Saturday, May 31, 2014

Traveller Session - Ouch that hurts!

Having discovered that the gravitational anomaly they had traveled through, was linked in some way to the power source buried under the surface of the planet the PCs decided to take a break from torturing the yellow goo they discovered last week, and revisit the surface.

This time they took an adventurers kit! I had the players detail exactly what they were taking with them, and believe it or not, this included both a cuddly toy and a collapsible ten foot pole! Of course they also had their 6 Marine (meatshield) buddies too.

They split their team and started re-investigating the place, but the PCs returned specifcally to the "control room".

They braved flicking a few switches and things started happening...rather a lot of things actually.

  • The air within the tunnel network started moving.
  • A camera system was activated. Actually a rock wall became a kind of monitor, with moving pictures displayed as embossed relief within the rock. They found they could monitor all of the major rooms they had already visited as well as one they hadn't.
  • Six massive glowing "suns" were launched from within the planet up into orbit, bathing the otherwise completely dark planet in light.
  • A super fast rocket/missile/UFO was launched and sped off into space 
  • "Stone Space Spiders" were brought into being that started moving around the complex and frightening some of the Marines into a one sided firefight. They were calmed down with some comforting chat on the radio, and they reported that the spiders rose up out of the rock and that the Marine's bullets were bouncing off the things. The spiders did not attack they seemed much more interested in doing their own inexplicable thing.
They also recovered a few more of the boxes that contain yellow goo. One was opened on the surface to see if the yellow goo did anything...which it didn't.

During this fun they were getting reports from their spaceship from a panicky member of the crew. He'd spotted a beam emanating from the cathedral ship-ghost-thingy pointed at the anomaly, this beam seemed to be destabilizing the anomaly and reducing it's size. He was concerned that the anomaly might disappear and as it was the way they had got here, he also assumed it was their only way back.

One of the last switches in the "control room" was discovered to boost the power source on the planet and the anomaly was strengthened at the same time. The final switch setting revealed a map that included a path to the planetary power source.

Engineers on the ship calculated that unless the power could be boosted the anomaly would disappear in two hours time. The race was on.

Two Marines were dispatched down the vertical shaft to investigate the tunnel that led to the power source. They soon ground to a halt. The tunnel angled sharply upwards and was so greasy they couldn't climb it.

The PCs and the rest of the Marines headed down there to bring some real muscle and brains into play. In next to no time at all they were standing on each others shoulders creating a human ladder to reach the top of the slope.

At the top they found themselves in a level tunnel where they met the equivalent of a swinging-blade-trap. Rock discs were crossing the tunnel, literally forming out of the living rock and slicing across. This presented no trouble to anyone and they all made it through to the "lava" room.

The tunnel opened up funnel like. The slope down was being rained on by liquid stone pellets that hit the floor and rolled down to the "liquid stone" floor of the room. The exit was on the far side, a tunnel mouth that you would have to jump to. The liquid-stone floor of the room was deathly hot but fortunately there were protuberances of solid stone scattered stepping-stone like across the floor. Holding their packs over their heads to protect against the stone rain,they tumbled down the slope, two of the Marine's getting injured in the process.

They crossed the stepping stones and then had to puzzle their way up to the tunnel mouth. A Marine was detailed to try. He jumped, failed and fell into the liquid floor. There was a valiant attempt to pull him free, but it was too late one of his legs was burnt off fatally puncturing his suit!

A PC used a grapnel and a rope was put in place to crawl up to the tunnel mouth. The two injured marines were left here to man the rope for the return journey (they needed to pull on the rope of hold it taught for the climb). Time was rapidly passing and the PCs needed to get a move on.

The tunnel they had reached contained stone tubes that appeared to flail around  occasional connecting to each other briefly. All but one Marine managed to dodge through here without trouble. The Marine received a minor injury from being slapped by the tubes.

Beyond this point the tunnel angled sharply down disapearing into another liquid stone pool. This was tentatively tested as they feared it would be more of the burning liquid stone. It turned out to be cool and one Marine was dispatched down the tunnel and was followed by the rest of the party. There was a danger of getting lost in the complete darkness but everyone made it and emerged on the far side.

The next room to cross looked empty and set the PC's on edge. "It was quiet...too quiet." A spanner was chucked into the room, it hit the floor and sunk slowly, leaving no trace. The PCs asked for a Marine volunteer to try sprinting across. No one stepped forwards. One PC had to start threatening them with an axe! The volunteer got to within a few meters of the far side before becoming stuck. A second Marine was threatened into trying, but he too became stuck. The last Marine got into a bit of state and headed back to get the rope from the room with the two injured Marines. He got turned around when trying to pass through the cool liquid tunnel. Tick, tock,tick,tock. One PC made an attempt to sprint across and managed it, another got stuck. The Marine returned with the rope and managed to pull the sinking fellows back to the entrance before they were lost for good.

The one PC that made it across was on his own. The next room was as weird as the others. Stone blocks were forming out of the ceiling and dropping to the floor and sinking into it in seemingly random patterns. He bolted across and made it in one piece.

He now emerged to find a wide crevasse blocking his way, but he could see the power room beyond. This was too wide to jump safely. Some serious discussion and planning was made and the collapsible pole was deployed across the gap. The near end was secured with duck tape and plaster from the med kit. The rope was tied around the pole and to the PC. That meant he only had to walk along the pole to the far side. He made it!

Adjusting the power setting of the system was simplicity itself after all of the other trials. Then all they had to do was get back passed all of these hindrances!  Which they managed. One Marine was knocked down but not killed. He was carried along in the rush back to the ship. In only 70 minutes of the 120, they were able to get back to the surface.

Back on the space ship they found it was being dragged back towards the anomaly, a desperate attempt was made to line the ship up with the direction of movement but failed, meaning they entered the anomaly and jump, unaligned...

What will happen next week? Will they emerge from jump where they expect? Will they emerge from jump?!?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Traveller Session - Going Deep

The session kicked off with the PC's still investigating what they've come to call the "Alien ant colony". They were returning to the central shaft when they got a call from Marines on the lower level. They'd discovered a glowing "force wall" across the entrance to a large storeroom.

They decided to try and destroy the wall with explosives. They retired and left a Marine to do the actual planting. A minute later he came running down the tunnel followed by the expected explosion. When they returned to the wall, it was intact but the floor was cratered.It was then that they discovered a control panel in the floor. Like everything else here it was made of living/flowing stone. A series of button presses soon had the door open.

Behind this door was a massive warehouse-room filled with metallic cubes. the cubes turned out to be sealed and without any way of opening them. A random cube was selected and carted off to the surface for investigation.

They then decided to investigate further sections of the tunnel. They came to another massive room filled with level upon level of the alien statues, each once again molded/carved from the living rock and armed with a spear. There were thousands of them. Marines were ordered to take one to the surface. With two Marines tugging on one of the statues it was soon broken free. This was carted to the surface too.

The collection was still incomplete so they climbed back up to the egg chamber and worked an egg free. This too went back to the surface.

There was more tunnel to investigate, but as soon as they started getting radiation alerts they backed off and returned with their collection to the ship.

On board ship they set to work on cracking open the box. An engineer was volunteered and he started cutting it open. A yellow viscous material leaked (slowly) out. A PC asked the engineer to test the liquid. The Engineer was a little nonplussed and may have said something like.. "I'm an Engineer Jim, not a scientist." Not knowing what else to do, he hit the puddle of liquid with a spanner. The liquid reacted and moved away, giving the impression that it was alive. A little panic ensued, the end result of which was a descision to move the box and contents to the nano-containment facility.

The box was wrapped in a tarp and carried up to the containment and placed into a glass tube. Then followed a series of electrocution experiments on the yellow liquid. It continued to react but showed no evidence of intelligence.

One of the other engineers turned up and ended the session by reporting that he has discovered a pulsing pattern within the gravitational anomaly and that the pattern was being matched by a power source down within the "ant colony".

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Traveller session - There are jumps and JUMPS

The Traveller campaign continued on Friday night.  It started with a little trepidation for the players as I'd asked them roll up new characters "just in case". Of course they assumed their PCs were doomed, but honestly that wasn't the plan. There were a couple of options early on in the session where the choice they made could have jumped away from what I had planned. By having "alternate" as opposed to "replacement" characters I could still have them play through the content I had in mind. Of course, I didn't tell them that.  MWAH HA HA HA...

Last session we left the heroes having defeated the alien creepy crawlies that had infested their ship. The engineers had also managed to get breathable air into the core of the ship, bridge to engineering, but not a lot else. They had the Jump drive on-line after three days. Thus the plan was for them to jump in consort with the Navy cruiser back to Affran to defend it against the Aslan invasion.

Of course it didn't go that way. Right at the moment of initiating Jump, there was a terrific explosion of power and a magnificent light show around the gravitational anomaly they'd seen on arriving. There was nothing to do and no time to worry or investigate as the Jump was in progress. They spent the next week in-Jump healing up from the fight with the bugs, while the engineers continued working on the Maneuver drive, which they were able to make barely operational.

When they emerged from Jump, things were a little weird. There were no stars. They soon discovered a number of things.
  • There was a gravitational anomaly behind their ship.
  • There was a planet near by, just one and no associated star.
  • They were between galaxies.
  • There were odd energy readings ahead of their ship, which on closer inspection resembled the outline of the cathedral ship they have previously encountered, but not the ship itself.
  • They did not have enough fuel to Jump, and they were way out of range anyway.
The planet was rather unremarkable. It had a thin unbreathable atmosphere that did contain  some hydrogen. A potential fuel source.

They decided to investigate the planet and found it a craggy rather dull rock. The only thing of note was an unusual smooth sided mountain. They landed on the mountain and climbed out to investigate. At the pinnacle they found a a vertical shaft driving straight down into the mountain. Their torches could make out openings in the side of the shaft that they could reach by rope.

They started investigating and found engravings of an unknown language around the entrance to the first hole which turned out to be a tunnel. They could only walk along this bent double.

The next hole they investigated was surrounded by engraved pictograms that appeared to show human-like shapes, but with four arms. Down this tunnel they investigated, and soon came to a room that had two stone statues standing in it. The statues were vaguely humanoid with bug eyes and no mouth, but did have four arms. They also seemed to be molded or carved from the floor, from the living rock.

They carried on investigating and found more strange things.  They found a room where there were control panels with buttons, switches, and knobs, all once again carved form the living rock. They dared to try one switch when made some stone nodules on the ceiling light up. They stayed wary and did not touch any others.

Next they found a large bowl shaped cavern where the floor was covered in stone eggs, again carved or formed from the living rock (think the egg-scene in the movie "Alien").

Next they came across a very very long tunnel with small cell-like rooms on either side. They were all empty and sealed with stone bars.

The last room they came across during the session was a truly awesome large cave with a device carved from the stone set in its center. It looked like a huge weapon, in the classic 50's style.

So right now, their ship is in orbit , the shuttle parked on the surface, a Marine waiting at the entrance to the shaft. A couple more Marines at the bottom of the shaft are investigating on their own and the PCs are wandering the miles of corridors.

Looking forward to next week. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Numenera - a review

It was with some trepidation that I started reading Monte Cook's "Numenera". I'm generally, not a fan of huge RPG books as they tend to be scourged by endless lists of rules for trivial unlikely events, or full of endless sections of character-choice spells that read like the F.T.  So I was pleasantly surprised by Numenera.

It's a 417 page PDF but inside you don't find endless lists of dry material, instead you find endless lists of interesting background that bring his world to life.

So what is the world he's made for us? It's not sci fi, at least in the classic sense. It's not fantasy in the classic sense either, instead it's an unusual blend of the two. The premise is that the game is set on Earth in the future, but billions of years in the future. Mankind as we know it has died away. Civilisations have risen and fallen until at the time of the game the rise and growth of the Ninth World (civilisation) is under way.

Humans, or human like people predominate, but there are other races too. Those that have evolved during previous eons, and some that migrated to Earth across galactic distances during some previous eons. The Earth itself is different too. The animals we know are gone, long gone, others have replaced them, the continents we know are likewise gone. In their place is a strange world littered with relics of the previous ages. From huge underground machines to man made mountains that float through the sky, the previous ages have left their mark.  

Your characters will be denizens of this world. There are three basic character classes, Warrior, Wizard and Rogue. Note that there is no magic in the Ninth World, rather there are ancient artifacts and machines that grant the user magic-like powers. I call it magic because the characters using these uncovered devices more than likely don't know how they work. The technology of the game is an unusual mix of classic medieval fantasy and super science.

A character is likely to write notes with quill and parchment, and be armed with a power lance that can cut rock! The science of this world is retarded, true there are experts here and there who have studied and learnt some of the ancient's secrets, but the majority of people have no knowledge of how they work.

So lets talk about the system. As I said , I had feared a bloated rules-fest, but that's not what we find here! It's a system based around the use of a D20. All tasks are given a Difficulty, you can multiply the Difficulty by 3 to see what you have to roll on the D20. But! Your skills, dice pools, and other bonuses generally change the Difficulty, rather than modify the roll. Thus if you are facing a lock with Difficulty 6, having the skills and equipment to pick it could reduce that difficulty by two levels, down to 4, meaning you only have to roll 12+ to succeed.

I like this concept, it's simple, it's straight forward.

Stats. Simple and straightforward again, with Might, Speed and Intellect you're not getting buried in pointless minutiae. Each stat is also a pool of "Effort" that can be spent to further reduce a tasks difficulty, this leaves your pool drained and it takes time to recover. A very nice touch.

Another nice touch...GM's won't be rolling any dice. None. Players do all the rolling.

And talking of GM's I love the way the GM can challenge the players via a "GM Intrusion". This is quite like  FATE where the GM can tag you're negative aspect, except here he can change things up and increase the chaos or difficulty. But, when they do this, they also hand the player concerned 2xp, and the player hands one of those xp to another player. What a great mechanism! It encourages story complications and player interaction.

Now unlike in D+D, these xp can be spent for a die re-roll. If you are willing to spend a couple you can gain the equivalent of a temporary skill. I know, "temporary skill" sounds a bit dodgy. It's not, if you as the player can justify it, you get the ability. The example given in the book is a good one. While robbing a palace, you notice the locks are all made by a locksmith you knew as a kid and you know the trick of picking them.  This becomes a short-term of local benefit skill.

For 3xp you can get a longer term benefit. So if you live off the land for a while you can spend 3xp and gain a skill at living off the land. Or you could discuss with the GM a +1 on the die in certain circumstances.

Of course you can spend xp to advance a level too.

Yet, the joy I gained from reading this game is not limited to the simple and evocative rules, it's the rest of the book. It is stuffed with background material. Section after section of emotive and inspiring source material, describing the creatures, the lands, the peoples and the environment. But even this is only a beginning. The game embraces the weird, the unexpected and the downright odd.  Your characters walk around waving swords as they assault a castle that's really a crashed ancient spaceship. They dig, not for diamonds, but for the ephemera and refuse of ancient times, always hoping to find an artefact that gives them the power they crave.

Everything in this world, is different from what you'd expect. Despite the map being laid out in exquisite detail with extensive descriptions there is still so much more to discover.

The rules and the background material is not all that's to be found here. There's also an excellent section for the GM. In some games these GM sections simply provide a myriad of new rules. Not here. Instead this section is actually about how to play the game. How to be a good GM, how to insert the excitement and the fun for the players. Truly good material.

After you've read all that good advice you then get four scenarios in this book. These are all very original and bring the "weird" of the Ninth World to life.

As you've probably guessed I liked this game. Everything about this PDF is great. The art is fantastic, the writing is clear, the rules are simple and best of all, the heap of background material is full enough to give you a rich full session during the first play. Go get it now!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A not so great Traveller Session, report

Friday night is Traveller night, and I don't think I did too well. I believe my reffing was a little sub standard and I can't blame the illness for that!

Having blasted the Aslan and chased them away from their secret base the heroes were travelling back to Affran on the tincan ship when the Navy sent a Cruiser to intercept and take them on board. The evidence of the Aslan invasion has got the local Head  of Station very scared. He only has a few ships which are really only used to prevent piracy (unsuccessfully). The threatened invasion can not be countered with what he has on hand, and even sending for help, it will take months to collect together an amarda.

So he decided he needed the player's abandoned Aslan ship which they left drifting in the middle of nowhere as a kind of Trojan horse. So onto the cruiser which was stripped and emptied so that most of the free space could be filled with fuel bladders, and off into the middle of nowhere.

They emerged from jump and discovered a gravitational anomaly, right where the now disappeared cathedral ship had been. They dodged that and considered the best way to board their old ship. In the end they sent across a tether and pulled themselves across towards a hole punched by meteor. One of the heroes started drifting off when he lost his grip. At the same time the marines found themselves in a fight with the space-bugs down in the darkness of the hole. A line was thrown out to the drifter but the PC doing the throwing was attacked from behind by a bug. He was saved by a spectacular shot from Mr drifter!  Eventually he got pulled back to earth the ship, but only as the marines had had enough and were pulling back.

A short discussion ensued and it was decided to use the cruisers lasers to purge the hole of bugs. BLAM!  Bugs were cleared out, the meteor was vaporized and more of the ship was damaged, but at least there was a way in now.

They moved in, battled some more bugs and found that all of the still-pressurized sections had foul air, it was poisoned by the fuel leak they left when they abandoned ship.

Up to the bridge and then down to engineering. They transhipped a few engineers from the cruiser but these needed help as they were completely unused to Aslan equipment.

Two marines on patrol for more bugs went off air, and the PCs went looking for them, and discovered the big bad end of level boss bug chewing on the marine's remains. They engaged with laser rifles scoring some good hits but not enough to stop it. The huge beast laid into them seriously wounding both PC's before they eventually took it down.

Then time passed as the engineers started getting a minimum  portion of the ship pressurized with breathable air and the jump drive on-line.

And there ends the session.  I feel it was all a bit predictable. I think I may have given the players a little shock with the near-death experience. Next week I'll do my best to make it a little more exciting.
I've written a short piece of fan-fic set in the Ninth World, and that means it's set in the universe of the RPG, Numenera. It's actually posted on Doctor Felbrigg's Mechanicorium web site.

I found the concept of a priesthood built around the study of objects from another age fascinating.  Not really a religious as such but rather scientists dressed up in religion, it reminded of Asimov's Foundation series.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Solo rules for "Ticket To Ride"

I've had Ticket to Ride for a few years now, and have pondered the possibilities of solo play on many occasions, but only today did I put in the effort to actually get a working set of rules changes going.

I've played the following through and it works quite nicely.

The first thing to say is that this is a true solitaire rule-set, you play to see how high a score you can get, rather than playing against dummy players controlled by an A.I. Having said that, you will be playing against the game, as you  would in a cooperative game.  The challenge gets harder over time as you try to improve on your previous best.

Choose a colour to play with, any colour but black. We'll be using black to block routes as the game progresses.

Set the game out as normal.
Draw three tickets. You must keep these!
Draw two train cards to start off your hand.

Now, you start alternating turns, first you, then the game, then you, then the game and so on.

On your turn you can draw train cards or tickets or play trains as normal.

All double routes are active, but you may only use one, as per the normal rules.

On the games turn you draw a ticket. Find the shortest path between the destinations. Now place "one" black train on one of the route segments along that shortest route. You can not place black trains on both parts of a double route.  If the shortest route is occupied by either your trains or the black trains, find the next shortest route between the two points (even if it shares some of the same route) and play a train to block that route.In this way, every time the game "plays", it will block a route.

After you've played the black train discard the ticket. If you run out of tickets, shuffle the discards into a new draw pile. Likewise when ever you want to draw a new ticket you should shuffle the discards back into the draw pile first.

Continue playing until either your supply of trains gets to three or less, or the supply of black trains reaches three.

There is no bonus for the longest train. Instead you get a 10pt bonus if all of the destinations on your tickets are joined together in any way.

That's it. Nice and simple.