On Saturday, my gaming group started a new RPG campaign. I’m running Stars Without Number (revised edition) (SWN) (free version, deluxe paid/print version), Kevin Crawford’s sci-fi game that is more or less based on old D&D. I’ve been wanting to run the game for a long time, and after we took a multiple month break from the previous campaign I was running, the time seemed right to try something new. My original inspiration for the campaign concept was the tv show Dark Matter (worth a look if you aren’t familiar, I think it’s currently on Netflix) wherein a group of people wake up on a spaceship with no memory. I don’t think I’m borrowing much else from the show at this point, but I like the idea as a way for me to be forced to have the characters be involved with their background stories but in a way that I can at least make sure there is some connection between those backgrounds.
We started with a very brief rule overview (mostly D&D like except for the 2d6 skill system) and me trying to clarify some concepts about technology level (FTL travel is not super fast like in Star Trek; no transporters; yes, psychics; mostly projectile weapons; etc.). I modified character creation a bit, as SWN has a “background” element to a character that gives them a few skills. As the characters don’t know there background I forewent that in favor of some choices they would make in game. So it was: roll atributes, pick class, race, foci (those are like special abilities), a primary skill. Some of the players already had ideas and some didn’t, so not everyone is completely fleshed out from a “what do they look like” perspective.
We ended up with:
* A psychic alien. The player showed us a gif of a blue alien with head tentacles from The Fifth Element (which I had actually not seen). That brought to my mind the Asari from Mass Effect (who are also blue female aliens with head tentacles and psychic powers), so I decided that’s her race name. I can use that as a basis for anything we need to decide about the race. She took biopsionics (healing!) and telepathy as her primary skills.
* A human hacker (expert). This character ended up with a number of useful skills (program, pilot, fix, too I think) which ended up having the most relevance in this first session. Awaiting a description of this character.
* A human warrior, also awaiting a description.
* A human scientist (expert). The player showed us two photos of a younger Brad Dourif (who will always be Doc Cochran to me). He tooks skills to be some kind of astrophysicist/probability theorist.
* An alien adventurer (expert/warrior combo). The player is usung Master Blaster from Mad Max as a reference, so it’s a large alien on the bottom and a small alien on the top.
The characters awoke from cryosleep as their pods opened up. They could see each other, the pods, and that they were in a windowless room with one exit and a computer. At this point I placed out 6 notecards I made showing small objects or physical features that the characters had on them. Each player picked one. The back of the cards offered a choice of skills or attribute bonusus. Some of the cards also asked clarifying questions about the object. So the warrior took the “conspicuous tattoo” card and then was asked the what and the where of the tattoo, in this case an anti-facial recognition tattoo (on the face, of course). The psychic took some archaic coins; the hacker a wrist computer; the scientist a locket with a holo-photo in it (awaiting their decision on who the locket shows); and the alien got a handful of pills. Everyone picked their option from the back of the card before moving on. That was the first of the options they would get to fill-in for the background aspect of character creation that we skipped over.
After clarifying with each other that no one remembered anything, they checked the comptuer, learning that they have been asleep for about 2 days, but that no previous logs existed. The hacker’s wrist computer, currently disconnected from any main computer, contained only a single log indicating the coordinates of a voyage (also 2 days in length). They noted that the ship was very quiet, and, assuming they were on a ship, inferred that they should hear the hum of engines in the background (but were not).
Moving out to explore, they investigated a number of rooms in the same hallway as the cryo chamber. The scientist picked up a hand-held work light in a storage room. The hacker started up a terminal in a computer room learning that: the computer’s had been shutdown and appeared to be in a reset state; logs were empty; engines were off. A science lab offered little of interest (no ongoing experiments or samples), but, while looking out the porthole, the warrior noticed in the distance of space a small shuttle approaching, with an asteroid belt in the background. The scientist estimated 20 minutes until the shuttle arrives. One airlock was closed and showed space and the stars out the window. At the aft end of the hall between a ladder and a disabled elevator was the entrance to the engine room. The engines were off and warnings indicated it was due to a broken coupling that needed fixing. Those with the fix skill knew it was a rather simple fix if they had the right replacement part.
They chose a ladder at one end of the hall (going up) instead of a stairway (going down) at the other end, assuming that a bridge would be on a higher deck. The next deck had two hallways (port and starboard) with rooms on the far ends of the ship and in the middle. They found 8 crew quarters. I layed out 8 more cards, this time showing personal items found in 5 of the quarters. The characters had a sense for which room was theirs (I’m not sure how but it simplified things), so they got to pick which items they found in their room. The alien had a small model ship. The warrior a holo-photo in a frame (pending on who the photo depicts with the character and in what context). The scientist picked a key card with a bank name on it. The hacker a data stick (hi-tech USB drive). And the psychic, an odd metal sphere: heavy, solid, silvery. All these also offered skill/attribute choices and a few had minor questions.
The combination of these two card choices are what I’ll be using to match the characters with a few background situations I created. And, hopefully, they serve as future leads for the players, in the vein of hooks or rumors in a D&D game, with the added impetus that they are clues for the characters to learn who they actually are and how they ended up where they are.
The rest of the deck included a gym, messhall, and medbay (a few people picked up a medkit and some lazarus patches (SWN emergency medical equipment)) as well as a foreward lounge area and one more airlock. At that point we ran out of time, leaving for next session another stairway headed up.
I have not previously tried writing up post-session notes to the games I run, but I thought I’d try it this time because of my attempts to keep this blog going, as an aid to my memory (writing it down should help me better remember), and as easier reference for when I plan next session. One of my players enjoys taking detailed notes, so we usually rely on her for session recaps, but maybe my notes will provide some extra information. One thing I found interesting (and that was frustrating our note-taker) is that at no point did anyone decide to give themselves a name or come up with any way to refer to each other. Hence my using the generic class/alien references above. Maybe we’ll address that next session.
As far as it goes, I feel it was a pretty good start. I had enough prepped that I didn’t have to totally wing it for anything, but it also wasn’t totally as planned. For instance, the shuttle seen out the window, solved a situation I hadn’t decided on ahead of time, but only came to me when the players talked about looking out the window as way to see if there any planets or anything nearby. I knew I wanted the ship to get some external visitors but wasn’t totally sure how I was going to go about it. Next session should jump us pretty quickly into a little more conflict/interaction, and a little more setup information for the players (there’s still one more choice for them to make regarding their background skill/attributes).