Privateer, Episode 1: Luxury Food
Helen, Troy System, Humboldt Quadrant, Gemini Sector 2669.001
Anytime we break story to discuss “the game”, whether that’s mechanics or explaining the “GMs” decision making, we’ll use these block quotes so you can choose to skip them or live inside my head. Not all games will have the following lengthy introductory material but I felt it was helpful to explain what you are about to read over the coming months.
True to the spirit of this game I did not create a character initially. I selected the setting and then re-read a bit of the game’s manual which I have from my Good Old Games purchase to familiarize myself with the video game’s own initial setup. I decided to follow a similar path: we’ll have our main character begin with an inherited old scout ship that’s not well suited to the job of being a profitable independent merchant. I picked a few random tables to use to help with determining situations. I have 1000s of tables but I really wanted to start small and so I went with the four core oracle tables from Starforged: Action, Theme, Descriptor, & Focus. I made my own custom table for available cargo built around data easily found online. I have a feeling this table will require the most tinkering to get right. I’m not super interested in a detailed “bean counting” game but part of the allure of Privateer is upgrading your ship. To start I’ve simplified pricing using a model similar to Four Color Studio’s Farthest Star’s “Crew Wealth Score.”
I didn’t want to choose a ruleset yet, in fact I’d rather play out a few “turns” to get an idea for what seems to matter in determining contested or risky actions. Still you need something to help decide outcomes. The Mythic Gamemaster Emulator would be a natural choice but I wasn’t sure that Mythic’s scene-engine would be a good fit for this style of game yet. Instead I’ve turned to Zozer’s SOLO and its “The Plan” scene engine modified slightly with some updated rules the same author put out in a free supplement title Playing Solo Classic Traveller. We’ll also make use of the simplest dice mechanic that GMs have used since the earliest days: roll a d6, low is bad, high is good. Likewise making quick on-the-fly 1d6 random tables will probably be a mainstay for a while.
“How are things in the Troy system, bartender?” asks a man wearing a brown flight jacket.
I won’t always go into so much detail explaining how I come to various in-game decisions but for this first episode I wanted to try to show how I run a game on-the-fly like this.
“How are things in the Troy system?”
- High/Low roll: 1d6: 1 “The worst”
“What’s so bad?”
- Starforged action+theme oracle: “Clash Authority”
“Rough for a privateer like you. Pirate raids are as high as they’ve ever been and there’s not nearly enough of a Confed presence out here to deter them.” answers the bartender.
“Privateer? How’d you know?” said the man.
“You’ve got the look, the hunger to turn a quick profit. In fact there’s a woman over at that table looking for a merchant runner like yourself.”
“Well, thanks for the tip… I didn’t catch your name, bartender?”
“Folks call me Berat.”
“Berat, alright. I’m Barban, sir. Kell Barban. I’m the pilot of the Plucky Weasel.” the man said.
“That’s uh… that’s a memorable name.” Berat said.
“Ehh, it is a stupid name that my grandmother gave her scout ship.” said Kell.
“Fair enough. Talk to Meili over there, she’ll fix you up with a job.”
We’ll assume it is a cargo running job for now - keep things simple.
Kell looked over at the woman at the table.
“Who is Meili?”
- Adventure Crafter character descriptor+identity: Rough Supporter
The woman had fair skin, straight black hair, and a firm expression. She held a lager in her hands. Her outfit didn’t give away anything particular about her affiliations but perhaps she worked for one of the guilds.
“Meili? I hear you’ve got work for a privateer? Berat sent me over. Name’s Kell”
“It is your lucky day, newbie. I work for the Mining Guild and we need to ship over a few creates of luxury foods to Hector for an important meeting. Should be a milk run but some of the regulars out here are spooked by all the pirate activity right now.” said Meili.
“What’s the pay?”
“2c and we’ll cover your refueling cost at Hector.”
“Sounds good. I’ve got my ship over at bay 5. Will you need passage as well?”
“Only the crates.”
Kell and Meili exchanged info on their personal computers before Kell headed back to his ship.
In route to Hector, Troy System, Humboldt Quadrant, Gemini Sector 2669.001
Here’s where we’ll turn to “The Plan.” It is like an abstract scene simulator where you punch in a few details and get a resolved scene in return. You roll the dice and then reverse engineer what happened from the dice result. It uses 2d6 and two small tables for adding some detail about “good” or “bad” things that might have happened. I’m modifying “The Plan” slightly - the original system let’s you add a +1 for a PC with a relevant skill and +1 for a PC with an important piece of gear. This is fine enough but a more recent version of “The Plan” instead said that you could have up to three PCs make individual skill checks. If those skill checks succeed then you can add a +1 for each successful check. If all three checks fail, then you add a -2 DM. Each check can result in their own consequences on a failure so there’s some risk involved in trying to obtain these bonuses. I like this because it let you expand upon what happens within the scene without resorting to dozens of rolls still.
The other change is to how we frame The Plan. By the book it is a difficulty rating but I think that three “positions” from Blades in The Dark make more sense: desperate, risky, or controlled.
I need to quickly stat Kell for this scene and because The Plan is built around Traveller concepts, we’ll just say he has Space-1 - using the abbreviated skill set from Stellagamma’s Quantum Starfarer.
The Plan: Fly to Hector, deliver the cargo, and try to out-run any pirates encounters.
- Kell Barban. A difficult Space throw to out-fly any pirates:
- (TN 9+): [4,1]+1 = 6 (Effect: -3) failed!
- mole.mole complication: 1d6 1 - Damage (harm)
It is a “risky” plan throw:
- (TN 8+): [3,6] = 9 success!
- with a good consequence:
- Find a useful or valuable piece of kit
“What’s the kit?”
- Starforged descriptor+focus: Contested Device
The overall plot to the original video game is oddly enough over a “Contested Device” but instead I think I’m going to make this something more pedestrian for now. Kell’s ship doesn’t have a tractor beam yet or finding some cargo in space would’ve been an obvious direction.
So - In summary, Kell’s skill throw fails but the overall plan succeeds.
About 30 minutes into the journey Kell’s radar lit up with (1d3: 2) two small craft. His older model Tarsus ship was equipped with an ancient Mk 1 Iris scanner. The blips showed up in gray with no other information available. Kell desperately wanted to upgrade to the Hunter AW 6i which had Friend-or-Foe color code capabilities.
The ships’ radio blistered with static and then a husky voice “Prepared to be boarded, smuggler.”
Kell nervously flipped on his subspace radio mic. “Hi. Um, Hey. How’s it going? Not looking for trouble.”
“Prepared to be boarded.”
“Ok, so that’s not happening because I’ve got bills to pay. Nice talking though.”
Kell flipped the mic off and gripped the controls. He made a visual scan of his surroundings and noticed an asteroid field in the distance. Toggling several switches he diverted power to the rear shields and was tossed back in his seat as he hit the afterburners.
Two new blips appeared on his radar, moving fast. “Missles, fun.” thought Kell. He rolled the ship around and tried to dodge the ship as closely as he could around an asteroid. Blam! The ship rocked. Scanning the radar Kell could see the missiles still active but flying past him. “Damn, I hit the asteroid.” The hull indicator panel noted 75% integrity. Ducking and weaving through a few more asteroids Kell was relieved to see that his pursuers were dropping back. Kell & Plucky Weasel emerged from the asteroid field, alone.
Hector, Troy System, Humboldt Quadrant, Gemini Sector 2669.001
“You are cleared for landing on Bay 04.”
Kell maneuvered the banged up Tarsus into the landing bay. Meeting his Mining Guild contact they transfered the payment for the crates and covered his fuel expenses.
“What’s so special about this food?” asked Kell.
“We’re trying to cut a deal with the refinery in Pollux and their boss loves squid.” said the guild rep.
“Any chance you can help me out with repairs?” asked Kell.
Kell’s Social-0 moderate throw (TN 7+): [4,2] = 6 (Effect: -1) failed!
“Not a chance. Too many of our own ships are banged up after tussling with the local pirates.” said the guild rep.
“That said, I can cut you on a deal. Yesterday we managed to take one of the pirates down and picked up their stolen cargo. One of the crates was full of weaponry. Illegal weaponry. I can get you a disruptor pistol for just 1c. We’d like to move this stuff before the Confeds get wind of it.”
Kell thought about the offer. Disruptor pistols were a nasty business, he had seen the after effects of a few during his brief time in the Army. They are also illegal just about everywhere the Gemini Sector.
Army? How’d I determine Kell was a former grunt without character creation? Well I was curious as to his background so I rolled on the Adventure Crafter’s character tables earlier and got “Weak Killer.” The first thing that popped into my head was that he washed out of the Army… maybe he froze up on the field too many times or maybe something else happened that has made him too “weak” for the Army life. Not too sure yet. I figure the death of his grandmother and inheriting her ship has pulled him into the merchant life though.
“Ok, I could use a sidearm out here. I had a couple of pirates interested in boarding my ship on the way over.”
“Right? Even a pirate boarding party would take a disruptor pointing back at them seriously. Meet me at the bar this evening, we can settle the deal then.”
Kell shook hands with the man and the two traded contact info on their personal computers.
It cost another Kell another 1c to have his ship’s hull repaired.
“Well I’m broke again but I’ve got fueled up ship and, hopefully, a blaster.” though Kell.
After transferring the repair fee he headed up to bar on Hector hoping to not only acquire the blaster but another patron. It was going to take a lot more jobs, bigger jobs, if he wanted to keep flying in the Gemini Sector.
Even without a fixed rule set we can get pretty far with a few word pairing tables and a dice mechanic (2d6+modifier vs. target number) that I understand very well. I didn’t really need too much in the way of character or ship stats for this because of how “The Plan” abstracts the finer details. Not everyone will like that approach but it works for me because my gaming time is pretty limited. I had to think up Kell’s stats on-the-fly a couple of times and decided he had a basic professional skillset as a pilot (Space-1) but was not particularly gifted in matters of charisma (Social-0.) Going forward I’ll just continue to work out these details as necessary. I’m not certain my abstract cargo/wealth approach is going to work but so far, so good.