Session 10: New Vistas in the Thel Sector

Stacks of Papers, a Medical Facility, a Pre-Tech Workshop, and a Psychic Hazard

Session 10: New Vistas in the Thel Sector is a game session report for Stars without Number: Revised Edition. We played via Zoom on .

In this session, we do a bit of dungeon delving; That is exploring a location.

I remind the players of as well as the NPC :

  • Plek - the primary point of contact
  • Crunk - two mid-sized stones
  • Kilt - mostly a cloud of sand and silt
  • Neck - comprised of many smaller stones

In the Laboratory Corridor

They start this session in a corridor running east and west. They entered from the west. The corridor has four holding cells—two on the north side and two on the south—and two unopened doors at the eastern end; One door is on the eastern wall and the other is on the southern wall.

Plek asks, “What are we doing?”

“Since you’ve been here, where have you explored?” asks Adolar.

Plek responds, “I haven’t been able to pass those doors. My physiology can’t open them.”

The group has some discussion regarding whether or not the Kvarzflett are hostile. This involves discussing their response to the characters having weapons. They also acknowledge that maybe the weapons won’t affect the Kvarzflett.

They agree they have aligned goals.

For descriptive purposes, I’ll use cardinal directions.

I remind the players that there are two doors at the eastern end of this corridor. The door on the south has a symbol of a person on the door. The door on the eastern end has no symbol. Both appear to open via a touch screen panel.

Before they press onward, Sigh Redfeather wants to rig up an explosive device.

I’m usually rather lax about inventory; I figure if it’s important, we’ll do an audit.

In this scene, it’s important as they have finite resources and no known means of replenishment.

Sigh takes one of the batteries and begins making an Improvised Explosive Device (IED 📖). I call for a Fix Difficulty Class (DC 📖) 8 test; It’ll take 1d6 minutes, and each degree of success will decrease the time. Sigh succeeds and takes a minute to jury rig a grenade.

They decide to open the southern door into what they suspect to be the toilet (e.g. the door on the right with a person on the door).

Into the Toilet

This is the first time I’ve ever run a location that included a toilet. When Adolar’s player mentioned janitors closet, I thought “Yeah that would make sense. But I don’t think I’m going to include one.”

A full height wall, running north to south partially divides the room. The western side of the has toilets. On the western side of the dividing wall are a series of sinks and wash basons. On the eastern wall, opposite the sinks, are two doors.

They explore the wash room, checking for possible options of moving through the ventilation. I tell them its too small for them, but Kilt or Neck could likely travel through it.

Having checked the room they move to the two doors on the eastern wall. Using the touch screen, they slide open the northern door.

A Paper Perfect View

The door slides open; Immediately in front of them is a shelf fully stacked with loose paper. The presence of a vertical shelf clues them in that there’s more on the other side.

Adolar pulls a few pages. Each page appears to have been torn from a book. These few pages are from different sources. Each page appears to be part of a research paper on different topics.

Adolar removes a ream of paper and looks through the opening.

Through the opening they see a large room; I tell them that they can most certainly access this room from the door on the eastern end of the original corridor.

The north and south walls are embossed with an indiscernable pattern. In the middle of the room, Adolar sees a human-shaped mechanical endo-skeleton standing next to a lecturn.

The mechanical creature faces north and east (and thus away from the characters). The creature slowly moves and gesticulates as though engaging in a quiet conversation.

Consulting the others, they agree to leave this room alone, and move to the other door on the eastern wall of the washroom.

A Room to Regret

They open the door and see a large room and enter.

Three hospital gurneys and medical stations are on the north and south walls (for a total of 6 beds). In the center of the room are two rounded desks that form a circular observation station. On the western wall are two doors.

Vern checks out a bed, while Nestor begins checking the southern wall, and Sigh and Adolar checkout the observation station.

On a cursory glance, this medical facility appears to serve a specialized function instead of a general medical function.

As Vern approaches one of the beds, I call for a Mental Saving throw. Vern fails and swoons.

Quickly Adolar approaches to tend to Vern, and I call for Adolar to make a Mental Saving throw. He fails and also collapses.

The four Kvarzflett don’t take immediate action, but instead choose to assess the situation. I’ve established that they are prone to experience time quite differently, so I don’t have to worry about remembering them. They may not be paying attention.

Already in motion to help, Sigh and Nestor pause and assess the situation. Sigh checks his medical scanner, but doesn’t find anything wrong with the environment.

Within a few moments, Vern and Adolar begin to stir.

I ask Vern and Adolar’s players to each describe a past event in which their character still feels regret and that they need to repent.

Vern undermined one of his friends so that Vern could gain a promotion.

Adolar recalls his falling out with his mentor. At the time Adolar felt that he wasn’t taught correctly, and in a teleportation mishap, he physically hurt his mentor.

I tell each of the players that failed their Mental save that they have a lingering almost paralyzing sense of regret; As they shake off the sensation, the feelings begin to fade.

They resume exploring the room.

Adolar heads over to observation station. There are two sets of filing cabinets. Opening them up he finds several folders. Pulling out a folder, he looks it over. His successful DC 8 Know test tells him these papers are written in a cipher. Adolar grabs about six of these folders for later reference.

Sigh checks the medical equipment at each of the beds. It appears to be limited; They could administer an IV, check vitals, and strap patients to the bed.

Here we do an in-game time check; We ended the last session with the characters at minute 85 (or so).

As a matter of procedure, I tell them that exploring each room costs 10 minutes (e.g. one turn in Old School Renaissance (OSR 📖) parlance ). We’re all happy with this abstraction. I advance the clock to 115 minutes of their estimated 120 minute budget.

After all YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT. See my post for more about Heeding Gygax’s Admonition.

The others examine the two doors on the eastern wall.

One door has a Psychic Hazard symbol and the other has Maintenance symbol.

The players quickly discuss that they’d rather go into the control room than the nuclear reactor room.

They check the Maintenance door and its locked. Sigh steps up and attempts to unlock the door. And fails.

During this session, we establish that each room is basically a scene; Opening the door starts the scene. This way Sigh’s player knows that to spend their re-roll at the beginning could leave them more exposed later.

Sigh, as an Expert, chooses to use his once per scene re-roll a skill check. He throws the dice and succeeds, gaining access to the maintenance room.

The Malignant Maintenance Room

The door opens into a room loaded with pre-tech gadgets. On the northern wall they see a door. The southern wall has a window into the room with the Psychic Hazard symbol.

Sigh’s player asks: “Is this a large window looking in? Or is it a small view port designed to limit exposure from what’s on the other side?”

I tell them, “Oh it’s one of those narrow windows positioned at optimal height to look into, but also to minimize any unnecessary exposure.”

I then ask Vern’s player: “How do you know all of these gadgets have been used for sinister purposes?”

Vern’s player responds: “I can feel the residual psychic echoes.”

I tell them that they can feel a malignent pull on the being, as though this room was the workshop of some psychic puppet master.

Sigh clucking with excitement at the prospect of pre-tech salvage holds back on bursting into the room.

The group has a quick conversation in which they agree that a non-Psychic should go first.

Nestor steps into the room. I call for a Mental saving throw, and Nestor fails.

I ask Nestor’s player: “If you had to betray someone in the group, who would it be? And why?”

Nestor’s player says he would betray Vern. At present, both Vern and Nestor are both the talkers and verbal leaders. In betraying Vern, Nestor would cement his leadership.

I clarify that Nestor doesn’t feel any compulsion to betray Vern, it’s just that his mind went there.

Earlier in our session, before we started gaming, Adolar’s player mentioned games with open secrets. Thus far we hadn’t had any. And this was now an example of that open secret. The players talked and agreed that to build on this secret, Sigh and Adolar should approach Vern with a deference to his leadership.

I also use this point to reiterate: I’m not looking to force character actions. And if anyone feels that these questions I ask push you in the wrong way, tell me. I’ll withdraw the question and take another approach.

My goal is to ensure that we’re all having a fun and enjoyable gaming experience.

Nestor calls out, “Hey Vern, why don’t you come in. I think it’s safe.” I love this! It builds on the betrayal without being a “hard” betrayal.

Vern steps in, and fails his mental saving throw.

I ask Vern’s player, “If you had to betray someone in the group (that isn’t Nestor), who would it be? And why?”

Vern responds that he would betray Sigh. Vern respects Sigh, but sees that they often need to work around Sigh’s uniqueness. As an administrator, Vern see’s Sigh as someone that reduces the group’s efficiency. I think to myself, that’s awesome. Vern’s demonstrating an “It’s not personal, it’s business” mindset. And something that we can explore later.

Adolar pops open his bioscanner, and it registers thousands of discreet entities.

At this point, Vern and Nestor look through the window into the “Pyschic Hazard” room. They see a room that is structured quite different to the obviously fabricated nature of the building. It looks like someone had landscaped a habitat within that small room.

The landscaped habitat looks encrusted with numerous barnacles.

The group describes aloud the situation, and the Kvarzflett shudder and Plek begins ranting about the dangers.

Of Psychic Hazards and Asteroid Bombardments

Plek describes the dangers of the Abur, the parasitic barnacles in the room. In the past, experiments used the Kvarzflett as a food source to grow the initial strains of the Abur. The experiments then extracted a psycho-pharmacutical drug from the Abur.

What was unrealized was that the Abur can spread by spores; Even a limited expore to the spores can result in a Kvarzflett becoming a host an Abur.

Plek then explains that they didn’t think they’d find live specimens of the Abur; Instead they were thinking they’d find the derived mind-control serum.

Adolar asks, “How did your kind deal with them before?”

Plek responds, “With a grim response. We don’t suffer anyone exposed to the Abur. In the end, we coordinated an evacuation of the planet; Many remained behind. From orbit, we bombarded the planet with asteroids, laying ruin to the planet and exposing the Abur to radiation and the vacuum of space.”

Here the players assess the situation. They want to destroy the Abur. They don’t want their company to have access to this.

They are working with three timelines. The most immediate is the likely arrival of the opposition. The second is the arrival of their rendezvous ship (in 3 days). And most important, but least urgent is the destruction of the Abur.

They begin working through how to bath this place in radiation. They may repurpose the energy reactor or leverage some of this pre-tech salvage.

They figured one thing they might try is to come charging out of the facility screaming “It’s going to blow.” From there, they might be able to buy enough time to talk their way out of a situation.

Session End

For record keeping, we ended the session with the Player Characters (PCs 📖) at minute 125 of their 120 minute budget. By this point, they assume that the opposition is gathering outside.

Next session, I imagine they’ll launch into some dangerous gambit that will:

  1. Destroy the Abur
  2. Keep the Kvarzflett safe
  3. Conceal their actions to avoid suspicion from their employer
  4. Ingratiate themselves with the gathering opposition
  5. And abscond with several bits of Pre-Tech salvage

And I mustn’t forget; Vern has failed 2 of 3 Mental saving throws, Sigh has failed 1 of 1 Mental saving throws, and Nestor and Adolar have each failed 1 of 2 Mental saving throws.