In previous posts, your humble host has examined various adventure modules. Some were railroads, some were wonky, but they all conformed to the notion of an adventure – a plot advances and there is an eventual resolution. The same cannot be said for Martigan Belt, a 1981 publication intended for use with Space Opera. It is clearly marketed as an adventure; the cover caption is “An Adventure in the Asteroids.” As such, it is not unfair to evaluate it in terms of the adventure it claims to be.
Martigan Belt describes the Martigan system, especially the colonized world of Martigan III. There is no indication of how long Martigan III has been colonized, but the total planetary population is 50,000. It is “a planet basically run by a few corporations,” four of which (perhaps all of them) are: Xerxes (production of “Civilian and Military weapons, riot control equipment and devices for surveilance [sic]...”), Prometheus (production of “power-plants and petrochemicals”), Icarus (production of “ground and air transportation craft”), and Janus (involved with “mining, chemical extraction processes, and mineralogical exploration”). Interestingly, outside of the cities and minor population centers, “there are loose nomad clan aggregates of 50-100 'persons' engaged in hunting and trapping.”
The Janus Mining Company has a mining vessel in the asteroid belt. From this vessel, Janus receives a “coded message” somewhat garbled by static:
– – – – – – UNDER – – – – ACK – – – – ENS – – AIL– – – –THINK–WE– – – – – – P– –
CRY – – – LS– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –SABO – – GE – – – – – – – – –
– – – –
(This is the message as displayed in the teaser text. The message as displayed in the body of the module is missing the 'P'.) Was the message written rather than vocal? If an encrypted, vocal message was garbled to any degree, it could not be successfully decrypted. Also, “CRY” and “GE” would have to be phonetic expressions. Were the crew of the mining vessel texting while “UNDER – – – – ACK”? Is there an emoji for that?
Anyway, the companies listed above cooperate in recruiting troubleshooters (i.e., the player characters) so that they may “determine what has happened to the vessel and whether 'sabotage' was involved as the message seems to imply.” Each character is employed by one or another of the companies and “Each company has secretly instructed its employees to attempt to gain as much as possible for their own company as possible, but to act in this fashion covertly.” Presumably, this means “as much information for their own company as possible.”
So, there's the mystery of what happened to the mining vessel and there is the potential for conflict among the player characters due to loyalties to their respective employers. This could be the basis of a viable adventure. Unfortunately, Martigan Belt fails to provide any further information in this regard. Seriously, the line that ends with “but to act in this fashion covertly” is the last time the module references any investigation of the circumstances. On page two, the plot line is just dropped. Did you think that the module would reveal what happened to the mining vessel? Attack? Sabotage? What's up with the P– –CRY – – – LS? Just because you paid money for “An Adventure in the Asteroids,” you think you're entitled to an actual adventure in the asteroids? Ha, ha, ha! You poor, dumb saps! If you want to know what happened to the ship, you have to come up with your own answers!
Perhaps we're being too harsh? Perhaps the author intended Martigan Belt to be something along the lines of a sourcebook, but the publisher packaged it as an adventure? Nope. In the Introduction, author Stephen Kingsley refers to it as “this adventure/scenario.” Also from the Introduction:
...I might have forgotten or glossed over some things. For any such omission I do apologize.Well, Kingsley, you forgot to include a complete adventure. Apology accepted. (Martigan Belt and one other Space Opera product seem to be Kingsley's only published RPG credits.)
Technically, since the adventure is absent, there can't be any spoilers; hence, the title to this post has spoilers in quotation marks. Martigan Belt is like reading a murder mystery that stops before any suspects are introduced. If the adventure is abandoned on page two, what appears on the other pages? Actually, page two is the first page after the Table of Contacts and a map of the Procyon subsector. This means less than a page is devoted to the pur-ported adventure.
One page is devoted to an unnecessary schematic of the Martigan system. More than a page is taken up by details of the system's planets – such as the surface gravity of Martigan V (2.3745 G). There's also a table of the “distance between planets of the Martigan system,” as though the planets were fixed in space and not in orbit about a sun. For Martigan III, there's one page each for a survey evaluation form, a contacts service form, and an essentially useless military intelligence report. There's a one page map of the capital city of Martigan III. One page has a schematic of the vessel Janus allows the player characters to use.
|Art by Gene Day|
Almost five pages contain descriptions of the more interesting specimens of Martigan III's flora and fauna. Many Gene Day illustrations are provided. We have “An Adventure in the Asteroids” where nearly 25% of the page count is devoted to planetary encounters. Among the plants there are Springpoints (“Large version of a 'venus flytrap' type of plant”) and Mindfuzz:
In Fall (Autumn season), the Mindfuzz releases pollen. The pollen is an halucenogen [sic] (similar to LSD)...Killing the plant at this stage is too late as the pollen has already been released in the area.So, Fall means Autumn season? Good to know. Animals described include the Davod (“A mollusc ambusher” which “has ten 'arms' of 10-20m in length”) and the Skanser (an arboreal animal that “will only attack when under the influence of Mindfuzz pollen”). Separate from the planetary flora/fauna descriptions is the Slorte, “a previously unknown silicate lifeform inhabiting the asteroid belt of the Martigan system.” The Slorte moves via “pseudopodia extenso-contraction” with the “Highest observed velocity [at] 36kph/22.36mph.” Presumably, this observation occurred sometime after they were “previously unknown.” The Slorte uses “'radio' to convey emotions such as hunger, etc., 'radio' also serves as 'radar' for sight.”
There are four “exceptional human NPCs,” each of which is described in a full-page character sheet. There's nothing preventing the use of these characters as pre-gen player characters, but they are provided to round out they party in the event the players are not “able to assemble a complete team with all necessary types of specialists.” Shoehorning exceptional NPCs into the party is an excellent way to let your players know you hate them.
Also provided is a modified table for mining asteroids. New possible results include PK crystals (0.30%), an alien artifact (0.05%), and “dureum” (0.15%).
Dureum is a form of allotropic silver. It is an extremely dense silvery-gray metal. Due to its rarity and high value, the most common use of dureum is in the plating of archaic melee weapons for specialized use.The most common use of a rare, valuable metal (5,000 credits per gram) is plating for archaic weapons. OK.
An interesting concept the module presents is the “Arena of Justice.” Laws on Martigan III are limited to those dealing “with theft and subsequent resale of stolen goods, killing a sentient being, and using force to impose one's will on another sentient being.” Personal differences can be settled by duelling in the arena. In fact, “Voluntary participation in the Arena of Justice is actively encouraged to allow dissatisfied citizens an outlet for their aggressions.” Such volunteers receive a payment of one hundred credits. Convicted criminals are sentenced to a “number of involuntary participations.” Such penal participations are fought to the “first critical wound” but, presumably, death could easily result. Arena combats have a live audience and “such combats are broadcast planetwide via telecommunications networks.”
Four “additional scenario ideas” are provided on the last page. One of the ideas has a player character being “found guilty in the [accidental] death of a sentient being.” The character is sentenced to six matches; in each match there is a 15% chance that the opponent will attempt to kill the character. That's not much of a scenario; just an excuse for a series of combats. Nonetheless, the Arena of Justice could have been the focus of the module rather than a non-existing adventure among the asteroids. First, Arena of Justice has a better ring than Martigan Belt. The popularity of the arena matches suggests advertising and gambling. There might be fixed bouts. Off-worlders might be lured to Martigan III, found guilty of trumped-up charges, and sentenced to involuntary participations for the sake of ratings and advertising revenue.