Session 8: New Vistas in the Thel Sector

Bringing Chekov's Gun to a Recon Party

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Session 8: New Vistas in the Thel Sector is a game session report for Stars without Number: Revised Edition. We played via Zoom on .

Day 8, Watch 3

Getting started, I review with the players their goals from Day 8, Watch 1. The players all agree those are still applicable.

A major constraint is Sigh’s incomplete work on his passive detector.

As a Referee, I realized that the ambiguity of when it was done was useful in the last session. However, starting a session with something ambiguous and out of the players control does not help drive the fiction forward. Another way to think about it, is that the Sigh had already experienced the consequences of failure.

To clear up the uncertainty around the detector, I call for a DC 📖 8 Fix for Sigh to determine when it will be done. Adolar, having just wrapped up his autoposy of Giorgos, helps out with some scientific insights. With Adolar’s help, Sigh know’s he close and can get it done this watch.

Sigh’s player talks through some of his thoughts on the technology. Personally, it’s quite facinating because Sigh’s player is a serious tech geek, and has spent some time thinking about what would this device likely look like if he were to make it today.

While Sigh and Adolar wrap up the passive detector, Vern and Nestor sift through court records. I call for a DC 8 Administer/Intelligence; They roll double sixes.

They learn that the Nikolaidis family started expressing legal interest in the orchard around 4 months ago. They also start seeing an increase in reporting on disruptive events during this same time. The assumption being that the five off-worlders around 4 months ago.

Day 8, Watch 4

I need to remember to come up with something around sleep deprivation and exhaustion. There might be something in the rules, but in the moment I couldn’t recall any.

The characters, having skipped a night’s sleep choose to catch up on sleep. They rest in Watch 4 and head out early the next day.

Day 9, Watch 1

As part of my procedure, I roll for Heat. I roll a 9, modified up to a 16. Nothing happens during their sleep.

At this point, while their characters sleep, I ask the players about their plans. Their general plan is to seek out high ground around the orchard. From there, they plan to deploy their passive sensor.

They’ll need about 20 minutes to run a test, and want at least two points to help triangulate the information.

I ask about the player’s equipment. What are they bringing along? Everyone eagrees that they’re bringing all of the Lazurus patches, radios, and medi kits.

Nestor’s player asks about how he might conceal a laser rifle. Could it be made to look like an “antique” slug thrower rifle? Not likely. Instead they’d need to conceal the weapons.

The group is of mixed opinions about bringing laser rifles. They definitely prefer a diplomacy or subterfuge first approach.

Were we playing Burning Wheel Gold , I could see this having been a Duel of Wits. Instead the group talked a bit through their approach. Up until this point, they’ve approached situations with diplomacy and negotiation. However, the tipping point is that the opposition said “Use deadly force if necessary.”

After a bit, they agree that they’ll conceal their laser rifles when they leave the Grand Hall. In retrospect, this conversation was a Chekov’s gun moment.

Day 9, Watch 2

As they prepare to leave, they have their capture mole, Dysmas Argyros, send the following message: “I overheard that they’re going to go out through the back door.” The idea and goal is to use the discovered mole to misdirect the people watching the Grand Hall and the player characters.

It’s a reasonable plan and misdirection.

To make their way from the Cynosure of Resplendency to the orchard, I call for two tests:

  • Sneak DC 8
  • Survival DC 8.

Each character can test one of those. If the group doesn’t get a success on Sneak, then they’ll be detected. If they don’t succeed on their Survival, they’ll have complications on finding a location to run the passive detector.

Sigh and Adolar choose to test Sneak. Vern and Nestor test Survival. Mechanically, Sigh and Nestor both have the Expert’s re-roll one failed skill test. Basically, each skill test has 3 opportunities for success.

Sigh and Adolar fail their sneak tests. Vern and Nestor succeed on their survival tests.

This means they’ll be able to navigate into a position in which they can use the passive sensors to gather information. Unfortunately, someone takes notice.

About 2 hours out, Sigh’s various sensors pick up a powerful sensor scan. The unknown opposition knows the position of the characters. I decided to reward the plan for having Dysmas plant faulty information. However, as time passes, the opposition realizes that Dysmas may well be a compromised asset. So they switch up their approach.

In this moment, the game shifts. The players now know that they have a two hour lead on an opponent that has a powerful sensor system in the Cynosure of Resplendency.

From this point forward, the players start thinking and talking in terms of a time budget.

I ask the players what do they want to do? I offer a devil’s choice. They can pick up their pace, but might be somewhat exhausted at their next encounter.

Here’s what the offer looks like:

You can gain 10 to 30 minutes. This will require an DC 6 exert test. On a failure, when you arrive at your position, you’ll have a chance of having a penalty on your first test. In hindsight, I should’ve said “You’ll have disadvantage.”

I love offering things like “You can get this with a DC 8, but for a DC 10 you could get this.” Critical in that devils choice is understanding the task and intent of the character. In the above case, with time being essential, a higher DC would buy more time. However, the consequences of failure would be potentially more extreme.

They identify that time is a resource in which they can’t make more of; But decline to pick up their pace. They don’t want to risk arriving exhausted at an unknown site.

Instead, with the powerful sensor running, they decide to set up a false trail.

Sigh, Nestor, and Vern head in one direction. Adolar, with the active equipment heads in another. After a bit, Adolar turns off the equipment, and teleports back to the rest of the group.

With powered down equipment, they operate on radio silence. The hope being that the false trail might buy them time or at least confuse the opposition.

Day 9, Watch 3

They arrive close to their destination. I call for a DC 8 Notice/Wisdom. I want to know if they’ll have an advantage over anyone at the Orchard. They succeed.

I position the players about 1000 meters from Ioannis Nikolaidis’s deer blind. They’re up on hills, and thus have a higher ground. The hills are pastures for small grazing creatures.

With the topography, they know that they need at least two readings from the scanner. Each reading takes about 20 minutes. And each reading should be conducted several hundred meters apart.

With optical devices, they notice that the hunters are not at their deer blinds. They see Zoe and the other three offworlders doing a survey.

It looks like they’re trying to find the entrance to the lab; Each are equipped with a side-arm.

The group discusses what to do. The players don’t know if the off-worlders are working with those operating the scanner.

They decide on the following plan. Adolar will staff the detector; With his teleport powers, he can get away quickly. The others will move down about 100 meters and provide cover for Adolar. The idea being if opposition comes from the orchard, the opposition would need to get past the guns before taking out the detector.

All the while, Adolar’s keeping an eye on the four people down in the orchard.

Adolar starts the scanning sequence, and within a few minutes one of the people down below changes their behavior. It’s clear they received some communication telling them about the sensor.

At this point, the four people in the orchard hide, and everyone waits. The scan completes. We’re at minute 30 of their 120 minute budget.

With one scan completed, the group quickly establishes the next steps. Sigh, by far the sneakiest, will move the device 300 meters. While moving the device, the others will cover him. They choose 300 meters as it keeps Sigh within laser rifle range.

I offer Sigh two options for his approach:

  • A DC 6 Sneak, but it will cost 15 minutes to sneak there.
  • A DC 8 Sneak, and it will only cost 5 minutes.

Sigh goes for the DC 8, and succeeds.

The remainder of the group sneaks closer to Sigh, but they fail and disclose their position. A few ground nest birds take flight as Vern, Nestor, and Adolar sneak closer to Sigh.

The characters don’t see the opposition, and Sigh fires up the scanner at minute 40.

I call for a Notice checks, DC 8. Everyone succeeds. The characters all see two men sneaking up the hill. They recognize them as two of the off-worlders.

At minute 47, the two men are within 300 meters of everyone.

Sigh begins to tinker with his rifle, trying to convert it to a stunner. I call for a DC 8 Fix if he’s willing to let it take a few minutes. Or a DC 10 Fix if he wants it fast. The consequence of failure is that Sigh won’t have a stunner and it could even cause further complications. In my head, I’m thinking on a failure there’s a 25% that the gun will fail in a dangerous manner and a 75% chance that it won’t work at all.

Sigh goes for the DC 10, and fails. Sigh’s working on the modification when the fiction changes: One of the assailants is pressing up towards Sigh’s position. Sigh wraps up his conversion, takes aim, and rolls a 5 on his 20-sider. The laser rifle starts to burn from a chemical fire. Sigh throws the rifle to the side and it loudly pops. This is a case where the player knew they failed, but committed to the action as though they succeeded.

Time for Initiative

This is the first combat of the group. The stakes are high, but the characters have cautiously advanced, maintaining their superior position.

Everyone grabs their d8 and rolls initiative. Below is the resulting order.

  1. Nestor
  2. Adolar
  3. Sigh
  4. Assailant 1
  5. Vern
  6. Assailant 2

Nestor laying down with his rifle aimed takes fire at the same target Sigh tried to shoot. Sigh had a clear shot, whereas from Nestor’s vantage point, his target has partial cover. Nestor needs to hit an AC 📖 13. He unloads a burst, and hits AC 11—the laser rifle blasts into the cover protecting the NPC.

Gunslinger Foci (Level 2): Once per round, you can reload a ranged weapon as an On Turn action if it takes no more than one round to reload. Even on a miss with a Shoot attack, you do an unmodified 1d4 damage.

Adolar also fires at Assailant 1, but misses. However, Adolar has level 2 of the Gunslinger Foci. He rolls his miss damage, and deals 4 damage. The spray manages to clip Assailant 1, but its enough to drop him.

Up next, Sigh quickly assesses the situation. Is he in danger from the burning rifle? No. He drops to the ground and takes the Total Defense action.

Total Defense: As an Instant action, the combatant focuses on nothing other than avoiding knives, gunfire, hurled crystalline spears, or other perils in the vicinity. Using Total Defense costs the user their Main Action for the round, and cannot be used if they’ve already employed their Main Action. They become immune to Shock damage for the round from melee weapons, regardless of their Armor Class, and gain a +2 bonus to their Armor Class until their next turn.

Stars without Number: Revised Edition p50

As I’ve been thinking about this combat, I was wondering if I should have had Assailant 1 take the Instant Action of Total Defense to avoid Adolar’s shot. It turns out, Total Defense cannot avoid Gunslinger’s d4 damage.

Vern quickly surveys the landscape; He doesn’t have a clear shot on Assailant 2. He considers calling for his surrender. So as to not disclose his location, he uses telepathy to tell the man to surrender.

It’s Assailant 2’s turn. I rule that Vern’s call for a surrender (via telepathy) creates a 2 point penalty on the morale check. I roll morale, and the person fails. The logical step is to surrender.

Sheepishly, the Assailant rises from their position while dropping their sidearm.

We wrap up our session there.

From their initial 120 minute budget, they’ve spent 50 minutes. The clock started when they started their passive sensor. They suspect that they have an approximate 70 minute buffer. However, they took a more circuitous route. So they may not have as much time as they thought.

Conclusion

What I loved about this session? We all kept front and center the time pressure. The players recognized that time was one of their currencies. And it was something they couldn’t gain back.

I also liked the tactical decisions regarding turning on the passive sensor and disclosing location. This meant that the ensuing combat was goal, but instead was a means for ensuring that they could get the requisite two 20 minute scans to find the entrance to what we all assume to be the Laboratory of Doctor Argyros.

This quick fire-fight was a Combat as War and not Combat as Sport.

I didn’t draw a map, but instead chose to describe distances and situations. The resulting combat was not about maneuvering on a tactical grid, but instead focusing on that moment when the decisions, planning, and skills converged into a quick and decisive fire fight.

Were I to do this over again, I think I would’ve drawn the terrain to help focus the efforts. This particular combat felt very much like a Burning Wheel Gold Range and Cover exchange.

In addition, we played out two inter-related cat and mouse games. At the site, the player characters had positional advantage over the off-worlders. However, the PCs 📖 needed to activate the sensor. In doing that, they tipped their hand to the more powerful remote sensor.