The brave crew of the USS Pioneer has been working our way through the intense adventures set forth in the Shackleton Expanse Campaign Guide.
This adventure was written by Scott Pearson, a full-time freelance writer and editor specializing in genre fiction, who has published and edited a wide range of books, including humor, mystery, literary fiction, poetry, science, true crime, and military history. He has also written documentary screenplays for Afterglow Studios, including Space Next and Touch the Stars. A Star Trek fan for decades, Scott has had three Trek short stories and two Trek novellas published by Simon & Schuster. He is also the line editor on many of the Star Trek Adventures publications. [Based on LinkedIn profile]
Synopsis (spoiler alert)
Mysterious claims are intertwined with tenuous realities in this mission as the players’ ship enters the pocket universe containing the Displaced Tilikaal, suffering multiple system overloads during the passage. The crew struggles to perform repairs while experiencing hallucinations caused by background electromagnetic fields within the pocket universe. A Starfleet officer, who entered the universe separately from the ship, briefly appears on the bridge, then disappears. The crew finds ways to mitigate the EM fields, rescue the Starfleet officer, and meet Ash’Tamalia’s spiritual form, her aderi, face to face. She tells the story of the Displaced and pleads for Starfleet to help them escape the pocket universe and reclaim their physical bodies. The crew then finds a way to open a portal back to the Candidate Three system and they and their ship return to their universe.
I made some key decisions and modifications to this module to have it fit my group’s needs. I made the Starfleet officer a lone survivor, the captain of a vessel that had sacrificed itself to save their ship in the first season and had survived the Candidate Three System by being pulled into the pocket universe. I also brought in a bunch of characters that had died in previous missions. They appeared as blue ghosts along with Tilikaal aderi. This gave a chance for my players to roleplay regret and other emotions.
I chose to include this campaign in our Tilikaal Saga as it highlighted a person who has been a mystery to me since the Living Campaign was first released—Ash’Tamalia. As with all Star Trek Adventure modules, it is really up to the gamemaster to determine a Notable PCs motives, personality, and goals. [I had to wait to post this review until I revealed Ash’Tamalia’s purpose or else my players would have had a major spoiler. At the time of this blog, my players have already learned her goals.]
I found the module easy to understand and adapt to my needs. As per my norm, I reverse engineer modules into mission briefs so that I have a simplified outline with the main plot hooks to guide my play. I would advise a gamemaster to make a decision about Ash’Tamalia’s overall goal before launching this mission. Doing so allows you to be decisive in how you employ her, including what dialog to include or exclude. Once I made the decision that Ash’Tamalia and the Tilikaal are eager to get back to our universe no matter the cost, the rest came easy.
Scott did a great job creating an original story. The idea of a species trapped in a pocket universe trying to escape may not be totally original to sci-fi, but for Star Trek Adventures it was a fresh take. I especially liked how the environment of the pocket universe was severely disruptive to ship systems. This kept my players busy trying to hold their ship together while trying to unravel the mystery of the missing captain and the Tilikaal. The correlation of psychic energy with electromagnetic interference was fun to play with.
This story plays with a large pile of sci-fi concepts that include conquering navigational concepts through different dimensions, first contact with a noncorporal species, and coming up with ingenious repairs to advanced starships, just to name a few. It also allowed medical and science staff to explore the power of the mind, and the connection of visions with parallel realities.
As with any first contact situation, the opportunity for social conflict was high. I knew that Ash’Tamalia would be evasive since—as revealed in future adventures with my group—her methods could be perceived as unprincipled and unethical. I gave the characters just enough information to want to be saviors to her trapped people, but not enough for them to be overly suspicious of her motives.
The part that really created melodrama was the characters’ reactions to the lost captain.
The captain was understandably distraught and traumatized by the events that led him to be in the pocket universe. Following orders, he took the brunt of a Romulan attack to protect our PC’s vessel during the Candidate Three Battle outlined in Displaced (Living Campaign). He lost 80% of his crew in that battle and lost the rest after his vessel and our PC vessel was pulled into another galaxy 13.7 million light-years away. While our crew managed to keep their vessel together for nearly two years, the lost captain was not so fortunate. His crew was lost and he was trapped in a state of madness in the Tilikaal pocket universe.
As you can imagine, I had to make sure to deal with the subject of PTSD carefully, respecting any of my players’ pasts.
I would suggest gamemasters incorporate this highly-adaptable module in any Shackleton game, though it would still make a good standalone with some structured tweaking.
For our group, “As Many As Six Impossible Things” was a fanciful and frightful parallel universe adventure that upped the mystery of the Tilikaal and dealt with the issue of loss and trauma.
(To see our entire play report, see Star Trek Pioneer, Season 4, Episode 9: “As Many As Six Impossible Things”.)
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