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

Saturday 4 November 2023

Cliché or Classic?

The Phoenix Initiative is a scenario for Traveller. It takes place on the world of Wochiers in the Regina Subsector of the Spinward Marches Sector and involves the classic set-up of research facility not having been heard from in a while and the Player Characters being hired to investigate. It ideally requires the Player Characters to basic training in both weapons and vacc suit, and if they do possess a starship, that it should be capable of Jump-2. The scenario includes a set of eight pre-generated Player Characters, four of which between them have the skills necessary to operate a starship as well as one of them owning a an A2 Type Far Trader. Thus, if the Player Characters own their own starship, the minimum number of Player Characters is four, but there is greater flexibility if they do not. That said, the scenario does allow the Player Characters’ employer to loan them a starship if they do not have one and to prevent piracy only a few locations are programmed into the ship’s computer to use the Jump drive. Both the mechanics and the plot of The Phoenix Initiative are straightforward enough that running it using Traveller, Classic Traveller, or Cepheus Deluxe Enhanced Edition are all easy enough to do.

The Phoenix Initiative is written by Carl Terence Vandal and begins with the Player Characters on Regina in the Spinward Marches Sector and short of funds having paid their monthly mortgage payment on their starship. In need of work, they hear of an employment opportunity with Phoenix Enterprises LIC. The company is concerned about the loss of contact from one of its research facilities and will pay handsomely for the situation to be investigated and for the safe return of the staff at the facility. The facility is on Wochiers, a nearby world declared a TAS Amber Zone due to its inhospitable environment which requires enhanced vacc suits. Wochiers is primarily known as a source of crystals, the best of which are used to enhance the performance of both starship computers and starship lasers. As the Player Characters will discover, the Law Level on Wochiers is very high and access limited, done primarily via shuttlecraft rather than starships. So, the Player characters will have to dock at the high port, and then travel down to the surface, the journey involving an engaging recognition of local customs at either end.

The journey from Wochiers Landing to the research facility is relatively straightforward—a week’s drive across the planetary surface in specially adapted ATVs. The main problem on the journey will be the environment rather than planetary species, which are for the most part passive creatures unless provoked or a lone traveller is caught outside in his vacc suit. This all sets up a mystery for the Player Characters when they do reach the research facility. There are signs of a struggle almost everywhere, a mixture of gunfire and animal attacks. The question is, what happened here and are there any survivors? Was the gunfire the result of the animal attacks or is something else going on? The Player Characters will find out, but will also find themselves being stalked by something else in the facility… This may lead to a frantic firefight…

The research facility is described in some details with various skill checks thrown in to determine what happens and what happened from room to room. The floorplans of the facility and its illustrations are decent, and the scenario is supported by a set of good Library Data entries.

The author of The Phoenix Initiative commits one cardinal sin. He does explain to the Game Master what is going on in the scenario, but leaves it right until the very end for the NPCs to do it. Which leads to a very frustrating read for the Game Master as she wonders exactly what is going on and in effect, has to find out when the Player Characters do.

Physically, The Phoenix Initiative is disappointing. It needs a good edit, it is often unnecessarily repetitive, and the map of the subsector is bitmapped and there are no names or locations on the world map. So, the Player Characters will have no idea where their journey on planet starts or ends.

The set-up in The Phoenix Initiative is incredibly familiar. A distant research base. All contact lost with the research base. Itinerant trouble-shooters hired to solve the problem. The base is home to an alien (or not) stalking and slashing the survivors after an accident. Essentially this is Death Station from Traveller Double Adventure 3: Death Station/The Argon Gambit writ large. Well, not entirely. The primary plot for it is, but the secondary plot—which does not really become apparent until the epilogueis more interesting as it involves Duke Norris and his family, and it sets up the sequels to this scenario, Manticore and The Mariposa Affair.

The Phoenix Initiative is not a bad scenario, but it is not a good one either. It requires development in terms of presentation overall and presentation of its information. Certainly, with the completion of the latter, it might avoid—or at least ameliorate—the Game Master reading through the scenario and getting the feeling of déjà vu. However, The Phoenix Initiative does show potential in terms of presentation and detail and once past the all too familiar plot, there is promise of something more interesting to come.

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