On the glacier moon of Myung’s Misstep, perpetually enshrouded in ice and snowstorms, the Player Characters have been contracted to transport and guard a locked box from Out of Order, the site of the moon’s still not functioning space elevator to the water-farm town of Plankton Downs. The safest means of travel is aboard a low-bodied hovercraft fitted with a heat spike it can use to anchor itself when a severe storm strikes. The Player Characters are booked aboard the Nantucket Sleigh Ride, one of these vessels with an adequate record in terms of punctuality, safety, and comfort. If the Player Characters are expecting a thoroughly uninteresting journey, then they are going to be disappointed. Amidst all of the colonial cyborgs, Martian nuns, alien tourists, and macrame owls aboard, a body is found missing its head! Then another one! And the way they died, their heads are all mangled... Could a monster out of galactic myth be stalking the halls and cabins of the Nantucket Sleigh Ride?
This is the set-up for Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs, a scenario for Troika!, the Science Fantasy roleplaying game of baroque weirdness published by the Melsonian Arts Council. It is a whodunnit in the mode of Murder on the Orient Express or ‘Robots of Death’ for classic Doctor Who, but here infused with a sense of the weird or the unknown a la the episode ‘Squeeze’ from The X-Files. With the crew ill-suited to conducting anything beyond attempting to implement security measures, it falls to the Player Characters to conduct the investigation. To that end, the Game Master is provided with a break-down of the scenario’s plot and a detailed description of the antagonist and its motives. In addition to the isometric-style cutaway deck plans of the Nantucket Sleigh Ride, the Game Master is given stats and details for the passengers and crew aboard the vessel. All twenty-five crew are named, whereas only a handful of the twenty-one Martian Orthodox nuns, twenty-four water farmers—including children, twelve ice-miners, and four glaciology graduates are treated in similar fashion. Fortunately, a set of tables inside the back cover can be used to determine names, precoccupations, and distinctive features for any of these NPCs. There is also a weather table, mostly containing weather events which will delay the journey of the Nantucket Sleigh Ride even further, giving more time for the murderer aboard to strike again…
In addition, Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs also includes seven new Backgrounds that can be used describe some of the passengers aboard the Nantucket Sleigh Ride or future NPCs, as well as possible replacement Player Characters, should one of their number fall victim to the murderer aboard the vessel. The new Backgrounds do include the suitably weird, such as Astropithecus Truckensis, a colonial cyborg of Old Mars attended by an Interpreter Parrot and several Martian Rhesus Macaques as attendants or Macramé Owl, which defies explanation. Others are prosaic and are related directly to the setting of the scenario, such as Ice Miner, Misstep Monastic, and Scud Miller.
Physically, Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs is presented in a swathe of vibrant, gauche colours. It needs a slight edit in places—one of the tables is mislabelled in particular, but is otherwise engagingly written. The art is excellent, having a distinctly European feel to it. The deck plans of Nantucket Sleigh Ride are also decently done and are accompanied with detailed descriptions of each deck and location.
Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs can primarily be run in one of two ways. As a one-shot, it makes for a weird whodunnit on a strange world for Troika! set in a classic closed environment as the murderer picks its victims off one-by-one. As part of a campaign, it is a short interlude between other adventures or a reason perhaps to get the Player Characters to Plankton Downs. Whatever that reason—and the Game Master will need to devise that, just as if necessary, she will ned to decide what is contained in the locked box the Player Characters have been contracted to transport. This might be the element that ties the scenario into a campaign. Whatever way it is used, Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs should provide a session’s worth of murder investigation, perhaps two at the very most!
Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs is short, combining elements of both scenario and toolbox. The brevity of the writing means that there is a lot of room in the scenario for the Game Master to improvise and make the scenario her own. However, the scenario has a lot of atmosphere, a sense of rundown drudgery and people going about their daily job or just waiting for the journey to end so that their lives can continue. Overall, Slow Sleigh to Plankton Downs is a lovely little book which provides the means to stage a weird, claustrophobic whodunnit that can be played through in an evening and ideally on a cold and wintery one at that.