Thursday, April 28, 2016

More than four legs and Nasty Pointy Teeth

In my last post I explored the Animal Encounters part of Traveller adventure design. Yes, animals can be a danger and a challenge, but will they be memorable?  A memorable encounter has to have something surprising - an "I didn't know it could do that" or "how do we deal with this" aspect. If all carnivore chasers are leopards with different color fur, encountering them will be worse than not memorable, those encounters will be dull. So what to do?
It won't be dull when I get my teeth into you!

Here's just one example of a different way to play an animal encounter:
Suppose the PCs encounter land based crabs, 6kg carnivore trappers with claws that do 1D-3 damage. Not too troublesome, you say?  Here's the twist: they migrate by the millions. Maybe it's a new settlement on the world and no one has encountered them before. Or it may be a recognized phenomenon and the locals know to just lock up and bring everything inside for one night, then clean up the morning after.  But the PCs see only a few at first, then suddenly there are waves of them, and they crawl or eat through whatever is in their way.

Animal Special Effects

Critters should be able to do surprising things. I realize that I’ve let myself be limited to the information on the table, which misses opportunities to challenge the PCs in many ways. What if the next animal the PCs encounter has one of these abilities?

High Jumps or long jumps – able to change ranges quickly, like from Close to Long in one round.

Psionic creatures – either sensitives or able to use life detection, or to teleport!

Creatures whose hide acts like reflec or ablat. This will be a surprise challenge to players who have a strong firepower advantage.

Poison! Worlds with non-terrestrial biology surely will produce many creatures whose blood, saliva or other fluids are problematic for humans. Allow the PCs to make a throw based on the intensity of the poison to avoid/resist the effects; add a +DM for a high END. Any wound of more than 4 points by teeth or stingers can introduce a poisonous substance causing:
  • death – instantaneous or xD wounds per round until medical aid is given.
  • paralysis – make the save to keep moving at ½ speed and -2 to skills
  • pain – throw END or less to be able to move, take 1-2 wounds per round
  • disorientation – DM -3 on all attacks, -4 on other skills
  • hyperactivity (treat like Slow drug)
  • sleep – making the save avoids this effect completely
  • insanity – anything the referee decides
  • drunken state - -3 to DEX, -3 to INT, +1 to END
Nocturnal or hibernating animals – you never know what might awaken them, so tread carefully.

Camouflage - the animal is hard to spot before the encounter, hard to pick out from the background (-DM to hit) and can disappear into its environment, only to reappear somewhere else.
Now you see me, now you don't

Flight or floating like naturally occurring contragrav. High speeds, like 5, 6, 7 or more! Animals especially flyers that can move at this speed will have -DMs to be hit.
Animals make sounds. These can be communication or a defense mechanism:
  • terrifying rumbles – can force morale checks for retainers or PCs!
  • super loud wailing – painful at Medium range or less, 1-2 wounds
  • hypersonic vibrations – causes damage to structures, like electronic gear
  • any type of sound may trigger a stampede of other local animals
Referees should generate a throw to avoid effects like disorientation, fear, or deafness. INT or EDU provide a +DM.

Shooting spines or spitting stones – these attack like a body pistol. Spines can be barbed and hard to remove, requiring Medical skill to avoid more damage. Spines might also be poisoned (see above).

Creatures that have humaniform hands can use clubs or hurl rocks; and might even pick up human weapons.

Sticky stuff like web strands that can entangle PCs: roll 10+ to break free, with +DM for each point of STR above 8.

Slimes/oozes that solidify on contact, gluing characters in place, or holding limbs against the body, or gumming up filter masks. These will require a minimum strength to break alone, two or more PCs can combine strength. Using hand weapons to break free give a +DM to the attempt.

Caustic or acidic sputum or ink which is:
  • smelly
  • staining
  • damaging to objects
  • damaging to characters (+1D damage to a teeth attack)
Parasites. Fatal buggers like in the movie Alien may be over the top, but critters with a stinger might inject Something Nasty into a character, and the group's medic will have to do surgery to get it out again.

Secretions that are addictive substances. Sort of the opposite of poison, what if the bite doesn’t hurt that much, but causes a euphoric state, and leaves the PC with a strong desire for a repeat experience? I like this idea as an idea, but I would not spring it on a PC unless that player was willing to go along and explore what it’s like to be (effectively) a drug addict in Traveller.

Large creatures with claws or tentacles can pick up characters. Let us assume that an animal can lift ¼ of its own mass. If a character gets picked up, they can try to free themselves with Strength, or by severing the limb. Throw 13+ to break free of a lifting creature, DM+1 for STR of 11+ and +2 for STR of 14+. Attacking the holding limb is a normal attack, and needs to do damage equal to ¼ the creature's initial wound points to injure the limb enough to make the creature let go.

Filters, Trappers and Sirens can have a Move rating of 0, meaning the creature is immobile. These can just as easily be (or look like) plants as animals. They function the same, but will appear as part of the local flora. PCs who haven't learned about the local wildlife could be in for a big surprise.

It is the unusual, the colorful and the challenging encounters that players will remember. The next time the PCs are out in the wilds, or down in subterranean caverns, have a strange creature show up to menace them. Traveller is a science fiction game, alien worlds should look and act alien.

If you want more examples of interesting animal encounters, take a click over to Felbrigg Herriott's Behind the Claw podcast. He has a regular section called the Creature Catalog where he details strange and wonderous creatures. Enjoy! 


  1. Robert,

    For some reason I can't find your e-mail address. I wish to send you a complimentary copy of an adventure my company, Stellagama Publishing, has published for the new edition of (Mongoose) Traveller. Please e-mail me at golan2072 -at- gmail -dot- com and I'll send you a copy :-)

    Omer Golan-Joel

  2. Omer, that's awesome, thank you! I sent you an email this morning. I'm excited to read your work.

    1. Didn't get your email yet, please send again.