About thirty years ago, early in what I consider my first ‘real’ AD&D campaign (with an actual consistent world, fleshed out NPCs and plots), there was a city with a tower in it. The tower had been there for about 400 years, and belonged to a lich. The local legends was that the lich was incredibly powerful, and the tower was full of traps and undead, and many experienced heroes had gone in over the last 400 years and none had ever returned.
So some of the players, on hearing this, decided they wanted to investigate the tower. A group of 6th level adventurers wanting to go and investigate a powerful lich who had fought off adventurers far more experienced than themselves for 400 years. Not all the players were keen on the idea, and the couple of PCs who stayed outside got to make new friends when the other players needed to roll up new characters. So at least it didn’t turn into a Total Party Kill.
This is a problem that sometimes happens – balancing the concept of places that are really dangerous that PCs shouldn’t really go, and wanting them to take at least some risks at other places. If somewhere has been off-limits for centuries, and nobody has ever returned from there, then if the PCs decide to go and visit then it’s either going to probably be a TPK, or there needs to be a good reason why the PCs might be able to get away with it. I don’t like making everything a suitable level of difficulty for the players – some things are going to be a bad idea – but I also don’t like just killing everyone without giving a lot of warning.
That’s the problem I had in our Traveller game with Goblin’s Planet – a red zone system in the middle of The Beyond which is considered a very unsafe destination due to possible Ancient machines still being there. I wanted it to be a dangerous place, but I also didn’t want to just do a “and your ship is destroyed by magic super weapons”. So I want to layer the threats and have a reason for why the PCs might have a better chance of finding things out than others may have had in the past. It took me a while to come up with a theme for this, but as I played with the background for the place (something the players may never discover), I decided that a horror theme would fit the world quite well.
Note that Goblin’s Planet has some details in The Spinwards Extents book from Mongoose, but that got published after I had already made some decisions about the world, so though some of the information there has been used, the core concept of what is there is different.
The It’s A Sex Thing came out of jump in the system last session, and headed towards the gas giant to refuel. They may some good rolls, and I also checked for a random event at the world:
The ship’s communications array picks up radio pulses from the core of the world. They are frequent but apparently random noise rather than a signal. Despite this seeming randomness, the pulses seem to be directed at the ship. If the ship turns to investigate them, then the radio source goes silent. Sensor checks may be able to pin-point the source of the signals, but it is down near the core of the world and would require a major expedition to investigate properly.From Wonders of a Solar System: Gas Giants (blatant self promotion)
They spend the time trying to communicate with whatever is there, but the signals stop and don’t seem to respond to their attempts. So they head on towards the main world, trying to determine the nature of the jump instability in the system.
As they approach within 75,000km of the main world, they receive a video broadcast from the planet:
She who gives life to all has forbidden all travel to this world. You must turn around and leave immediately. She will not permit you to land here. Ignoring her wishes will make her angry, and what she gives she can also take away.
The video was of a young woman, and seemed to be genuine rather than computer generated. The broadcast came from a place just south of some mountains, one of which was a 3km tall peak the middle third of which was carved into the shape of a humanoid face.
The broadcast was repeated every 5-10 minutes, but didn’t seem to respond to any transmissions from the crew. The site of the transmissions seemed to be a small settlement, which was probably the 80 people that are said to live there – assuming the survey data isn’t out of date. They also detected a ship in an elliptical orbit – a 400t Hkiyrerao class Research vessel which was without power and wasn’t showing any signs of activity. It was an Aslan ship, and closer inspection showed that it was called Prowling the Outdoors.
After further scanning and attempts at communication, they decided to try and intercept the vessel, matching velocities with it whilst it was on the opposite side of the planet to the settlement. Khadashi and Trennance went across in battlesuits, entering through the lower deck where the docking bay had been left open. This was notably similar to what we’re doing on Monday night – exploring an abandoned ship in our Aliens RPG game, but hopefully the two adventures will be different enough in detail.
Inside the docking bay was a vacc suited aslan male – frozen and very dead, their helmet open and an energy wound in their back.
I had created some ship deck plans using Dungeondraft, and based on the designs in Ships of the Reach (and not available, since I’m not sure of the copyright status of them). The Aslan tokens came from the Aslan Adventurers set from El Cheapo Products.
The two of them carefully made their way through the ship, coming across more bodies of Aslan – both male and female – as well as science labs and living quarters. Several of the bodies showed signs of having been shot with energy weapons. They also have a scare when going back through one of the corridors and noticing that one of the bodies seemed to have ‘moved’ – what had been in one of the labs was now out in a corridor.
Maybe it had drifted?
The computer terminals had also been damaged, and there was blood along one of the corridors. The front cargo bay had two females in it – they looked as if they had killed each other in a brutal fight with spanners. Getting up to the bridge, they recovered some computer memory chips and started to head out – but again came across drifting bodies. Pushing one away with a long stick, Khadashi was certain that the corpse grabbed the stick, but it didn’t act beyond that.
They left quickly via the top airlock and headed back to the Sex Thing, which thrusted back up to high orbit before coming within sight of the settlement. Based on what they’d found, the ship had been there for about 15-20 years, and would probably fall into the atmosphere within the next 5 years or so.
Most of the information on the memory cards was encrypted, so they’d need a lot more time to get more information out of them. So they came up with a plan to return and try to access the main computer, and possibly the jump drive systems to get more information.
This time they’d go back with heavy weapons – and even Zanobia liked the idea of boarding with a Plasma Jet. At least until I pointed out that with a Blast of 10, the Plasma Jet wouldn’t be much use if it came to Close Quarters battle. She still wants to take it.
So the players have a ship full of dead (?) bodies to explore, and they’re nervous about what they’ve found. Which is good, and seems to be feeding into the horror theme that I wanted. They haven’t (knowingly) come across anything dangerous yet, but they’re concerned about what they might find. Next session they might find out what that is.