Monday, August 27, 2012

Report From Xudriss II

I mentioned in Thursday's brief post that I had just demoed Hereticwerks' Rogue Space scenario, "Quick Score on Xudriss II" for Diaspora with my gaming group. We played at Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota.

Rogue Space is an exceptionally lean and cool classic SF RPG, and are looking forward to the second edition of the game with his wife's  it is very cool that certain mentats - like Jim and Jody Garrison of Hereticwerks (see their creation, the LITHUS sector) and Porky of Porky's Expanse are creating great new content for the game.

But my group likes FATE - and Diaspora - so we play that.

Some scenario SPOILERS follow.

"Quick Score on Xudriss II" is a very linear adventure. People have been recruited through a labor agent for a special off-world mission. Their employers on this mission are a mysterious group called the Consortium. They are dropped onto a rogue planet, are given the mission assignment, and have only an hour to reach the mission target - or their suits will kill them.

Given that we were playing a demo anyway, this sounded pretty straightforward and fun to run. I created a hex map, rather than a zone map, with a d6 randomizer around hex 03.07 to determine in which hex each PC lands at planetfall. The PCs came from orbit in landing cylinders rather like the eggs that Mobile Infantry use in Heinlein's Starship Troopers. (At least that was my take on the CraShell, the default insertion method.) The target was in hex 03.00.

Jagged lines are hills;
parallel lines are slopes.
Each hex on the map had one of three types of terrain: flat, slope, or hills. Slope and hills were quite dangerous, being filled with metal and obsidian shards, as well as being inundated with electrostatically clingy dust. I assigned a move value to each hex type (5 min for clear; 10 min for slope; 20 min for hills, 15 min for slope/hill mixed). I also gave slope and hill hexes damage skill levels (the latter are the numbers which appear on the individual hexes), as well as rating a couple of plain hexes (00.04, 06.05) with a damage rating for dangerous explosive outgassing. Basically, I rolled for these hexes when players traversed them. Players rolled their Athletics to resist injury from the metal and glass shards, which are ubiquitous in the slope and mountain hexes.

At the outset of the mission, one of the players made a comment about how if they made a mistake in plotting their movements, the GM would kill them. I gently replied: "No, the planet will kill you." This is a pretty unusual scenario for me to run, because I tend NOT to run railroads and I am pretty uninterested in death-traps. I did test the map in advance to make sure there were a couple ways to get to the target within 60 minutes.

One player chose to go off in another direction from the other two. He chose to move through treacherous hill and slope terrain and took enough damage to kill someone - except he was wearing a Hardflex skin suit, which reduces 6 shifts per attack. Lucky him! More than anything, I think this player wanted to test whether there were different directional solutions to getting to the target on time. In hex 05.00, he found a dead Achernarian, buried up to his/her/its space helmet in the gravel from a slope.

Curiously, the PCs did not use Aspects much (at all?) during the trek to the target, even though there were a few situations where it would have been very helpful. Not everyone can invoke under pressure Perhaps the timed and deadly nature of the exercise suppressed the use of Aspects? Something to ponder...

All three players made it to the mission target: an alien bioship. After they arrived, the PCs were able to download the remainder of their mission briefing. The Consortium had tasked them with collecting samples of the plant life forms on the bioship.
I deviated a bit from the script by making the ship have an echinodermiform design rather than the seed pod vibe as described in the original scenario. So call me a Stapledonian; I can take it! In flight, the five arms all tuck behind the center of the body. The end of each arm is a propulsion cone. I made other changes to the scenario as well. I placed another ship in hex 00.00, which placed it in close proximity to the echinodermiform ship. It was a classical UFO on stilts. This was an Achernarian ship. An Achernarian and two Shen mercenaries hired by the Achernarians had been captured during their incursion into the echinodermiform ship. They were being conveniently stored in one of the echinodermiform ship's food vacuoles.

Then the PCs went off script. Instead of focusing on the mission (collecting alien plant biosamples from the target bioship), they decided to try to communicate with it, first by radio, and then telepathically. It worked, and the ship communicated how it had crashlanded on the rogue planet (a Consortium ambush, anyone?). They learned that the bioship is in fact a bioark: it carries the life-archive of a dying world in which plants were the dominant intelligent species.

The PCs broke with the mission parameters to try and help the bioship get off planet. The curtains closed on the scenario at that point because the game store was closing.  With a Consortium extraction team on its way in to collect the PCs biosamples, they would have faced a tough fight to get the bioship and themselves safely off-planet!


  1. Sounds fun! Was there a connection between the dead Achernarian and the ones the group met later at the bioark?

  2. Yes, he was part of that crew, and had wandered off to explore something interesting in the slopes.

  3. I like the timed journey -- a fun idea. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Interesting that you deviated by converting the Bioship over to an Echinodermic version, as that was the original form we had used, but we opted to go with the 'seed-pod' form as it seemed simpler to adapt or describe to players. That was a nice touch adding-in extra Achernarians and the Shen as well. Rather a fun twist.

    We're really pleased to hear that the PC's did eventually break free of the 'script,' as that was our hope/intention. We set things up like a combination of Burn Notice and Aliens/Starship Troopers, with the hope that the players would quickly figure out some way to subvert or wiggle loose of their nefarious, remote control corporate pay-masters. The Bioship is their ticket out of the small-time spook-circles...and it could lead them into the big time fairly quickly, much as happens in Andre Norton's excellent Galactic Derelict. And you are quite correct--the GM won't kill anyone; Xudriss II is an extremely hostile environment. It will kill anyone who gets sloppy or takes it for granted. Pitting a group's wits and resourcefulness against dangerous terrain and environmental effects is a fun challenge that goes beyond what one might have expected based upon the fairly rigid para-military set-up at the start. Again, the railroading at the beginning is part and parcel of the genre conventions of covert ops/black ops sorts of scenarios and it falls away fairly quickly, like a Crashell on impact, once things get going.

    Good stuff! Hope your group had a fun time. We're in the process of expanding on this basic outline and we'd welcome whatever feed-back you/your group would care to direct our way so we can make things better, faster, stronger...whatever.
    Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to jazz up our little scenario. It is much appreciated.
    Have a great weekend!

  5. Thanks so much for your comments and your post today over on Hereticwerks! I had a great time running the scenario, and the players seemed to enjoy it too. I always worry that my scenarios are too railroady, but I a beginning to see things a bit more in light of the Gumshoe system playtests, which found that players enjoyed GM prepared railroads and felt like they had agency. What they really hated and felt WERE railroady (paradoxically) were completely made-up-as-we-go scenarios. :)

  6. Oh, and the Shen... just seemed to fit!

  7. That was a good read, and some fine new ideas to add to what was already solid material. The atmosphere of the setup itself and the riches in the range of compatible inspirations really come through too, and it's good to get more thoughts from Gj. And thanks for the link - mentat is very kind..!