Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Another Sun Rises - A Cypher*Space Campaign - Session 1

Image generated with Universe Sandbox, http://universesandbox.com/



Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.

- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge


Periapsis


Upon regaining consciousness the four individuals felt as if they were drowning.  More than that, they had already drowned, and were coming to terms with this strange condition.  There was no light around them, and very little sensation against their skin, but as they reached out with their hands and feet they touched glass.  Not only had they drowned, but they were also entombed.  Some of the individuals began kicking at the glass, trying desperately to break free of the confines of this "coffin."  Another individual was able to use innate "evolutions", granted by his corporate scientists, to simply hold his breath and remain calm.  Yet another, a medical doctor, became aware of a control panel that he was able to manipulate to drain the capsule.

Memories began to trigger. 

They were not in coffins, or tombs, but rather stasis pods - devices designed to keep an individual in a perpetual state of slumber for years upon end.  A necessity for a long voyage that could take decades as travelers from Earth departed the Solar System.  But the pods' usefulness during long-term travel didn't negate the fact that the Bio-Ice, the strange viscous fluid contained within, was slowly killing these four souls.  For one poor individual, who's bloated carcass floated about in the chamber outside the stasis pods, it was already too late.

The medical doctor was able to drain his pod completely and escape.  Two more spacefarers exited their own tombs, one shattering the glass and the other kicking the base off of the pod.  A thumping from a fourth pod drew the attention of the doctor, who disengaged the evolved traveler.  One of the individuals, an engineer found a control panel and engaged the emergency lighting.

The four spacefarers looked at each other and began formal introductions.  Doctor Bruce Exeter, a pure-blooded human, was a medical doctor, who only gave the rest of the team the briefest of attention while he monitored a fifth pod that still contained a hibernating woman.  Doctor Game (pronounced "Gah-meh") Dijkstra, the cyborged engineer, was in charge of handling shipboard automation and troubleshooting. Karl Travers, of Martian descent, was part of Colonial Security and very protective of his own personal information.  Evart Crymouth, the evolved human, was a field researcher for Terracorp, the company overseeing the Argos III mission. 

  • Dr. Bruce Exeter, Hard-Boiled* Savant who Works Medical Miracles, played by Andy
  • Dr. Game Dijkstra, Learned Savant who Talks to Machines, played by Matt
  • Karl Travers, Graceful Trooper who Blanks** played by Marc
  • Evart Crymouth, Stealthy Operative who Adapts to Any Environment played by Jeremy
*Hard-Boiled is out of Wits Alone, by Ryan Chaddock Games
**The player has chosen not to share his Focus with the party at this time


The Argos III, image shared with permission of 0-hr art & technology
http://0-hr.com/

The Argos III - a kilometer and a half long vessel, departed Jupiter's orbit on August 17th, 2199.  The program was funded by the megacorporation Terracorp and the Indo-Anglo-American Union, with the assistance of the Confederated Colonies of Sol.  The goal was an interstellar mission to Tau Ceti, an orange main-sequence star 12 light years from Earth.  Tau Ceti was of great interest to mankind as two of its planets, Tau Ceti e and Tau Ceti f were both located within the star's habitable zone.  Six hundred scientists, engineers, technicians, and administrative staff had been carried aboard the Argos III for what was expected to be a 37 year trip, one-way.  The Argos III was to be the team's home for their entire mission.  But as Dr. Dijkstra, Dr. Exeter, Karl, and Evart were slowly realizing, they were not aboard the Argos III.  They were aboard a Remora, a utility vessel carried aboard the Argos III, and the Remora appeared to be adrift in space. 


The Remora Craft exterior, image shared with permission of 0-hr art & technology
http://0-hr.com/

Dr. Exeter informed the rest of the team that the woman in the fifth stasis pod was still alive, however she had suffered complications due to the stasis and could not be roused without proper medical equipment.  Evart peered into the woman's pod and revealed that her name was Ella Finnigan, a Terracorp vice president, and the assigned first contact consular for the Argos III mission.  No one knew the identity of the sixth pod's victim, who had managed to escape only to die on the outside.  With emergency power barely trickling into the room, and the Bio-Ice in the atmosphere starting to interfere with breathing, the team started working on getting the craft functioning.


The Remora Craft interior, image shared with permission of 0-hr art & technology
http://0-hr.com/

Dr. Dijkstra immediately scanned and then entered the engineering compartment and ran through some simple diagnostics.  The Remora's Microfusion Drive was inoperative, and would require several hours to repair with the right tools.  Of the craft's two RTG's (Radioisotope Thermal Generators), only one was trickling power into the craft, and neither of the emergency solar panels were deployed.  Propulsion was also limited, as the Remora's two nuclear engines were inoperative, and the thrusters were out of the proper propellant.  At least the two Ion Drives were capable of standard operation, so long as the Microfusion Drive could be engaged.  While Dr. Dijkstra was in engineering, Evart and Karl were moving about the ship looking for gear.  Some of the tools found allowed the engineer to coax a bit more power from the ship's functional RTG, thus powering up the Remora's atmospheric processors, removing all traces of Bio-Ice from the air supply.

Evart and Karl continued to go through the craft's gear, slowly realizing that while the ship was full of tools and devices it was short on food and water.  Hunger and thirst were setting in fast, and Dr. Exeter warned the team that following a long term stasis the party would be incredibly hungry, to the point of being uncontrollably ravenous.  The Operative and Trooper were able to find 5 meals-ready-to-eat, and five thirst-quenching juice boxes.  A water reclamation unit aboard the craft was nonfunctional, and only contained 2 liters of contaminated water. 


Moving to the ship's cockpit, Evart and Karl peered out into the vastness of space.  The expected starfield was blocked by a massive black void in front of the craft.  Most likely a planetoid of some kind, this spherical body filled most of the window, but to the starboard Evart saw a long tether stretch out from the craft.  Not sure where this was attached, the two spacers donned the soft e-suits and headed out to investigate.  Latched on to the belly of the spacecraft was a six-inch wide tether that stretched out for kilometers beyond even the Operative's enhanced field of vision.  

Back on board, Evart and Karl found Dr. Dijkstra working on the Microfusion Drive, and despite an initial prognosis of 3-4 hours to repair, the Learned Savant was able to get the device up in running in far less time.  As the power-source spun up, the rest of the ship’s systems came online… including GAIA.  A General Artificial Intelligence Assistant was installed on every craft participating in the Argos III mission, and despite being a smaller vessel the Remora’s GAIA was still a high capable, and incredibly useful AI.  The party began to query GAIA as to the status of the mission, and as the artificial intelligence started to divulge information, an ominous sunrise appeared outside of the Remora’s cockpit window.
 
A very dull red sun crested the horizon of the unknown planetoid… not the orange main sequence star that the team expected.
 
Crimson Rises

Between the strange star and the mission log, the party was stunned.  The Remora craft was attached to a 47 kilometers long tether, with the Argos III on the other end.  The Remora and the Argos III were in a highly elliptical orbit around an icy dwarf planet designated "Crimson b", which in turn orbited a dull low-mass red dwarf star designated "Crimson" at a distance of 16 AU (astronomical units.)  GAIA informed the party that four years ago, on SMD 268.347 (subjective mission date, taking account of time dilation), the Remora was forcefully expelled from the bow hanger of the Argos III.  The shock was becoming too much to take: 238 subjective years had passed since the Argos III was supposed to reach Tau Ceti. 

GAIA also informed the team that the stasis pods had been reactivated by the Remora’s life-support system when onboard sensors detected orbital irregularities.  While the Remora and Argos III were connected by the 47 kilometer tether, the periapsis of the two crafts’ orbit was a mere 32 kilometers.  With an apoapsis of 18500 kilometers, between the interactions of the tethered craft and the gravity of a nearby moon (designated Crimson b1), there was a high likelihood of the orbit completely destabilizing.
 
Although food and water were still a significant priority, the team decided that returning to the Argos III was now a necessity.  With the Microfusion Drive operational, Karl regained his composure and sat down in the pilot’s seat.  Just a few moments earlier the Graceful Trooper was about to lose his MRE, but a quick syringe from Dr. Exeter’s kit kept Karl from wasting any of his stomach contents.  Karl asked the remaining three crewmembers to strap in while he engaged the Ion Drive for a full thrust…
 
… which, at 0.005 meters per second per second, is a bit of a let-down.

It would take a full ten minutes to reach a comfortable 3 meter per second relative to the Argos III, and then four and a half hours before rendezvous.  Without thruster propellant docking maneuvers would be next to impossible, however the team figured out that the Bio-Ice could be used as an inefficient monopropellant. During the trip to the Argos III Dr. Dijkstra transferred the Bio-Ice from two of the stasis pods to the thruster tanks.  Meanwhile, Dr. Exeter and Evart continued to raid the craft for useful items. Some of the used components of the ship, such as broken terminals, pieces of the stasis pods, and extra chemicals could still be salvaged and possibly re-imagined into other useful one-off devices.
 
As these jury-rigged resources were gathered, the party started referring to them as Cyphers.
 
After the leisurely cruise to the Argos III it was time to dock.  The interstellar craft appeared to be operational, with the habitation wheel spinning to provide gravity for anyone inside, and a few lights illuminating the ship’s exterior.  Missing from the Argos III, however, were the ship’s astrobrake (aerobrake/sub-light deflector shield) and primary engineering compartments.  All that remained was the "operations" portion of the craft, with no sign of the other two.  Karl carefully positioned the Remora towards the bow of the Argos III and the crew took a look at the interior of the hanger.  Of the three Remora docking points, it appeared that all three craft must have been jettisoned.  A broken tether was dangling out of the hanger near one docking point, and another docking point still had a piece of a Remora attached, which would’ve meant explosive decompression for anyone onboard the smaller ship.  Karl maneuvered the crew’s Remora towards the clear docking point and made contact.
 
Immediately the ship powered down, and GAIA’s guiding voice disappeared. Again, the crew was surrounded by darkness.



Quotes



"This is the Doctor… please if you are alive, respond!" - Dr. Exeter announces himself to the rest of the crew, in darkness.  

"I'm giving you each 1 XP to start, but it was dark in your pod and you couldn't see it!" - Jim (the GM) forgot to award the extra XP to every player at the start of the game.

"I'll go with you… if you're gonna start floating off into space, its better to have someone wave goodbye." - Jeremy to Marc before Evart and Karl went out for an EVA



Thanks


Last week I posted a short rant about my intentions for Another Sun Rises, specifically my take on plausible Science Fiction - specifically space travel.  Space is massive, majestic, and completely awe inspiring in its vast complexity, and yet most science fiction is nothing more than complete fantasy.  Starships in Star Wars, Star Trek, and most sci-fi operate as if Space is just a big, black ocean which is nowhere near reality.  I contest that using real orbital mechanics is far more interesting and exciting than any spacecraft in a movie that appears to be flying about as if in atmospheric flight.  

So my first thanks goes out to my players: Andy, Jeremy, Matt, and Marc.  Thanks for joining me on this little "trip", and I hope you have a great time!

The rules for Another Sun Rises are based on Monte Cook Games' Numenera and The Strange, incredible RPG's in their own right, both of which I am absolutely in love with.  

I wanted to share a link back to 0-hr art & technology.  Ryan Wolfe is a terrific artist, and I'll be using his designs for the Remora, Argos III, and a few more.  All of his ships are available at DriveThruRPG, so I'd suggest you take a look if you are starting your own campaign in space!  

I'll be doing a review of Ryan Chaddock Games' "Wits Alone" sourcebook for Numenera, but since Andy used "Hard Boiled" as a descriptor for this game, I wanted to give them a little shout out as well.  

To build the Crimson star system, I used Universe Sandbox, a space simulator that allows you to create entire planetary systems and toy with everything from mass to orbital velocity.  You can pick up this amazing program on Steam, or check them out on their own website here.

Finally, I have to share my love for Kerbal Space Program one more time.  This absolutely magnificent game by Squad, and available on Steam has completely taken over my every waking minute that isn't spent playing tabletop RPG's.  If you have any interest in experiencing a light version of realistic orbital mechanics and spaceflight, you owe it to yourself to download this game.  Even at full price, which I happily paid, it's worth every penny.  

Without this game reigniting my love or space exploration this past year, we'd never see a Crimson Sunrise.



Picture generated within Kerbal Space Program