Classic Traveller - more actual play


Since I posted a report of a Classic Traveller session, we've got in a bit more play.

At the end of the first session, the PCs had just made contact with the people they were to deliver their high-tech medical equipment too, as part of a clandestine bio-weapons program. But before the next session could properly start, a fourth player needed a couple of characters:

Maximillian McMillan (known to friends and comrades as "Max Attack") is a 4-term Colonel of the Byron army. With a UPP of CAE394, his player describes him thus at the top of the PC sheet: "Not very smart and no social graces; everything he has learnt is from an army manual. A real grunt." He has skill in three types of shooting (handguns, rifles and SMG), plus electronics, ATV and gambling.

Alissa wanted to become a surgeon but was drafted into the Imperial Marines. She faked an injury to muster out (ie failed her first term survival roll by 1) and so is 20 years old. All her skill rolls came up the same, so her only skill is cutlass-4. She also has DEX C, and we figured that she spent her two years in the Marines as a competitive fencer. With zero terms served to completion she also had zero mustering out rolls, and so no money.​

The session started with a group of PCs - including the noble Sir Glaxon - walking through Byron when they come across a clearly ill and somewhat delerious young woman (Alissa, of course) on the street, who sees that they are well off and asks them for help. After some interaction and inquiry they agree to take her back to their ship's boat (I think she offered to serve as a bodyguard) but the customs officials won't let her through without a scan (because of her evident illness), and the scan reveals that she is infected with the Enlil virus (ie the raw material from which the bio-weapon is being developed).

This PC introduction was a little bit tricky. As referee I had to find a way to get an "injured" and broke ex-Marine into the action. But I didn't want to completely burn the player. As the events above unfolded, we gradually established a backstory for the PC - after she faked her injury, she was hospitalised at a naval base station orbiting the nearby world of Shelley. She remembered being visited by Marine Lt Li, but then nothing until she awoke inside a cold sleep chamber feeling pretty awful. She had let herself out of the chamber and found herself in a warehouse; and she escaped from the warehouse to find herself in they domed city of Byron, where she'd been on the streets until the other PCs found her.

With the diagnosis of viral infection, the PCs hauled out the hi-tech medical kit they had acquired in the first session and set about producing a cure and an innoculation. (They also made checks to see if they'd been infected - my memory is that they all passed.) They cured Alissa, and all but one (Roland) was successfully vaccinated.

With Alissa healthy again, she was able to give the authorities the location of the warehouse she'd escaped from. The PCs joined a police team that raided the warehouse, which was full of cold sleep berths, and also captured an ATV attempting to flee carrying more such berths. (This was one of those moments where the modern vs fantasy setting aspect kicked in hard - I was expecting the PCs to stage their own raid, and got a bit of a surprise when they decided to take the matter to the police instead.)

Some time while all this was happening, I'd also let Roland's player know that - while the other PCs were out meeting Alissa and then taking part in the raid - he had noticed that the group who had taken possession of the hi-tech medical cargo hadn't loaded it onto another ship, as expected, but rather had loaded it onto an ATV and driven it out of the dome onto the inhospitable surface of Byron. When this was reported to the other PCs - which is to say, when this became a focus of discussion among the players - I was pleased to see that the Nancy Drew spirit showed itself, and they decided to undertake their own investigation.

They had brought their ATV from their ship down to the surface in their ship's boat, but wanted to find a local driver and guide. So they went off to a local pub (a hive of scum and villainy, ironically called "The Outworlder") where they thought such a person might be found. And lo and behold, sitting at the bar and tossing back sulphurics (the local drink) was a gruff soldierly type who knew his way around the local area in an ATV - Max Attack.

My attempts to start a bar-room brawl by having the bartender hassle Xander, the ex-pirate PC, failed; but Vincenzo, the gambling Baron, was able to make a small amount of money in a backroom game. Max signed on, and grabbed his duffle full of ex-military surplus weapons, and they somehow got them all into the starport (I can't remember now how exactly they did this). Max then grabbed more of his gear from his starport locker (which included a crate of 20 hand grenades, although he didn't bring the full crate along for the mission).

The players also knocked off the credits for protective suits and oxygen tanks, to deal with the corrosive environment outside the dome.

Meanwhile, Tony - the merchant jack-of-all-trades PC - had been doing some work on the interior of the ATV to create compartments for hiding weapons. So they duly hid their gear, spun some story to the customs officials at the exit from the dome (I think they said that they were heading off to do some archaeological investigation, looking for alien artefacts) and then headed out.

Using a slightly ad hoc mix of the vehicle reliability rules and the animal/event encounter rules, plus some improvised rules for tracking the other ATV, we resolved the journey across Byron. A lot of rolls guarantees some fails, and at one point they got lost and so used Electronics plus Jack-o-T to repurpose a communicator as a satellite uplink so they could get GPS coordinates. After about a week out of the dome, with their rations running low, they were able to find the outpost the other ATV had travelled to (by having Tony put on his vacc suit and climb to the top of a mountain to look around).

I felt this exploration episode suffered a bit from a lack of tight resolution mechanics, with nothing like a skill challenge or similar "closed scene" resolution; but also not the in-fiction structure that gives Traveller interstellar travel a similar de facto character.

The session ended with the group approaching the outpost. Our next session was the assault. I'll put that in another post.

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The assault session was a mixture of logistics, brutal Traveller combat, and interaction. I'd written up 10 NPCs to be the outpost inhabitants. (Most of these I'd generated in the course of

Traveller's encumbrance rules are pretty strict - max load without penalty is 1 kg per point of STR, and a protective suit and oxygen tanks already take you to 10 kg. A load of double STR gives a -1 penalty to physical stats, and the max load of triple STR is a -2 penalty. So the players spent a bit of time working out what they were taking with them as the left the ATV to try and take the outpost.

Having established that it was night time, we then made checks for surprise (none either way) and I determined the range - the upshot was that the PCs were able to conceal their ATV and advance on foot, and the guard didn't notice them coming until they were about 50 metres away (ie Medium range). A reaction check meant that the guard did not immediately open fire with her rifle, but rather tried to establish contact with her communicator. Tony used his knowledge of a range of Morse variants to receive the communication (which was essentially "identify yourself") while sending confusing replies, intended to distract the guard while Alissa sneaked up to try and take the pill box with a cutlass. (Max had recognised the defensive layout as a standard arrangement from the Byron army manuals, and so was able to tell her where to head to.)

I can't remember how I resolved her sneaking up - maybe a versus test? - but anyway, she succeeded at her check to climb up to the pill box and got to within Short range (ie striking distance for a cutlass). However, she failed her check to do so without catching or tearing her suit (the game has fairly intricate rules for using suits without tearing them): I declared that the failure was an oxygen hose snagged in a cleft, and she elected to ditch her oxygen tanks and proceed just on the air in her suit. As she stabbed through the slot of the pill box, Roland used his torch to distract the guard by turning it on and shining it in her eyes (successful check to impose a -1 DM against the guard). Alissa's player made a successful check to hit with her cutlass (+4 for skill, +2 for range, -3 for armour, -4 (I think) for cover, +1 for the penalising DM, so needing 8+) but the NPC guard also got off a successful rifle shot (combat resolution in Traveller is simultaneous).

Both characters suffered enough damage to drop two stats to zero, which is serious unconsciousness. But Alissa had friends to help her (including patching her protective suit) whereas the NPC (whose faceplate was smashed by the cutlass) had no helper, and so was left exposed to the corrosive atmosphere.

There was then some speculation about how the pill box might connect to the main part of the outpost. I decided (without at that point telling the players) that it had an exit into the roof of the airlock.

There was also discussion as to how they would get into the base. Use of a hand grenade was ruled out, on grounds that it would destroy too much (and render the airlock inoperable). Vincenzo is pretty small and flexible (low STR and END, high DEX) and so was nominated to crawl in through the pill box firing slot. Unfortunately he tore his suit (failed check to avoid a hazard, and failed check to resolve the hazard) and so wriggled through into the pill box with only his head covering. Given that damage for vacuum is 1D per combat round, I suggested 1D per three rounds as the damage for no oxygen in a corrosive atmosphere, and the playes agreed this was fair. Vincenzo took one lot of damage as he found an iris valve in the floor of the pill box and opened it up, finding the tunnel down into the main air lock. He then decided to take the suit and oxygen tanks from the unconscious guard, and also commandeered her electric lantern and communicator.

The others on the outside, meanwhile, made a successful Electronics check to open the airlock without having the key, and were able to join up with Vincenzo, who brought . As they cycled the airlock, they noticed signals being received by the communicator, which they ignored.

With oxygen available, they ditched their oxygen tanks to reduce encumbrance, and then opened the door. Checks revealed Medium range and the PCs caught by surprise - so I described a corridor running away from the airlock, with the NPCs taking cover in side doorways. (As written, Traveller assumes the referee will draw up a floorplan - but I think the encounter distance rules are quite an effective way for establishing the layout.)

The NPCs were two former members of Max's army unit - Achilles Doxa, with one higher in INT and EDU and also a level of Recon expertise; and the sickly Vernon Grath (no physical stat higher than 5, after being exposed to the corrosive atmosphere as an infant). Vernon's assault rifle shots went wild, but Achilles got in a good shot with his rifle and dropped Xander, the ex-pirate PC (with one stat dropped to zero). Max then recognised who the NPCs were, and gave them an order to stand down. A reaction roll (I let the players make these reaction rolls, in effect serving as influence checks) was neutral, and so they hesitated - and while they hesitated, Roland and Sir Glaxon unleashed with laser carbine (dropping Vern to two stats at zero) and SMG (the first hit dropped Achilles unconscious, and the second finished him off).

The PCs moved down the corrdior and found a mess/rec room on one side, where they took their first prison - a fairly slimy type called Hans - and dorms on the other side. At the end of the corridor was another atmosphere-proof door.

Hans agreed to tell all in exchange for passage off-world for him and his colleague Liza (who was hiding in the women's dormitory) and Cr 2000 (bargained down to 1500). He filled them in on who they could expect on the other side of the door, plus a bit of backstory: the Byron group's job had been to provide bodies (both live and dead) for bioweapons experimentation by Lt Li's group, and to provide a waystation for storing both bodies and equipment going to or coming from Enlil; but then they had decided to strike out on their own into the bioweapons experimentation business - hence their bringing all the gear to the outpost.

He also told the PCs the all-clear code for them to broadcast through to the other side of the base.

By this time Xander had regained consciousness (only 10 minutes to recover from one stat at zero) and the party was ready to take out the last part of the base. They entered the airlock and broadcast the all-clear code. A reaction roll at that point showed that the NPCs didn't entirely trust the broadcast (they knew as well as anyone that Hans would sell out his own mother for a night's comfortable accommodation), and so the NPCs were waiting on the other side with a shotgun and a laser rifle. But when the doors opened and they saw the heavily armed PCs, and Sir Glaxon ordered them to surrender, I allowed another reaction roll (made by Sir Glaxon's player) - and they gave up rather than fight, with Tran - the offworlder ex-Scout in charge of the whole operation - encouraging the PCs to join in their entrepreneurial bio-weapons enterprise.

The PCs then did a series of interrogations, and I made up some more backstory for them: Li (their Marine Lt patron) had recruited Tran and a couple of other off-worlders at the Shelley base (where Alissa had been taken from), and had been using the Byron crew as a depot and source of experimental subjects. The Byron crew had decided to strike out on their own because they were dissatisfied with their payments from Li - and the chance had come when a new group (ie the PCs, rather than the preivous owners of Vincenzo's yacht) turned up, who wouldn't immediately be suspicous or recognise a change in the way shipments were being handled.

They also learned that as well as Byron and Enlil, another world was involved - a small planet called Olyx, on the other side of Enlil from Byron, which had a Scout base and seemed to be the ultimate desination for both experimental subjects and medical equipment.

It seemed that - between the police raid under the dome and the assualt on the outpost - that there was only one other member of the Byron set-up who hadn't been taken down, nameluy, a former merchant called Leila Lo who had some sort of longer-range vessel that was used for running between Byron, Enlil and Olyx. (This was a 7-term merchant that I rolled up at one point, with a skill list as long as your arm including Medical-3 as well as a good range of other spacefaring and onworld skills. Tony's player and I agreed that she had been Tony's boss in the service, who had never promoted him as he slacked off while she kept on developing a wide range of talents.)

When the PCs accused the NPCs of having released Alissa into Byron to use the domed city as a test site for the bioweapon they fervantly denied this - Alissa had come in cold sleep from Shelley, and they didn't even know she was infected! This led to some speculation - why did Li infect Alissa? (it seemed maybe they were old rivals from the Marine fencing school) - and also to the conclusion that the Byron gang were rather incompetent, being unable to properly maintain their cold sleep systems let alone safely manage a bioweapons project.

The session ended with the PCs (and players) debating among themselves what to do: whether to hand the prisoners over to the local authorities (Vincenzo's preference) or expose them to the virus (Alissa's player's vengeance-driven preference, although Alissa was still unconscious and so not able to actually advocate for this in the fiction) or try to use them so that the PCs could infiltrate furher into the scheme (Methwit's preference).

There was also speculation as to what exactly Lt Li was up to - the general conclusion seemed to be that she was running her own private operation, having somehow subverted the base at Olxy to her cause, presumably to try and get rich in the black market for non-conventional armaments.

The start of our next session willl have to see some of these debates resolved, and prsuemably will see some of the speculation confirmed or disconfirmed. The players have also decided that simultaneous resolution with a rather sudden-death first wound system means that surprise/first strike is all-important in combat; thought it's not clear how they are going to achieve this. Perhaps send Max Attack to tactics school?

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