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

Saturday 26 November 2022

Just Another Bug Hunt?

The search and rescue call was coming from somewhere in the asteroid ring. It was faint and difficult to track. But you found the source and you did it before anyone did. Which was good, because the source, a science station on Asteroid N0 looked cold and abandoned. Whatever happened here was a while ago. If it was abandoned or empty and nobody else had got there before you, that meant salvage. Maybe some tech or Gems you could sell back at the Iron Ring, the inhabited heart of the Tenebris System, last refuge of humanity following the Gem War and the slow contraction of the universe. The domes of the station on Asteroid N0 looked like easy pickings with whomever had sent out the distress call dead or long gone, and nobody to get in your way. And if there were any survivors, they would probably be so grateful that they would either pay you or not even be bothered when you took your payment in kind. So you all went in because it was going to be easy. That was you first mistake. The abandoned station was inhabited, but not by man. Pink insect-like things, with ragged wings and four eyes on each side of their heads, and a sharp needle-shaped proboscis that extended out of their mouths again and again. They reacted to your lights and they got between you and your shuttle. No way you could get back. Which meant you were trapped and needed to find a way to get past them, maybe get some answers, find out what happened here …Or just find a way to survive. Just seven hours of oxygen left.

This is the set-up for STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module. Published by Squid Ink Games via Deeply Dapper Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign, STATION X3N0 is a scenario for Death in Space, the Swedish blue-collar Science Fiction survival roleplaying game about hope and co-operation in the face of nihilism and an uncaring universe. It is designed to be played or used in one of three ways. First, as a solo adventure, or ‘solo station crawl’, in which the station’s various locations and the clues to what happened are revealed procedurally. This can be done by the one player or even by a group of players, but without the Referee. Second, as a standard module with a group of players and their characters. Third, as a source of material.

Almost two fifths of STATION X3N0 is dedicated to solo play. The module opens with a pair of pieces of fiction before explaining what the module is and how to use it. Beginning in Room 0.0, the player sets out to explore the rest of the station, moving from room to room, location to location, discovering clues and records of the missing station personnel’s activities, building an idea of what happened at Station X3, and hopefully finding a way to get past the alien monsters or off Asteroid N0. Some locations are linked to specific locations and the player can decide to simply move to one of these, but he can also roll d66 to randomly generate the next location. (An alternative method using a deck of playing cards isa also included in the book.) This leads to a chaotic feel and layout as play proceeds, but it also adds a degree of weirdness to the already claustrophobic nature of the module. Whenever the player enters a new area, he marks this off on the ‘Area Tracking Log’ which is at the back of the book. He also rolls two six-sided dice and if he rolls doubles, marks this off a box on the ‘Disturbances Track’. This has several rows and several boxes marked in bold. When a box in bold is marked off, the player rolls for a random encounter, with more dice being rolled for boxes marked off on the lower tracks. This means that as a player explores further into the station and rolls more doubles, the more dangerous and deadlier the encounter is likely to be. In addition, the player has a limited supply of oxygen—just seven hours.

As the player explores, he will find objects and clues. The objects his character can pick up and take with him, but the clues require careful examination. There are over forty clues to be found, and they can be computer terminal messages, audio transcripts, and physical notes. Some of the terminals are unlocked, but others are locked or broken. This means that the player will need to find a way to unlock the terminal or repair it, the latter requiring components which the player will need to find. However, repairing a terminal takes time, as does reading more than the one clue available at a terminal, in either case, the player marking off another box on the ‘Disturbances Track’. What this highlights though, is that in play of STATION X3N0, a player is not always going forward. This is because it is primarily location driven, and a player can return to locations that his character has previously visited.

Played as a group, but without a Referee, STATION X3N0 is different. Of course, the players cannot split up and the play and exploration are both co-operative and interactive. Even in the claustrophobic environs of the station, there is a sense of support rather than isolation. For the second option, played as a group with a Referee, as a standard roleplaying adventure, STATION X3N0 can still be played with the locations generated procedurally, but exploration and actions are still against the clock using the ‘Area Tracking Log’ and its ‘Disturbances Track’. However, the Referee is provided with further information to help her run the scenario. This includes an actual map of Station X3’s layout, full stats and writeups of the station’s fourteen missing staff, and the complete background to the station and the events, and details of the aliens. This provides everything that the Referee needs to run the scenario, although the fourteen staff write-ups do not necessarily add anything to game play.

Lastly, the third way in which STATION X3N0 can be used is as a source of material and content that the Referee can use in her games. To that end, the Referee is advised that she should do this if she wants and there is additional advice on adapting the scenario to other roleplaying games of blue-collar Science Fiction survival horror, most notably the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG – Player’s Survival Guide and Alien: The Roleplaying Game. This is useful, certainly in the case of the former.

Physically, STATION X3N0 is well presented. It is decently written, the clues are engaging, and the artwork decent. Where some readers may have a problem is the use of colour on the book’s black background. A lot of the entries are in white boxes with black text, which is easy enough to read, but other sections are purple on black, and whilst that may ad to the scenario’s sense of claustrophobia and isolation, it is not always easy to read.

STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module has one big problem. Its formatting and flexibility in how it is played, together with the clues and location details all add to a claustrophobic, atmospheric play experience, really shine through. Its design means that it can be played by one player and experienced, and then that player could take the role of the Referee and run it for other players, which is an option rarely offered in a scenario. However, as a story and a set-up, STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module does not offer anything original, just another encounter with aliens in space which want to implant their eggs in you. And despite STATION X3N0 being set in the Death in Space universe, it does not make use of its setting and consequently, it feels like it should be for another blue-collar Science Fiction survival horror roleplaying game. For example, the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG. In fact, STATION X3N0 would work great for the Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG. That said, if you want to play a bug hunt, xenomorph encounter style scenario for Death in Space, then STATION X3N0 gives you that and it does it well. Did Death in Space need a bug hunt, xenomorph encounter style scenario? Well, that it is open to debate. What is not, is that it definitely does not need another one.

STATION X3N0: A Science Fiction Roleplaying Game Situational Module is an entertainingly atmospheric adaptation of the classic trapped with bugs in space set-up with a strong sense of isolation and horror for Death in Space which surprises with its flexibility.

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