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Classic Traveller: more actual play

pemerton

Legend
My group played a session of Classic Traveller on Sunday.

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We started with a recap: in orbit about the world Novus the PCs had taken possession of an alien vessel, the Annic Nova, which was infested with Aliens (in the proper-name sense, except that when they die they emit a psionic blast); exploration had revealed that the vessel had travelled 2 billion years forward in time, and that 2 billion years ago it had travelled to the Novus system from the not-too-distant world of Zinion, and so the PCs had travelled there (some in the Annic Nova, some in their existing starship the St Christopher) - in so doing they also avoided an attempt by the Imperial Navy to interdict the Annic Nova; arriving at Zinion they found that the passage of 2 billion years had reduced the intensity of its sun, so that it is now an ice world, and they had discovered and uncovered an ancient alien pyramid complex buried 4 km beneath the ice. They had also found that a rival team of explorers had been able to track their movements and intercept their communications, but had reached an unsteady compromise to carry out the excavation and exploration on a joint basis.

The previous session had ended with two immediate points of tension: Toru von Taxiwan, the noble patron of the rival team, had observed the PC von Jerrel using psionic power to open a door inside the alien complex, and her roll on the reaction-to-psionics table dictated vigilante execution. (In the world of Traveller the climate of public opinion is extremely hostile to psionics.) The PC Roland had managed to calm her down for the moment, suggesting that they needed to keep working together to explore the pyramid, and so she postponed her action until they returned back to their base at the world's surface.

The other point of tension followed the PC Tony - who is the party's lead mechanic, engineer and jury-rigger (Jack-o-T-4) - opening a concealed panel in one of the rooms in the pyramid. This had revealed a tunnel that had warm air in it, and living creatures - 8 bat-like things about 60 cm long and with 1 metre wingspans - that flew out, bruising Roland in the process but more importantly damaging Alissa's vacc suit integrity (Alissa is a PC whose main skill is fencing with a cutlass, but who is also psionically trained). Zinion has breathable oxygen but the surface temperature at the excavation site is around 100 degrees C below zero, and the air in the pyramid (but for the tunnel) was similarly cold and so she could not last long without restoring her vacc suit.

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The first action declarations were therefore to restore the integrity of Alissa's suit. Between the core rules and some supplements and adventure modules Traveller has a pretty well-developed set of subsystems for handling vacc-suits, and so these were engaged - the rule in this case is throw 14+ on 2 dice + Dexterity + a bonus for Vacc Suit expertise. I can't remember who had the first attempt, only that it failed with a terrible roll, and Alissa in the end had to do it herself - which (as per the subsystem) takes place 15 seconds later, so in the meantime I had her take a single die of wounds from the cold.

The PCs then explored the tunnel, which led to a the power plant under the second of the small pyramids (they had entered via the first of these; and the vacc-suit incident happened in the central chamber of the large central pyramid). Tony attempted to make sense of the controls - of all the PCs his player was the most concerned about shutting off the power supply to the laser on top of this small pyramid which made it hard to approach the complex without being shot - but the check was (again) terrible and so he wasn't able to do so. But I didn't inflict any harder consequence than a flickering of the lights as he twiddled a knob.

Exploration of the power plant revealed some uninteresting details from the module map (the map and some of the content is from Double Adventure 1, adventure 1, Shadows). But in one of the side corridors Alissa and Vincenzo - the noble PC who owns their starship, pays most of the rest of them as crew, and is to that extent "in charge" of their expedition - were able to have a secret conversation, to discuss and use psionics without being overhead by anyone hostile. Alissa is Clairvoyant, but doesn't yet have access to full clairvoyance (improvement in psionics is via a monthly throw, and Alissa's player has failed a number of those throws). So she used her Sense ability within a 50 metre radius - which allows her to sense the most important or interesting feature within that range. She had a vision (narrated by me as GM) of some snake-like creatures in a green-ish/brown vapour. This also caused her to suffer a psychic backlash - which is not a normal feature of the psionics rules, but has happened before when using psionics in relation to this alien complex. When she slumped from the sudden shock I also called for a vacc suit integrity throw, which failed - I narrated a very slight damage to Tony's repairs, so she wasn't going to freeze straight away but eventually was going to lose air and warmth. I also told her she could smell something distinctive - but a failed Intelligence check meant she couldn't work out what it was. When the two returned to the group Tony did more repairs. I applied a single point of damage in the meantime.

In the power plant "wing" the PCs found another large room. There had once been an electric field of some sort across its doorway, but that had failed due to corrosion of some of the components. There was also some vapour in this room, near the floor panels. Lifting these up revealed the source of Alissa's vision - there were snake-like creatures, about a metre long, in the vapour beneath the panels. They bit at the two PCs there, and got a hit on one doing a modest amount of damage (but with a successful throw by that player - I think it was Roland who got bitten - not damaging the character's vacc suit). Alissa recognised the distinctive smell as a hint of chlorine - presumably the green vapour.

A lot of discussion was taking place, among the players, as to what this was all for. I gently encouraged them to finish the exploration, which they did.

Where they had entered the complex, via the first of the two smaller pyramids, there was a shaft going down about 95 metres to a lower level. The pendulum room they had discovered last session had a similar shaft in which the pendulum hangs and oscillates, over some sort of patterned floor. They wanted to inspect the patterns, so went down the first shaft (so as not to disturb the pendulum). On the way down they came to an area of damage to the shaft due to seismic activity (this is in the module) and found there a skeleton of a small creature and a gold token. (In the module it is a gold coin, but that wasn't right for our scenario.)

Von Jerrel inspected the skeleton, conjecturing it might be a "bat" - given his Education of B [=11 in Traveller's hexadecimal notation) I told him he could see that it was not. There was some conjecture that it might be a pet - I said it was clearly a quadruped vertebrate, possibly related to the fauna the PCs had seen on the world's surface. Roland's player wondered whether the token was the council registration for a domestic animal! Von Jerrel could see the token contained writing similar to that seen on the Annic Nova, but couldn't read it. He took it and continued down.

Descending the cable to the lower level called for another check on Alissa's part, given her dodgy vacc suit. This check was easily made.

In the lower level a few things happened.

First, there was a room from which vapour was gently flowing, which had an active electric field in its doorway. There was some description of how this might work from the player who is (in his real life) an electrical engineer; in response I read the module description, which talks about a field that does 4D damage if you go through it grounded; and he face-palmed and went quiet. The players decided that Xander - the toughest of the PCs present both in physical stats and because rather than an ordinary vacc suit he wears battle dress (= powered armour) - would go through. (It was he who spotted the electric field in the first place: I called for a roll based on INT with a bonus for the electronic sensory enhancements of the battle dress.)

He jumped through but, as per the module description, landed on a floor of frozen vapour. The module says that it will break under the weight of three people; Xander is 195 cm tall and weighs 110 kg, and is wearing battle dress, and had just jumped through; so I declared that the floor broke. I allowed a throw on DEX to get back to the edge of the room without triggering the electrical field, and that was successful. When Xander looked in the liquid under the frozen surface he could see pods from which "snakes" like those seen earlier were hatching - we checked the charts for their teeth attack and worked out they had no chance of biting through battle dress (the roll on two dice would have to be 14+) as they nibbled at Xander's feet and legs. I called for a morale check - normally 7+ but with a +1 because of his battle dress making him safe - and that was passed, and so he didn't recoil back through the electrical field in terror. Instead he drew his cutlass and hacked the "snakes" in two, which was basically automatic. He then jumped back through the field to report what he had found.

Outside the vapour-and-"snake" chamber, the killing of the "snakes" causes Alissa to take some more psychic feedback damage. And when the snakes were killed they dissolved very quickly, like the Aliens on the Annic Nova.

At this point it was settled by the players that the vapour was chlorine (green) and bromine (brown). The electrical engineer was Googling the freezing and boiling points of various gases, but we didn't push the chemistry too far. In the couple of days since, I've come up with an explanation should any of the players want to push it further, this is sblocked below (because some of it hasn't come out yet, and/or is subject to change via play).

The PCs noticed some dark rooms as they headed to the "pattern" room - these stood out because most of the rooms are artificially lit.

I described the pattern chamber as having some sort of map on the floor (the module itself doesn't really say very much about the pattern). Someone asked if it was a local map or starmap, and I answered starmap (I'd already been inclining this way). Because Roland is the party's navigator (as well as being a xeno-archaeologist) I addressed the further details to his player. Was the map far-ranging or local? Local: the map showed the local systems, including Novus. I then said a bit more about the Novus system (taken from my notes generated via the random world and system generation process): Novus orbits about its star very close to a small gas giant, which therefore exerts a considerable gravitational influence on its orbit. The gas giant also has a moon of its own, (and at this point I moved from random to GM-stipulated output) which is now in very close orbit (about 100,000 km above the surface) but 2 billion years ago would have been much closer to where the PCs first found the Annic Nova.

The players then asked about the moon, and I told them its randomly-determined details: no spaceport beyond a cleared bit of bedrock; no government but a population of a few thousand, mostly mining a mineral that is the basis of a mildly hallucinogenic recreational drug used on Novus. Vincenzo's player asked "Is that the same as the mineral we found on board the Annic Nova?" I replied that that had seemed to be a relatively pure psionic-enhancing mineral.

Near the pendulum room was the control room, which in the original module context is a classic puzzle room. I described it as presented and the players pretty straightforwardly solved the puzzles - the steady readouts with 2 blanks were for lighting (which they confirmed by lighting up the dark rooms); the fluctuating but apparently feedback-driven readings were perhaps for the power plant, or the pendulum; they weren't sure about the third set of readings in total, but figured the really high one was for the laser, and turned that off. Which worked.

In the larger of the (formerly) dark rooms they found signs of a cave-in, and a skeleton. Was it one of the aliens (like those who had been on the Annic Nova before the Aliens killed them)? Yes. (This was a departure from the module to better fit our situation.) Had it been killed in the cave-in? Yes. There were a few dozen of the gold tokens with it: Alissa took one and Roland took the rest.

The engineer player observed that the tokens (gold) had survived 2 billion years, and likewise the skeleton, but nothing else that was on the alien (eg plastics, ceramics)? I had no good answer to that. There may have been another facepalm!

The players speculated about what had happened. Was this alien the last person in the outpost? Who had been killed in the cave-in (and maybe the same thing killed its pet in the shaft)? But why only one (perhaps naked?) person left? And what was with the tokens? Alissa thought the tokens might be psionic talismans, and/or to open the doors in the complex that had seemed to need psionics to open them. She tried to Sense on the token (ie at the closet possible range) and I said there was nothing more she picked up, except that the psionic "amplification" that had been a feature of the complex had ceased. There was discussion with Tony about whether this was due to shutting down the laser - but he wouldn't turn it back on, for safety reasons. It had been buried in ice to keep the explorers safe as they approached the complex, but was melting through that at a fair clip!

This led to discussion of why the laser hadn't cut through all the ice over the past 2 billion years, leading to conjecture that the whole place must have been shut down, and perhaps reactivated when the explorers disturbed it. (I have more thoughts on this in the sblock below.)

There was one final area to explore - the rooms near the upper level pendulum room, which had murals in them. I took the murals from the original module (missing that they are visible only in infrared, which was good because I don't think we needed any more puzzles) and adapted them a bit: one showed the Annic Nova aliens all gathering at the pyramid complex (perhaps a religious gathering?) which also showed mountains (of madness?) in the background, now presumably covered in ice); another showed the planet under different conditions - with a green/brown gas atmosphere and creatures resembling the "snakes", the "bats" and at least the smaller Aliens from the Annic Nova; the third showed an energy beam travelling from the pyramid complex to the moon of the Novus system gas giant.

This led to more discussion. The aliens hadn't originated here, but had terraformed the world - and the "snakes" et al were its original ecology. The players speculated that the "shutting down" of the pyramid complex might have undone the terraforming, but it was now all buried in ice. Alissa was becoming more and more convinced that this was a matter transportation complex, and that the aliens had all travelled to the near-Novus moon, except for the last one with its pet (left behind to turn the lights off?).

Conscious of the need not to further inflame anti-psionic sentiment, the PCs took care to have many of these conversations in contexts where they could speak faceplate-to-faceplate, or could broadcast on very reduced power over short distances.

Roland had also been taking photos of everything interesting.

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With the exploration all complete, I wanted to push things a bit more towards some action. So Toru von Taxiwan announced that it was now time to return to the surface.

Over the course of the session to this point there had been some discussion of what to do about the Taxiwanians, and some messages framed in fairly broad terms ("keep your eyes open" sort of stuff) had been broadcast from the team to the St Christopher on the surface - which is where the engineer's character, Buzz Lightbender, was located. providing advice and commentary via radio - , and from the surface to the Annic Nova. But (as had already been established in the previous session) the NPCs are much better at intercepting communications than the PCs are at establishing hard-to-intercept point-to-point transmissions, and so (i) they knew everything broadcast to the surface or beyond, and (ii) the PCs had been fairly cautious because of anticipating such interceptions.

But now the pressure was increased, as Toru clearly meant to take action against the dangerously psionic von Jerrel.

VIncenzo, as the only member of the PC group of the same rank as Toru, returned with her to the surface. The other PCs didn't do so immediately.

At some point Alissa did another 50 m range Sense, but I can't now recall what came out of that one.

And I started to use a character who is a borderline PC/NPC to push things a bit. When the PCs had left Novus for Zinion, they had taken with them Lady Askol, an Imperial Navy Commander and Free Imperial Knight who was in charge of the naval base on Novus and had been leading the attempt at interdiction of the Annic Nova. Von Jerrel had seduced her (a very successful check on the Reaction table), and she had been on board the Annic Nova, beginning her inspection of it, when it jumped to Zinion.

We now rolled her reaction-to-psionics. I allowed +1 for von Jerrel's Liasion-1, and a +2 for her infatuation (love? von Jerrel's player's word, but I'm not sure it's apt yet), and the modified result was either 9 or 10: immediate deportation. If von Jerrel was psionic she certainly couldn't have anything to do with him, and would have to exile him back to Ashar, the strange world that he comes from (which in an earlier session the Imperium had invaded, perhaps to quell the world's psionic tendencies).

"Are you psionic?" she asked von Jerrel. "Of course not" he replied. Lady Askol is not the sharpest tool in the shed, at Intelligence 5, and took him at his word. So now she wanted to come up with a plan to save von Jerrel.

She discussed with Roland (which is to say, I discussed with Roland's player) whether first contact protocols would apply - because if they did then she could take control of the site as the most seniro Imperial official present, and stop Toru from executing von Jerrel. She knew that he Roland had served in the navy, and even though he had never been commissioned she was confident he must have been trained in this respect (given his Education D (=13) which we characterise as a PhD in xeno-archaeology); whereas she had not been (Edu 7).

Roland (via his player) lamented the calibre of the Imperial Navy's officer class, and then expressed his opinion, which was mixed. Lady Askol then offered him Cr 11,000 (to be paid once they returned to somewhere she could get the funds) to draft a preliminary report within an hour, addressing the matter. Roland (via his player) agreed to do this.

The other players were engaged in a fair bit of discussion about whether to just kill all the Taxiwanians. But Vincenzo (via his player) was very hostile to such suggestions (this may have come at an earlier point before Vincenzo went back to the surface; and/or we may not have been fussing too much about exactly who was where or when precisely various conversations took place). He doesn't approve of needless violence or killing!

I asked Roland's player for the gist of his report (Roland has Admin-1 and so is familiar with the genre):
  • The pyramid complex is an ancient but not necessarily alien site;
  • There are defences including the laser, toxic gases, and possibly image-inducing/hallucinatory effects [this part of the report continued Roland's effort from the previous session to explain away von Jerrel's use of psionics to open a door];
  • The skeleton in the cave-in room (which is human like but smaller than a typical human) might be a human or proto-human;
  • The technology of the site is not unknown to the Imperium - hence the possibility that it is not an alien site;
  • Nevertheless, the novelty of the deployment of technology at the site, and of the site's appearance, meant that first contact protocols should be considered.

Roland's player made the comment (not in character), "I've written too many reports. Should be considered is the lowest level of suggesting a course of action."

I decided that Lady Askol would seize on the recommendation to consider, and having considered would act. She announced that on the basis of the possibility of first contact she was taking control of the site on behalf of the Imperium, until it could be further investigated. None of the players had their PCs try to stop or interfere; Vincenzo's player did lament that he had wanted whatever financial rewards might flow for his homeworld (Hallucida) and now the Imperials would gobble them up.

Lady Askol further declared that she had to return to the naval base at Novus, to take the next steps; and that in the meantime she was commissioning von Jerrel as Imperial Overseer of the site. So von Jerrel (and his player) got what they wanted in this respect at least.

The session ended with the players deciding who would go where, and identifying the Novus-system gas giant moon as their rendezvous point should one be needed:

St Christopher, jumping to Novus:
  • Lady Askol (Imperial Navy Commander)
  • Vincenzo (owner)
  • Mitch (Xander's girlfriend, a "face" who joined the PC band when they destroyed the marine outpost she was attached to)
  • Leila Lo (Vincenzo's partner, former owner of the St Christopher, pilot)
  • Amani (engineer)
  • Buzz Lightbender (ship's boat pilot, gunner)
  • Johnny (Vincenzo's bodyguard, also a forward observer and ATV driver)
  • Hapi (a Taxiwanian NPC, recruited to serve as navigator in place of Roland)
  • Oogota (a Taxiwanian NPC, recruited to serve as second engineer in place of Tony)
  • Declan (Toru's bodyguard, taken prisoner by the PCs for attempted murder not long after the two groups met, under medical sedation)

PC team on Zinion:
  • von Jerrel (newly-appointed Imperial Overseer)
  • Alissa
  • Zeno (the party's electronics/computer expert, who hasn't yet analysed the pyramid systems)
  • Roland
  • Xander
  • Tony
  • Methwit (an ex-spy and the party's comms specialist)
  • Bobby the robber (Johnny's younger brother, a hanger on and a bit of a loose cannon)

Taxiwanians on Zinion:
  • Toru von Taxiwan
  • Zef (the overseer of the on-site drilling/excavation)
  • Xian (one of Toru's companions)
  • Buazes (the Taxiwanians comms specialist who also handles vehicles and can shoot an auto-rifle)
  • Milo (the expedition leader, in the Taxiwanians lab ship in orbit)
  • Hapi (engineer and comms specialist on the lab ship)

PC team on the Annic Nova, in far orbit:
  • Sir Glaxon (pilot)
  • Olya (engineer)
  • Blaster "The Brain" McMillan (comms specialist with a few other handy tech skills; also handy with a claymore)

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I think this is the end of our exploration-oriented sessions, at least for a little while. I think the next session should be fairly action-focused; I'm not sure quite what it will involve.

Alissa's player will certainly try to identify matter transmitter possibilities.

And here are my (sblocked) thoughts about the situation:

The pyramid was used to do psionic scanning/communication. The laster's main function is not defence but to carry the signal. The aliens used this "machine" to find the source of minerals on the Novus-system gas giant moon. Whether it could be used to do matter as opposed to signal transmission is up for grabs!

They used the original ecology to support the psionic attunement of their pyramid; hence why they are in the complex.

The exposure of these to the mineral on the Annic Nova is what caused xenomorph issues.

The vegetation on Zinion and on the Annic Nova somehow links to this. And to the "snake"-pods.

During the 2 billion years the power plant shut down, the electric fields containing the original ecology (animals, vapour) failed but the vapour froze and so the pods didn't "germinate". When the PCs uncovered the pyramid complex it powered up again. The power plant electric field had suffered corrosion (it had taken longer to cool down because of the plant, hence had had more exposure to vapour). With the deep level, the electric field powered up at a different rate to the melting/diffusion of the frozen vapour and so some vapour escaped (which the PCs saw), but in short order it will reach equilibrium again.
 
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