If you polled grognards for their favorite Traveller adventure, I suspect that Twilight’s Peak would be a popular choice. It seems as widely loved as D&D’s Ravenloft, and I won’t deny it’s excellence though I don’t think it’s quite perfect. It requires ambitious players with top-notch investigative skills to kick things into high gear, and even then it will take many gaming sessions to reach that point. It’s a module best used, I believe, in conjunction with other modules — side ventures — to liven things up. But what it does well, it does very well, though ends on something of a deus-ex-machina.
The plot is as follows. The travellers search across star systems for a lost military expedition that carried a fortune in drugs, looking to become rich. Depending on how shrewd they are, they might end up visiting over a dozen systems, gathering clues bit by bit, chasing down red herrings, until they finally find the right world. On this world they get more than they bargained for — an old relief shelter in a mountain valley that’s now a haunted tower, and which conceals something even more shocking below it: an Ancients base, in which the legendary aliens have started to reawaken. On top of that, there is another alien base at this planet’s starport, where undercover Zhodani agents plot to overthrow the Imperium. This all comes together with the two alien races clashing, and the travellers caught between them, in danger of being killed by either one unless they can persuade the Ancients to work with them in common cause.
The strength of Twilight’s Peak is that it can encompass other modules, as I suggested, and serve as the framework for many campaigns as the characters jump from system to system seeking information. In this sense it’s a quintessential Traveller module (like Leviathan), providing the basis for session after session of what characters in this game do: travel across the stars.
If I were running it today, I’d probably use Research Station Gamma to kick things off. After all, the lost military expedition began in the Vanejen system where the A2 module is set. There the navy fitted the merchant ship (the Gyro Cadiz) with drugs and medical equipment and sent it on its way, escorted by three military scout/couriers. Their destination was the Regina system, 17 parsecs away; they were lost somewhere along that 55-light year distance. It would be natural for the travellers to hear their first rumor of the expedition as they carouse a bar on Vanejen, where the chirper hires them to rescue his family who are being held captive in the research station. After playing the A2 module (which as I noted in my review makes a perfect first adventure anyway), they can jump to the next system.
The Epic of Twilight’s Peak
On Vanejen (or wherever the GM starts the players), the travellers hear a rumor about the lost expedition, which has apparently been described in a narrative poem called the “Epic of Twilight’s Peak”. The poem can’t be found in any computer or online data. Only print copies can be found in a library at a class A starport, and the nearest star system to Vanejen with a class A starport is Rhylanor. (The module doesn’t specify which class-A starports, but I’d put a copy of the poem in any which lie along or close to the route taken by the Gyro Cadiz, from Vanejen to Regina (on which see below). Those class-A starports are: Rhylanor, Porozlo, Jae Tellona, Risek, Fulacin, and Regina.)
When the travellers find the poem, it’s hard reading, because the part about the lost expedition and Twilight’s Peak is just a fragment of the entire history of the Gyro Cadiz task force. An officer of one of the scout ships escorting the Gyro Cadiz — who fancied himself a poet, but was an awful hack — wrote every bit of minutiae about the task force and its journey in the year 984. (The module is set in the year 1106, 122 years after the disappearance.) The poem runs about 100,000 words in 9000 lines of amateurish verse that most readers will give up on after a few pages. The module even suggests that “all attempts to read and study the poem should be met with failure”, but I’d allow a skills check for a scholar traveller or any character with an Art/Writing skill of at least 1. If the travellers can’t make sense of the poem, then they should indeed do as the module suggests, and either hire a scholar (for Cr 10,000) or feed the poem into a computer program that summarizes it for easy reading (any traveller with a Computer-2 or better could do that).
The relevant part of the officer’s poem describes what happened to the Gyro Cadiz task force, which was sent from Vanejen to the besieged system of Regina in 984 (during the time of the Third Frontier War). While pausing between jumps to refuel, the Gyro Cadiz and its three scout ships – Blatant Lie, Carlisle, and Black Gold – were damaged by an ion storm and forced to land on an unnamed planet. Once there, treachery ensued. It turned out that the crew of the Black Gold were Zhodani agents working against the Imperium, and attacked the other three crippled ships. The traitors were slain in the counterattack but all four starships were left disabled following the battle. After several months, the survivors found an abandoned octagon-shaped tower in a mountain valley where strange (seemingly “magical”) occurrences saved their lives from hostile creatures (wolves, etc.). They called the structure “Twilight’s Peak”. In the following spring, the remaining survivors patched together parts from all the ships and repaired the scout Blatant Lie enough so that it could jump. However, it misjumped — right into the middle of a Zhodani-Imperial battle. It was blasted in the fight and its drives were disabled, leaving the crew of the Blatant Lie to eventually die in vacuum. The derelict scout was discovered about a hundred years later (22 years ago), during a fringe skirmish of the False War (1082-1084) in the Treece system — the crew obviously long dead, the scout’s power cells drained, and its memory banks contaminated and unreadable. The only clue to the task force’s fate was contained in the officer’s personal handwritten diary, the poem he called “The Epic of Twilight’s Peak”.
The route of the Gyro Cadiz
That’s what the travellers learn on Rhylanor, or maybe another system with a class-A starport, depending on where the GM starts the players. But Rhylanor is a good place to find the poem, because it’s only at Rhylanor that another important clue can be picked up: the expedition’s full itinerary. The starport authority has a flight plan filed by the Gyro Cadiz task force that’s not in the records anywhere else. The travellers can learn that the expedition was slated for a flight plan going from Vanejen – Cipatwe – Heroni – Deep Space – Deep Space – Rhylanor – Porozlo – Deep Space – Fulacin – Deep Space – Kinorb – Deep Space – Echiste – KKirka – Rech – Djinni – Deep Space – Regina. (The merchant ship had only jump-1 capability, meaning it could travel only 1 parsec (hex) per jump before refueling.)
The map to the right (click to enlarge) shows the general area of these star systems. (The module has a different looking map.) It’s on record that the expedition made it as far as Rhylanor, but somewhere between that system and Regina it was lost, and the travellers must find where. The poem in the Blatant Lie, of course, was found in the Treece system, but that was from a misjump, and Treece wasn’t part of the original itinerary. Shrewd travellers will make deductions. The poem says that the Blatant Lie “jumped and stuttered through the system and finally made a single hop, and came out in the wrong place”, which sounds like it managed to make at least two jumps, possibly more, from wherever the expedition had been stranded. That would narrow the likely playing field to the following contenders: Fulacin, Kinorb, Echiste, KKirka, Rech, and Djinni.
Searching the Spinward Main
The correct answer is Fulacin, though it’s 4 jumps (parsecs) away from Treece, unlike the other five systems which are only 2 jumps away, so the travellers may well end up searching Fulacin last! This is the opportunity to liven up the search with other adventures and modules. In particular, some of the short adventures in the double-module series are well suited for this, and one that I would surely use is Shadows.
The Shadows adventure is set in the system of Yorbund, far away from the area of concern in Twilight’s Peak (nine parsecs distant from Regina, toward the center and top of the map I cropped above), but I’d use it on any of the four worlds searched by the travellers in the Lanth subsector — Echiste, KKirka, Rech, and Djinn — and then give that planet the same insidious corrosive atmosphere that Yorbund has, which is central to the plot of that adventure. Shadows is not only a perfect short, it’s a nasty piece of terror; a dungeon-crawl in a pyramid that the travellers must escape, with plenty of Alien vibes.
Another module I’d exploit is Annic Nova, from the same double feature as Shadows, though instead of using a derelict Annic Nova as a dungeon crawl, I’d have it controlled by pirates who are gunning for the travellers. The odds would be in the pirates favor, but not by a lot. Twilight’s Peak presupposes that the travellers are flying the 200-ton far trader Empress Nichole, having 6 staterooms, cargo capacity of 60 tons, a jump drive of 2 (though currently crippled and functioning at jump-1 only), an air-raft, and a triple turret (with a missile rack, a beam laser, and a sandcaster). The Annic Nova is a 600-ton free trader, having 8 staterooms, cargo capacity of 150 tons, two independent jump drives of 2 and 3 each (that can’t be used for combined effect), two pinnaces, and two single turrets (one laser cannon on each). That might well be a ship the travellers are interested in acquiring to supplant the Empress Nichole, which is old and seen better days.
Still another possibility is The Kinunir, though not for space combat purposes (a battle cruiser would obliterate the travellers in a heartbeat), maybe a derelict ship awaiting plunder (and who knows what survivors linger on board?).
The module suggests that the players find a copy of The Octagon Book late in the adventure, after they have visited and searched most of the worlds on their checklist. They can find it at a local bookstore, especially a used one. The book details the history of the Octagon Society, a group that built relief shelters throughout the Regina, Lanth, and Rhylanor subsectors centuries ago, from the mid-300s to the late 400s. Many of the worlds in these three subsectors received octagonal shaped buildings which served as sanctuaries for marooned or distressed travellers, and were supplied with radios, survival equipment, and food.
At this point, of course, the travellers will realize that this is precisely what they are looking for, assuming they remember the line from Twilight’s-Peak poem speaking of the “tall octagon built of fine-hewn stones, high on a crag in a valley”. Evidently the expedition took refuge in one of the old Octagon Society’s relief shelters, though that doesn’t explain the weird occurrences that took place there. And this revelation hardly narrows the playing field much, since these octagon buildings were built on dozens of worlds.
The module has a catalog of “World Rumors” — tidbits of information the travellers can pick up at any of the 36 star systems they might search in the Regina, Lanth, and Rhylanor subsectors (and even two systems in the Aramis subsector that closely border those three: Dhian and Paya). A lot of these rumors are useless, some more useful, and others (like the itinerary learned on Rhylanor) essential. The rumor on Porozlo may actually give away too much, where inquiries about Twilight’s Peak yields the name of a local naval historian who has researched the Gyro Cadiz expedition and concluded two things: (1) that the mutineers described in the epic poem were Zhodani agents, and (2) that the task force crashed on Fulacin (its next stop after Porozlo). Point (2) gives up the secret a bit soon (as the travellers will likely search Porozlo early in the game, right after Rhylanor, especially since it’s a class-A starport); if the GM deems that too early to hand the players Fulacin on a silver platter, then point (2) can be ignored.
The World of Fulacin, Twilight’s Peak, and… the Alien Base
If and when the travellers explore Fulacin, it won’t be easy finding Twilight’s Peak. They’ll need an ATV to search far and wide for the octagon tower, over plains, wetlands, mountains, forests, deserts, and ice covers. To begin this grueling search they would be wise to ask for an orbital survey from the starport, or from MagnetoDynamics (the corporation that runs the planet). Such a survey will show enough indications of metal that will be promising leads and reduce their near impossible task of searching the entire planet.
The tower and events that unfold there pay off the players’ patience. There are five levels to it, with equipment bearing the names Gyro Cadiz and Blatant Lie. One room contains what the travellers have been after from the start: twenty crates of radiation treatment drugs, combat drugs, and truth drugs — worth a bloody fortune. The tower has a haunted-house vibe and the module recommends that it “should be treated like one, and milked for cheap thrills and scare tactics”. It descends far below the earth to many chambers, and ends at a freaky vault door that leads to an Ancient alien base. This bit is curious, for the alien base has nothing to do with the Octagonal Society; it predated the tower by hundreds of thousands of years. Seriously: the module doesn’t explain why the Society built one of its relief shelters over a fucking alien base and I can’t fathom why they would have done such a thing. I’d want to come up with a logical reason (if I could think of one) before running the module.
In any case, the vault door is creepy. It doesn’t open to normal efforts or any amount of force. It responds to psycholgical auras associated with fear. If those standing before it are frightened, then the door will open. There’s a giant spider near the vault door that will attack the characters, which may provide enough fear to make the door open… and if not, then what is chasing them from above will surely petrify them as required.
The plot thickens: Zhodani and Droyne
What happens at Twilight’s Peak is epic if problematic. The module describes how the Zhodani agents on Fulacin come after the travellers at the tower, since they don’t want anyone uncovering proof of Zhodani involvement in the crash of the Gyro Cadiz. So they arrive at the tower — after the characters have explored the five levels and are savoring their drug find — forcing the characters down into the catacombs (since the travellers are trapped inside and have nowhere else to go), driving them right to the vault door of the alien base. The revelation of the Ancient base thus comes as a poleaxing shock to both the Zhodani and the travellers. The module explains it thus:
“The starport has enough clues to indicate (at least in hindsight) that it is a secret Zhodani base, established some years ago after the last war. At that time, the Zhodani realized that they needed an advanced base to support the reduction of Rhylanor — their attempt to use Porozlo will not work again. They bought into MagnetoDynamics through some dummy companies, and have placed their own personnel in key positions. They have also placed Zhodani troops at the starport as security guards; it would be easy enough to conceal their identities by calling them mercenaries.
Some time after the travellers leave to search for Twilight’s Peak, the local officials will have second thoughts and send troops after them, to silence them permanently.
When everyone is down on the lower levels of the tower, a platoon of 40 Zhodani troops should appear, arriving in gravity vehicles. They consist of 35 men with gauss rifles and cloth armor, 4 men in battledress with PGMP-13s, and one officer with a laser carbine. The officer is psionically trained to medium strength in telepathy and clairvoyance. The arrival of these troops should drive the adventurers down deeper into the catacombs, the troops right on their heels in a running gun battle.”
With the travellers vastly outnumbered, they continue to be forced ahead into the alien base, where they have the opportunity to awaken 36 Droyne — close cousins of the chirpers seen in Research Station Gamma — from suspended animation. That could be good or bad for the travellers, though probably the former since the Droyne are psionic and can read intent (if not precise thoughts). They will likely choose to ally with the travellers by helping them attack the Zhodani who are now beating on the doors — and not just the ones invading the tower, but all the Zhodani at the starport and up in orbit over the planet. The alien base was designed primarily for planetary defense, and the Droyne will be able to read harmful intent in the Zhodani, who are on the planet as hostile invaders. Barring foolish or aggressive behavior from the travellers, the Droyne may react as the module suggests:
“The alien base’s weaponry is enough to destroy any Zhodani ships (the three ships visible in orbit), the Zhodani installations at the starport (including three more frigates, not visible from the ground but revealed through the power of [the Droyne viewing globe in room Z]), and even the troops outside. If things work out successfully, the travellers will have destroyed a major Zhodani base intended to support the seige of Rhylanor in the upcoming Fifth Frontier War.”
I wouldn’t want to mess with a Droyne. Their psionic badassery puts Eleven to shame. Each of the 36 warriors is armed with a disintegrator pistol that relies on a telepathic targeting mechanism. To fire the pistol the Droyne simply looks at the target and imagines it gone. The Droyne must see his target while firing, but the weapon will never miss; there’s simply no defense. Ditto for the weaponry of the alien base. The Droyne must see the targets while firing (whether directly or through a monitor screen), and those weapons must have a clear shot, but those weapons will automatically pound the daylights out of ships and installations in defending the planet. (Needless to say, travellers can’t use Droyne weapons. They would need to acquire a Telepath-1 skill to make them fire.)
Of course, the Droyne are the Ancients; true descendants of the race that disappeared 300,000 years ago. The module ends on a seven-page section dedicated to the creation of Droyne characters, their characteristics (strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence (for intellect), sense (for education), and caste (for social standing)), their castes (workers, warriors, drones, technicians, sports, leaders), their acquired skills, how they fly and under what conditions, their ability to appear invisible (like the chirpers), and the culture dictated by their caste system.
With regards to that caste system, I should note the payoff to those who have already played the adventures Research Station Gamma and/or Shadows (as I have recommended doing as stages in this module): the coins (coyns) acquired in those adventures are the same as those found in the alien base in room X. The coyns are used by the Droyne in ceremonies to randomly assign a caste (social standing) to every individual.
Now, this appendix on the Droyne would be a fabulous treat, except that it turns out to be practically useless information. Once the Droyne have defended the base, obliterated the Zhodani, and processed the time in which they’ve reawakened, they will realize there are no members of the leader caste available to give them orders. Without any purpose they initiate a self-destruct sequence (with a few hours delay to allow the travellers to collect the drugs they came for), which destroys them, their base, and Twilight’s Peak. Evidently their prime motive — “to protect the base from damage”, says the module — doesn’t extend to the damage they might do to it. This ending is disappointing, and a bit too neat and pat.
For all its epic grandiosity, Twilight’s Peak isn’t perfect. Its grand reveal turns out to be a deus-ex-machina that liberates a planet in the blink of an eye… and then destroys itself. There’s no reason why the tower of Twilight’s Peak should have ever been built on a Droyne/Ancient base… except to provide a convenient salvation when the Zhodani descend on it to eliminate travellers. This is the sort of thing that would usually downgrade a module for me by quite a bit, but somehow in Twilight’s Peak it ends up working. Judging from those who play it, at least, the endgame is an adrenaline rush that makes the underlying problems forgivable. I’d give anything to run this module as an extended campaign, but I doubt I’ll find the time or enough players who are willing to jump on board.
Rating: 4 ½ stars out of 5.