Hello, readers! As you know, I've been blogging about Stars Without Number quite a bit lately. Well, I finally got to run a game! On Monday, I spent a few hours with my regular D&D club and ran through an adventure I'd been planning. For my first time as the GM, I don't think it could have gone better. The players seemed to enjoy the firefights and character expression opportunities, and I was surprised by their creativity. I learned a few lessons along the way, which should help improve future campaigns. But first, I imagine you'd like to hear about how that adventure went, eh?
As our adventure begins, we open on Tarsus Damascus, the psychic healer, and James Carrigan, a scientist who comes from nobility, aboard the EEES Swanson. The ship is carrying a cargo of uranium fuel from the mining colony of Spintu to the shipyards of Drastus. It's a rickety old tub, but it's served its captain well for many years. Little does the crew know that this is their last voyage.
When the ship is about halfway to its destination, James and Tarsus are sent by the captain to investigate a noise in the engine room. "It's probably just some rats in the hold," he says. When the two arrive at the correct bulkhead, they're attacked by buggers, a type of centipede-like nuisance common aboard space-faring vessels. They successfully squash one bug, but the nest is too large for our heroes to exterminate. The worms have choked the reactor and chewed through wires. The ship is about to crash! Our heroes make it to the escape pods just in time, as the captain goes down with his ship.
Not in Kansas Anymore
Our heroes touch down in the center of a grassy green field, surrounded by a ring of mountains. This is Novo Uno, a desolate tomb world that has rebuffed all colonization attempts. As our heroes open their escape pods, they look to the skies to see the rest of the crew crash into the rocky slopes of those dark mountains. There's only one way to go: toward the ruins of an old city. A well-trodden dirt path leads the way.
Before long, our heroes hear loud, crunching footsteps and raucous laughter. Tribal raiders! Tarsus and James hide in the tall grass and let the raiders pass. James attempts to make a sneak attack, but just barely misses the chieftain's head. Our heroes have been spotted! How will they get out of this situation?
Realizing he's outnumbered, James quickly fires his laser pistol into the grass, starting a brush fire between himself and these stone-age brutes. He begins roaring at the top of his lungs, "I am Ra, the sun-god! Kneel before me, mortals!" Shocked and terrified, the tribesmen do as he demands. "Drop your weapons!" commands James, and the tribesmen acquiesce. Tarsus uses his telekinesis to pull a spear off the ground and into James's outstretched hand. Thoroughly cowed, the two lesser warriors run away. But not the chieftain. When James asks him to render a sacrifice, he throws a grenade... but, crucially, forgets to pull the pin. James and Tarsus open fire, reducing the once-proud warrior to ash. With a useful grenade and some primitive stone-age weaponry, our heroes head off to the village, hoping to meet some kinder folks there.
And so they do. The guards at the gate are mere children, and welcome the new sky-people with wry grins. Their names (improvised by the GM) are Runny-Nose and Skinned-Knee. Our heroes quickly decide they'd rather call them Jack and Jill. In the village square, our heroes meet the other sky-people: Adepts Abigail and Brittany of the Alexandrian Preceptors and their assistant, a xeno-archaeologist named Zisha Alatus, who happens to be another PC. The Adepts thank our heroes for ridding them of the raider chieftain, but they have a bigger problem. A disease has been wiping out the village's crops, and if new seed stock isn't retrieved from the asteroid Vault, the people will starve come winter.
Among the Firmament
The Adepts loan our heroes a shuttle to make the trip to the asteroid base, and Zisha decided to come along to make sure the ship isn't stolen. James considers taking the shuttle for a joyride around the sector, but at the prodding of Tarsus and the GM, grows a conscience and decides to help the poor village primitives. They arrive at the asteroid base without incident.
Once their ship is connected to the airlock and our heroes step outside, they discover three corpses that have apparently been here a long time. Each was armed with a laser pistol, but one of them had an additional piece of equipment: a metastasis projector, one of the deadliest bio-weapons known to mankind. These corpses clearly belonged to pirates. Tarsus takes the metastasis projector, knowing he can use it should the occasion arise.
On the other side of the door, a mad robot with no legs waits in ambush. It crawls toward our heroes, shrieking in its electronic voice, "Pirates! Pirates!" They dispatch it rather quickly, armed as it is with mere fists.
In the entryway, our heroes see that there are three vaults: A, B, and C. They decide to check Vault A first, and are greeted by another malfunctioning security droid, this one armed with a laser pistol. It's a long and drawn-out firefight, with both sides taking heavy casualties. Zisha is shot in the neck and promptly killed, but Tarsus comes to the rescue with his healing powers and restores her to life. Finally, the robot is killed, while Zisha's wounds are treated with one of the party's med-kits.
Vault B is empty, but Vault C contains the seeds they need, along with two more homicidal robots! Tarsus quickly shuts the door. "Not again. Not today," he intones gravely. Our heroes decide to find the security hub and shut off the robots without fighting them.
After crawling through maintenance ducts, our party arrives in a large room with a wall covered in security monitors. This must be the security hub. "Pirates!" a shrill voice squeaks. An AI? "Pirates?" it asks, this time unsure. "Could be pirates. Pirates in disguise! Better to be safe than sorry. Better to assume," it says, satisfied with its logic. Yes, the station is run by an AI, and an un-braked AI at that. It's clearly spent too much time alone, without humans to guide and monitor its cogitation. Perhaps this station has been un-manned for the entirety of the 600-year Silence.
James steps up, armed with his scientist's knowledge of maltech operating procedures. He tries to reason with the machine, to calm it enough to allow them unhindered access to Vault C. And he's successful! "I am God! I am Ra!" he yells at the machine. At first, the machine is reluctant to accept this statement as truth. But eventually, it realizes that only a leap of faith can save it from its boundless skepticism.
"I will accept you as postulate, Lord," says the AI, named Golem. "What do you desire of me?"
"I want the seeds from Vault C," says James. "Have the robots carry the crate to our ship. And while you're at it, I'd like the robots to be my servants."
"Yes, Lord!" says the AI enthusiastically. "Yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord, amen!" it sings.
Our heroes arrive back at Novo Uno without further incident, delivering the seeds to the Adepts. They're very thankful, along with the entire village. Thankful enough, it turns out, to loan our heroes the shuttle for a trip to Drastus. From there, it should be easy enough to find a ship to carry them wherever they desire. And so we conclude our first adventure.
One of the players in this session was my regular DM, and he had this advice for me: "Don't let us see behind the curtain too much." At some points, I tipped my hand perhaps a bit too much, saying things like, "These enemies aren't supposed to be giving you this much trouble," and "I forgot to name this character, let me come up with something." That sort of self-deprecating honesty is natural for me, but it doesn't help the suspension of disbelief grow strong. So for the future, I'll be sure to be more discreet with my improvisations and plans. Thanks for the tip, Michael! (You should check out his blog, Sheep and Sorcery.)
Another thing I noticed was in the combat. Every unit in the game, both player and enemy, is a bit of a glass cannon, capable of dealing lots of damage, but taking very little. So if I want to avoid player death, but maintain a challenge, I could turn up the enemies' HP but turn down their damage. Hopefully, these bullet-spongey enemies won't feel dull to fight.
And finally, I learned to never underestimate player creativity. Things like James's attempt to abandon the mission and his creative dispatching of the tribal raiders, as well as simple actions like closing a door to avoid combat, came as unexpected for me. In a way, that's good. Tabletop games like this allow for creative improvisation in a way that no videogame ever can. But on the other hand, I should be able to better anticipate the actions of my players, right? So from now on, I'm going to think harder about ways the players could approach a situation, and try to allow for as many different approaches as possible. I plan on having a social boss battle in my next adventure, so we'll see if I can manage that well.
That's all for now, dear readers. Have an excellent day!