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Shaw's Folly

This was the kickoff free-trader campaign, Expeditions Ltd's first experience with Traveller, held in Don's apartment, with starship miniatures from Valiant's Stardate:3000 line. It ended up giving both the character and starship combat systems a workout and set some kind of record for the most cinematic scenes per session -- remember, Star Wars had premiered less than three months before, and was still fresh in everyone's mind.

Like a lot of Traveller's tales, it started with a Type A Free Trader hiring on a crew and doing the usual speculative-trade two-step out on the Imperial Verge, where "what's legal" can become strictly advisory.

Like the first port of call, and that little "altercation" with planetary customs at the starport extrality line - had to replace a couple of crew before lifting ship. I don't want to know where that alien was hiding those body pistols...

First try at the combat system... Quite a surprise to players used to high-level D&D; weapons more lethal and no Raise Deads...

Then, on the jump out, fate (and a bad batch of fuel) stepped in...

GM (Wayne): "Roll for misjump (rattle, rattle) you've got a misjump. Roll for distance (rattle, rattle) -- Sonofabitch! 36 hexes! Okay, roll for direction..." He plots it out on the campaign map, looks at it for a long moment... "Uh, Don? Could you come over here?" They both look.

Don : "Oooooo... Wayne, your NPC captain is now a player-character."

Don gets out his GM gear and Wayne puts his away...

Misjump! Thirty-six parsecs away, in an unexplored area beyond the Verge. At least six months travel time for a Jump-1 ship. Everyone except essential crew into the low berths to stretch life-support and provisions, then work your way back to civilization -- one Jump at a time.

Things started to get "interesting" two weeks in, after the second Jump. Upon exiting Jumpspace into another unexplored system, they found they weren't alone. Radar pings resolved into another ship of about 100 tons moving at around 2-Gs -- from the size and performance, apparently a Type S Scout/Courier. Except...

Configuration: Unknown. IFF and Markings: Unknown. Engine Signature: No match to any Imperial engine pattern or emissions. (The mystery ship was a Type S Scout -- a Federation Type S Scout.) Then sensor sweeps -- on non-Imperial frequencies and waveforms. And a series of signals, on various frequencies...

GM (Don): "The unknown ship is hailing you."

Players: "Do we understand them?"

GM: "Let's put it this way; if the old Galactic Empire spoke Latin, you're speaking Spanish and they're hailing you in Italian."

Panicked by the unknown, they ran, opening a Jump point as soon as the capacitors charged.

Exit Jumpspace, plot course for the next leg, charge Jump Drive, Jump. Repeat as needed. A couple more Jumps, a couple more weeks, and the fuel was running low; nothing to do except find a system with a gas giant and skim some free fuel. Didn't matter that raw fuel upped the chance of a misjump; even a random-direction misjump had a 50/50 chance of shifting them laterally, and a one-in-four chance of bamfing them closer to the Empire - "What have we got to lose?"

When your ship can make only 1-G, you have to skim a small gas giant; all the fuel in the galaxy won't help you if you can't make escape velocity after the skim. Optimum size is Diameter 60 to 70, the border between small and large gas giant, the point of minimum density (and minimum surface gravity at the cloud tops). Larger than that and most of the additional mass just goes into compressing the hydrogen and increasing the density and surface gravity; even Brown Dwarves -- actual infrared substars -- never get much above Diameter 100.

And the next system had a gas giant almost exactly the right size for a textbook slingshot-skim -- coming in at one pole to dodge the Van Allen belts, skimming and scooping the cloud decks at the equator well under the rings, and boosting out at the other pole, using the planet's mass and gravity to help slingshot them out. Tanks full of raw fuel, they began their twelve-hour climb out to the hundred-diameter Jump limit when things got interesting. Again.

From behind one of the gas giant's moons came five large ships - three 2000-tonners in a vee formation, followed by a pair of 10000-tonners - boosting on an intercept course at about 3-Gs, painting the free trader with sensor and commo emissions. From the size and speed, warships trying to intercept - two Light Cruisers and three Destroyers, judging from Imperial Navy ship sizes.

Note: When that Fed scout in the other system had gotten back to base, a "UFO alert" had gone out to all Fed Navy and Scout units in the area -- including the Navy base on the far side of that moon. A Jump-1 Free Trader can't outrun news spread by high-Jump couriers...

But the moon they were coming from was one of the outer ones; even closing at 2-Gs relative, they couldn't get within laser range before the free-trader could Jump. Missiles or small craft might be a problem at up to 6-Gs, but from the way they were trying to hail - simple mathematical codes becoming more complex in a pattern suggesting a First Contact attempt -there was a good chance this task force wouldn't just blow the unknown away. At least, not without giving some kind of warning shot first. The free-trader continued to boost out.

The two "Light Cruisers" dropped back, their radar signatures changing. Eight smaller craft - too big to be missiles, more like some sort of gigs or launches -separated from them, formed into two finger-four formations, and began accelerating to intercept - at Twelve Gees!

The impossibly-fast small craft closed, resolving into boxlike fuselages of about 10-15 tons flanked by two arrays of tubes, with a bulbous cockpit forward and a Ship's Boat-sized engine cluster aft. One flight of four throttled back; the other split into two elements of two, one paralleling the free-trader and one surging ahead to cross their bows like a warning shot.

The two big ships weren't "Light Cruisers" - they were Federation Carriers, launching "Spider" fighters to do the actual intercept. At this point, the Star Wars flashbacks began, with the Tie Fighters vs. Millennium Falcon scene for atmosphere. (Two index cards pinned to a tennis ball with the appropriate a capella sound effects made a passable Tie Fighter simulation...)

And the free-trader captain goes "Weapons Live". Found out much later he was actually Imperial Intelligence, a deep-cover "operative" on a snoop-and-poop out on the Verge, and didn't want to have an "unknown foreign power" getting a good look at him and his ship. So he opened fire on the two that were heading him off - two turrets, two targets.

One hit, debris flying as the small craft cut its engines. Then his wingman pivoted, and twelve missiles launched from the tube-arrays flanking his fuselage. Four missed; two were knocked down by the free-trader's turrets, now frantically firing anti-missile. Six hit.

Six missiles, one Type A Free Trader. Six fragmentation warheads tearing into one small ship. When the frags stopped ricocheting...

A third of the crew dead, another third wounded. Maneuver Drive gone. Powerplant gone; surviving Low Berths on internal backup batteries. Bridge shot up; Computer gone. One turret torn completely off, the other's fire control gone. Structural integrity gone; ship ready to break apart. Jump Drive untouched, but no fuel left in the shredded tanks.

The second fighter element bored in, ready to add 24 more missiles to the mix, but held fire as they closed; the ship was obviously no longer in any condition to be a threat. They took up guard positions on each side, soon joined by the other flight of four, while a Ship's Boat set off to recover the damaged one.

The five big ships matched course and speed, one of the 10000-tonners approaching the shot-up free-trader and opening up to reveal an interior of hangar bays and launch racks filled with still more fighters. Magnetic grapples extended from an empty bay in the midst of the hangarage, and slowly and carefully pulled the shattered hull in.

At this point, we re-enacted the boarding scene at the beginning of Star Wars with a starship miniature, an empty Traveller box, and a Star Wars soundtrack album cued up to the proper scene as the box enveloped the miniature...

As docking "sounds" vibrated through the shattered hulk, the captain tried to open up the Ship's Locker and pass out the small arms, obviously intending to "hold them at the airlock". He needn't have bothered -- as he opened the locker, two suits of Battle Dress came out of nowhere and tackled him.

GM (Don): "What do you mean, 'Hold them at the airlock'? They're coming in through all the holes the missiles blew in the ship! Next thing you know, the ship's swarming with powered armor!"

The Federation Marines secured the hulk, captured all the survivors, and marched them off the ship, past a vacc-suited figure with a bladeless high-tech sword hilt holstered in lieu of a regular sidearm. Imperials had the usual attitudes, cultivated by the Empire, about psionics -- except for the "Imperial Operative", who knew about psionic "black ops"; you can guess their reactions when the figure's mind pushed into theirs in a telepathic scan...

So did the Shavian Empire and the Foible Federation make First Contact.