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Sunday, 29 July 2018

Little Ship Lost

Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar is an adventure for Traveller set in the ‘Official Traveller Universe’ of the Third Imperium. Published by Mongoose Publishing, it is specifically set in the Egryn and Pax Rulin subsectors of the Trojan Reach sector, a sparsely settled region between the Third Imperium and the Aslan Hierate. The set-up is simple. Two years ago, the Amuar went missing. She is a Leviathan-class merchant cruiser, an 1800-ton, long-range design intended to carry out speculative trade and trade prospecting missions. This makes the design perfect for the Trojan Reach where ships capable of Jump-3 are required to cross the wide gulfs between star systems. Although the Amuar has been declared lost and her crew dead, not everyone believes this to be case. An ex-merchant, a former employee of the Amuar’s owners, and relative of one of the Amuar’s missing crew, is looking for a ship’s crew to pilot his vessel beyond the borders of the Imperium in search of the missing ship and her crew. Alternatively, the ex-merchant will hire the player characters and their ship if they own one capable of Jump-3. The scenario provides a capable ship if the player characters do not have one.

This set-up draws from a scenario hook published in Adventure 4: Leviathan, a supplement for Classic Traveller published by GDW in 1980. As written, Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar needs no more than the core rules to run, but it is recommended that the Game Master have access to the High Guard supplement, since there are likely to be a lot of ship encounters during the course of the adventure. That said, the Game Master may want access to other supplements detailing the region should she want to fully develop the adventure to its full potential. Some of these may be written for previous iterations of Traveller.

As much as the adventure requires a ship’s crew, the adventure is really one of investigation and interaction. The player characters will encounter a number of different cultures and attitudes—although in general, the inhabitants of the Egryn and Pax Rulin subsectors are wary of strangers. They not only have the chance to learn more about the fate of the Amuar and her crew at each stop, they also have the opportunity to make contacts, build relationships, and discover information which will help foster trade links. Some of this the player characters may be able to take advantage of themselves, but both military and mercantile interests will be willing to pay good money for solid information. There is even the possibility that such interests will hire one or more of the player characters to pass this information on without telling their new employer.

Unless the characters interact appallingly with the various inhabitants of the worlds they visit—or they encounter a pirate vessel—combat is an unlikely occurrence in Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar. Good manners and good roleplaying, should in general, prevail, but that said, the scenario does climax aboard the lost vessel in the dark with the player characters being stalked by strange aliens and deranged denizens. At this point, some combat training will be useful as it has the feeling of the film Aliens and it should be pointed out that the scenario even goes so far as to suggest that the player characters’ ex-corporate patron might not be trustworthy…

To support the scenario, Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar comes with a lot of supporting material. This includes maps of both the Egryn and Pax Rulin subsectors, details of two polities or pocket empires the player characters will visit—the Senlis Foederate and the Belgardian Sojurnate, details and deckplans of the Leviathan-class merchant cruiser, stats and write-ups for the player characters’ patron and his small entourage, and a description of the Voidskipper, the vessel provided by their patron. This is a Far Trader adapted to have a Jump-3 range and being of a certain age possesses a number of quirks which will endear the ship to the player characters or drive them up the wall.

One new mechanic that Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar does include is for handling crew fatigue. This models the stresses of shipboard life and being kept cramped in a small tin can in space without sight or sound of being on planet or having the feel of ground and proper gravity beneath your feet. This is a particular problem for the Voidskipper as although it carries the fuel to make Jump-4, this requires two Jumps and thus longer time in space and aboard ship. This will have a deleterious effect upon the player characters and their skills and it will get worse as they spend more time aboard, to the point where they acquire annoying quirks and habits. The only real solution to this is to spend time groundside, which essentially means that not only does Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar come with a narrative reason to investigate the loss of the merchant cruiser, it comes with a mechanical one too.

Physically, Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar is well presented in full colour with some excellent illustrations. It does however feel underwritten in places—the individual worlds and their associated adventures rather than the supporting material. Certainly, there is space in places for more information and more detail and more ideas. The illustrations are good, but not always pertinent to the plot and sometimes feel like space fillers rather than anything useful.

Unfortunately, as written, Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar has one fundamental flaw. The flight of the Amuar and the trail of clues as to its fate it leaves, follow a certain route, but half way through the adventure it is possible to find clues which lead straight to the end and the fate of the Amuar. Now this would be fine, if the player characters find these clues. If they do not, or they decide to continue following the trail of clues along the Amuar’s route, then this is a very big problem indeed. This is because it effectively truncates both the route and the trail of clues. Further, the adventure does not support the players and their characters following the trail of clues in the second half to the same degree that it does in the first half. Where in the first half, the stops along the route are given two or three pages of detail each, in the second half, they are accorded little more than a paragraph each. Unfortunately, this leaves the Game Master with a lot of research and development to do to turn these paragraphs and planetary systems in proper encounters and so present the clues for her player characters to find. This is likely to be a challenge for anyone coming to Traveller and the Third Imperium afresh, lacking the wealth of information available from previous editions of the game. Ultimately, this comes down to a lack of space in the book—had it been a ninety-six-page book, there would have been room to bring these locations and their possible encounters to life instead of leaving the Game Master to do all of the work.

On the plus side, what this means is that there is plenty of room for the Game Master to take Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar and develop as is her wont, adding more adventures and developing the plot. This should not be a problem if the Game Master has access to further information about the Trojan Reach, but will certainly be a challenge if not. There is certainly a good adventure to be had in the scenario, involving exploration, speculative trade, diplomacy, and more with a little combat on the side, but as written, Reach Adventure 4: Last Flight of the Amuar is more of a well written adventure outline rather than a full adventure itself.