Friday, May 30, 2014

Cout D'etat - Amber Zone Reviews # 16

Amber Zone: Coup D'etat by Loren Wiseman from JTAS # 10
Check out the series introduction here.

It's like Prisoner of Zenda - in SPACE!
Location: Anywhere; the planet is not named, the only information is that it lies at the borders of the Imperium, and has a constitutional monarchical government and only moderate tech level.

Patron: The Crown Princess Glorinna Firella.
Because rescuing princesses never happens in RPG's.
Everything is better with Princesses.
Mission: This adventure is a mercenary ticket for a company sized unit, as a security/pacification mission. The King, Glorinna's father, is in danger of overthrow by armed revolution and the Princess is trying to arrange damage control. The mercs will supplement the royal forces while the Princess tries to ride out the unrest.

Complications: The revolt touches off almost as soon as the mercs land; so the mission changes on the fly to protecting the Princess. She's got a palace in the country where they can hole up, but it's a summer home, not a fort. There are lots of local forces joining the rebels, so the PC's group is very outnumbered. The rebel leader is intent on getting control of Glorinna – guess what happens if you marry the princess? Holed up in the castle with the princess are a lot of loyal non-combatants to take care of. In a week's time, a ship will arrive to evacuate them, but there may not be enough room for everyone.

Payoff: 750,000 payroll, with the promise of continued employment

Strong Points: I really want to do this adventure. The setup is simple yet it can be fiendishly complex to keep the patron safe. The tension level should be high at all times, what with all these rebels knocking on the gates, and taking pot-shots at anyone sticking their head out a window. The referee can keep the PCs one die roll from disaster for a week. There's plenty of opportunity to trot out fun hardware from Book 4 like artillery and use the abstract battle system. However, the rebel forces are limited in their attack options, as their goal is to capture the Princess, which means they can't just level the palace with artillery. The PCs can also take the offensive, sneaking out of the castle to launch raids against the enemy's encampments. Depending on the outcome of the one-week stand, there is potential for a long campaign to re-conquer the world, or rescue a captured Princess, or even start a counter-revolt to take over on their own.

Weak Points: There will be a lot of record-keeping for the players and the referee in this one. Tracking ammo expenditure is no-one's idea of a good time, but the referee should insist on it, as the PCs have no source of resupply. Also the referee will have to make up several maps beforehand, at different scales, as there will be lots of tactical movement to be monitored.

What I'd change: I would give the option of a small group of well-equipped (TL 11+) PCs instead of the merc company; the size of the opposition would have to change as well for the sake of balance.

In My Traveller Universe: I'd put this adventure on Pampati (Holtzmann 0406) I specifically crafted this planet for my TU with this adventure in mind; it's low tech, poor and has the right government type and is lightly populated.

Work of Art - Amber Zone Reviews # 18

Amber Zone: Work of Art, by Loren Wiseman from JTAS # 11

Check out the series introduction here.

But is it art?
Location: Fornice (Spinward Marches 3025)

Patron: The FMA, Fornice Merchant's Association

Mission: The FMA is in negotiation with a major K'Kree trade delegation. To sweeten their deal, the FMA has acquired a major objet d'art of K'Kree design to offer as a gift, as the head of the delegation is an art lover. (Return of the macguffin!) The art has been stolen. The FMA contact suspects a small local criminal group of the theft, perhaps at the behest of a rival merchant group. The PCs are to track down and recover the artwork before the K'Kree trade delegation arrives.

Complications: There are no complications as the adventure is written. The referee will have to determine how many Streetwise tasks it will take to track down the thieves and the location of the macguffin. The referee can tailor the protection around the macguffin to the capabilities of the PCs.

Payoff: Cr 750,000 success-only (obviously) contract. The FMA is willing to go in for a bonus of Cr 250,000 if the art is recovered in 24 hours.

Strong Points: This adventure would be best employed as a lead-in to some kind of local campaign where the FMA or its partner firms provides the PCs with recurring contacts and patrons. If they do this recovery well, they will likely be hired for other jobs. Also, the criminal group that took the macguffin, as well as the group that hired them, could become recurring adversaries. The K'Kree are a nice bit of OTU window dressing, but they don't really come into the adventure directly. However, this is the first Amber Zone that specifically includes an alien race from the Official Traveller Universe.

Weak Points: This adventure is not very challenging as presented. The referee can dial up the challenge in a number of ways but running it with nothing but the information given will be simple, quick and not too exciting.

What I'd change: Not so much change, as develop – I would set up a trail of leads that should keep the PC's running with the 24 hour bonus clock before their eyes. False leads, set-ups and random encounters could make this simple job a big challenge. Since I have no non-terrestrials in my TU, the K'Kree could easily be swapped out for a high-culture human group, without changing the actual macguffin description. I would make the act of moving the macguffin much more complex than simply boxing up a few parts and sticking them on a grav pallet. No maps were provided, but at least for the discovery/recovery of the macguffin some building plans would have to be devised.

In My Traveller Universe: I would run this adventure in the Talaveran Empire. Any planet in the Empire would do. The Empire is a big area, with lots of mercantile competition, not all of which is above board.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thunder on Zyra - Amber Zone Reviews # 17

Amber Zone: Thunder on Zyra, by Roger Moore from JTAS # 11

Check out the series introduction here.

You do not want this to happen in your game. Really. Avoid this.

Location: Zyra/Trin's Veil (SM 2934) B-555448-7

Patron: The Zyran Confederacy, the local government. Zyra has a population of only about 60,000, all in two cities on one continent. Until recently, the locals has contracted out to an off-world mining concern, TM&R, to recover what was thought to be marginal deposits of ore.

Mission: Recently discovered metal and mineral wealth in greater abundance has strained relations between the ZC and TM&R. The ZC is afraid of a direct corporate takeover and wants to nationalize all current mines and infrastructure. The mining corp has equipment and security forces on-site and so will not take this move lying down. A battalion-sized merc unit is to take the fight to the TM&R security forces, and capture strategic mining camps.

Complications: TM&R has secretly delivered two nuclear weapons (thunderballs in merc slang) to Zyra, and may be using them as a threat against the local population to leverage control of the planet. The merc unit's new mission is to gain possession of these weapons before they can become a factor.

Payoff: Triple standard salaries, plus a MCr 3 success only bonus. Payable in cash, bonds, or land title.

Strong Points: A solid, straight-forward military adventure without political intrigue. (of course, the referee can throw that in if desired) This adventure is flexible enough in format to be played using the CT, Mercenary or Striker rules. At the CT level, the PCs would be a commando team, perhaps attempting to sneak into TM&R territory to grab the nukes. There is plenty of detail on the OPFOR units, so the referee can tailor the level of challenge without difficulty. The savvy commander will recognize that they have the option of being paid in land ownership, which means long-term income for the unit. Also, this option gives the mercs a reason to stay in contact with Zyra, and can be a lead-in to other contracts, or the transformation of the merc unit into the core of the Confederacy military. Even if TM&R is defeated in the field, the company may return with more and better equipped forces, or a bunch of Imperial lawyers. Here's a question that can be the start of the next adventure, assuming the PC group wins, who gets to keep the titular thunderballs?

Weak Points: There is nothing in this Amber Zone that strikes me as being a flaw. As always, providing a map of the region would have been nice, but the capable referee can get make that up.

What I'd change: I don't think anything about this adventure needs to be changed. As I mentioned, I might bring in a political angle once the battle is over, with TM&R suing to the highest subsector authority for the return of their stuff, and recompense for whatever got destroyed in the nationalization.

In My Traveller Universe: This adventure would likely work best on one of the Independent worlds, or in a star nation that is decentralized or weak. New Ontario (Dormarc-Ostrander 0708) would be a good candidate. The local mid-level powers might suddenly take more interest in New Ontario if metal & mineral resources were discovered there. 

   This is a detail map of the camp where the thunderballs are being stored. Map scale is 50 meters, each change in mountain symbol represents an elevation increase of 10 meters.  The grey line is the camp fence, with guard towers distributed. Infantry symbols represent the presence of TM&R forces, but not their specific location.

The TMR mining camp and surrounding territory.

I made this map, using Hexographer. It may be reproduced or modified without permission.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Last Flight of the Themis - Amber Zone Reviews # 27

Amber Zone: Last Flight of the Themis, by John M. Ford

Check out the series introduction here.
This is not going to end well. It is the LAST flight, after all.
Location: Gwydion starport (Foreven Sector 3020, Fessor Subsector)

Patron: An association of families, survivors of a crashed starship liner crew (the titular Themis)

Mission: After the Themis crashed, the official inquest returned a verdict of “blame not provable” against the pilot. The pilot's sister is part of the survivors association, and wants to clear her brother's reputation of suspicion. The association wants the PCs to look into it, to see if there are grounds for re-opening the official investigation.

Complications: Some members of the association have other motives besides seeking the truth. There was a smuggled package aboard the Themis at the time of the crash, which has not apparently been located/recovered. The condition of the crash site is in question (see Weak points). Several parties (including possibly the PCs) suspect that smuggling was involved.

Payoff: Negotiable, the text only mentions 'standard salaries' with a potential of bonuses if a new investigation is opened.

Strong Points: This adventure calls for lots of investigative thinking, and lots of personal interaction with NPCs – two things which the Classic Traveller rules were not strong on. It is a multifaceted mystery, and the PCs will not initially know who is after what. The risk to the PCs themselves is very low.

Weak Points: I think this is a weak adventure. It is an accident report dressed up as a sci-fi adventure. Without changing anything but a few names, this could have been set in Newark, NJ, in the 1980's. There is nothing sci-fi about it but the word 'starship'.

The ship's condition after the crash is not described, but left to the referee. Did it burn? Did it break up? Did it crumple, buckle or flip over? Who has been allowed on site? The text mentions the possibility that the Themis could be picked clean by scavengers by the time the PCs get involved. In this case, their job is basically hopeless; parties wishing to suppress the truth of the crash could easily have removed/tainted any remaining evidence.

The specific cause of the crash, as explained, would be practically impossible for the PCs to discover, and even harder to prove beyond reasonable doubt. Even if they do find it, the Truth will not make anyone happy, and could create a whole new host of problems as various parties react to the facts of why their loved ones died.

What I'd change: I don't like the fact that the smuggled parcel is left as a macguffin; several people lost their lives (innocent or not) because of this thing. It should have been a more important part of the plot.

In My Traveller Universe: This adventure would work best on a mid-population, early spaceflight world. Fatal crashes on Earth are investigated and publicized thoroughly; only on a world with limited resources would the crash be given such a cursory treatment. But, as I have to place it somewhere, I'll choose Rumesh, in the Gelderon Subsector (Gelderon 0207). It's small, TL-9, with only a few million inhabitants and an indifferent economy.

No map is necessary; although the adventure mentions deckplans from Traders & Gunboats as a good choice for the plans of the Themis.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Amber Zone Opening Contest

 BeRKA's new web domain, the Amber Zone, is hosting a writing contest. They're looking for Traveller-fan written adventures in the style of the old Amber Zones from the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society. I've written about two dozen reviews of these adventures (not all of them are up on my blog yet) that will give you an idea of how they went, if you don't have access to the Journal. PDF editions of the Journal can be purchased from  or you can get them on CD-ROM from Far Future Enterprises.   

I get a nod from the contest organizers, by name, in the guidelines! How cool is that! 

Try the Pulp-o-Mizer yourself!

Geria Transfer - Amber Zone Reviews #15

Amber Zone: Geria Transfer, by John M. Ford from JTAS # 10

Check out the series introduction here. 
Don't open the purple one.
Location: the planet Cyris (no location in the OTU is given). The character of the planet setting is not important to the play of the scenario.

Patron: In between jobs, while going about their business in the city center, the PCs are approached by an anonymous business factor who needs a job done right now.

Mission: The PCs are to intercept a courier who is supposedly acting on the company's orders to deliver an industrial macguffin to an off-world buyer. The deal has changed, and the factor needs to recall the courier, but does not have a reliable way to contact him. The PCs may have to pursue the courier over a high-speed rail network to the starport. Once they have the package, they are to return it to the hiring factor.

Complications: It will become apparent that others are interested in the courier as well. Before the PCs can corner him, another team takes out the courier and swipes the macguffin package. The PCs will have to pursue the other team, which is armed. The PCs may wrest control of the package, but the other team will pursue them to get it back. The hiring factor has not been completely truthful [shocking!]. The courier is also not who he has been claimed to be. The package contains a potentially very nasty surprise. Gunfights in a crowded transportation hub will draw a quick and official response. If the chase & pursuit lasts long enough, a third team will enter the competition for the package - the factor hires another team, now in competition with the PCs. 

Payoff: The factor offers Cr 20,000 to each team member.

Strong Points: The misdirection & misunderstanding of this plot can be pretty easily sorted out by PCs who employ interpersonal skills, like liaison or admin. PCs who go straight for the gunplay will find all hands turning against them. As a one-shot, this scenario can easily be dropped into an existing campaign as a break from the main action, or a fill-in when the referee isn't ready to move on. This scenario forces the players to think fast – the plot moves too quickly for deliberation. If the players get into a discussion of what to do, the other team(s) will escape or get the drop on them.

Weak Points: I think this adventure is a little too scripted – the PCs come in well into the plot, and have no chance (as written) of beating the other team to the target. This setup has little potential to be expanded into a campaign.

What I'd change: I would tailor the size of the other team(s) to the size of the PC's group. I would have the first team render the courier unconscious rather than dead – unless fighting a murder rap would be a good campaign theme.

In My Traveller Universe: I would set this adventure on Stavanger (Holtzmann's Corridor 0505) which has a thriving business climate, where industrial espionage like this is common. 

Detailed maps are probably not necessary for this scenario, particularly the kind of geographic maps Hexographer makes.