Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 15 June 2019

Droned to Failure

The latest scenario The Cthulhu Hack from Just Crunch Games is Valkyrie Nine. The winner of both the UK Games Expo 2019 Best Roleplaying Adventure and UK Games Expo 2019 People’s Choice Awards Best Roleplaying Adventure at UK Games Expo 2019 is a one-shot Science Fiction scenario of cosmic horror set some fifty years into the future. It is 2072. Two years ago the European Space Agency initiated its Valkyrie project, establishing a series of automated stations on the Lunar surface to mine for its mineral wealth. One year ago monitoring and maintenance teams were assigned to each of the stations. Unfortunately, as the scenario begins, the Valkyrie Nine mining station has suffered a calamitous event of an unknown nature and it is up to the player characters to determine the cause and nature of the event and save the rest of the crew.

Although it can be played by fewer players, Valkyrie Nine is best played by five players. What they play are not members of Valkyrie Nine’s crew, but instead the station’s maintenance drones. To that end, five pre-generated drones are provided—an Emergency Unit, a Build Unit, a Medical Unit, a Service Unit, and a Survey Unit—and the means to modify them. As drones, the characters have the Saves Durability, Integrity, Cognition, and Expertise, instead of Strength, Constitution, Intelligence, and Dexterity. Instead of Hit Points they have Structure and instead of Flashlights and Smokes Resources—the ability to spot things or conduct research and learn from others respectively—they have Spatial Acuity and Relational Code, whilst a third, Database Access, represents a Drone’s ability to cope with data dissonance. Plus each drone type has its own features and two Modules—selected from a range of four—which work much an ordinary investigator’s Occupation in providing an Advantage when making an associated Save. 

Valkyrie Nine
Emergency Unit

Durability 8 Integrity 6 Cognition 13 Expertise 13

Spatial Acuity d8
Relational Code d8
Database Access d4

Structure 6

Heat Shield (d8, plus Rad hardened), Tripod (Extendable, unstable), Prehensile (Long gathering grippers), Siren (Warning, plus vocal unit)

Biometrics [X] Override [X] Suppression [O] Structural [O]

At the beginning of Valkyrie Nine the player character drones are activated following an incomplete recharging cycle to find the mining station in near darkness bar emergency lighting, the air filled with smoke, and a siren blaring. There are no signs of the crew. The task before the drones is to establish the nature of the emergency, conduct repairs as necessary, locate the crew and render aid as required. Their progress is hampered by a station-wide power reset, locked doors and hatches, and more. As they progress through the station, it soon becomes apparent that something strange is going on…

Valkyrie Nine is a sandbox-style investigation in which the drones are free to explore the limits of the station in any order their players desire. The base consists of three domes—Crew, Command, and Research—around a central Core dome below which is the Geo-Dig into the Lunar surface. Each of the locations, from dome to dome is described in some detail and what the drones might find at each.

The horror in Valkyrie Nine is of a slow build and reveal, the drones working from dome to dome uncovering more clues as to what has happened, some of them mundane, some of course, quite weird. Each of the locations is quite detailed and pleasingly, many of them are accompanied by play-test notes from the author which not only add a personal touch, but also help the Game Master stage and run the game.

There are two potential issues with Valkyrie Nine. One is that experienced players may guess or deduce the nature of the mystery at the heart of the scenario. There is no way to avoid this, except for such players to be good sports and roleplay their determining the nature of the mystery. Realising the true nature of the situation does not necessarily confer any advantage though… The other is that whilst the investigation process is well handled, the revelation of the scenario’s mystery is not as strongly supported as it could be. There is Game Master advice on how to handle this in drip feed fashion, but given that the scenario is written as a one-shot, it would have been helpful for the Game Master other than the author if some nudges and hints tailored to the player characters had been provided. To counter this, it might be a good idea for the Game Master to prepare some prior to her running Valkyrie Nine.

Physically, Valkyrie Nine feels somewhat cramped, but then it has a lot of information to impart to the Game Master. It is lightly illustrated with a nice pair of pieces that can be shown to the players at the appropriate time. There are more handouts than illustrations, these reflecting the bland, almost bureaucratic nature of the Valkyrie Nine facility. Well, it is a European Space Agency programme after all…

Valkyrie Nine presents an intriguing mystery and roleplaying challenge for the players in roleplaying drones presented with a disaster situation of unknown cause. For the Game Master, Valkyrie Nine is a challenge to prepare, present, and run—as a sandbox more challenging than a straightforward investigation—but overall, this is a superb little horror one-shot scenario which feels inspired by the films Moon and Alien as if played by Huey, Dewey, and Louie from Silent Running.

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