|Lab Ship illustration by W.H. Keith|
“Look, I’m just a biochemist. Most of the time, I work in a little glass jar and lead a very uneventful life. I drive a Volvo, a beige one. But what I’m dealing with here is one of the most deadly substances the earth has ever known, so what say you cut me some friggin’ slack!?” - Stanley Goodspeed (The Rock)
Lab adventures tend to be among my favorites, and I love the 400 ton lab ship from classic Traveller. Rather than create a new deck plan for an already perfectly good ship, I’ve decided to offer suggestions for creating your own lab-based game scenarios.
- Decide what type of gameplay you want. Who are your adventurers?
- Pick a lab type and describe it
- Determine the overall plot and character goals
- Write up a plot scenario, create some NPCs and determine what end game conditions might be
- Add your PCs and stir well
Decide what type of game you want to play. Will this be a one night one-shot, a minor side quest, or the start of a new campaign? Do the players prefer combat heavy games or is exploration and heavy roleplay more their thing? Keep these in mind as you develop the scenario.
Determine the type of lab and describe it
I’ve added an extensive list of lab types, and some ideas, mostly movies, to draw inspiration from. Think about what type of lab it is and who works there.
- Is the lab well-funded, or barely getting by?
- What resources/equipment is available?
- Is it a large, high-tech facility or in someone's garage?
- Is the work being done at the lab legal/illegal, ethical/unethical, controversial/uncontroversial?
- Who supports the research? Who, if anyone, is opposed to it?
- Who mostly occupies the lab? What will their reactions toward PCs be?
- What is unique about the lab, if anything? Does it require zero-G rooms, clean rooms, massive computer processing, special environmental conditions, or live human subjects? Or is it just research done at a computer?
- Where is the lab and why? (Lab ship in space, above ground/underground/under water, urban or rural setting, on an asteroid?)
- With whom does the lab collaborate and why?
- What successes and failures has the lab had? Are there any prototypes of their work?
- Aging/Immortality/Anagathics (Cocoon, Highlander, etc.)
- Ancients Research (studying artifacts left behind by the Ancients, artifact testing, attempts at reverse engineering)
- Animal Research (12 Monkeys, Planet of the Apes reboot, Jurassic Park, Island of Dr. Moreau, PETA)
- Astrophysics/Astronomy (black holes, jump space, anti-matter, dark energy, etc.)
- Biology (Dr. Frankenstein, uplifting animals, Deep Blue Sea, Planet of the Apes reboot, Island of Dr. Moreau, Altered States)
- Botany (xenobotany, Minority Report)
- Chemistry – generic, but could be tied to almost any other type of lab
- Cloning (6th Day, Alien Resurrection, The Island)
- Communication research (FTL radio, Contact, deciphering alien languages, etc.)
- Computer Technology (development of new computers, AI, different storage media, The Matrix, A.I., the Paranoia RPG computer, Terminator films, Demon Seed)
- Cryogenics Technology (low berths, Frozen Watch, Idiocracy, The Eternity Brigade, etc)
- Cybernetics (Six Million Dollar Man, Robocop, Terminator films, anything cyberpunk)
- Defensive Systems (force fields, ship shields, ship armor, personal body armor, etc.)
- Digitization of Mass (Tron)
- Disease Research/Contagion Containment (Center for Disease Control, Salk Institute, I am Legend, World War Z)
- Energy Research (fusion, fission, zuchai crystals, dilithium cyrstals, etc.)
- Food Technology (hydroponics, synth meat, Silent Running, Soylent Green, Norman Borlaug)
- Forensics/Crime (CSI, NCIS, Minority Report, material and chemical analysis equipment)
- Genetics (Jurassic Park, The Fly II, GATTACA, metahuman research, mutations)
- Geology (core samples, trays or other containers of mineral samples, jugs of liquid samples, analysis printouts, etc)
- Holography/Holodeck Research (ST:TNG and Voyager)
- Medical (almost anything, any labs using live humans for testing or research, Coma)
- Miniaturization/Supersizing (Innerspace, Fantastic Voyage, Antman, Dr. Shrinker, The Amazing Colossus, WIlly Wonka's chocolate camera, giant insect movies)
- Neuroscience (mind control, brain-taping, Total Recall, The Puppet Masters, Portal/Aperture Science, Brainstorm, intelligence enhancement, Charley, Lawnmower Man, Altered States)
- Other/Misc. (invisibility as seen in Hollow Man, the Genesis device from Star Trek)
- Pharmacology (development of new medicines, illegal drug manufacturing, Breaking Bad, Limitless)
- Physics (Hadron Collider, theoretical physics, fusion/fission, jump technology, gravitics, etc.)
- Psionics - specify which abilities being studied (Scanners, Firestarter, Jumper, Chronicle, parapsychology)
- Psychology (brainwashing techniques, Manchurian Candidate, Nikita, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)
- Radiation (x-rays, Gamma rays, Watchmen)
- Robotics (Blade Runner, Westworld, Ex Machina, Short Circuit, Chappie, I Robot, ST:TNG's Dr. Soong, Terminator films, Robocop, etc.)
- Sleep/Dreams (Dreamscape, The Cell, Brainstorm, Inception)
- Sociology (psychohistory)
- Surveillance & Sensor Technology (densitometers, NAS-neural activity sensors, Enemy of the State, Blue Thunder, 1984, Minority Report)
- Teleportation (Star Trek, The Fly, Portal/Aperture Science, Stargate, etc.)
- Time Travel (Primer, The Time Machine, A Sound of Thunder, 12 Monkeys, Looper)
- Weapons Research (traditional and non-traditional, xenoweapons, bioweapons, chemical weapons, psycho-warfare, non-lethal weapons, etc.)
- Xenobiology (alien autopsy, District 9, Independence Day, Alien Resurrection)
There may be some cross-over in lab types. A lab doing cloning research may involve animal subjects. Try picking two and see how they mix.
Determine the Plot
Think of a plot based on your gaming preferences. If you are stuck coming up with a plot consider using something like S. John Ross' The Big List of RPG Plots or Georges Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations. I personally like The Big List because it is specifically geared toward RPGs.
Use your imagination to fill in the gaps. Try to anticipate what a player’s reaction might be to your set up and then assume they are not going to react that way and come up with something else. Feel free to change or ignore previous decisions you've made.
I’ve decided to write a scenario based on random selection from the above information. I’ve come up with: bioweapons lab using live animal subjects, legal, but unethical research, location: asteroid, underground; Plot: Better Late Than Never (from The Big List of RPG Plots)
Ideal conditions (determined after the scenario was developed): PCs have their own ship, TL 10+ world, low traffic system (remote or low population)
NPCs:Kepp Maddix, clerk at Progressive Integrated, who hires the PCs
Kern Hilson, a scientist at the lab facility
Linn Hebron, owner of Progressive Integrated
Additional NPCs as may be needed: various scientists, company employees, and the bad guys.
The PCs are contacted by Kepp Maddix, a relatively low-level procurement clerk at Progressive Integrated (PI), to do a supply run to one of their remote research facilities. The supplies are nothing out of the ordinary; a few new computers, a couple office chairs, some medical supplies, about four dtons in total. The job will pay slightly more than normal because of the remoteness of the site and because the regular delivery service cancelled at the last minute. Delivery of the medical supplies may be time-sensitive, so the PCs may have some room to negotiate their fee. The delivery site is an asteroid field in-system, about one day away. If needed, the referee can determine the asteroids distance from the main world based on the capabilities of their ship and the Typical Travel Times table from Book 2. If the PCs do not have their own ship, they may be hired to pilot the company's small cargo ship (100 ton, 2-G). If the PCs research the company before accepting the job, they will find it is a smallish, fairly generic research company reaching into a variety of markets, mostly humanitarian (genetic crop enhancement, vaccines, disease research). Maddix will not be able to disclose, or does not know the nature of the research being performed at the facility.
The PCs accept the job, pick up the cargo, and fly out to the asteroid. As they approach the asteroid they see a starship leaving the area. They announce their arrival to the base, but no one responds. They land and soon discover the facility has been recently attacked.
The facility appears to have been ransacked, as if someone was looking for something. The facility’s 23 employees and scientists may be killed, rendered unconscious, and/or locked up, depending upon the referee’s desires, but some of the scientists should be alive. If the PCs think to contact Maddix, he will put them in touch with the head of the company, Linn Hebron. If not, then a scientist will immediately contact Hebron to make her aware that sensitive research and contagious viral samples have been stolen. Regardless of who makes contact, Hebron will offer the PCs a reward for return the stolen goods, since they have the only ship in the area. The reward will be substantially more if the PCs can keep the incident quiet. Kern Hilson, one of the scientists, will offer to accompany the PCs to reclaim the goods. If the PC group is undersized, some additional scientist may offer to come along as well, and some may even have small weapons.
The lab is located on a small, remote asteroid. There is a small landing pad and single above ground building. The facility is mostly underground. The lab is doing viral research, which includes animal testing. The lab does not have a security force, but rather uses secrecy and its remote location as protection. There are no other spacecraft at the facility, but it does have a good communication system which will allow instantaneous contact with the planet.
Viral research options (depending upon your faith in humanity):
- The research is being done to produce vaccines against future outbreaks (humanitarian reasons). The scientists and company are the good guys.
- The research being done is apparently for humanitarian reasons, but the owner of the company has other plans for it. The scientists are dupes at the mercy of corporate greed.
- The scientists are intentionally trying to create a weaponized virus. The scientists and the company are the bad guys.
- Some or all of the scientists are doing the research against their will (under threat to their families or some such), in which case the facility has a small security force to keep them in line. The scientists are the good guys and the company is the really bad guys.
The ship departing from the asteroid at the time of the PC's arrival contains the stolen research and virus samples. The bad guys’ ship has the same acceleration as the PCs ship. The idea is that the PCs are basically right behind the bad guys the whole time, whether the bad guys know it or not.
The referee has some options depending upon his gaming style and what the players gaming preference is:
- The PCs catch up to the bad guys in space. Ship combat ensues. If the PCs destroy the bad guy ship, the PCs will be (quietly) rewarded for stopping a potential major incident. If not, the bad guys get away and the company's in-house security will take over. There is no punishment for the PCs if they fail.*
- The PCs catch up to the bad guys in space and attempt to retrieve the stolen goods. Ship combat and/or shipboard combat ensues. If the PCs successfully retrieve the stolen goods they will receive a significant reward (or stabbed in the back by the company, depending upon your gaming style)
- The bad guys jump to another system, which can start an entire adventure of tracking down the bad guys.
- The bad guys make it to the planet (or starport) ahead of the PCs, but just barely. There can be a possible shoot-out on the landing pad, or maybe the bad guys escape.
- At any time the PCs can attempt to call the local police forces or nearby ships for help. This may prevent the escape of the bad guys, but the PCs would not get their reward.
Bad guy options (coordinate with viral research option above):
- The bad guys are terrorists, ideologically motivated, out to take good science and use it for bad.
- The bad guys are financially motivated, looking to sell the virus to the highest bidder.
- The bad guys are a group of radicals who understand the dangers of the research, for good or bad, and want to keep it out of the wrong hands.
The scenario end game and conditions of success are up to the referee and players.
Note: The "Better Late Than Never" plot kind of takes the adventure portion of this scenario out of the lab, but I just decided to roll with it. An alternative scenario might involve the PCs being at the lab just before the bad guys attack, or they might arrive during the attack.