Finally ascending from the mine of fire, stone, and mephits, the adventurers headed north towards the Imperial Shelter. They camped along the road, slept without incident, and made their way back to the river they had originally followed from the coast. The road crossed the river further inland, in an area they had not yet been in before. And as they prepared to cross a flooded causeway to continue on their way, they spotted a giant metal beast, drinking from the river. This bull didn’t eat grass…it was a Gorgon, which subsisted on ground up stones from its petrified prey. It saw the adventurers, and got ready to charge.
Now, safely back onboard the Albatross after the adventure with the Chimax, the crew was able to interrogate Krrsh. It didn’t take too much prompting to get him to spill the whole story: he had been the Captain of one of the ships that attacked Clarke, onboard an S-class Scout ship. He wasn’t part of the job on Toprol, so he had decided to stray off to make a bit of side money. On his trip he had stumbled across a merchant vessel, one that he thought would have been an easy kill. As it turned out, he was mistaken in his assumption: the trader held a set of concealed guns, and when Krrsh had ordered the ship to cut thrust and prepare for boarding, the merchant ship and opened up a broadside at almost point blank range. Krrsh had managed to get the ship out of the firefight and held it together long enough to make a jump to the next rendezvous point. However, the other two captains, Ferrik Redthane and Miria Silverhand were none to happy at his misadventure, which had rendered the Scout ship useless for pirating and as a punishment had marooned him on the ancient station as a warning to the others.
However, their act of ruthless pragmatism was now a windfall for the Albatross. While they had one of the pirates now, Krrsh was proving to be a most useful ally in their hunt. With a bit of prompting, the party was able to get the whole story: The reason for the attacks is due to Ferrik somehow running afoul of his former boss “Admiral Darokyn”, one of the heavy hitters on the pirate planet Theev, and as a result the pirate has been exiled from the planet, forbidden to touch down on one the one safe haven for pirates in the subsector. Ferrik was desperately looking to make big, flashy scores in order to convince another pirate captain that he was worth taking on and protecting from Darokyn. While he himself, couldn’t set foot on the planet, he would work through his second in command Miria to negotiate on his behalf. All too eager for payback, and with few options, Krrsh volunteered to join the crew, especially when it dawned on him that the party was trying to track down Ferrik. Krrsh could provide the up to date callsigns and passcodes to get through the pirate patrols along Theev, and was willing to be a guide around the capital of Blanksand City, and he had a few ideas as to who Miria might have gone to.
The group prepared to make their way along their preplanned path, firing up their jump drive and continuing to the secret refueling location they had been travelling to. However, when their reality bubble shifted back into real space, they were greeted to a distress beacon with Imperial Scout Service codes. Onboard, Kardoth Denive, retired Imperial Scout, struggled to try to keep everything on the ship together. Something had badly damaged the ship and left him drifting…the strange thing was that he couldn’t remember quite what, likely from a hit to the head during the blasts before jumping to safety leading to some Easy Amnesia. His scanners told him that a ship had just jumped into the sector, a…a Harrier-class? Did anybody still make those beauties? It was his lucky day that had brought the Albatross to his doorstep. The crew of the Albatross was happy to pick up Kardoth and see what the problem was. After a quick review of the S-clas, it was quickly written off as a loss. Kardoth offered what could be salvaged in terms of parts as a buy in to the venture, and was pleasantly surprised, if not a little suspicious, at the salary and “performance based incentives”. His buy in came with a very nice set of quality components, and Festus felt that he could likely use them to continue fixing up the ship, perhaps to complete some of the functions that Princess Rao had classified as “aesthetically pleasing but non-essential”.
With their stocks and fuel replenished, the Albatross made one more jump, arriving in Theev. They were quickly hailed by planetary control, and gave the pseudonym The White Witch. They were directed to a docking berth in Blacksand City, and were greeted by a smiling woman, dressed all in black with a neat bun of red hair. She cordially invited the group to the city, and took a moment to pointedly stress for the newcomers to follow the rules. Krrsh hushedly filled the party in: this was a Widow, one of those in the city charged with ensuring that the pirates followed the Laws of the Lords. In the starport, or the Upper City, or any building marked by red flags, the Law of Lords decree that is no murder, no weapons fire, and nothing that offends the calm and tranquility of the city is permitted. Those who do quickly find themselves with a slit throat in a back alley. Other than that, they were free to go about the city, so long as they watched their backs.
The crew had a few options to try to find Miria. They decided against seeing Admiral Darokyn, the former employer, and instead decided to go after the two names that Krssh provided as Miria’s hopeful partners: Petyr Vallis and Hroal Irontooth. The party tried Petyr Vallis first, traveling to his tower in the lower city, saying that they wanted “to show their respects” as newcomers. The guards gave them curious looks, but let them inside to meet their boos. Vallis was happy to meet with them, offering a feral grin from a scarred face. He seemed absolutely overjoyed that the newcomers had come to honor him as their first stop, and that “there weren’t any more cats making the city their litterbox”. It didn’t take much to realize a few things: one, Vallis hated the Aslan with a fiery passion, and that he was, at best, a borderline psychopath. With the pleasantries out of the way, the crew got down to business. They wanted to see if the man knew about where Miria was. Vallis claimed that he did, that Miria had holed up in the lower part of the city and was using street urchins to act as messengers so she wouldn’t be. Of course, that hadn’t stopped him from tailing them back to her hideout. The issue was, why would he give the Travellers that information for nothing in return? The pirate wanted 50,000 credits, an amount the Travellers didn’t have after spending the gains from their first heist…or a favor. Vallis went on to describe that he was looking for a way to wage war on the Aslan, and he was always looking for assistance. What he wanted was to be able to share access to any ports that the group considered their own. A few looks were exchanged, not wanting to give away Drinax, but Festus spoke up, mentioning Asim. A light suddenly caught Vellis’ eyes: Asim was right up against the border of the Aslan Heirate, and close to one of their shipping lanes…one that they Albatross crew had themselves raided. Vallis asked for the communication codes to identify as a friendly agent, and then he would provide the location. If his information didn’t pan out, they would be free to revoke it or change the codes. If it did, and the Albatross reneged on their promise, there would be hell to pay….
I want to take a moment to go back around the character creation process for Traveller. The rolls for Attributes and the lifepath generation puts a fairly distinct mark on the game. Overall, I enjoy what it does to the characters that it creates. Life rarely goes exactly the way we want it to, and the lifepath reflects that. There is also ample evidence that raw starting stats aren’t everything. In my first foray into character creation for Traveller, I got a decent stretch of starting Attributes when I did a pure line roll. Most tended to be around average, bounded by minor dips around the mean, but two stood out to me. Bisuke had near perfect stats, nothing below average, and a maxed out strength. She passed the roll to get into Marine academy and graduated with honors…and then promptly failed her first operation in the field and received horrific injuries, leading her to be discharged and requiring almost all of her benefit rolls to pay off a massive medical debt. In contrast, Declin started with below average stats in every category, and I honestly thought he would be a washout, so I put him into a career where I thought there was a small chance he would survive long enough to get some skills: Artist. Declan then promptly passed advancement roll after advancement roll, boosting his social stats far past what I expected and accruing a truly impressive number of skills and advancements.
That said, the process has one area that can infuriate people, and it’s not a bug, it’s a design choice: attempting to pick one certain path. This session was meant to be an introduction for a group of new players (Kardoth is one who I believe will be sticking around). One player in particular had been a bit apprehensive about the setting, and I had tried to kindle interest in mentioning that an angle he could take for his character could fall along the lines of the Honor Harrington franchise, one that I knew he enjoyed. However, when he attempted to make a character along those lines, the dice gods were just not having it. He tried to make six characters, none of whom managed to get the kind of career that he was looking to play and the process left him frustrated and resulted in him bowing out from the session.
This part of the game simply won’t appeal to some people. Personally, I think that there would be plenty of back doors to move up in careers that rather suit themselves to the environment of Drinax. To bring up Kardoth, I think he is a great example of a player making the best of some funky rolls. Kardoth had taken a stab at being a thief, washed out, became a drifter (and was stabbed by a fellow hobo), and then incongruously found himself drafted into the scout service. When disaster struck (stuck adrift in space with no memory of what happened), the player decided it was fitting that Kardoth would fall back on old instincts and be pragmatic about what would keep himself alive, even if it meant bartering with parts that weren’t his to spend and allying with people he has strong suspicions are outlaws. But if you really want to build a military vet, or a noble envoy, or a genius mechanic, and you absolutely MUST BE THAT THING…well, then maybe Traveller is not for you.
The elementals lay dead after a brutal fight that claimed the lives of half a dozen kobolds. Interpreter Ogro and Commander Snaks had regrouped, seeing who was left in their troop. But the fight was over. Ander and Elliot went over to the forge that the elementals were working, cooling but still hot with elemental fire. Not much of a smith, Ander plunged his sword directly into the hottest part of the fire…and had no sword left to speak of. Elliot, more accomplished at the forge and amused at his comrade’s fumbling, used the cooling embers to reforge the blade, more carefully this time. The new blade held an edge just as well as the old, and seemed to have a mild twinge of elemental magic.
High above the Earth in a slingshot orbit that was taking him from Tokyo back to Halcyon City, Sabot received a message from CryptoHertz: Spitfire taken by Plague Hack, need to rally the team. Muttering a few curses in Japanese about the repairs that had mandated his absence in the first place, Sabot redlined the thrusters of his newly-acquired ‘kirbycraft’. In a back alley in Halcyon City itself, Morgan was once again cleaning house at an illegal card game, the best way they’d found to support themselves while living on the street. Things might have turned ugly, the thugs around the table glaring at Morgan, but they all scampered when The Lawman sauntered out of the shadows. “Deal me in?” Continue reading Adventure Log: Masks: High Impact Heroics Pt. 4
The Albatross came out of the jump into a crowd of debris, pinging against the hull. For a moment, it seemed as if their deductions had been off, but as they regained their bearings they realized that they were being pelted by starship debris. Wolf immediately began a sensor sweep, and managed to pick up a weak distress signal. Oddly enough, it seemed to be one designed for a personal Vacc suit, only it was operating far out of its standard range. The Albatross followed the signal to a rickety old space station orbiting Borite. Unable to resist their curiosity, and hoping for clues regarding the pirates they were chasing, our pirates elected to dock along the manual airlocks, to a region of the ship that had been breached, counting on the protection of their own Vacc suits.
For the first time, Elliot found himself pulled through a fairy door. He could tell he was in his homeland, but nowhere he had ever been. But when he called to the laughing voice, she responded. Apparently the party’s fates were now intertwined with this being, and at some point in the future, they’d have to choose between the fairy world and the “concrete world”.
Elliot awoke in a cold sweat. Actually, more of a hot sweat. He was prone on the floor in a room he didn’t recognize, surrounded by wisps of steam that he did not know were Mephit corpses. “How long was I out?”
With the mast successfully returned to the pirates, the adventurers began preparing for their trip inland to the Imperial Shelter. When the ship was crewed and outfitted, Salty, the piratical second-in-command had a surprise for the outgoing party. A shabby looking kobold was almost thrown at the adventurers. He was small, even for kobolds, and his ragged clothing was covered in singe marks. Apparently the pirates had picked him up at some point, and wanted him gone.
“I am Weekbadd! Help me prepare for when the First Lizard ends the world in holy fire!”
This was going to be interesting.
Now, we rejoin the adventures of the Albatross crew!
I have previously written about my interest in the Traveller setting, more specifically the Pirates of Drinax as a Beta Campaign, and over the past few months I have actually managed to get it off the ground! I am a more inexperienced GM, and this campaign has marked the first time I have gotten a campaign to two whole sessions! As such, I’ll keep up the tradition of our other CH GM’s and offer a bit of a “Lessons Learned” post-mortem.
The Kingdom of Drinax was once a prosperous Star Kingdom, a rich collection of worlds. Their technology, used to construct the ostentatious marvel known as the Floating Palace, rivaled even the greatest advances of the Human Imperium and the Aslan Hierate with advanced medical care, engineering breakthroughs, and a potent military force for a Star Nation their size. Their ships were a storied blend of art and performance, with their Harrier-class commerce raiders the bane to pirates, smugglers, and blockade runners who would dare ignore the law of their domain.
But with their advancement, their kings grew arrogant. When Aslan traders ventured forward, Drinax levied taxes against them, and proved willing to back that up with force. In response, the Aslan ravaged Drinax, scorching the planet under a planetary bombardment so severe that it was rendered nigh uninhabitable. Its space fleet was crushed, its kingdom dissolved. Yet, for all that, the Aslan spared the Floating Palace, the home of the planet’s aristocracy and the scientists who had built and maintained it. The ambitious generals and brilliant engineers who had raised up Drinax survived, but in a cruel twist of fate, no longer had any resources to rebuild.
That was over a century ago.
Now, King Oleb sits on the throne (one he can barely fit his girth into anymore), and dreams of rebuilding his kingdom. Now he has uncovered a tool to do just that: a newly restored Harrier-class ship, what was once the pride and joy of the Drinaxi navy. With some help from his daughter Princess Rao, he has an idea of how he wants to use it, a way to send emissaries to the old members of his Star Nation, to amass a fighting force capable of holding off invasion, and to force the Imperium and Hierate to the bargaining table: Privateers.
The party was summoned to King Oleb, lured by a variety of promises.
For Newton Zephyr, it was the chance for the former pirate to go legit. After years of seeing friends and fellow pirates meet their end or be forced to run for the rest of their days, Newt was tempted by the offer to become a privateer, a legally sanctioned pirate who had the chance to buy/earn a noble title that would grant his services legitimacy.
For Festus, it was the chance to have full access to technology that amazed and astounded him. Festus had been a craftsman on the planet of Asim, a planet kept in poverty by its rulers. About 20 years ago, Drinax had conquered and colonized Asim in order to have a reliable food supply, and life markedly improved for its residents. With the stars opened up to him, he became a scout, exploring the subsector that had been opened up to him. King Oleb had initially signed him on due to his skills as an artisan (getting the jeweled inlays right is tricky you know), and Princess Rao had recognized the wisdom of having a well seasoned scout to act as navigator.
For Wolf, a wandering Vaugr assassin, it was potentially finding a place. As an oddity amongst most of the stretch of the galaxy, the work offered good pay, and it was the chance to settle in for a while. Having a skilled operative for boarding operations seemed to be a wise idea.
The king managed to make some time in between rounds of courtesans (he was interested in redheads that week), who cheerfully waved to Festus on their way out. King Oleb laid out the basic ground rules. They were charged with disrupting the shipping in the region for both the Aslan and Imperium, and to build a pirate fleet to defend Drinax when the time comes. He would lend his newly refurbished Harrier-class ship to the party (emphasis on “lend”), would make Drinax a haven where they could easily fence stolen goods, and would offer them a secret letter of marque. While this would not do the party a great deal of good if captured by a major power, it would act as a retroactive pardon for all actions. In return Oleb would ask for 10% of their earning off the top…and insist that they follow a certain code of conduct. Oleb wanted to use this venture to rebuild a kingdom. Random atrocities do not convince people to follow his banner. Finally, as one last kicker, if they succeeded, Princess Rao would be the bride of one of them!
That same Princess would enter the chamber a moment later with the next round of courtesans, appearing to be a cross between bemused and furious, but too composed to say anything to her father. She lead the party out of the chamber, leaving her father with his courtesans. Upon leaving, she began serious discussions about the details. She and Festus revealed that Festus had been long part of the operation to restore the ship, and it soon became apparent that Rao was in charge of the gritty details and overall planning of the operation.
The first task she gave the party was to put together the beginning of a long term crew, and take the ship out for stress testing. The group decided to stick with mostly cheaper, less specialized NPCs to help the crew, hiring on a pair a gunners and a contingent of marines. After jumping to Asim, the party deliberated on where to go for their initial test run. They immediately rejected the notion of attacking the closest planet, Khusai, as it was a well known military outpost dedicated to hunting pirates such as themselves. Instead, they planned to travel deeper into Aslan space, setting a course to less well protected stops along the trade route such as the Camoran or Oiwoiieaw. However, to do so, the limit of their jump drive would require them to make a stop in open space.
Upon exiting hyperspace, the group immediately activated the Holographic Hull, hoping that the stealth modifications on their Jump Drive (the standard form of hyperspace transport) would prevent anyone knowing they had arrived. Mostly on a lark, they chose to check their sensors to determine if anyone else was out here. To everyone’s surprise (including the GM’s, due to a lucky roll on a random table) there was a prime target, a heavy freighter, continuing along its course without responding to the party’s arrival. With their stealth systems fully online, the party managed to get within perfect firing range, Newt opened with a pinpoint barrage on the ship’s fuel supply using the Harrier’S particle cannon. Usually the tonnage and firepower advantage of a heavy freighter would be more than enough to deal with a pirate of the Harrier-class’s size, but with a vicious sucker punch it was slow to react. With the element of surprise, and a massive advantage in maneuverability, the pirates took advantage with the gunners opening a massive missile barrage at the freighter’s turret banks. Out of character, the gunners rolled a crit on top of an already favorable roll. This led Festus’ player to excitedly announce “Oh, we are keeping those guys!”
With their target’s defenses crippled, and their chances of escape quickly fading, Newt hailed the Aslan ship, ordering it to cut thrust and surrender. The Captain, a snarling Aslan, angrily refused, howling that he would fight to the last . . . until a clear voice on his end commanded him “Stand down Captain!”
The Captain seemed taken aback, but obeyed the command. A female Aslan of distinguished bearing entered the frame. She identified herself as “Lady Aisha” and reprimanded these “Imperium warmongers” for this unproved attack but said that, as despicable their actions were, she would gladly hand over her entire cargo if it meant sparing her crew. This immediately set off some suspicions. In no way had the party identified itself as part of the Imperium, and the cargo space of the Harrier-class was utterly dwarfed by what a heavy freighter could have carried. It didn’t take long for Festus to read between the lines: Lady Aisha was offering a portion of her cargo, figuring that the loss of a decent chunk would still be less expensive than severe damage to the ship, or the cost of lives for her people even if their numbers could make a truly nasty fight of a hostile boarding attempt. Even more, she was looking for a way to turn the situation to a political advantage by claiming that she was attacked by the Imperium. Impressed, the party agreed to terms and docked with their target.
The transfer of goods was relatively simple. Though Wolf and Festus managed to quickly place a few tracking programs in the ship, they weren’t able to see how successful they were because Lady Aisha greeted them in person, flanked by her guards. The besieged ship handed over enough of their cargo to fill the Harrier-class’s cargo bay, fortunately with basic agricultural supplies that would be easy to offload without requiring a fence, and at a fair price.
Festus slyly offered that if Lady Aisha had any rivals which she would like to see suffer similar treatment, they would be glad to act on it for her. In fact, as a show of good faith, when he reached the nearest neutral port of Asim, he would have a rescue ship sent out to help her. Lady Aisha seemed bemused about the offer, and stated that it was a privilege to deal with “proper professionals”. There seemed to be mutual respect as the party departed, jumping coreward in an indirect route back to Asim, so that it would not be as obvious as to where they were headed.
The return trip was jubilant. The newly minted pirate band had a hull full of cargo and no serious damage. The gunners were joyously celebrated for their good work, and were bestowed the monickers of Mav and Swan. After some deliberation, the group decided on a name for the ship: The Albatross, because there was something in a really old poem about it being bad luck to shoot at one.
It was only upon their return to Asim and their break into atmosphere when an urgent holomessage from Princess Rao was patched through. “What,” she demanded, “did you do?”
My first big lesson of this campaign was preparation. As the saying goes, no plan survives first contact, so I had tried to cover every base possible in a fairly open setting. I wanted to do some stress testing of my own (though in this case, the system mechanics rather than the ship’s) so I wanted to keep myself open, and tried to prepare for any situation. However, because I tried to spread myself out to resolve any path the players took, I was a bit surprised to discover that they took the simplest straight line objective I offered. I had expected something to go off course quickly, and I hadn’t prepared fully for the most obvious thing that would be in a game with space pirates: Space Combat.
In retrospect, it should have been the obvious move. In the end, the GM is almost never prepared for everything (as I have seen) but a lesson learned was to at least prepare for the most obvious. If players do something that truly comes out of left field, I feel a bit better about winging it on something obscure rather than something that should have been a core ruleset to know.
On a more positive note, I want to bring up what I learned about the effect of making Named NPC’s. It’s a little touch that often fleshes out a character more than “Faceless Mook # 3”. The funny thing is that I had nothing, and I mean zero, written in advance for the NPCs who became Mav and Swan (our gunner pair) and Lady Aisha. I wasn’t sure what my players were going to roll for their characters, so I made no assumptions about their skill level at different skill functions, so I didn’t plan a crew. I assumed that I would be able to fill in any positions in need with baseline crewmembers using the rules for the book. Only, when it came for the gunners to fire, they critted on a called shot. Immediately, my players declared that they had to keep these guys around, and agreed to pay them a higher cut for bonuses on their rolls going forward. That is how Mav and Swan were born.
With Lady Aisha, again, I had zero plan with her and she would not have existed were it not for random chance. I was not expecting my players to find anything interesting in open space, so you can imagine my surprise when the roll came up with a Rich Trader, a ship with an especially high value cargo. On top of that, when I rolled at random for a “prey quirk” the dice came up with a noble onboard. I suddenly needed to justify A) what a noble was doing onboard a merchant ship in open space and B) how I could justify the players overrunning a ship when they were dearly outnumbered. A commanding Lady Aisha, functioning as a brilliant, cunning, hands on leader for her house answered both, and gave me an intriguing character for my players to come across to boot. It was entirely an accident, but it is a welcome one.
After retreating from the crypt, the adventurers went towards the oceanside of the abandoned city and made use of the tools they were able to find. Elliot used an old forge and anvil to rework the broken suits of Enchanted Armor that were fought in the crypt. Out of six suits came one firbolg-sized suit of plate mail, and breastplates for a couple of the others. The treasure from the crypt was buried in the basement, and the adventurers were able to rest under a roof, above ground, and in beds. Before the night fell, Elliot, who had been vexed by the adventurers going in and out of fairy doors, wrote a note in Sylvan and gave it to Hrive. Neither of them knew who or what was causing their compatriots to travel back and forth between the current world and the Feywild, but the two fey in the party were the ones who had the best chance of finding out. Hrive did have the dream of the forest and the thick bushes, but this time the laughing woman gave him a cryptic invitation that sounded like it may have been meant for Elliot. Hrive awoke in a cold sweat, but appeared to have lost little time compared to some of the disappearances of his compatriots.