Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thoughtwaves - Amber Zone Reviews # 22

Check out the series introduction here.

Amber Zone: Thoughtwaves, by John M Ford from JTAS # 13
A mysterious sub-marine pyramid structure. What danger or revelation is contained within it?

Location: Kehaan, a planet in the uninhabited 899-076 system in the Vilis subsector.

Patron: The administration of Weishaupt University, also of the Vilis subector

Mission: The PCs are to rescue an archaeological team that was captured on Kehaan by the Zhodani when they invaded the star system, in the course of the Fifth Frontier War. Any data the team has compiled should be recovered as well.

Payoff: Cr 100,000 per scientist, Cr 500,000 for all of their data.

Complications: Plenty. First, the archaeological site is underwater on a planet with an atmosphere that isn't breathable without equipment. Everything has to be sealed up. The survey team is examining an apparent alien artifact; a step-pyramid structure on the sea floor under 40 meters of water. Second, there is the occupation force of Zhodani soldiers. It is only eight men and two officers, but they are professional soldiers, equipped to (probably) TL 13+; and the two officers are both telepaths. They will give any PC group a serious fight; and the Imperium is not going to come to the rescue. 

The Zhodani arrived with a small task force to take control of the planet, uncontested of course, but in the landing a Zhodani gunboat destroyed the survey team's submersible ATV, killing two scientists. As a result, there is very little goodwill between the two groups. The commanding officer of the Zhodani has allowed them to continue their investigation of the site as a sign of good will, but is unwilling to allow any of the Imperials to leave.

Third, in recent weeks weird things have begun to happen. The two officers have been subject to random psionically induced headaches and other discomforts, which at first they thought was an attack by the archaeologists. A psi-scan of the scientists has ruled that out, but cost the officers whatever good will they might have had with the Imperials. One officer has tried to psionically examine the topmost level of the pyramid, but is being blocked. 

Tensions and tempers are rising with each psi episode, and someone may decide to become less than civil. And lastly, there's the curious circumstance that some of the scientists have seen what they think is the ghost of one of their dead colleagues . . .

Strong Points: This adventure has great atmosphere
from the setting: dim red lighting and dripping corridors, to the mystery to solve. This is a real sci-fi adventure; the players will not have trouble remembering that they are not on Earth. Even if they solve the mystery of the alien artifact, there is still the more conventional problem of the soldiers who have orders to not allow anyone to leave the planet. The PCs can fight or negotiate, but in either case it will not be easy.

Another well done aspect of this adventure: the author points out that the players can take the part of the scientists, or the Zhodani, and leave the 'rescue' element out of it altogether!

Weak Points: The setup, because it is so specific and detailed, works best in the OTU in the time line of the Fifth Frontier War. Re-casting it any where or any when else will be very complicated. As written, the alien construct is a macguffin; the PCs will not be able to use it and certainly not take it with them if they escape. Maybe that's not a weak point, but it could be a tantalizing treasure to dangle before the PCs, who have no chance of getting it.

What I'd change: Nothing apart from setting details to move the adventure into my Traveller universe. This is a well thought out and well written adventure that stands up as it is. This is one of the best Amber Zones I've read.

In My Traveller Universe: It is hard to say where I could put this in my Traveller universe, as I do not have a society analogous to the Zhodani. If I were to include one, I would probably put it in the Weitzlar or Wilds area, away from the mainstream of the galaxy. 

Maps: The referee will have to draw up a map of the pyramid's interior, the adventure describes the structure in general terms. A map of the on-land and underwater portions of the archaeological site will be helpful but not essential.  

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