The first step in preparing an uncharted exoplanet for resource exploitation is scouting. Typically, an Advanced Terraforming Team is dispatched to survey the area, collect samples, and determine the best place to drop terraforming equipment from orbit. It’s a tough job that can rapidly switch from blindingly boring to mortally terrifying, and so instead of putting their full-time employees at risk, most corporations farm the work out to contractors.
That’s where your players’ crew comes in.
The vital statistics of a survey location, be it a planet, a moon, or someplace more exotic, are contained in its Readout. The Readout is a d10 table that is used as a framework for scouting out the notable elements of a location. A couple of example Readouts can be found at the end of this document.
Generating a Readout begins with adding “Potential terraformer site” as entry 0 on the table. You’ll then roll 3d10 to produce the 1, 2 and 3 entries of the table. These represent potential Points of Interest at the survey location.
|Result||Point of Interest|
|0||Body of liquid|
|2||Forest or jungle|
|3||Zone of geological activity|
Any non-Other Die result gets slotted into the Readout table in order. If you roll “Body of liquid”, “Zone of geological activity” and an Other Die, for example, you’d write “Body of liquid” down as entry 1 and “Zone of geological activity” as entry 2, leaving entry 3 blank.
If two dice come up as the same number, that entry is a Danger.1 Dangers are potentially life-threatening to survey up close, but a crew wouldn’t necessarily know that until they are there. As an example, a regular “Zone of geological activity” might just be a visually appealing set of geysers, but a Danger of the same type could actually be an active volcano.
If all three dice come up the same, that entry is a Horror. Horrors always put a crew in serious peril, and are usually alien or otherworldly in origin. Horrors can be overtly hostile, such as the Gaunt in Dead Planet or the Xenomorph in “Alien”, but they can also be more sinister, like potentially fatal pathogens, experiences that affect one’s perception of reality, or other terrible things that will stow away on the crew’s ship.
If the matching dice happen to be Other Dice, the Danger or Horror is instead something that originated off-planet, such as a rival scouting team, pirates, or a crashed ship. Add an Other Danger or Horror to the Readout normally using an appropriate descriptor: “faint life signs”, “irregular energy signature”, and so on.
Once you’ve generated the location’s Points of Interest, follow the same procedure to determine its Botany (4, 5 and 6) and Xenobiology (7, 8 and 9) entries.
|0||Moss or algae||Insect or other arthropod|
|1||Grass or fern||Fish, amphibian or reptile|
|6-9||Other Die||Other Die|
Not every survey location will have all ten entries filled. Additionally, the elements on the Readout are not necessarily the only examples of life or interesting geography at the location: rather, they are just the ones that would be most valuable to your employer.
By default, every survey location described by a Readout is Temperate, has Breathable atmosphere, and has Standard gravity. These conditions are modified, however, by any Other Dice that came up while you generated Readout entries. For each of those conditions, replace the default state with the state indicated by the highest Other Die rolled in the corresponding category.
|Other Die||Climate (POI)2||Atmosphere (Botany)3||Gravity (Xenobiology)4|
Upon arriving in an uncharted system, a crew can use their ship’s sensors to grab a Readout of the survey location. A Readout fits on a small piece of paper or index card, so you should consider making a player-facing copy and giving it to them directly. Scanning a location to produce a Readout takes a day or so of in-game time. If a crew is particularly thorough or make some kind of successful stat check, you may reveal a couple more specific details to them: you could tip them off to a Danger, for example, or explicitly outline what a particular Point of Interest is.
To begin scouting the area, the crew follows this procedure…
The details of a scouting encounter are up to you as the Warden. In many cases, it may be fine to simply describe the scouting roll as a montage and automatically allow the crew to get visual confirmation and samples of an entry. You can also combine entries as you see fit to fill out the narrative: it’s perfectly reasonable, for example, for a crew to scout out both a tree and a species of lizard while traveling to the potential terraformer site.
If they are played out in full, entries (even Dangers and Horrors) can typically be avoided or retreated from without penalty, unless the crew rolled them as doubles (or more). In that case, the GM should describe how they have unintentionally been exposed to that entry and the crew should determine how to extract themselves from the situation.
The bare minimum required to complete an ATT job is obtaining a Readout and getting visual, on-the-ground confirmation of the potential terraformer site (entry 0). Using the Argos Economic Zone’s Debt rules, this is worth 1 Debt.
Obtaining visual confirmation of all the entries of a Readout is worth 2 Debt. A few basic samples of appropriate entries can bump this payout to 3 Debt.
For true professionals, excellent samples and live specimens of everything on a Readout can pay up to 5 Debt. Obtaining a live specimen of a Horror could potentially be worth even more, provided the crew lives to cash the check.
|Mancini-4||Fiery climate, Caustic atmosphere, Crushing gravity|
|0||Potential terraformer site|
|7||Nonsapient alien (Danger)|
|Catanach-62||Cold climate, Thin atmosphere, Near Zero gravity|
|0||Potential terraformer site|
|5||Faint energy signature (Danger)|
For the curious, there is a 61% chance that a Readout will end up containing at least 1 Danger, and a 3% chance that it will have a Horror.↩
Oceanic climates are almost entirely covered by liquid bodies. They, as well as Cold and Desert climates, can be navigated with minimal assistance (vehicles, warm clothing). Icy and Fiery climates require specialized equipment to walk around on without freezing or burning to death.↩
Thin atmospheres are breathable, but extended activity may cause symptoms of oxygen deprivation. Thick atmospheres require a filter, whereas inert atmospheres are filled with non-breathable (but potentially valuable) gases that require scouts to bring their own oxygen supplies. Locations with no atmosphere or a caustic one require a full vacc suit, with the difference being that caustic atmospheres will steadily wear the suit’s exterior and seals out.↩
Locations with Near Zero, Low and Light gravity have greater hang time than normal, ranging from a normal jump taking a couple of seconds in Light gravity, to a full minute at Near Zero. By contrast, High gravity is uncomfortable to maneuver in for long periods, whereas Crushing gravity is life-threatening without the proper equipment.↩