Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Critical Vector - Amber Zone Reviews # 33

Amber Zone: Critical Vector, from JTAS #20 by William H Keith Jr.

It's the end of the world as we know it.

Location: Vendetierre, a backwater middling-tech planet. No location for this planet is given in the OTU.

Patron: Everybody on the planet. Seriously.

Mission: Vendetierre's number has come up; there's a Killer Asteroid on the way and the PCs have the only ship in the system. So it's up to them to divert or destroy the threat before it wipes out all the people on the planet.

Complications: In one sense, this mission is very simple. Find a way to divert or destroy the asteroid before it collides with the planet. This is not complicated, but it will be very hard.  The asteroid is huge, it is only about 96 hours away from impact, and if they don't pull this off, BOOM! Everyone Dies.

Payoff:The successful PCs can pretty much write their own checks at that point.

Strong Points: Suit up, Travellers, it's time to be Big Damn Heroes. The idea of cracking open an asteroid is a fun adventure concept that has appeared in a lot of science fiction. I had not realized how popular until I read this Wikipedia article. The PCs can try just about anything, and get to do space walks, and blow stuff up! The ticking clock aspect makes it dramatic, as does the fact that cracking the asteroid is the only thing they can reasonably do to save more than the merest handful of the locals. 

 If it turns out that the PCs can't prevent the disaster, the referee could then build a whole new campaign around disaster recovery. What will Vendetierre look like after an asteroid collision?  What if a few people did survive, what then?  Could they rebuild the society?  Should they just transport the few survivors off-planet and leave a dead world behind?  Morbid as that may be, a post-disaster campaign has lots of potential.

The PCs do have the option of agreeing to shuttle a few wealthy persons off-planet and leave the rest of them to their fate. The referee is encouraged to make this option as difficult as possible if the PCs want to try it. As referee, I would take steps to ensure such a decision haunts them for a long time. Talk about a reputation: "that's the crew that left a whole world to die, all for the sake of profit."  Public opinion if not Imperial opinion would be against them from that point on.

Weak Points: If you're trying to maintain any amount of hard sci-fi seriousness in your game, you're asking for a big, big debate. Are tactical nuclear weapons going to significantly move, let alone destroy, a space object described as a 50 kilometer wide rock & a "mountain of nickle (sic)-iron” that's moving at 30 km per second? The folks over at TVTropes explained this pretty well: Sci-Fi writers have no sense of energy.(see the bit on the movie Armageddom, under Film). The Wikipedia article referenced above makes it sound like serious scientists think that it might work. Hey, it's a game, go with whatever will be fun.

There is also an inconsistency in the write-up of the introduction. The PCs are supposed to be delivering a cargo of industrial widgets, which sounds like they had been hired by a local firm; but the text says that their arrival was "sudden and unexpected". So which was it?  This is a minor issue, but worth mentioning.

The asteroid Vesta

What I'd change: I have already used this adventure with my PCs. However, the asteroid was a comet, and therefore made of ice, and it was not on a collision course with a planet. The goal was to fragment the comet and harvest the bits to use as a new water source for a near-desert planet. I made the comet a lot smaller than the 50 km behemoth in play here.

In My Traveller Universe:This could happen anywhere, of course, and with a hard sci-fi orientation, even a TL-15 planet would have trouble diverting such a massive rock. However, in keeping with my pattern with these reviews of trying to match a planet IMTU with the planet given; I would set this adventure on Venestia, near the Stedhard Alliance. The starport is low-grade, the tech is TL9, and the population is in the low millions.

Map: As this adventure takes place almost exclusively in space, no map is really needed. The referee could easily sketch out a range band map, with each range band representing 12 hours of asteroid flight time. 

Images courtesy of NASA

1 comment:

  1. There's a scene in Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer where some scientists are explaining to a reporter how much energy a comet that is going to hit the Earth is going to release.

    Excellent explanation. And hey, it's even on the Internet, legally. :)