Operation Counterstrike (1982)
Marcus L. Rowland (White Dwarf 28)
Lvl 6 – 8
Early D&D has treated Science Fantasy surprisingly kindly. A rare handful of modules escape from the more rigid confines imposed by Tolkien and retain a connection with source material that perceived no problems in mixing magic swords, rayguns, aliens and demons in a non-ironic fashion. From the likes of Hiero’s Journey, Dying Earth, Empire of the East and Hawkmoon we got the superlative Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, as well as BECMI’s Temple of the Frog, no small contenders in the halls of fame. For long decades afterwards Science Fantasy was all but dead, buried under a torrential outpouring of high fantasy and the lingering embers of the S&S genre, banished to the fringes of the canon or the pages of the comic books. This entry marks a rare exception.
There are two articles in White Dwarf 26 and 27 respectively that cover the concept of D&D in space and both grant themselves all but one page to do so, making them comparatively useless to the point where I’d recommend you omit them entirely.
The first article seeks to cover the concept of space travel in D&D but the subject opens so many vistas of possibility that it can do little but light a kernel in the mind of the space travelling GM. It is interesting that the author, who later went on to do some rpg work for GW, arrived at his model of flat earths and an interstellar void filled with breathable ether as a means to allow iron-age civilizations to launch ships off of the edge of the world and land just as easily. The more hard-sfish options of Alchemically treated sails and H.G. Wells style gravity-impermeable substances procured at ruinous cost are nice but the problem with space in RPGs has never been how to get around it but what to do when one gets there. Regular ship combat has never been popular to begin with and tacking on the Aerial Combat rules and cumbersome rules for induced spin when taking a hit in free fall isn’t going to rectify that any time soon. It is interesting to see someone tackle ground that would later be trodden by Spelljammer, however.
WD 27 continues the trend with hopelessly cumbersome rules for Zero-G combat, both personal and ship-wide, before briefly touching on an equipment list for vacuum-adventurers that generates excitement. I’ve never played Mothership, but items like Suit Puncture Kit, ‘rifled’ crossbows, Alchemical Air Backpack, Lodestone Boot Plates etc. etc. would make for some interesting dungeon crawling. I have no idea if anyone’s ever made a good space dungeon proper but you can at least imagine one. Good notes on some spells for vacuum survival too.
All of it useless as the adventure, Operation Counterstrike, is on a planet with Air.
Operation Counterstrike is the greatest adventure that has ever been completely ruined by execution. You will never run this, but you might be tempted to stripmine it for parts, rooms, treasure, ideas and the like. Adventuring party vs bizarre squid-aliens in mech-suits. Why the hell not?
The Ralkan have invaded ye olde fantasy world and inflicted tremendous damage until they were driven back by a horrible sickness, namely Athlete’s foot. Despite the silliness, everything after this is played completely straight. They’ve taken captives with them, stolen a bunch of magical objects, and the PCs are tasked with undertaking the 5 week+ journey to the Ralkan homeworld to get the stuff back, free the captured druid, and stop the invasion!
And then you see the format;
ALL CAPS CHUNKS OF UNFORMATTED TEXT. BOLDING, BULLET POINTS OR HIGHLIGHTING REMAINS A FORLORN HOPE. ROOMS ARE THICCC AND THE OVERAL EFFECT IS ONE OF EXHAUSTION AND NAUSEA. WHY NOT ELIMINATE ROOM NUMBERING WHILE YOU ARE AT IT?
The journey to the Ralkan homeworld takes up a minimum of 5 weeks and a random encounter table with simple MM entries as well as occasional natural phenomena like “micro-meteorites” and since the ship requires a horizontal plane to land you have to land some distance away from the place the invasion is launched. Thank god you only roll once per week.
Irritant number 2. Monster stats and items are dispersed throughout the text, even if at least a paragraph in length. 90% of your opposition is Ralkan, which are a type of half-ling sized squid, often with psionic powers, often in a sort of powered armature. This armature can carry a variety of sci-fi armaments such as stun rays, flamethrowers, electrified tentacles, pincers and ray guns. Add a sort of autonomous Tri-pod warmachine ripped straight from H.G. Wells and you’ve got yourself one hell of an enemy roster.
The base is…good. I mean it’s a sci-fi base for D&D done very well if it weren’t FUCKED. The way it’s written I can’t for the life of me figure out how the hell you are supposed to get past the giant hatch in the anti-gravity shaft that leads to all 3 subterranean levels from room 2 onward, or whether or not you can passwall or knock the damn thing open, and there is a sort of theoretically understated way to get in via the electromagnetic rail-cannon that will probably involve being electrocuted by the coils or fried by the laser but whatever.
The map is all right angles, identical quarters, broken up by secret maintenance tunnels, hatches, shafts and an elevator. Mess hall, dissection laboratory, research laboratory, nuclear reactor etc. You’d think it be sterile and boring but anything that’s put there can be interacted with, to the point where controls are described and which blinking lights you’d have to press to get it to work. It’s not always apparent what the use of interacting with it is (i.e. there’s a gigantic 100 tonne floating ore purifier that I for the life of me can’t figure out a use for). There’s also, another wasted opportunity. Disabling some of these items, like the Vaccination research lab, or the invasion launch pods, or OVERLOADING the nuclear reactor, will delay the invasion by X days, weeks, months or years. That’s nice, but we don’t really get any feedback at the end of the adventure what would be considered successful delay so it’s all pointless, even if almost every piece of destroyable machinery is given proper structural hp.
Hazards are brand new, nothing seems old hat. Flashing screens that cause epileptic seizures, radiation that doesn’t seriously harm you until hours after you’ve been affected, paralytic gas, a rotational acceleration chamber straight out of Moonraker, a fucking underground secret cavern filled with sentient chemical waste and an illegal temple to Cthulhu complete with a cult the aliens don’t know they have. Alarms are mentioned but no attempt is made to describe any sort of counter reaction. I think my favorite is that you can enter the railgun ship launcher and the aliens in control room 18 can turn on the accelerators and launch any metal-wearing characters into orbit, or fry them with the laser, that’s pretty sick.
This little thing kind of nails what exploring a high-tech environment should be like for fantasy adventurers. Even if you don’t go full on science fantasy and make everything really mysterious it should still be a place of mystery and danger. Live wires, runaway vats of molten iron, berserk chirurgical droids, haywire pleasure androids.
What else? Captives with levels to free? Check! Tribe of alien gerbils to befriend to get yourself some sweet ass precious metal wires and info? Check! Golem Power Suit that you can steel and crush your enemies with? Demonic sword in research lab? Chaotic artifacts of power stored in high tech research facility, guarded by psionic clone aliens? Cthulhu Cult in the basement?
It has all that, and you will not run it. You will not run this. The work you have to do putting this thing into fighting trim, the wretched format that makes a 4 page dungeon feel like a 40 pager that Raggi wrote up while he was on the toilet after Enchilada-night at the local Taco Mundo , the damn machinery and puzzling out how it all fits together, it all comes down to a technical write-off. Someone wrote 60% of a kickass starbase in all caps. ABSOLUTELY recommend if you are going to strip it for parts or you want to do a tech-base sometime. Looters only. Purists need not apply.
Man even flawed White Dwarf is still super interesting.
 THIS FUCKING LOCKDOWN SUCKS. I AM HUNGRY.