising that a high proportion of them work on ships or in ports.
However, you can’t judge that by looking at someone, it’s more a matter of intonations and phrasing – and if you’re unlucky, the flat, calm, absolutely clear speech of a spacer reporting serious trouble.
I have no idea what awaits Greg on Omaro, so there’s no point checking for altered scenes or interrupts; instead, I use the GME to generate a random event. Percentile dice rolls of 56, 72 and 98 tell me the event has a PC-negative focus, with an action of “arrive” and a subject of “fame”.
“Hey,” said the port official. “Aren’t you the guy who got Princess Sofia off Ria? You know, in the revolution? My wife loved that story, said how romantic it was. Hey, there are some guys from Ria in the bar over there, maybe you should say hello…” he turned to point at the bar, but three hard-looking guys were already stepping out into the hangar space and heading my way. They must’ve seen the Joker coming down on the ship lift; most of Omaro Station is underground, including the spaceport.
They did not look friendly, but they were wearing the blue armbands that are as close to a uniform as the rebels get.
“Oh, here they come,” said the port official, unnecessarily. “Hey – why do you Rians always go around in threes?”
“Easy,” I said, as they started to run towards me. “One can read, one can write, and the other one is there to keep an eye on the two intellectuals. You might want to find solid something to hide behind, this could get loud.”
Let’s call the opposition stock Soldier NPCs with Glocks; however, we’ve established off-camera that the rebels think Greg, or the Princess (who was alive and on the Joker when they last saw her), know something useful – so they won’t shoot to kill just yet. I have no idea what that something useful is, yet.
Greg is about to reach for his gun, when I have a better idea.
I raised my hands, so they slowed down and went into that slow, crouching walk gunmen use to keep their weapons on target. So, they’d had some training then.
“Joker,” I said softly, to the metal spider on my shoulder, “Failsafe. Three armed rebels, my ten o’clock, prepare to engage.”
“Acknowledged,” said the Joker’s calm, contralto voice. The turret peeled back its fairing and swivelled slightly to cover the advancing rebels. It would now burn them down either at my command, or if I were suddenly unable to give commands, say for instance because I had been perforated. There had been a lot of time in hyperspace recently, with not much to do except change the dressings on my bug wounds, think paranoid thoughts, and come up with contingency programming for the AI based on those paranoid thoughts. Amazing what being nearly killed will do for your frame of mind.
“Gentlemen,” I called, somewhat louder. “Those tubes pointing at you are dual-linked 15 megawatt lasers. We can talk like civilised people, or you can be a bad smell in the air conditioning for the next couple of weeks.”
That sounds like a persuasion roll to me, so let’s check the personalities of the thugs using the table on p. 93 of SWDEE. Three d20 rolls, leader first, give me 6, 10 and 6; two Gung Ho and one Dumb. That sounds like it will take success with a raise to get anywhere, and as he is unskilled, Greg is rolling d4-2 with a wild die. 3, 2w is modified to 1, 0 – that didn’t go well. Looks like it’s time for initiative; Greg draws a King of Diamonds, the gunmen draw an 8 of Diamonds.
“Stand down or we fire!” shouted the leader. For a second, the image of Sofia flashed into my mind. We had been nothing to each other – she was a Princess, for goodness’ sake, and I wasn’t even the chauffeur, I was the guy who delivered her daddy’s mail – but she had been young, and scared, and she had trusted me to get her away from people like these, who had killed her parents and mortally wounded her. Maybe her parents deserved it, and maybe they didn’t; but she hadn’t. She was just a kid. So I got angry, just for a second.
“Engage,” I said, then belatedly realised the lasers could only burn them down one at a time, but there were three of them. I drew and fired, more to put them off than anything, then fell prone. There was no cover within diving range, so it was the best I could do.
The Joker’s AI has d10 skill but no wild die; it rolls a 1 and misses. Really? Oh come on.
Greg fires with a multi-action penalty, then uses his movement to drop prone. He rolls d6w (I’ve adopted that terminology from the Odds & Evens dice roller I often use, it means d6 with a wild die) and scores 4w, 3 (4 on the wild die and 3 on the trait die), which is enough to hit; 4 damage isn’t going to do anything, though.
The three gunmen blaze away, using double tap at a prone target, then close in from 18″ away at a run. Their attacks are each d6-3; Shooting d6, +1 for double tap, -2 for prone target, -2 for running. They roll 7, 3, 3, adjusted to 4, 0, 0, and one of them hits Greg, doing 8 damage, which beats his Toughness by one, Shaking him. They score 2 on their running roll, and end the turn 10″ from him. Notice that even though they run after firing, they still suffer the extra penalty.
New turn; Greg Heart 7, gunmen Spade 7 – gunmen go first, as ties are resolved in reverse alphabetical order of suit. Running still makes sense, as the lasers are likely not to fire if they get close enough to Greg, so they come forward again, shooting first. Modified rolls of -2, 1, and 1 aren’t good enough, though. A 2 on their shared running die brings them in to 2″ from Greg at the end of the turn.
First, Greg makes a Spirit roll (d6w) to recover from Shaken; 8, 4w means he succeeds with a raise and can act normally. He double-taps one of the gunmen (d6w = 4w, 3) and gets an adjusted 4; it always puzzles me that there is no penalty for firing on a running target in SW, but there it is. Since they moved their full pace, they can’t be crouching (which halves pace and gives -1 to be hit). 4 is a hit, so Greg rolls 2d6+1 damage; 12. Wait, are they wearing concealed body armour (50/50)? 94%, no. In that case the leader has just suffered a terminal case of kinetic energy poisoning.
Next, the Joker opens up; 1d10 = 18 (it aced), so damage is 2d10+1d6 = 19, a second one greased. Unfortunately, that was the Dumb one, the second Gung Ho fellow is still in play.
Initiative: Greg 4 of Diamonds, gunman 6 of clubs; gunman goes first. I’d have a normal NPC make a Spirit roll to stay in the fight, but this guy is Gung Ho, so he carries on. Gung Ho doesn’t mean stupid, though, so he moves right up to Greg and tries to grapple him. This is an opposed Fighting roll, gunman’s d6 vs Greg’s d4w; that becomes 7 vs 1w, 1 – ack, snake eyes! Not having that, Greg would be Shaken because the gunman succeeded with a raise. Spend a benny to reroll; 7 vs 6, that’s more like it, entangled but not Shaken.
Greg, on his turn, can make a opposed Agility or Strength roll to break free; they’re the same at the moment, so it’s d6w vs d6, which turns into 7 vs 1; since that’s success with a raise, Greg can break free and still act this turn. He chooses to run from the fight, and gets 7″ from it – lousy running roll. Never mind, the lasers, which have been tracking the brawl impotently, unable to fire for fear of hitting Greg, can now open up and do so. Success with a raise again, resulting in 34 damage; a bad smell in the air conditioner indeed.
Just goes to show: Never bring a gun to a ship fight.
Greg checks the downed opponents; each gets a Vigour roll to avoid death. Scores of 11 (this is a trait roll, so it can ace), 4 and 2; the leader succeeded with a raise, so his wounds are not as bad as they looked, and he will function normally; the dumb one survived, so I make a second Vigour roll and get a 5 – he is walking wounded, and can shamble around but not fight or do anything useful; the third guy died, not surprising since he took 34 damage.
I checked on the fallen; one dead, one looked like he would recover with time, the third one – the leader – had only been creased, he would be fine in a few hours although he would have a cool new scar. I left the Joker covering them while I ran inside to get some cable ties, then trussed them up.
The port official emerged from behind a crate while I was doing this. I gestured at the carnage.
“Will this be a problem for me?”
Time for his personality (d20 = 19, Cowardly) and a reaction test (2d6 = 6, neutral). He’s not going to make an issue of it, especially not while that laser turret is still active.
“No, I don’t think so.” He brightened. “My wife will be so excited! The hero of Ria fighting off brigands! Yes! And I was there beside him!”
“That you were,” I said. “You can tell your wife I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Of course. You distracted them.”
“I did? Oh, I don’t remember that.”
“No need to be so modest, my friend. You could even say you saved my life.”
You could, I thought. It wouldn’t be true, but you could say it.
I should have killed him, because him spreading that story eventually caused me even more trouble; and I confess I thought about it. But he was so happy at the thought of being a hero himself, just for tonight, just for his wife, that it would have been like shooting a puppy. Some things, you just don’t do.
“I’ll just take these guys inside and take care of them,” I said. He could make of that what he wanted. “I’ll send out the ship’s drone swarm to clean up.”
“Could you come over for dinner? Can we meet the Princess?” he asked, beside himself at the thought. For the first time I looked at his name tag; Takanashi Hiro, it said, in Latin and Kanji script. How appropriate.
“I’m sorry, Hiro,” I said. “Can I call you Hiro? Where there are three of these men, there may be more. I couldn’t put you and your wife at risk. We should move on, as soon as we can.” He looked even more like a puppy at this perceived loss. I threw him a bone.
“Maybe the next time I’m on Omaro? Perhaps it will be safer then.” He brightened a little.
“Yes! Yes, I’m sure it will!”
I clapped him on the shoulder and headed back onto the ship. I’d find some sort of souvenir for him, so his wife could believe she had married a hero as well as a Hiro, at least for a while; and then I would ask the surviving gunmen some questions.
I was very interested in why they had come all this way to find me. And in why they wanted to take me alive.
As Shepherd hobbles out of hospital and back to the hangar, a couple of questions spring to mind for resolution by the Mythic GME. First, though, I roll 1d10 against the Chaos factor. The most likely next scene is Greg taking Egemen back to Mizah; I roll a 10, which is more than the Chaos factor, so that is indeed what happens next.
- Is Tunaydin coming too (50/50)? 58% – yes, with this chaos factor.
- What about the grad student (very likely, since Tunaydin is coming)? 37% – also yes.
- How about Abeid (very unlikely)? 86% – no.
OK then, party of four for Mizah. Greg refills the fuel tank (11 x 6 x $100 = $6600) and pantry (2 x 10 = $20), and after about five tries over 42 minutes manages to calculate the hyperspace jump, which would have him arriving 8 days out of Mizah, but that would mean running out of food; he needs to arrive at least two days earlier, which would cost an extra 4 days’ fuel, and if he arrives the same day (cost 16 fuel) his cargo will still be worth $6000 per unit – that’s a no-brainer, so he burns 16 fuel and arrives at Mizah on 060-3015, just before the monthly cargo price reset, with 3 fuel left in the tanks. A bit of metagaming, but never mind, a PC would’ve done it.
The Mizah system is a patrolled area, so there is no event draw. Greg lands, bids Egemen and company farewell, sells the cargo, replenishes everything, and takes the day off while the commodity board resets. At this point he learns about the Hierate invading Valka – I’ll explain how I came to that thinking in a couple of posts’ time.
The next day, he sees that the best deal in the Fastnesses (the cluster of seven worlds centred around Mizah, if you don’t have the Dark Nebula boardgame to hand) is buying food on Mizah for $1500 per unit, and selling it on Omaro for $5000; on the way back he can buy Ore at $700 per unit and sell it at £2800 per unit. Omaro is a good place to visit next in narrative terms because I already have it half-worked out, so that’s also a no-brainer.
After eight tries Greg gets the jump coordinates set, and succeeds with a raise, cutting the jump time to 6 days. The encounter card is the 4 of hearts, so no encounter. That’s all fine.
Omaro, you may recall, is a Failed Core (or if you prefer, a Cold Mercurian; Titan-like) with Esperanto-speaking Japanese who venerate Professor LL Zamenhof, and giant lobsters outside the viewports. But more of that next time…
Status at scene end: Omaro, 067-3015. Fuel 13, Food 19, $107,230, cargo 5 Food.
Chaos Factor: Back to 5, Greg is more in control now than last time.
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; Tunaydin’s grad student.
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.
Interstellar trading is still not very interesting, which is what I found last time when using Classic Traveller for it in the Arioniad. I’ll have to see if I can work out some sort of shortcut; in my youth I would have coded a short programme to work out the average monthly income and expenditure, but this time I will probably say something brutally simple like trading exactly defrays operating costs, and any real monetary advance has to come from adventuring. Or perhaps I should use an advance to buy Greg the Rich Edge to represent successful trading, upgrading it to Filthy Rich later on.
You will notice I never had to decide what Tunaydin’s exciting discovery was, which is just as well as I have no idea what it could be. We’ll leave the Dice Gods to bring it back into play as and when they see fit.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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…
Greg now jumps from Mizah to Simba, carrying Egemen Kaptan, his mysterious messages, and 5 units of timber. After 1d6 = 1 minute, he rolls a critical failure on his Astrogation check, spends a benny to reroll, and gets a success with two raises, reducing flight time to one day with a lucky roll. I draw a three of clubs for the encounter, so there isn’t one.
Simba’s surface starport is called Peponi, which they tell me means "paradise", so I can only assume they were being sarcastic. Simba is technically habitable, but paradise it is not. We came in through showers of carbon dioxide snow and 50 metre per second katabatic crosswinds off the North Plateau, driven by one point three gees of surface gravity. Atmospheric pressure is likewise one point three standard, but the low oxygen content leaves you with headaches and assorted other minor symptoms until you acclimatise, which takes about a week. You need a full-face mask, an oxygen supply and serious foul-weather gear to go outside.
I had no real interest in landing; secondary systems have planets that are too big, too small, too hot or too cold to be habitable, which means even if you do land, you’re still basically inside a space station, you’ve just used more delta-V to dock. Egemen insisted, though, because Tunaydin had gone down to the surface in a dropship to examine what she had logged with traffic control as "a site of scientific interest".
Greg unloads his five units of Timber for $12,000, and in anticipation of a return trip to Mizah, buys five units of Fuel for $7,500. He decides not to top up the fuel tank just yet, as he still has 24 days left. Then, we descend to the surface, which given what Simba is like, I shall treat as a Dramatic Task (SWDEE pp.96-97) using Piloting. A dramatic task is a sequence of trait rolls (at -2) in each of five consecutive combat rounds; the character needs to get five successes, and each club drawn for initiative introduces a complication. It seems reasonable that the ship’s AI can assist using the Cooperative Rolls rule on p. 71, so we’ll do that; as it’s effectively an NPC under Greg’s control, it acts on his initiative card. Greg has Piloting d10, +2 (for the Ace Edge) -2 (for the dramatic task), and a wild die. The AI has Piloting d10.
Turn 1: King of Hearts. The AI rolls 1d10-2=5, a success; this adds +1 to Greg’s die roll. He rolls 1d10+2-2+1=5 (the wild die is 1d6+2-2+1=4), and garners one success of the five he needs. So far, so good.
Turn 2: Jack of Clubs. Oops, a complication. This gives another -2 modifer to the roll – no doubt a sudden gust of crosswind. The AI rolls 1d10-4=5, giving Greg another +1. Greg rolls a modified 3 on his trait die and a modified 1 on his wild die; since failure means the worst possible outcome for the task, crashing into a glacier miles from anywhere, Greg spends a benny to reroll and this time gets a 7 on the Piloting die and a 9 on the wild die; he chooses the roll from the wild die and adds two more to his tally (one for the success, one for the raise) and now has three of the five points he needs.
Turn 3: 10 of Hearts. The AI rolls a modified 9, giving Greg +2; he rolls 8 on the Piloting die and 7 on the wild die after modifiers, cranking him up to a total of five points and ending the task early.
Despite the planet’s best efforts, including hailstones the size of my head and crosswinds gusting to nearly a hundred metres per second at one point, I managed to get us down in one piece. The spaceport is built into the side of one of the few mountains poking up out of the ice sheets; I was glad when the bay doors to our berth reluctantly opened, and even more glad once they had closed behind us and I could release my death grip on the joystick.
It’s now appropriate to determine just what Egemen’s girlfriend is the renowned authority on, and I don’t need dice rolls for that – the thing that is special about Simba is its proximity to the insectoid raiders, so if she’s come here, that’s the logical thing for her to be expert in. Consequently, what she is investigating must be something to do with them, so I decide that during the last insectoid raid, one of their ships crashed, and she is examining the wreckage.
Has she brought the wreckage inside the starport (Likely)? 78% = No.
The spaceport staff told us Tunaydin had gone out to investigate a crashed insectoid raider, so while Egemen haggled with them over the rental on a crawler, I powered the Joker down to minimum. It looked like we were going outside…
Neither Egemen nor Greg has Driving, so Egemen will also hire a driver. A little Googling gives me a viable name, Abeid, and I roll 1d20=11 for his personality; Crude.
While I never bothered with experience for Arion, Greg can have some; let’s be honest, he needs a better Astrogation skill than he has, and I’m also keen to boost his Piloting to improve his chances of surviving space combat. But how experience much is fair?
In a normal game session, I’d get through about three scenes ("encounters" in D&D parlance) and award characters two experience each. Let’s call that one experience every other scene in Greg’s case, since I expect the scenes to be shorter, which conveniently means he gets one advance every 10 scenes.
- 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: Greg is less in control of the situation now, so I increment the chaos factor to 6.
- Avoid capture by the PRR
- Solve the mystery of Sofia’s pocket slate – actually for Greg there is a first step, understand that there is a mystery to solve; so he won’t actively try to close this thread yet, an NPC has to mention it to him first.
- Take Egemen back to Mizah.
- New: Visit Tunaydin’s wreck site and learn what she is doing there.
Status at scene end: Fuel 24, Food 23, $114,150, cargo 5 Fuel.
Our driver, Abeid, was foul-mouthed in several languages, kicking and cursing the crawler as he checked the track tension, the heaters, and a dozen other things before we could venture out into the cold. It had taken us twenty minutes to dress in the multi-layered and brightly-coloured cold weather suits from the Joker’s stores. Abeid looked at them, couldn’t decide whether to laugh out loud at their inadequacy or curse us for stupid offworlders, and settled for a derisive snort. We clambered aboard all the same.
"Halahala mti na macho!" he shouted as the garage doors cranked painfully open against the wind. I had a spider from the repair swarm on my shoulder as a commlink relay to the Joker, and after a fraction of a second it thoughtfully translated. "He is warning you about impending danger," said the AI.
I suspect none of us realised then just how much danger we would be in.
More goodies from The Last Parsec… in this week’s post, the ship deck plans and figure flats.
I’ll digress from my usual review structure, because for this kind of product content and format are really the same thing, and also figure flats are not things I use much, so it doesn’t seem fair to give them a rating.
There are four deck plans and two sets of flats available; the deck plans are for a dropship, a modular freighter, a pair of pirate ships, and a research vessel. The figure flats are basically the good guys ("Explorers") and the bad guys ("Terrors").
Let’s look at the figures first. The Explorers pack contains nearly 70 figures suitable for use as PCs or their sidekicks, comprising four constructs, three deaders, three florans, seven male and three female humans, eight insectoids, three kalians, three rakashans, three saurians, four aurax, four yetis, and a serran (which could also work as another female human); many of these use the iconic art from other products in the line, for example the serran is the same artwork as in the SFC itself, and some of them are named, which suggests they are from existing or planned products – I haven’t checked. Additionally there are seven JumpCorp Marines, seven JumpCorp security troopers, a squad of eight saltarians and their commander, and two armed exploration vehicles. With the exception of the JumpCorp and saltarian troops, who have multiple instances of the same pose, all of the figures are different.
In the Terrors pack, you get six security bots, a shady-looking dude called Kerastus, three librarians, two stringers, nine kragmen and two kragman shamans, eleven each of canyon, desert, forest, mountain and high sethis, three shock mantas, three drakes, two maulers, nine ravagers, nine spitters, one apex (as in apex predator), six arc beetles, one omariss death worm, five mysterious entities and one giant mysterious entity. All except the mysterious entities are from one of the TLP setting books. These being NPC mooks and local fauna rather than heroes, you get only one or two poses per type of being.
Some of the figures are 2D counters, but most are trifold standees; you fold each figure into a three-cornered prism and stand it on end. I always have trouble gluing those together, so I’d probably trim them to front-and-back and put them in some sort of stand. Personally I’d use the silhouette for the back and a colour image for the front, as in some of the games I play, it matters which way figures are facing.
The deck plans are provided as poster-sized full-colour images, overlaid with a square grid at the standard Savage Worlds one inch equals six feet (although you could print them at different scales to suit your figures, obviously). Each one would use 12 pages of A4 or Letter size paper to print out.
The dropship is a short-haul vessel, not suitable for long journeys. The internal areas suitable for combat or whatever consist of (fore to aft): A four-person cockpit; a passenger area with seats for 36; a utility section containing an office, a meeting room (or possibly sick bay, it has a bunk bed), a bathroom, and a weird red disk that might be a hatch, or a teleporter, or anything else you fancy; and a large cargo bay full of crates , with a small vehicle for loading and unloading them. It’s not entirely clear how those get in and out, as there are no suitable doors; I presume there’s a ceiling hatch.
The freighter has three deckplans, side by side, which I shall call the bridge, the crew quarters, and the cargo module. Looking at the cover picture and how the stairs are laid out, I’d say the bridge is on top of the crew quarters, and there’s a cargo module behind each one – possibly many cargo modules, much like freight cars in a railway train. The bridge deck has a seven-person control room, a large mess area, an airlock and a stairway leading down; the crew quarters has stairs up to the bridge, one stateroom with a double bed and a workstation, two four-person bunk rooms, a sick bay, a bathroom, and a lounge with a couch, a pool table, and an exercise bike. The cargo module is a boxy affair, full of crates and barrels, with what look like palm-keyed security doors fore and aft. I didn’t like this one at first, but it’s growing on me, because it’s actually many different freighters in one – print out multiple copies and make the ship as big as you like. That would’ve been easier if the decks had been on separate pages, though.
The pirate ship map has two small ships on it, one of which has two decks. The whitish vessel on the left of the poster seems to be some sort of high-performance, short-range craft, possibly a fighter; there are three crew stations and two jump seats. The more sombre craft on the right of the poster has a four-person bridge, bunk room, bathroom and small cargo area on the upper deck, while the lower deck has more cargo space and a sort of ship’s basement with a workbench and a meeting/dining table; the two decks are connected by ladders port and starboard.
The research ship map is another modular one, with two pods and a main ship – it’s not yet clear to me how they connect together, unless maybe the stairs in the pods lead up to the apparent floor hatch in the main section? If so, the ship can probably only have one pod at a time. The pods are a plain cargo pod with a few crates in it, and a spartan passenger pod with a kitchenette, bathroom, workstation and four cramped bedrooms. The ship proper has an expensive-looking bridge with six workstations, two of which are noticeably larger and better-equipped than the others – science stations, perhaps. Aft of that is something that might (or might not) be a sleeping area, with 2-4 things that might (or might not) be beds, depending on how you interpret their shapes. Behind that are four workstation areas, again two have large, expensive-looking displays. The main section of this map is the one I found hardest to interpret, generally what’s what is very clear on all the maps.
The freighter and pirate maps together give you a solid set of multi-purpose, reusable deck plans. The dropship is OK, but less obviously useful in my games – I can only recall needing a dropship deck plan once in nearly 40 years of gamemastering SF RPGs. The research ship has potential, but it’s not immediately obvious how the pieces fit together.
On the figure flats front, these do the job and cover off all the iconic SFC races, with enough variety to differentiate between the PCs and major NPCs, plus a range of mooks and beasts of various sizes for them to face off against.
And on a personal note, I’m pleased I Kickstarted TLP at a high enough level to get all the PDFs. Win.