R Is for Recon
Chief: Awright. Stay alert and stay cool. This could just be a walk in the sun.
Nok: That’s a type F-star. I really hope any walking we do will be before sunrise.
Chief: Me too. Good job getting us in the base.
Nok: It was easy. Make a little cut in the door, cross a few wires.
Chief: Right. How’s the computer coming, Tivk?
Tivk: I have fabricated an input jack and am scanning the know-nodes now. Mr. Mukh will you please indicate any files likely to be of interest so I can begin downloading?
Mukh: Sure! Oh sorry. Sure.
Chief: Keep your voice down froggy. Them Brain Slugs don’t like uninvited guests.
Nok: Though we did knock.
Mukh: I liked the way the Captain knocked ... with ten megatons if it was a kiloton. I’m amazed the joint is still standing.
Chief: That is something the Captain intends to correct as soon as possible. Hopefully after we are out of here.
Nok: Quiet. I see something. Get down!
Chief: Down is good! Throw them some dakka Nok! Call for the teleporter, Mukh!.
Mukh: I need a few moments ... reeeeeee!!!
Dungeons. Ruins. Hulks. Fortresses. Whatever you call them picking your way through a dangerous labyrinthine environment is an RPG tradition regardless of genre. What you want to do is change things up to remind people they are doing a science fiction crawl as opposed to a fantasy crawl. Here are a few ideas and hooks for your consideration.
Treasure does not have to be gold or jewels or a stack of credit chips. As in the example above the group might be after information. Information might be the equivalent of a USB drive or captives to interrogate. What happens when your information jack is not compatible with the evil aliens’ computer port?
Similarly the builders of the ‘dungeon’ might not value the same things the PCs do. they might have fittings of gold or silver (to resist their corrosive atmosphere) but stockpile volatiles for their food value.
If the group is looting ... err exploring a working or recently working spacecraft they might find a lot of readily usable tools and supplies. You really know you’re in trouble when you have to steal duct tape from the Evil Psionic Overlord to patch your own ship up. It’s possible that two ships might damage each other in combat and the crew of one might board the other to grab a vital part. The question is what the other crew is doing while you’re looting their ship.
Ancient technomagic relics are of course the most sought after treasure.
Intrusion methods will vary. If you can teleport in some fashion then there may be a number of safe points you could enter. just be sure you can port back out again. It might be a trap. Defenses might inhibit further teleportation and require you to make your way to an airlock or hangar.
I’ve covered boarding actions in an earlier post. If time and noise is not an issue PCs can get in anywhere (especially with futuristic cutting tools) unless your dungeon is built of impervium (TM). This could restrict entry points to a few well guarded choke points.
Communications are often neglected in classic dungeons. Usually monster stick to their own rooms and don’t seem to hear the screams of their colleagues as the PCs massacre them. Imagine if the orcs in your typical dungeon get walkie talkies. Most guards will have them in a modern setting and call in to control on a regular basis.
Time is your enemy in many, many ways. In the old fantasy genre you just had to worry about switching out your torches and refilling lanterns. Supplies can be even more crucial in a SF setting. That spacesuit you’re wearing, for example has a couple hours worth of air and air tanks can be bulky heavy things. You don’t want to be running out of air exploring those Martian ruins. It’s way worse than sitting in the dark. For a little while anyway.
If the guards you silence got to yelp on their comms then you have a finite amount of time before they organize and come after you.
On the other hand if your method of entry has time constraints then you may be in the labyrinth a while. If your teleportation method requires recharge or rest you aren’t leaving that way with half a charge are you? If you came by shuttle it may eventually be noticed. Either way time is treated as a finite resource.
Encounters can be as wild as you like in a SF setting. Robots, cyborgs, genetically uplifted or uprated guard animals. I’m particularly fond of the hyper-crabs from the computer game Buck Rogers XXVc: Countdown to Doomsday.
Traps are an order more lethal. A cloud of flesh eating airborne nanites can give the Tomb of Horrors a run for its money in my book. Some traps may be designed to hold or subdue with stun beams and electrical shock effects. They might also work to deprive a character of some gear or equipment. A psi damper could shut down your friendly telepath. An EM pulse could fry the tablet you did your mapping on. Players hate it when you take away their toys.
The dungeon crawl is one of the first adventure templates for RPGs. There’s a reason it is still with us. With the right treatment it works.