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 Derek Tyler Attico, writer and two-time winner of the Strange New Worlds contest, whose short story “A & Ω” won the Grand Prize in Strange New Worlds 8. Attico has also contributed articles to the Star Trek Magazine and material to Star Trek Adventures.
Synopsis (spoiler alert)
While the player characters travel through a region of the Expanse tracking the increase in EM radiation bursts and the tetryonic filaments that seem to connect the bursts, similar to those detected during the events “Joy Soul Lies in the Doing“, long-range sensors pick up fluctuating energy readings from a nearby planetary system. Sensors cannot pinpoint exactly what the readings are coming from due to high levels of radiation, but they are consistent with a vessel in distress. Upon arrival in the system, there are no ships, but two life-forms orbiting the fifth planet in the system, a gas giant.
The crew of Pioneer survived Jim Johnson’s “Joy Soul Lies in the Doing“ and the action doesn’t stop! This module was an action-packed, cinematic-level, edge-of-your-seat, fat-moving adventure that threatened to leave the crew without their warp engine.
The crew was in the middle of trying to unravel the mysteries of the Shackleton Expanse. This chance run-in with the battle-ready VInShari made for an inconvenient interlude to their mission; however, one that provides a key clue in figuring out how to navigate the tetryon and gravimetric disturbances common in the Expanse. A run-in with one of the Assessors and a Tilikaal male made for an adventure that kept my players highly engaged.
I wanted to use this module to introduce a Shackleton species, the Vinshari, who were victims of Tilikaal technology and had responded by becoming a harsh warrior race who had manipulated captured Tilikaal tech to their own ends. Mighty hunters, the Vinshari proved to be more formidable and ruthless than I had even guessed as a GM. Their attack on the Pioneer was swift and merciless, and by the end of Act One the crew was sweating bullets and missing a warp engine.
I found Derek’s module easy to adapt to my game, and I think other gamemaster’s would find it an easy read with clear antagonists, simple to understand hunter/prey concepts, and well-written encounters. This module could be dropped into any campaign anywhere and anytime in the universe, with the Ha’Kiv being a fascinating species of cosmozoan lifeforms that turn into stars upon their death. Honestly, I wish I could reintroduce the Ha’Kiv in future games as my players were fasciating by the implications of such a lifeform, especially as a potential power source.
Hence, Derek’s concept was original and exciting. The VinShari would even give a Klingon crew a run for their money. And competition for a seemingly limitless power source like the Ha’Kiv would give any crew of any polity an interesting plot point for a resource war. It would be easy enough to delete the Assessor and Tilikaal story components and make this a standalone adventure.
I loved the science fiction concept in this adventure. It was simple but, once again, a fantastic concept of a lifeform that consumes gas giants and then transforms into stars. Wow! I could have taken that one concept alone to make a season-long campaign.
I have to say, the potential for social conflict in this module is on the low end. Sure, the characters can try to talk their way out of this problem, but I think the inherent design of the VinShari will lend to a more violent end to any confrontation. I made the VInShari a hit first ask questions rarely species. Their initial assault definitely put the fear of VinShari into my players. They were picking up the pieces the entire game.
By the time they got to the epic atmospheric jump to the VInShari barge, they were ready for a fight!
For our group, “Needs of the Few” was a hair-raising, spine-jarring fight for survival that ended with the VinShari as potential foes of the Federation. Though it uncovered some good clues, the player characters were definitely beaten up by the end of the adventure. Knowing that only more action was to come with the last two episodes of our season, I was a little concerned. However, that is one of the caveats of campaign-long seasons; players might get tired out feeling like they are losing with not much gain. I made sure to make the clues juicy to keep the energy up.
Gamemasters are advised to always take a pulse check and make sure the players aren’t getting worn out or despondent.
(To see our entire play report, see Star Trek Pioneer, Season 4, Episode 11: “Needs of the Few”.)
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