Culture, Government and Law

As the PCs charge about my little sandbox, I need to tell them about the local official language, government, and laws (oh all right then, weapons restrictions). As usual in such situations, I use the contemporary real world as a template. Is that accurate? Who knows. Does it give answers which are intuitively familiar to the players? Probably. Is it fast and easy? Oh yes.

For the most part, it’s clear which present-day nation I should use as an example for each of the cultures in the Stars Without Number rulebook; for English I selected the UK based on the cuisine described, and for Arabic I chose Egypt as it has the biggest population among Arabic-speaking countries and influences many of the others.

Then I added Turkish to the mix because many of the worlds in my Dark Nebula campaign turned out to be Turkish. You’ll see a Turkish cultural writeup along SWN lines shortly.


Government: The notes in parenthesis after the government description are the SWN Core Edition government type (the word) and the Classic Traveller government type (the number or letter).

Weapons Restrictions: Legal weapons usually require a licence which depends on passing background checks and possibly other tests, and takes weeks or longer to get. Unlawful possession of weapons is generally punished by years to decades in prison, possibly with a fine as well; Egypt might let you off with a month in jail, China might execute you. (“Rifles” in this context means hunting or sporting weapons, not semi-auto battle rifles. Nice try.) The number in parenthesis after the weapons restrictions is the Classic Traveller law level.


Template: Arab Republic of Egypt. Official Language: Arabic. Government: Republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Handguns permitted (7, sort of).


Template: People’s Republic of China. Official Language: Mandarin. Government: Communist state (Oligarchy or Theocracy? C or D?). Weapons Restrictions: No firearms permitted (7).


Template: United Kingdom. Official Language: English. Government: Constitutional monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Republic of India. Official Languages: English, Hindi. Government: Federal republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles, shotguns, handguns and semi-auto assault weapons permitted (3).


Template: State of Japan. Official Language: Japanese. Government: Parliamentary with constitutional monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: All firearms and swords prohibited (8).


Template: Federal Republic of Nigeria. Official Language: English. Government: Federal republic (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Russian Federation. Official Language: Russian. Government: Federation(Oligarchy? 7?). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Kingdom of Spain. Official Language: Spanish. Government: Parliamentary monarchy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles and shotguns permitted (5).


Template: Republic of Turkey. Official Language: Turkish. Government: Republican parliamentary democracy (Republic, 4). Weapons Restrictions: Rifles, shotguns and handguns permitted (4).


All PCs speak English for a reason. It’s an official language for three of the eight basic cultures in SWN, in the case of Nigeria and India because they have literally hundreds of languages and dialects each, and you need some sort of official language.

Not only is the representative democracy the default and most intuitive option for a planetary government, it’s also the commonest type among SWN cultures; except for the PRC and the Russian Federation, all of them have some form of it.

If you have no special plans for a world’s weapons restrictions, you won’t go far wrong by assuming that all firearms are prohibited except for shotguns and hunting rifles, which require a licence, and attract unwelcome attention from local law enforcement in urban areas.

Summer Resolutions 2015

I decided to make my New Year’s resolutions over the summer this year, as I have more time and fewer distractions on my summer holiday than over the Christmas break; so while the blog continued to publish scheduled posts on my behalf, I have been overeating on a Mediterranean beach, reading, and reflecting on games to come…


My son Nick was with me for part of the time, and we agreed to share the Dark Nebula setting so we can both GM campaigns in it; he’ll take the left side of the map and I the right, but I’ll retain overall responsibility for the map and setting. If and when we need more worlds, he will expand down from the bottom of the map, and I up from the top. Nick plans to use Stars Without Number throughout, while I will continue with my Savage Worlds/SWN mashup.

  • Resolution 1: I will update the Dark Nebula map to reinstate the offmap routes (for future expansion), and while I’m at it I will add major trade routes and the octants I’m using to break up the map into manageable chunks. Oh, and the hexgrid is back.
  • Resolution 2: I will do cut-down versions of the Moralon sector (left side of map) and Vecinos sector (right side), showing only what the PCs know at the beginning of the game – this is more in line with the exploratory approach of SWN, think of it as a fog of war setting.
  • Resolution 3: I will retcon Dark Nebula faction turns to date to realign them with the SWN rules as written and mesh with Nick’s campaign better. I will use a Hexographer hack I thought of while on holiday to do this – you’ll see. Meanwhile, much as I like my variation of God’s Chess, it’s proved clunky to use as I developed it off-camera, so I will drop it and focus on the (perfectly good) faction rules – it will move to the tryouts as a failed experiment, but I intend to try it again in some future campaign.


The adventures I’ve already run for the crew of the Collateral Damage have highlighted for me the benefits of the mapless approach advocated by the Savage Worlds Sci-Fi Companion, The Lost Parsec, Ashen Stars and so on. Captain Roscoe, for example, is essentially a 17th century sea dog, and has shown me I need a homeworld for whatever crazy PCs the players come up with; so there should be habitable worlds with SWN tech levels 0-3 as well as the 4, 4+ and 5 already present. If I were playing SW SF the way it’s meant to be played, I wouldn’t have to bother with that sort of thing – "Oceanic planet with 17th century technology? Yeah, bound to be one somewhere, it’s only one jump away same as everywhere else, what do you want to call it?"

I’m also not awarding enough bennies, maybe because I don’t have the PCs’ Hindrances in front of me at the table. I’ve adopted the Jokers Wild setting rule to compensate while I adjust my style of play.

  • Resolution 4: Adjust tech levels for Bulan (SWN TL 0-1), Ria (TL 2) and Godoro (TL 3) to allow for low-tech lostworlder PCs.
  • Resolution 5: Add key PC data to my GM cheat sheets, starting with Hindrances.


While I got a lot of things wrong in the recently-purged  solo campaigns, I miss the characters; so I considered whether to reinstate them (WordPress lets you insert posts retrospectively) or reimagine them. It’s less work to reinstate them, but it would re-introduce egregious errors and multiple additional settings, and I’d don’t want do that; so reimagining and retcon are the order of the day.

Hey, it was good enough for Robert E Howard (By This Axe I Rule, rewritten as The Phoenix on the Sword) and H Beam Piper (When in the Course, rewritten as Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen).

I think I overdid the purging, actually. Next time the urge takes me I will lie down in a dark room until it goes away.

  • Resolution 6: I will retcon the Arion and Greg Shepherd solo campaigns into the Dark Nebula.
  • Resolution 7: I will stop purging things and focus more on making sure that what I post is worthy to remain.


The five-day blitz idea worked well for me in setting up the Dark Nebula campaign.

  • Resolution 8: I will do one blitz every three months or so for the then-current campaign or setting. So expect another one before Christmas.


Other ideas that made it as far as the ever-present notebook, but are parked for the moment as I have more ideas than time to implement them. They may or may not get picked up in 2016 and beyond.

  • Dual-stat the Dark Nebula in SWN and Classic Traveller to support Nick’s intention of using CT trade rules with his group. In principle this should also because I think it will help me flesh out the sector’s worlds, plus Arion spent a while as a Savage Worlds overlay on Classic Traveller.
  • Create a map for Imperium like the one I’ve done for Dark Nebula. Just for the hell of it.
  • Resurrect the old Irongrave campaign for either Labyrinth Lord or D&D 5th Edition. This would lean heavily on sandbox tools from Sine Nomine Publications.
  • Continue the adventures of the surviving solo PCs in All Things Zombie: Captain Flack, and Detective Sergeant Drew.
  • Start a new ATZ game making full use of all the available books and in chronological order.
  • Start a 5150 game using the latest version of the rules (possibly including Fringe Space) and a new PC, tentatively Lt Jack Mendoza. Possibly overlay this on the Dark Nebula to avoid setting creep.
  • Resurrect Don and Bex (All Things Zombie) and Telrax (Scarlet Heroes, this last possibly relocated to Jalizar).
  • Port Jalizar to Labyrinth Lord and/or D&D 5th edition so that those of my group who prefer D&D can still use the Beasts & Barbarians setting.
  • Create new (sub)sectors using the 1977 version of Classic Traveller and the full monty of Stars Without Number supplements, just to see what they look like.
  • Create a Traveller subsector using the same dice rolls under every edition of the rules I possess, to see how the changes over the years have affected the map. Because I can.
  • Empire of the Petal Throne, either the original version as written, or Savaged.

Looks like I’m back…

Savage Urseminites

“He would have finished Goddam off then and there, but pity stayed his hand. ‘It’s a pity I’ve run out of bullets,’ he thought.” – Bored of the Rings

I shouldn’t have mentioned Bulldogs! to my Dark Nebula players, because one of them immediately wanted to play an urseminite. So I had to rate them as a Savage Worlds race…


(As if there was another kind…)

Urseminites are three to four feet tall and look like living teddy bears: Short, pudgy, covered in soft fur, and completely non-threatening – they have no claws and their teeth are blunt. Urseminites are a genetically-engineered species, created by the Terran Mandate as pets or possibly childminders.

However, something went horribly wrong; the results are notoriously vicious, utterly devoid of empathy, and unencumbered by any kind of morality – their only interests in life are their own selfish amusement and personal gain. Urseminites indulge in every vice imaginable, preferably to excess, especially if they haven’t tried it before.

They have no homeworld and – given their total focus on themselves – don’t use any kind of surnames. They are rare, and almost never found in groups larger than half a dozen – they hate each other as much as they hate everyone else. However, they have their uses; they will do literally anything to anyone if the price is right. Or if it sounds like it might be fun.

The Solomani Confederation and Aslanic Hierate both put bounties on their heads; the Confederation insists the urseminite in question is proven guilty of an actual crime (usually not hard to do) and brought back alive to face trial (usually really hard to do), whereas the Hierate sees them as vermin and is deliberately trying to hunt the species to extinction, so far without success.

Things people say to (or about) Urseminites:

  • “Oh, aren’t you just so cute! Oww! It stabbed me!”
  • “How are you even awake? There was enough in there to kill an elephant!”
  • YOU DID WHAT? Oh God. I think I’m going to be sick.”
  • “Man, you could’ve just killed him. You didn’t have to do that.”
  • “We’re not with him, officer. Never seen him before.”
  • “I hate that furry little pervert. Go ahead and shoot him.”



Begin with Vigour d6; +1 Toughness, -1 Pace, running die d4, -2 Charisma, ignore one point of Wound modifiers.


Numbers in [ ] are point costs under the SW race-building rules.

  • Vigorous. Urseminites are sturdy little devils. You start with a d6 Vigour, rather than the usual d4.
  • Thick Fur and Fat, granting +1 Toughness [+2]. Urseminites are very durable for their size and shape. Your body is insulated with thick fur and a layer of fat that protects you from damage.
  • Nerves of Steel. [+2] Urseminites have a great resistance to pain. You ignore one point of wound modifiers.
  • Small. [-2] -1 Toughness and Obese [-1]: +1 Toughness, -1 Pace, d4 running die; the +1 Toughness and -1 Toughness cancel out, leaving you with +1 overall. You’re short, round, and cuddly.
  • Universally Despised. Outsider [-1]. Everybody who has ever met an urseminite hates them. -2 Charisma. (This is equivalent to having every other species as a racial enemy, with a -4 reaction from everyone, but also being Attractive for +2 Charisma – they cancel out to be the same as Outsider.)


You already have Nerves of Steel, Obese, Outsider and Small. You can’t take those again.

Recommended Edges: Assassin (you love stabbing people in the back), Berserk (you fight like a rabid dog), Brave (you just don’t care), Killer Instinct, Liquid Courage, No Mercy.

Forbidden Edges: No urseminite may take Brawler or Bruiser, because they were genetically engineered to be physically inoffensive and have no natural weapons; their nails and teeth are blunt and their thick fur cushions their punches and kicks. You can’t be Brawny, because you’re already Obese. No urseminite may have any Leadership Edge, Beast Bond, Beast Master, Common Bond, Followers, or Sidekick, because that would mean he cared about something other than himself.

Recommended Hindrances: Major: Arrogant, Bloodthirsty, Enemy, Greedy, Habit (any vice). Minor: Enemy, Greedy, Habit (any vice), Mean, Quirk (anything disgusting).

Forbidden Hindrances: No urseminite may take Code of Honour, Heroic, Loyal, or Pacifist, because that would mean he cared about something other than himself. Appropriate Vows are permitted (“I’m going to drink every bar on the planet dry.”)


Urseminites are (obviously) borrowed from Galileo Games‘ Bulldogs! – if that had been written for Savage Worlds rather than FATE, I would probably be playing it right now rather than Dark Nebula. Anyway, no challenge intended to any copyright, and if you like FATE and hilarious space opera I recommend Bulldogs! to you. You may see Savaged Bulldogs! here yet, I seriously considered it.

RPGaDay 2015

I like these because they make me think about what I’m doing. So here’s this year’s, all in a lump and subject to change without warning as I find newer and shinier things…

1. Forthcoming game you’re most looking forward to: Two Hour Wargames’ Fringe Space. Sort of a solo tabletop version of Elite, if I understand correctly.

2. Kickstarter game you’re most pleased you backed: So far, Spears of the Dawn.

3. Favourite new game of the last 12 months: The new Savage Worlds Test Drive, closely followed by the SW Sci-Fi Companion.

4. Most surprising game: Ever? OD&D, because the whole idea of RPGs was a surprise to me in 1976.

5. Most recent RPG purchase: Fantasy AGE, which looked even faster and easier to run than Savage Worlds – but in fact isn’t. More about that in a later post perhaps.

6. Most recent RPG played: Shadowrun as a player, Savage Worlds as a GM.

7. Favourite free RPG: Stars Without Number.

8. Favourite appearance of RPGs in the media: Firefly (assuming it really is based on Joss Whedon’s old Traveller game, as it seems and is rumoured to be).

9. Favourite medium you wish was an RPG: At the moment, the tales of the Ketty Jay; airship pirates with zombies and demonology, what’s not to like. It’s basically a steampunk version of Firefly with George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman as the ship’s captain.

10. Favourite RPG publisher: Until it folded, GDW. Nowadays, RPG publishers are such a varied clade it’s hard to keep up, let alone pick just one – so I won’t, but I will say that most of my acquisitions over the last few years have come from GRAmel (Beasts & Barbarians), Pinnacle Entertainment (Savage Worlds), Sine Nomine Publishing (sandbox tools), and Two Hour Wargames (solo and co-op games).

11. Favourite RPG writer: I don’t have a favourite RPG writer as such, because there are a lot of good ones who are good at different things. Ones I would recommend include Kevin Crawford, Ken Hite, Umberto Pignatelli, Zak S, and Ed Teixeira, but it really does depend on what you’re looking for.

12. Favourite RPG illustration: I haven’t got one, but if I did, it would be something from AD&D second edition.

13. Favourite RPG podcast: I don’t listen to ’em, haven’t got the time. Maybe when I retire.

14. Favourite RPG accessory: Ordinary display books for protecting my notes. Give me one of those loaded with the SW Test Drive and some dice, and I’m good to go.

15. Longest campaign played: There’s an OD&D campaign I play in which started in 1976 and is still going strong, although the sessions are less frequent now. That’s 39 years, and I greatly admire and envy what that GM has done with the game; the lesson to learn from him is don’t jump from one game or setting to another, instead assimilate the new into the existing.

16. Longest game session played: There were a couple of times in the 1970s when I started at 6 PM on Friday and didn’t stop until about 10 PM Sunday, which is 52 hours straight; but I was younger and much more caffeinated then. I still manage 10 AM to midnight once or twice a year, which is 14 hours.

17. Favourite fantasy RPG: As a GM, Savage Worlds. As a player, OD&D.

18. Favourite SF RPG: As a GM, Savage Worlds; as a player, Shadowrun, although that is arguably urban fantasy.

19. Favourite supers RPG: I don’t do supers. If I did, it would be a Savage Worlds version of The Boys, partly because I think capes all have serious psychological problems, and partly because my favourite characters are the ones who have no powers but stand toe-to-toe with those that do by guts and guile – like HRG in Heroes, or The Batman.

20. Favourite horror RPG: All Things Zombie.

21. Favourite RPG setting: Beasts & Barbarians.

22. Perfect gaming environment: My study; I had it set up exactly the way I wanted it for gaming, until we had to remodel the house and use the space for something else. C’est la vie.

23. Perfect game for me: Savage Worlds.

24. Favourite house rule: I’ll give you two: First, letting players edit their characters after the first adventure, as actual play often reveals areas where the build doesn’t do what was expected; if that’s the case, you generally find out in the first session or two. Second, the SEP field that surrounds my players’ parties of adventurers; whatever genre-inappropriate whackiness they come up with, the NPCs behave as if it were perfectly normal, and anything bizarre they might see is Somebody Else’s Problem. Some sort of illusory disguise is at work, clearly.

25. Favourite revolutionary game mechanic: Ever? Experience points. The idea that your personal avatar could improve over time was revolutionary in the 1970s.

26. Favourite inspiration for your game: The setting map. Listen to the map, it will tell you what you need to know. Hmm, maybe this is why I don’t get on well with mapless systems…

27. Favourite idea for merging two games into one: At the moment, the Dark Nebula mashup of Savage Worlds and Stars Without Number on this very blog. However, mashups are something I do a lot, so this is subject to change without notice if I think of something more shiny.

28. Favourite game you no longer play: Classic Traveller. If it had a point-buy character generation system and something more user-friendly than the armour and range matrices for combat, I’d probably still be playing it. I know improvements to those things have been tried many times, but I have yet to find versions I’m happy with.

29. Favourite RPG website/blog: I follow a few, but I wouldn’t single one out as a favourite – they’re good for different things. The ones I currently read regularly are: Delta’s D&D Hotspot, Playing D&D with Porn Stars, Quest for Fun, the Savage Worlds forum at Pinnacle Entertainment, and Uncanny Worlds. These change with my prevailing mood, mind you, so if you ask me again in three months you’d get a different answer – until recently the Two Hour Wargames forum would have been on the list as well, but I dropped out while the family was dogged by terminal illnesses and never quite reconnected. Maybe next year.

30. Favourite RPG-playing celebrity: It’s hard to call a favourite, but imagine a group composed of Vin Diesel, Jennifer Lopez, Wil Wheaton, Jason Statham, and Bruce Campbell with Zak S as GM (What? Adult movie actors don’t count?).

31. Favourite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing: The friends I’ve made playing RPGs. In fact, all my good friends are people I met through RPGs, and two of them introduced me to my wife, so I can indirectly attribute 30 years of happy marriage to RPGs as well. I’ve been lucky in that all the gaming groups I’ve been part of have been courteous, tolerant, and troll-free; I used to think that was universal, but the experiences of Zak S and others have shown me this is sadly not true.

Collateral Damage Episode 3: Hot Hydrogen

SS Collateral Damage, Mainday Shift, 11 February 3201…

We begin this session with the party wanted on Mizah for murder, weapons violations, grand theft auto, assault with a deadly weapon, cybercrimes, and theft of government property, namely the database of restricted Mandate stasis pod access codes.

If this is what happens when you send them to pick up a library book, goodness only knows what will happen when they’re sent to break things and hurt people.

This is why the science fiction party’s home base should be their ship. It allows them to move on, learn from experience, and start with a clean slate in the next system.


Thanks to the new identities provided by their patron, the party leaves Mizah without being arrested, and with a general feeling that it might be better if they stayed away for a while. The Collateral Damage spends a week in hyperspace en route to Kov; Fromar spends most of his time trying to befriend the ship’s AI, while Captain Roscoe and Big Ted play poker in the cargo hold. Roscoe loses steadily (the Poverty hindrance in action), and blows off steam by trying out his new blunderbuss on the wall of the cargo hold, disturbing the rest of the crew who have opened the purloined crates of assault rifles and are arming themselves in anticipation of stiffer opposition next time.

Emerging from hyperspace, they descend into the atmosphere of Kov, a Saturn-like gas giant, and make their way to Karabulut Station, a former Mandate mining platform best imagined as Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back, but under the control of one of the road gangs from Mad Max. The Balkan Group has chosen this rig as they have grav engine spares, and it has broken grav engines – this becomes obvious on final approach, when they discover the station hanging from a collection of improvised hot hydrogen balloons.

Dyson negotiates with the local nihilist warlord, one Erk Karabulut, and rapidly comes to the desired deal: The crew of the Collateral Damage will repair the station’s grav engines, and in return Karabulut Station will provide safe haven and warehousing facilities for the Balkan Group’s factor, who will arrive later.

Meanwhile, one of the warlord’s slave girls, Hurriyet Gundogan, sneaks up to Lisa Andrews and begs for help – she is an Adept of the Great Archive, formerly part of one of the Archive’s surveyor crews, kidnapped during a raid by Karabulut on a neighbouring mining rig, since when she has been Erk’s unwilling concubine. She would very much like to be on the party’s ship when it departs.

Andrews is noncommittal, but then Fromar starts frying bacon on his portable stove, and Captain Roscoe challenges the warlord’s bodyguards to a game of cards. The stakes: Assault rifles and bacon from the party’s side, slave girls and the location of the rumoured Lost City on the guards’. To everyone’s surprise, Roscoe wins two slave girls and the map coordinates for the Lost City. Fromar, apparently just for the hell of it, throws some bacon at the guards – since they have been without decent food for 600 years, this provokes a brawl, to everyone’s great amusement.

Hurriyet is initially buoyant as she thinks this must be part of the group’s plan to free her, but her hopes are dashed – no-one has told Roscoe what’s going on, so he retires to his cabin with the two girls. Best we draw a veil over subsequent events.

The next day, the party borrows a couple of gravsleds and a couple of thugs from Erk, bundles up in parkas and breather masks, and sets off for the Lost City, driven by the I-9 Handybot and Fromar (who levelled up last session and used his advance to buy Piloting d4). Seating is limited, so they leave the slave girls behind aboard the Collateral Damage. As you will see later, this is a tactical error.

After a series of misadventures in piloting rolls which consume a goodly number of bennies, they enter one of the planet’s larger and more permanent storms and discover the Lost City easily enough. Most of the cargo bay floor is missing, so they enter easily,  leave their rent-a-thugs guarding the gravsleds, and thanks to Fromar’s knowledge of how Mandate installations are laid out, they quickly locate the med bay – Dyson and Fromar have decided that the stations would provide a ready market for vitamin supplements, which is certainly true. During the course of Fromar’s meddling with the computer network, they awaken the long-dormant AI, which announces it is the Orbital Defence Grid Node No More Mr. Nice Guy, and politely enquires who they might be.

The party attempts to bluff their way to control of the platform, with Roscoe claiming to be the new commanding officer, Fromar trying to hack into it, and the I-9 Handybot trying to upload a virus disguised as a history file covering the half millenium and more during which the platform has been dormant. The platform is a cutting-edge military-grade Mandate AI, and is having none of that. It instructs them to proceed to a secure holding cell where it will detain them for their own safety while it awaits orders from an authorised Mandate officer. When they continue to ransack the med bay, it despatches half a dozen security bots to encourage them; naturally, a firefight ensures, and unsurprisingly, the PCs are victorious. During the combat, they hear an explosion off towards the platform roof, followed by gunfire; leaving Fromar to loot the bodies and the med lab, they march to the sound of the guns.

They discover a group of badly-trained thugs from a rival station has also found the city and broken in; there’s a hole in the roof, with ropes dangling down from it and a dozen thugs milling around, looking to their wounded and looting the security bots they have overpowered. The party opens fire, literally in Andrews’ case (she still has the McGyvered flamethrower, and is not afraid to use it despite my explanations of the local gas mix), and promptly halves their number. Andrews then casts Fear on the rest, and they flee, pursued by Dyson, Andrews and the I-9 Handybot.  Big Ted pauses to scalp one of the thugs and put on his Mohican as a hat. Captain Roscoe (who is inordinately strong) hoists Big Ted onto his shoulders, and climbs one of the ropes, despite his wooden leg. Big Ted’s borrowed Mohican emerges into the air, followed by his furry muzzle and the somewhat less furry muzzle of his new assault rifle; the gravsled pilots left outside by their opponents have been somewhat disturbed by the napalm, gunfire, and screaming from downstairs, and are waiting for things to calm down a bit before going in to investigate. One is in the pilot’s seat of a gravsled, the other leaning against the side of another. Aiming at the seated thug, Big Ted blows his head clean off.

It is at this point, as the gravsled drifts away, that they realise it’s the one their rope is attached to. The thug-hunting party has failed to locate their quarry and returns in time for Dyson to McGyver a quick pulley hoist and heave the I-9 Handybot outside, where despite its ball foot it manages to claw its way aboard a gravsled. Between them, Fromar and the Handybot manage to take control of the group of gravsleds, slaving them to follow the Handybot, which flies them neatly into the cargo bay; the lone surviving thug has made a bad call, namely grabbing one of the other ropes, so they travel with Roscoe, Big Ted and the thug swinging wildly on ropes below – Big Ted and Roscoe somewhat more wildly as Big Ted is shooting at the thug, eventually killing him. Fromar arrives in the cargo bay too, with a gurney full of looted medical supplies, and the party decamp with the sense of a job well done and rapidly dwindling oxygen supplies. As they leave, they notice the station beginning to rise out of the storm, bound who knows where.

When they get back to where they left the ship, almost the first thing they notice is that it is no longer there. A quick radio call reveals that Hurriyet – who you will recall is part of a Great Archive surveyor crew – has escaped her bonds, seized control of the ship, and made off with it. Unfortunately for the fugitives, Fromar has taken the precaution of setting up remote override codes for the ship, and brings it to a halt. The party catch up to it after a while, and board, cautiously, to discover the girls have looted the crates of assault rifles and are nowhere to be seen.

After a protracted search, Captain Roscoe finds them in his cabin, readies his blunderbuss, and leaps into action – and also into a hail of bullets. Wounded, he manages to close with Hurriyet and knock her unconscious with the blunderbuss. The other fugitive, Maryam, whose training with the weapon is limited to "point this end at them and pull this bit", opens up on full auto, wounding Roscoe again and incapacitating Hurriyet. The rest of the party are running to assist, and Lisa Andrews arrives first, closely followed by the I-9 Handybot – they attempt to resuscitate Hurriyet while Roscoe leaps onto the bed intending to clobber Maryam with his blunderbuss. She lets off another burst, missing all the PCs but hitting Hurriyet again. This happens again almost to the die roll on the following turn, then Roscoe manages to clock her with the blunderbuss and she falls. Big Ted arrives, and just for the fun of it bashes Roscoe from behind with a billy club, knocking him out (he is on three wounds and out of bennies at this point). Thanks to liberal use of bennies and the Healing power, the Handybot and Andrews manage to keep Hurriyet alive.

Immobilising the girls in sick bay, the party decide to return to the defence grid node and loot it further, rightly thinking it must be out of security bots. However, the No More Mr. Nice Guy is making for orbit, and it takes them some hours to catch up. During this time, Dyson gently interrogates Maryam and corroborates Hurriyet’s story, which Andrews has belatedly shared. Eventually Hurriyet wakes up, and Dyson explains they are not on the best of terms with the Great Archive – if they take her home, will she put in a good word on their behalf? Hurriyet has few options but to agree, although whether she will keep her word is unclear.

Careful analysis of the platform’s remaining active systems allows the team to board despite its evasive manoeuvres, and they make their way back to the med lab to negotiate with the AI. The I-9 Handybot manages to persuade it to upload a file; fortunately it has the presence of mind to sandbox it, and thus remains uninfected. The platform AI notes that what it has observed so far is consistent with their argument that the Mandate has fallen. An extended session of dice-free, roleplaying debate follows, at the end of which the party and the AI reach the following agreement:

  • The AI is ambiguous about the human population of the mining platforms, which were largely crewed by involuntary labour. It agrees that their descendants are innocent of the original crimes and would inherit Mandate citizenship from their ancestors, but if the Mandate has fallen, there is no Mandate for them to be citizens of. However, it agrees that its primary mission of defending the mining platforms is not well served by letting them fall out of the sky as their drives fail.
  • The AI will allow the party to load up with food and medical supplies from stasis, ostensibly to distribute to the mining rigs, as regardless of their citizenship status the inhabitants can help with repairs.
  • They will leave it a couple of gravsleds, which it will use to ferry its repair swarms around the surviving platforms and repair them.
  • They will communicate its presence to the Great Archive, which is a former Mandate institution and thus the closest thing left to an authority it would recognise. (A bit like the Battlestar Galactica reboot this, their argument is by analogy to the US government being wiped out until only the undersecretary for education is left to claim the presidency.)

At this point Dyson comes up with the bright idea that they have an Archive Adept with them, admittedly a bit the worse for wear. Unwillingly to trust her with a Mandate-era defence grid node while they and Karabulut Station are both in laser range, they sedate her, take her to the platform’s med bay, and put her into stasis. They spend a couple of days fixing Karabulut’s grav engines with their spares, and depart in high spirits for Mizah, where they plan to trade the remains of Kov’s defence grid for a pardon.

Meanwhile, shortly after they depart, the No More Mr. Nice Guy wakes Hurriyet up and tentatively accepts her as the closest to a Mandate official it’s going to get. We close with a shot of Hurriyet sitting in the node’s fire control centre, looking at Karabulut Station with her finger hovering over a big red button.


I was quite pleased with this session, as were the party. The game definitely works better on a relatively low-tech world with little in the way of law enforcement.

They achieved their goal, which was essentially to establish a Base of Influence for the Combine on Mizah, and as luck would have it they also established a Base of Influence for the Great Archive as well. I’m not sure how well their plan of trading the defence grid for amnesty is going to work, and we still don’t know who tried to obliterate them on Mizah, other than it wasn’t the person they asked to fake their deaths.

Fromar’s player is getting quite cross about not being able to control Mandate AIs. Looking at the character sheet, it’s clear his PC is designed for that one purpose, so I have to think of a way to give him an AI to play with – but not the Great Archive’s central core or a Mandate defence grid. The obvious candidate is the AI on the party’s ship, which is already unbraked due to damage, but is concealing that fact from the party.

Possibly because some of them have been playing Traveller with me for several decades now, the party has ignored the ship description I’ve given them and believes they are tooling around in a Type A Free Trader. So I will probably rework the Collateral Damage at some point and see how close to that I can get in the Sci Fi Companion’s rules.

As I grow older, and better-read, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me as GM to suspend my own disbelief in the party getting away with the sort of shenanigans it got up to on Mizah. There are two main options I think; switch over to fantasy, or play the game for laughs – which is what Bulldogs! does.

This group is breaking up now as they return to University and to work for a few months, so I have a breathing space now to figure out the next few potential adventures. Nick is planning to use the same setting for his group at Uni, so I will keep expanding it for him (and myself), and let you know how that goes.

Collateral Damage Episode 2: Please Enter Your PIN

SS Collateral Damage, Mainday Shift, 02 February 3201…

The annual gamefest rolled around again a little while ago, and as we had some of the same players as in the first session and some different ones, this is a flashforward – we assume that somehow the PCs managed to complete the first episode and escape with their lives and the stasis pod. Ironically, Captain Couder sells it to their boss, Torun Balkan, who quickly discovers that he needs the codes to open it.

Adept Aytuna Durak, Librarian of the Great Archive, unwittingly has the codes in her section of the Library. Somewhere. Torun instructs the PCs to retrieve the codes for him so he can open the pod.

Meanwhile, Lord Mareecha still wants the pod, and if he wants it, Sertac Bayram of the Confederation Embassy and his saurian bodyguard Engerec don’t want him to have it. Whatever it is.


  • Fromar, mad scientist and AI researcher.
  • Lisa Williams, ship’s doctor and renegade psion.
  • Captain Roscoe, lostworlder seafarer and pirate. Arrr.
  • The I-9 Handybot, library drone with deficient antivirus software.
  • Big Ted, urseminite legbreaker-for-hire.
  • Ed Dyson, ship’s engineer.

Urseminite? Yes, I borrowed those from Galileo Games’ Bulldogs, I’ll share the racial writeup in due course, but for now think of Big Ted as an alcoholic, psychopathic ewok.


Torun Balkan is hiring surveyor crews for the aging, leaky and heavily-insured freighter Collateral Damage, registered out of Gazzain, which allows him to avoid certain inconvenient regulations. Amongst those he has hired are the PCs. It turns out that Captain Couder has sold the stasis pod to him, and he believes that the pod access codes are on record in the Great Archive at Zonguldak. He commissions the PCs to go there and recover the right code for him; after all, two of them were in the party that recovered the pod, and might know useful details, and another one is an ex-Archive library drone.

What could possibly go wrong? I mean, he’s basically asked them to check out a library book for him, right?

Tooling up – which in hindsight is my fault for not explaining the local law levels to them, I must fix that – the party catch the monorail from the spaceport to Zonguldak, which takes them through the nature reserve that featured heavily in Back in Black. Arriving in town, they quickly locate the Great Archive and approach it, studiously ignoring the razor wire and the ornate lion statues flanking the entrance.

After a brief altercation with the guard, who doesn’t want to let the urseminite inside, Captain Roscoe – who is possibly the most intimidating man in the entire sector – bullies the guard into letting them in without raising the alarm.

In reception, they quickly establish that the library AI is not authorised to give them pod access codes – you never know what’s inside a pod – and they need to talk to a human librarian, who is duly summoned.

Meanwhile, Lord Mareecha, who burns for revenge against Andrews and Fromar, has followed them to the Archive. He enters with insults and threats. While they are trying to out-intimidate each other, Sertac Bayram and Engerec, who have been following Lord Mareecha on general principles, intervene and calm things down. Mareecha storms off in a huff, affecting not to hear the party’s sarcastic comments.

The group chat briefly with Sertac and Engerec, but decide they are not worth following up. Adept Aytuna Durak, the Librarian, arrives and they engage in a mutually satisfactory discussion of the I-9 Handybot’s prototype status, Mandate history, and other small talk before explaining that they need access to codes. Aytuna provides the public domain codes right away, but explains they will need authorisation from the Grandmaster Adept to get at the restricted ones, which are of course what they need.

They call Torun Balkan with a progress update. He points out to them that he already has the public domain codes, which he downloaded from the Archive datanet earlier. They ask Aytuna where they can find the Grandmaster – "That building over there, his office is on the 10th floor, I’m sure you can get an appointment."

Now, this was intended to be an episode of social interaction and intrigue, but as you will see, the party had other ideas.

Having tried and failed to hack into the Archive’s AI, and in the case of the I-9 Handybot infect it with an extremely dangerous virus, they briefly consider hacking the Grandmaster’s diary so that he will see them today, before deciding on asking the Librarian to accompany them into a sealed booth so they can discuss the next step in private. This happens all the time, so the  Librarian is not worried. The booths are small, so only Roscoe and Big Ted go in with her. Fromar, who grows frustrated and restive at not being able to hack the AI, disables the booth’s internal surveillance.

I point out that they are in the heart of one of the most heavily-defended areas of the planet, and about to irritate the third most powerful group in the sector. They acknowledge this, but proceed with their Cunning Plan – Roscoe explains to Aytuna that if she doesn’t give them what they want, he will first cut off her ears with his cutlass, and then step outside, locking her in the booth with an urseminite.

(We establish at this point that the urseminite is the former star of a children’s holovid show called "Don’t Cry Children, It’s Blood All Right", recently cancelled after an unfortunate incident involving Big Ted and one Looby Lou. The tape of this incident has been withdrawn from general circulation but is much coveted among the online snuff movie community.)

After a show of willpower not expected from an Extra with Spirit d6, Aytuna eventually cracks and gives them the restricted codes. The booth is soundproofed and isolated, but as they open the door to leave, Aytuna screams for help. The AI puts two and two together – Adept in distress, suspicious activity in the surveillance system, armed intruders in the library – and raises the alarm.

The party now flees the building. Slowly, because Roscoe has a wooden leg and Big Ted only has little legs (Small Hindrance). Armed security converge on their location, both on foot and in gravsleds, and they steal a soccer mom’s people carrier for their daring escape, engaging the police in a vicious firefight as they go – the death toll among security forces will eventually rise to eight.

Roscoe demands to drive, despite his only vehicle skill being Boating. Dyson – who is a genius among engineers – reconfigures the vehicle’s controls so that they work like a boat’s. The I-9 Handybot is actually an accomplished gravsled pilot, but has not been asked to help. Roscoe damages the vehicle pulling out of the car park, so Dyson is called upon again for running repairs. Meanwhile Big Ted and Lisa Andrews are firing submachineguns at the pursuing security forces, and Formar manages to hack their flight controls, causing one to crash into a building and the other to roll over, tipping out all the occupants (who thanks to some truly appalling rolls have all forgotten to fasten their safety belts).

They flee towards the spaceport, 25 km away. After a few more casualties the police decide to follow them a little out of range, and order them to pull over, throw down their arms, and emerge with their hands plainly visible.

This leads to an entertaining scuffle between the I-9 Handybot (which feels it must pull over to minimise further harm to sentient beings) and Captain Roscoe (who is shouting "Mutiny! Mutiny!"). This consumes most of the party’s bennies.

The party contact Torun Balkan on an encrypted channel, and demand that he arrange fake IDs and passage offworld, and organise an orbital strike to help them fake their deaths, or they will reveal his involvement. Torun is happy to oblige, and they go offroad into the nature reserve, having established that they are only a few klicks from the clifftop mansions of the elite. As they bump through the forest, Dyson McGyvers the entertainment system to show convincing holograms of the party still inside the vehicle (admittedly, dancing to Brotherhood of Man songs, but hey, he’s under pressure here), then bail out. Ably assisted by Dyson’s expert guidance, Big Ted blows up the vehicle with his SMG.

Seconds later, the remains of the vehicle (and a number of nearby trees) are totally obliterated by an orbital artillery strike. The party calls to thank Torun Balkan, who explains he didn’t do it. They discuss this for a moment but discard it as irrelevant. A quick jog brings them to the mansion they previously raided, now under repair by contractors before being sold. These they evade, and take the cliffside path to the obligatory boathouse, where they steal a cabin cruiser and make their way to the spaceport (which is also on the coast) under cover of darkness.

They spend the next day or so laying low, and identifying Balkan Group’s warehouse managers. By dint of following these worthies and some low-grade hacking, they establish where the stasis pod has been taken, and prepare to assault the warehouse and steal it (they now have the codes, you see). Hacking the warehouse system to find out where it is, they discover it has already been loaded onto the Collateral Damage. In a fit of pique, they spoof the warehouse computer into sending three tons of assault rifles to their ship as well, before sneaking into the spaceport proper and making their way to the Collateral Damage.

When opened, the pod is found to contain Mandate-era grav engine spares, mint in the box, of a type Torun knows are in demand on Kov. So off to Kov they go…


  • Why was Torun Balkan so eager to help the party acquire fake IDs and flee offworld? How could this possibly benefit him?
  • Who was it who ordered the orbital strike on the party’s vehicle, and why?
  • Further, why did the local government cover that up afterwards?

The party briefly considered these questions, but quickly drove on. I, however, will build them into the emerging backstory.


If you set up a world to be the PCs’ permanent base of operations, tell them so, before the little murderhobos have to run away. Tell them about the law levels as well. Really, I should have known that by now, so it’s my own fault. Oh well, never mind – easy come, easy go.

At this point it looks like the PCs actually are one of the Combine’s surveryor crews, which is just fine.