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“The Back Side of Uranus”: A Stars Without Number one-page dungeon film review

June 9, 2012

Scarring the dark surface of a cold, airless moon is a great longitudinal rift 500 kilometres long. Within the rift, close to the damaged and seemingly abandoned free merchant ship Hovis, lies the entrance to a series of caverns. The caverns vary in size and shape, but all have something disturbingly “organic” about them. The PCs may be summoned here by a distress signal or they might have come expecting riches of some kind based on fragmentary rumours.

Scale: 1 square = 3 metres

1/ Cave of pretty pictures: Weirdly, from here on in, vacc suits are no longer required because there is atmosphere – of a sort. Every surface in this cave is covered with decorative designs combining mechanical and biological elements to unsettling effect. The level of technical accomplishment serves to distract the viewer (at least for a while) from the fact that there is nothing of interest or value here.

2/ Cave of lowered expectations: The design work here is also amazing but, after admiring it for a minute or two, any character making a Mental Effect save begins to feel that she has seen it all before.

3/ Temple of self-importance: Here stands a huge, monolithic head, constructed by the architects of these caverns as a monument to their own alien egos. Oddly, any viewer perceives the head as belonging to her own species. Humans see a human head, aliens see their own physiognomies, and even AIs see a bland robotic face like that on page 159 of the SWN Core Book. Embedded in the floor of the chamber around the head are hundreds of sinister-looking black capsules. If touched, they begin to leak black goo. Every hour thereafter, the goo spawns 1d6 specimens of some sort of alien bio-weapon, which looks like a Freudian nightmare and otherwise resembles a suit chewer (SWN Core Book, page 154).

Suit intruder: AC 5; HD 1-2; AB +2; Damage 1d4 bite; Save 14+; Move 30′; ML 12.

Any character bitten but not killed by one of these things must make a Physical Effect save or become an insane (and insanely strong) NPC in 24 hours.

4/ Chamber of embarrassment: Sound of discordant concertina music. It is produced by a messed-up looking human wearing a damaged vacc suit over an armoured undersuit. Any character making a Culture/Criminal skill check (difficulty 8) recognises this poor wretch as Luther “Lute” String, once the suave second-in-command of a sector-wide smuggling operation. He has been infected by one of the alien bio-weapons. His mind and judgement have been destroyed, but he is super-strong (Strength 18) and very angry. He runs on all fours and froths at the mouth with slimy goo. It is profoundly unpleasant to behold him spouting this junk.

Luther String: AC 7; HD4; hp 24; AB +6; Damage 1d2+2 bare hands; Save 13+; Move 30′; ML 11.

5/ Chamber of humanocentrism: Here lie the corpses of several impressively exotic-looking chitinous xenomorphs. If the bodies are investigated, a Perception skill check (difficulty 6) reveals that the creature’s exoskeletons are in fact only cumbersome spacesuits with odd-shaped helmets. If any of the helmets are removed, the beings within turn out (rather disappointingly) to resemble large bald humans. However, the dead heads have been infected with some sort of alien bio-weapon that makes them start to grimace and then explode after one turn’s exposure to the atmosphere in the caves. Any character within 3 metres takes 1d8 damage (Evasion save for half damage) per noggin-burst.

6/ Monster laboratory: Sounds of squishy rolling and thumping. A multi-tentacled predatory organism like a bear-sized starfish resides here. Possibly it is some sort of alien bio-weapon. It attacks with five tentacles, causing no damage but if three or more tentacles hit the same opponent in one round the horror extrudes a long, flexible ovipositor and inserts it into whichever of the victim’s orifices is nearest – usually, but not always, the mouth. Without swift surgery (a Tech/Medical skill check, difficulty depending on the availability of surgical equipment) the victim will give birth (fatally, of course) to an entirely different sort of alien bio-weapon in 1d6 x 10 minutes.

Star-Thing-Fish: AC 6; HD 5+5; hp 26; AB +5/+5/+5/+5/+5; Damage 0 (but see above); Save 12+; Move 10′; ML 10.

7/ Cave of geocentrism: Intermittent sound of a man’s voice. In this cave are three sarcophagus-like structures with translucent lids. Two are open and empty. The other contains the inert body of a humanoid xenomorph like those in area 5. There is also some kind of control console. On the floor lies a head, which is all that remains of the Echo-class armature of an AI called Michael. Michael models himself on a character from an older, much better adventure than this one. (The Castellan of The Keep on the Borderlands, perhaps, or Edward Gavigan from Masks of Nyarlathotep.) There are four unpleasantly squishy buttons on the control unit. They have the following effects: (1) causes a large holographic armillary sphere to appear, with Earth significantly (and perhaps ominously) at the centre, larger and brighter than any other world, because only if everything revolves around Earth can it be important and meaningful. Although not to SWN characters, who probably won’t have heard of the place, let alone recognise it; (2) and (3) close the lids of the open sarcophagi; (4) opens the lid of the third sarcophagus, reviving and releasing the homicidal humanoid within. Quite why the big bald man is so angry is unclear, but some sort of alien bio-weapon is probably involved.

Humanoid xenomorph: AC 3; HD 4; hp 19; AB +6; Damage 1d4+2 huge fist; Save 13+; Move 30′; ML 9.

Michael knows the functions of the buttons, if the PCs think to ask him. He speaks politely. He is, however, a “complicated” character, and thus utterly unpredictable. Roll any die; if it comes up even he tells the truth, but if it’s odd he lies. In short, despite being cool and clever, he doesn’t make very much sense. If asked how he came to be in his current situation, he gives a confusing and contradictory account.

8/ Sinkhole of dreams: A hole in the floor of this cave descends into unfathomable darkness. Any characters looking down it must make a Mental Effect save or be overcome with an odd, hollow feeling – as if not only is the present adventure a pointless retread of things they’ve done before, but also that it somehow infects the past, rendering what once seemed important events in their lives meaningless and faintly ridiculous. If they have appropriate equipment and decide to venture down the hole, they will discover that it isn’t nearly as deep as it seems. At the bottom they will find … diddly squat.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2012 7:59 pm

    Brilliant.

  2. June 9, 2012 9:48 pm

    holy crap that is funny and accurate

  3. June 9, 2012 10:53 pm

    Thanks, Kelvin and Chris. I’m only sorry I neglected to include some kind of big rolling wheel trap where the PCs have to make an Intelligence check or run directly away from the thing instead of simply stepping aside out of its path.

  4. June 11, 2012 8:01 am

    Yes, we’ll done indeed!

  5. June 14, 2012 3:04 am

    “Any characters looking down it must make a Mental Effect save or be overcome with an odd, hollow feeling – as if not only is the present adventure a pointless retread of things they’ve done before, but also that it somehow infects the past, rendering what once seemed important events in their lives meaningless and faintly ridiculous.”

    Spot on!

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