Monday, June 8, 2020


Peter Konig, Arrival concept art

Second in my series of unfinished adventures.

MiniModule 1

This one is rather unfinished and very awkward at the end, but like the previous minimodule, it's more of a trigger into other adventures so that's not a huge issue.


An adventure for Mothership

Hook: One hundred and two hours ago, a spaceship of unknown origin appeared in orbit around a lonely ice giant in a backwater red dwarf system. Seventy-five hours ago, it started broadcasting a radio signal - a short, very powerful, unmodulated narrowband blip of 1420 megahertz repeated every 20 seconds. It has done nothing else in that time.

The impossible has happened. In a voice as loud as the angel's first trumpet, intelligent alien life has announced its presence on our very doorstep.

Players: A hastily thrown-together team pulled from whoever was on hand at the corporate research station in the inner system. They didn't care much about qualifications, just so long as you signed the whopper of an NDA and record EVERYTHING.

The Mission

  1. Investigate the ship. Record and report everything.
  2. Determine if ship and occupant(s) are hostile.
  3. Determine nature of ship and its occupants.
  4. If direct contact is made, all actions are to be in line with the Ceres Accords. (ie science is the only universal language, do not presume intent, verify all data)
  5. Return to station. Violation of NDA will be pursued to full extent of the law.

The Ship  

An oblate spheroid of pockmarked black ice, nearly 5 km long. Cursory study would indicate that it is a captured iceteroid with propulsion systems built into it. It is presumed to have hyperspace capabilities. Its inhabitants are presumed to be possess equivalent or greater technological capabilities.

The radio signals are coming from an obvious external transceiver located directly beside a hole in the ice shell. An umbilical could easily be attached between the PC's ship's airlock and the tunnel.

About 3 meters down the ice tunnel, the PCs will pass through what is clearly an airlock and into The Chamber

The Chamber

  • Gravity = Yes (~0.25G)
  • Atmosphere = Yes (Not breathable)
  • Temperature = Frigid
A wide circular room with a low ceiling. The PCs can just barely walk upright without hitting their heads  The walls are a glossy black substance and are barely differentiated from the floor, causing mild disorientation in the low gravity (it appears and feels as if you are suspended on air or thin glass above a great pit). The far wall, opposite the airlock, is somewhat flattened. There are no other apparent exits.

At this point, set a real-world timer. An hour is good. When it runs out, the Interlopers will arrive.


The Ship is a test, sent by the intelligent inhabitants of a frozen methane world similar to Titan, to gauge if humanity is safe to interact with, and what specific steps would be needed to do so.
  • The aliens should not appear during the scenario. They might not even be on the ship.
  • The aliens are close enough to humanity for meaningful cross-species communication, but they do not think like humans: they are patient, deliberate, very old, very slow and they do not like risks.
  • The aliens have been aware of humanity for several decades, but have spent most of that time deliberating whether or not to reveal themselves. They have managed to decode enough broadcasts to be very worried about us.

Events in the Chamber

The first event triggers when the PCs enter the Chamber, and will repeat until the completion criteria is met. When completion criteria is met, the Flattened Wall will clear and the next event will trigger.

Warden's note: Don't call them tests until (and if) the players figure out their purpose. 

The Flattened Wall
A simple visual display with touch interaction. PCs can easily draw and erase shapes on it.

It will not recognize words, letters or numbers.

Test 1: Sense-Detection
A series of colored circles appears in a grid on the flattened wall, ranging from deep red to dark purple. 
  • Scanning the wall with thermal or UV equipment reveals an extended grid of circles visible only in those wavelengths.
  • Touching a circle will cause it to disappear.
Completion Criteria: Touching visible circles will cause the event to end once there has been a pause in the activity. Otherwise, it will wait about 5 minutes (in-game) before transitioning.
Complication: Touching non-visible circles or not touching any will cause the ship to misinterpret sensory abilities and display further tests with colors that require a scanner to read.

Test 2: Mirror Test
The wall becomes reflective.
  • Investigating the wall will reveal that the PCs' reflections have a small (but noticeable) discoloration somewhere on their spacesuits.
Completion Criteria: Automatic, will complete in 1 minute (in-game). Purely to gauge the PCs' reactions.

Test 3: Basic Numbers
Clusters of circles appear on the wall in sequence: 1/2/3/4
Completion Criteria: A PC draws a new cluster of 5 circles.

Test 4: Prime Numbers
Clusters of circles appear on the wall in sequence: 2/3/5/7
Completion Criteria: A PC draws a new cluster of 11 circles.

Test 5: Fibonacci Sequence 
Clusters of circles appear on the wall in sequence: 1/1/2/3/5
Completion Criteria: A PC draws a new cluster of 8 circles

Test 6: Symbolic Thinking
Clusters of circles appear on the wall in sequence from 1-16. Each of these is accompanied by unique, sinuous shape, including one associated with a blank spot on the wall.

A separate section of wall will display a dot cluster or a symbol. When the appropriate counterpart is drawn, both will vanish and a new one will be displayed. This will continue for a short time, and include displays of multiple symbols or clusters (you can slip some basic addition in here too)

Warden's note: the aliens count in base-16 hexidecimal, with symbols that resemble their manipulator appendages. They are using a simplified version of it here; a proper equation looks more like an information-dense knot of spaghetti

Test 7: Right Angles
A single circle appears on the wall and proceeds to draw a right angle.
Completion Criteria: A PC makes a right angle with their arms or draws a hypotenuse.

Test 8: Pythagorean Theorem
A single circle appears on the wall and proceeds to move, drawing a right angle. The 3 symbol appears below the short leg and 4-symbol next to the upright leg.
Completion Criteria: A PC draws a hypotenuse and correctly numbers it with 5 dots or the 5-symbol.

Test 9: Basic Chemistry
Two symbols appear next two each other:
  • A circle, surrounded by a ring, upon which is a second, smaller circle.
  • A cluster of 16 small circles, surrounded by a ring with 2 circles, and a second ring with 6.
Completion Criteria: Drawing a second hydrogen atom
Alternatively: Set up the atom diagrams to form a partial methane molecule.

You can elide the part where the aliens assign a symbol to each element on the periodic table, because that would take a long while.

If players seem to be having fun with these, a few more tests can be filled in here at your discretion.

Final Test: Altruism
The wall turns transparent, revealing windows into two separate chambers. Both chambers have a large glowing spot below the window.
  • Chamber 1 contains three humans in spacesuits, bearing the livery of a rival Company.
    • Warden's note: do not specify if these are real people or simulations.
    • The chamber is split in half by a dividing wall. On the other side is a canister that is labeled with the symbols for cobalt-60 (at this point presume that the players can read the alien element diagrams with fluency)
  • Chamber 2 contains a canister labeled with symbols indicating antihydrogen - worth a fortune in miniscule amounts, worth enough to purchase several solar systems if the container is full.
If the spot for Chamber 1 is pressed, a second canister will appear in Chamber 2. This will continue until eight cylinders are deposited. If all eight are rejected, the container of cobalt-60 will be removed from its chamber before the wall returns to an opaque state.

If the spot for Chamber 2 is pressed:
  • The wall will open, permitting access to all the canisters within. Each one contains approximately ten kilograms of antihydrogen. Each canister is worth enough to purchase a core system in its entirety, including and all ships and infrastructure within it.
  • The partition in Chamber 1 will lower, killing the people within almost but not quite instantaneously. It is not a good way to go. Ramp this up as high as your players are comfortable with.

The Interlopers

The timer that was set earlier (swiped directly from Mellonbread's adaptation of Ross Peyton's BESTOW), indicates when the players will get an automated message of a second ship emerging from hyperspace right on top of the alien vessel. The actual nature of these interlopers is left vague here, and the slot can be filled with whatever faction the warden deems fit (it's a good way to introduce rivals or other major players.)

Whoever they are, the interlopers want access to the data, if not the Ship itself. They may or may not be violent themselves.

Nonviolent resolution should always be an option. Getting it in the players' favor, however, should likely be difficult.

Potential Outcomes

The aliens response to humanity hinges on this blind test.
  • If the players choose Chamber 1 -
    • If the players resolve The Interlopers peacefully - "Humans are capable of altruism and avoiding conflict" - The aliens will feel safe enough with their chances to open up diplomatic ties with human polities and exchange information as well as goods.
    • If the players resolve The Interlopers violently - "Humans are capable of altruism but are prone to violence."  The aliens will remain distant, contacting humanity only for occasional resource trade. Their civilization remains hidden, and they will share no more than the most basic information about themselves.
  • If the players choose Chamber 2...
    • If the players resolve The Interlopers peacefully - "Humans value resources over life but can be negotiated with" - The aliens will remain distant, contacting humanity only for occasional resource trade. Their civilization remains hidden, and they will share no more than the most basic information about themselves. In the future, players might hear news reports of an increase in survey ships along the Rim going missing (as they run into alien perimeter defenses)
    • If the players resolve The Interlopers violently - "Humans value resources over life and cannot be negotiated with" -  The aliens make a pre-emptive strike on a Rim world, threatening to continue until protective border treaties are made. They will shoot down any human vessel coming within Jump 3 of their territory.


  1. Second of the minimodules, more fun with aliens.

  2. This is great! I like the real-world timer, but I would probably run it on an in-game timer (the Interlopers arrive after Test 5, or something similar) to ensure that the Interlopers show up while the Chamber is still active - that way, the players have to juggle the tests and negotiating with the Interlopers, while making sure they don't interfere with the testing.

  3. Have you read Blindsight by Peter Watts? If you haven't I'd thoroughly recommend it.

  4. Using a real life timer to trigger in-game developments is an idea I got from Will, co author of the Starkweather Foundation master document.

    He originally used one in an Eclipse Phase scenario called Glory, to count down how long the players had before a hostile ship docked with the habitat they were on.

    It removes the burden of tracking how much "game time" each of the players' actions take, and it rewards the players for being active instead of endlessly kibitzing the same handful of ideas over and over.

    The obvious downside is things like combat, which takes seconds in the game world, but through no fault of the players take minutes or even hours of play time.