Limited Access - Back 9th Feb 2018
Adventure 4: Leviathan was published in 1980 by Game Designers’ Workshop for their Traveller Science-Fiction RPG.
This adventure is interesting in being one of the earliest roleplaying products designed by Games Workshop for Games Designers’ Workshop. In the same way as the Steve Jackson / Steve Jackson confusion, it amuses me that two companies with similar names just decided to embrace the difficulty and work together anyway. GW had produced UK printings of AD&D books (including softcover versions, though I’ve never seen one), and many of their own boardgames by this stage, but Leviathan was the earliest roleplaying scenario I can find written in the UK and produced and edited by Games Workshop.
In essence, Leviathan is a space sandbox, where the PCs take the part of crew members on a large trading ship, seeking out new markets, new commercial opportunities and boldly going where no salesman has gone before. The Egyrn Subsector is an unknown area of space, ripe for exploration and exploitation. Will the PCs strike a motherlode of crystals and make a fortune? Can they discover and organise the colonisation of a vacant Earth-type planet? Will they escape the mind-bending Zhodani, pitiless pirates, cutthroat business rivals and officious Imperials or will they and their ship be another unexplained disappearance in the Outrim Void?
Leviathan comes in the classic little black books format of original Traveller releases. The banding on the books is magenta, but the only internal colour is red used on the ship plans and subsector maps. The Traveller standard format is generally very readable, and headings, sub-headings and bolding are all used well to help you find the contents you’re after. There are few game mechanics shown in this adventure, but the detailed Rumour table contains 26 plot hooks, generated by searching bars with the right kind of skills and characters. There is a good Contents page, but no index. Library Data available from the PC’s computer provides some generally reliable, if incomplete data on known space, ships and historical occurrences. The subsectors and the PCs ship gets much expanded information. There’s a side elevation of the Leviathan, deck plans and subsector plans by Albie Fiore, and a nice illustrations of a flight deck by Russ Nicholson.
Leviathan is a 44-page book, with 17 pages given over to a description of the Leviathan Class Merchant Cruiser, crew manifest and deck plans. After the contents page, there’s a standard Introduction of 3 pages, giving a checklist for the Referee of how to set up the adventure, and the time and place it is set (Pax Rulin subsector of the Spinward Marches, Year 1107 of the 3rd Imperium). Eight pre-generated characters are provided as being suitable for the adventure, which is recommended for 4 to 7 PCs. Specific skills are required to fit the major roles on board a Merchant starship (Captain, Executive Officer, Pilot, Chief Engineer, Chief Gunner, Computer Officer and Navigator are recommended). The small amount of money for each character implies that not much extra equipment can be bought for each character - no Battledress or PGMPs, please.
SPOILERS from here on.
The PCs are invited to a meeting with a large business cartel on the edge of known space. They are asked to sign on for a 6 month exploratory merchant cruise into the Outrim void, to discover new trading opportunities, to bring back sample goods, reports and survey data. The mission is to be kept secret from commercial rivals and the Imperials. The Scouts and the Navy are both unwilling to see civilians in this area, due to tensions with the Zhodani lingering from the end of the last war, and from certain pre-interstellar civilizations being observed and protected. In Star Trek terms, the PCs are taking on the role of Harry Mudd against both the Federation’s Prime Directive and cold war against the Romulans.
The PCs are now required to be involved with signing on the remaining crew for the Leviathan. There 56 crew members, of whom 15 are senior officers. The company will provide several of the security positions, as well as scientific personnel who will conduct mineral, metallurgic, organic chemistry and agronomic research on planets and samples found. This is a great chance for the PCs to sign-on their own red shirts, to increase their sympathies for those poor folk as they succumb to hypnotic plants and pools of pure evil... Of course, some of the crew may also be industrial spies or Imperial agents...
During the hiring and fitting out process, a number of interesting Rumours may be uncovered by diligent drinking crews. These Rumours can be used by the Referee to shape the adventure towards the PCs interests, as well as providing something for the players to search for. Certain rumours are more easily found by Scouts or by Ex-Navy personnel, while others are more general rumours.
Once the PCs begin their cruise into the unknown, they have a subsector map to guide them. Much like our viewing of extra-solar planets, the map shows where planets are, but nothing of their qualities, habitability or exploitability. The Leviathan can use its two Jump engines consecutively, so that 5 parsecs can be covered without refueling. The PCs will have to decide which four or five planets out of the eleven they wish to visit in this mission, though later adventures could be generated to explore the remaining worlds, as well as revisiting those already discovered. None of the planets are simply paved with platinum and zuchai crystals - PCs will have to thoroughly scan the planets, negotiate with the inhabitants and survive the peculiar difficulties of each one.
Each planet has its own ship encounter tables, giving an indication of interest in them by each authority. Certain planets have developed enough to have their own Navy, possibly stretching the meagre weaponry of the Leviathan. The planets have their own flavour, and if a few are a little similar this is an opportunity for the Referee to play up some differences. There’s only a paragraph or two for each planet, but this should be enough to create a compelling storyline for them.
The detailed ship information shows all 15 of the Leviathan class already built (3 of which are lost), plus those planned for the next few years. There are various modifications for different owners. The PCs may meet the wreck of a sister ship, or perhaps one captured and used by pirates. Surely the Galley Hand’s knowledge of the internal ducts will then prove invaluable... The ship has 8 decks, plus auxiliary vehicles, so there is plenty of space for on-board adventures and character interaction. There are 5 pages of Library Data, which cover historical and geographic knowledge relevant to the area. Military minded players might also gain some idea of the capabilities of the ships they face, before deciding whether to attack or run.
The book ends with a page of Referee’s Notes, which encourages the Referee to read the book thoroughly and to develop her own ideas based on the places they PCs decide to visit. The Referee is reminded that individual player’s interests may not be the same as their employers, and safety, exploration and commercial imperatives amy all conflict as the mission proceeds. Five additional hooks are provided, from the encounter with pirates, a chance to undertake a Striker mission against a government controlled by an opposition company, to prospecting or infiltration and espionage on behalf of the Imperium. All good ideas that can be suited to what the PCs would like.
Generally Traveller adventures assume a small crew with a small ship, undertaking small scale but dirty missions. Here the PCs get to demonstrate command and leadership skills, all while boldly going where few have gone before. It’s a fair amount of work for the Referee, but if he can get players invested in the idea and the idea, they can help by generating red shirts or playing NPCs when their characters are absent from scenes. It’s a big open planet-filled sand box, suitable for explorer or entrepreneurial PCs of all kinds.
IR#80 daily 1
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I hadn't clocked into the fact that this was designed by GW, but it makes sense as the Leviathan has the same level of detail as the starships in GW's excellent IISS Ship Files supplement. Great review!