Sunday, December 16, 2018

Odyssey Two Adventure (spoilers)

Of course, 2010: The Year We Made Contact, will never be evaluated on its own merits.  It is necessarily compared to its predecessor and Stanley Kubrick is a tough act to follow.  Naturally, we will examine Star Frontiers' 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure in light of its predecessor.  While the 2001 A Space Odyssey module had the novelty of man-apes, lunar antics, and a seven foot tall flame that asks characters if they want to “become a higher form of life,” the Odyssey Two module is relatively lackluster.

Written by Bruce Nesmith, who would become Creative Director at TSR, and Curtis Smith, who would later work for West End Games, Odyssey Two was published prior to the release of the film.  According to the back cover of the module:
          Seven-hundred million kilometers from Earth, an alien monolith glides above Jupiter.  Thousand-meter-long plumes of flame and sulfur shoot up from volcanoes on a nearby moon, but never touch or scar the slab.  Close by, the dark and lifeless spaceship Discovery tumbles end-over-end, abandoned since 2001.
          Now in 2010, your ship arrives to complete the Discovery's mission: solve the mysteries behind the monolith.  You must also determine what happened to the Discovery's commander, who disappeared into the monolith nine years ago.  Then, if its possible, you must repair the crippled Discovery and restart HAL, the super-computer that murdered most of the Discovery's crew.
          Unnoticed, the monolith stirs.  It, too, has a mission prepared millions of years ago – about to begin.
The module allows for exactly three player characters – pre-generated Americans accompanying a Russian mission to the Jovian system.  As such, the “your ship” mentioned in the second paragraph does not indicate possession.  The three player characters are Dr. Chandra (HAL's designer), Walter Curnow (“in charge of designing and building the spaceship Discovery II”), and Heywood Floyd (scientist from the first film and representative of the authority that modified HAL's programming – resulting in HAL's insanity).

The module provides less of a plot and more of a time table.  The players are deprived of any meaningful choices; if they wander “off-script,” the referee is instructed to herd them back into place.  In contrast to the previous module's four chapters, Odyssey Two has ten.  In the first chapter, the characters are briefed, tour the Russian ship Leonov, and spend two years hibernating.

In the second chapter, the Leonov aerobrakes by passing through Jupiter's atmosphere.  With successful skill rolls, the Americans can reduce the number of problems the Leonov encounters during the maneuver and car address those problems as they occur.  Each unresolved problem causes the Leonov to expend fuel.  This would seem to be important for Chapter 8 when the Leonov leaves the Jovian system.  However, ultimately, success in Chapter 8 does not depend upon the amount of fuel.  Perhaps in an earlier draft of the module it did.

In Chapter 3, the player characters salvage the Discovery.  It is by far the longest chapter in the module; eight pages out of thirty-two.  Given that four of the thirty-two pages comprise a pull-out with character stats, Chapter 3 represents almost 30% of the module.  The chapter provides details about the Discovery and describes the various tasks and skill rolls necessary to make the ship operational.  The most important part of the chapter is the reactivation of HAL.  The referee makes two skill rolls for Dr. Chandra so that the players don't know the results.  There is a 58% chance that either roll will fail, causing HAL to have faulty programming.  If this occurs, HAL eventually attempts to kill the player characters.

Whenever the player characters “do something directed toward the [Jovian] monolith” (such as approaching it with a pod), a roll is made on the 'Monolith Reactions' table.  There is a 30% chance of no reaction.  Two possibilities only seem applicable if one or more pods are near the monolith.  Another possibility is for “Dave Bowman in his new form, a star child,” to exit the monolith and head “straight for Earth at the speed of light.”  However, there is no way for the player characters to know this.  Why bother putting this information in the module?  Whether or not Bowman's exit is rolled as an event, Bowman appears in later scenes.

The Americans receive a warning, the source of which the referee chooses or randomly determines.  Regardless, the warning relates that the characters must depart the Jovian system in 2½ days.  The Russians, however, don't believe the Americans.  Any attempt to convince them fails.  Twelve hours after the warning, the monolith disappears; then, and only then, do the Russians believe.

The only way to escape the Jovian system in time is for the Russians and Americans to cooperate and link their two ships together.  (For our younger readers, this is what's known as heavy-handed Cold War allegory.)  Several skill rolls, player character and non-player character alike, establish how well the ships are linked.  This – and not the fuel of the Leonov – determines whether the escape is successful.  Also, with regard to the escape, HAL's cooperation is useful (but not strictly necessary) to fire the Discovery engines.  Ten minutes before the scheduled time, assuming HAL is activated (and whether or not his programming is faulty), HAL decides to forgo firing the engines.  The player characters must convince HAL to go along with the plan.  This would seem to be an important role-playing opportunity, except that if the player characters fail to persuade HAL, Bowman shows up after eight minutes and convinces HAL.  You know, star child ex machina.

Anyway, Jupiter becomes a miniature star.  Maybe the player characters survive and maybe they don't.  A message is broadcast warning against any landings on Europa.  Speaking of Europa, when the Leonov first reaches the Jovian system, it “detects strange readings” from that moon.  The type of reading is determined randomly; it is either magnetic, radio, or traces of chlorophyll.  The player characters can investigate or not; it doesn't really matter.  Information about investigating Europa is relegated to the last chapter, sort of like an appendix.  If they investigate, the player characters can opt for a manned expedition or a remote probe; it doesn't really matter.  The magnetic reading comes from a natural meteor.  The radio signals come from a crashed Japanese satellite.  With the chlorophyll option, there might be a monolith under the ice; it doesn't really matter.  Regardless of the type of reading – and regardless of expedition or probe – the player characters might see the movement of a “large gray-green mass.”  Depending on the paragraph, it could be “grey-green” and on page 30 it happens to be “gay-green” (not that there's anything wrong with that).  Just don't assume the sexual orientation of extraterrestrial life forms.

The 2001 module falsely claimed that Knight Hawks box set was required for play.  On the other hand, the Knight Hawks set is needed for Odyssey Two.  The Spaceship Engineering Skill is in play as is equipment described in Knight Hawks.  The 2001 module included the new skills of Astronomy and System Navigation.  Odyssey Two also includes Politics (“a new biosocial skill for this module only”):
This skill has two subskills: Empathy and Persuasion.  These subskills are exactly the same as the Psycho-Social subskills Empathy and Persuasion.  Politicians cannot use any other Psycho-social skill.
The only characters with Politics are Heywood Floyd and Colonel Tanya Kirbuk, captain of the Leonov.

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