Fill In The Gap
Introductionby Matt Turnbull
Fill In The Gap
Introductionby Matt Turnbull
Welcome to Fill in The Gap, a column devoted to individual, "one-off" scenarios, that any GM can run for his/her group.
Every month I'll be detailing out an entire one-shot scenario, complete with pre-written characters, and malleable enough to be used in your favorite system. There will be suggestions for moods, settings, themes, and options for what to do when your characters (inevitably, believe me!) go off the reservation.
Not to say that I'll do all the work for you. You'll need to be responsible for running the game (well, dur...) as well as converting the rather basic systemic information below into whatever game system you choose to use, but for the most part these are just pre-packaged funs in a barrel.
And the best part, it's totally free. Just send me good ju-ju vibes, and we'll call it even.
I'm guessing you're starting to wonder if this introductory column will have an adventure. Absolutely! There's just a few things we need to straighten out together first...
I can hear your thoughts. You're wondering "how can it be malleable enough for my favorite system, and still be detailed enough to allow for the rules to aid me in character interraction?"
Maybe you weren't thinking that, none the less the answer is through simplicity. These One-Offs rely on a system where anything a person can do is rated on a number from 1 to 10. Their equipment is factored into this number, as are any special qualifiers (such as always on Tuesdays but never on Venus.)
This means a little more leg work for you if you want to make it something complex, but in general you should be alright converting this into any of the lovely generic systems out in the world, or if you're filling cantankerous, use your own!
The Fill in The Gap system relies on a very simple premise, that all the truly relevant actions a character could take will be covered by some rudimentary attributes, as well as some very broad and basic skills. Each of these is ranked from 1-10, with 10 being ungodly, and 1 being somewhat pathetic.
Grognag is an old grumbling but tough barbarian, who's somewhat hard of hearing. He had piercing blue eyes in his youth, which have since dulled to a cloudy grey. He's well into his 50s, but maintains a body-builder's physique, complimented by his tight wolfskin garb. His hair has begun to gray, as has his massive braided beard.
Grognard is still quite strong for someone his age, and his skill with his trusty battle-axe is legendary (at least amongst the neighboring villages.) He's fought in several tribal wars in his day, and is regarded as a great source of knowledge of the way the world truly works. Unlike the sages and chiefs, Grognard is attached to the people, and trusted as a font of common sense, instead of the mystical confusions often attached to those considered to be "wise."
Grognag has a Strength of 6, and his Agility is a 4. His Interpersonal Ability is rated at a 6 (7 if dealing with someone from his or a neighboring village,) due to his strong sense of self. He's skilled with a battle-axe rating at a 7. Besides that Grognard is somewhat incapable. His Perception weighs in at a 3 (2 when related to hearing,) and mentally he's only at a 3, especially considering his lack of knowledge of the arts and sciences. Anything else Grognard does can be assumed to be at a 3 or 4, depending on if he's ever done it before, and which attribute it falls under.
That's all you need, right? You've got a physical description, a motivation, a general feel, and some rudimentary statistics that can lead you down whatever sick little path of anal retentive nonsense you so desire.
I think that clears things up between us a bit. Now that you have some idea what to expect, let's jump into the first adventure.
Without further ado, here comes the nitty gritty of the very first fantastical foray into adventure, entitled simply: "Singular Space."
Please Note: One of the major themes of Singular Space is mystery, if you read further the mystery will be spoiled quicker than if you left it on the patio on a hot summer day. If your GM reads this (shameless plug about how awesome this column is) column, and is thinking of running this one-off for you, I suggest you tread no further.
Alright. Let's get to it.
Singular Space is an adventure for 5 or 7 characters.
Singular Space is set primarily on a cargo/smuggler ship on a journey through deep, empty space. The crew of the ship is one man, who calls himself Captain Mark McArthur. He's on his way to an important delivery, but deep space can do things to a person's mind...
One player (we'll call him/her the "patsy",) plays Captain Mark McArthur. The rest of the players are aspects of his subconscious appearing as hallucinations around him. Each of them represents some part of his personality trying to exert their dominance. Mark is a capable pilot, physician, warrior, and mechanic. However, in his delusional state, he's divided these abilities of his own into 4 (or 6) different personalities, each of them played by another player.
The crux of this, and I cannot stress this enough, is that the player who is playing Mark, has NO IDEA that this is occurring. The player should be led to believe that Mark is the captain of a cargo ship with a crew of 4-6. All of the other players are aware of their (and each other's!) status as hallucinations, and need to do their best not to reveal this to Mark, lest they cease to exist. The best way to keep this all a secret, is to have a period of time where you take each player into another room and explain who they are and what they're motivation is. If your players can keep this secret through to the end, this campaign can be fantastically rewarding.
A couple quick ground rules. The characters that aren't the captain can't hurt each other. It seems counter-intuitive to the point of being impossible to each of them. The thought of attacking other parts of the captain's subconscious mind, is completely alien. However they can all be as subversive as they want to get their ways. Also, if one of them is "killed" by some hazardous event (or even the captain himself!) then they, in an effort to maintain the illusion, need to play dead. When you hit the phase of the game where you're pulling them all aside and letting them know who they're playing (determined randomly, or however you want!) explain to them these rules. They're what makes this adventure possible!
Another important rule to note, is the Captain's word is LAW. That is to say, if Mark says "hey let's stop and help those folk," then the crew can disagree, they can argue, and they can complain. However, they cannot pursue any active resistance. They can't hurt Mark, and in all reality, if he's made up his mind about something, then they're forced to go along. Feel free to enforce this as subtly as necessary with your players. The pilot can't take the ship somewhere without the Captain's permission, and the doctor can't lethally inject someone who's sought medical attention on the ship without Mark being around for it.
This also leads to another important rule, no splitting up. Each of the player's (except for the Captain) needs to be informed of this rule in advance too. The only time the characters may split up is if the Captain decrees it. In that case, whatever group he's with finds what they're looking for, and the other groups (that he's not there for) find absolutely nothing. Because they're not really away from him, he's just imagining that they are. Whenever a character that isn't the Captain does something, it's really the captain doing it for them, just not realizing it.
One more important rule; the players don't interact with anyone other than the captain and each other, UNLESS FORCED. I.E. the captain can rationalize a player talking to a jungle guerilla fighter if it would make sense, BUT most of the time, any NPCs should directly query the captain regarding decisions and interaction. Don't play this up to much, as it can reveal too much, too quickly. The best use of this is simply as a tool for heightening the mood. The more hints laid out, the better the person playing the captain will feel about being tricked, under the "I should've figured it out!" principle. Just don't leave so many bread crumbs that they do figure it out!
The real bottom-line of all of this, is that in the end this game is about the Captain's decisions, and how well the players were able to sway them. Don't be surprised if your characters are keeping score to see how well they could coeerce him, especially if they really get into the character interaction. As much fun as playing a character that's really an individual and is free to make their own choices is, it's not the point of this game. In this game, most of the characters have well defined goals, and it's the freedom of their path to those goals that makes it interesting.
Mark is a strong man, with a great sense of self. Escaping wrongful imprisonment and managing to set up a functional business on the fringe of space, he's managed to create quite a life for himself and his "crew" in both smuggling and legal cargo hauling. This job has been particularly rough on Mark, having to travel between two stars with nary a sight between them. Captain McArthur has all of his attributes at a 6, and can do any action that the specific players can do (such as doctoring, fighting, and fixing the ship,) at a 6 as well.
There's John Fitzgerald, Mark's compassion. John's a heavy set guy, with jowels and a wide smile. He generally wears a beard, and dirty overalls. John is the mechanic of the ship, and his goal is to convince the captain to provide aid and help to those in need, and to have him treat the other crewmembers with sensitivity and understanding. John has an Intelligence and Perception of 6, and has a solid physique, weighing in at a 6 on Strength and Dexterity as well. John's also pretty perceptive, and has a Perception of 6 too. John's mechanic ability could be rated at a 9 however.
Then there's Laura Hill, Mark's Fear. Laura is short, and waifishly thin almost looking childlike. She keeps her hair dyed black, with streaks of fuschia, and wears primarily short dresses that on a woman who looked older would be sexy, but on her seem somehow inappropriate. Laura is the ship's doctor, and she obviously wants to keep Mark out of harm's way. Laura is both smart and perceptive, her Intelligence is 6, and she has a Perception of 6 as well. You'd have to be Grognard not to see the pattern we've got going now. Laura's physically fit and able, with a Strength of 6, and a Dexterity of 6. Figure it out yet? Good. All the characters are really Mark, so they all have the same basic abilities to pull from, however, their skills do differ. Laura has medicine at a 9.
After that we have Tyrone Rendquist, Mark's Courage. Tyrone is 6'3" tall, with dark brown skin. He wears dark red clothing, patched with leather. His head is shaved clean, he's well muscled, and he has piercing brown eyes. Tyrone wants Mark to act courageously, shrug off danger, and in general exercise him to his fullest potential as often as possible. Tyrone is the ship's resident butt-kicker, heavily armed and quite physically capable. Tyrone's attributes are the same as the other characters, however he has dual-8's in small firearms (of which the ship has two, one for Tyrone and one for Mark,) and melee combat (including hand-to-hand.)
Jeffrey Lyons, is Mark's Anger, and the ship's pilot. He's a tall and gaunt man, with freakishly pale skin. Jeffrey generally wears black. Jeffrey obviously wants to nurture Mark's darker side, convincing him to lash out, and commit heinous acts. All of Jeffrey's attributes are at a 6, though he has a 9 rating as a pilot.
The OPTIONAL characters (for extending the game to 7 players,) are young businessman named Lindsay, a "paying and wealthy" passenger, who represents Mark's greed (all of his abilities are above-average at a 6,) and Tina Fiat, Mark's Generosity (not to be confused with compassion,) a teenage girl (abilities also at 6) who's "stowed-away," and was discovered before the game began.
The game's settings are two exotic alien worlds, and of course Captain Mark McArthur's small craft. His ship has some clues on it as to what's going on, that are important to note. It feels cramped, and although they have several crew quarters, they don't have enough for everyone. Also, there's only one medical bed. The ship is lightly armed, with point defense weapons (usually armed by Tyrone,) to defend against missiles, but they are relatively useless against an enemy ship. The ship is named the Maidenly Heart, and is faster than most ships on the fringe.
The first alien world is a parched desert, devoid of life. The players (depending on several factors) may never come here. Either way, it's a barren and lifeless rock, with only one real feature, a crumbling temple. More details about this lovely vacation spot follow in the adventure.
The second alien world is more involved, in that the continent they land on (if they land on it,) is gripped by militants in a war effort. Imagine guerillas fighting guerillas in the jungle with laser weaponry.
This ties into the mood, and I think it should be fairly clear by now. More than just messing with the guys head who's playing the Captain, the point of this game is to examine decision making and leadership as ideas, as well as personal ethics. Everybody's motivated, the fun comes in seeing how they make the most of it.
Well, here's the real down-low. The actual occurrences of the game. I'm going to leave these intentionally vague. While it's more guesswork for you, in the end you'll thank me. It leaves you more room for your party (which is bound to be unpredicatable at this point) to do whatever they feel is necessary.
Event #1. A ship appearing at the edge of a random and ancient debris field is shooting out a distress signal, what does the Captain decide to do?
Important things to note about this scenario: The ship is a decoy for pirates, who've hidden behind the asteroids. The pirates will not board his ship, but they may damage it in his escape, don't allow the pirates to destroy the ship, unless the Captain does something ridiculously brash like try to ram them. Otherwise, it's best if they get away damaged, or scott-free, depending on their decisions. Let them do what they want here, but depending on if they get away with or without damage, what happens next gets to change.
Event #2A. If the ship was damaged, the ship needs to stop in deep space for repairs. While they're repairing their ship, the crew is haunted by several creepy apparitions. Some of the damage is on the outside of the ship, so any of these apparitions can appear whilst the mechanic is in space repairing.
What's actually happening here: Mark and his crew have accumulated the spirits of an ancient people. When they passed near the debris field, the took them on. The debris field was that of an anciently destroyed and derelict colony ship. It had been headed to a large colony world, thousands of years before, on a holy pilgrimage. The world they were headed to was famous for it's religious sanctuary.
The players have a few basic options, but are bound to think of something not on this list. The ones that are likely to occur however, is that they could ignore the ghosts, they could try to directly harm them, or they could make contact with them and discover their holy place, in effect setting them free (if they take them there.) However, there's any number of ways they could go about this. A particularly greedy group might decide to blackmail the apparitions to take them to their "holy place," asking that they reveal treasure there unfound by archaeologists. A violent or morally reprehensible captain might have the idea of attempting to use some form of technology to harness the ghosts abilities. Any number of things can happen. If your players think of something clever from this scenario, my suggestion is to run with it.
Either way, the apparitions get more and more frequent the more they're ignored (if they're ignored,) however they never engender any physical contact with anyone. Even the hallucinations don't know what these are about.
Of the apparitions, only the little girl responds to being spoken to. In case they were simply too wierded out to try to talk to the ghosts at first, have her appear multiple times to leave their options open. However if they manage to just ignore the apparitions and just get repaired and leave (which takes about three days,) then the apparitions cease to appear.
If they talk to the little girl however, she explains to the crew that they were headed to the "holy planet," where it would be "hot all the time," but they'd be "closer to the Gods." She continues that there was a "loud noise," and "Jon-El-Ris got hurt." At this point a player who thinks of it could try to know the etymology of that strange name. If a player attempts this and does well at whatever skill check you deem necessary, then reveal that that is a name from a people long extinct from the galaxy, who existed as space farers well before humans even colonized their own system.
If the players scan for nearby systems, they'll find a desert world, which is apparantly devoid of life. They can take the ghosts there, and they'll flow out of the ship happily in greater numbers to the temple if the ship lands there.
For added fun, keep in mind that the temple is full of many sacred riches. They can desecrate the temple, which has no adverse effects other than it's kind of mean, and it probably needs to be rationalized. This upsets the ghosts that live there (if they were freed,) who complain. Whether or not the captain/crew show any care for this is all part of the game!
Event #2B. Their ship was undamaged, which likely means they didn't engage the pirates at all.
Either way, one of the crew members comes down with a mysterious illness. This scares the living bajeezus out of whoever it infects, because, as might be apparant, they don't exist. So how can they get sick? It's wierd, but it happens. And this crewmember (whichever one you choose) will die of this degenerative illness soon, without the cure. It helps to make them weaker, and continuously lower their stats each day they're without treatment..
The doctor (if they're the one that's sick, they still know this,) is aware of this disease, and it has only one known cure. It's a type of weed that grows only deep in the jungle on the continent of this very specific planet, which happens to be on their route to the rendezvous. They can stop there and get the root, or let their compatriot die, it's really up to them. (If the doctor is feeling especially malicious, they can neglect to share this information, unless really pressed by the Captain, at which point they MUST acquiesce.)
As stated in the setting information, this jungle world is in the middle of a civil war, focused on this particular jungle in guerilla tactics. There are a number of approaches to this situation, the most likely to get them killed being going in guns blazing. However, try to be gentle with them if they can come up with a clever solution, like distracting from the battle intentionally, or choosing one side to aid in the fight in exchange for the root. Let them be creative, and keep the enemy combatants at a relatively low power level, so that if they encounter smaller patrols of them (or something of that nature) they don't all necessarily die. Any standard mook level critter should do.
Event #3. Whether or not they bothered with the cure/ghosts/pirates/distress signal, they've managed to make it over halfway to their rendezvous, when the ship suddenly lurches to a stop. It's like some giant invisible hand is holding it in place. A face appears as the stars rearrange themselves, and it demands to know why the crew exists. If the captain tries to explain, before listening to him the face states "I know why you exist man, why do they?!"
The crew/captain can explain this to the face in anyway they choose, including honesty (with the added caveat that once the characters admit what they are to the captain, they disappear and for all intents and purposes the game ends.)
The face will buy any explanation, and let them on their way shortly, stating that he's "glad they all are together." The main purpose of this one is to get the players to question their meaning, and additionally allow those frustrated with not truly existing to interact with something other than each other, and the captain.
Event #4. One of the cargo containers is revealed by an internal reporting scan to contain a human being, in stasis. There are dozens of options in how they can deal with this, but feel free to run any direction with it you want.
Here's some ideas of who could be in there-
Any number of these has a number of plot hooks that could be worked out, but in general keep to the fact that they are isolated, and nothing for sure is going to happen to the individual until they reach port, as there is quite literally nothing between where they are now, and where they are headed.
Event #5. The homecoming. The ship lands in port, safe and snug as a bug in a rug. The captain steps out of the ship, believing his crew to be behind him, turning around, they're all gone, and nowhere to be seen. One of the dockhands starts unloading the cargo, and he turns to the captain and says "Howdy Cap'n Mark, how's the ship holding up?" To which the captain could have any number of replies. If the captain mentions his crew at all however, the dockhand replies "I don't remember seeing you ever run with no crew... Where'd you keep 'em in that tiny thing anyhow?"
After this the players usually discuss the immense amount of information they had to keep from one individual, and a lot of fun discovery occurs. If you were keeping a pretty close tab on the character's motivations, now would be the time to mention who you think did the best job persuading the Captain to behave in the fashion they wanted him to.
I'm not going to lie to you, this is a pretty tough adventure to run, but it can be very very rewarding. A lot of people really like to be messed around with, know your group well. Treat them like they like to be treated, and the captain will never guess you'd pull the wool over their eyes.
Well, I hope you enjoyed that, and find some small inspiration from it. If you do run that campaign, please E-mail me and let me know how it went! Msturnbull@comcast.net
That's the first of many more adventures to help you Fill in The Gap, see you next month!