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A Troubled Mind

This was the featured article in the October 2014 issue.

This adventure is designed for a solo player as the parent of a young child. It could be set virtually anywhere in the Imperium although for convenience this describes locations in the Spinward Marches. Deetah Marinda is a 33-year-old arcology environment engineer from Horosho who is growing increasingly aware that there’s something wrong with her seven-year-old son. At first, Sabby seemed to be having bad dreams which doctors could do nothing about, then she began to fear that there was some mental health issue going on. However, now her suspicions are that her son has psionic Talents and although she’s heard of such things in holoshows and the like, she doesn’t know where to turn. If a reason is required as to why she’s thinking along these lines, perhaps there are hints that a great grandmother may have had psionic powers. She fears the government finding out and Sabby being taken away or lobotomized to ‘cure’ him, or both.

This could be used as an introduction to psionics and could possibly be run as a small group adventure with additional PCs representing other members of the family, such as Marinda’s spouse or an older daughter. The adventure is set in 1105 al though this could be changed to any time after the Psionic Suppressions (800-826). Mongoose Traveller rules are used throughout. LBB9: Library Data has useful entries on both Psionic Institutes and the Psionic Suppressions. News items are sprinkled throughout for flavour but can be ignored; the final one hints at the coming Fifth Frontier War.

Deetah has worked for much of her life in the arcologies of Horosho where’s she’s become skilled at looking after the environmental support equipment throughout the vast constructs. She’s now handed in her notice so that she’s free to do whatever it takes to help out her seven-year-old son Sabby. The Referee should determine if her partner has died, left her and child, or is present as another PC.

Sabby is an apparently ordinary 7-year-old, generally doing well at school but increasingly suffering from night terrors and odd events such as apparently setting fire to a waste basket in his classroom although no witnesses saw him do this. He seems to be increasingly psychologically troubled.

His problems stem from having psionic ability which hasn’t been diagnosed and he can’t control. Assuming such random psionic ability does crop up in the Imperium from time to time, the Referee may wish to consider how such conditions aren’t well known. See Act Three, Scene Two for Sabby’s abilities.

Act One: A Psionic Institute in the news

One possibility for Marinda and her son might be to travel to the Zhodani Consulate to try to get tested, but firstly the Imperial propaganda that the Zhodani are enemies is hard to overcome so this isn’t an obvious option, secondly it’s illegal to make such a trip for such purposes and there have been a few high profile cases recently of people being caught, and thirdly the cost of trying to travel covertly with bribes and so on is beyond Marinda’s means. However, she’s heard a rumour of a psionic institute amongst the asteroids of Glisten (Spinward Marches 2036, A000986-F) which is only Jump 2 away and which she can easily reach.

On arrival she has four possible leads to follow which are outlined in the following scenes. They can be approached in any order, skipped altogether if the PC doesn’t think of them, or the Referee can outline the possibilities.

Scene 1

The news outlet that first published the story she’s vaguely remembered is well known across the subsector.

She can easily enough track down their offices a short journey away from the main starport, but they say they had to publish a retraction 20 days later after following up the story and finding there was nothing to it. Marinda missed the retraction. Their information led nowhere and in fact the journalist who ran the story has since been sacked.

Scene 2

If Marinda attempts to track down the journalist who first published the story, his name will be on the byline of the original piece, Jerb Mikkleman. With a bit of detective work she should be able to track him down – although it might be another hike out to yet another asteroid. At first he will be very reluctant to talk to anyone on the subject – it’s cast a shadow over his career and he wants to forget about it. But he’s still looking for the next big story and once he hears a bit of Marinda’s tale he’ll at least give her the time of day. Mikkleman will explain that he thought his sources and leads were solid but it turned out he’d been misled. He now believes it was a clever con job with several people working together to discredit the news outlet. He’s long had an interest in psions under Imperial rule and can tell all sorts of stories if Marinda is interested.

“You call that an explanation?” Mikkleman will rant showing Marinda the offending item if she’s not seen it.

Scene 3

The asteroid which the media outlet named is another possible avenue to explore. It’s not hard to get a shuttle to somewhere in the vicinity from which she can hitch a lift for the short trip to the relevant rock via a belter who is passing. There are some old played out mining caverns on the asteroid but the only signs of life here are the detritus of long gone miners and their families.

Scene 4

She could make the usual run of starport bars and dives to see if she can pick up any rumours that might be in circulation. Marinda is pretty enough that amongst these rough and ready belters she will attract a fair amount of attention. Most of it ribald, some of it teasing her about psionic institutes or dirty Zhodani mindflayers, and one guy who discreetly accosts her in a particularly seedy bar and offers to show her out to an asteroid where the institute is – for a price. He’s a conman and will dump her on an asteroid with a small population and quickly vanish. The Referee should play up the differences in Imperial attitudes with the more open attitudes of non-Imperial space later on.

In short, Glisten will prove rather a dead end. It may take a while for Marinda to eventually realize that.

Act Two: The Zhodani may be the solution

Scene 1

Meanwhile, Marinda’s son appears to be getting worse. His nightmares are increasing both in number and also their power to engender terror in the young lad. His mental aberrations seem to be getting worse as well. A particularly nasty episode in a public space on one of the Glisten asteroids means her son is taken by emergency paramedics to a hospital accident and emergency unit and before she’s really aware of what’s happening he’s being seen by psychiatric specialists. If they’re granted permission they’ll run all sorts of tests and recommend that he begins psychiatric counselling. There’ll be no mention of psionics unless Marinda chooses to bring this up. She should be aware, however, that if she does, her son is likely to be taken away from her. Amidst all of this, Marinda will overhear nurses tutting about the whole situation and one of them gossiping about a friend who had suffered for much of her life with mental issues, travelling to a Zhodani community on Tarkine in District 268 (Spinward Marches 1434, C566662-7). Other possible worlds might be Squallia, Milagro, or Singer with some adjustment to the institute description. (Alternatively, Jerb Mikkleman might have put her onto this track in which case this scene would only require the ‘incident’ and the medical opinions.) Marinda should at this point be desperate enough to try this.

Scene 2

The Referee may wish to flesh out the journey to Tarkine with other incidents germane or irrelevant to the plot. Perhaps on one world, Sabby is able to get them out of a tight spot although he isn’t quite sure how. Perhaps on another, they face particular hostility from the authorities or the locals or both because of Sabby’s ‘condition’. Now, having arrived at the planet, the aim is to get to the Zhodani psionic community and see what help she can get from them. It’s a very small group of just a few hundred people who for one reason or another have left the Consulate. Some are there to escape it, some are there in an effort to represent the race more favourably to non-Zhos. Various approaches can be made either to individuals or to organizations and the Referee may wish to detail various possibilities. However, Marinda will almost certainly be speaking to proles who can’t really help her. One might direct her to an Intendant manager but she will be unwilling to help fearing a trap being set either by the government of Tarkine or by Imperial agents known to be active in the area. The Zhodani are trying to maintain good relations with the populace and don’t want to give the appearance of subverting Imperial citizens. However, the Intendant will recommend a good bookshop in the main city which she knows has some well-regarded texts on mental healing.

Scene 3

On the verge of giving up perhaps, Marinda has few remaining options. She can try the bookshop which is a large modern establishment on several floors with displays of bookchips, printed volumes and advertising for a large variety of print and even electronic magazines which are just beginning to take Tarkine by storm as the latest thing. In the relevant section – on a higher floor way in the back of the shop – there is indeed a great section on problems of the mind just as the Intendant suggested. If Marinda is accompanied by Sabby at this point, she’ll draw the attention of a member of staff very quickly; if not, there will be a member of staff nearby who appears to be keeping a close eye on her. If Marinda shows any sign of breaking down, she’ll be offered a hot beverage and a sit down. If she merely browses for any length of time, she may be asked “can I help you?” The shop assistant is employed by the psionic institute to keep an eye out for anyone showing a particular interest in this section of the shop and with her own psionic talent can either immediately spot Sabby as needing help, or eventually gather that Marinda is genuinely seeking assistance. If Marinda hints at the kind of help she wants, the shop assistant will suggest Marinda takes Sabby to a dockworker who she’s heard can help with kids who have troubling dreams. She won’t say more than this as an additional precaution. Contact details are passed over.

Act Three: Haven

Scene 1

The dockworker, Zax Fron Ee, is at last someone who can really help. He’ll meet Marinda and Sabby near the cargo docks and take them on a small boat down an estuary. He’ll be friendly and ask them about their background and reason for travelling. After about an hour in the small boat, they’ll pull into a quiet shore where there are thirty or so beach huts a little way back from the shoreline. These huts, or perhaps chalets would be a better description, aren’t really permanent residences but used as holiday houses in the better months of the year.

The Haven Institute

The average Imperial citizen, if they think about them at all, have clichéd images of psionic institutes that can range from the monolithic structures of venerable architecture that supposedly date from before the Psionic Suppressions but are probably only the fantasy of holovids, through to the secretive university department with hypersecurity. In fact, these days, with Imperial attitudes to psionics, they’re more likely to be a run-down café with “extended” kitchens or an old apartment block basement with two or three alternative, and well-disguised, exits. The Haven Institute is anything but what might be expected. The staff are a wide variety of humanity: Zhodani Consulate émigrés, humans from Foreven sector and non-aligned worlds in the Spinward Marches, the odd exiled Imperial psion, and even representatives of a couple of psionic minor races. The main ‘institute’ is a series of beach huts on one side of an estuary and the staff barely think of themselves as an institute at all – more a collection of like-minded individuals trying to help those in need. There’s an oil refinery across the water so the view isn’t spectacular although there’s a certain charm to the sun setting behind the smoke stacks and storage tanks. The ‘front’ end of the Institute is the shop assistant in the city centre bookshop who vets any enquirers long before they are anywhere near the real action.

Scene 2

After the stresses, rigours and perhaps hostility of their travel, the Marindas are now in the very different experience of a very laid back, warm and welcoming atmosphere. Zax takes a lead in introducing them to one or two key colleagues who’ll be working with the young boy. One of them may have the ability of Dream Reading3 to help understand Sabby’s fears and calm him. They’ll be given an empty beach hut to themselves with basic but serviceable facilities and told to make themselves at home.

Sabby’s testing will result in the following:

Psionic strength = 10 with +2 for his age instead of a negative DM for being over 18. The Referee can ignore this latter if desired. It doesn’t affect the rolls below showing what order Sabby is tested.
 

Telepathy roll 12 + 2 (psionic strength) + 4 (Telepathy DM) = 18
Telekinesis roll 7 + 2 + 2 – 1 = 10
Clairvoyance roll 11 + 2 + 3 – 2 = 14
Awareness roll 10 + 2 + 1 – 3 = 10
Teleport roll 7 + 2 + 0 – 4 = 5

The above gives Sabby Telepathy 0, Telekinesis 0, Clairvoyance 0 and Awareness 0 and of course the denizens of Haven will begin to train him in controlling his Talents. This will slowly reduce and eventually remove his nightmares which were a result of one of the forms of Telepathy impressing him with all the minds around in a terrifying manner. He may also be able to develop into quite a powerful psion. (Although the above die rolls were “straight out of the box,” as it were, if the Referee feels they give too much power, they should be adjusted as desired. Of course, they could always be rolled at the time.)

Scene 3

Deetah Marinda will now have to decide on futures for her and her son. Perhaps it will be while sitting on the pebbles chatting with Zax as the stars come out one evening. While Sabby is so young she may want to stay with him and the institute can no doubt find work for someone with her skills to support them while the lad undergoes training. The Institute may become their home for the next few years, or after a suitable period of development to get the boy’s abilities under control, Marinda may feel that she wants them to return to a ‘normal’ kind of life without training to the highest degree possible. But at least Sabby will have a future to look forward to – providing, of course, he is discreet about his abilities in Imperial space.

Characters

Deetah Marinda
4A8B66, 33 year old former Civilian: Worker
STR 4 (-1), DEX A (+1), END 8 (0), INT B (+1), EDU 6 (0), SOC 6 (0)
Homeworld: Horosho (Spinward Marches 2138, C3378A6-A1
Skills: Engineer (life support) 3, Computers 1, Diplomat 1, Drive (wheeled) 1, Gun Combat (slug pistol) 1, Mechanic 1, Melee (unarmed combat) 1, Streetwise 1, Trade (civil engineering) 1, Carouse 0, Flyer (grav) 0, Melee (blade) 0, Physical Science (electronics) 0, Steward 0, Trade (food preparation) 0
Equipment: Ally, Slug Pistol, 2 Ship Shares
Sabby Marinda
457545, 7 year old (UPP at 18 will be 77A685)

Notes

  1. As given in The Spinward Marches. T5 Second Survey data at www.TravellerMap.com gives the UWP as C4378A6-A
  2. See GURPS: Psionic Institutes, p.11.
  3. See Freelance Traveller 056:4