By Kevin Crawford
Sine Nomine Publishing
Stars Without Number
Hard Light takes a band of young adventurers to a system blazing with the murderous light of a red giant star. The hard-bitten novium miners of the Brightside mining station maintain the only outpost of civilization in a system filled with lethal light and stellar outlaws on the run. Will the players find the riches of the ancient asteroid sky tombs and their alien makers, or will they fall prey to the seething rebellion that boils beneath Brightside Station’s steel skin?
This 38 page adventure describes a spacestation and the small system of asteroids in system. It has three Space Asteroid dungeons and a system to create more: the aline Sky Tombs. It’s got a great core concept with strong social dynamics, but man it is THICK and DENSE with text. Like, “study it every day for a couple of hours in order ro run it” levels of density.
Let’s start off with me saying I don’t know nothing about SciFi gaming. I mean, I love it. I played Traveller with a group that consisted of me and five Astrophysics PhD’s. Nothing like sitting bored for an hour while they argued the laser distance inside a dyson sphere. Oh, Colonel Gil Richter, how I miss thee … Anyway. I love SciFi and have no idea how to run it. It seems to me like it starts out at level 32 with the characters as gods. [Seems like I should do something with that. Maybe on my Patreon?] And I don’t know anything about Stars Without Number. I missed that part of the cycle. And I’m late to the SWN/Hard Light party. Like … ten years late? But people asked and besides, it’s a good test to see if my conceits hold up across genres.
So, Keep on the Borderlands. Take the keep. Make it more interesting by adding two major subplots and maybe six minor ones. Then describe three of the caves of chaos and put in a generator to help the DM make more. That’s this adventure.
The dungeons are the Sky Tombs, some burial/pilgrimage places for some aliens that are in an asteroid belt. You get three described, one of which is full of pirates. Another one is pretty much fully abandoned and the third in the middle of an alien standoff. Three types of dungeons which we might call social, ruin, and normal-OSR-fireworks-factory-storing-gasoline. All three have completely different vibes. While remaining true to their vibes I might characterize each as a slow burn. Each one has a few things going on in it with a decent number of “empty rooms that have something in them but it’s really an empty room” to spread out the action. I’m sure that in play it will scare the shit out of the players and in to their characters pants. Not so much from a horror standpoint but from the tension and unknown. Maybe a little slow compared to most adventures, but you gotta have space to build tension. And this does that.
The station, proper, is a powderkeg. Loans, miners, admins staff, crooked staff, pirates showing up, tense work environment, DANGEROUS work environment. And a couple of major subplots with embezzlement, resentment, and revolution. And then a lot of interpersonal dynamics with people hating each other or secretly in love. It’s a great place and feels alive. It’s better than 99% of the starting village stuff I see, at least, and it’s all because of the downtime/social subplot stuff. And the hooks, several presented, make sense. Yeah, they are caravan guards in one, err, security staff on a supply ship, but it fits in well and each tends to tie the party in to a major NPC, with favors and resentments abounding in them. They all have some good roleplay in them. “Yeah, I owe you $8k? Well, I don’t have it on hand, you see. It’s gonna take me a few days to dig it up and right now I’m totally preoccupied with the water situation …” The entire section on the hooks and subplots is a great example of to bring your stuff to life.
Man, this thing is THICK. DENSE. HEAVY. Words after words after words. I’m sure this all makes sense to Kevin, since he write it, but the thing is going to take several read-throughs, at least, with a highlighter and pencil notes in order to make it runnable on the fly in a meaningful way. Sure, You can run it out of the box easily enough, in a superficial way. It you print out the NPC summary sheet (Great job! And it’s all on one page!) the party could arrive from one of the hooks, run a couple of roleplays from the sheet, then send them off to a dungeon to explore. And you’d be losing a lot that the social aspect of the station has to offer, and will fumble through details like life support, blackmarket, etc. Then you’d hit the dungeons, which you prepared ahead of time, right? Or if using one of the three, you’ve highlighted it ahead of time?
Because man those things are thick also. The third one, the more “typical” OSR dungeon is written in a terser format and is easier to run with only a single pass. The second, the “ruin” is thick and dense with room effects. The first, the pirate den … man I don’t know. It’s clearly got a social aspect to it, and also a “clear them out” aspect to it, but it’s written like the second and the social elements are not supported very well at all. It doesn’t make it easy in supporting the DM in helping the party get in to trouble/have complications. Other nits abound, like an order of battle for the dungeons with smarties in them, and quibbles like warnings in trap rooms, etc.
But the text density, man. I don’t want to come off like an asshole (too late! Ten years too late …) but man, I don’t know. Normally I’d suggest bolding, whitespace work, insets, summaries and the ilk. But it’s SciFi. You HAVE to address air. You HAVE to address “lets just blow it up” and you HAVE to address vac suits. It comes up every time. Maybe level one SciFi is easier to write, and level four SciFi is where it gets harder.
The room keys need a major overhaul. The station needs a major overhaul. There need to be more summaries. Things need to be easier to locate (radiation, vac, blowing it up) and easier to scan (room keys.)
It seems to me that this is a great fucking place, but I have NO idea how I would get it in to runnable format at the table. I mentioned highlighter and pencil, but I’m not even sure that could get it in to a form that would it justice. And justice it deserves. It’s coming in just under No Regerts and is close to that mythical line of something really cool that is hard to use that you find at the used book booth.
This is $5 at DriveThru. The preview is five pages and is a pretty good representation of the adventure. I would prefer a page of dungeon also, or maybe the hooks page, but check out those five pages. If you can make it through it in a single pass and hold the information in your head for a week then you should have no problem running it.