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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Wreck on the Borderlands

Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring is a Science Fiction adventure for three to five players published by Stellagama Publishing. Designed for use with the Cepheus Engine Core Rules and other 2D6 OGL SciFi mechanics, what this means is that it can be run using any version of the Science Fiction roleplaying game published by Game Designers’ Workshop in 1977, from Classic Traveller and MegaTraveller to Mongoose’s Traveller and Traveller 5. Although the plot of the scenario can be stripped out and run using Science Fiction roleplaying game where space travel is common, Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring is set in Stellagama Publishing’s These Stars Are Ours! campaign setting. This is a near-future setting which begins in 2260 AD in the aftermath of Terran Liberation War against the occupying Reticulan Empire. A cold war exists between the new United Terran Republic and the Reticulan Empire, played out in the badlands between their territories, home to client states, pirates, petty warlords, rogue colonies, greedy merchants, brave explorers, and more. It is in these badlands that Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring takes place.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, the interstellar transport Tallmadge’s Splendor was lost, fate unknown. Now, a belter has located her, on an asteroid moonlet of a remote gas giant in a barely-explored frontier system, and wants to hire a team of adventurers—preferably with a ship of their own—to help him salvage the ship. This is a challenging task and ideally, the player characters should possess a variety of shipboard skills, in particular, the Mechanical, Engineering, and Zero-G skills. Getting to the wreck of the Tallmadge’s Splendor—located in the Parvati system on the very edge of Terran space—is the easy part, getting the salvage out is the difficult part. This definitely requires the characters’ technical skills as they will be operating in micro-gravity and the ship is shattered and open to the vacuum of space. 

The technical aspects of the adventure are not its only challenge. There is at least one NPC who has ulterior motives and two NPCs who have motives other than salvage. In fact, one of the interesting NPCs is a member of the Brothers of St. Cuthbert, which is dedicated to recovering the bodies of those lost in space and returning them home for proper burial. This nicely adds a degree of faith and purpose not always present in adventures for the Cepheus Engine Core Rules and other 2D6 OGL SciFi mechanics. There is one other danger in Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring, one that suffuses both the ship and adventure with a sense of unease. Now, in scenarios like these, the cause of this unease, perhaps paranoia, might be some alien thing or crazed survivor, either ready and hungry to stalk and slaughter first the NPCs and then the player characters. And so it is here, but in Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring it does not feel like a cliché because it does not have to play out like a survival horror movie in space. Only if the player characters make every effort to interfere will the scenario turn into one of survival horror in space rather than one of salvage and recovery.

Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring comes as a full colour, twenty-page, 1.91 MB PDF document. Besides the adventure itself, basically the wreck of the Tallmadge’s Splendor and its environs, the scenario provides some background detail to the These Stars Are Ours! campaign setting, stats and write-ups for its NPCs, and a description and a full set of deckplans for the ship. It also includes a glossary. 

Physically, Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring is decently written and presented, although the editing could have been better as it does feel a bit tight in places. The artwork is decent, though not wholly necessary. The deckplans are good, though perhaps they could have been larger.

Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring is not quite perfect though. If the player characters lack a ship, it would have been nice if more detail had been provided about the ship belong to the belter who hires them. It would also have been to seen the NPCs given a little more development perhaps to make them easier to roleplay by the Game Master. That said, what Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring lacks are two vital player handouts—both showing the ship’s manifest. One for the passengers and one for the cargo. Both would have been great handouts and both would really act as good cues for both the players and their characters as well as providing possible plot lines for the Game Master to develop. The inclusion of some NPCs on the nearest planet or space station would not have gone amiss either and their use would have fleshed out the scenario just that little further. 

A nice, little adventure, Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring should provide two good sessions of play, whatever game system the Game Master runs it in. It has a pleasing workmanlike, blue collar sensibility which should make for an interesting and low key change of pace. Even when the ‘monster’ does appear, it is done in a low-key fashion such that it feels like one possible consequence of the players’ actions rather than the whole point of the scenario. Not every Science Fiction adventure needs to feel as if the crew are just going to work, but when the Game Master knows that it is what his campaign could deal with, Borderlands Adventure 1: Wreck in the Ring is a good choice.