viernes, 10 de diciembre de 2021

Junkyard Blues: a sandbox scenario for M-Space

2 comentarios

Junkyard Blues is a sandbox scenario for the sci-fi roleplaying game M-Space, published by Frostbyte Books. However, it can easily be used for other games as well. The scenario kicks off with the player characters stranded on a strange planet. They will need to work hard and make difficult decisions if they want to go back to their normal lives. So, unlike many other sci-fi scenarios, this one seems more inspired by that kind of sci-fi movies one could label as "astronauts in trouble". Movies such as Gravity, The Martian or Stowaway, but with a fair dose of alien species and weird technology added on top. Does that sound interesting? Keep reading...

<<<Puedes leer una reseña en español en el blog de Thorkrim>>>

Note: Frostbyte Books provided me with a copy of Junkyard Blues so I could write this review, but I have tried my best to be as objective as possible. Judge for yourself. :-)

The look

Junkyard Blues has the same layout style as other books from the M-Space line: square format, spartan interior pages and single-column text, with text added on the margins. The cover art by Mert Genccinar is awesome and atmospheric, and suitably depicts what the player characters are going to be doing most of the time during this adventure. The interior art by Clarence Redd and Fernando Teixeira is also of high quality. I love when scenarios include portraits of the main NPCs. Still, I wish there were some more images, especially of a couple alien races that are only succinctly described. To finish off, there are also several schematic maps or blueprints of some of the places the PCs can visit. These are rather dull, but elegant. I prefer maps that are more detailed though.

Dull but elegant, elegant but dull

The content

The author of this 88-page-long scenario, Scott Crowder, has created an "interesting" situation for the characters in your sci-fi campaign to be thrown in. Like sci-fi versions of Robinson Crusoe, their starship (slowly) crashes on a strange planetoid and then they must find a way to make it fly again before it's too late. If they attain their goal, your players will have enjoyed two to four intense sessions of play. However, they are not alone...

-- Warning: slight spoilers beyond this point --

The planetoid is a harsh environment where survival is difficult and hard-won. Resources such as oxygen and food are limited. There is no atmosphere, so most of the time the player characters are going to be walking outside wearing their vacc-suits, exposed to all sorts of dangers. And yes, the vacc-suits are armored, but any breach sounds the alarm as the precious oxygen starts leaking off fast. Definitely not a walk in the park. To make things even more interesting, the scenario lists a number of dangers the PCs might need to face just by being out there.

In spite of that, one of the best facets of this scenario is that there is lot of people to talk to. The player characters will find out there are several factions in the planetoid, all left stranded there like them. Most want out, but only the PCs have the means, so there is going to be a lot of roleplaying, and possibly, backstabbing. The PCs will make allies, as well as enemies and others who might appear to be one but are actually the other. This will lead to hard decisions, as there might not be enough space in the starship to save everyone.

The scenario is set up as a sandbox, and that is great. It means there is no predefined order of events or course of action the PCs must follow. Players can choose freely what to do and where to go, giving their characters a lot of agency. GM just have to describe the initial situation, and then they can sit down, let players plan, and react to the actions of the characters, and not the other way round where players constantly react to what the GM throws at them. There are however, a couple events that happen at certain times, and the author provides a list of events as they may possibly happen, which is good to have a mental picture of what the adventure is going to be like more or less. The sandbox approach can be problematic when players can't come up with interesting goals to set for their characters, or when the available hooks look unattractive. This is not the case in Junkyard Blues, as there is no time to spare in a race for survival!

The armored vacc-suits in this scenario are new to M-Space, they are not included in the corebook

Since the characters need to explore their surroundings, and these are made up of hundreds upon hundreds of shipwrecks, it is very easy for GMs to add their own material and ideas (basically, hundreds of "dungeons". Exploring a derelict starship is a self-contained adventure, which means they can fit easily with the rest of the scenario. Besides that is a staple of sci-fi stories, so it is easy to come up with interesting things to find inside. The author provides a couple of such mini adventures. One of them stands out particularly for its length, themes, and intensity, but also because it is surprisingly different and can lead to very cinematic moments. It is also quite difficult, but its best possible conclusion is so good I would be disappointed if my players did not manage to reach it.

Junkyard Blues seems easy to insert in any campaign, but it all hinges on a specific premise: all starships work with warp drives but a recent breakthrough in space travel technology has produced much better engines called torch drives. For the scenario to work, the player character's ship must be equipped with such a drive or it must be accompanying a ship that is. This is no problem if you run it as a one-shot, but if you want to insert this scenario in an ongoing campaign, make sure this fits with the established facts of your setting (you would need some workarounds if you are running the Elevation campaign, for example). Anyway, the scenario provides the game stats of the perfect starship for this: the Darklight. In fact, Scott Crowder ran this scenario as part of his Pirates of Drinax campaign using M-Space, and the Darklight is the name of the Harrier in that campaign. If you want some pregenerated characters, you can download some from the publisher's website.

Also make sure before running the scenario that all players are OK with facing hard dilemmas and extremely difficult decisions during play. Warn them it includes mature themes, as characters can come across traces of cannibalism and children prostitution. It is therefore advisable to use safety tools like Lines and Veils.

If I were to run this scenario (and I'm looking forward to after having read it), I would create a hexed map of the planetoid with the PC's starship in the center and only some landmarks they can see from there. Then the players could fill up the blank spaces as they explore, little by little. Of course making a map of a spherical object is not easy, but I think it would add a lot of excitement to the game. It could also provide more hooks, as the scenario as written describes only one initial landmark. 

My favorite piece of art in the scenario: isn't it atmospheric?

All in all

The exploration, the sandbox approach, the fight against the environment, the ample roleplaying opportunities and the modular nature of this scenario all contribute to creating an interesting little gem. Perhaps some small details could have been better rounded, but overall this is a solid scenario, brimming with interesting ideas. It also has a bit for every kind of player: action for the combat oriented players, intense social interaction for the role-players, and problem solving for the planners. Finally, I guess casual players will also love it because it draws so much inspiration from sci-fi movies. 

The good:

  • PCs have freedom to choose their course of action
  • Lots of hard decisions to make
  • Some scenes read like movies
  • Nice art

The bad:

  • Some aliens are not depicted
  • The PCs must be on a certain type of starship in order to play the adventure

Junkyard Blues is available from DrivethruRPG for 8$ in PDF, or 14$ for both the softcover and the PDF. Don't miss the book trailer! If you have read or run this scenario, or if you are also looking forward to enjoying the blues, please leave your opinion below in a comment. In any case, I hope you enjoyed reading this review.

2 comentarios:

  1. It looks really interesting.
    I will purchase it for sure when 77mundos will publish it in Spanish.


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