My kids have been playing through the Volturnus series of modules in Star Frontiers. (Warning: Spoilers. If you’ve never played these modules and think that you will some day, the following gives away part of the story. But they’ve been published for 30+ years so you’ve probably already played them or at least read them if you’re interested.) In the previous session they explored the sathar artifact as I mentioned in my post on the Sathar laser gun settings. That session ended with this scene:
Destroying the Obelisk by Tom Verreault (jedion357)
The dralasite in the foreground is played by one of my 15-year-old twins and is the demolitions expert for the team. He’s been itching to blow something up since they acquired a supply of explosives from one of the pirate compounds on the planet. He rigged his entire supply to detonate the power generator in the artifact and hooked it up to a radio detonator. Then they flew off about a kilometer, set their camera to maximum telephoto, and he started running as he pressed the trigger. We wanted a great action shot. Shout out to jedion357 for drawing the picture after I described the scene to him. My kids thought it was great when they saw the picture.
In our last session they started out on the task of uniting the races of Volturnus to fight against the sathar invasion that they learned was on its way. They decided to contact the races in the order that they first met them and thus started out to see the Ul-Mor, a race of desert dwelling, giant lizard riding, nomadic nonapods.
The Great Game
They arrived at the Ul-Mor camp just in time to watch the Great Game, an annual celebration and competition between the various tribes. After presenting their case to the leaders of the tribes, it was decided that the Ul-mor, who looked down upon the other races of the planet, would agree to fight along side them if the PC’s participated in the game and didn’t make fools of themselves. The requirement was that they attempt to play (i.e. not just hang back out of the game) and that at least one of the four of them managed to stay on their mount at the end of the game.
The game itself is fairly straight forward. Each participant is mounted. You have to race to the other side of the field (about 0.5 km long and 0.25 km wide) round one of three stakes, and then pick up a large leather ball located in the middle of the field and get back to the stake on the side where you started. Scattered throughout the field are various obstacles such as hedgehogs made of spears, sand traps, ponds, hills, and walls that affect movement. In addition, there is a desert creature called a “sand shark” that is roaming the field trying to attack them. There are a total of 20 players at the beginning of the game, four of which would be the PCs.
The only rules are:
- You must circle one of the far stakes before you can move the ball from its starting position. (once it’s been moved anyone can touch it)
- You must have circled the far stakes at some point in order to win.
- You may only attack other riders in an attempt to dismount them. Once dismounted you are out of the game and must proceed with alacrity to the sidelines.
- Spectators may not interfere with the game. The only exception is if a dismounted player is attacked by the sand shark. At that point the spectators may intervene to help the dismounted player.
The winner receives great honor and has the upcoming year named after them.
The players had the choice of either riding the giant lizard/dinosaur type creatures that the Ul-Mor were riding or riding a type of horse. The horses were slower but could gallop for a few turns making them even faster than the lizards and were easier to control. The gallop rules were that they could move at their gallop speed for a total of 3 turns after which the horses would be winded and could only move at just under half speed. The four PC’s all opted to go with the horses as they felt that the probability of falling off the lizard mounts was just too great.
Unlike the Ul-Mor, who were all in the game for individual glory, the PC’s immediately decided to work as a team. One of my twins (playing a yazirian) decided he would simply work to knock Ul-Mor riders off their mounts to thin out the opposing ranks. He wouldn’t even try to get around the far stakes to start but would run interference. The other three (ages 15, 10, & 8) would race as best they could with their slower mounts around the far stakes and try to knock Ul-Mor off when they could. They all decided to save their galloping ability as a ace in the hole and only pull it out if needed to prevent an Ul-Mor win.
Amazingly, the PC’s won initiative and the right to decided which side moved first every single round of the game. Even on the rounds when I was sure the Ul-mor would win. There was a round I rolled a 10 (on a d10) giving the Ul-Mor their max initiative roll (a 15, they had a +5 initiative modifier). But my kids, who had an IM of +7, rolled a 10 as well. And on the round they rolled a 1, I rolled a 1 too. The Ul-Mor couldn’t catch a break. Thus the PCs were able to expertly control the pacing of the game.
For the very first round, they allowed the Ul-mor to move first with their faster mounts. As the Ul-Mor raced ahead, the terrain caused a few bottlenecks that resulted in some skirmishes and two riders were knocked off their mounts. Cheers and groans were heard from the tribes of the riders involved depending on whether their riders remained mounted or not. The PC’s followed on with their slower horses. On the next round the PC’s moved first. The one twin moved to block and intercept one of the Ul-Mor and successfully knocked him off his mount. The tribe the PC’s were representing (of which they were members of from their earlier adventures) cheered wildly. The other three continued to race behind the other Ul-Mor as the gap between them widened. Terrain bottlenecks again resulted in a few skirmishes and another Ul-Mor was knocked off its mount. In the beginning the pride of the Ul-Mor didn’t let them recognize the strange creatures, riding slower mounts, as a threat and so they tended to ignore them is their race to round the far stakes.
On the next round the twin bent on unhorsing (un-lizarding?) the competition caught one more Ul-Mor and again successfully knocked him off his mount. The other twin (our dralasite demolitionist) , racing straightforward down the center of the field was caught by the sand shark. He was ready, however, and dropped an incendiary grenade right on top of it as he raced by. The explosion and resulting flames brought cheers from the crowd and caused the sand shark to miss its attack.
At this point the racers were approaching a huge wall that stood between them and the three stakes at the far end of the field. There were definite terrain bottlenecks here and the PC’s decided to let the Ul-Mor move first for the next few rounds as there was no way for them to catch them until they were headed back and they didn’t want to get mixed up in the ensuing melees that would inevitably occur. The twin that was unhorsing Ul-Mor rode over to defend the ball and the sand shark continued to chase the other twin but with little effect other than to get poked by the dralasite’s spear. As expected the Ul-Mor got into a bit of a shoving match trying to get through the bottlenecks and three more were knocked off their mounts this round.
The next round saw the remaining Ul-Mor rounding the stakes and getting caught up in more fights on their way back through the bottlenecks caused by the walls. Four more riders were dismounted. At this point there were only 7 Ul-Mor still mounted plus the PCs. The three PC’s racing for the stakes were now just outside the bottlenecks and would pass through and around the stakes on the next turn. The yazirian was now guarding the ball and the dralasite was still battling the sand shark as he raced down the field.
At this point the Ul-Mor realized that they were being had by these aliens and collectively decided to stop fighting among themselves until the ball had been grabbed. The players moved first. The vrusk (played by my 10 year old son) and the other dralasite (played by my 8 year old daughter, no humans in this group) rounded the stakes although my daughter’s character was rounding one farther from the current action. The vrusk engaged with one of the Ul-mor, slowing him down but not knocking him off his mount. Our other dralasite weaved in an out of the on-rushing Ul-Mor and made it just around the stakes. The yazirian was riding back and forth near the ball waiting for the on-rushing Ul-Mor and the sand shark that was now chasing them back towards the ball.
The lead Ul-Mor decided to ignore the yazirian and make a play for the ball while the yazirian attempted to dismount him. Both failed and started circling each other and the ball. Several other Ul-mor arrived and began to watch the “dance” looking for an opportunity.
The next round turned out badly for the Ul-Mor. The sand shark knock over one of the mounts of a rider waiting for an opportunity. The Yazirian knocked the rider down that was attempting to get the ball and both the vrusk and our dralasite demolitionist came barreling into the fray and knocked two others off their mounts. There were just 3 Ul-Mor left to face the PC’s. The tribe the PC’s were representing were going wild, never had so many contestants from any tribe still been mounted this late in the game. It was seriously looking like the PC’s would knock out all the Ul-Mor, and then just pick up the ball and trot back across the finish line.
However, on the next round the PCs suffered their first mishap. A new Ul-Mor charged in to try to get the ball and a standoff between him and the yazirian a began, although this time the Ul-Mor wasn’t going for the ball, he was going for the PC to knock him off his mount. The vrusk and dralasite each engaged the remaining two Ul-Mor with mixed results. The vrusk was knocked off his horse by his opponent and the other four tribes erupted with and ear-splitting cheer. The Ul-Mor facing the dralasite wasn’t so lucky and was knocked to the ground.
The next few seconds were probably the finest moment for the Ul-Mor as they managed to knock both the yazirian and the dralasite off their horses, again to deafening cheers from most of the crowd. Our other dralasite, who had been rounding the far stake, finally arrived on the scene at this point and engaged the Ul-Mor near the ball. She succeeded in knocking him down leaving just her and the lone remaining Ul-Mor. However, she was standing near the ball and the other Ul-mor was about ten meters away where he had just unhorsed the other dralasite.
Seizing the initiative, she managed to grab the ball and, urging her horse to a gallop, took off toward the finish line leaving the now slower lizard mount in the dust. The sand shark, deprived of the mounted targets, went after the other dralasite slowly making his way off the field. The dral was ready and waiting, however, and tossed a fragmentation grenade down the creatures mouth. The resulting detonation showered sand shark steaks all over the desert floor.
Capitalizing on the speed of her galloping mount, the remaining dralasite crossed the finish line a few seconds later not only staying mounted through the game but winning it.
While for the longest time it had looked like a rout, the Ul-Mor held on to the last moment but the PCs came away with the win. During the ensuing celebration the PCs were introduced to many of the riders that they had played against and while disappointed in their loss, the riders exhibited no hard feelings but wanted to learn more about the strange members of their rival tribe. As part of the celebration, the new year was named after the winning PC. After that ceremony and the celebration had died down somewhat, the elders of the Ul-Mor tribes approached the PCs.
“You have shown great skill and valor in the Great Game. Because of this, and because the ancestors, whose requests are not to be taken lightly, ask it, the Ul-Mor will fight with you alongside the silly Kurabanda and vain Edestekia against the evil sky worms when they come. We will rally the tribes and meet you at the home of the ancestors.”
After the celebration was over, the PC’s said their goodbys, boarded their jetcopter and headed off to try to win the hearts of the Kurabanda. But that’s another story.