Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Retrospective: Disappearance on Aramat

Though I have played a wide variety of science fiction roleplaying games over the years, Traveller was my go-to SF RPG until I wrote my own. Even then, I frequently return to Traveller and continue to enjoy it. A remarkable thing about this classic game is that, throughout its heyday, GDW licensed a number of other companies to produce supplementary materials for it. Some of these companies were already well established ones, like Judges Guild, while others, such as FASA, were relative newcomers who would use their success in producing licensed Traveller as springboards to bigger things

In 1984, Grenadier Models decided to throw its hat into the publishing ring by producing a number of licensed adventures for several RPGs, including Call of Cthulhu and Traveller. The rationale for this was likely twofold: to expand into another aspect of the still-growing gaming market and to promote the miniature figures for these games that they also produced under license. As business strategies go, it's not a terrible idea and, had the adventures been notable in any way, it might even have worked. Unfortunately, such was not to be the case.

Disappearance on Aramat is a 48-page scenario written by Gary Pilkington and illustrated by Flint Henry and John Dennett, with a cover by Martin Kealey. Taking place at the edge of the official Third Imperium setting, the adventure concerns an overdue archeological mission visiting the planet Aramat. Aramat is a desert world with no known intelligent lifeforms but is believed to have served as an outpost of the Vilani empire some 5000 years before the present day. Dr Alandra Chadra and her team of graduate students visited Aramat with the goal of locating the ancient outpost to study. However, they failed to check in at the designated time and now her father and her fiancé have grown concerned that something untoward has happened to her and her students. They turn to the player characters, whom they outfit for an expedition to Aramat to determine what has become of them.

As set-ups go for a Traveller adventure, it's far from the worst, though that's small praise. I trust no one reading this will mind if I reveal that the ancient Vilani base is populated entirely by robots that have been functioning all these millennia, waiting for their masters to return. When Dr Chadra and her students discovered the base, the robots assumed they were intruders and attacked them, killing several and taking the remainder prisoner. In addition, a second group is also on Aramat – agents of a disreputable corporation with sinister motives. Thus, the characters find themselves thrown into a somewhat chaotic situation that requires them to find the ruins Dr Chadra was seeking, rescue her and her surviving students, and avoid the dangers posed by the robots, the opposing corporate agents, and the wildlife/environment of Aramat itself.

I suppose if this basic situation had not been used many times before in the annals of Traveller, I might have been more impressed. As it is, Disappearance on Aramat is, at best, yet another variation on a well-worn plot and a rather banal one at that. I generally avoid doing reviews or retrospectives on gaming products I don't like, but there are times when I chose to make an exception. In this case, I did so because I think Grenadier was definitely on to something with their attempt to publish RPG adventures. All of their miniature sets included mini scenarios intended to make use of the included figures. The larger adventures, like Disappearance on Aramat, were a logical progression and I so wanted to like them. On the other hand, re-reading this made me think about what would and would not make good science fiction adventure scenarios and that might come in handy.

3 comments:

  1. I think one of the hardest parts of writing good sci fi RPG adventures is that it's hard to really do science fiction. It's easy to make an action/adventure scenario with robots and lasers, it's hard to make a plot that revolves around some sort of scientific discovery or truth the way a novel or short story can.

    I don't think I've ever run or played in a "sci fi" RPG campaign that was really about science. It's always just a reskinned action scenario. This module sounds like another one of those, and with a very often used plot device.

    Still, kudos to them for at least giving it a try!

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  2. What do you think of “Cepheus”?

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    1. I haven't looked closely at it, but it seems fine. If I were going to publish Traveller-compatible materials, I'd be tempted to use it.

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