This was a stressful session for me, which was difficult to run, and I skipped through things quicker than I expected. The players were having difficulty with some parts of the plot line – it wasn’t entirely clear to them what they were “meant” to be doing in order to complete the mission, and they were unwilling to put themselves at risk for something they didn’t have much investment in.
When players are asking “why are we doing this?” and “what can we do next?” without coming up with valid reasons, it does mean something has gone wrong. They have talked about just stealing the ship and running off and ignoring the adventure – which would be fine by me, but it’s probably not the best ship to be doing that with. With only a J-1 drive, it’s not going to be running very fast.
Having arrived at Colchis (Reft/2026), they’d received a grounding order and a demand to wait to be inspected from the port authorities, which would have uncovered the hidden beam batteries (which they knew about) and the military hardware they were transporting (which they didn’t – they had been told it was ‘machine parts’, which was strictly true but imprecise).
The first ‘problem’ was that there was no reason for the players to think that the extra guns the Perfect Stranger had mounted were a problem. It’s mentioned in the adventure that this is the case, but there’s no strict reasoning for this, other than they’re hidden and non-standard – but even this isn’t defined as being illegal as far as I know. If there are some well defined legal limits on what civilian ships are allowed to carry then we’re not aware of them.
So the ‘threat’ of being searched was initially met with a “so what?”. Once their NPC crew member had pointed out that this was probably serious, they then had a problem of not having an idea of how to proceed. The adventure has a mini-game here where the PCs can try to use their skills to gain points towards getting the order rescinded before the time runs out. However, I felt that this probably wouldn’t go down well to force them down a plot they weren’t showing much interest in.
I did have a backup plan in place, in case things went wrong here, so I decided it was just easier to introduce the backup plan rather than trying to make them play though something they weren’t interested in.
The cargo they had purchased was actually military hardware from Joyeuse, and an agent of Joyeuse wanted to follow it through to the point of sale in order to ‘deal with’ the end buyer afterwards. She would provide blackmail information proving that the port directory had been paid (by Neubayern intelligence) to hold the Perfect Stranger for inspection, in return for passage with them in order to track down the final buyer.
Even that didn’t go smoothly, but in the end a deal was made and they were able to leave Colchis (as GM, I sometimes find it hard to second guess what players might accept without question, and what they’ll immediately be suspicious of). First though they decided to sell the Aslan fighting cats – again Madeleine was useful and got a really good Broker roll, then a high random roll on sell price. So even though the original plan was to take them to New Colchis, they found a buyer here willing to purchase for a smaller profit.
I skipped through the journey relatively quickly, through New Home and to Sturgeon’s Law, where they avoided any starports since they didn’t want to trigger any more surprises left for them by the Neubayern’s.
At Sturgeon’s Law though I did want to introduce the dangers of refuelling at gas giants rather than paying at a starport. They got jumped by a couple of pirates – two 40t Pinnaces equipped with guns. With 5g thrust, they could easily outrun the slow Perfect Stranger.
What the pirates weren’t expecting was the two triple-beam turrets that suddenly popped out the back of the Stranger. Two really good Gunner checks resulted in one of the Pinnaces being taken down before it could react. The second immediately flipped over and started thrusting away as fast as it could. I was sort of glad this happened, in that I wasn’t really prepared for running a space combat and somewhat stressed at that point.
Refuelled enough for three jumps, they were able to gradually make their way to Besancon. They were able to offload their cargo and refuel before deciding where to go next.
We ended there, having moved through about 60 days of travel, but had a long chat about what the players wanted out of the game.
Part of the issue is that it’s a pre-written adventure, so the players feel they’re meant to be doing something when they’re not necessarily invested in the reasons why. They seem to be enjoying the game overall, but there are aspects of it which aren’t so much liked.
The clues aren’t clear, and the risks seem high compared to how much they care. The core adventure has a single, somewhat unclear, clue as to where they need to go next. Given how much investigation the players have done into what happened, and how much extra information I’ve given them because of that, the clue has probably become even more obscured. It was something I was concerned about at the start, but didn’t do anything about to fix. A few extra words in the ship log would be all that was needed.
The trading aspect may not be so much of an interest, but they’re interested in several of the rumours I’ve seeded. The rumour seeding is actually something I’ve stopped doing – I just ran out of time to come up with them, and sort of forgot. They are interested in investigating strange things though – the missing Deepnight Endeavour and the rumours of an Ancients wreck has their attention. So I will try and push things further in that direction.
I had planned for the Joyeuse agent to be a possible contact for future adventures, but since that got skipped through relatively quickly, that’s probably not going to happen.
After this adventure is finished, I’ll leave things much more open to what the players want to do. I find that the first adventure though often needs some sort of hook to get things started so can be more railroaded than subsequent adventures, otherwise players flounder with too many options.