04 June 2015

Exploring “The Derelict.” An adventure review.

The Derelict is an adventure for the GUMSHOE role-play system. Written by Ben Riggs and Ryan Harmon Smith, and published by Long Winter Publishing. It is available as a 55 page PDF, with no print or print on demand versions avilable. I purchased mine from DriveThruRPG for the low price of $2.95, marked down from the full price of $7.99. I do not know if this is the permanent price, so it might rise in the future.

Bad hair day?
Long Winter Publishing is based in Wisconsin, hence the "Long Winter” moniker. On its website it lays out an interesting, creator driven business model. Eighty percent of the net profits go to the creators of the product sold. Some of the remainder goes to local charities in the company’s area. The company administrators make no money unless they make product and sell it. The rest of the profits I guess go to overhead, marketing, and so on, though it is not indicated on the site. The online catalog lists only one release, but not this one, so I am not sure if they have any more on the way.

I purchased this while searching for a one-shot sci-fi horror adventure to run at a gaming convention. Searching on DriveThruRPG brought up a few items, but not as much as there should be IMHO. Sci-fi horror is an under-served genre. I ended up with The Derelict and an anthology of adventures for The Void RPG titled Pandora's Paths I: Adventures. Seeing nothing else catch my eye to buy, I downloaded them, did some reading, and decided that The Derelict is my choice. Pandora's Path also has some very good writing, but The Derelict fit the feel I was looking for: isolation and desperation.

Because I already decided to use Savage Worlds as my game system, I was only interested in the story, so I will not review anything mechanical, like monster statistics or anything. I'll need to take the basic descriptions and create my own. Even without covering mechanics, there is a lot to go over. I also almost never run an adventure verbatim, instead I like to make changes to make the story more my own. When there are good ideas in the adventure as written, it helps prime my imagination. In the end, the final adventure I will run at the upcoming convention will be a combination of their ideas and mine. Does this one grab my imagination? Read on.


Do not read further if you are going to play this. This is GM’s only.

Listen to River Song... or else!


The adventure has a very good start, and it seems aimed at a first adventure to start a campaign, or a one-shot based on the way the group is brought together. The characters are the crew of a deep space freight hauler on a ten year voyage from Earth to another planet. There are four crew characters, each with a job on the ship, and a stowaway character. I assume this adventure was aimed at four or five characters as the stowaway is easy to drop to make a foursome.

The game starts with pressure filled excitement. The crew is awoken from cryonic sleep with alarms going off and objects hitting the hull. They find that they are halfway from Earth to the destination. The ships systems and drives are malfunctioning. The crew soon discover that they need to abandon ship or, in fifteen minutes, the ship will explode. Their only hope is to figure out a way to dock with a nearby mysterious ship that seemed to have appeared out of nothing.

This is as close to an in medias res opening I have seen lately in published adventures. In medias res means "in the middle of things." In writing this refers to starting with action and explain the circumstances later.  An example would be a hero on a TV show. In it the hero is being chased by thugs, escapes over a fence, and finally loses the pursuers. Who are they, what do they want? You have to contemplate this as it happens. Finally, the danger over, we get the exposition of just what exactly was happening. Keeping the attention of an audience involves ticking their intellect, in this case making the ponder the action and want to know what happened. This is used many times at a commercial break on a TV show to stop you turning to another channel. Here you start in the action, learn what is going as the scene develops, and the player's get caught in learning the answer as well as the action itself.

After getting to the mystery ship they must investigate what it is. Obviously from Earth, but the type of ship is unknown. They then have a series of encounters revealing a supernatural influence to the ship: creatures disguised in dead crew members skins, encounters with ghosts, a crewman whose kidneys have stolen, a lost child who should not be there who gets freaky fast, and the mess hall with dead bodies, signs of deadly fights, and a pair of eyeballs attached to a brain floating in a sink... And the eyes look at you, still alive and aware. It is all designed to sap some sanity, a bad thing for characters but a good for upping the tension.

During this, the writer’s give good advice on pacing and keeping the characters under stress. Many of the encounters are optional but are detailed enough to throw them in and keep the game moving. As time passes, things get weirder and weirder.

The King and still champion.
Finally the characters will make it to the bridge (though maybe not sound in mind or body anymore). There they encounter the rouge AI controlling the ship. Think of HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, possessed by none other than The King in Yellow. He is readying the ship for a hyperjump into the black hole at the center of the galaxy and certain death for our heroes, all while saying crazy things and being extremely unhelpful and anoying. The crew need to continue into the bowels of the ship to save it.

Next comes more exploration. In the ship's chapel they discover the history of the vessel’s designer. He is a centuries old cultist and the ship was specifically designed to house the spirit of the King in Yellow. Then Korterba, the cultist, reveals his insane self to the characters. He tells them crazy things, and then warns them of a creature that will kill them.

Korterba follows them to engineering and then transforms into the moster he warned them of. He attacks, trying to stop the characters from stopping the jump. Then the airlock opens and the characters must try and survive.

Those character still alive and sane make it to the AI Nest. They need to do a David Bowman, they need to Daisy, Daisy the AI (in other words, deactivate the AI, for those who have not seen 2001. Also, why have you not seen 2001? Rent it now).

This leads them to the hyperdrive chamber, a terrifying reveal, and a terrible choice that will need to be made. Played right, with players being serious in their motives, this could be the best scene in the entire adventure, and possibly one you will talk about when remembering your favorite game sessions.


The layout is good, though it could use some better organization. In the first part, before the adventure begins, the sections named the Introduction, the Hook, and the Spine, which layout the overall story, could be placed together and combined. The section describing the mystery ship should be part of the later Horrible Truth section. This would flow better and have less repeating of information.

Most of the artwork is decent, though there is not a lot of it. I did not like the cover artwork; while portraying a scene from the adventure; it struck me as somewhat comical. Inside, the art that is there is functional, but not that eye catching. Although the reason for buying an adventure is for the text, artwork can help to set the mood for the GM, it comes up short of that duty here.

Like many good Cthulhu games, this one has a bunch of handouts for the players. It also has five pre-generated characters for GUMSHOE.

Straight up there are two things I do not like about the PDF itself. First, no bookmarks, a major no no IMHO. Even in something linear and short, it still needs good bookmarking. Second, if you highlight text and copy it, it pastes into the destination with a lot of bad characters. For example, the text on screen reads, “The computer also reports a radar contact within 1,000 klicks of the Flux. According to records, the ship should not be there.” Pasted into another text field you get, “􀀖he computer also reports a radar contact 􀂠ithin 􀅗,􀅖􀅖􀅖 􀂔lic􀂔s o􀂏 the Flux. According to records, the ship shouldn􀈂t 􀂋e there􀇯"

I do not know if this was intentional to intentionally inhibit copying, or something is wrong with the building of the PDF file. Probably the latter as they did not restrict copying in the security settings. I see they used a third party program called PDF Enhancer to optimize the file. This may have led to the problems. Either way, I like to copy text out for rewriting and adding my ideas into the text so they are complete on a sheet of paper. I cannot use this for that as the time it takes to fix the problems is a waste to me.


This is a well written adventure. It has some very good encounters, excellent hints on running it for the GM, and has the always cool bunch of handouts. The opening sucks you in immediately, the story proceeds at a breakneck pitch, and the ending is top notch. Kudos to the integration of the King in Yellow into a sci-fi setting. Here, it really works, and should make Cthulhu fans very excited when it is revealed.

One item I think could have been improved is the stowaway. It seems to be thrown in without much thought. The captian trusts him. He has nothing to make him untrustworthy. He could just have been another crewman due to the lack of drama in his character.

So I whole-heartily recommend this adventure, and I look forward to more from this publisher as the first taste of their work was delicious.

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