Welcome back to the final season of Surplus Heroes, a tale of four ex-service people trying to make a cred in the Third Imperium.
It runs on homebrew rules that recall original Traveller in spirit, but use a different dice mechanic with a much flatter probability curve. For non-combat, it’s 2d10, high is good, most targets are around a notional competence of 11.
For combat a third d10, the Button dice, has both a positive (adds to 2d10) and negative function: low is good on that d10 because it controls aim, 1 being accurate to 10 being a near miss.
Characters do have abilities, but they play little part. Skills are much more likely to be relevant. They are career-flavor. For example there’s a general ‘Tech’ field with six specialty areas for proficiencies such as computers; but that is a different field than ‘Starship tech’ with specialties such as starship helmsman. Because high is good for 2d10 skill checks, the lower a skill or ability is the better!
Our surplus heroes, and their comrades:
The Bad’n’Ruin is a double-hop Kitty (that’s Keiten-class) freighter with papers that will (just) withstand inspection.
Pip Rogers is her helmswoman, an ex-Scout with a Need for Speed.
“Big Jim” (BJ) Kowalski is her engineer. He’s the other ex-Scout, and one arm is cyberbetic – and has a combat blade concealed along it!
Michiko “Widow” Malandro handles her sensors and comms and is ship’s doctor. She rose through the Colonial Marines to Lieutenant rank, and is still a reservist. At a shade over 30 she’s the youngest of the core four. She’s also the personality relating what’s happening.
“Iceman” is her gunner. The other-ex-Marine, his cryo-storage was interrupted after 15 years by Widow’s unit: he survived but his hairless skin is blue-tinged.
Pip’s cousin Bex is the Bad’n’Ruin’s banker and merchant. A gambler at heart, it was her investment that funded half the Bad’n’Ruin’s first flight.
The above five are all partners, and who’s in charge mostly depends on what the circumstances are.
They are ably assisted by the kid of the crew, Choi, an ex-dockside rat with a knack for computing, engineering and forging documents. He’s been with them since before first flight.
Last season followed a relatively simple arc by which the crew of the Bad’n’Ruin investigated discrepancies in reports about an ill-fated expedition to Lewis, planet of the Klackons; were left for dead by a wheeler-dealer who aimed to instigate war with Lewis; and fled the Klackon tide with a hold full of refugees, for the nearest safe port, Psyadi.
This session breaks into two, so with apologies, here’s the part Widow has to say most about.
Part I: Psyadi! Surplus Heroes find their feet!
Psyadi, penal colony planet
Ola! Maybe you ombres recollect as how we load up the Bad’n’Ruin under Impy warrant of Right of Imminent Danger? She been a cramping hop across to Psyadi and we ain’t so sure we be welcome. That being a penal colony and all. But it’s like Pip thought, her cousin Tri hails us as we drop in under the guns of the Jervis, a planetary patrol ship. He hands her the coordinates and Pip decides – being under direct orders and shaded by a gunship and all – to obey the vector set!
[There’s some joking about how Iceman must be standing behind Pip with a gun at her head. Her quirk is Need for Speed and she routinely flouts landing orders.]
We drop through gray solid atmo into a nitroheavy rock-and-shale world where the colony is a gray patch by a gray sea inlet or bay. Only difference is the dark fields away yonder. The Bad’n’Ruin sets down on the hot pad and is towed off to one of three smaller pads, whiles the Jervis gets its own official bay. Right away I see a regulation Scout boat and a fat-boy trader, Far class I guess, on the other two pads. A short walk off the pads theys an admin block, then a little beyond that another, then a full hab-sprawl of zip-together prefabs.
Prepare to be probed
Some colony official with a rod up his ass boards, looks around like he ain’t smelt stale bunkroom before, and uses the ship’s vox to allow as how we all to disembark with breather masks, then the Bad’n’Ruin gonna be searched. Seeing as how he been so neighborly as to tell us what they plan, I ain’t worryin that Choi gonna be caught with ID blanks, I just supervise the passengers.
[There’s some joking about BJ needing to turn off his two security drones, but of course with double the normal passenger limit they cannot have been operating.]
Me I’m right pleased that the colony’s medics gonna be defrosting our iceboxed passengers so I get to see the soup kitchen affair they put up as reception area for us all. Nice for them all to stretch out on clean bedding. Then I see as how lawmen – I guess colony guards – rounding crew and security watch up for questioning.
Deputy Warden Hart has some questions
The GM samples Pip, since Pip’s player admits to reading the blog recently. Pip gives an adequate but not loquacious account of why we found ourselves outside the Junidi University compound, fleeing for our lives; and of the escape under pursuit of spacecraft piloted by Klackons. She mentions discrepancies in the journals, the clue that got Widow on the hunt in the first instance.
Hart is interested in her opinion on whether the Klackons are jump-capable. Pip can’t rule it out, since that appeared to be a fully operational ship chasing and shooting before we jumped.
What we do with downtime
Hours later the Bad’n’Ruin is atmo’d but not fueled and there’s a mite of tension around. Leastways, I feel it. I got me some sleep sitting up waiting in good old Marine style, but I got no clue as to what the Governor makes of our sitch. We head on back aboard to re-stow our particulars and I see Choi shiftin to get his stash back someplace BJ agrees on. We had a tiresome debrief an’ so far, I ain’t got sight of a shower cubicle. I’m thinkin’ of turning in for a real bunk shift when Tri chimes Bex.
Tri: Pip old cuz, I understand the XO turned you loose
Pip: Yep, we’re just waiting to see what happens next, but so far no problem
Tri: You silver-tongued old mort, you. Don’t know if you got the layout… we did have a brochure but the boyos here ran low on bog-roll paper… anyhow we have a pub kind of thing, the Portside Tap, let’s splice the old mainbrace
Pip: And where do I find the Portside Tap?
Tri: Can’t miss it, walk over to the City, which is what we laughingly call the habs, there’s plenty of signage dontcha know
Pip: There’s booze too right?
Tri: haha, ever the wit. But just in case that was an attempt at humor, please bring cousin Bex too. Over and out
It looks as though the crew have some downtime so Pip and Bex stroll over again, this time past both admin blocks (the second block is where the refugees are being put up) and across gray shingle-and-dark-topsoil to the prefab jungle. Sure enough the Portside Tap is well signposted and they join Tri for a drink.
The bar crowd is placid, even subdued. Some quiet drinking going on, not heavy. There’s no attempt at mood, and it’s definitely not a pickup joint (Pip judges with an experienced eye).
BJ’s private concern is to upgrade the Bad’n’Ruins scrubbers, in case we get told to just ‘haul ass and take those other scum with you’ so looks for spare parts.
By this time he’s made contact with a QM staffer named Lenny. Lenny is an older guy, quite happy to be away from the missus on ‘a project’ so the two chatter and workshop happily for hours, until such time as Lenny produces some homebrew (another project of his) and they sip away the wee hours.
Assuming it’s the place to get laid Iceman drifts to the bar, individually of Pip and Bex but at a similar hour. To his dismay he’s accosted by a jolly officer of some sort who introduces himself as Decker.
By this time Iceman has realized this is not a pickup joint so when Decker asks for a blow by blow retelling of the space ‘disengagement’ (that’s a long word officers use when they run away) he is happy enough.
Meanwhile Widow (in her own words):
Natcherly I gotta check the other ships, see if there’s some creds to be made. This hop is a suck on our balance sheet, and unless we all get some kinda reward for haulin refugees there’s gonna be some more suck to come.
The Scout’s name of Stabbed Rat, I allow as there’s some life aboard only they don’t shift to say howdy, so I walk on to the fat-boy. This freighter is the Deacon Jones. I give them the ola and vixe, Hamish pushes his face out the hatch and says howdy.
He gives me the tour, the DJ is a Tukera ship and got a corporate look to her. He’s fillin the kind of duties I always allowed he’d do real well aboard the Bad’n’Ruin, co-piloting and what have you. His sassy grins kinda remindin me, so I ask to see the showers and will he tour me through them.
Once he sets me to rights, I’m ready to check the Patrol boat, Hamish allows to come with and I ain’t objectin.
The Jervis is being serviced by a few crew. Right away I see they look Impy so I ask and sure enough, this is Impy out of Artemis. The crew allow they stand eight-month tours. Theys no non-crew allowed aboard, and now I know we got an Impy base here I gotta check in, so Hamish and me we push on to the habs and he shows me some dead dump of a bar name of Portside Tap. I think he says the locals call it the Pisser and I believe it.
Right away I see the Captain jawing to Iceman so I head over, snap him a salute – or as much of one a Marine gonna give Impy Navy – and report. He already read my file. I drop the thought of the Deacon Jones shipping all them refugees out – it cain’t hurt none to get the idea up to officer level – and right about then the Governor chimes us.
A briefing, officers and how many shareholders?
Next morning everyone that’s remotely connected with officialdom, ships, and security assembles. Ralph and Jonny Hook for example are there as security personnel. Ralph attached himself to the Bad’n’Ruin crew, most others assemble into their own little crews or cliques.
Governor Cowan (pronounced like Coen) explains his wide, dictator-like powers, then issues a series of orders.
The Scouts are dispatched to Aramis to get official word from the capital.
The Bad’n’Ruin and the Deacon Jones are imprest as reserve fleet. Reservists are activated. The fleet (of three) is to defend the colony NOT jump.
Looking at the swarm of people, the Governor then requires officers to remain behind, the rest to leave. However all five shareholders of the Bad’n’Ruin stay, which makes him a tad grumpy.
Widow presses her case for plenty of those expensive missiles the Bad’n’Ruin shot during the getaway, and Captain Decker provides six. This is good news though also a sign that he takes the Klackon threat seriously. Moreover, a twenty-ton launch is to be installed in the Bad’n’Ruins boat bay so for the first time ever she will have an ancillary craft. Widow asks about comms and a simple dedicated scrambler is to be installed, so that the fleet can squawk one another.
Widow’s description of Deacon Jones as a fat-boy is unfair, she is a normal Far Trader. The illo I found is reasonably accurate.
The Captain and Governor knowing Widow’s actual name is a bit out of left field, since none of us use real names. I step out of character to tell the others what it is, though if they read the character descriptions they may know it anyway.
Pip Tri and Bex chatting in the bar is used by the GM to hint what the Rogers family name theme is. They are all things you could see in a science lab. For example Pip=Pipette, Tri=Tripod, Bex=Beaker.
Part Two: Space Invaders! Surplus Heroes mount valiant but futile defense!
Another twelve hours later finds the Bad’n’Ruin patrolling with the Deacon Jones and of course, the Jervis. The latter, having no jump drive, is loaded with missile bays and has a big drive engine that can accelerate and decelerate quickly.
Then the first sensor contact is made and we move to Space Battle rules!
The strength of these rules are that there are decisions to be made each round; and everyone has at least one roll to make each round. Because we are not simply fleeing, the Helm has some crucial decisions to make.
Engineering: Do you push power to the drive, or the shields? Power restores depleted shields.
Helm: Naturally one option is to accelerate or change course; or do you helm defensively (adding a point to the shields roll is required); or do you helm aggressively, adding a point to the gunnery attempt?
Sensors: do you try for sensor lock (allowing shots) or jam them?
Guns: shoot! And with a reload of three missiles in the magazine, where do you pause for a round to reload?
Just like last time, Bex takes a post at the second gunnery turret. Last time she rolled lucky. I imagine the GM could have posted Ralph or some other known NPC there but having Bex try her luck keeps it in the family.
Initially three Klackon craft show up.
Agreeing with Widow’s advice, Iceman launches all three missiles at one. The range is such that they won’t contact right away.
At this early stage of battle Pip jockeys the Bad’n’Ruin so it is a less tempting target than the Jervis. The Jervis has already let it be known they should take most of the heat, since they have hardened armor and good shields.
With the initial exchange of laser fire favoring the Klackons, the Edge passes to them, and three more Klackon craft appear in the sensor shadow of the first three!
The battle above Psyadi
There are a lot of rounds of combat. The Klackons appear to be making for Psyadi itself, the defenders are willing to close, at slow but steady speed, so ranges get very short. Later, as the Klackon formation breaks up, the Edge passes to the defenders.
Early rounds: The GM has a pre-scripted course of battle for the Deacon Jones, Jervis and Klackons, so the action is smooth. With our fire added, the Jervis removes one Klackon craft entirely, and a second craft loses helm control. However the Deacon Jones and Bad’n’Ruin shields are degraded while the Jervis loses all shields.
Middle rounds: The Jervis continues to act aggressively, sheeting all of her remaining missiles home at close range and relying on her armor. She survives but must make for port, fast, using her high-performance drive. Another Klackon craft is removed and two more drift helpless on a vector that will take them away from the planet’s gravity well. The Deacon Jones survives, limping, leaving the Bad’n’Ruin as the lone active defender.
Final rounds: The Jervis lands safely, the Deacon Jones recovers helm enough to power guns and chip in with some help, and the Bad’n’Ruin lands telling shots on the sole active Klackon craft until it too drifts helpless. Altogether three craft drift away. However the previously-unhelmed Klackon craft recovers helm and comes back in and makes a landing on Psyadi. The Bad’n’Ruin is returning down the gravity well by this time at landing velocity so will easily land.
Points of interest:
It is not a happy time for BJ, many of his rolls are so bad our shields degrade fast. Pip also lets the helm drift a couple of rounds. Since these two are very specialized with ridiculously good skills, it shows that anyone can have a bad run.
Iceman is consistently accurate but until his final roll his Button dice is never below 5. Adjusting for gunnery expertise and armor/shields, most effects are ‘lose some maneuverability’ or ‘minor battery hit’. Bex rolls reasonably lucky and some shots do help.
I have an extended period of good rolls, all of them sensor lock attempts. I miss only once. In part this is thanks to the 1 point gain in Tech from end of last season, meaning that I only need an 8 or better, but in all cases where the Klackons try to break lock, my roll is higher.
During the early rounds, where we are outnumbered 2:1, Widow outlines a maneuver to Pip that would change the battle. But I do step out of character and explain that this is part of an Evil Plan that will mean jacking the Deacon Jones, looting it and fleeing. Later we would turn up in the Aramis system bearing the tragic news of Psyadi’s fall. Pip decides to stick to the cautious ‘stay near the Jervis’ plan.
Next session should see us land – though whether that would be near the colony or not I have no idea – and use our vac suits and personal weaponry to fight off the dreaded Krabbies. Stay tuned!