Review: Chiron’s Doom by Nick Bate

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Chiron’s Doom from the author in exchange for a copy of The Synth Convergence.

There is a monument at the edge of civilisation, an enigmatic object known as Chiron’s Doom. Nobody knows what it does, or who made it, or why. It has defied all previous attempts at understanding. Countless expeditions have torn themselves apart trying to learn its secrets.

There’s no reason to think your expedition will be any different, but here you are. Three more explorers standing before the monument, driven to try where all others have failed. How much are you willing to sacrifice to solve the mystery of Chiron’s Doom?

Over the past few weeks I have been slowly making my way through a solo playthrough of Chiron’s Doom, published by Nick Bate and available on itch.io. The game chronicles the story of a doomed expedition as they set out to explore a foreboding and mysterious monument. Each scene is driven by a narrative prompt, chosen by drawing from a randomised deck, after which it is up to the players to decide how events play out. The expedition deck starts with a selection of Diamonds and the 2’s of the other suits. Draw any of those 2’s and you introduce a disaster deck – four additional cards that serve to build the danger and threat to your explorers. Draw a King and an explorer pays the ultimate price in their search for knowledge.

Playing solo I took charge of the trio of explorers and set out to explore the Dyson Array 03x65a, a massive orbital satellite from The Dyson Eclipse, a space opera setting that I am slowly developing. For the playthrough I decided to run the game as a series of blog posts, which start here and from the outset things got complicated for the intrepid explorers. By the end two of them had been taken by the monument while Arol, a wayward navigator had been shown his new path, tasked with protecting the secrets of the array from those that unknowingly walked the way of the light.

While I have written numerous pieces of short fiction in the past this was the first time I have taken to playing a solo RPG in this manner and I have to say that not only did I really enjoy the process but the prompts helped to flesh out the setting of The Dyson Eclipse in ways that I had not imagined. With the exception of the Arrays and the XenoArchaeology Protectorate virtually every detail in the setting was developed or fleshed out using inspiration drawn from the prompts. As a tool it was tremendously useful and I suspect I will do further playthroughs if only to help develop ideas.

Playing solo, and choosing to focus on only short scenes for each card, I did find that a number of the prompts difficult to use. For example the very first card I drew, the 8 of diamonds, reads

You experience a sudden, dramatic shift in perspective. What happened?
What does your new view reveal?

and it took me quite a while to work out how to incorporate a sudden shift in perspective into the very first scene. In a similar vein I found it difficult to link a couple of the draws to one another, although I suspect this would have been easier if I had played out each scene further than I did.

The one thing that I felt was missing from the game was the sense of the journey. The card prompts did well in representing revelations and challenges but I wanted more about the expedition itself, something that portrayed the more mundane steps in between revelations, perhaps as a separate deck that you draw from after round of drawing from the expedition deck.

Overall I would recommend picking up Chiron’s Doom if you are interested in exploring your own expedition, either with friends or as a solo storytelling game. It drew me into the unfolding story, piqued my interest in solo RPGs and I know that I’ll be replaying it in the future.

All reviews are rated out of 10, with Natural 20s reserved for products that go above and beyond my expectations.

Playthrough: Chiron’s Doom (Part 5)

This is Part 5 of the playthrough. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 can be found by following the links.

Arol Hernez (9 of Spades)

With the drones converging on their position the pair had few options. The continued gravitational pulses prevented retreat while it was only a matter of time before the Knights noticed that the drones had abandoned their work and Varis had made clear her opinion on turning themselves in. With Varis having dashed any chance at subtly he took a chance and activated his suits embedded sensor suite to map the hanger. The high-energy pulse took only a fraction of a second to build a framework while followup directed pulses worked on elucidating fine details. Numbers and trajectories overlaid his vision as the suit sought to highlight the details and buried amongst it he found what he’d sought.

An exit.

It was on the far side of the hanger, beneath the curve of an enormous engine cowl that was being slowly manoeuvred into position but it was there. A way out. A flick of his wrist sent the data to Varis.

“If we’re going to get across this hanger we need to move now.” He backed the words up by breaking into a run, trusting in the initiate to follow. The route through the hanger was convoluted, a maze of components and partially assembled compartments that they were forced to scramble over and around. After losing a further two of their number to Varis’s blade the drones kept their distance, circling above and behind them like vultures waiting for them to falter and fall. As they neared the hatch his HUD pinged with an incoming transmission, the priority code of the XenoArchaeology Directorate forcing it into view. The file was small, and decrypted almost instantly. A system wide warrant for his detainment, matched with an unnervingly accurate list of his crimes since leaving the service.

There was only one that he hadn’t committed. The most recent. The murder of Knights Initiate Saiya Varis.

Varis (King of Clubs)

She was only a second, or at most two, behind Arol as they reached the far side of the hanger and made the last dash for the hatch. The drones that had followed them had maintained a perfect 21.35 metres from her since she’d downed the third but now, with machine precision they swarmed towards her. Three times her knife lashed out, precise arcs that sliced through their cores and dropped them to the floor. As formidable as her training was it was also incomplete and as she ducked under the welding arms of one assailant another latched on to the control disc in the back of her suit, overriding the servos and freezing her to the spot. Silent alarms flashed in her vision as the drone reprogrammed environmental controls, cutting off her oxygen supply. All she could do was watch as Arol made it to the hatch, untouched by the drones that had prioritised her as a threat. As he turned and realised what had happened she took a desperate gamble, flicking the gravimetric dagger from the tips of her fingers. The field generator did the rest of the work, accelerating the blade into the control panel beside him and triggering the release of the emergency bulkhead.

Arol Hernez (3 of Clubs)

He’d lost track of how long or how far he had wandered. After the bulkhead cut him off from Varis he had grabbed the dagger and run. No direction, just away, deeper into the interior of the Array. Eventually he came to a door that was unlike anything the others. A light, grey metal painted with a fading symbol that was familiar to even the youngest children. It had been carried by the colonists as they had left their home so long ago. A yellow star in the centre surrounded by a blue circle with a single green dot. Earth. The silent ancestral home.

Dagger in hand he pushed it open, though at first the hinges resisted any movement. It opened into what he could only describe as an endless tunnel that fell away from him. Instinct led him to trigger the maglocks on his boots such was the feeling that he was staring not across but down into a vast abyss. As he tried to calm his senses motion along the smooth, pale wall caught his attention. As he watched the surface peeled back and a tube of blue glass extruded itself. A trio of drones approached, seemingly from nowhere carrying someone.

No, note someone but Varis, stripped of her suit and unconscious but seemingly alive. As two of the drones slid her effortlessly into the tube the third redirected itself towards him. Tired, scared and confused he made no effort to flee.

“Transmigration. Lifeboat stage IV incomplete. Containment protocols have been compromised. You will protect,” came through the intercom, the voice metallic but clear.

“I’ll what?,” was all he could manage in reply.

“You will protect. You are Navigator 1st Class Arol Hernez. Born 2287, died 2341. Current status: Fugitive from Knights of Ceres, marked by Interface for immediate termination. You. Will. Protect.”

As he struggled to process the meaning behind the voice there was a flash of light from the drone burned its way into his mind. Images flicked through his head, meaningless but structured. A light, all encompassing and so immense that it hurt to even think about. Schematics of the arrays, one after another. Some that had been lost, some yet to be constructed. A transmission received that had yet to be sent. Knowledge so overwhelming that it would have killed him if the Array had not intervened, reinforcing and expanding synaptic junctions in the time it took for the impulse to traverse them.

Eventually he understood. All of it. Others would be tasked with extinguishing the flame, his job was to safeguard the future, to protect the lifeboat and its occupants so they could be sent to the only place out of reach. Home.


This concludes my playthrough of Chiron’s Doom – You can find my review of the game here.

Playthrough: Chiron’s Doom (Part 4)

This is Part 4 of the playthrough. Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 can be found by following the links.

Arol Hernez (2 of hearts)

The presence of the Knights finally broke the silence between them as Arol turned to Varis, who was staring down at the encampment in dismay

“What the fuck are we meant to do now? Hey, are you even listening?”

She wasn’t, not really. It was only when he grabbed her suit by the arm that he got a response. With slick efficiency the former Initiate had him pinned to the closed airlock, dagger at his throat. It was his first time seeing the blade up close. Pitch black metal, etched with silver filaments that snaked their way up to the hilt with mathematical precision. The weapons had a fearsome reputation, capable of emitting gravity pulses that sliced effortlessly through armoured plating and scrambled organs.

“Hey,” he said, being careful to look her directly in the eyes, “I don’t know what your history with them is and frankly I don’t care but if you hadn’t noticed even if we could get back to the ship Layla had the command codes. Which means they might be our only way off…”

His suggestion was cut off as she flipped and pinned him onto the floor before he had even realised what was happening. If this was the level of ability of an Initiate then what were the Knights capable of? The train of thought was cut off as the dagger was pressed against his visor. Warning icons flashed across the HUD, the sensors protesting of a sudden reversal of external pressure.

“I am never going back!”

Varis (2 of clubs)

Instinct and fear had driven her reaction. That same combination had marked her out during training. Made her a target for the instructors. A Knight knows purpose. Begin with an Instinct, rapid and borne of experience. End with a Thought, logical and calculating.

React, Assess, Adapt.

She’d absconded from the academy before learning to control her instincts, which was why Arol almost died on the floor of the Array. Another soul lost to greed and the thrill of illicit exploration. It was the intervention of the Array that saved him. A drone, perhaps attracted by the distortion of the gravity field, set off her proximity alarm and once again she reacted. Without thought the dagger flew from her hand with an accuracy afforded only to those blessed with implants. It sliced through the drone with ease before the emitters reversed its direction, slinging it silently back to her waiting palm.

The achingly long second that it took was enough for her mind to finally catch up, to realise the danger she’d placed them in. Sliding off Arol she checked the hanger, her HUD re-assigning the pale grey dots of the drones to an angry red. Dots that were rapidly converging on their position.

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

Playthrough: Chiron’s Doom (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of the playthrough. Part 1, Part 2 can be found by following the links.

Arol Hernez (4 of diamonds)

Spooked by the approaching shuttle Varis pushed the group hard, into the superstructure of the Array where still functioning gravity plates negated the need for magboots and filament tethers. Having spent most of his life aboard ships Arol was the first to drop the pace set by the initiate, his suit barely managing to keep up with the sweat pouring down his face.

“We must be… half a click… deep by now,” was all he could manage between breaths, “there ain’t nobody… picking us out from here.”

It took the support of Layla but with no signs of pursuit he was able to convince Varis to slow the breakneck pace to one that allowed the expedition to properly take in their surroundings. They’d entered into a faintly lit tunnel, roughly twenty meters in diameter and lined with smooth, glass-like panelling that stretched endlessly into the distance. It was another twenty minutes before they same across the body, impaled on the curved wall by a broken panel only metres from another narrow entrance. While Varis helped aided him in cutting it free their patron explored further down the tunnel, hoping to come across anything the poor soul may have dropped.

The body was in poor condition and had clearly been exposed to the vacuum of the tunnel for some time. It was only once they had retrieved it that the scale of the injuries became truly apparent. Bones broken in multiple places while the suits control modules had crumpled in on themselves. Patching into the suit Arol was able to gather only the last few seconds of data, a silent video of individuals running towards the opening while the tunnel pulsed with a faint light. The perspective went haywire, as the fateful individual was thrown from their feet and met their end. The suit recorded a series of gravametric spikes, cycling between from weightlessness to 25g in a fraction of a second.

Beneath their feet the light pulsed without notice. A flash, then another, the separation between them closing with each repeat of the cycle.

Layla Saidi (King of Diamonds)

With the exception of the body it appeared that this section of the tunnel was empty. Whatever expedition they had been a part of was either unsuccessful or had chosen loot over the body of their companion. As she delved further it was the tunnel itself finally caught her eye.

“Did you see that? The light is getting stronger,” she voiced over the comm, kneeling down to inspect the surface more closely.

“What did you say,” came Arol, his voice only barely audible over a static that had suddenly swamped the channel.

“The light,” she shouted to ensure she was heard, “there’s a pattern and it’s getting stronger. The tech is active, there may be something to salvage here.”

It was only then that she looked up at her employees who were frantically waving, trying to get her attention. The static dominated the channel now, drowning out the words as the Navigator and Initiate ran for the nearby opening. Panicked by their actions she sprinted after them, getting mere metres before finding herself afloat, gravity having disappeared in an instant. As her hands fumbled for a filament line the gravity pulse hit, a fatal wave of acceleration that flung her from sight in an instant.

Varis (3 of Spades)

Varis and Arol had made it to the entrance with seconds to spare and could do nothing but watch as Layla was swept to her death. Death amongst Initiates was rare but not unheard of, the Knights were a martial force above all else, but the death of this woman she barely knew hit surprisingly hard. Without conscious thought she began to recite the Homeward Prayer, the words of return and rebirth that had comforted humanity through their long voyage to the stars.

“…you who have never known the soils of Earth yet yearns for its embrace. Find the beacon, your way home child of Sol. Walk the path, follow the Light and be at peace…”

The decision to turn their back on the tunnel required no words and the three that had become two continued on in silence. After only a few minutes they passed through an airlock and the passageway opened up onto a large, open space teeming with activity. Compact XenoTech drones buzzed through the air, working on an object at least the size of a small frigate. The noise would have been overwhelming without the suits, as materials were cut and welded into place with machine precision. At the base of the object was a small encampment. Human figures in stylised armour that mirrored the design of her own lightweight suit.

The Knights of Ceres had a foothold within the Array and there was no turning back.

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

Playthrough: Chiron's Doom (Part 2)

You can find Part 1 – Setup of the playthrough here. This part covers the first round of cards, one for each of the characters.

Arol Hernez (8 of diamonds)

While Saidi may have acquired the discrete landing craft for the expedition there were no questions asked when Arol sat himself down in the command chair and began to work through the boot up procedure. Departure from the orbital hub was a routine and almost entirely automated process. They ran cold during the journey to minimise the chance of detection and Arol was asleep in the chair when the Array initiated its activation sequence. Plugged directly into the sensor suite his subconscious was submerged into the shifting flow of the gravity wells. Random fluctuations and inversions were revealed in their full glory and intuition overrode conscious thought and tunnelled a channel through the turbulence. By the time the klaxons dragged his mind to the waking world the shuttle had already achieved what should have been impossible – navigation through a gravity storm. As the craft drifted the final few kilometres to the landing site he struggled to hold on to what he had witness, but with each attempt to grasp onto it the vision only slipped further into the darkness of his mind.

Layla Saidi (6 of diamonds)

The shuttle had barely touched down on the surface of the Array before Layla was out of the airlock on the search for an entry point. Thanks to Arol’s apparent navigational prowess it didn’t take long to find one, a hole a dozen metres wide where the metal surface had been ripped back by an unknown force. The violence of whatever had occurred was severe, the Xenotech that powered the Arrays was renowned for its ability to repair itself yet the damage here was untouched.

Layla knelt down to inspect a piece that had attracted her attention, a small storage module. Her suit decrypted the data with surprising speed, identifying a repeating code segment that each and every child was familiar with – the transmission that the people of Earth had received many years ago. She recited the words silently as they played back in her earpiece,

“…as we fade into the dark we gift you this, our knowledge and our hope. Beware the Path of Light, which seduced our kin and will reach back…”

Wait no. That wasn’t right. The Transmission didn’t include a warning. Had the Builders changed their mind, omitted the mention of danger when they reached out to the Earth? What if the Transmission had been altered, the warning hidden? The possibilities were endless and if not for an untimely interruption by Varis on the intercom she might have taken the time to consider the potential consequences of holding onto the module. For now though, there were more immediate concerns.

“We need to get inside before they enter scanning range…” came Varis’ voice, cutting through the silence of space.

Varis (2 of Spades)

The proximity alert she’d programmed into the shuttles sensors was crude but did the trick. Under the protection of the XAP mandate the Knights flaunted laws and regulations in their search for the truth. Their agents had free access to each of the Arrays, regardless of threat or activity. Despite that knowledge, etched into mind while she endured the initiation the signal ping still surprised her. A small drive plume, likely a scout or squad carrier with active IFF was at the edge of their passive sensor range and closing. The Knights would have spotted the shuttle, of that she was certain, but detecting her implants would require face to face contact. Escape wasn’t an option so that left hiding within the Array. She checked her seals one last time before pushing through the barrier of the airlock. The pilot Arol was a scant few metres ahead, their untested employer further still.

She took a breath, activated comms,

“We need to get inside before they enter scanning range…”

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

Playthrough: Chiron's Doom by Nick Bate (Part 1)

For a variety of reasons I’ve never really explored solo RPGs in the past but with the current social distancing thought now was a good time to give them a try. I’m going to start with Chiron’s Doom by Nick Bate (@ickbat) with the aim of releasing a few short playthrough posts followed by a review of the game. I’m going to use it as a world building exercise for The Dyson Eclipse, the space opera setting that I am in the process of developing. In The Dyson Eclipse humanity received a set of instructions directing them to a nearby star surrounded by numerous Dyson Arrays, enormous mega-structures arranged in stable orbit around the star. Their purpose, and who constructed them, is unknown.

You can buy Chiron’s Doom at https://ickbat.itch.io/chirons-doom

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Chiron’s Doom from Nick in exchange for a copy of The Synth Convergence.

Playthrough, Part 1

There is a monument at the edge of civilisation, an enigmatic object known as Chiron’s Doom. Nobody knows what it does, or who made it, or why. It has defied all previous attempts at understanding. Countless expeditions have torn themselves apart trying to learn its secrets.

There’s no reason to think your expedition will be any different, but here you are. Three more explorers standing before the monument, driven to try where all others have failed. How much are you willing to sacrifice to solve the mystery of Chiron’s Doom?

Setup – What is Chiron’s Doom and who are the explorers?

What is Chiron’s Doom?

Array 03x65a has risen to infamy amongst the colonists after the loss of the XenoArchaeology Protectorate corvette AEV Chiron during one of the first inspection surveys of the outer circle. The vessel was lost with all hands after the array violently activated and warped the local gravity well. In the years since subsequent activation cycles have reconfigured the orbits of the outer circle in an erratic manner. Access to the circle is strictly prohibited, however, numerous scavengers and profiteers have breached the blockade in search of active xenotech for resale on the black market.

Known as Chiron’s Doom after it activated during a routine inspection by the XAP corvette AEV (Array Exploratory Vessel) Chiron. Warping of the local gravity well resulted in loss of the frigate with all hands on board. Since then the array has demonstrated erratic patterns of activity and access is strictly prohibited by XAP. Numerous scavengers and profiteers have breached the blockade in search of active xenotech for resale on the black market.

Who are the explorers?

Arol Hernez – A mercenary and former navigator for the Planetary Alliance. His ship was in direct contact with the Chiron during her final moment.

Varis – A former initiate of the Knights of Ceres, recognisable by the Gravimetric Dagger she carries at all times. She absconded from the Order after her first contact with the Interface and has vowed that she will never submit to its will.

Layla Saidi  – A black market profiteer seeking access to the lucrative xenotech market. She provided the seed funds for the expedition and reluctantly employed the desperate Varis after discovering her former allegiance to the Knights.

This playthrough of Chiron’s Doom continues here.

#RPGaDay2019 5th August: ‘Space’

August has come around once again which means it’s time for RPGaDay 2019. In a shift from the questions format of previous years this year is characterised by a series of prompts, which I’ll be attempting to answer each day with a short post, with the prompt word highlighted in bold each day.

Day 5: Space

I want to write an epic space opera setting using either Cortex Prime or Faith Corps (the Demon Hunters system). It’s only in the early stages but my current thoughts are centred on a single system that was colonised after the discovery of alien megastructures that appear to have been built specifically for humanity. I’m still trying to work out overarching details of the setting before I even think about the themes I want to explore but my current aesthetics are 70s/80s novel covers and various animated sci-fi shows. When coming up with scenarios I often start with a big picture mental image from a single scene. Whether it’s the setup to a fight, with an aging dragon prowling around the PCs or a setting overview, in this case a dysons array of synchronised orbital platforms with enormous solar collectors.

The trick will be going from that picture and building up the questions and details into a framework for a game. There needs to be a clear ‘this is what you do / what this game is about’ that I can then use to refocus the mechanics. I think part of the reason so many space games have failed is that they have made the assumption that ‘fly around, shenanagins happen’ is enough. If you look at the majority of space opera novels they tend to have this established, deep setting but the drive of the stories comes from an external change that pushes the characters forward. That’s what I want when I get around to writing my own setting, something people can pick up and say ‘I know what the author wants me to do here.’