[Rovers] The Catapult Job

edited March 2018 in Actual Play
At Dreamation, my friend Cat Ramen (Aviatrix around here, I believe) gave me a copy of her Traveller-shaped World of Dungeons hack, Rovers. A bunch of us got together locally to play it: my friend Andrea, her husband Ron, my brother Mel, my girlfriend Michelle, and me. We’re all late 40/early 50ish types, with a range of experience: Mel and I have played a lot of both PBTA and Traveller, Andrea is getting into indie games, Ron seems to have a long history of traditional D&D as well as online gaming, and Michelle is pretty new to the whole scene.

The only prep I’d done was to generate an 8- by 10-parsec subsector map. Cat’s rules for system placement (“Scatter 10 to 12 worlds around the map and then randomly place other worlds around them”) weren’t an improvement over the original Traveller rules, so I just used those: each hex has a 50% chance of having a world in it. Each world was then defined by four d6 rolls; I rolled the dice but didn’t interpret them until later, though I did look over the map cursorily for interesting worlds.

The four stats for worlds (Planet Type, Market, Government, and Tech Level) augmented by quirks were ample information for figuring out what a world was like. With respect to subsector maps and world placement, I think you could do more to file off the Traveller serial numbers. I’d go with a 5 x 5 hex grid with a 50/50 chance per hex of there being a world in it. Make the hexes bigger so that there is more room for world names and notes. That would really aid on-the-fly GMing.

Rovers gives you a checklist to figure out what kind of Space Empire your characters are Rovers in. We went around the table and let one player decide among the options for each question, e.g., “What is the biggest threat to the Empire?” except for the two “check all that apply” questions about (1) why people in the Empire use swords, and (b) what’s the deal with psychic powers. For those, each player would in turn answer yes or no to the various options, e.g. “Are psychic powers dangerous to the user?” We wound up with a decaying Empire threatened by aliens and ruled by an Empress with an omnipresent secret service. Also, there was cheap and ubiquitous FTL commo, but we decided that it worked like e-mail: it was asynchronous, and you couldn’t be sure that your message would go through.

The players then created their characters; while they did this I figured out which world on the map they wound up on by rolling randomly. It turned out to be a vacuum mining world with divided loyalties and space age (i.e., pre-Stellar) technology. I gave it a name inspired by the list of world names in Cat’s rules: Planet Andalus. I drew a map of the planet: basically a circle with lava fields and craters marked on it, as well as a starport, mining zones, and an array of gigantic mass driver space catapults near the starport. I think I was remembering Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

I also used Cat’s rules to generate two potential patrons: a corporate VP who wanted to steal a unique item from another world in order to avoid disaster, and a desperate civilian who wanted to find a unique item in a wreck or ruin in order to avoid disaster. In my head I thought these should clearly be the same unique item (and the same disaster) but it didn’t work out that way. Nonetheless, the patrons gave me good hooks in play.

Meanwhile, the players were finishing up their characters. A few of them found character creation a little hard to parse at first, but we worked through those issues. Luckily for me Mel was there to read closely and explain things to the other players while I was working on other things.

The players found the notion of “the Empress” really engaging, so three of them had some connection to her: her former sparring partner, her bodyguard, and I think maybe her psychic assassin. The fourth player wanted to be a Bene Gesserit, which we called a Preceptress Orthodocta. The bodyguard took a ship as a mustering out benefit, a gift from the Empress, but the psychic assassin was the pilot.

At one point, I think Mel was like, “We’re a little off premise,” because rovers are supposed to be down-on-their-luck adventurer types, like Traveller PCs, but I thought it was working out fine.


  • I told the players that their ship had been part of the Empress’ armada, but that it had somehow mysteriously been cast out of the flagship’s hyperdrive field. They had emerged from hyperspace spinning crazily above planet Andalus! The pilot got things under control and brought the ship in for a landing at the local starport, and the PCs got out and tried to figure out what was going on.

    The bodyguard and the sparring partner got the ship refueled, while the pilot met the a man in the starport bar, who told him about a consortium of local wildcatters who were trying to stand up to the corporation that ran the space catapults by building their own catapult. They wanted the positronic brain out of a derelict prototype out at the edge of the lava fields to do the launch calculations for their independent rival catapult, and would pay top credit to anyone who could retrieve it from its guarded location.

    Meanwhile, the Preceptress had the door slammed in her face at the local Mother House, “because of the Emergency,” she was told, so she went looking for local government authorities to tell her more. She met a corporate VP, who told her that the Empress’ armada had been mysteriously scattered. In my head, the PCs were going to have been exiled by the Empress for unspecified thought-crime, but one of the players had speculated that maybe the whole armada had been affected by whatever affected their ship, so I made that be true. The veep also tried to hire the Preceptress to go to the corporate HQ planet a few parsecs away and steal a nanotechnology egg that would construct a space elevator from a rival at headquarters who hated him ever since business school. That was me trying to introduce the other patron I’d rolled up; the players didn’t really bite on that one, though.

    The game might benefit from a list of maguffins like positronic brains and nanotech eggs in addition to character and planet names. This would be another way of putting daylight between Rovers and Traveller.

    The players followed up on the positronic brain thing. They landed too close and a little too hard and triggered the site’s alarms, so laser-armed robo-tanks started rolling towards them. The PCs started shooting back, and the pilot deployed his “special weapon”: an orbital drone. He thought that it let him attack with it as well as a personal weapon, and I didn’t squawk, because he had already complained that he thought the tanks were overpowered.

    And I guess they sort of were: I gave the tanks six hit points and two points of armor, and let them do a full d6 damage—no, better of 2d6! Because lasers! Given that the likely hp range for PCs is 6-14, this was kind of brutal. I didn’t realize that 1d6-2 or 1d6-3, minimum 1, were more typical ranges. But as Mel said later, “Why weren’t you wearing armor?” So to some degree rules familiarity would mitigate my failure to calibrate the adversity the PCs were experiencing. But, as Mel also said, he enjoyed the feeling of being on the knife edge of failure and pulling it off.

    The PCs managed to get in to the derelict space catapult and extract the positronic brain, which turned out to be psychic and trying to take control of the Preceptress’ brain. This was the result of the 7-9 result on her attempt to remove it from its casing. She resisted its blandishments, however.

    The other three PCs finished off the first wave of tanks while the Preceptress beat feet back to the shuttle, which got repaired by the pilot just in time for the second wave to take potshots at their shuttle. It got winged by laser fire, resulting in a crash landing in the middle of the mining activity. The PCs made contact with the wildcatters and helped them install the positronic brain into the indie space catapult. I let there be one last chance for the brain to take over someone’s mind, but the PCs resisted and so installation went smoothly, even though the two psychic characters could hear it saying in their minds, “I don’t want to be a slave…” But they looked at each other and somebody said, “Well, everything looks good here.” They took their payment and headed back to the ship. We marked off one job on everyone’s sheet, and called it a night.

    I had a blast running it, and I think the players enjoyed it as well. Nice work, Cat!
  • Thanks Bill!

    I had a thought about making the sector a big hex composed of 36 hexes and you could populate the planets by rolling which "wedge" they go in. (You may remember that as basically the procedure for long-range navigation in the mini-campaign ideas from the Aslan and Zhodani alien modules :) )

    There's probably some tightening to do with the Scars (they didn't translate all that well from John Harper's original) and the trading rules are an ongoing headache :neutral: but I'm mostly happy with the direction of the game so far.

    The game definitely operates under the idea that 1d6 is normal damage. Laser weapons normally get the AP tag so that would have made your tanks suitably dangerous but not OP.

    Hope you enjoyed the Empire checklist, that's maybe my favorite bit of tech :)

    (You can grab a pdf of it here.)
  • You know, I have fairly little interest in "World of Dungeons Turbo", but I think this is a real cool product. I love the "make your own Empire" lists, for example. Lots of nice touches in here!
  • ffs. is there nothing Cat can't do?

    been toying with osring trav and hope to kick the tires on this with any of those listed above. ahhhhh, rovers where are you?
  • There are many, many things Cat can't do :-| But I thank you kindly.

    I'm officially soliciting advice on:

    --The scars, specifically when you take them in exchange for starting with more terms. The balance feels off and there's some exploitable loopholes there

    --The trading system, bane of my life. I think the current version is okayish but could use more polish.
  • Here's a thought about the cargo rules: what matters is how far away you have to take it before people want it at a price that's worth hauling it there. So you make a roll to fill your cargo hold, 6- you're hauling at a loss, pay 1 cred; 7-9, you're making a tiny profit or just breaking even, 10-11 it's worth it--you can pay your mortgage and "buy groceries," so maybe you gain a cred; 12 or better, you're putting money in the bank--you can just hand out more creds or systematize the effects of having a ton of money; maybe you get to mark a job or something. But that doesn't give you the same buy low, sell high feeling. So why not do it this way: when you take on the cargo, you roll 1d6. That gives you a sense of how hard it's going to be to sell this thing. Record that number for the cargo. Jump once, you can roll the second die. Record it and keep the cargo or sell right now. Jump twice, you get a third die--roll it and use it to replace one of the ones you've already got. Add market bonuses or penalties based on cargo and world type. Eventually you go far enough to get to a place where it's worth it to sell the cargo. Different sorts of salesmanship or other negotiating strategies might give you +1 forward to the sales roll. Something like that. The trick is to make freight hauling something that doesn't require a ton of bookkeeping while still feeling like we're hauling stuff.
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