#2, #3: 76 Plotlets, Parts 1 and 2: Space Adventures
This article originally appeared in Shannon's column at rpg.net as Fifth Imperium #2 on August 6, 2009 and Fifth Imperium #3 on September 14, 2009, and was reprinted in issue #001 of Freelance Traveller.
Recently, a planned RPG session fell through, and it would have been ideal for me to offer up a Traveller adventure its place. Unfortunately I had almost no time to prepare and wasn't ready to run off-the-cuff.
For such situations in the future, I offer up "76 Plots", a series of adventure ideas which could be used to fill an hour or two of play or could be developed into a full adventure with an hour or so of additional work.
This article covers my one-off adventure set in space and generally presumes that the players have their own ship. They're intended to be run at anytime, when you need to fill a gaming session, and your players are between worlds. Pick one that you like, or else roll 1d6 for adventure type, followed by 1d6 for plot twist.
1. Signal GK
As they jump into a new system, the players receive a distress signal. According to the Imperium's rules of space, they must respond to it.
- It's a trap! Human raiders, Vargr corsairs, or other deviants wait in hiding for fools to rush in.
- The ship can't take any more! The maneuver drives are firing madly and the GK ship is spinning out of control. The players need to get over to the ship without damaging themselves and then solve the basic problem.
- It's an artifact. The GK signal is very weak because it's been running undetected for hundreds (thousands?) of years. The players only noticed it because their jump landed them about 50 diameters' further out then required. Now they get to explore a cool artifact ship.
- It's not what it appears. Some interstellar alien beastie is giving off a signal that's a lot like GK. The players will need to explore enough to determine there's no real ship in danger, then might want to bring back data for the scientific community.
- The ship is caught in a spatial anomaly. Black hole? Strangely curved space? Super-magnetic comet? Whatever it is, they need help getting out. (Watch next month for a "Spatial Anomaly" chart.)
- It's some kids out for a joy ride. What, that button sent off a GK signal? Fah, it was surely all in good fun. What will the players do about these noble trouble makers?
For more, see Signal GK, GDW's Traveller Adventure 13.
2. The Silent Space Station
Coasting into (or out of) a system, the players realize that a well-known space station out by one of the gas giants has gone entirely dark. It's not emitting any energy, nor does it respond to any communications.
- They're dead! Some malevolent force has rampaged through the station, killing nearly everyone on board. It might be an escaped animal, a strange stellar beastie, or some larger force of aliens (see also, the following plot twist). Players may need to rescue survivors aboard the station, recover valuable data, and/or kill the beasties.
- It's an invasion. Someone has taken over the station. It could be a rival planet, the Zhodani, or a rival corporation. They've currently got everything turned off, hoping that the players will go on by.
- It's an experiment gone wrong. Some scientific experiment has gotten out of control and has taken the entire station offline. Players will have to put things right.
- It's a psionic experiment gone wrong. See #3, above, but as players help put things right, they realize that the experiment was psionic in nature. Will the players try to report this? Will the staff try to stop them?
- It's a trap! (An ever popular choice.) The players are being purposefully lured to the station, perhaps by the station personnel, perhaps by some old foe.
- It's purposefully been abandoned. Some time ago, someone (a corporation, a scientific community, a local government) shut down the station for a good reason (lack of funds, a plague, failing scientific experiments). Now, the players get to nose around and find some interesting stuff that's been abandoned, and maybe even find a way to get the station back on line by defeating the old problem.
For a longer look at the abandoned space station motif, see GDW's Death Station, part of Double Adventures 3.
3. Special Ships
When the players jump into a system, they quickly encounter another ship of note.
- It's a hostile war ship. The players have stumbled into either a local conflict or the start of a war. (If you're in Imperial space and it's a Zhodani war ship, things are probably not good!) The players must make peace with the ship and/or get out of harm's way as soon as possible.
- It's a friendly war ship (as much as a war ship can ever be friendly) and they need help. They might need support in an upcoming battle or repair from a recent one. Of course, even if things look peaceful now, there's no guarantee that a less friendly war ship isn't right on their heels.
- It's a merchant, a simple trading ship. Perhaps they'd love to have the players over to do some trading before they dive deeper in system, or perhaps they've been looking for someone just like the players to help collect a certain rare item.
- It's a scout. They want some help looking into a recent discovery in a nearby system, and don't have the time to go all the way down the main planet's gravity well and not. If some of the players are detached ("retired") scouts, they can be brought back up to active duty, else the scouts might offer the players some pay.
- It's a weird alien ship. Give your players an opportunity to interact with beasties not commonly met. The Droyne are an ever popular choice, but in the Spinward Marches it might equally be the K'kree or the Hivers. It could also be a powerful minor race never met before.
- It's a megacorp's flagship. Perhaps they want the players to do a little mission for them or perhaps the players are just in the way.
For more looks at possible ships you could meet, see Steve Jackson Games' Behind the Claw, which features a much more extensive "Starship Encounters Table" on pages 136-140, plus some ideas for "Possible Starship Missions" on page 141.
4. Spatial Anomalies
The players stumble upon a spatial anomaly which offers the possibility of scientific exploration or danger, perhaps both.
- Black Hole. The mother of all spatial anomalies presents itself to the players and also offers many adventure possibilities. Why is the black hole here? What happened to the system? Is there anything interesting stuck in the black hole?
- Wormhole. Something unheard of, a stable wormhole, has appeared in the system. Why is it here? Where does it lead?
- Supernova. The system's sun is about to go nova. Planets, space stations, and starships might need to be evacuated. The rapidly fluctuating ionosphere of the sun could cause communications problems or even weirder problems with other ship systems. Longer term, what sent a supposedly stable sun off the deep end. (Could the Darrians be involved?)
- Asteroid! There are just too many bodies in most star systems to map. Sadly, this has resulted in an asteroid impacting something. Perhaps the system's main world, perhaps another ship, perhaps the players' own vehicle. Rescue will doubtless be required. Things could get even more exciting if more asteroids come smashing down, perhaps suggesting a purposeful attack.
- Quantum Disturbance. Something has upset the very fabric of time in this area. One or more ships from the past or future suddenly pop into view. With the rich history of the Traveller universe laid out in front of you, it should be easy to quickly create the background for these unexpected time travellers. What disagreements arise when they suddenly find themselves elsewhen? Is there any way to get them home?
- Migrating Species. Space is full of utterly amazing things. Some of them are even alive. The players encounter a herd of gigantic creatures which migrate between the stars like huge stellar whales. The players might need to protect local ships and stations from these largely mindless beasts. Or, they might want to investigate them, perhaps even communicate.
Misjumps are a trope in Traveller that might just be used a bit much. However if you use unrefined fuel or if you're sloppy with your calculations or if you jump too near a gravity well ... you might just find yourself somewhere other than expected.
- A Galaxy Far, Far Away. The misjump lands the players somewhere very far from home. First they'll have to overcome communications problems with the locals. Then, they'll have to start a long trek back!
- Personal Disaster! Ships often don't survive misjumps. Can the players hold their ship together long enough to get somewhere safe after it suffers massive damage from misjump?
- Between the Stars. A misjump lands the players somewhere far from refueling sites. Natural resources could allow them to refuel, if the players are up to the dangers. Alternatively, a required stay in low berths might project the travellers into their own future.
- Shared Disaster! Up the stakes for a disastrous misjump by landing the players right in another ship. The two are welded permanently together, and both ready to go up in flames. The personal disaster could be augmented by rising tensions between the two crews.
- Lost in J-Space. The players' ship ends up stuck in Jump Space. They can only be rescued by other misjumping ships, who might get a chance to briefly dock with them while they too are out-of-sync with the universe. This basically imagines the other side of the Challenge adventure I refer to below.
- Out of the Universe! The players end up somewhere far beyond the universe that they know. Perhaps a pocket universe created by the Ancients. Perhaps a strange realm where physics aren't the same and mere survival will be a challenge.
This topic seems to be covered a lot in the published material. One Crowded Hour is a Mongoose Traveller adventure offering a session-length adventure as disaster strikes a misjumping passenger liner. "The Derlict" in the just-released Signs & Portents #72 provides a between-the-stars adventure (whereas The Death of Wisdom, GDW's novel of The New Era, kickss off with a different take on the same topic). Long Way Home doesn't quite call its core problem a misjump, but the players do hit a "hyperspace tunnel" while in Jump Space, leading to the galaxy-far-far-away scenario.
Finally, The Abyss Rift in the Spinward Marches offers a unique nexus for misjumps. "Fated Voyage" in Challenge #46 contains the "Lost in J-Space" adventure that I mentioned above, though it's written from the side of the players encountering a lost ship.
6. In Medias Res
To a certain extent, whenever a starship precipitates out of Jump Space they appear in medias res in the system. The majority of the plot hooks thus far involve situations that were already in process and which quickly pull the players in as a result. However what follows are some suggestions for really in medias res situations.
Herein the players suddenly find themselves in a situation that isn't really understandable, but which they have to react to immediately.
- Battle! Two ships are fighting each other. It you want, roll what one or both of those ships are on table #3, above. Just to be sure the players get involved, you can fire on them, have one of the ships call for help, or let the players recognize one of the ships as an old friend (or enemy).
- War! If you want to up the stakes, turn the battle into a war with tens of ships on either side. In this type of situation, you'll need to work even harder to get the players involved. See the suggestions above, give the players a connection to the system, which is clearly under some sort of siege, or start things off by having someone in the Imperium ask the players to stop a war in the system before it's too late (and before they arrive and discover that it already is!).
- Stop that Ship! This command comes from the local planetary government. There's no time to explain, as the ships going to get out to Jump range in a few minutes if the players, who are right in the way, don't do something.
- Help! A single survivor floats in a vacc suit, or maybe there's a launch with a couple of people in it. Perhaps the PCs see another ship Jump out, just as they appear in-system. In any case, the survivors have a woeful tale to tell the players, the gist of which requires the players to quickly chase after the ship which left these people to die.
- Planet Busters! The players arrive in system just in time to see the death throes of one of the system's outer worlds, as it's blown apart by a planet-busting ship of phenomenal strength. In all likelihood, it's an Ancient artifact gone awry, and the players will have to figure out how to put a stop to it.
- Civil War. Not all battles are in space! Upon arriving in system, the players get a plea from help from the local system's main world, where a civil war has just broken out. How can the players deal with something so big, and even more importantly, which side should they join?
That's it for my space plotlets. Next issue I'm going to continue my look at Traveller settings by highlighting the many different places within the Imperium that you can play in, then in a couple of months I'll be back with 36 more plotlets, this time all adventure hooks that could occur on just about any planet the players are visiting.