Into the Void Ref’s Notes 6

Session 6 was the first one-shot I’ve run. It was tough. The game was fun, but really we need more than one session. I had to cut out a lot of stuff to squeeze this into one 3-hour session. My players are really good. They play hard, but they are thorough. They take advantage of roleplaying opportunities. They don’t rush. So I think one-shots will be rare.

Didn’t manage to work in any starship combat. That’s still on the agenda. We did get  in a lot of gun shooting, which was on the agenda, so that’s a success. I also managed to drop the seed of the next series of games, so happy about that.

I’m getting more organized with the campaign. The customizable GM screen was useful. I did a reasonable job of giving each PC a chance to use their skills, considering this was really a combat-oriented session. I need to spend some time doing write-ups of weapons, especially non-standard stuff like the “big gun” machine gun I had one of the marines carrying. I made it a submachine gun with a +3 damage. I wanted to make it like the harness-mounted super gun the marines in Aliens used. So I want to work on that.

We used miniatures this time. It was fun, but we didn’t really use an accurate scale. I feel like agonizing over tactical movement slows the game down a lot. The minis were useful to knowing the marching order and general arrangement of the characters. I found that helpful.

I like leaving some loose ends. The PCs know now that there is this alien bug puppeteer species out there in the Void somewhere. It is something for them to worry about. The Void Bugs. Space is big and fully of scary stuff. Evil and dark stuff as much as wonderful and beautiful.

I think I could have done a better job being descriptive in this session. I need to remember that painting a great mental picture for my players is critical.

ITV Session 6: the Evil Bug

5 weeks have passed since the last session. The team returned exoarchaeologist Zal Twist to Planet Mylor, and from there he began the long journey rimward to Planet Zapata. The teams spends their time doing maintenance on the ships, replenishing gear, maintaining the robot, and designing a drone (to be built soon). They consider buying an office for the company, SAFCO, but decide against it. They calculate that annual maintenance on the ships will cost 30,000 credits for the Scout ship, and 38,000 for the free trader. Berthing at the spaceport will cost 3000 credits per month, per ship. Clearly they have some thinking to do. They calculate how much total money they have made, minus expenses, on the Zal Twist missions, and each put 20,000 into an account for the business, for a total of 60,000.

While maintaining the ships, a local gluck delivers a hand-written message. “Have I got a deal for you. Meet me at the Happy Gluck tonight. Ronda.” Wondering what the old pilot of Croyd’s Scumbags could want, the team goes to the tavern at the appropriate time. After sitting down, they are approached by a 7′ tall, purple skinned, 4-eyed humanoid who introduces himself as Mergatroyd. He claims to be a treasure hunter with information about possible riches in the Void. He finally admits to working with Ronda. The team expresses interest and he says he’ll be in touch. At that time Scout administrator Billy Zoom walks up with two local law enforcement, greets the team, and sits down. After some small talk, he gives them the bad news — they are being reactivated for a short time. The Scout Service needs them, and all the other teams are away on missions. They go back to his office to discuss matters further.

Admin Zoom explains that a research station on the interdicted world of Trillos, 2 parsecs away and on the edge of the Void, has been out of communication for 6 months. Probably just an automated x-boat failure, but still, the situation must be investigated. He explains that the planet is interdicted because of the station there is conducting weapons research. It is run by a small team of scientists, led by Dr. Marla Glascow. Lastly, he notes that she is a low-level Psi, with a minor ability in telepathy. Two marines stationed on Mylor will accompany the team in case there is trouble — Force Commander Gregor Rodrowski and Captain Clementine Strongbow. They’ll be well equipped. The Scout Service will pay the team 60,000 credits and cover fuel expenses. The free trader is already set up with extra fuel tanks, so it can make the Jump-2 trip there and back without refueling.

The marines arrive at the ship the next morning, introduce themselves, and load their stuff.  The team takes off. During the week in Jump Space FC Rodrowski helps Roger train with his autopistol. The rest study their own skills.

Arriving at Planet Trillos, Barney sends the appropriate access code to the network of interdiction satellites. He then downloads recent data from them, which indicates no ships have landed in the last 6 months, and no weird activity.

Taking the ship in and surveying from their air, they see the entrance to labs, which are in a natural cavern complex in a mountain. The terrain is rocky. They also see a damaged Scout ship on the landing pad, blocking them. They land 200 yards away, suit up in Vacc suits (the Marines in sealed combat armor), and take the air raft up the landing pad. Fardt goes with them, not needing a vacc suit as he can breath the tainted air.

They see a large hole blown in the left rear hull of the Scout ship. Entering the ship, they find a dead man in a vacc suit near the the hole. He head has been blown apart. Roger examines and determines that it was blown from the inside out. Barney examines damage to the ship, and finds a remote detonator in the same area as the dead man.

The team enters the main airlock to the underground complex, finding a large chamber containing supplies. Lights are very dim – emergency lighting only.

As they explore the complex, Fardt alerts them to a threat from the rear (it’s hard to surprise a gluck). The team turns to find two humanoids fast approaching. The beings wear the tattered clothing of the research team, and each has a 20′ tentacle with claws extending from its back. The team orders Fardt to the back, as they and the marines engage the creatures. Gunfire erupts in the dim light. The creatures lash out at the marines, but their striker appendages prove ineffective against the combat armor. The group blasts the creatures with enough gunfire to kill a dozen normal humans before they fall. As the last one falls, Fardt calls out again — two more are approaching from the other side. They attack the gluck, whose luck proves incredible, as four attacks miss him. Again he runs to the back, the Marines to the front, and again the team blasts away until the creatures are dead. They clearly are the science team, mutated by some as-yet unknown force.

Artist: Bob Eggleton. Book: Shadow of the Scorpion, by Neal Asher

The team continues to search the facility, finally entering the engineering section. In the corner of that room, they see a horrible sight. A massive insect-like creature sits, leaning against the wall, revealing it’s underbelly. The head scientist, Dr. Glascow, is enveloped in its flesh, tentacles and limbs penetrating her skin, her eyes flashing back and forth as if panicking. Roger hears a voice in his head. “You — are the pilot. I need you. The others must die.” The marines quickly evaluate the situation and begin shooting. Roger shoots too. Barney enters the room to hear a loud popping sound. Captain Strongbow falls to the floor, the interior of her helmet’s visor covered with blood and brain. Barney aims not at the bug, but at Dr. Glascow, having reasoned that the bug is using her telepathy to do some kind of psionic assault.  He blows her brains out.  Roger and FC Rodrowski continue blasting the bug until it is dead.

They remove Captain Strongbow’s helmet to find her head blown up just as the man they found in the Scout ship. They secure the rest of the facility, collect data. They discover that this was a bio weapons lab, working to weaponize a species discovered in the Void. They had no idea it was intelligent and able to take control of other creatures. Using Dr. Glascow’s knowledge and telepathy, it was able to use the lab to capture and mutate her fellow researchers. Clearly, the dead scientist they found in the Scout ship disabled the ship to prevent the creature from leaving the planet, moments before the creature, able to greatly boost  Dr. Glascow’s telepathy and psi power, blew up his brain.

The team leaves the planet, returning to Mylor, where Captain Strongbow receives a proper burial. The team collects 60,000 credits for their work, and are of course instructed that this is all classified information and not to speak further of it.

“I wonder” thinks Fardt, “if there are more of those bugs out there.”

Elapsed game time: 16 weeks (4 months)

Painting

Started painting one of the miniatures. Just one. I have a duplicate of this one, so if I mess this up it’s no big deal. Been a looooong time since I’ve painted one of these and I need to develop some skills and strategy.

This looks like crap right now, but they always do at this point. You have to be patient and just keep working on it.

Priming the miniatures

These will be the first miniatures I’ve painted in years that aren’t space ships. I’ve got the nice Army Painter set of many many paints.

Primed the minis tonight. I’ve got one that’s a duplicate to start on, and hopefully make the biggest mistakes there. I need a plan, because I want to also do something cool with the bases – like they are standing on terrain.

These are pewter miniatures (not lead like the old days of brain damage) so they’re a bit heavier than the typical plastic miniature you see these days, but the bases are plastic. So I’ll need to add some weight to them without making them too huge.

Miniatures

My friend Jeff and I made a trip to Reaper Miniatures Store, in Denton, Texas this morning. We’re lucky to have it so close – only about a 30 minute drive. They make over 4000 miniatures. We were looking for science fiction minis, suitable for our Traveller game.

There’s an awesome display room with hundreds of expertly painted miniatures in the store. Like many modern stores, they have their own gaming space and host events all the time.  The shop is attached to their factory. So cool.

Anyway, here’s some of the miniatures I bought today. I’ll be taking my time and trying to do a nice job on all of them. Then I’ll buy more. I’ll post picks of them at various stages of completion.

Into the Void Ref’s Notes 5

Well, Game 5 is over. We’ve done a pretty good job the last few months of playing once a month. This last game got delayed due to a death in the family and then again by my mom breaking her hip, but we got back on track.

I’m real happy with the way this campaign has turned out. My players seem to enjoy not being shot at. They are into the characters and the exploratory adventure theme of the setting. Sure, we’ll do more shooting soon, and some ship combat. After all, we have miniatures now!

Doing the 3 hour play sessions has been really good. I don’t know why that seems short. I guess because our GURPS sessions started out at 5 or 6 hours. I felt a lot of pressure to have a lot of stuff ready, and to really be able to think on my feet as ref. As I’ve said before, it’s easier to prepare for 3 hour session. Another benefit is that it allows me to have these nice breaks in which to really think about where the campaign should go. What could happen. What would be cool. You never really know what players will do. Usually they do the unexpected, which opens up even more possibilities.

The “Into the Void” Classic Traveller gaming group, last weekend at Madness Games & Comics, in Plano, Texas. The best store in the world.

So far in this game the players have only been on two worlds. Mylor, the planet they started on after mustering out of the Scout service, and two worlds in the Precursor system, the moon known as Zal’s World and the now destroyed-by-singularity Precursor Prison Planet. Five games. Three worlds. When you start with Traveller there’s this urge to map out several subsectors very completely. I find that overwhelming. I did map out a few in a very minimal way, but really haven’t fleshed out that much at all.  I know a lot of refs enjoy the whole universe building aspect of Traveller, and dig coming up with all this background and details for all the systems. I don’t have that much time. I’d rather make things a bit looser, fill in details as I go, and go into great detail as the players actually encounter things. It’s just more efficient for me. Yes, this means my campaign isn’t as sandbox-style as some people like, but we seem to be doing alright.

The campaign is decidedly space opera-esque. I don’t think my players are very interested in trying to make money hauling cargo from one system to the other and speculating things. I don’t worry about doing hard science fiction. I’ve decided to make up crazy shit (the confined singularity power generator of the Precursor Prison Planet, with a mind embedded in the gravitational structure of the singularity – yes – this is gibberish – and we don’t care). We’re doing cool stuff and heroics and space epic kind of stuff. Adventure. It’s fun.

Our ships, thus far. More on the way. Learning to paint all over again.

I love point-buy systems. I really do. But damn, it sure is easy to prepare for a Traveller game. In the time it takes me to create a really good NPC in a point-buy system I can pretty much create an entire 3 hour game in Classic Traveller. It would be easy to switch to GURPS Traveller, but I feel like it wouldn’t really be Traveller. It would just GURPS Space, since I don’t even use the standard Traveller universe of the 3rd Imperium. Nothing wrong with the GURPS Space. I just don’t think it would have the same flavor. I feel like Classic Traveller has just enough game mechanics to get by without just being people sitting around a table talking (which of course all these games are, but they need some structure).

A few things I want to do in upcoming games.

  • Make sure that in working up every session I give each PC a chance to use their skills – to shine. I think that in the last game I fell short in that area.  Each character has stuff he is good at – better than everyone else. I need to make sure they always get a chance to be the hero.
  • Do some combat on a big ship. I mean — inside the ship. I want some adventure and danger in a great big starship.
  • Do some spaceship combat. It’s pretty deadly, but we can make it really fun. Each PC has skills that are critical to a good space battle — pilot, engineer, gunner.
  • Work in some of the PCs background elements. Family, enemies, etc. Give ’em something to worry about!
  • Better develop some of the alien cultures. The Glucks, Glee-Cheen, etc. Come up with some new ones.
  • Let the relationships with NPCs they’ve met have consequences. Ronda the Pilot, Zal Twist, Iron Balls McGinty, Rawlph the Gluck, etc, etc. Where the PCs have shown kindness, let it benefit them. Stuff like that. A good NPC from their past is always a good person to save their necks, or to get into trouble again and have the PCs save them! It’s a big universe, but hell, people run in similar circles out on the frontier.
  • I got a nice notebook to keep the campaign stuff in. Now I need to actually use it. Get organized.
  • Read more old science fiction, and new stuff, and steal lots of cool stuff.

 

 

 

ITV Session 5: To Kill a God

This image is the work of Charles Chi — great stuff. https://www.artstation.com/artwork/nB6qX

The players pick up exactly where they left off from session 4. They are standing before an animated 3-d construct of an insectoid alien’s head, who has said “I was one of the ancients, and I’ve brought you here…to kill me.”  The insect-like Protectors surround the players and the 3d-printing pedestal. The image communicates via the universal translator held by the Protector Chief.

The group questions the alien. It explains that this world is its prison. “Why do you want to be killed? Can we simply take you to another planet.” No, says the alien, who goes on to explain that thousands of years before he was a political dissident in the highly oppressive society of the Ancients, known to Zal as the Precursors. Their civilization had grown to a very high tech level, but had become controlled by a “death cult” at its upper echelons. They wished to destroy all intelligent life outside their own culture. This ancient, apparently a person of some influence, sought to change this as well as return a sense of positive purpose to the Precursor society. For this, his mind was stripped from his body, transferred to an artificial matrix, and he was imprisoned on this world on the outskirts of Precursor space, to exist in a state of limbo, alone and going mad, for eternity.

Now the alien wishes for the players to destroy his disembodied consciousness. He reveals that the “Heart of the Gods” worshipped by the Protectors, is in fact simply a minor broadcast power outlet of the true Heart of the Gods – a contained singularity power source, housed hundreds of feet below in a chamber in the bedrock of this planet. He reveals further that his mind is actually stored in the very structure of that singularity. He tells them that they must not allow that level of technology to infect their society, and that by helping him — by killing him – they’ll be serving their own civilization. When they revealed that they understood the true, disruptive potential of the Heart of the Gods (at the end of the last session), he knew he could reveal himself to them.

In talking to the alien, they discover that the weird “cells in space” they have seen on the Precursor star maps represent a planet-killing weapon apparently unleashed after this being’s imprisonment. Not good, as it is headed for Imperial space (at sublight it’s a long way away).

The players voice their concerns that destroying this device, containing a singularity, might destroy the planet and thus annihilate the Protectors.  The alien voices some disdain for the Protectors, but also admiration for the groups ethics. He suggests that they might first relocate the Protectors. They decide to move them to Zal’s World – the moon in this system which they first visited. The Protectors, it is determined, could survive there. The Precursor agrees to command the Protectors to cooperate. They believe him to be a god. He tells them that the PCs are the Messengers of the Gods.

The 3d printing pedestal slides sideways, revealing an elevator platform. The team takes it hundreds of feet down, and find themselves in a massive chamber. In the chamber is a circular 200 foot deep pit – smooth metal sides, 90 feet across. The chamber is bathed in shifting blue-green glowing light that shifts eerily on the walls.

Halfway down (100 feet) is a 15 glowing translucent globe suspended in the very middle of the pit, held in place by four 5′ wide metal spokes extending from the walls of the pit. The Heart of the Gods, and the container of the alien dissident’s consciousness. The walls of the chamber and the pit are featureless. Not visible controls or technology. Silent.

The team examines the room, and decides the best way to destroy the machine would be to put a high explosive charge against it.  Back up in the main chamber, the Alien agrees, stating the spinning singularity is held in place in the middle of the globe be a complex matrix of artificial gravity fields. Disrupting those fields violently, even for a moment, should destroy the system.

Now – logistics. They need to move the Protectors and they have no explosives. The team decides to return to Mylor and get the much larger Type-A Merchant ship. While there, the team acquires explosives from a mining supply company, a timer and detonator, and some rope to lower a team member down 100 feet to one of the beams holding up the Heart of the Gods.  A week there to maintain the ship, and another week in jump and they find themselves back on the Precursor system. They spend a couple of days moving the Protectors to Zal’s World. They then return to the Precursor “prison”. As a show of gratitude, the alien uses the 3d printer to create a data module for Zal, containing cultural info on the Precursor society. For the rest of the team, it creates a smooth black sphere the size of a softball — a universal translator.

The team descends down to the power source. Lucky repels down, with the rest of the team and the robot securing him. He plants the bomb next to the globe, sets the timer for 5 hours.

Then they get the hell off that planet.

From 200 planetary diameters they turn the ship, train the sensors on the rocky little world, and watch the planet disappear into the singularity, releasing a burst of radiation — the last trace of dead god.

Back on Zal’s World, the small red humanoid aliens meet their new Protectors.

 

Elapsed game time: 8.7 weeks.