Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Traveller Tuesday: There's a Hole in the Jump Drive, Dear Liza

There's a Hole in the Jump Drive, Dear Liza is a mini-adventure which can be sprung on Traveller players if they do something foolish with their ship's engines.  It can be run for one player (although if you do that it really should be on a small ship, such as a Type S), but the optimal group size is 4-6 players.

This adventure will make more sense if the GM waits until a suitable trigger event has occurred, such as:
  • A gunfight or an explosion in Engineering
  • A jump drive or power plant hit in combat
  • An engineer with a history of bad rolls
  • Skipping regular maintenance 
  • Sloppy maintenance, such as from a class C or D starport
  • Installation of an experimental, untested jump drive
  • Just barely rolling a misjump

First, give them a chance to notice that something is a little off. Tell whoever is on the bridge or in engineering (there is always someone in on duty during jump, isn't there?) that the Master Caution alarm sounds and the accompanying button lights up. An Average skill roll of INT + Pilot indicates that this is odd; nothing else on the caution panel is lighting or sounding. They have a master caution and nothing else seems wrong.

A brief sidebar on terminology and technology:
  • All bridge (and, presumably, engineering) indicator lights are also buttons. 
  • You press the button to turn off the alarm.
  • "Caution" is less serious than "Warning".
  • Warnings are in the red panel and cautions are in the yellow/green.
  • They each have their own chimes. Caution is “Hey, wake up” volume. Warning is "Oh Shit!" volume.
  • The writers of this adventure are making the assumption that, in the name of safety and robustness, all significant pieces of equipment have their own computers so that they can be brought offline, diagnosed, repaired, and rebooted without having to reboot the entire power plant or jump drive. 
  • A bit of color text too. Since the Solomani greatly influenced the design of ships in the Third Imperium, redundant panels that a Vilani would have put in as a matter of course were excluded from most designs. OSHA is happy and carefree compared to the Vilani bureaucracy... 

It Begins
Both the bridge and engineering get a caution alarm that the Primary Field Strength Generator has gone offline. This isn't a disaster as the Secondary FSG kicked in (that's its function), but sensible PCs shouldn't let that ride because the FSG is the part of the Jump Drive that actually generates the jump field.

Losing the jump field prematurely would be bad.

1. An Average EDU+Jump Drive is required to inspect and reset the Pri FSG. Nothing appears to be broken or need replacement, so it's a simple matter to reset and reboot it.

2. Once this happens, the power plant seems to be surging -- nothing critical, just a 5%  increase in temperature and/or pressure, so the dampers need to be reset. In order to do this without losing power to the jump drive, the dampers need to be reset one side (A, then B)at a time. This is an Average EDU+Power Plant roll.

3. Just as they wrap that up, the FSG Secondary Fault alarm comes on. They fix that and, once again, the power plant is surging, this time by 10%.
If the GM wishes to engage more players, or if the PCs have a sufficiently large ship, there can be more Field Strength Generators:  FSG Primary A, FSG Primary B, FSG Secondary A, FSG Secondary B, etc.  A useful rule of thumb might be to use a letter for each 100 dtons of ship, such that a 100 ton Type S will only have a Primary and Secondary, but a 200 ton Type A will have an A and B for each, and a 400 ton Type M will have a Primary and Secondary A, B, C, and D. 
Bounce the players between those three things for a while. Increase the tension by rolling behind the GM screen to scare them. Use description and atmospheric flavor to stress an increasing noise and strain to the system as they shut one side down and the other takes the load. Increase the difficulty of rolls to Difficult, if desired.  Then chase them from A to B, Primary to Secondary, toss in a power plant A and B surge...

Eventually, one of two things will happen:
  1. A character will stop addressing the symptoms and try to diagnose what is actually causing the problem;
  2. A player will make an impressive roll (be it a 2 or a 12).

Stopping to Think
If they stop to think, make more lights come on. Create an atmosphere of "if you don't get on this, you're dead!" Examples:
  • The Master Warning light goes off, indicating an imminent, catastrophic failure of the entire Primary Field Strength Generator system. Secondary FSG is supposed to take over in this instance, but the warning indicates a failure in the handoff from primary to secondary. This requires the engineering crew to address both the failure of the PriFSG and the fault in SecFSG simultaneously.
  • After being rebooted/ having parts replaced/ getting repaired, the Primary system no longer shows good function. The caution and warning panels says they go out as soon as the primary is fixed, yet can be visually verified to be running. This hints at a much deeper problem, and players may think the wiring is faulty, or there is a virus in engineering. This is an excellent opportunity to have non-engineer characters get involved in the action. These should be Difficult rolls, at the very least. 
  • The problem is spreading to other parts of the jump drive. The Field Geometry Sustainer is what keeps the jump bubble in proper proportion around the ship, and it's threatening to warp and leave parts of the ship uncovered.  Also note that it is abbreviated FGS and easily confused with the Field Strength Generator (FSG), especially if inexperienced crewmembers have been pressed into duty. INT+Jump Drive to understand what the Chief Engineer is saying...
  • Other technobabble:  Jump Kernel Lobe Generator (computer system which generates the jump field geometry), Field Geometry Fault Sensor (double-checks the FGS for safety), Kernel Lobe Geometry Error (now I'm just making things up). 
  • Don't forget problems with the power plant as well: Plant Coolant Level Low. Pressure Low. Pressure High with Level Low (that sure messes with a thinker!).
  • Is there a Droyne PC among the crew? Did he remember to ceremonially bless the ship by placing the Voyages coyn under the jump drive?  If not, tell him that through his carelessness he has doomed them all and encourage him to rectify his mistake. Have the Droyne getting in the way of the repair crews as he tries to place coyns in ceremonially correct places:
    • Voyages on the jump drive (alternately: astrogation system)
    • Heat or Fire on the power plant
    • Air or Water on life support
    • Signal on comms/sensors
    • Anything else that sounds reasonable (Warrior in a turret, Technician on the Chief Engineer's tools, etc).
    • Have the Droyne make a DEX+Athletics roll to avoid getting in everyone's way. A particularly bad roll can even result in a a coyn being dropped into someplace inaccessible, or worse, the entire bag being dropped and all coyns rolling away...
  • Throughout ALL of this, stress how lights are flashing and alarms are sounding. Main engineering should sound like a Vegas casino when all the slot machines pay off at the same time. This is stressful and highly distracting, and unless there is someone whose only duty is to sit at the control panel, calling out names and types of malfunctions while turning off the lights and alarms, all difficulties are raised by one category. 
  • Generally keep them jumping from problem to problem, with each repair making other parts worse. This is why the adventure is titled after a children's song about a never-ending problem.

Failing at these tasks doesn't solve the problem. A critical failure results in the same panel indicator going to warning. If another critical failure occurs, see "Oops!" below.

"Then Fix It, Dear Eneri"
Eventually, someone is likely to start putting clues together and realize that, despite what the instruments are saying, the equipment isn't actually malfunctioning. This will prompt a Very Difficult INT+Engineering roll to diagnose (Formidable if lights and alarms are blaring, or if the PC is trying to solve this "cold", i.e. too early in the game session.)

If they succeed, they realize they are chasing after snakes in the cockpit, which is an ancient Solomani expression from the early days of aviation and means "Oh, fuck, what NOW?" In other words, "Everything is going wrong except for having actual snakes in the cockpit, biting the pilot."

On all Imperial-standard ships and small craft, there's a button that illuminates all the lights on a panel. It's marked Test. Decade after decade, snakes get in the cockpit while the crew diagnoses a "problem" caused by a burnt out bulb/ loose connection/ bad fuse/ what-have-you and nobody EVER thinks to hit "Test". They've been replacing and testing good parts, and it all boils down to the Traveller equivalent of a burnt-out bulb and fuse...

If They Press "Test"
All of this rigamarole is the result of a bad sensor in the Jump Field Monitoring System.The JFMS Fault light is malfunctioning (doesn't light up when Test is pressed) and the diagnostic equipment is out of calibration. How did this happen? High tech tools are sensitive to all manner of things: impact (from starship combat), lack of maintenance, a careless technician, jostling from a bad landing or gas giant refueling, etc.

If they do this, they aren't out of the woods yet: they still have to try and fix the JFMS Fault with uncalibrated diagnostic equipment -- a Very Difficult (at the least) EDU+Jump Drive roll. Be sure to inform the engineer that the manual says that with faulty JFMS an apparently properly functioning drive could result in a misjump!

If anyone critically fails at a Warning task, things get REALLY loud and REALLY flashy as everything alarms and emergency protocols execute. Lights go red, every klaxon known to the Imperium sounds, the power plant starts venting coolant, and a computerized voice starts alerting everyone aboard (including the passengers) that it is necessary to abandon ship and to get into vacc suits, rescue balls and escape pods.

Roll dice. Wince at the results. Have the lights go off, possibly the gravity too. Make, make the players think that The End is well and truly Nigh, and they are about to experience the mythical TPK  (total party kill)...

... and then everything goes quiet.

After all that noise, silence is really disturbing and eerie. If possible, the GM should just silently stare at the players for 30 seconds to a minute, just to make them uncomfortable. 

And then, a lone light on a panel in the dark engineering room begins to blink. With all the lights off, it's clearly running on its own battery.

That panel is something very plainly labeled, but easy to overlook because of its generic name: Master Fuse Control.

On that panel, a lonely computer screen has a display of the fault checklist. That screen, which they've been burying under charts, or hidden behind the Chief Engineer's alcohol still or collection of empty booze bottles, gives the following instructions:
Step 1: Press Caution/Warning Panel Bulb Test
Step 2: Check Breaker/Fuse Panel
As their hearing returns to normal, the PCs can hear the power plant calmly humming along -- having performed an emergency warm reboot, it is now operating normally. The jump drive is still switching between the Primary and Secondary Field Generator, but neither is actually broken. It's troubling to hear them switch over, but aside from some clicking and humming the hand-off is smooth. It will need to be repaired once they put in to port, of course, but the wisest course of action is to Leave Things Alone until their ship is out of jumpspace and the entire jump drive can be taken offline.

Moral of the story
Space travel is dangerous, jump drives are finicky, and regular maintenance is essential.

Special thanks to Angus McThag, co-author, for helping me flesh out this scenario. 


  1. Erin, as a Naval Aviator, let me just say that you would be one evil simulator instructor. If you want to go down the smoke/fumes path, remember you smell it before you see it. If it's white smoke, it's electrical. If it's black, it's a burning petroleum product.

  2. Flattered as I am by this, I can't take all the credit. Thag, who is a flight enthusiast, helped a LOT with this adventure. I came up with the idea, he provided the specifics of the tasks and the technobabble, and I prettied it up and gave it an ending.


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