Signal 99 Review

Signal 99 authored by Richard Hazlewood was released by Stellagama Publishing back in June. It is set in the ‘These Stars Are Ours’ universe (also by Stellagama) but because it is compatible with the Cepheus Engine rules set, it can be adapted with little work for any other 2D6 SF RPG system. You can purchase it from Drivethru RPG for $3.99 as a PDF.

The 38 page PDF is an adventure designed for four players and starts with them receiving a distress signal (the Reticulan ‘Signal 99’) meaning that a ship is in danger and needs help (has the same legal definition as ‘Mayday’ or ‘Signal GK’). As they draw closer to the ship, they discover it is a badly damaged Reticulan Abductor; the hated Reticulan Empire used these to capture subjects for experimentation so seeing one of these should be shocking sight for the players.

The players have some hard decisions to make in how they deal with the rescue; they also discover that there aren’t just Reticulans on board, but the insect-like Zhuzzh are also on the ship – known throughout the galaxy as scavengers and pirates. It turns out that the ship’s cargo is actually a number of humans in low berths, which presents the players with a number of questions and moral dilemma’s; will they go after the Zhuzzh, who seem to have a plan for the low berths? Will they rescue the Reticulans (and this question isn’t that easy to answer, despite Reticulans dominating Terra / Earth for a couple of centuries)? On top of this, the power plant looks like it may blow up at any moment, taking everyone who is on board the ship with them!

The book itself is structured in the following way:

Pages 3 to 7 start with an introduction describing an overview of the adventure, required materials and conventions used. You also get a background to the ‘These Stars Are Ours’ (TSAO) universe, describing the primary combatants and empires. I won’t repeat the background here, but I did review the TSAO sourcebook back in March 2017:

Page 7 rounds off with some tips on using the adventure using other settings. Page 8 starts with the referees information; the events in the lead-up to the Abductor getting damaged, some significant NPCs and some pre-generated characters. Page 13 then begins with the adventure itself, starting with the distress call and what the players discover. You’re given plenty of detail on the approach to the ship, which is great as I think it builds tension and doesn’t make it a simple task for the players in simply using a docking computer. Pages 17-18 contain deck plans for the Abductor, with damaged areas of the ship indicated and room locations labelled. It’s important that the referee keeps track of time in this adventure as the power plant will go critical in a limited amount of time, which helps to keep the pressure on the players. This isn’t a take-your-time-explore type of adventure; actions cost time and once the players are on board, they had better think and act fast. There is plenty of atmosphere; lights are crackling and blinking a sickly green colour, gravity is non-existent and there is debris everywhere. It makes for a claustrophobic and difficult environment to move around in.

Pages 22-23 give a short summary of much of the Reticulan equipment found aboard the Abductor, but you would be best served by having a copy of ‘50 Wonders of the Reticulan Empire’ handy (reviewed in July 2017).

Pages 24 to 31 form the bulk of the book, namely being the room descriptions for all the locations found on the Abductor. There are plenty; the players really are going to have to get a move on if they are going to get around as many of these as possible (I counted 54 across two decks) and most rooms have at least a paragraph with plenty of detail to set the scene in each room.

Pages 32 and 33 describe the background to the Zhuzzh scavengers, their place in this adventure and a couple short descriptions of Zhuzzh starships (though there are no deck plans for these). The next couple of pages describe the aftermath and what happens to all the parties involved in the ‘incident’. Finally, the last page contains an Appendix to the Parvati system where the adventure is set.

Though the premise of the adventure is relatively straightforward (a rescue), the book gives plenty of detail and descriptions to make this an atmospheric, frantic rush to save lives. The book is well laid out and edited (by Omer Golan-Joel and Josh Peters); images (by Luigi Castellani) are limited in number (when compared to say, a Gypsy Knights Games product) but there is ‘just the right amount’ to help break up the text throughout the book. The cover and deck plans are provided by Ian Stead. Combined with its very reasonable price, I think this is another excellent quality product by Stellagama whose portfolio continues to grow and will provide a really good evenings gaming and entertainment.

I’d like to suggest a couple of audio tracks to help with the ‘tension’ aboard ship, as the final remaining minutes tick by before the Abductor’s power plant goes nuclear. From the ‘Aliens – The Deluxe Edition’ soundtrack by James Horner, start off with ‘Ripleys Rescue’ and then round off with ‘Bishops Countdown’ – well worth providing as background music I think! The latter two links are only there to demonstrate the tracks, I highly recommend you purchase a copy of the soundtrack as it really is a cracking piece of music. To finish I’d like to thank Omer Golan-Joel for kindly sending me a copy of Signal 99 for review.

About AlegisDownport

Musings on the Traveller RPG world, technology, astronomy and digital art.
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