Thursday, 28 August 2014

#rpgaday Day 28 - Scariest Game I've ever played - Jovian Chronicles

In the aftermath of the long SLA campaign that I played between the late 90’s and the early 2000’s, we gathered together and decided which game we’d have a go at next, everyone in the group put forwards an idea of a game and a scenario, and then we had a closed vote as to which game would be the one that we would play.

The game turned out to be Jovian Chronicles…

For those that aren’t familiar with it, Jovian Chronicles isn’t Hard SciFi, it’s part Heavy Gear (Same design studio), part Traveller, all Space Opera, and the group that we put together was very much in the Firefly tradition.  AI’s and other worldbending tech are mostly outlawed in Jovian chronicles and despite the universe being a vast and dangerous place, we were expecting something with high adventure in the open space lanes and firefights around every corner.

We couldn’t have been more wrong…

First mission was to deliver an encoded transmission to a destroyer on the outer rims, not able to be transmitted due to the lack of secure transmissions out in the belt.  We had a small ship, the pilot was one of the players, and we had a good range of skills and clearance to do the job properly without any serious issues.  We cut in the sublight engines at a reasonable distance and broadcast the short range greeting hail.

No response…

They could have been delayed at a previous engagement, so per our orders, we waited a short while, broadcasting the hail every hour or so.  After half a day waiting, we decided that something else had happened and checked up on the last recorded position of the ship, making best speed for that position.

It didn’t take us long to find what had happened…

The ship was a few hundred thousand miles from us, A Valiant Class attack cruiser (think star destroyer), it had been split in two by what appeared to be a single hit from a double mount cannon into the spine of the ship, whereupon whatever had attacked them had simply departed, there was still air streaming from the ship in various places, there was some power on board and it was evident that not everyone must have been killed immediately…

Though the characters could not have known it, the players definitely had “This is Free Trader Beowulf,” going on in their heads at this point…

We docked, up to the bridge surrounded by the dead crew, looking like the impact had been sufficient to tear the grav generators off line and pulp most of them into boneless masses floating in space, took the flight recorder and downloaded the last ship logs.  The quandary now was whether or not to call in the destruction of the ship, after all, there might have been other ships out there with the capacity to take on any wounded still left on this ship.

There might also be whatever did this still out there, waiting to strike at the next target that came along, and anything that can sucker snipe a star destroyer is not to be underestimated.  We went back to our ship and downloaded the details, the ship had been proceeding for rendezvous with us when strange readings were detected on the portside, and an incoming transmission sent seconds before the shot went through the ship, single shot, straight through the primary reactor which split the ship clean in half, cameras on board caught the second before the attack, and then everything went red…

The senior analyst did a few rolls against various tech skills and the GM passed him a note.

The Player went white and their character ordered us to shut the ship off
“Why?” came the collective cry
“Because otherwise we’re next…”
So there we are, sitting next to the broken remains of one of the most powerful ships in the quadrant, waiting for whatever it was out there…
“It’s not certain…” the analyst said, “But it might not be Human…”
“What then?” 
“Not even Organic…” the analyst said, “We need to get out of here somehow.”
The transmission inbound signal came up on the ships dash, the gunhead character reached to answer it, and found themselves pinned under the other four of us.
“That’s how it pinpoints…” the analyst whispered, “Only humans have curiosity…”
“What is it?”
Not Human…”

It took us more than three hours (our time, not the characters) to get to what we thought might have been a safe distance, by which we measured the amount of time between transmissions from whatever it was and when the transmissions stopped for more than a day, we fired up the main drive and got out of there…

What was scary about it was that we didn’t know what it was, but whatever it was had the power to wipe us out without even an afterthought, and it didn’t follow normal rules of engagement, it hid and waited and struck without warning and any human in the vicinity with any sense of decency would only be prey for it, even those travelling in one of the most powerful ships in the galaxy.

Years later, I spoke to the GM at length (we never did manage to complete that campaign, the world got too involved for a number of us and we drifted apart slightly) regarding that campaign, and found that it was indeed something straight out of the book, and that all the GM had done was modify its behaviour slightly to make it a little more dangerous.  When you look at it on paper, it doesn’t seem all that terrifying, but for those three hours, everyone one of us was absolutely in the moment.

I’ve played games where going insane is a part of the game, I’ve dispassionately counted down sanity points to invariable wibbling, and I’ve failed horror and terror rolls all over the place, never once being anything other than mechanically interested in what’s going on and counting down the rounds till I was a functional character again rather than someone idly standing by. That’s when I began to understand that to get people to feel things, it takes more than an understanding of sanity rules and fear effects, it takes an understanding of players and what’s close to them, and if the GM is willing to put the time in to craft something that’ll get the players thinking, then the players will repay them with their involvement.

And there’s no better reward for a GM…


  1. Well played on your GM. Managed to hold a very delicate mood in a game that normally wouldn't be seen as supporting it.

    1. He was an excellent GM, damn shame none of us get to play anymore.