Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Powerful Tool for the Referee - The Random Encounter

I have been told that wandering monsters in D&D are there to keep the PCs from resting/healing after every encounter and slowing the in-game pace down by doing so. It is difficult to return to full HP if there are owlbears around every corner, waiting to eat you. Of course, there is not always a lot of explanation for the presence of all those owlbears, their presence is all game mechanics, as illustrated here:
Not Cool, DM. Not Cool.
Despite the descriptive ‘random’, encounters in Traveller should serve more purpose than that. An encounter that seems random to the players can be a powerful tool for the referee to craft short adventures, put color into the setting, and create pathways to new adventures.

Since Traveller likes to do things by sixes, here are six things the Referee should know about every Random Encounter

Monday, August 25, 2014

Small Cargoes - Amber Zone Reviews # 31

Everybody knows "small packages" is a Trader euphemism for smuggled goods.
Amber Zone: Small Cargoes, by J. Andrew Keith

Location: the planet Karin (SM/Five Sisters 0504)

Patron: Kyle Veristan, a businessman from Penelope, a planet one hex from Karin

Mission: Quietly deliver a package to his sister on Karin, avoiding import duties – in other words, smuggling. 
The smuggled goods are pharmaceuticals which the sister needs.
Short Shelf Life, deliver at once!

Complications: The package is on the restricted items list on Karin, so discovery will carry significant penalties – fines rather than imprisonment/execution. There are multiple layers of customs inspection to get past in order to make the delivery.

Payoff: Cr 500,000 to the group, payable upon confirmation of delivery of the goods.

Strong Points: This could be a good solo mission: it has a stronger motivation behind it than Chariots of Fire - the goods are medicine which the patron's sister needs to live. So it's a mercy mission, forced to be a criminal job by bureaucracy.
The alternative endings given introduce further complications and can serve to lead into other adventures.

Weak Points:
Overall I have enjoyed Mr. Keith's work, but not this time. As I have observed about several other Amber Zones, I don't like that the patron is specifically asking the PCs to commit a crime. At least the reason this time is more legitimate, it's a humanitarian type mission. The Amber Zone as written requires the PCs to engage in  smuggling & bribery, so PCs without those essential social skills are likely to feel left out; as well as the combat-oriented PCs. One other thought. If the patron has that much cash to hand out to the PCs, why isn't he doing any of this himself?

In particular, please do not confiscate and incarcerate.
What I'd change: This does not have to be a criminal enterprise at all, and I would encourage players to try non-criminal methods. The whole challenge of this adventure as written can be gotten around by persuading the sister to cross the extrality line, and giving her the pharma where it's legit. The patron could set up a regular round trip for her to get her dosage, he's got the cash for lots of high passages. The sister's medical condition is real, and one assumes documented, so that it would be easy to explain frequent trips. 
 PCs could also go to the Navy, be completely upfront about what they want to do, and use Admin/Liaison or any other reaction modifiers they can think of to persuade the Navy patrols to grant an exception. They're getting paid half a million, I think they could afford a few fees/penalties for the extra paperwork. A sympathetic diplomat or priest (somebody with both pull and immunity) could be brought in to lend their persuasiveness to granting an exception, and no illegality would have to be employed.

In My Traveller Universe:
I would set this adventure in the Union of Socialist Worlds, which has the most reason to want to restrict imports to their worlds.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Casual Encounter - Fenton Tukachevski

557AF7 Navy 4 terms* Age 34 Cr 0
Computer-1, Vacc suit-1, Gunnery-1
TAS membership  

     A while back the Space Cockroach shared this NPC short form, taken straight from the list of sample characters given in The Traveller Book, in a post about how many skills are needed for viable or competent Traveller characters. I thought I'd see what I could come up with to turn this pile of stats into an interesting character. From just 14 words/81 characters (according to my word processor) what can we make of this character?

 Ex-Navy Petty Officer Fenton Tukochevski

Computer tech. Space walker. Laser gunner. Has more PhD's than you.
  • He's a former navy PO (computers).
  • He's familiar with working in space.
  • He knows a lot about Navy computer (especially weapon computer) systems.
  • He could work as starship crew, or as a vehicle gunner for a mercenary group.
  • He also possesses Skill-0 in all the usual weapons, and likely Grav Vehicle-0 
     Fenton was always more interested in learning about the universe as a whole than he was about doing his job. He never even bothered applying for a commission; his work as a weapons computer technician left him with ample time to read & study the things that interested him. He's a big history buff, and knows a lot about lost ships, derelicts, and other historical curiosities of space. 

     He spends all his money on books/e-books (hence his poor cash state), and always carries a large collection of e-book readers with him. He has travelled a lot since leaving the Navy, and had the foresight to secure several backup collections/archives on several planets, in the event that he loses his current travelling collection of source works. 

     After a long study of art & crime Fenton is an expert in detecting forgeries & knows all about the common scams (and uncommon ones). He is near impossible to fool. He freelances with corporations and wealthy individuals to verify authenticity of documents and art objects. Another freelancing area where he often works is information support to salvage & treasure hunting expeditions.  He has an extensive collection of records, folklore and speculation on the location of crashed ships.

     Adventurers could meet Tukochevski in any of these ventures. He could be the patron, in need of a ship to transport him to the location of a wrecked ship, or he could be an NPC hired by the PC's patron to assist them with recovering something from a derelict. 

     The PCs could be hired by a patron who was swindled by a forger, and wants Fenton to help them find the parties responsible. If the PCs are passengers aboard a starship, Fenton might be a passenger or taking working passage. In an emergency, he would be a good companion to have. 

     The PCs could meet Fenton aboard a space station, or on a sattelite where he is working EVA to repair/upgrade computer systems or weapon stations.

     Physically Fenton is short, slight of build, and soft spoken. Despite being very bright and unbelievably well educated, he is very reserved socially. His clothes are neat and clean, but obviously not the current fashion. He works for pay, and is smart enough to not get duped out of a paycheck, but is not motivated by the prospect of riches. When he has money, he buys books or objects that can further his education, until he needs to work some more - to buy more books. 

     He prefers to listen rather than to speak, and will be an attentive audience to anyone who has something new to tell him. He has little interest in popular culture or entertainments, but can converse at length on obscure subjects. He understands social rules of interaction, but does not always choose to participate. He prefers the company of other educated persons, but will not be intentionally rude to the uneducated. Attractive women will not rattle him, but would be very surprised if one expressed romantic interest in him, given his poor physique and esoteric interests. 

     Fenton is no coward, but he is aware that his physique puts him at a disadvantage as a fighter. If he has to go into a potentially dangerous situation, he will hire or ally himself with people who can protect him. If the situation demands it, he will use a gun; he has no personal objection to fighting but he would rather not risk his life for simple material gain. 

*By my reckoning, a 4-term Navy character should have 5 skills. Perhaps Fenton used two of them to increase characteristics - like his Education.
Image in the public domain, taken from (

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Grenades for Traveller

"Boy, it sure would be nice if we had some grenades, don't ya think?"
 - Jayne Cobb, Serenity

Book 4, Mercenary, introduced hand grenades into Traveller combat. Striker had a few of them as well, but I want more! So here's my list of grenades for Traveller. Each item lists the type, (introductory TL), cost in Cr, and effects. Grenade vs Armor DMs are presented in Bk4, Mercenary. All grenades weigh 1kg.

Fragmentation grenades (5) Cr 10
at TL 5-6, 4D damage at TL 7-8 6D, at TL 9+ 8D
Mini grenades (8) Cr 15
4D damage, enough to destroy equipment or damage a door.
Micro grenades (8) Cr 20
2D damage, sufficient to destroy a door lock

Smoke grenades (6) Cr 10
Covers a 10m radius in white or colored smoke. Lasts for 4 rounds.
Sonic grenades (9) Cr 25
Emits highly uncomfortable audible sound. All within 15m must throw END or less on 3D or retreat at top speed for 2 rounds. Sound lasts 4 rounds. Hearing protection or sealed armor: throw 3D-4 for END or less.
Tranq grenades(9) Cr 20
Releases a tranquilizing gas. All characters in a 3m radius take 2D against END. If END is reduced to zero, character falls unconscious for 10 minutes.
Anti-laser aerosols (9)
Covers a 10m radius in chemical smoke designed to defeat lasers. Treat all laser fire through the smoke as having an additional Armor DM of -6. Lasts for 4 rounds.
Irritant gas grenades (7) Cr 15
Releases a cloud of gas that causes nausea and temporary blindness. Roll END or less on 3D to resist the effects. Cloud persists for 4 rounds. Characters in sealed armor or gas masks are unaffected.
Cryonic grenades (10) Cr 40
Releases a super-cold gas that does 3D damage, and causes all liquids to freeze. Characters even in sealed armor can be frozen in place by ice accumulation and by the armor stiffening.
Thermite/Incendiary grenades (6) Cr 20
Used to destroy material. Will burn through metal or stone, and set flammable objects alight. Grenade lasts for 2 rounds. Characters within 1m take 1D heat damage, characters in contact take 4D damage.
Fusion grenades (14) Cr 50
The high-energy version of the thermite grenade. Will burn through even starship hulls. Danger space 10m radius. Heat damage in danger space 6D, in contact 16D. Armor DMs as FGMP-14.
Visual Distortion grenades (12) Cr 45
Uses subsonic vibrations to blur the air in a 5m radius. All fire through the distortion is at -4, laser beams get scattered, losing 2D from damage. Nothing can be seen clearly through the distortion field.
Entangling grenades (11) Cr 30
Releases adhesive strands much like a spider web. Any character within 3m must roll DEX or less on 3D to avoid being entangled. If entangled, throw STR or less on 4D to escape. Cutting a strand with a blade takes 9 points of damage against Cloth armor.
Illumination grenades (5) Cr 10
Negates all darkness penalties for targets within a 25m radius.  Any character who looks right at an ignited grenade must throw END or less on 3D or be blinded for 10 minutes.
 Lubricant grenades (10) Cr 35
Covers a 5m radius with ultra-low-friction silicone spray. Any character on foot in this area must roll DEX or less on 3D to remain standing. Lubricant is persistent,  it must be cleared away with surfactants.
Shock grenades (10) Cr 25
Releases an electrical charge that affects all characters at Short range on 5+. 3D damage.
Acid/chemical grenades (13) Cr 40
Releases an Acid spray designed to degrade Battle Dress. Roll 1D, armor loses that many points of Armor DM (CT) or AV (Striker). Alternatively, it releases a magnetic 'paint' that covers visors and distorts on-board sensors, rendering the suit blind.
Thermal decoys (9) Cr 15
Emits a thermal signature that simulates body heat. Lasts for 6 rounds.
Contra-gravity grenades (13) Cr 100
Creates a localized gravitational field. Can be set to negate local gravity, causing everything in a 4m radius to float, or to amplify gravity, inducing weight penalties for a size A planet (see the gravity effects table in TTB).

Rules for throwing grenades. Use the Throwing Blades rule in the combat section as a guide, but extend range to Medium. Thrower is considered Evading while throwing. If thrower has thrown 25 or more grenades in combat, add DM +1 to roll to hit. For every additional 25, add another +1.* Any grenade thrown at short range may affect the thrower (7+ to hit yourself); and grenade thrown at Close range will affect the thrower. 

Rifle Grenades are fired from rifles, auto rifles or carbines. The grenades come with an adapter and blank round to launch. Loading time is one round, during which the firer is treated as Evading. Maximum range is Long. 

Readers feel free to suggest your own specialty grenades in the comments! 

* There is no 'grenade throwing' skill in CT, and I don't see the need to create one, given the restrictions on skills. This DM advantages the experienced thrower without creating a new skill. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Without a Trace - Amber Zone Reviews #30

Without a Trace by J. Andrew Keith from JTAS #18

Location: Banasdan and Arcturus, in the Solomani Rim

Patron: Mr. Urshukaan, president of Lamark Minerals, LLC. 

Mission: A Lamark ore carrier, the Solaria, has disappeared and the patron wants the PCs to find out what happened to it. One lead points toward the Arcturus system, a planetoid belt system extensively mined by Lamark. 

Payoff: Cr 50,000 fro the group, with 10% available as an advance for fees. The group may use Lamark transport to the Arcturus system; they are given travel vouchers to secure in-system transportation. 

Complications: Arcturus belt is vast and a ship of any size has virtually unlimited places in which to disappear, if it's even there at all. 

Strong points: This is a solid, straightforward mystery; well presented. Determining the fate of the Solaria, and what the PCs should do about it, will be about the players asking good questions and following the right leads. The conclusion of this adventure presents the players with a moral issue to address.  Also, this adventure was written as an intro/lead-in to Adventure 11 Murder on Arcturus Station, published shortly after this issue. 
     Depending on the outcome of this adventure, the PCs can expect to get more offers of work from Lamarck Minerals. 

Weak points: A quibble, really. The Solaria is modeled on the Leviathan-class ships. The deckplans from Adventure 4 could be helpful if & when the PCs find the Solaria. Without Adv 4, the referee will have to mock up all the deckplans.

What I'd change: This is another Amber Zone that stands up well on its own; I would perhaps add to it, rather than change it. The referee's information includes the truth that Lamarck does not treat its employees very well. I would then include an NPC to impress this perspective on the PCs. They encounter a monk or priest who travels about the belt offering spiritual counsel and comfort to oppressed workers. He could accompany the PCs on their search, explaining the conditions and pressures that led to the Solaria's disappearance. The priest could assist in resolving the confrontation at the climax of the adventure. 

     As an alternative to the storyline given, what if the people who caused the Solaria's disappearance were planning to turn pirate, or use the ship in a terror strike against Lamarck HQ in Arcturus?

In my Traveller Universe: I would locate Lamarck Minerals and this adventure in Sutter's Belt, a planetoid system in the Dothan Alliance (Dothan-Talaveran subsector).

There is no map for this adventure, given the breadth of a solar system-wide planetoid field.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Chariots of Fire Amber Zone Revies # 29

Amber Zone Review #29 
Amber Zone: Chariots of Fire, by  Anders Blixt

To the Rescue!

Location: Gatina (C-765876-7) in the nations of Castica & Handor.

Patron:  An officer of Castica's Military Intelligence brach

Mission: Castica wants to stage a propaganda coup on their neighbor Handor by stealing two specialty fire engines. These vehicles were purchased jointly by the two nations (under a previous government in Handor) and housed in the Handorian capital. The rigs are the core of a specialty fire fighting unit for combating urban & industrial fires. The rigs are to be driven from one capital to the other, a distance of only 10 km, with the border halfway there. There are a few roads which the rigs could take to cross the border.

Payoff: Cr 50,000 to the group.

Complications: Tensions have been on the rise between the two nations, so the border is patrolled by armed forces on both sides. The rigs are easily recognizable to both sides. The PCs will have to explain their possession of the rigs. The patron has not been able to forewarn his side about the hijacking. Either side may decide to arrest or shoot the PCs if they think the rigs are being stolen. The rigs cannot be damaged in the transfer. The patron will cut the pay if the rigs are damaged.

Strong Points:  The more I think about this adventure, the more complicated it becomes. At first you might think, 'steal a truck and drive it 10 km? Easy.' But it won't be. Fire engines are big and hard to mistake for anything but what they are. No one (offical, anyway) is going to let the PCs take these two rigs without asking a lot of questions, and possibly arresting or shooting them if they don't like the answers.

          The real challenge, then, is to steal two large vehicles without anyone suspecting that they're stealing them. This is a mission for Danny Ocean or Neal Caffrey, or maybe even Mission Impossible, not gun-toting heavies. Social skills like Forgery, Bribery and Carousing will be of more use here than fighting. Even more important than that, it will require planning and role playing by the players. It may not be as epic as The Great Train Robbery, but if the PCs pull this off, they will have definite bragging rights for a long while.
Weak Points: As a matter of preference; if a PC I'm playing is going to do something that might result in jail time, I'd rather it be something more significant and heroic than stealing from the Fire Department. This adventure also lacks any sci-fi feel to it, this could just as easily be happening between Germany & Poland. I'm also not happy with the implication that the PCs actions could help provoke a war between these two nations.

What I'd change: Nothing. This is not my favorite kind of adventure; I don't prefer ones where the PCs are committing crimes. Nevertheless, as written, the adventure is solid, just not my taste.

In My Traveller Universe: This scenario requires a balkanized world, and there are not many of them IMTU. Latoria (Weitzlar subsector) seems the closest match in size, population and tech level. 

Firefighters and other emergency services workers, both professional and volunteer are real heroes, whether in the Far Future or right here, right now. Support your local Fire Department, and consider making a donation to the Firefighters Support Foundation.

photo credit: <a href="">Lee Cannon</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>