Monday, February 4, 2013


You have no idea how long I've waited to write those words! With Con of the North just a few weeks away, I desperately needed to get a game together to flex my woefully under-practiced GMing skills. So I conned my wife and two friends to be guinea pigs for my Rad Astra campaign setting for X-plorers box set.

But only one of them has ever played an RPG before, so I stripped down the adventure and threw in some newbie-friendly pretext to get the adventure rolling. Once they rolled up characters (a scout, a soldier, and a scientist) I told them they wake up from cryo-sleep aboard a shuttlecraft.

A message appears on screen telling them they've been expelled from the space academy (for reasons they can't seem to remember) and are sent back to a central space station with the rest of their tuition (about 150 cr for each of them). Oh and a "Good luck suckers!" farewell from the chancellor.

The scout gets an interstellar text from a school pal letting her know to check in with "Karlo", a pawn shop owner on the space station. He can hook them up with some freelance work.

Alien medallion of unusual origin
Karlo a fat, cigar-chomping T-rex-like alien who uses his tiny claws to control prosthetic arms with joysticks. Think of him as J. Jonah Jameson crossed with Jabba the Hutt, and you'll get the idea. He's a blowhard and a scoundrel, so the scout has her hands full negotiating for their first job. "So you're a couple a 'beauty school' dropouts from the academy, eh?" They were lucky to get laser pistols!

After giving them grief, Karlo loans them some basic gear, weapons, a rickety class 2 scout ship, and a banged up robot to act as their sensor pack to find an alien artifact.

Karlo's muscle, a space yeti by the name of Bema (who provided some comic relief), gets them set up and off they go to some hole-in-the-ground planet. I took the role of the droid, RIGB-E (Roving Intelligence Gathering Bot, E-CLASS) so I could give them hints via his sensors, readings, and memory, etc.

That worked out quite well, I must say--they really like interacting with him. I dropped a few hints that RIGB-E's previous owner was after the same artifact and never returned (to be continued?) and Karlo wiped his memory regarding that incident. So they found themselves both having to trust the robot, but suspicious that he may be Karlo's snitch.

As far as getting to the planet--they NEVER got there. Instead, they have to drop out of hyperspace to avoid hitting an object that wandered into their trajectory.

The object is a 15 mile in diameter space hornet nest. After fighting the tractor beam that's sucking them in (and a few school bus-sized hornet bugs) they are captured. Then the real roleplaying took place.
Soldier, scientist, scout and robot.
I was so impressed that, given their scant experience, they really threw themselves into their roles. They had to deactivate the tractor beam (The Kenobi Maneuver ) in order to free their ship. To do that they had to navigate a series of hex-shaped (in 360 degrees) hallways filled with robotic bugs (cleaner bugs really--hey, I was going easy on them!) and hook up their robot to the main computer to find out where the tractor controls were.
A menace in numbers--but easy-to-blast, Volkswagen-sized, worker bug.
A tactical error on the part of one of the PCs left the party split (!) if only by a few meters, but it was enough to frustrate them. The soldier (the one who was supposed to blaze a trail for the robot) was on one side of a VW-sized bug, and the droid on the other. Eventually, they had the robot disengage it's wheel servos and just pushed it like a shopping cart as fast as they could run past the bug. Brilliant!

Fighter-sized hornet bugs attack the shuttle.
Later on, they stumbled upon a much bigger find--a chamber filled with human and alien prisoners! Some of them dignitaries--definitely worth something to a skeevy wheeler-dealer like Karlo. They also caught a glimpse of the queen herself and the scout snapped some photos of her to sell to Karlo. The scientist downloaded the full schematics of the hornets' hexa-nest, which turned out to be built from composite material that was made out of space junk.

After a space battle with some hornets outside the nest, they escaped back into hyperspace. On the way back to the station, they wiped RIGB-E's memory about the inside of the nest--downloading it to a personal hard drive that they would hold hostage to Karlo.

Upon arrival, the scout player was now filled with confidence, having navigated the earlier obstacles in the game and really gave it to Karlo. They didn't give him all the info--instead bargaining for pieces in order to get an upgraded spaceship and better equipment to complete their mission. They negotiated a hefty line of credit, plus bonuses if they succeed, in addition to some decent hardware.

So how was the game?
The game ran for about 3 hours, including chargen--which seemed like the perfect amount of time for a first session. By the end, the team had racked up a healthy amount of XP for besting in-game foes, traps, and for some really great roleplaying. I was pleased to hear afterwards that they had a lot of fun.  All three asked to play another session sometime soon. When I heard that I felt a lot better about running it at the con. I know I've still got to practice GMing though--gaming with strangers who aren't novices is a much different bag!

Still, if I can get the group together for regular sessions, I dropped enough hints for future plot points through Bema and RIGB-E to keep them busy enough for an entire campaign. Not bad for a trial run!

Here's the stats for their ship, which is basic enough to convert for use in just about any sci-fi RPG:

In the end, they had the opportunity to name vessel, which I'm still waiting to hear...

Sparrow Type - Scout Ship
CREW: 2-7
WEAPON DAMAGE: two 1d6 front-mounted lasers; one pop-up 1d6 laser (swivels 360 degrees)
AC: 10
XP: 50 (this is more than a scout in X-plorers because of the enhanced weaponry)
COST: 30 million (this doesn't really matter in our game, it was on loan to the PCs)


  1. You had me at "Karlo"...
    The prosthetic arms manipulated by the tiny T-rex fingers! I LOVE IT!!!

  2. Thanks! I rip off from the best! ;)

  3. Those figs look familiar. Who makes them?

    Sounds like a fun game, love the Galaxian angle. Oh, so many quarters spent on that game.

  4. Hi Tom, the figs are from the old TSR Buck Rogers: Battle for the 25th Century board game. I'd been looking for some plastic, generic space opera minis since forever and these fit the bill for PCs. Even though they're tied to a license, they look nondescript enough!

  5. Oh, and the robot is a Star Wars mini from the Knights of the Old Republic line (I believe).