I GMed Impulse Drive as one shot, on our (club I belong to) bi-weekly RPG event in Warsaw („Czas na Przygodę”/„Time for Adventure”).
Impulse Drive is great PBTA Space Opera game, made by Adrian Theon, currently available free from DriveThru as “Preview” (don’t get mislead though, its full featured PBTA game). Second attempt on PBTA Space Opera I tried (first being Uncharted Worlds) and pretty good in my opinion.
Impulse Drive is designed to work well with variety of Space Opera settings – you could run Star Trek, Killjoys, Firefly, Guardians of Galaxy or Star Wars. For Expanse you would probably need to mod it a bit, but I think it would still be better then alternatives.
I pondered how to GM it for some time, and finally I settled on ripping of Iain M. Banks, “Consider Phlebas” for both setting and skeleton of the story.
Federation (Culture) and Holy Idirian Empire (Idirians) were fighting for domination of this region of galaxy.
Players were mercenary team (Predator ship), with 3 marks on their fuse (nemesis: mercenary company that was under impression that team’s spaceship belongs to them). They just received info that there is good job to be had on the Orbital (for those who don’t know: its huge artificial ring around the star) – I ripped it from Banks “Vavatch Orbital”.
- Warhorse: cpt. Bastian Blunt – grizzled and tired mercenary
- Infiltrator: Parker Bennet – undercover agent of the Federation (unbenowst to the rest of team)
- Intellect: T-42 – human from generational ship/asteroid sent from earth in XXI century, with society that became extremaly caste & rigid, T means he is technical, 42 means he was 42nd in hierarchy on his home … ship
- Vex: Tempest – her planet destroyed by reavers, she was kindapped and managed to escape
- Outsider: Ruby – synthethic/plant form from almost extinct race, remnants of her race remained as keepers of the forbidden mausoleum world, hedonist (she needed a lot of contact and felt lonely)
I gave them all additional improvement, as this was oneshot.
First scene was framed in the seediest bar, on the orbital underside for the orbital. They met the contact who was very sketchy on the details of the mission, he told them that he will tell them real destination after take off – but agreed to very steep price. After some convincing (Warhorse special move), he told him (but only him) that objective was to go to the dead forbidden world, to retrieve something.
In the meantime players botched some rolls, which resulted in arrival of Delta private police (their nemesis, which also happened to be security force of the orbital), who were scanning for someone (not them).
Tempest managed to use her powers to convince their boss to leave, and this managed to defuse entire situation. In the meantime outsider was renewing her acquaintance with the barmaid (offer for helping them get out through the back).
In the meantime, T42 tried to create diversion after Bastian asked him for help – he tried to hack into the Orbitals systems, but failed – which brought port authority on his head (which was also Delta). He remained in the ship and dumped waste tanks contents on the few that waited outside the door. At the same time Lambda (AI) started messaging Bastian that she can help solve the issue, and asked whether she should make laser batteries ready. Bastian tried to talk to Port Authority, and convince them that there is some biohazard issue on the ship.
When they arrived at the dock, situation was already very strained, with large groups of Delta waiting outside the ship – some of them in armored biohazard suits. AI cheerfully informed, that laser batteries on the ship are fully loaded and ready to fire.
Parker tried to negotiate with Deltas and discreetly using her credentials as Federation Intelligence. She succeeded. Unfortunately at the same time, Bastian gave ship (AI) green light to create diversion, and all hell broke loose. That was the point I allowed players to experience what it exactly meant to give their AI bloodthirsty tag, she didn’t limit herself to Deltas, but proceeded to fire on every living target in the dock – civilians, everyone – until no targets remained.
Team escaped, and strangely enough (thanks to Parkers background) no one chased them.
As they travelled they slowly learned the objective of their mission – to retrieve one of Federation Minds, that warped to the dead planet, in the care of Arzani. The mind escaped from battle and was very precious to everyone interested. Arzani didn’t allowed anyone near it (and being transcended race, they had their means) but Ruby was from the race that acted as groundkeepers on the dead planet, and as such was their ticket in. She managed to coax more details from their contact (Adrian) who told her he works for Idirians, and explained why he preferred them to Federation (they are living beings, and are not ruled by AIs).
Second scene during travel was discussion about what happened at the dock, with everyone screaming at everyone else, and ended with Vex convincing T42 to dial down AIs aggressiveness. He botched the roll, and my answer was “It all went well, you did it.”
They arrived at the planet without issues, and Ruby managed to convince the Arzani to let them through (not without share of warnings). When they closed in, they located crashed Idirian ship, which tried to get through the barrier. They also located large massive objects – elements of old tunnel & train system that was used by the dead race during their nuclear wars. They assumed mind is somewhere there. After touching down they found out that Idirians killed all Ruby’s brethren.
During the search in the tunnels they managed to start up one train and enjoyed a bit of travel, before they got hit by plasma bolt and got derailed. Some fast paced action ensued with some hard choices and hard moves, lot of stress marks got marked, and Adrian (NPC contact) lost his leg.
Afterwards came combat with Idirians, which detonated large self destruct munition when they understood they are losing. Players managed to get out of there with other train, before entire tunnel collapsed after them.
Team located Mind shortly after, and Parker – being infiltrator – approached it on point, and managed to talk with its single remaining drone, assuring it its they are on the same side, and convincing it to go with them. Mind remained silent and dormant due to this, to make it all easier for her.
On their way back she started convincing team they really should try to sell this to different party, and as she has federation contacts, its really going to be best approach. Ruby was more then happy about this, and Bastian was kind of on the fence, but managed to be convinced. They kept Adrian in the dark (and sedated for most time). Ruby spoke with him a bit, and he tried to convince her he will help her to find remaining people from her species and that he didn’t really plan for it to go this way.
Next scene was when they came out of subspace one system away from Federation space, and a moment later Idirian Corvette “The Hand of God 127” appeared right behind them, dispatching four fighters and messaging they should power down and prepare to get boarded.
Vex and Ruby went to battlestations, Bastian promptly spaced somewhat surprised Adrian (assuming he was carrying some kind of tracking device). When they tried to fire at the fighters though, AI announced with soft, calm and a bit sad voice:
I am sorry, but this fighter is carrying living being. I can’t allow you to fire. You could kill it.
T42 frantically tried to restore AI from backup, Parker tried to dodge, Ruby tried to bypass the AI, and Ves tried to use her powers to interface with the ship. Which blew out entire starboard section of it – which in turn gave Bastian some occasion for repairs.
They managed to reverse programming, and get rid of the fighters, then jump to the next system., with “Hand of God 127” right behind them. There also got in touch with GCU Small Complications, federation ship, which asked them with its soft and nice voice to “Please to try and remain alive, I am doing everything I can to come to help you, as fast I can.”
There was boarding sequence, which got team some fun occasions for hand to hand combat, and T42 for jury rigging (redirecting reversed oscillatory plasma flow into the cargo hold which boarding party used to enter).
Their actions made their fuse fully lit (its like clock in AW) and another ship appeared – this time Deltas, with personal grievances for Bastian. He managed to talk them out of it, and team finally got to GCU Insignificant Complications which made short work of Idirian Corvette (trying to convince it softly to stand down beforehand).
- Impulse Drive works great. It’s great ruleset with really wonderful mix between flexibility, and good rules. We all felt that it allows much more flexibility in the way it allows you to “skin” your character, then other AW games do.
- I still don’t like Outsider, we had to modify some things in the Ruby, as she took things that basically covered Tempest. I like what it tries to do, but I don’t feel this way is best way forward for it.
- I both like, and have an issue with the way attributes are handled (called approaches here): at one side, they tend to spread action oriented moves on all of those, so no one of characters dominates in action packed scenes, but on other hand they are extremely unclear – assist move on Stalwart made social character fail when helping someone else during talking, and Infiltrator with small Stalwart is poor when not using his standard move (see next point). I feel that maybe giving some pointers to specific archetypes would help.
- Infiltrators signature move is limited (and if you play action packed scene, its very hard to use it), on the other hand normal get in discreetly action demands Stalwart, and take someone out from behind demands Calculating
- Using the world from Iain M. Banks “Culture” series, worked great!
- You can get Impulse Drive Preview on DriveThruRPG
- You can get Consider Phlebas from Amazon – and you should, together with entire Culture series
- If you are polish speaking and Warsaw based, you can find more info on “Czas na Przygodę” on its webpage or on the fanpage
- I initially got introduced to ID by Rich Rogers