Redux: The Survey Crew

Originally posted to Google+ in January 2016:

Kicked off a new game of Uncharted Worlds last night with one of my local groups, and we had an absolute blast! We gathered at 7, but didn’t get to kick off and play until something like 10 — it turns out that character creation, faction creation, and ship creation can take some time. If I were to do this over again, I might come to the game having chosen what type of campaign we’d be playing, with factions of my own creation for players to slot their characters into. The results would likely be just as good, but I was very excited to see what kind of setting we all came up with together, so I don’t mind the time-sink.

This is lengthy, but it goes into the whole shebang of things. This detail is mostly for +Sean Gomes, but others might find it interesting!

I have five players, and after some chatting about what space opera is like — what it looks like or means to us — we dove into talking about campaign types; it was very easy to settle on a standard Starship Campaign. Before going into characters, the players talked about some options for what exactly they do with their starship, and thought that a Survey Ship would be an interesting focus: characters on the fringe of space, finding and charting planets, asteroids, stars, and trying to evade trouble all along the way. We very quickly — via some asides about the state of politics in the U.S. — latched onto the idea of blue collar space opera; that a survey ship is not a glamorous career move, that being a surveyor isn’t a job you choose so much as it is a job you take to survive, and that the people who take these jobs don’t have other options or need to be far away from civilization.

Very 99%, and very very exciting to me since I’ve been watching The Expanse and I was filled with images of the Belters and the work being done aboard the Cantebury. In a lot of ways, as we talked, it sounded like our game was developing into this rentpunk space opera, but we’ll see how that develops over multiple sessions. Regardless, just from hearing what they were interested in, I’ve got ideas for what kind of buttons to press and what situations to explore.

Character-wise, we wound up with:
> ELLA STIKO the Wunderkind (Productive Academic Industrial)
> HESTER the Lapsed Soldier (Regimented Militant Explorer)
> VAX SU the System Op (Productive Academic Technocrat)
> QATALLA YARHAM the Killer-for-Hire (Impoverished Clandestine Military)
> JAX BANNON the Wanderer (Brutal Starfaring Scoundrel)

So these five, for whatever reasons, have congregated on this survey ship and now work together jumping around beyond the borders of civilization, looking for anything people would pay money to see or own. We dug into Factions next, thinking more about what kind of galaxy this strange band must hail from. In the end, we continued to focus on our blue collar, capitalism-gone-too-far aesthetic that we seemed to have stumbled into. We cooked up three Factions, and then started asking ourselves whether our fourth Faction should represent some kind of stellar navy or governmental power — and then suddenly were struck with a very different idea.

The idea that there is no official stellar state regulating the vast depths between worlds; that the “law of the land” is a matter of whose backyard you’ve stumbled into; that our first three Factions were companies and other private interests, and that our last Faction should conceptually oppose that.

So, our Factions include:
> The Surveyors Guild, the powerhouse responsible for discovering, mapping, and appraising stellar objects (and probably Jump Lanes, honestly). Their Might comes from their maps, their secrets, and their necessity as the ones willing to risk life and limb on damn fool discoveries. Their Reach includes the travel beacons used throughout space, their frontier stardocks, and Surveyors Lounges on every world.
> The Alchemist Combine, a corporation that specializes in one product: labor, willing and otherwise. They bill themselves as helpers of the desperate and downtrodden, finding them work that they may desperately need if they’re just willing to go offworld; in reality, they sell human labor off into slavery and indentured servitude to all buyers. Their Might comes from the ludicrous wealth they have accumulated, their political connections, the size of their fleet, and the demand for their “services.” Their Reach includes camps, recruitment offices, and corporate HQs. Their Structure is typical corporate style with a CEO and board. Their Ideology is “A Person is a Product That Hasn’t Been Sold Yet.”
> The Juniper Networks are a technologist group — a cabal? a company? a think tank? So far, we don’t know much about JN, except that they are committed to technology and discovery, and they have the best toys around.
> Shards of Xa are a loosely connected network of pirates and isolationist cells who refuse to recognize the authority of the interstellar corporations. Their Might comes from sheer numbers, their presence throughout known space, public opinion romanticizing them, and secrecy concerning their movements, identities, and sympathizers. Their Reach exists in the form of pirate bases, unregistered freighters, and black markets. Their Structure is made up of Captains commanding “ghost fleets” of unregistered ships, and off-the-map “free states.” Their Ideology is “No One Can Own Space, No More Than They Can Own The Breath In Our Lungs.”

With Factions finally out of the way, I passed out a stack of starship flashcards that I printed out. Each player settled on a couple favorites, and then of those 10 we finally narrowed it down to one in particular that represents their Class-2 Survey ship! They picked Workshops and assigned those:

>The Helm holds Vax’s Communications Workspace and Hester’s Survey Workspace; The Helm also provides firing control for the ship’s Point Defense Turret
>The Quarters hold Ella’s Medical Workspace, and Jax’s Sleazy smoking room
>The Cargo Bay holds Qatalla’s Stealthy bolthole.

Finally, with all of that settled, we took a small pizza break, and then ripped into the Planet-side Salvage jump point from the Uncharted Worlds rulebook.

We joined our survey team aboard a Juniper Networks starship that suffered a crash-landing long ago on the unexplored world SR-388 — a world made up of interlacing bands of primordial rain forests and blasted desert wastelands; where the ancient, towering flora are so hungry and greedy that they destroy the land around them to survive. Hester was up in the helm area when suddenly laser fire poured out of the jungle in front of her; she snapped into cover and saw a three shards taking up firing position some distance away, while three others broke off to try and circle around, likely to cut their way onto the bridge if possible. Hester opened fire from her position, suppressing the breach team and held the helm.

Meanwhile, Ella and Vax considered the Juniper Networks vault door in the cargo bay. Huge, sealed, and no power to disengage the locks. Jax Bannon joined in the conversation with a simple solution: explosives. Vax did a quick scan of the area though and realized that an improperly placed explosive would bring the hold down on them, and while they argued about using explosive, Ella made her way back to engineering to bring power back online.

The jump drive was an absolute wreck, with exposed cabling and the interior mechanism on-display. Rather than reinitialize a, you know, damaged reality-warping engine, Ella found some juice left inside the ship’s batteries and brought those online just fine. The symbol on the vault door suddenly flickered and then glowed with life as the cracked and broken control panel beside it lit back up.

Vax jacked into the console and accessed the locking mechanism; the vault door slid open, revealing the six meter long, one meter tall rust-red crate striped with yellow warning bars. At the same time, though, a security alert blipped up on the console… Vax saw this warning. Bannon didn’t need to see it, though, because he saw the two floor panels flanking the vault rise up into columns that suddenly twisted and rotated around like a fractal rubix cube to construct a lightning canon on-the-fly! Bannon grabbed Vax’s collar to try and get him out of the way but took a lightning blast to the back that dropped him; Vax, having seen the warning, fired up the jump boots he wore, but was weighed down by Bannon’s spasming body still clutching his jacket. Vax ditched the jacket — and Bannon — on the cargo bay floor to reach the safety of the catwalks overhead.

Meanwhile outside, Qatalla monitored the perimeter of the ship from a rocky dune, some distance from the crew’s own shuttle. From her perch, Qatalla could see the Shards staging an attack on the helm — and was in the perfect position to see a grav-skiff with two more pirates come zooming out of the jungles at the nose of the ship and bank its way around the neighboring sand dunes. Unnoticed, Qatalla used the hook and line from her infiltrator’s kit to disappear from her perch and appear on the grav-skiff between the pirates! Chaos ensued as she tried to plant her laser knife in the neck of the driver, only for him to panic and jerk the skiff off-course — the laser-knife dug into his back and he yelled out as the wound burned! Qatalla didn’t have a chance to finish the job, though, as the passenger on the skiff pulled out his own knife and sliced across her side!

Qatalla takes a moment to think that it’s suspicious that these pirates were already on this planet, seemingly watching this ship.

Back inside the ship, Hester held the Shards at bay with continued suppressing fire — igniting the jungle around them — before suggesting they go the hell away. Clever pirates, they took her advice and retreated into the jungle. Having seen the skiff herself through the bridge portholes, she dashed back through the ship to find the crew’s entry point — a giant gouge through the cargo bay — and stumbled on the fractal lightning guns! One lanced off a shot at her, and she deftly dodged into cover without a care in the world.

Vax, meanwhile, now had a connection to the system and used it to shift from the vault controls into the security system, and succeeded! However he was only able to shut down one of the cannons, and picked the one preparing to roast Bannon’s recovering form — and worse still, this unregistered access to the system caused the reactive security system to pingback his location!

The remaining cannon, targeting Hester, pulled another rubix-fractal bit and morphed itself 360 degrees to instead fire on Vax’s hiding place in the catwalk! He threw himself out of the way as Bannon, having recovered, pulled his pistol and shot the cannon to throw off its aim! No dice! The reactive security constructed a deflector shield out of its own components and ricocheted Bannon’s bullet off somewhere into the hull, all while its lightning-bolt electrified the railing of catwalk holding Vax — jumping from there to his cybernetic braincase and corrupting his optics!

Ella, hearing all of this chaos going on, got into the computer system and looked at the ship’s power schematics and used her own brilliance to assess what was what. She hesitated to simply kill the power, because the crate was still inside, and she was right: the vault door can be deactivated when power is being supplied, but if power is cut then the door is designed to reseal with powerful magnetic bolts. However, there will be a few seconds to enter the vault and the schematics suggested that an emergency route existed out of the vault, allowing it to be used as a panic room in certain scenarios. She forwarded all this info to the crew and then shut down the batteries!

Back outside, Qatalla wrestled with the knife-wielder riding behind her while the driver did his best to shake her loose from the skiff! The knife-wielder went to stab her in the throat — but had already had her laser-knife plunged into his chest, as he toppled helplessly off the back of the skiff and was dragged along the rocks and sand by his security harness. As Qatalla prepared to turn her knife on the driver again, the skiff suddenly jumped a sand dune, sailing through the air before nose-planting into the sand with a sickening crumple! The passengers are thrown clear, and roll across the sands in a heap! While recovering, Qatalla has enough time to process the Shards of Xa shuttle settling down beside their own, disgorging additional pirates onto SR-388’s surface.

In the cargo bay, Hester takes off in a sprint to reach the vault! The remaining fractal cannon gets off one final shot before it loses power completely, and Hester easily evades it like some kind of space-valkyrie or something, scooping up Bannon by the hand as she goes! Vax watches from the catwalk as Hester and Bannon enter the vault and get their hands on the cargo as the doors nearly grind shut and seal them in. But Vax is a clever guy with a bright idea! He draws and throws one of his shock knives at the vault, and managed to sink it into the tracks of the door! It discharges, and the vault doors gradually open — just slightly — as the door drains the power cell of the knife!

Bannon and Hester take this opportunity to drag the cargo out into the open, just as the vault doors conclude slamming shut with a thunderous CLANG. A job well done, right? Well, celebrations are cut short when they realize they’re now surrounded by seven Shard pirates — must have come out of the jungle and crawled in through the opening in the cargo hold’s hull during the chaos of dragging the cargo loose. They’re arranged in a semi circle around the two of them — but one of them steps forward and puts their gun to Bannon’s head, taking him hostage!


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