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Gateway GM blog (SPOILERS for QLI adventures)


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stiletto_rebel, this thread is not for your eyes.

If you’re likely to be a player (rather than GM) in any of QLI’s Gateway adventures, it’s probably not for your eyes either.


Go on, git.

Ok …
After about a year of playing in abortive games with groups, none of which ran for more than two sessions, I’ve started GMing a new campaign with just the one player (stiletto_rebel from these boards aka “SR”). We’ve been going a month, at two 4-5 hour sessions a week (barring toothache). I had about 24 hours warning of the campaign start, and what with the frequent sessions my basic plan is/was to run QLI’s published adventures, strung together “somehow”, until I run out. After that we’ll probably have to drop from two sessions a week to one.

I thought I’d post some GM notes, in the hope that (a) they might be useful to somebody else, (b) someone will say “why not try so-and-so” and (c) nobody will notice how slowly I’m doing my proper story hour. This is not a story hour. I’m mostly interested in GMing and campaign management issues here, like how I string the adventures together. There is considerable spoiler potential in this log. You have been warned.

We went for one PC and an NPC. I usually run the NPC, but SR sometimes switches bodies when the NPC is front and centre. I thought of limiting the scope of the game for the small party, e.g. by leaving all the starship stuff to NPCs, but SR wanted to be a pilot and a broker and do the full run of space/ground-based adventuring. So I made them both pretty high level (started at 12) to cope with it all.

I made them ex-spooks who still do odd jobs for IISS intelligence, to (a) spice the adventures up and (b) give me an occasional excuse to send them to a particular planet where a published adventure happens to start.
The party:

PC is Athos Fauge (Merchant 4 Scout 4 Rogue 4)
He’s good at talking, trading and shooting things. He’s OK at piloting and wilderness stuff and as a forward observer, and he’s strictly for backup on sensors/comms and astrogation.

NPC is Bert Higgins (Engineer 6 Professional 4 Scout 2)
He’s good at astrogation, engineering, computers, sensors/comms and gunnery. He’s an OK pilot and gun bunny, can’t talk for toffee, and can just about medic somebody into a low berth if he’s slow and careful (takes 10). Bert is Mr Zero Gravity – he’s got all three feats, and totes a laser.

Neither of them has much in the way of academic/knowledge skills. Nor are they good at stealth, bribery, disguise and the like. They tackle most problems head on…

I wanted to avoid having a Free Trader with a mortgage (about Cr 7000/day) because then they’d just refuse any jobs paying less than that, which rules out lots of fun adventures. I also wanted to avoid a Free Trader with no mortgage, because that’s a license to print money. So they ended up in a detached scout ship with scoops and purifier, with expenses (salary and maintenance) around Cr 500/day while the ship is parked in a field. This means they can take jobs like flying off to a backwater world for Cr 10,000. A free trader crew would just laugh at that.

I waved about four scout deckplans about at the first session, and SR said “that one”. Some hours later I finally figured what was bothering me about “that one” – we were using a T20 J2/2G ship and it was a CT era plan that could only be J1 1G. So I did a quick plan with the same general look but a layout that matched the numbers. Here’s the detached scout Event Horizon (Powerpoint)
TL11, J2, 2g, 20 dtons cargo, 4 staterooms, 4 low berths, 8 weeks manoeuvre fuel and life support, a jeep/trailer and a grav bike, scoops and homebrew 1 dton 24 hour fuel purifier, autodoc.
I opened with the Kursis Charter (picked one I knew). I started them at Shanape in the Ley sector, turning up for their free maintenance at the scout base, only to find that the base had a two month backlog what with the war and couldn’t help them right now. The chief engineer who told them this just happened to use a few code words, which meant “go and see your controller”. So they did, and he told them there was a minor hunt on for a possibly Solomani, possibly terrorist, possibly bioweapon-toting group who’d headed off into the Linkworlds. The hunt had gotten less minor when they jumped out of Liar’s Oath and vanished. So he’d arranged for the PCs’ maintenance to get held up, meaning they’d have to take a charter in the Linkworlds from Kursis Mail LIC to get the free annual maintenance at the end. And while they were at it, they could keep an eye out for the vanished suspects.

And so I started running “The Kursis Charter” for the second time. It proceeded pretty much normally, except that a little old lady approached them in the starport bar at Liar’s Oath and asked them to keep an eye out for her missing brother, a biologist who’d gone to Miip to study the “migratory ungulants” and then stopped writing home. They agreed. On Miip, they did their stuff with rivers and translations then started asking after the absent professor. He’d been seen heading off to a nearby island in a small boat. They flew over it, and put the sensors to work, and found a great big ATV parked in the middle of nowhere.

They landed some way off and made a stealthy approach. Tripwires surrounded the ATV, and a bunch of starmerc types were having coffee around the campfire. There was a big directional antennae, the sort that would transmit to a ship in deep space. After a bit of PC lurking and player head-scratching, they dug a trench under the tripwire and crept up to the empty ATV. Inside they found a bunch of seismic sensor terminals which would have detected their approach if anyone had been monitoring (nice moment of panic), and various merc gear, and a secure computer system. I gave them a few minutes to poke about before footsteps approached the ATV… Cue firefight, smoke grenades, bluffs, and a shocking instance of ATV theft on a tranquil planet.

Later, Bert cracked the computer open and they found the mercs had been testing a bioweapon on the migratory ungulants, run into the absent professor, and buried him a ways back. They found his grave then went and killed most of the mercs (who’d scattered) with ship’s weapons. The tarpaulin had come off the antenna while they were away, so maybe they’d got a message out. And they didn’t manage to track them all down. There were clues, and hints, and all sorts of things they filed in their report to scout intel. If I ever get them back up to that end of space, there’ll be a follow up.

At one point, they decided to pick up some security cargo despite stern warnings. I rolled the hidden incident check, and they (genuinely) failed it, so I hit them with a fake signal GK and boarding attempt. Athos went aboard the ship in “distress” in his vac suit with a pistol, and decided to open fire when one of three “injured” people pointed a laser rifle at him and said “freeze”. He ended up down and bleeding, stabilised at –3. Then the hijackers went aboard Event Horizon. Bert, who has all 3 zero-g feats and a laser carbine with an infra-red sight, killed the deckplates and the lighting and picked them off. I was quite pleased at them catching trouble the first time they took security cargo. SR was considerably more careful afterwards.

The rest of Kursis Charter went well. SR, who is ex-military, had a great time organising the farmers on Kerin’s Tyr. He’s well impressed with the adventure: a well-woven story, plus each world has a definite feel and plenty to do (no “you spend a week on planet whilst looking for cargo then jump out”).

The absent professor was an encounter from BITS 101 patrons, BTW.
The nearest available adventure after Kursis Charter was TA 5 Objects of the Mind (OOTM), which starts at Kiikedia (normally about 12 jumps away) and proceeds to New Kurdistan (NK). I needed a reason for them to get there, and I really wanted them to rush – I hadn’t written my T20 trading software yet, and I didn’t relish four hours of rolling cargo at the game table. By a stroke of luck, Bert the NPC had Shangri La (also 2 parsecs from NK) as his homeworld. Since OOTM could really start anywhere in the right part of space, I shifted act 1 from Kiikedia to Shangri La and invented an urgent X-boat message calling Bert home. Athos gave him a ride, getting there in three pinpoint double jumps. They put 18 dtons of fuel in blisters in the 20 dton hold and pumped that plus 2 dtons from their manoeuvre tank back into the jump tank in deep space.

And so Bert’s sister was saved from marrying some ugly rich guy to prop up her business… Whilst Bert was off having dinner with the family, Athos got a comm from a Mr Byron’s assistant. The local scouts (it’s an X-boat stop) had recommended him for a job…

After visiting the burglary scene (in a dome on an asteroid, with artificial gravity for the golf course), they talked to the police detective first. Then they followed up on the local small time crooks, and made the spot/search checks to track the NK hard men to the hotel. At the hotel, they disabled a camera outside the two rooms and tried for a gun-in-the-face capture and question. The dice were unkind, so they ended up in a firefight with very illegal automatic weapons. They killed the (more capable) NK crooks, thanks to wearing armour and bringing heavier weapons, but both took some damage. After a quick search, which turned up the all-important mailing receipt to NK, they…

…walked out of the hotel in full view of the many security cameras carrying a laser rifle and a gauss rifle, Athos bleeding all over the place, with the sound of police sirens approaching in the distance. I gave them each a WIS check each to rethink it, but they failed, so they were now on film and prime murder suspects. Since I didn’t really want to GM a pair of wanted murderers, I had them meet Lt DeVries from INI on their way out. He got them out of trouble in return for handing over all their information, ignoring New Kurdistan, telling the patron they’d been warned, off and forgoing his money. And so ended OOTM, with our “heroes” unpaid and Athos in hospital on Shangri La getting his ear regenerated after Jara shot it off. That’s twice Athos has been hit by a called shot to the head. Both rolled a 1 for damage. Lucky git.

We liked TA5. It was a shame to stop, but this early in the campaign I thought it was important to establish that they couldn’t use automatic weapons in a hotel on Shangri La and expect to be ignored. I might graft the third act into some other context at a later date.
I figured their next adventure might be something they heard about in the hospital. So the guy in the next bed told Athos about Shamuus, out on the border, where some merchant house was hiring crews for a long trading mission out into the far corner of the sector, on a world that has just opened up. A not-really-detached scout just had to go after that one, he couldn’t pass on the chance to visit a newly open hi-pop world and report on it. I took one look at the number of jumps from Shangri La to Shamuus, and went and wrote some software to automate all the freight/pax/spec rolls.

We spent an hour or so trading through that lot and totting up the money. By this point, what with their low overheads and a decent stake from the Kursis Charter, the PCs had made it up to about 750000 credits. When they heard the terms of the EA4 job they didn’t really want it, but scout spooks must go for information so they took the job. They signed on as Master (Athos) and Chief Engineer/Astrogator (Bert). [Out of character, we agreed that the reason the scout service gives them this free and highly profitable ship is that they regularly do information gathering stuff.]

Off they went, racing towards that new planet. They didn’t (couldn’t) manage the very difficult sense motive check to work out who sabotaged the computer. They didn’t visit Du, where there’s a fun encounter with a rival ship, because visiting Du makes no sense in a J3 ship that is in a hurry (it’s just the wrong place on the map). They did look at Lars’s cutter, but didn’t make the search check for his secret compartment.

When Lars went on his unscheduled foray at Vanessa, Athos ordered him to return to the ship or be fired upon. Lars laughed, and radioed back “You tink dey tell you everyting? I am on zpecial mission for company. I tell you later.” Athos asked around the bridge, and it became clear that the company were not in the habit of telling their employees everything, so he let it ride. I had Bert spot the cutter vanishing near the north pole, despite the non-pursuit, but Athos had decided to leave Lars to it. Shame.

I had fun with Lars. Bellowing in an atrocious Arnie voice, drinking any alcoholic spec cargo, flying spirals whilst de-orbiting the double-decker grav bus, farting at moments of tension when they had security cargo aboard…

After the sabotage, Bert the level 12 engineering NPC with the various T/appropriate all at 16 needed to roll 19 on a d20 to fudge the drive and 24 on a d20 to discover what had happened. He didn’t manage. They continued at J2 using the backup drive. They still arrived at 807-946 before Gateway Adventurer because (a) they didn’t take a stupid route via Du and (b) it rolled a 1 on the “get there before Keleshar” d6. So they arrived, traded, won some contracts but not others, ran like hell for the security barracks when they saw five Sydites with lead pipes, and bought 10 dtons of silver for themselves plus six for the company. They didn’t go out in the wilds to get shot at by the assassin, because there was nothing in the adventure to take them out there. They waited a week to see how many of their contracts stuck (I decided on 2 of the 3), then jumped out for a leisurely trip home via Qaran (where you get +5 to sell silver).

I had SR email his proposed route home (via 11 worlds), and used the chance to pre-generate trade stuff and get some thumbnail sketches of the worlds together. We didn’t get to do any adventuring in the weeklong layovers because I just didn’t have time to prep that. But I did manage to provide colourful descriptions of most of the worlds, and spin stories to go with the spec trade, even if I only really accounted for about a day of each week. And they sold the G-Carriers to the army at Vanessa, who seemed to have a pressing need for long-range mobility all of a sudden.

[I bought EA4 on the assumption that it would do that sort of thing for me, like Kursis Charter, but EA4 provides 543 words of library data to cover 7 of the 15-20 worlds the PCs might visit over the course of the adventure. There is more at Vanessa, but alas the PCs didn’t bite and I didn’t railroad them. If I could have one change to EA4, I’d have it cover a quarter the distance in four times the depth.]

They bought a new jump tape at Sham. They sold the silver at Qaran, with a +3 AVT modifier from the Broker check and +5 for the In world and a roll of 13 to get 21 on the Actual Value Table. That’s 400% of base. They bought that silver at 40,000/dt, and sold it at 280,000/dt, 10dt for themselves and 6dt for the company. I felt a bit pathetic, charging them 70,000 freight from 807-946 to Qaran. It reduced their profit to 2.33 million credits.

They compiled reports on every world they visited on the way back and eventually handed them over to a contact at 502-740, the imperial client outside the border, which I've decided is a quiet scout/navy forward base.

When they eventually got back to Shamuus, they’d put two major contracts in the bag, which was respectable, and sold plenty of samples. They’d also made a couple of million for the company in spec trade and freight, which hardly dents the cost of running a Lorimar for seven months but it’s far more than Outworld Mercantile expected. And they hadn’t interfered at Vanessa. So they’ll be welcome to work there in future.

Edit: afterthought. Looking back, I think EA4 was OK. It's not IMO the ideal adventure if you want to buy it, read it once, print the handouts, and play. It could work well as a the bones of a small campaign, with the GM doing substantial prep to add more setting material and side adventures. It's a good frame to plug in some of your JTAS articles and "101 this/that/other" entries.
At this point, a financial pattern is emerging...

I kind of expected them to be adventuring with trade to keep the ship ticking over, but it’s gone the other way. They’ve made about five million credits on freight and spec trade, mostly in EA4, half on one silver trade. This is mostly because SR’s attitude is “make lots of money so you can buy a bigger ship, then make even more money to buy an even bigger ship”. It seems I got the wrong idea of the player’s motivations in that 24-hour set-up period. Travelling between (or in some cases within) the published adventures does also tend to turn into long strings of trade rolls, and the ship is very profitable.

If I was trying the same thing again I’d give them a J3 or J4 scout ship to push their expenses up and carrying capacity down, and to reduce the number of stops as they travel between adventures A and B. You can just about build a viable 100 dton J4 ship in T20, which could work very nicely for a party of two if it had no mortgage. But I’m not trying the same thing again – now I’ve realised what SR wants from the game I’ll let him work towards it. I don’t really mind all the money he’s making. If he wants a bigger ship, fine, let him earn it and then enjoy the reward. When they get to 10 or 12 million they can put a deposit on a Far Trader and start trying to cover the mortgage. I’ll then focus on adventures that work in that week on planet required by the trade rules.
One of the nice things about Shamuus (which actually sounds like a bit of a dump), is that Cold Fuzion starts there as well as EA4. So they’d just been back a couple of days, and Bert was taking Event Horizon out of mothballs, when a Vargr gent came along and asked them if they had any experience of operating in gas giant atmospheres…

By the end of the night, the PCs were being held prisoner of the Ministry of Justice in the marine barracks on Kishimaa. Cool. We’re liking Cold Fuzion. Of which, more later.
As you are aware, adventures are also guidelines. If you want an encounter to happen, you , the referee, are "God". If you wish something to happen (like encounter the Gateway Adventurer somewhere other than Du), then make it happen elsewhere, simple as that. If you wish people to make sense motive rolls, just say they've suceeded or do the sense motive rolls yourself secretly and announce the success. Don't be bound by dice rolls. Traveller is not all about rolling dice and being bound by the result (except in combat of course).
And Du is not that stupid a route to take. It is 6 Jumps away from 807-946, while the route your players took would have no doubt been the 5-Jump route. So what's an extra week when you are trading along the way and making money?
Other stuff...

Athos started out as the pistolero kid, but rapidly graduated to laser carbines, SMGs, and an illegal gauss rifle that Bert hides in the middle of the power plant for him. He's not proficient with it and suffers -4 to hit, but it's worth it to have a weapon that will do a 5d12 burst and put more than half its damage through typical armour.

Bert kept the laser rifle that downed Athos in the hijack attempt. IMTU Laser weapons lose the cable at TL = introduction + 3 and use the shoulder stock as a power pack instead.

At the end of Kursis charter, while they were at Sentry, Bert went out and bought about five assorted HUDs, about ten HUD links and ten Laser Dot Pointers. He spent the triple-double-jump from Sentry to Shangri La fitting them to their various weapons, space suits, baseball caps etc. They're now +5 to hit at close range if they get tooled up and switched on. As Psion said, Travellers do like to improve their lot in life.

Athos has gone up to level 13 (I don't track XP, it just seemed right). He took a rogue level and put the skill points on search and spot, which had failed far too often. I haven't gotten around to levelling Bert yet.
I really don't want to seem like I'm attacking or anything here, but for what it's worth...

Originally posted by Michael Taylor:
If you wish something to happen (like encounter the Gateway Adventurer somewhere other than Du), then make it happen elsewhere, simple as that.
Would love to have, but I didn't know I had a problem until SR said at Revelation "Vanessa's the only one we must visit, right? I know Du's on the suggested itinerarary, but we're going to jump over it because it costs us a week and we're in a hurry."

[I actually had them meet Gateway Adventurer on the way home, and they exchanged a few words over comm.]

What I wish I'd done is had the drive sabotaged earlier, to drop them to J2 and force them to go via Du. I'd advise anyone else running it to do that. If you're open to small changes, Michael, you might consider swapping the order of Act 2 Scene 1 and Act 2 Scene 2. Whilst 2:2 doesn't have to be run after 2:1, people will naturally tend to run them in the order they're printed.

If you wish people to make sense motive rolls, just say they've suceeded or do the sense motive rolls yourself secretly and announce the success.
Yup, I'll give you that. I wish I'd done that. As I'd bought the adventure (rather than creating my own) to save time and effort, I just ran it as written in the order it was written. I agree, I was mistaken not to override a few rolls.

But setting the DCs lower, so players naturally make some of the rolls and GMs don't need to second guess the text, would IMHO be an improvement.

And Du is not that stupid a route to take. It is 6 Jumps away from 807-946, while the route your players took would have no doubt been the 5-Jump route.
Optimal route is Shamuus, to Karsim, to Endless Blue or Rukirligi, to Revelation or Ishga, to Vanessa (bypassing Du), to 807-946. Du is an extra jump, and they're under instructions to get there as fast at possible and secure trade deals.

So what's an extra week when you are trading along the way and making money?
... and once you're on the way back, trading along the way and making money, the encounter at Du (which involves bribed customs officials delaying them a few hours etc) is no longer meaningful.
Originally posted by hunter:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by Malenfant:
probable dumb question - what's "Cold Fuzion"?
An adventure in the Gateway book.

</font>[/QUOTE]Thanks. One of these days I'll actually get to the part in the book where the adventure lives
Hey Morte,

Thanks for sharing your notes and observations!

Several times you mentioned software you wrote as aids; any chance you might share it/them?

Originally posted by dancha:
Several times you mentioned software you wrote as aids; any chance you might share it/them?
They're linked here, in the Software Solutions forum.

I mean to do a slightly improved version, with a combined interface meant for long strings of worlds (like in EA4) rather than single hops, but there is the small matter of time.

Hey, it's me - Stilletto_Rebel. Thought I'd create a new login as I can't remember my old password.

Haven't read this (bur was sorely tempted!) Will read it once you give me permission. Honest!