Session 2 exploring the Thel-Sector of “Stars without Number” is a game session report for Stars without Number: Revised Edition. We played around the table on .
Table of Contents
Bear with me, because I’ve got a rather lengthy post.
Introducing the Cast
First a quick reminder of the player characters.
|Aidan||Aisaak Jasper||Warrior (Thug)||Shoot-1, Sneak-0, Stab-0, Survival-2||Assassin, Wanderer|
|Ben||Marce Caero||Psychicic (Pilot)||Connect-0, Fix-0, Pilot-0, Trade-0, Precognition-1, Teleportation-0||Psychic Training|
|NPC (Jacob)||Terathis Altair||Expert (Technician)||Fix-1, Know-1, Pilot-1||Starfarer, Tinkerer|
And a quick overview of the characters introduced.
|Gwandu||Ózu||Followed PCs 📖 from port. Lead them to Folded Lotus. Had climbing gear. Part of rebellion. Touchstone: Danny Devito as a day laborer.|
|Shu||Human||Dark tight curled hair. Egg shell skin. Dark eyes. Author. Drunk and drug addict. Part of rebellion. Touchstone: Starbuck at the gaming table.|
|Yauntyr||Ózu||Sonorous voice. Touchstone: Frasier Crane.|
|Stephano||Human||Pox faced, no hair color, administrator (Chaplain of the Compass Sodality) Touchstone: Steve Buscemi in Fargo.|
|Two Unnamed Guards||Humans||Accompanied Stephano as he went from home to office.|
This week, for the second session of our Thel Sector campaign, the PCs snapped into action.
The Folded Lotus
With guidance from the portmaster, Aissack and Marce started out toward the Folded Lotus to find Shu. They noticed that an Ózu started following them. The PCs set a quick ambush, into which the Ózu stumbled.
After a quick round of questions, they learned that Gwandu (the Ózu) knew Shu and could introduce them. The PCs followed cautiously, entering the Folded Lotus.
Inside, they hear the plinking noises of Mah Jong tiles shuffling. An Ózu takes the stage with an accompanying guitarist and flutist. “I am Yauntyr, and I hope you appreciate my songs.” Yauntyr sings beautifully.
Gwandu introduces them to a drunk Shu, a woman with tight black curled hair, dark eyes, and pale skin. With humans living in pressurized quarters, we agreed that most would be rather pale.
The PCs barter for information regarding their scroll, in exchange for the drugs that they smuggled through.
The Pretech artifact that they seek sits on the mantle of Chaplain Stephano, a low-level administrator of the Compass Sodality.
As Gwandu ends his set, Marce convinces him to join them as they travel back to the Ilios system. Marce tells a tale of seeking a game show consultant and performer. Gwandu accepts the offer, and the PCs feel quite a lot richer knowing that if things go to plan their debt would be erased, and they’d have 8,000 credits to their name.
Dealing with the Chaplain of the Compass Sodality
Aissock cased the Chaplain’s home, spending a day observing. My mind went to Blades in the Dark. I wanted to start them in the middle of the heist, to see how deep they got before things started falling apart. However, the guards that came to escort the Chaplain discovered Aissock.
After some conversation, with Chaplain Stephano dropping the bigoted invective “Mucus sacks of singing shit” regarding Ózu. With a quick turn, Aissock convinced the vane Chaplain that he was observing him for promotion within the Compass Sodality. Chaplain Stephano invited Aissock into his abode for a conversation. Aissock confirmed the Pretech on the mantle.
Around this time, Terathis called up Merce: “I got to get lost for a bit. I just detected some heavy ships drawing close to the planet.” And with that, their ride bolted for the dense fog banks of Alcazar.
The PCs set a plan in motion, they would return and escort the Chaplain off-planet. Chaplain Stephano, tired of the back-water nature of Alcazar and eager to leave, he quickly accepted their lead.
Aissock came back and gathered up the Chaplain’s belongings, and they worked their way towards their spaceship. But Chaplain Stephano’s comm device rang. Aissock tensed. Took a step back. And as Stephano’s began to answer, Aissock lit him up with his laser rifle.
In quick order, they hid the body in the luggage. Then hailed Terathis, and with Yauntyr they boarded and returned to the fog.
Going to Ground
Out in the fog, they powered down most everything. They avoided detection and waited. Days passed as they sat blind. And Terathis said, “If we could get another piece like that, I could probably modify our ship to dampen its emissions." They were looking to install “Low Emissions (Fix-1): Any sensor checks to detect the ship have their difficulty increased by +2. Cost: 10% of hull, 1 component/hull class”
Yauntyr offered that he may have friends that could point them to a place that could have more of that Pretech. A few days later, a half-dozen Ózu assembled and led them to a small poly ceramic bunker.
Poking around Marce opted to teleport into the compound. Upon arrival, he heard an “Intruder. Intruder. Psychic Intruder.” muted yet calm alarm. Marce quickly figured out the controls and let Aissock into the bunker. After a bit of exploring, they heard a sentinel waking up. I used the “Announce Off-Screen Badness” move outlined in Apocalypse World. They chose to find an ambush point.
Aissock fired and hit a heavy warbot that rolled into range. Marce missed. They pressed their attack, Aissock hit again. He used his Warrior ability to hit. And knocked the warbot down to two HP 📖 . The warbot fired dowing Marce and wounding Aissock. Aissock returned fire, missed, and the warbot downed Aissock. I gave the Warbot a 50/50 chance of misfire with each shot. Alas, it never misfired.
They awoke, in a tank of fluid now draining. A few days had passed. In this inner room, they saw numerous Pretech components. Try as they may, something in their brains prevented their scavenging of that Pretech. Instead, the systems of the bunker offered them a bit of Pretech.
We wrapped up our session. I awarded 3 XP 📖 , enough for each character to level up.
I practiced a technique Judd Karlman talked about on Daydreaming about Dragons, that draws firmly from Burning Wheel. Clarify task and intent before any skill test. If I have one take away, it is this: Listen to Daydreaming about Dragons. Judd talks about techniques he uses as a GM 📖 and engages in conversations with other GMs . He rightly identifies that GM-ing is a skill-heavy role. Eight years ago, I had a conference talk accepted “Everything I Learned about Project Management I Learned from D&D.” I changed positions and had to withdraw my presentation. The skills of a GM apply to the collaborative and meeting heavy workspaces that many of us navigate. I deliberately short-circuited conversations early to ask the players what they wanted to get out of the moment. I don’t usually cut conversations short, instead of letting players talk it out. However, with a skill system, I want to go to the skill checks. Once they stated it, I moved back to the conversation and called for a roll. I set the difficulty of the roll based on intent, fictional positioning, and the novelty of it all.
I found this process helped to more quickly move further along the fiction. Instead of floundering through conversation, I interrupted the players to ask them, “What do you want out of this?” This gave them permission to think out loud.
I asked questions to let the players fill in details. As the characters walked into the Folded Lotus, I asked Aidan, “How do you know the Folded Lotus sympathizes with the rebellion?”
Aidan responded, “A series of rotating pictures scroll across the screen. Occasionally those images flicker to show a crossed-out sign of the Compass Sodality.”
I replied, “That’s great, but let’s shift it a bit to reflect the appropriate technology. Small sketched portraits adorn the wall. These sepia-toned drawings honor the memory of those that died. On the wall, a poster of the Compass Sodality’s flared cross. The poster hangs upside down and is torn in half.”
Helping clarify the “you don’t find any traps” paradox. At one point Aidan wanted to know if Shu sympathized with the Rebellion. I called for a Wisdom/Notice roll. I chose to roll secretly, but immediately backed away from the secrecy asking, “How do you know for certain that Shu is, in fact, part of the rebellion?”
He gave a few answers, which helped build out the fiction of the game.
A Warbot is a rather stiff opponent for two 1st level characters to tackle. But breaking into a Pretech compound comes with consequences. They acknowledged and knew of the extreme dangers of the impending doom. With an automatic hit from ambush and another round of fire, we all felt they could take it down. Given my previous introduction, they knew that encounter balance did not exist. The players even acknowledged this understanding after the warbot incapacitated them.
Sweet. Fast. Combat. Oh, how I love that decisive combat took two rounds and about five minutes.
I planned for someone to follow them. I didn’t plan for the NPC 📖 ’s allegiances nor loyalties. When the PCs engaged, I rolled a reaction check (see Table 140: Stars without Number reaction table).
|2||Hostile, reacting as negatively as is plausible|
|3-5||Negative, unfriendly or unhelpful|
|6-8||Neutral, reacting predictably or warily|
|9-11||Positive, potentially cooperative with PCs|
|12||Friendly, helpful as is plausible to be|
I find that I enjoy using dice as an oracle during my game. Some examples include Table 76: Guess Who’s Coming to Bitterweed Barrow? , Table 72: What NPCs learn as part of their investigation , and my post about What Frees Sir Uravulon Calcidius? (from the Tower of the Stargazer)
Running a sci-fi game feels like a stretch outside my comfort zone. In particular scene description. The characters went from a TL 📖 2 underground city, to a natural atmospheric pressure created outdoor fog, and then to a Pretech bunker. I don’t have a strong visual palette to draw from. Whereas in a fantasy game, with slower movement, the look and feel from scene to scene may vary.
I ran what I believe to be my first two player game. I played Tarathis as an NPC, but often kept him close to the ship. I often have 4 to 6 players in my game groups. I enjoyed the more intimate game. I found it straight forward to manage the spotlight for 2 players. I did observe that I had less downtime to think of next steps.
And with that, it’s time to think through the natural consequences of their action. Will the Compass Sodality use the disappearance and murder to rain hell down on the rebels? What will the resuscitation cost the PCs?
Then grind the gears of a faction turn, because there is more going on than the Compass Sodality and the Rebellion.