The Nursery

NASA image release April 23, 2010</p> <p>This brand new Hubble photo is of a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula. Towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula. The scene is reminiscent of Hubble's classic "Pillars of Creation" photo from 1995, but is even more striking in appearance. The image captures the top of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. The pillar is also being pushed apart from within, as infant stars buried inside it fire off jets of gas that can be seen streaming from towering peaks like arrows sailing through the air. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)</p> <p>To read learn more about this image go to:  http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/hubble20th-img.html</p> <p><b><a href="http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/home/index.html" rel="nofollow">NASA Goddard Space Flight Center</a></b>  is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists, engineers and technologists that build spacecraft, instruments and new technology to study the Earth, the sun, our solar system, and the universe.After two historical adventures in a row my players requested a game set in space. One of the advantages of a Doctor Who roleplaying game is that you can give your players variety. I decided to set it in the far, far future with the sense of time coming to an end.

I didn’t really want to tackle the end of the universe, at least not yet, so instead thought I’d concentrate on what could be the end of the human race. While brain storming I was struck with the image of a vast room on a spaceship, filled with black spheres. In each sphere would be a single baby.

I decided the spaceship would be called The Nursery, a genetic databank for mankind. One deck would hold the children, another every animal on Earth and another deck would a fantastic garden, filled with every plant available. The cargo would have chronoton particles drained from them, used to fuel the ships engines. In effect the cargo would never age and the engines would never run out of power.

The genetic bank would be man kinds fail safe. It they were wiped out robot drones would follow the ships beacon and take genetic samples, reseeding humanity across the stars. To avoid being targeted by enemies of the human race the ship would wander the universe, hiding until it was needed.

The time travellers would arrive in 500 billion years AD, 1 billion years after the ships beacon stopped working and it became lost in a nebula. After exploring and meeting the ship’s AI, Nanny, they would hopefully repair the beacon so it complete its mission.

Repairing the beacon would require a space walk to the rear section of the ship and when activated an alien ship would instantly materialise docking with the vessel. They’d then have to rush back to safe the cargo as the ship suffered further damage and a breach in the chronoton engine caused temporal distortions across the ship.

The twist would be that the invading double jointed, hairless pink skinned aliens would be humans. They’d gained incredible long life but genetic damage would prevent them reproducing. With their race dying the genetic database would be the only chance to repair the damage.

This would allow the player character to initially fight against the aliens only to end up trying to help them as the genetic transfer begins to fail, threatening to kill the aliens. I liked the idea that the player characters could be vital to the continued existence of humanity in this distant future.

The game again feature the Inspector and his companion Philippa. The TARDIS materialised in room with black tiled floors, ceilings and floors. With only the light escaping from the open TARDIS door the Inspector detected a slight vibration in the ground.

He was perplexed when the lights switched on only after Philippa emerged from the time machine. They soon found they were on an observation deck, the windows opening to reveal a vast swirling purple nebula around them only after Philippa touched the controls. The observation deck served two purposes, firstly to give them the ‘shock’ of finding themselves in space and secondly to allow them get an idea of how big the ship was and different areas related to each other.

Making the ship respond only to the human made logical sense, made Philippa more important and it was amusing how annoyed the time lord became that this advanced technology refused to acknowledge his presence.

They began exploring the ship, getting used to its layout. I don’t tend to map things in to great a detail and sometimes make it very free form. I give the illusion of choice, allowing them to select whether they wanted to go up or down in the lifts, but their destination is always determined by what I want them to find next.

I find that if you do map things out players have an almost supernatural gift to avoid the really important places or skip straight to the worst place. By making it more abstract you can control the pacing of the adventure.

Case in point, their first plan upon finding themselves on an empty spaceship was to find the bridge and get some answers. If I allowed them to go straight there and find out the purpose of the ship they won’t need to visit the cargo deck and would never have the impact of discovering the pods of babies.

After finding the stored babies, animals and plants they came to the conclusion that the ship was some kind of ark. When they found the bridge and met the AI Nanny they didn’t need to ask too many questions about the purpose of the ship and readily agreed to travel to beacon to repair.

It was at this point that I added to the plot. During the question the player characters become suspicious of the gaps in Nanny’s memory banks. I’d initially intended to explain this away with simple data degradation and use the gaps to skirt around details I didn’t want them to get bogged down in.  When they suspected there was something more going on I decided to play along and reveal that the central memory core was in the same location as the beacon.

Thankfully the Inspector didn’t decide to use the TARDIS to make the trip, both player character’s excited about making a space walk, especially after their space suits were ‘sprayed’ on to them by the ship.

It was a long walk, several miles in length and taking much time. I impressed upon them the dizzying sight of the stars rotating above them as the Nursery drifted through the nebula.

trodelspaceantennaegalaxiesUpon reaching the tower like structure which held the beacon they noted there was a buggy outside, something that would have made the trip much quicker. They pondered who might have driven it to this tower and never returned.

Inside the lights didn’t work and they used torch light to climb the stairs. The room with the beacon and computer core had been badly damaged and they found the remains of a man in a space suit, apparently having shot himself with a energy pistol. The Inspector did note that the body was in good shape for being over a billion years old but this is the future, they make things to last.

The Inspector used his technical skills to reactive the ships black box, revealing the man glowing with golden light. sabotaging the ship and yelling about not turning back the clock and making the human race primitive.

Relaying the information to Nanny through their space suits communication link the AI suggested the man was a member of the Evolution party, a group who championed genetic engineering to further the destiny of the human race and opposed any form of return to the original DNA code. He must have stowed away to make sure Nursery didn’t complete its goal.

They didn’t know it but the player characters were to thank for inspiring this plot detail. It helped to explain how things had failed on the ship and foreshadowed the genetic evolution of humanity. It is always useful to leave yourself a bit of room to flesh out your plots during play so you can incorporate the suggestions of the players.

As planned the beacon was repaired and the alien ship arrived. The player characters used the buggy to race back with Philippa, a former ambulance driver, taking the wheels. This was a nice use of the transport skill with the danger that they might spin out into space. The players also made up a Murray Gold-eske tune to hum during the exciting race back.

Once on board Nanny informed them of the engine breach and that the intruders were stealing children. The Inspector sent Philippa towards the engine while he used the ships ladders to climb towards the baby deck.

Splitting player characters up makes people more involved. If they always travel in groups it is easy for people to simply sit back and just wait until their area of specialty comes up. Dividing them ensures that they’re more pro-active. You just need to make sure that you don’t concentrate on one character to long for fear of boring the other players.

Each met a challenge on their way to their destination. Philippa was forced to crawl along a tunnel to avoid a section that had ‘frozen in time’. In doing so she got a ‘Yes But’ and lost the Sonic Screwdriver the Inspector had given her to help repair the engine. Meanwhile the Inspector had to swim through a section that had been flooded due to the damage to the ship.

Philippa spent a lot of story points to ensure that she repaired the ships engines, receiving verbal encouragement from the Inspector. The joy of story points is that you can make tasks very challenging but the players have the tools to put the odds in their favour and perform some heroic deeds.

The Inspector encountered the aliens and followed them on to their ship, a disorienting surreal landscape with sights and sounds that overwhelmed his senses.  He saw old feeble aliens and realised there were no children.

He quickly worked out that they were human and found the great chamber where their machines were attempting to repair the damage using scans from the babies. When the aliens started going into shock he realised that he needed to speed up the process.

In an ingenious piece of thinking he had Philippa recover the sonic screw driver and link it to the chronotron engine. By spending some story points the screw driver converted the time particles into sound waves, transmitted them to the Inspector’s communication link which he adapted to convert it back into time particles.

Using this beam to speed up time around the machines the aliens DNA was repaired, giving them a more human appearance and at last enabled them to communicate. They thanked the time travellers and the Inspector urged them to not just use the children as genetic samples but to allow them to grow up, refreshing the genetic pool and giving the babies a life that had been denied them.

It was a pleasing end as they left in the TARDIS, knowing they’d given the human race a fresh start. A nice contrast to the sour victory of their last adventure.

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1 Response to The Nursery

  1. Craig Oxbrow says:

    Nice, extrapolating from a striking and creepy initial image into a big adventure.

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