Friday, June 15, 2012

Traveller session #3

Ran two games this week, Trav from 7:30 to 10pm on Wednesday then I got up for Doom of the Jaredites at 4:30am the next day.  That was unwise; I was a bit of a wreck yesterday.

The Traveller session was graced by the return of Dane.  Dude had been much missed in recent weeks, as he passed his bar exam and moved to anther town to take up lawyering full time.  It was great to see him and even better to add his particular maniacal style to the session.

Play resumed at the monastery of the Techno-Monks of the Seven-Pointed Star, whose small brotherhood keeps the paranoid, backwards, theocratic Belgardian Empire running.  Their operation on planet Eleson is the Empire's only source of lanthanum, a key element in jump drive technology.  The friendly brothers explain that maintaining the lanthanide mine is a holy duty they regard as a great honor, even if the monks on the planet all eventually die from radiation poisoning from working the mines.  No one in the landing party even flinched at the hint that they were in danger from background radiation, but they ended up not staying long enough to pick up a harmful dose.
Things got interesting not long after the party inquired how often a Belgardian vessel came by to pick up the lanthanide ore.  "Every three months or so."  "How long since the last vessel was in-system?"  "About three months, that's why the nav beacon you used to find us was on."

Cut to the bridge of the Leviathan, in synchronous orbit over the monastery.  Two blips are detected on short range scanner, heading for the planet of the Techno-Monks.  They're only 200 displacement tons apiece, so the Leviathan almost certainly outguns them, but the Captain is a careful man.  He doesn't want to take any unnecessary chances, knowing that even a small ship can put a lethal hole in your vessel.  He orders silent running mode, powering down as much extraneous equipment as possible to avoid detection.

When in doubt throw in a Space Pope.
When I rolled a random encounter with two Belgardian Lancers (what passes for military ships in their crapsack empire) I decided that Belgardian standard operating procedure was for one ship to put down on the planet for the pick-up, while the other vessel stayed in orbit scanning for enemies.  The Papal Admiral of the Belgardian Empire maintains power over his subjects based on the paranoid idea that the 3rd Imperium is always just about ready to invade.  Sort of a North Korea of outer space only more pathetic because the 3rd Imperium doesn't even know the Belgardians exist.

Anyway, what happens next is the sort of thing that can only really happen in games with dice.  The dice showed snake eyes for the Belgardian's scanning roll, the worst possible result for a 2d6, roll high system.  Not only did the Belgardian vessel not spot the Leviathan, they placed themselves in a parking orbit ridiculously close to the PC vessel.  Meanwhile the Lancer heading down planetside clears the cloud coverage and spots the away team's boat sitting on their landing pad.  Nick, playing the pinnace pilot, is quick-starting his vessel and getting the hell out of there in classic Han Solo Out of Tatooine fashion.  Some laser fire lights up the landing pad right where the pinnace was sitting moments ago as the second Belgardian vessel breaks orbit.  The Captain puts his ship into action mode as threats from both sides are mutually ignored via radio.

Space combat in Traveller uses 10 minute turns, so at some point we switch to what the crew members in the monastery are up to.  Kirk's PC has been in the radio shack atop the monastery, trying to determine if anything clever is to be done with the beacon.  He's joined by a frantic monk, who grabs the mike and begs the Lancers to cease fire.  Dane's guy has taken the rest of the monks hostage, with the support of a couple of well-armed buddies.   This time the dice don't go the PCs' way: a quick roll suggests to me that the Lancer crews consider the monks and their tin shack monastery to be expendable.  The home planet has more monks and more tin, denying the enemy their expertise is more important than their measly lives.  I got a 6 on the "how dickish are these dudes" d6 roll.

The monastery erupts in laser fire.  The radio shack takes a direct hit but Kirk's man survives.  He's a blackened mess that spends the rest of the expedition in sickbay.  He'll be haunted the rest of his days by visions of a frantic Techno-Monk suddenly evaporating before his eyes, but at least he's alive.  The rest of the landing party comes out of the wrecked and exploded monastery with hardly a scraped knee among them.

While this is going on, the pinnace has come around and is firing its one measly laser at one Lancer.  But a lucky hit sends it crashing down, forming a large impact crater on the Mars-like surface and spreading debris over a 20 square kilometers.  Meanwhile the combat computer on the Leviathan is revved up and the Selective Fire program is run, allowing the Captain to order the gunners "take out the other ship's power system!".  Three of four turrets bearing put their lasers right into the ordered bullseye while the fourth goes astray and wrecks the ship's computer.  It was leaving orbit, so it veers off on a hyperbolic course as its engines go dead.  Three lame-ass escape pods pop out of the vessel a few minutes later.  They're the majority of the crew, the prize crew later find the captain in the bridge with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  He couldn't remember how to activate the self-destruct sequence and killed himself out of embarrassment.

A week's worth of tinkering with the captured vessel render it spaceworthy with a working computer and Jump-1 capabilities, but that isn't enough to get them anywhere in this thinly-populated subsector.  So they hid the vessel among the minor asteroid in a trojan point, estimating that it might be worth 4 to 8 million credits even with outdated technology and shot up.

The rest of the session is rather tame in comparison.  They run into a Jump-3 capable free trader from the Marrakesh Free Trade Association, a pocket empire two or three subsectors spinward.  While half the party seizes the opportunity to open trade relations with a new multi-system market, the other half is trying to figure out how to seize the NPC vessel.  But after requesting and receiving a tour of the Marrakesh vessel they realize that any boarding or hijacking attempt will be met with stiff resistance.  So they make friend instead.

They also befriend the Gollerians, a "feudal technocracy" on a nice little ag world.  Feudal Technocracy is one of those little pieces of Trav lore not often seen in other sci-fi RPGs.  The concept is borrowed from an old SF novel (H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, maybe?) and suggests a world where the masters of technology rule by consent of the governed.  For my purposes I interpreted the world as some sort of far-out Techno-Geek Eco-Libertarian Utopia (no, that doesn't really make any sense).  They run a just pre-interstellar society at near maximum efficiency, with a Right Tech for the Right Job approach to technology.  Thus they are able to quickly produce replacement parts for the Belgardian vessel, which the PCs trade to them for a sizable credit line for future company vessels entering the system.  So they ferry a crew of Gollerians back to the system of the Techno-Monks.  Incidentally, these Gollerian astronauts become instant heroes once back home, as they are the first of their people to visit jump space and return.

The final encounter of the night is with the Shigu, the other Leviathan-class working the subsector, which the party had encountered previously.  This time the Shigu was sporting serious damage.  Just prior to a previous jump they ran into the killer encounter that the PCs had managed to dodge: a Zhodani frigate carrying ten fighter craft.  The Zhodani are major rivals of the 3rd Imperium, fighting a cold war with them that sometimes goes hot.  Fortunately the Shigu had already refueled when the Zho spotted them, so instead of being completely screwed they were able to jump out once they were outside any local gravity wells.

That about wraps up our time with Adventure 4: Leviathan.  Through a combination of cautious play, the occasional wreckless move and some good dice throws, the Leviathan makes it back to home base a little ahead of schedule, with information on most of the subsector, good prospects for company expansion into the region and friendly relations with most of the local polities.  Not too shabby.

I wonder what the heck we're going to play in two weeks.


  1. I have really been enjoying the Traveller updates... it being a game that I own close to all the original components and have fantasized about playing for about 30 years. (Somehow I have just never gotten around to it yet, although it is on my bucket list.)

    I am surprised, though, that you are already tying up the action with Leviathan. My memories of that adventure were that it could stretch out into a years-long sandbox campaign.

  2. I specifically wanted to end in five sessions or less. So for anything that could have played out long or short, I chose short.

  3. Thanks Jeff it was a lot of fun - we really should have listened to Dane and invaded the Belgardian Empire with that hunk of junk; that would have been memorable!

    You should run a Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG level-0 adventure!

  4. It's good to see X-Bomber getting some work

  5. These are great reports, and I always love an H. Beam Piper reference. I can't help but be impressed that you seem to be able to run a sci-fi rpg. The only thing I've ever tried was Mekton when I was a lad and paranoia, but both ended up a mess. Your game somehow manages to read like OG Star Trek, with a dash of 17th travelog thrown in. I can't help but wonder if it's a heroic (gulfs of space between wildly divergent simple locations) as opposed to architectural (locations are detailed and systemically mapped)approach. That would seem to follow the distinction between Sci-Fi and Fantasy literature of the golden age - Fantasy (Tolkien, Moorcock et al.) is about location and landscape while space opera Sci-Fi (Piper for example) is about character and even moreso society. I ramble - apologies. Fun read.