Gates of Despair: Session 1 Recap

In which we play Mothership and recount our tale… I plan to run this as a mini-campaign of three or four sessions. This series will provide a campaign diary and, maybe, a good reference in play for us. CONTENT WARNING: brief references to suicide. SPOILER WARNING: I repurposed some material from the module Dead Planet“, but have made significant changes to fit the atmosphere I wanted for this game.

Narrative

In the outer solar system, near the Saturnian moon of Titan, Herschel Station spins. It’s outwardly controlled by Buy-N-Large, Inc., though is subtly undermined by Arma-Dyne Weapons, an arms-dealing corporation renting space on the station. Our command crew consists of:

  • Jones, a cyborg Teamster who was a farmer on Mars before a horrible accident left him dependent on machines and in debt to the megacorp that paid for his rebuild (BnL).
  • Dr Annabel Cane, a biologist expert in hydroponics currently studying the conditions under which life might have existed on the moons of Saturn.
  • Boris Volansky, ex-Russian infantry who grew up near the Chernobyl ruins and now works as a “security expert” (merc) for BnL.

Their ship, BNL7734, contains a small arboretum for Dr Cane’s “zero-g bonsai” and one plant with recreational properties. The ship actually belongs to BnL but is assigned to Pilot Jones. A freighter coming back from the mining platforms in the upper atmosphere of Saturn has gone missing, and BNL7734 has been tasked with locating it and returning the cargo of metallic hydrogen, plus (if possible) the ship and crew.

After calculating the likely burn maneuver and setting off with a crew of unnamed individuals ((potential replacement characters)), it takes them about a day to locate the missing freighter (the Alexis). Along the way, Jones mildly annoys Dr Cane with his endless acid rock: she thinks it might disturb the plants. Boris, a beefy sort with a large hammer and sickle patch on the back of his flight suit, talks to the plants in Russian no one else can understand. The security officer is concerned about reports of salvagers in the area, and prefers not to have to take the cargo and derelict ship violently. And the pilot muses about legends of lost ships, like Captain Dill who fought to keep his ship from falling into the sun when leaving Mercury but whose image can still be seen in sunspots when the solar weather is just right.

BNL7734’s maneuvering thrusters report an alarm while in flight; they’ve been a little fragile and perhaps the burn into this trajectory shook something loose. Jones heads out to fix it with Boris tagging along; it takes them several hours out on the hull, and afterwards the experience leaves them a bit shaken. What if that had happened when in close proximity to the Alexis?

As they draw in visual range to their target, they spot a floating spacesuit drifting a short distance away from the Alexis. Jones pilots a small shuttle craft, really just a zero-G load lifter, and Boris straps himself to it with carabiners and bungie cords. This way, they don’t take the chance of accidentally damaging the suit and whatever might be in it with the large cargo hooks of the craft. Boris snags the suit, sees somebody (a corpse?) inside and they bring it back to their own ship for Dr Cane to investigate. A brief inspection indicates that he appears to have suffocated and died in the suit, rather than being put into the suit when already dead and thrown into space.

The Alexis does not answer any hails, which is somewhat unsurprising considering Herschel Station couldn’t raise them, either. So the command crew forms an away team to see if anyone’s still alive on the Alexis and determine the state of the cargo (assuming it’s still there). After entering the lower deck via the main crew airlock, rather than the larger cargo airlock, Boris immediately discovers two corpses: one strangled to death, the other stabbed in the back. He pushes the bodies up towards the deck hatch so there’s room for the rest of the away team to enter. A cursory inspection of the bodies finds a music player (given to Jones so he’ll stop playing acid rock where everyone else can hear) and a package of cyanide pills labeled “Touch the Void”.

Lower Deck of the Alexis. Map by beyondEnvy on Discord, based on an illustration by Stephen Wilson & Sean McCoy.

Across from the airlock is a maintenance area for life support. Jones decides to get life support back online, then tries to take some shortcuts to speed things up. A fuse blows, though, and it will take the system a full hour to get the atmosphere back to a breathable state. The crew decides not to remove their helmets anyway.

Boris finds the entrance to the science bay damaged: the airlock door to it has several gouges, like from a large metal tool, and the control panel has been smashed in. But the big Russian pops open the door with a crowbar, and he & Dr. Cane head in to inspect. They find smashed monitors and keyboards, but the hard drives seem intact. Boris stows those for later analysis back on their own ship. This gives Dr. Cane the idea to use her cybernetic diagnostic scanner, and she gets readings that indicate a pair of synthetic lifeforms (androids) several decks up, directly above them.

Reunited now, the entire away team heads into the crew chief’s quarters. He’s still there, though quite dead. The crew starts to tense up when they don’t find any external wounds, but is quite relieved when the doctor quickly finds indications of cyanide poisoning. ((As a mechanical note, the Scientist got a 00 on her First Aid check, and I ruled that everyone could relieve 1 stress for the best roll.)) This puts the earlier discovery of cyanide pills in a new light. The crew scavenges the expensive gaming items (a chess set, deck of Tarot cards, and colorful bone dice) found in the chief’s locker. Ghastly vultures…

It’s time to inspect the cargo hold: what has happened to the load the Alexis was bringing back? They effect entry and find all the fuel tanks are still there. Metallic hydrogen is an experimental fuel, not used in regular ships, and therefore extremely valuable. No wonder BnL wants it back!

While they’ve prepared to tow the Alexis with BNL7734, it might be easier if the derelict’s engines could be brought back online. Jones determines that the engines burned out but thinks he can fix it in about an hour, at least enough to fire them up. Drydock facilities will be required for a full repair. While he’s doing that, the other two decide to inspect the remaining section on this deck.

It’s a cryochamber: 30 storage pods, powered on to keep whatever is inside at extremely low materials. After inspecting the labels, Dr. Cane realizes the pods contain terrestrial genetic material of some sort. She’ll need to cross-reference the labels with something else to determine exactly what, of course, but even so: these pods weren’t on the manifest. Finding cryogenic storage units on this fuel freighter is like finding a cannon in a clothing store. You know what it is, but why HERE?

After informing Jones of their find, the team discusses whether they might not try to smuggle the extremely valuable pods out themselves. He’s a bit of a company man and doesn’t like this, so they’ll decide later once they have a better idea what’s happening here. They decide to clear the mid deck before going to check on the androids, who appear to be on the command deck in the bridge.

In the mid deck, they enter the med bay where they find 6 first aid kits, 6 stimpaks, and a med scanner. Deciding that they might need these company assets for a company-authorized excursion, they divide these up among themselves. They decide to proceed clockwise to complete this entire deck and therefore enter the captain’s quarters next door. She’s not there, but among her personal effects they find a set of trashy romance novels (delighting Dr. Cane) and several hand-written journals. The last entry of the journals indicates that the captain was proud to participate in a project of historical importance, even if no one else might ever know of her role in it. Someday she’ll look out at the stars, she writes, and remember this mission with satisfaction. The journal doesn’t indicate what this is about, leaving the crew perplexed. Is it the experimental fuel? The cryochamber? Something else entirely? As they’re discussing, our session ends.

Wrap-up

I awarded everyone 13 XP: the regular 10 for surviving a session, and 3 for locating and entering the derelict freighter. This gets them up to level 1, which they can do on their own time before the next session a week from now.

We also ran through Stars and Wishes for everyone. Stars are a moment, player, character, mechanic, scene: something that really stood out to you individually and felt awesome or fun. Wishes are ways you hope the game changes or evolves next week. Maybe that’s a house rule you’d like to consider, or some element you would like to see played down (or up!), or something else.

During the game, the players called this “the best game of Space Clue ever”. They really enjoyed the RP moments early in the session, which I based on Jason Cordova’s updates to the Dungeon World move “Undertake a Perilous Journey”.

Wishes include weird religions in space, big-ass guns, and maybe some aliens. (We don’t have aliens in this world, but androids are close to that, right?)

Next week, back to the mid deck and probably the command deck. I expect the environment to come a little more alive, as this week largely consisted of setting the scene and getting familiar with the rules.

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