Dauntless Mission #2: Trapped in the Void

Our first InSpectres in Spaaaace! game turned out to be a great way to do cerebral “mysteries of the universe” adventures. But is InSpectres really a winner for this kind of game or did we just luck out? Science demands more data points!

Recognizing that GMing is easy street, Jem steps up to the plate so I get to play. This makes our cast of characters:

Dr. Miranda Kessler — returning scidealist and stubborn crusader from the previous mission / Ping

Hollis — on the surface a calm and competent commander and roleplaying straight-man, but deep down he’s a seeker of the universe’s mysteries. His (secret) talent is philosophy and with careful play it will come up, oh, only about a hundred times this game / Ben

We’re still on the DAUNTLESS, so what happened to Stark, our de facto captain? Or plucky Conrad? We decide that Hollis is the new XO but is acting Captain because Stark is off-ship. Could it be Stark is standing in front of a formal review board, explaining his actions on Telos-3? Or maybe he’s just boozing it up somewhere on shore leave.

We don’t want a rigid chain of command, since that leads to things like “the captain says do it, so we do it” so during the first mission we had an understanding that the scientific decisions had equal weight to “command” decisions when we were investigating mysteries (aka all the time). So while Hollis is acting Captain, it’s more about division of labor (running the ship vs doing science) than about being in charge.

Starless Night

The setup: cruising through uncharted space, the DAUNTLESS gets trapped in an inky void. The sensors failed to give us any warning and before we know it we’re right in the middle of nothing, all screens showing black.

After some discussion we agree that instead of starting play right at the moment of impact we’ll pick things up several hours later. Entering the void jarred the ship’s systems and we just now have main systems back online and operational. That makes things a little more contemplative, less actiony.

The DAUNTLESS has 7 franchise dice so Jem sets the mystery at 14. Time to figure out what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

Ping doesn’t want to start, so just to be a jerk I throw her the ball: “Dr. Kessler, now that the scanners are back online can you tell us what’s out there?” Curses. Kessler scans the black void but much to Ping’s delight can’t get any solid readings (failed Technology check).

I ad lib that the ship had taken some micrometeorite damage to the hull a few days prior. We thought we had fully repaired the power couplings on the outer hull, but clearly these sensor failures mean our repairs must have shaken loose. We’re going to have to go out into the mysterious void and double-check the repairs. In space suits.

I really just want to force us to go out in suits because that seems a lot more fun that sitting on the bridge doing scans all day. Go 2001! Kessler naturally wants to take direct readings with hand-held sensors and won’t be left behind. Wanting to get a first hand look at the damage I lead the repair team out on a space walk (successful Athletics). Herein lies the fun of InSpectres. I succeeded, so that should mean things go great, right? Maybe, but it really means I get to define the truth of the mystery. Screw placid space walks! I narrate that once we get out into the void, it isn’t an inky void at all — it’s a shifting field of shadows, where strange visions seem to emerge and fade away again before they can be fully recognized. Is that the lake where I fished as a boy? Are those trees by my house? Or am I just imagining things, seeing the familiar in the abstract? The DAUNTLESS doesn’t have physical (glass) windows, just sensors, so seeing it in suits is our first direct observation, and clearly it’s a lot different when seen with the naked eye.

I’m going on about how the shifting visions are both disorienting and overwhelming, and Jem runs with it and hits us with some Stress (yea!). We take some lumps and narrate that we send the overwhelmed crew members back into the ship but personally fight it and push on. The void also seems to interfere with anything but short-range communications (of course).

Kessler makes a sensor check from a hand-held unit (successful Technology) and finds there’s something strange about the space — it’s bigger than it should be based on our last readings before entering the void.

We make some additional checks to complete repairs and get back inside, establishing that each person is seeing different shapes in the void, and the visions seem simultaneously familiar and foreign, like deja vu. The last thing we spot before limping back into the airlock are cathedral-like arches surrounding us in the vast space. Unlike the other phantoms in the void, both Kessler and Hollis see the same thing. Does that mean the arches are not an illusion, that they’re really there?

“The Truth Is Out There”

We’re half way through the mystery franchise dice, so we cut to a mid-game conference. Note to all would-be InSpectres players: the half-time pow-wow is an invaluable tool. The games where we did it rocked. The games where we skipped it (mistakenly or intentionally) sucked. You do the math.

We cut to the sick bay, where many of the crew members who went on the space walk are recovering and getting checked out for after effects. Some are worse off than others. True to halftime form, our heroes compare notes about what they’ve seen so far and debate what they think is really going on.

Hollis and Kessler rapidly fall into a cool Mulder/Scully dynamic but with more bickering. Kessler is the skeptic scientist. She argues that they need more readings, that science can shed more light on the void (so to speak). These “visions” are explainable scientific phenomena. After his experiences outside Hollis is a believer: “you saw it yourself, the sensors don’t pick this up — this isn’t something you can explain away, it’s something you have to _experience_.” Philosophy powers activate!

The dynamic is also particularly entertaining because in the last game Kessler was the scidealist who bitterly argued that alien contact was right around the corner, but here she’s on the other side of the fence, arguing rational science while I go on about embracing the unknown. This becomes my new personal goal for the DAUNTLESS games: having every character stand in a different light each game, but in ways that are still consistent as a whole.

Spock’s Brain

Kessler does a database search to find images that match the strange arches she saw in the void (successful Academics) and finds passages from an old fiction story that seems to describe them. What the heck?

With the “analyze vs experience” battle lines now firmly drawn, Kessler steps up her attack. She already performed experimental brain scans on the crew members who went on the space walk, but now she’s determined to get Hollis to go under the scanner: he was out there longer, he saw the mysterious cathedral-like arches, so his brainwaves might reveal more. She’s modified the apparatus to collect deep brain activity (activating her jury-rigging talent) and sure, that might be risky (Jem starts to warm up the Stress dice) but if Hollis is serious about finding the answer to the mystery and freeing the DAUNTLESS he’ll do it. She’d do it to herself but she needs to run the (dangerously modified) machine. Hollis thinks she’s barking up the wrong tree but any prospect of finding the truth tempts him so he agrees. Jem cackles as he describes the pain of the deep probe and throws Stress dice at me, which I promptly use to finish crippling my Academics and Contact. Dr. Kessler determines that the void is reflecting images from our own minds (duh!) and Hollis slowly regains consciousness.

Hollis is called to the bridge — Kessler momentarily tries to stop him, threatening to have him declared medically unfit for duty because of the mental experiences he’s been through, but she backs down and fumes instead. Oh that man!

Early on in the game I took the confessional chair and made a personal log entry about how I had no idea Dr. Kessler would cover for me and try to take the blame on herself (blame for what? no idea, just hedging my bets). Now Ping finally fires back with a blistering confessional about how Hollis put the ship in danger for his own selfish ends. Ouch!

On the bridge the crew are flustered trying to get the sensors to work, and the now eerily placid Hollis tells them not to be concerned, the sensors aren’t going to tell them anything anyway, the truth is right in front of them they just have to open their eyes to see it, etc.

I’m intentionally playing up damage taken from Stress — since I dinged my Contact, I’m sounding more distant and inscrutable, thinking I’m putting people at ease with my “embrace the unknown” talk but of course having quite the opposite effect. Same with my damaged Academics: I think I understand so I’m not analyzing the situation anymore, I’m embracing the experience. Hollis doesn’t so much reassure the crew as make them more worried about him than the ship (successful Contact with some tapped franchise dice) and I narrate that while Hollis “explains” things to his uneasy crew he comes to realization that it’s not just reflections of our own minds we’re seeing in the void — there must be something outside trying to reach us as well. Hence the unfamiliar shared images like the cathedral arches.

Slipping off the bridge Hollis decides to go for his “Spock meets V’ger” moment and return to the void — alone — and make contact. Normally Star Trek references are verboten in DAUNTLESS games, but this is a rare exception. He’s off the ship and drifting into the sea of phantoms before anyone discovers where he’s gone.

We Are Not Alone

When Kessler finds out Hollis is missing, she puts two and two together and guesses what he’s done. No way! She struggles into the clumsy suit and goes after him (Athletics failure) but gets disoriented among the shifting visions (Stress!). Hollis finds her tumbling in the void and tries to calm her down. He doesn’t seem concerned that their suit jets are expended, the interference of the void makes contacting the DAUNTLESS for help impossible, and they’ve only got six hours of suit air and no hope of rescue. He seems content to just drift along.

It’s irritating, then disturbing, and then finally peaceful, following Hollis’ example and drifting among the everchanging shadows that surround them. In cool character moment of understanding, Kessler turns off her comm and records a personal log in her suit computer for whoever find them: she lies and says it was her idea to leave the ship. Getting lost was her fault, and Hollis only came to rescue her.

Meanwhile Hollis has been lost in contemplation, striving to make contact with whatever is out there. For a fleeting instant (succesful Contact, finishing the mystery) he loses himself in the void… and feels the presence of the another sentience, an intelligence in the void. And then the moment is gone, and all around them the shifting blackness fades from view, leaving the familiar field of stars and the welcome sight of the DAUNTLESS coming to their rescue…

Back aboard the ship there’s time for reflection. Was there an alien intelligence trying to make contact? Was it trying to communicate with ideas gleaned from humans it touched in the past, like the images from the story? Or was that author recounting images impressed by alien contact on Earth long ago? As in all good space mysteries, we’re left with a healthy dose of the unknown, some satisfying answers but also so many questions: all the more reason for the DAUNTLESS to fly again.

Total game time: 2 hrs flat. We are once again pleasantly amazed at home much fun InSpectres packs in such a short time. And after healing all our terrible Stress damage we still gain a net 3 dice for the franchise. Win!

    Ben Robbins | September 23rd, 2008 | InSpectres, what we played | leave a comment