Deserts, Cats and Genetics

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Last session in our Traveller campaign, the crew of the Run and Pounce was on their way to the world of Ardasii, with a hold full of jellyfish and in pursuit of the ship Transcription Factor which had aboard it Dr Kazaaki, who not only had personally caused them trouble, but who now had a sizeable bounty on his head. Given that it had at least a month’s head start on them, ‘pursuit’ may be a bit optimistic a term, but they had a lead and were following it.

I did quite a bit of preparation for this session, because things had got to the point where I had to know what was going on. Previously I’d had enough for single adventures with some rough ideas of what the overall story arc was, but this session was likely to (and did) involve the players finding out quite a bit of information, which meant the information needed to be consistent. So though I don’t know exactly what’s going to be happening (that’s up to the players), I know who the important NPCs are and have a much better idea of what they’ve been doing and are trying to achieve.

This is how I often write adventures – come up with enough information to get things started, then flesh out what’s really happening behind the scenes a bit later once the first bit has been put in front of the players.

One of the random things I came up with last session was an encrypted data crystal found aboard the ship the travellers were borrowing. I had no idea what was on it, so decrypting it took longer than the previous session, giving me time to come up with what was on it.

I decided to give them something they can follow up on if they want to – some coordinates and details of hidden equipment bunkers on the Aslan world of Tyokh. The bunkers were apparently setup by the Rea’a Hrrilkhir, thought they don’t have details on who that is yet. There are some security codes for getting into the bunkers and some details on the defences – exactly why the ship’s owner would have had this information isn’t clear, but if they ever go down that way they may get an opportunity to find out.

They come out of jump and head in towards Ardasii, a world of white sand deserts. I quickly went over the basic stats for the world (tech level, government, law level etc) and I intend to do that with each world they encounter. Rather than telling them to read up on UWP codes, I’m trying to provide a more natural way for them to understand a bit about the setting.


Docking at the downport introduces the first complication – meeting a new member of the party. She’s an Aslan outcast (from the world of Tyokh – what a coincidence) looking for a ride off world.

Introducing new players and characters is always tricky, so there needed to be a existing connection between Iroioah and the current crew. So it’s decided that she and Una have worked together before, to give a sensible reason why they’re agreeing to a two metre tall alien with sharp teeth and claws to join them. I also made sure that she could help in digging out information on Ardasii, so that she was immediately useful beyond helping Una label the various Aslan controls (it’s an Aslan scout ship) in a language the rest of the crew could understand.

Initially, they check the station records to see if the Transcription Factor has been here – it has. It arrived on 295 (it is currently 332) and left on 310. It is also apparently registered to a Professor Apishkhu Alugur, not to the Dr Kazaaki who they are chasing.

Through their Streetwise, Micky and Iroioah are able to find a number of potential contacts who could provide them with information. I gave them a range of contacts, each of which could give access to different types of information.

NPC Info Card

One of the things I’ve been working on is tidying up the character display in Roll20. I’ve always had a way of outputting character/creature descriptions into the chat window, but now it’s a bit nicer and allows me to split the information between basic name and role, and more detailed information (I can choose whether to just show the information before the bar, or all of it). I was wanting to provide portraits for all the named NPCs, which as I’ve mentioned before I was able to do with ArtBreeder.

During their day of asking around at bars and digging up what information they could (a mixture of Persuade, Admin and Streetwise checks), they discovered that The Transcription Factor had undergone maintenance, some details about the crew, and also that they took some cargo on board before leaving. The BioLabs Delta division also had an office at the city of White Sands, and some of them had gone down to the surface during their time here.

There were three crew listed for the Transcription Factor, though the starport didn’t have details on the passengers.

They took an overnight train to White Sands, and on getting there they were able to find the offices for BioLabs Delta. The only member of the team that seemed to be still on the world was the office manager, Liru Musasa.

Liru Musasa

They started by claiming to have a delivery for Dr Kazaaki, and tried to find out from Ms Musasa where he was and where the rest of his team was. Their problem was that everyone had left, so there was nobody to receive delivery.

Una tried to use her Admin skill to bluff her way through, but Micky realised that Musasa was probably looking for a bribe or something if they wanted to get some more information out of her.

So Iroioah tried a bribe, as well as taking advantage of her size and sharp teeth to Persuade Musasa to help. She didn’t quite get the roll she needed, but Musasa was keen to get the group, especially the Aslan, out of her office so she got some information.

She mentions that delivery of biological specimens normally go to the Animal House, a set of labs out in the desert not far from the city. It was also possible that the delivery was meant for Dr Ulamkhi, who had a lab at Cleon University back at the capital.

She didn’t claim to know too much about the team’s plans, but that they were meeting someone called Julius Caesar at Imisaa. After the players had stopped commenting on the name, I pointed out that their characters had probably never heard of Julius Caesar before, since none of them were from Earth and it was a really long time ago. I’m quite happy for the players to wonder why someone might be going around called Julius Caesar though.

The obvious place to check out was the Animal House since it wasn’t too far away. Since Una really doesn’t like planets though, she decided to head back to the capital rather than go out into the ‘big outdoors’.

Whilst on the train, she was able to spend some time digging up details on the BioLabs Delta team, and managed to get a list of names.

Most of them were biologists and several were specialised in genetics. As far as they could tell, the two Dr Dirgus were probably sisters, maybe even twins. As far as getting information went, I allowed a success to get basic information on all of them, as well as details on Dr Kaazaki, and each point of effect to get detailed information on one of them. Una got two points of effect, and (as well as Dr Kaazaki) chose the following:

Dr Asharu Kaazaki was the head of the BioLabs Delta division of Ardasii Metals. Studied viral genetics on his home world of Imisaa. Joined Adasii Metals and moved to Ardasii. He has since been accused of being involved in slavery and illegal biochemical experimentation, and a bounty is on his head. He no longer works for Ardasii Metals, and they have put out a bounty of Cr100K.

Professor Apishkhu Alugur is a specialist in Genetic Engineering and captain of the Transcription Factor. She is a 37 year old Vilani woman from the world of Tobia. She is a specialist in Genetic Engineering, and has a reputation of being outgoing but somewhat self centred in her climb to the top, having stabbed her colleagues in the back on more than one occasion in order to get a promotion or be first to publish.

Shur Lakinkhamgi is the registered pilot of the Transcription Factor. She is an ex-Navy pilot. She is a quiet 62 year old woman who has a reputation for just getting on and doing things with a minimum of fuss. She served a couple of terms in the Imperial Navy in her youth, and moved on to the merchant navy after that. It is said that she can fly anything, from grav bikes to capital ships.

Whilst she was looking into that on the train (and getting their cargo sold), the others went out into the desert. The Animal House was a collection of what looked like concrete bunkers. The one that BioLabs Delta owned looked deserted, so they broke in with a bit of mechanical engineering. Ninji’s Mechanics check wasn’t great, but these places aren’t really high security so it just took longer.

A biology lab, rendered in Blender

Inside, the place had been burned. Both Micky and Iroioah guessed that someone had tried to destroy evidence here, though their enthusiasm hadn’t been matched by competence when it came to evidence destruction. Because of this they were able to recover some (somewhat charred) biological samples, as well as a working computer.

Though they weren’t able to get onto the main network, they were able to obtain some basic info that was still on the machine’s local cache (i.e., they failed the check to get access, but not so badly that they didn’t gain some information).

Later on, Micky gave her scientist contact, Dr Samuu Shuziina, a call. She was keen on exposing some of the corruption rampant in Ardasii Metals, so was happy to provide some internal network information that allowed Ninji to try again and get a better access.

Idu Kaa

After that, they headed back to the capital and went to visit the university lab of Dr Ulamkhi. He wasn’t there, but his assistant Idu Kaa was. Rykiel was able to kick off a conversation with him quite easily, being a biologist herself, and as it turned out Idu had read her recent papers so there was a lot of chat about biology in general, what he was up to, and what his boss was up to. Sometimes I require a roll to get information out of people, but if circumstances and choices are just right so no roll is necessary (I don’t like to give a player a free pass just because they ‘role-played’ something well, but if everything falls into place, then I do).

So, together with the information from the computers, and from Idu, they found out:

  • Julius Caesar was a contact in the Solomani District on Imisaa. He was normally found at a place called the Blossom House.
  • The team had picked up equipment from the world of Cordan, mostly gene splicing machines provided by Cordan Interstellar Chemicals. It’s a Solomani company, so has a good reputation for biological skills.
  • They’d made use of powerful computing technology at Tech-World, paying in excess of Cr100,000 for computing time to break some encryption. Their contact there was R. Gidar Shisiku of Digital Security Informatics (none of the players seem to pick up on that name). They think it may have been some pre-Third Imperium technology that was being hacked.
  • Dr Ulamkhi doesn’t like Aslan. He was involved with a pro-human movement along with his girlfriend. He may have got into trouble about such things previously, though Idu never dug into it.
  • The biological samples they had were from various worlds, generally along the Drinax Chain.

Rykiel also got invited to dinner by Idu, in exchange for running some more biological tests on the samples she had from the Animal House.

Iorioah also contacted her desert nomad contact Arbikumaki, to see if they had any information on what had happened at the Animal House. As it happens, some of his friends had video footage of some of the BioLabs team going in and torching the place, and was willing to share that in exchange for a favour later (mostly to do with weapons smuggling).

Shortly before all that happened, there was a discussion about the use of biological weapons and their legality, so I gave the players a rundown of what the Imperium’s view of biological and nuclear weapons against planets was (don’t do it), and also some history of the Sindalian Empire. That was coincidental, but turned out to be fortunate because they were able to naturally make a connection between the Sindalian Empire, the finding of pre-Imperium artefacts and biological warfare. Whether it’s the right connection or not remains to be seen, but it’s a useful connection for the players to have made.

I am trying to provide the players with information about the Imperium, how it works and its history in digestible chunks, rather than simply they either know everything (most of them have never played Traveller before, so they don’t) or overwhelming them with data dumps.

There was a lot of information flying around in this session, especially a lot of information on NPCs. The players seemed to find the info cards useful, especially having decent portraits for everyone. Personally, I like to see what something looks like and I’m not too great at mapping a textual description to a mental image, hence my heavy use of pictures, maps and tools such as blender as a GM.

As I mentioned at the start, we had a new player join us this session, and since she’s based in the US the group now spans 12 hours of timezones. I have been very used to static groups (we’ve had the same core group of people for over 20 years) and have been reluctant to take the risk of adding ‘unknown’ players, but it’s working out well and everyone seems to be fitting in and enjoying things.

Next session there will be the opportunity to uncover some more information on what has been going on, and possibly find some cargo to take to Imisaa, which is probably their next destination.

Next session

Samuel Penn