Highly Classified: Research Station Gamma

Research Station Gamma (1980), by Marc Miller, was the second published Traveller adventure but effectively the first, since The Kinunir was a starship design with only sketchy suggestions for adventures. I’d strongly consider using Research Station Gamma on players new to Traveller, as it’s a dungeon crawl — a classic way to break in newbies — has an intriguing premise, isn’t difficult to run, and is challenging but not terribly hard on the players.

The “dungeon” is an imperial research station where experiments are done on captive alien specimens. It’s set in the ocean of a backwater planet, and from a distance looks like a slender column topped by a circular cap, with twelve containment globes spiraling down the shaft (see diagram far below on the right). The circular cap consists of two laboratory decks, and the globes are prisons for the aliens; there’s a power plant deep at the ocean bottom. The station is often ice-locked (surrounded by ice floes in the planet’s southern ocean), which can make it challenging to reach by sea travel.

Depending on the travellers’s choice of vehicle, they can enter the station from the submarine dock on the ocean bed (if they have a submersible), from the third or fourth globes from the top (if they have a non-submersible ship – but that way is very difficult), or from the laboratory decks (if they have an air/raft). A thorough search of the decks will reveal the nature of the experiments — the potential for long-range communication using psionic powers (i.e. telepathy). Some of the aliens jailed in the globes (five of the twelve) have psionic abilities, including (in globe #5) the family members of an alien who escaped, and has hired the travellers to rescue them.

A D&D module for Traveller

Of the 13 modules in this adventure series, Research Station Gamma has the strongest D&D vibe. As I said it’s a dungeon crawl, in a “castle of horrors” (the research station), containing strange creatures with “spell abilities” (psionic aliens), and an “evil wizard” behind it all (the mad scientist). For this reason the module could be the best or worst to use on new players. Best, perhaps, because it makes the transition from D&D to Traveller an easy one; the players are accustomed to this sort of thing. Worst if players are craving something new and altogether different from D&D. Gauge accordingly.

I’m also put in mind of the D&D classic Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, since this module has robots, and provides details and stats for each type of robot (animal care, janitorial, and security) found in the station. Surprisingly, Traveller wasn’t big on robots (even after it came out with a supplement for them in ’86) and tended to give them short shrift; a curiosity for a sci-fic game.

The janitorial and security robots are much as they sound. The animal care robots are designed particularly for local cruelties:

“Animal care robots are programmed to feed and tend the various organisms at the research station, regardless of the environmental conditions which prevail. In addition, they aid the security robots in tracking and recovering any experimental subjects which might escape, and they perform most of any routine experiments which might be called for.

The robot’s programming permits it to estimate the size and metabolism of the target for its tranquilizer darts; dosage is adjusted automatically. Its auditory sensors are equivalent to human ears, but its visual sensors enable it to see in total darkness, provided a source of infrared or ultraviolet light is available. If this robot detects unauthorized persons, it will report the fact to computer central and attempt to tranquilize as many as possible.

The animal care arms for the robot are designed to grab and hold without harm to the specimen. They are quite efficient at the task; internal tactile feedback circuits in the grippers make the grip unbreakable unless the robot itself is turned off or destroyed. The animal care robot can lift a load equal to its own weight, and is capable of carrying it without harm along the elevator guide rail.”

As for the security robots, they’re armed with pulse lasers equivalent to laser carbines, can detect the heartbeat of human beings 30 feet away, and have the same grappling techniques of the animal care models. There’s loads of mileage to be had with the robots all around.

Psionic fun

But the biggest fun comes with the aliens having special abilities. In the Imperium-controlled regions of the Traveller universe, psionics are generally taboo, frowned upon if not abhorred. Research Station Gamma is an Imperial project and thus its research is way off the board and highly secret. It’s run by a lone scientist, who apparently fired the other researchers and now relies exclusively on the robots for assistance in studying the alien specimens.

Those specimens are the module’s highlight. They are found in the twelve containment globes (except globe #8 which is a submarine dock), each of which has been programmed to mimic the gravity and environment of the alien’s native world. Not all of them contain aliens with psionic ability. The first (highest) globe does; the creature has the ability to convey a feeling of safety or well-being to its prey, and as a result appears cute and cuddly until it attacks by surprise. The fifth (the highest which is fully below sea level) contain two chirpers (see image to the right), the siblings of the alien that escaped from the station and whom the travellers have come to rescue; chirpers have the ability to cloud peoples’ minds in a 400-yard radius to make themselves seem invisible (though video cams and robots will see the chirpers just fine). The seventh globe contains bear-like animals with teleport ability. The tenth contains red sand that’s blowing around; there is life, but microscopic in size, that’s using telekinetic powers to move the sand. And the eleventh contains five bipeds who manifest telepathic ability — the prime focus of the research station.

Research on these specimens has been somewhat successful. In particular, work on the bipeds in globe #11 has yielded promising results for telepathy at interplanetary (but not interstellar) distances. The station computer has been programmed to make periodic reports on the project’s status for the Imperium, but the scientist has been falsifying the data to make his progress appear slow, so that he will continue receiving funding without interference. Computer skills will be essential to travellers who want to locate the complete and true data on the specimens. The data, incidentally, would be of extreme value to the Zhodani Empire (where psionics are commonplace and completely legal), whose intelligence operatives would pay millions of credits if the travellers wanted to commit treason and travel over 20 parsecs to surrender these Imperium secrets. (Because the Zhodani already use psionics, they could probably finish the telepathic research on their own and be way ahead of the Imperium.)

The Mad Scientist

Aside from his name and stats —

Professor Gnetus Jerrold Vicervis, 353EEB, age 102
Skills: Computer-5, Electronics-3, Body Pistol-2, Air/Raft-2, Admin-3, Jack-o-T-3

— the module tells us next to nothing about this director who fired the other researchers and relies on robot assistance to conduct the psionic project. He has extended his life through anagathics (and what traveller wouldn’t like to get his hands on a supply of those?), but beyond these details there is nothing to hint at the professor’s motives.

Of course, this open-ended aspect of the “villain” is to me is the best part, since I would probably reshape any details the module chose to supply. I might even make this guy a traitor who intends to become a millionaire by selling his research to the Zhodani Empire. If the robots apprehend any of the travellers, I’d have him conduct nasty experiments on at least one of them. And I’d surely somehow work into the plot his supply of life-extending drugs.


There’s no question I’d love this module from either a GM or player perspective. It’s straightforward but not boring, offering fun role-playing opportunities with a lunatic, robots, and aliens. Speaking of the last, there’s more to the chirper aliens than meets the eye. They’re an isolated branch of the legendary race known as the Ancients — and the subject of the next published adventure, Twilight’s Peak, which I will be reviewing next.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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