After two year pause we’ve returned to The Third Horizon. Having two veteran players and two new on board we have decided to continue adventures of the Seeker, Scarab class Passenger Freighter.
Due to COVID, we’ve decided to play through Roll20, which we later switched to FoundryVTT. I will try to share there sources used. A single session takes about 3-4 hours of play, so a single adventure could takes from 1 to 5 sessions. Since we used to play Alien RPG with the same line-up, I didn’t want to start with „The Last Voyage Of Ghazali„. I knew that they will enter the Alien drill: in the first scene go to the engine room, overload the reactor and escape with the lifeboat. The Last Voyage is very generic adventure. I was looking for opener that would show more of the great universe offered by Coriolis, combining spirituality and techonology. Looking trough The Adventures Compendium The „Tailor of Mira” was the best choice, setting The Order of Pariah as main antagonists for the players.
Aisha – Captain and courtesan (6 sessions played)
Nadir – pilot and armed arm of the team (4 sessions on account)
Fida – team technician (new character)
Fatma – scientist from a wealthy family and Data Djin (new character)
The difference between old and new characters was noticeable, but not drastic. The new characters were competent in their main areas, but lacked the few upgrades the veterans had. Over time, as I added more characters to the campaign, I gave them a starter XP upgrade pack so players could catch up faster.
We played Roll20 with the default character sheet. It turned out very quickly that managing modifiers for a roll is very inconvenient (I will write more about it in the comments for the GM). We took the NPC graphics from the tokens set prepared by Ivan Tam. We took the characters of the players’ heroes from pinterest. Audio comes from two sources: the Tabletop Audio (Arabesque, Desert Bazar and Strangers on the Train) and the fantastic Seb Taylor on bandcamp. You can simply download the music from Tabletop Audio and you have to spend a few bucks on a bandcamp to be able to download the album. The backgrounds for the session come mostly from the „Art of the Third Horizon” booklet. Two additional graphics that I used are: a map for tracking progress of The Golden Harvest that I did myself and a train map created by Erik Ahlin. It’s worth to prepare a map of the tailor’s hollow, in case the players decide to go to shoot-out with of the Order of Pariah.
Game session (spoilers!)
We’ve started with the scene of accepting the mission from Iskander. I tried to play the tropes „he wants to protect the family” and „there is a something more under the surface”. The PC’s were tasked with catching the escaped scientist and given a tissue sample for examination. Since they flew in their ship with a good medlab (which is not provided for in the scenario), they decided to try to do the research on their own, which prevented me from interacting with the scientist and the Syndicate in the city. I’ve added a meeting with Nilar, Syndicate NPC, who offered her services as a guide. Fatma, playing as a „noblewoman”, decided to reject them and used opportunity to tell Nilar what does she thinks about the low born. This set up Nilar as antagonist of the party for the rest of the scenario. I’ve let players do the Technology and Science tests on their own ship, with appropriate (negative) modifier. They’ve succeeded, so after a quick inquiry in the city (which required a Culture test and gave players the opportunity to get some rumors about a planned wedding between the Chelebs family and Hegemony) acquired the location of the Tailor’s laboratory. One of the heroes noticed Nilar walking near their ship, but took it (wrongly) to be a meaningless meeting. While questioning the city, players learned about the Golden Harvest – a pilgrimage train.
In the Tailor’s headquarters (which does not have a map in the manual, so you should prepare it in advance), the players met Kemula and the Order of Pariah. They immediately fell in love with each other. The confrontation had ended before it had begun in earnest. After some initial dis-courtesies, Nadir decided to stick a rifle to Kemula’s head. He won the initiative, intimidated his opponent, and the players left the stage unscathed. The players understood that they were not the only ones who wanted to get the Tailor.
We took a week off so I had time to prepare for the second part of adventure.
We started the second session with a meeting with the sponsor, during which the heroes got to know his darker nature and noticed the young, deformed Camisa and her bodyguard Koncza. At the sponsor’s suggestion, they went to the statue district, where they had a very atmospheric conversation with the mad prophet of the Dancer. The players learned from him that the Tailor was on board the Golden Harvest and learned about the background of Camisa’s marriage. They decided to run some more tests on the tissues taken from Tailors Lab and re-created his current image. They decided to set out to catch the train in (provided by Iskander) gravcar, before of the Order of Pariah does so. During the flight, they noticed four gravbikes chasing them. After a short series of Piloting counter tests, the attackers caught up with the heroes and engaged in air combat. The PCs noticed Nilar among the attackers and realized that she was working for the Syndicate, who was also after Tailor. Players shot down all of their attackers (sparing those who managed to land) and safely caught up with the train.
The player characters landed on the roof and divided into two teams – one was looking for the tailor from the top, the other from the bottom of the train. Those downstairs found him earlier – stoned and unconscious in a compartment for the „poor” class. Unfortunately, the train guards spotted them and decided to check what happened to four unknown people that boarded the train. The situation was saved by Aisha who, with the critical success of the Culture test, referred to her background courtesan and explained to the security that she had been ordered by the client and was at work (and the rest of the team was her bodyguard). The drugged tailor made no resistance and allowed himself to be pulled onto the roof of the train where the Order of Pariah was already waiting. Nadir repeated the same trick as the last time and (again) winning the initiative, he held Kemul’s grape rifle to his face, letting the rest of the crew fly away safely. They decided to leave the Tailor to their employer and cash the reward.
Coriolis on roll20 in the basic version does not allow for hidden rols, and adding roll modifiers requires tracking the special fields on the top of the character sheet, causing a lot of confusion. Weapon bonuses were not added automatically. Macros were also painful. On the first occasion we’ve dumped it in favour of alternative
. Manage modifiers for a roll by adding the corresponding plus and minus modifiers to the top of the card. Weapon bonuses do not count. You cannot choose a specific weapon in macros. It is easy to get confused or forgotten about it. On the plus side – the Character Notes and Spaceship Notes tabs are an exact copy of your paper character sheet. Nevertheless, on the first occasion, we have switched it to the alternative version.
Few comments on the scenario itself.
First one: The authors of the scenario for the game about spaceship crew ignore the fact that players start off with their own spaceship that most probably houses medlab and solves all the travel problems. This can be solved in two ways – either ground the ship with some kind of servicing / repairs necessary and tell players that they do not have access to it, or think in advance how to provide the information available in the scenario in an alternative way – describing the media broadcasts, or by adding a conversation with technicians or NPCs you meet.
Second one: The scenario can derail in two scenes: After meeting Iskander, if the PCs decide that they don’t need help analysing the traces – suddenly they will run out of scenes and NPCs and they will jump too fast to conclusions, loosing the context of the adventure. The second mishap occurs when they are boarding onto the train, which is described in a very general way. I was honestly irritated by the authors’ margin note: „We did not include the train map because it is too long and everyone has to adapt it to their needs.”. If I were to conduct this adventure in one session, I doubt I could prepare for all the possible endings. I am very glad that I had time to interrupt the session and seeing where everything was going, I was able to rethink the style in which I want to end the scenario.
Third one: The scenario lacks maps of the locations visited, which hurts especially during the meeting with the Order of the Pariah in the Tailor’s headquarters and on the train. You can sense that the whole adventure was written to play as the „theatre of mind” that was fine in pre-covid times, but pretty sucks during online play. There aren’t many location plans in it, but the few graphics that are thrown in help to build up the atmosphere.
Forth one: The scenario fulfils its promise: allows players to immerse in the religious part of the world – they can visit the mad prophet, fanatics from the Order of Pariah, pilgrims on the train – there are many opportunities to show the cult of Icons, and to mention the Emissaries (which I did planning Emissary Lost as next adventure). There is also some high technology and science, and two or three combat encounters.
Last one: The politics scheming behind the adventure was to complicated for new players. There were three factions, each one wanted something, and as the players skipped a few scenes, it wasn’t understandable why. For me it was best test of who did read the rulebook and who just scanned it :). I personally have no problem with it, I have repeated many times who the Hegemony is, who the Order is, what they do in the world and how they are perceived. In this respect, it was a great introduction to the Mercy of Icons campaign. There was enough space to experience the game world, learn a little bit about background of Order of Pariah, Zenithians and Syndicate and to see how mysticism coexists with high technology.
We tried to run the whole session through Roll20. While the audio was OK (and only ok), whispering messages to your players was tragic, and the video was still broken. I saw half the players and the players saw two random people. At this point, we thought we were doing something wrong, but soon we moved to Discord. I sincerely recommend the latter for chats, organisation of sessions and video calls.