Friday, March 25, 2016

The Birthday Plot - Amber Zone Reviews # 38

The Birthday Plot by Keith Douglas, from JTAS # 23

Location:Efate (Regina/SM 0105 A-646930-D) shortly after the end of the Fifth Frontier War.

Efate's celebration of the war's end

Patron:A dying man in an alley. He mumbles some semi-coherent words before dying, including a reference to a birthday plot. Now it's up to the PCs!

Mission:Discover what the dying man meant by his final words. Uncover the truth of the plot, and counter it.

Complications:Without saying too much about it, the PCs encounter an adversary in this adventure which is unlike any that they've dealt with before. The PCs are in serious danger of being killed.

"You'll never see me coming."

Payoff:The dying man offers no money, but if the PCs are successful in thwarting the plot, there may be others who will be willing to shower rewards on them. This should not be all money, either. The PCs should be hailed as heroes and maybe become media celebrities, and gain reaction bonuses for a while. Astute players could leverage a boost to their SOC characteristic from all this.

Strong Points: A simple mystery combined with a powerful adversary. It is unlikely that the players will get stuck as to what to do. Dealing with the adversary will be where the real planning has to happen. Their adversary can be out-thought or out-maneuvered, but will eventually have to be out-fought. 

Weak Points: The bulk of the adventure text is dedicated to describing the actions and motivations of the adversary, rather than the details of the plot. Once the PCs are on the right line, the referee will have to make up a lot of details. The text recommends that the PCs go to the authorities with evidence of the plot, which may be prudent, but is much less adventurous than stopping the plot themselves. Also, the text makes it clear that the PCs will come into conflict with the adversary, no matter what they do. This may not be railroading, but it's at least in the rail-yard. At one point the PCs will have to commit at least breaking & entering to gain critical information. I do not like scenarios where the PCs are forced to be criminals. 

What I'd change: I would structure the climax of the adventure in such a way that the PCs are the only ones in a position to thwart the plot. This keeps the players front and center of the action. What if a quick-thinking medic saves the dying man's life? I'd leave that in as an option - no more mystery, but the adversary and the plot still have to be dealt with. Information about the adversary, once identified, is handed over for an easy die roll. I would make a side quest out of discovering who and what the adversary is. 

In My Traveller Universe: The adventure as written is very tied to the OTU/3I setting, but it should not be hard to change some names and transfer this to another setting. The Alliance of Dormarc has enough internal instability for this adventure to be plausible there. 

Map: This adventure takes place in the city and starport of Efate, so any city map will do nicely.


  1. I am very fond of the organization from which the Adversary of this adventure comes, and tend to include it in my Traveller universes with the specific locations and such altered as needed. I do replace the "Melee Combat" skill with Brawling, since I see no need for replacing the latter other than power creep in the rules. It does remind me that I want to incorporate Recon skill into the Army and Marines tables, and maybe Scouts. Perhaps in place of the Blade Combat result on the Advanced Education tables for Army and Marines (Marines already have plenty of Blade Combat in Service Skills); not sure what to replace for Scouts - maybe the Mechanical result on the Advanced Education table?

  2. Swap out Recon for air/raft on the Service Skills table. There's the cascade skill Vehicle on Advanced Education, and the setting assumes anyone can operate an air/raft under normal circs. See the air/raft skill description.