Posts Tagged ‘Solo’

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

1412 Ria D768534-7 Ag Ni GG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o0o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arion, 014-3401: Dromedary

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

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

Aboard the Dromedary.

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

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

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

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

“You sure?”

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

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

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

“Hmm.”

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

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

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

“But they might not.”

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

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

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

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

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

GM NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1514 Daanarni E000000-0 Ni.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

-o0o-

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

DARK NEBULA SEASON 1: THE TRAVELLER

Starring Andy Slack as Arion Metaxas

Also starring…

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

Produced and directed by Andy Slack

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

Music by Joe Satriani.

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

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

Gordon is sitting in a room with late 1990s decor, watching the TV – which displays Arion’s current activities – and eating popcorn. Another figure suddenly materialises.

“Oh hi, Alex,” says Gordon. “You’re female today, I see; it suits you. Popcorn?”

“Thanks. How are you getting on with the latest Arion fork?” Alex dips a hand into the offered popcorn bucket and scoops up a fistful, then begins to eat, slowly.

“To be honest, I don’t think this one’s going anywhere,” Gordon says. “It’s in phase one – you know, before the ‘turtles all the way down‘ speech – so I have a sub-partial running things. I just drop in occasionally to check up on it.”

“How many have you got active in phase two?”

“One hundred and nineteen. About a third of them choose to remember that they’re simulations, and think they’re in the real world; the rest have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t figured out how they make that choice yet. Although I have noticed something interesting; whatever the initial conditions for the run, if Coriander’s in the simulation at all, Arion always finds her eventually. It’s quite romantic, really.”

“Any of them made it to phase three yet?”

“What, this reality? No, not yet. I’m waiting for one of the ones in phase two to figure out he’s still in a simulation.”

“How long do you let them run?”

“I give them ten good years in their timeline. The more complex runs take almost a millisecond.”

“Wow. I wouldn’t have the patience for that. Even as a partial rather than a full instantiation.”

“Yeah, well, it keeps me occupied. And you’d be surprised how popular he is; I run the more exciting ones on Pay Per View to fund the project. Here, let me show you one of those…” The channel changes, and we see a new Arion, floating in deep space in an environment suit, apparently alone.

“But what about you?” Gordon continues. “Getting anywhere with the timing channel attack?”

“Nothing conclusive yet, but I’m pretty certain we’re in a simulation as well. Here, let me show you…”

When I started the Arioniad in 2009, it was purely an experiment; the idea was to try out new rules and ideas in solitaire play before unleashing them on my players, and also keep my hand in with Savage Worlds at a time when sessions were months apart. Since then, Arion has become one of my favourite characters ever; solo play has become a major part of the blog, completely separate from what happens in group campaigns; and I’ve found better ways of experimenting than reboots and retcons within an existing campaign, notably the Tryouts category.

28 Months Later and Talomir Nights have worked better as campaigns than the Arioniad. I think this is because they stick to one setting and (largely) one rulebook, exploring new possibilities by introducing new characters and storylines; they avoid retcons and reboots; and blog posts use in-game dates rather than episode numbers.

If I were starting the Arioniad today, it would be a very different campaign; one that didn’t laugh in the face of series continuity, one that didn’t hop gleefully from rulebook to rulebook, one that didn’t reboot more or less at random. Maybe I enjoy it so much because of those quirks, rather than in spite of them; certainly I was very pleased with myself when I worked out an in-game reason for it – ‘turtles all the way down‘.

So far, I’ve tried various combinations of Savage Worlds, Classic Traveller, Mythic, 5150 (both New Beginnings and Fringe Space), Larger Than Life, and Solo in at least four different settings – 5150, and three homebrew. There are several others I could try, but ain’t nobody got time for dat. Moving forward, I need to choose an RPG, a solitaire game engine, and a setting, and stick to them for a while. Note that Fringe Space is all three, while Solo and Mythic are each only one leg of the tripod.

  • Solitaire Engine: Solo wins here; playing at a higher level of abstraction gives it a real edge in terms of speed, simplicity, and ability to ensure specific elements appear in the story. Its roots in Traveller also make it easy for me to use.
  • RPG: It’ll take explosives to shift me from Savage Worlds at this point; although the simplicity of Fringe Space is admittedly attractive, 40 years of Traveller and 10 years of Savage Worlds give me an instinctive fluency with the rules that I simply don’t have with Fringe Space. Maybe later.
  • Setting: This was by far the hardest choice, but of the various SF settings I’ve tried here, I like the Dark Nebula the best, mostly because of the map, so it wins. Solo doesn’t really need a starmap, mind you, just some world stats and the idea that worlds are one jump apart.

Let’s try that combination, and see what happens. However, learning from the lessons of 28 Months Later and Warrior Heroes, I’m going to make this a hard reboot, possibly with a different category. But I have some other things to post about first, so expect that reboot in a few weeks.

Arion, Episode 23: Ouidah

Posted: 9 September 2017 in Arioniad
Tags: , ,

In which we continue to explore Solo as a solitaire game engine, and venture into Hishen space in search of the kidnappees…

ROLLS AND RULES

Slow and didactic this time to be sure I don’t miss anything; I’m working from the checklist on page 53, and we begin by jumping to a new world. This looks in turn at leaving the current world, time in jump, and arrival at the destination. We start with some ‘pre-flight checks’…

  • Roll d66 for Starport Encounter (page 39): 5, 1 = meet a fellow traveller.
  • Roll 2d6 for NPC’s reaction (page 38): 8, Neutral. This is enough to make him/her a friendly contact if met again.
  • Roll d66 on Patron table (page 59) to determine NPC’s identity: 4, 2 = Scientist.

OK, so we now know a friendly scientist on Tortuga. I don’t plan on coming back this way so I don’t work up any more details. There is no cargo as the last time Arion thought about it was on Fermanagh, when he intended to buy whiskey – let’s assume he did – and I can’t be bothered with costs and fees (too much like the day job).

  • Roll 2d for Ship Encounter (page 40, assume no modifiers): 7 – no encounter.

At this point we leave Tortuga, and enter jumpspace. Let’s call the slavers’ trading world Ouidah, and give it the same 5150 stats as Tortuga – the salient point is law level 2. We need to roll for a shipboard event while in jump, and there is the chance of a bad reaction from a crewmember.

  • d66 for Onboard Event (page 56): 4, 4 = bridge sensors suggest a stowaway.
  • Tell Me, d6 (page 37): Is there one? 5. Why, yes. This is a good chance to introduce Dmitri, in this setting a Hegemony spy on the run from pirates.
  • Tell Me, d6: What kind of person is he? 6 = honest, good, dependable. Right, that settles it, it’s Dmitri.
  • Bad Reaction – random character affected (odd Arion, even Osheen): 3, Arion.
  • 8+ to avoid a bad reaction: Dice roll 6, so Arion reacts badly.
  • 1d6 to determine reaction: 2 – panic/anxiety. A stowaway picked up in a pirate haven sounds like a good reason to be anxious, until we realise he is friendly.

Now we arrive at Ouidah.

  • 2d for Ship Encounter: 4 – no encounter.
  • d66 for Starport Encounter: 5, 3 = another potential contact. This one has a reaction roll of 7 though, not enough to qualify, so no need to work out who they are.

Next, a week onplanet during which we will try to rescue the slavers’ victims. That calls for a Plan. I decide the easiest option is to buy them, trading the current cargo of Fermanagh whiskey for them. That seems like a Solid plan (8+ to succeed) but anything involving pirates, slavers and Hishen is Dangerous. First, though, as per page 53, a World Encounter.

  • d66 for World Encounter (page 58): 2, 1 = invited to a posh function. Well, that makes sense, this is obviously a party thrown by the slavers for potential buyers, which will no doubt culminate in an auction. Let’s add a security check to represent the bouncers on the door asking Osheen to hand in his guns at the door.
  • 2d6 vs law level: 9, no problems. If a Grath wants to bring a squad support weapon to the party, the bouncers are good with that. One wonders what armour they’re wearing if this doesn’t worry them.

The Plan. 8+ to succeed, no obvious modifiers. 2d6 = 12, success. Excellent – that could have gone badly wrong. 2d6 for Consequences; 6, which is under the 8 required – this means a Bad Consequence, and as the Plan is dangerous I decide to apply a -2 to the dice roll. The result is a 10, which would normally antagonise an NPC, but the houseruled modifier drops it to an 8 – partial failure (let’s say odds on 1d6) or incriminating evidence (let’s say evens). 1d6 = 3, so partial failure; since the objective was to recover all the kidnap victims, we only get Coriander, most likely because Arion fancies her more than the others and so is focussed on recovering her.

At this point we cycle back to another jump, but you’ve seen how those work already.

NARRATIVE

This post is long enough already, and its purpose is to explore the rules, so none of that this time. As a general rule, though, that would be the focus.

GM NOTES

Ship encounter rolls are influenced by world population and starport class, but I have assumed frontier routes and no modifiers to save having to generate worlds. I’ve also assumed the Dolphin is not a passenger ship (they have different onboard events).

As Anzon observed in the comments last time, there’s a lot of page flipping to get at tables. The way they are organized helps the internal logic when reading through the first time, so I understand why it’s that way, but in play it slows things down a bit. I will probably wind up printing out the relevant pages and shuffling them into a more usable order. Old school hardcopy users could stick tags on the relevant pages.

Anzon also observed that Dangerous Plans appear to have no mechanical effect. So my current house rule is to apply a -2 to any rolls for Bad Consequences, making injury or death more likely. I could infer from the text that injury or death only occur if the Plan is Dangerous, and roll 1d6+6 on the Bad Consequence table if it is Safe, or any number of other alternatives, but a flat -2 modifier is in the Traveller spirit and easy to remember.

Overall, I find this flows very smoothly and easily for me; no doubt that is partly due to it being based on Traveller, as I have spent most of my adult life playing that on and off. Blog posts would work better if I ran them as one per week, alternating time in jumpspace with time on planetary surfaces; that has come up so often over the years that I can take it as read now.

So, after eight years experimenting, I think I can move to an actual decision now. More of that in a future post, but for now, Hearts of Stone is restarting…

Arion, Episode 22: Tortuga

Posted: 2 September 2017 in Arioniad
Tags: , ,

We left Arion and Osheen doing combat simulations in practice for their forthcoming rescue operation. For this next session I intend to use a mixture of 5150 Fringe Space and Solo, as I want to try out Solo and check if it really is as flexible as I think. I’ll put Rep on hold while I do that, as tracking lifetime and current Rep is almost as much work as tracking a bank balance in Credits. (I dislike tracking money in games, because a huge amount of my day job is about tracking money, and I don’t want to spend my leisure time doing it as well.)

“A place I know in Ring 5”, as Arion put it, is clearly relaxed about both selling heavy weapons to Grath and dealing with slavers and pirates. The only planetary data I think I need for Solo is a law level, so I pick the lowest law level planet available in Ring 5; Class 3, Law Level 2, Independent Alien world. It’s tempting to double that law level, which would bring law levels better into alignment with Traveller, but law level 2 feels more like a rough and tumble pirate hangout than law level 4. So 2 it is.

I’ll test-drive the Travellers campaign type; it’s the simplest. I’m comfortable with the life events, relationships and backstory for both characters so I skip over those. We are already In Media Res, so no need to roll for that.

As Arion outlined the plan, the Dolphin will jump to somewhere in Ring 5 – let’s call it Tortuga – then the crew will tool up and try to get a lead on the slavers. Looking at the checklist on page 53, we’re starting in the Jumping from World to World section, which is unusual but seems not to cause any problems.

The first applicable step in Solo is on p. 19, therefore, when I roll to avoid a bad reaction in jump. (If I were using Savage Worlds, I might replace this check with an Interlude.) I determine randomly who is affected (Arion, as it turns out) and roll 2d6, looking for 8+ as one generally does in Traveller-ish rules. I roll an 11; all good.

Second, as we’re now moving into On-Planet Activity, I roll on the World Encounters table (p. 58) and get 3, 5 – a patron offers a courier job, roll on tables S1 and S3. The World Encounters table is supposed to direct me to one of Patrons, Enemies, Cargoes or Colourful Locals but I can’t see how. In this case it points me to S1 (which I eventually work out is the patron table; I roll 6, 3 and get an engineer) and S3, which could be the cargoes table (which would be in the Traveller rules) because it’s third in the list, or might be the Mission Targets table because it’s the third table if you count patrons as the first. It’s a courier job to the next destination so logic dictates the latter; I roll 2d6 and get 4,1 – a remote base. Let’s resort to the Tell Me, D6 method (p. 37); on a scale of 1-6, high meaning more, how much is this job related to the current rescue mission? 1d6 =2; hardly at all. I decide this is a lead in to the next adventure, and park it for the moment, noting that the next destination would logically be the world the kidnap victims came from, which if I recall correctly is Fermanagh.

This takes me to page 22 and The Plan.

“What’s the plan, Captain?”

“First we go shopping and get all those guns you recommended.”

“And a large industrial blender.”

“Very well, and a blender. Then we ask around the local bars looking for slavers with people to sell. I think we should pose as agents for an anonymous buyer.”

I assess the plan for difficulty and danger level. Shopping isn’t worth rolling for; I note that the crew has tooled up, and move on. Trying to find slavers could go wrong in a number of ways, so the plan qualifies as ‘Shaky’ with 10+ needed to succeed. A lot of those bad outcomes involve violence, so it’s ‘Dangerous’. Does the crew have any PCs with skills that are particularly well, or badly, suited to the task? Does it have any crucial equipment or assets? Well, the Grath are the 5150 universe’s unstoppable killing machines, so I’ll give them a +1 for that. They’re now tooled up, but then so is everyone else, so no particular advantage there.

A security roll (2d6 vs law level) seems called for, a daily routine while onworld for Travellerish games; 6 is greater than the law level whether I doubled it or not, so the locals are not bothered by a human and a Grath walking among them.

How about the plan? I roll 9 on 2d6, add one for Mr Osheen’s boyish charm (and selection of weaponry), and get a 10 – success, if barely. So far so good, now I roll against the same target number to see if there was a good or bad consequence; it’s not completely clear to me whether or not I should apply the same modifiers, so I decide not to, for simplicity. I roll a 12 (huzzah!) and since this is higher than the target number, there is a good consequence; 2d6 = 10 (I’m on fire today) and the Good Consequence table tells me the crew finds a useful or valuable piece of kit. I decide the patron encounter would logically happen during that sequence of events.

A montage follows Arion and Osheen from shop to shop, bar to bar. Many people look them up and down, assessing whether they can kill Our Heroes and take their stuff. On observing the Grath, however, they decide there are easier ways to make a living.

At some point, there is a brief conversation in a bar with a guy in overalls; he offers Arion a package and an envelope, Arion nods and accepts.

At length, in a pawnshop near the docking bays, Arion picks up a locket he recognises. Flashback to him studying the kidnap victim dossiers; in one picture, the same locket is around the neck of the victim. We can’t see her full name, but “Coriander” is clearly visible above and to the right of the portrait, which shows an attractive woman with red hair…

GM NOTES

Solo’s author, Paul Elliot, rightly says that the narrative explaining the die rolls is the point of the exercise rather than an optional extra; but I have restrained myself here, the better to focus on evaluating the mechanics. Novelisation isn’t required, just some sort of story about what happened – examples in the rulebook generally limit the narrative to a few lines or paragraphs, some very straightforward and others more flowery. The style and length of your writeup is up to you.

As you see above, this is very fast and easy to run, and I haven’t gone anyway near Traveller or the Cepheus Engine; as it turned out, I didn’t need the Fringe Space rules, just a general understanding of the situation and the characters, a pair of six-sided dice, and Solo itself. I would expect to memorise the key rolls within a couple of sessions, but I would continue to need the more complex tables throughout an extended campaign.

As I haven’t referred to any rules other than Solo in this exercise, I still think this could be used with any RPG of the player’s choice, or indeed none at all if you have a clear picture of your characters and setting.

At this point it seems quite likely that Solo is the way forward for me in solitaire SF gaming, but let’s give it a couple more laps round the block before reaching a decision.

Review: Solo

Posted: 5 April 2017 in Reviews
Tags: ,

Just as I started to feel a yen for some solo SF gaming again, along comes Solo…

In a Nutshell: Solo RPG campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (actually, any version of Traveller). 153 page PDF from Zozer Games, written by Paul Elliot, $10 or so at time of writing. This is a much expanded version of the earlier Star Trader, which I reviewed here.

KEY FEATURES

Solo games often drown in dice-rolling, and Solo handles this by abstracting the equivalent of encounters or sessions into a single dice roll; see The Plan for details.

The player also has a small troupe, two or more characters, rather than just one. This allows for the character interactions one would get in group play.

The overall principle is that the few dice rolls tell you what happened, and you as the player explain how.

CONTENTS

Why Solo? (1 page): Why would you want to do this? Basically because you can’t get the players, or you want to test something before introducing it to them.

The Solo Approach (3 pages): These are designer’s notes, explaining why the author chose to abstract things to the group/session level rather than the character/skill check level – essentially to stop the game drowning in dice rolls. This approach means that you first find out the situation, then make a plan to deal with it, make no more than a couple of dice rolls to determine what the outcome was, and then go back and fill in the narrative explaining what happened. It also summarises the four campaign types detailed in later sections, and lists the required resources.

Player Characters (10 pages): The player is advised to make a small group of PCs, how many exactly depends on the type of campaign envisaged. The main benefit of this is that the random interactions between them inject more drama and plot into the game; a secondary advantage is that it gives the player a broader range of skills to apply to problems. There are also a couple of modifications to the normal character generation sequence; the chief one is that each PC should have three Life Events, which can be inferred from extreme rolls during the character’s creation or diced for separately on a d66 table provided.

Character Reactions (4 pages): Another d66 table is used to give each PC a relationship with one of the others, such as “secretly in love with” or “knows a dark secret”. At various times during the game, a PC checks whether or not they’ve had a bad reaction to something, and if so rolls for what they do about it; recent events, the Life Events and the PC’s relationship are used as inspiration by the player to weave a narrative around the dice rolls. Reactions and relationships essentially inspire the player’s narrative explanation of the dice-mandated outcomes.

The Plan (6 pages): Here’s the guts of the system; a scene, or encounter, resolution mechanic. In other solo game engines, the player controls one of the PCs and is (say) part of the team infiltrating the Big Bad’s remote island base. In Solo, the player is more like the “guy in the van”, watching things over a video link and issuing general orders, trusting the team to resolve individual problems as they arise. So, play throws up a situation – a reason to storm the island base, in this case – and the player comes up with a plan, 3-4 sentences long; perhaps swimming ashore at night to sneak inside and steal the McGuffin, heavily armed in case things go south and equipped with night vision gear and other goodies. The player now looks at his plan as dispassionately as he can: Is it shaky, solid or foolproof? Is it safe or dangerous? The answer to the first question defines the roll required for success on 2d6, with a couple of modifiers applied depending on how well-suited the characters and their gear are for the plan. A second roll against the same target number then determines the unforeseen consequences, which are good if the roll succeeds, and bad if it doesn’t – note that this is independent of whether the plan succeeded or not. Bad consequences include injury or death for one of the PCs, goods ones include making a contact or discovering valuable information.

Write it Down (3 pages): The player is encouraged to keep a written record of what happened, for two reasons; first, to declare actions – once you’ve written something down, it happened or is now an established fact in the setting, no do-overs. Second, to help you pick up where you left off at the start of the next session. The author recommends using a notebook, with an unstructured diary for the events of the game, and lists of friends, foes, neutral NPCs, starships encountered, and storylines (see below). An example page from one of the author’s own games is shown for clarification.

NPCs: Contacts and Enemies (2 pages): These are acquired in play, as the PCs interact with NPCs encountered as they go; the player decides, based on events, which NPCs will become recurring allies or villains, and who is encountered when. The purpose of contacts and enemies is to connect events; when it is suitably dramatic, a freshly-rolled NPC encounter is replaced by someone the PCs already know.

Storylines (3 pages): As with NPCs, these connect random events and characters’ Life Events into a plot. In that sense they are like Mythic’s “plot threads”, although while Mythic has no limit on concurrent plot threads, Solo recommends limiting yourself to one or two at a time. Storylines are optional, though.

Random Rolls (11 pages): A selection of tables to generate random encounters and events, thus introducing new ideas and plots into the session; NPC and ship reactions, colourful locals, starport and ship encounters, and so forth.

Example of Play 1 (6 pages): Exactly what it says on the tin; four randomly-generated PCs hop across a handful of worlds, making Plans and executing them, encountering random NPCs and commissions.

So far, everything has been applicable to any campaign. The book now moves to consider four principal types of game, each of which has additional random encounter and event tables and specific rules.

Campaign: Travellers (8 pages): The default game; a mixed group of travellers, moving from world to world causing (or resolving) problems. This campaign starts In Media Res with a randomly generated event. New random tables here include patrons, missions and their targets.

Campaign: Star Traders (17 pages): This is basically the previous iteration of the system, which I reviewed here, with what looks like a few minor tweaks. The PCs are the crew of a small merchant ship, trading across a subsector; an example showing 5 weeks in the life of such a group is included.

Campaign: Naval Officers (24 pages): In this campaign, the PCs are the officers and senior ratings on a small patrol vessel, pounding a beat around the subsector or a specific world, rooting out pirates and assisting law-abiding merchants. Which is which? Well, you have to get right up close to tell. This section has a lot of exposition on why and how patrol squadrons are organised, and what they do. Character generation is modified to ensure the characters will fit their assigned roles aboard ship. The campaign begins in a pre-launch briefing; the dice identify likely trouble spots, and the player plots his course accordingly. This section has modified ship encounter tables and rules for fast-play space combat.

Campaign: Survey Scouts (38 pages): Unlike the other campaigns, which rely on the player previously selecting or creating a subsector, the scout campaign begins with a partly-generated subsector, with only the size, atmosphere and hydrographics of the worlds known, except for one world which is the PCs’ base of operations. On arrival in a new system, the PCs scan it and identify places and phenomena of interest, called survey targets; there is a problem to overcome at each site, and progress overall is measured in “survey points”. Character generation is modified much as in the Naval Officers game, and like the patrol ship, the scouts plot a route for their ship. This section has modified system generation rules, the usual focussed encounter and event tables, and tables for things to survey; The Plan isn’t used much in this game, it’s more about the PCs reacting to randomly-generated dangers.

Example of Play 2 (5 pages): This is focussed on a team of four scouts surveying an unknown system.

…and we conclude with assorted legal information and blank forms.

FORMAT

Green and black cover wrapped around single-column black text on white, occasional black and white illustrations. Simple, effective, easy on the eye and the printer.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

The one classic type of Traveller campaign not covered in detail is the small mercenary unit; maybe in the next expansion? In many ways it would be a mixture of the Travellers and Naval Officers campaign types, but the number of allied characters the player would need to keep track of would require a further level of abstraction.

A minor nitpick: I’m not sure why deckplans are a required resource, given that play doesn’t seem to require them.

CONCLUSIONS

Although aimed at the various editions of Traveller, Solo is so loosely connected with them that you could easily use another RPG instead; my thoughts immediately went to Savage Worlds, because that’s what I usually play, but I’ve decided to take a look at the Cepheus Engine itself first. With suitable changes to the random tables, Solo could be used for other genres as well; the core mechanic, The Plan, would work with any game.

I’m very impressed with this product, and see it as the probable next evolution in my solo SF gaming – which has moved from playing with the rules as written, to adding Mythic, to Two Hour Wargames (which have gradually increased their own level of abstraction) to Solo. Full marks, Mr Elliot.

This will get used, though not right away; first I want to look at a couple of other things, including Cepheus, and second, I want to select, or generate, a subsector in which play of the various campaign types above can occur. It’s tempting to begin with a Survey Scouts campaign, then jump forward a few centuries and use the other campaign types. That might be better done in flashback, methinks.

Oh, and third, there’s a busy couple of months coming up, with the Pawns of Destiny, Team Robot and Team Dragon each lined up for several sessions. I haven’t played this much since the ’70s!

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5.

Update November 2017: Note that a Plan is either Safe or Dangerous, where Safe is defined as “Little if any physical danger exists,” andDangerous is defined as “There is chance of physical injury, even death, if things go wrong.” The implication is that while you can get a Bad Consequence in either case, results of death or injury are ignored if the plan is Safe. I checked with the author, who confirms that’s what he tended to do during playtest, although an alternative could be a +6 DM on the Bad Consequence table for a Safe plan. Thanks Paul!