Gaming on a Timer

A Rogue’s Journals – FTL: Faster Than Light

In this column we’ll be exploring one man’s adventures in a variety of rogue-likes and rogue-lites. Adventure! Intrigue! Terror! Lots and lots of ion interference! This week, we find ourselves where no man has been before….

The Sixth System – Unknown Location, Uncharted Nebula

The FTL powers down as we arrive at our destination; the huge, sensor-inhibiting ion clouds currently serving as our hiding spot are part of a larger nebula – one that has not been charted yet by Federation or Rebel forces.

Once more unto the breach.

We hope this will give us breathing space, some time to plan ahead and restock. While the Rebel fleet will surely be slowed down by all the sensor interference, we must remain vigilant, lest we squander this hard-earned advantage.

Stock-taking happens quickly, methodically, efficiently. Fuel supplies – low, as we currently do not have enough to reach the exit beacon for this sector. Ammunition – much better, with a full complement of missile pods and drone parts currently in our stores, helped in some part by our Drone Recovery Arm. Scrap stockpiles – satisfactory, perhaps slightly less than what we’d have wanted but still plenty to help improve and maintain our systems.

With our inspection completed, we then begin procedures to push further into the system. Our plan is simple: we’ll initially put as much distance from the Rebel fleet as possible; then, once far enough, focus on exploring as much as possible of the immediate area and accumulating as much fuel as we can before the Rebels catch up to us.

It’s a one-in-a-thousand shot, but we need to make it work.

Fuel is getting to be a real problem – between all those “dry” nodes and failing a couple events, we are now at the point where we do not have enough to reach the exit reliably.

My next move is very risky, but it’s probably our only viable course of action at this point – I intend to go straight towards the exit for the first few jumps, then spend the remainder of my fuel exploring around there for refueling chances.

The reason for this decision is simple: if your ship runs out of fuel at any time, you can no longer jump between nodes – and therefore cannot outrun the Rebels – but you are instead forced to “wait”, with each turn spent waiting having a small chance of triggering an event.

Thus, by putting a lot of distance between myself and the Rebels, I can afford a few more “wait” turns, therefore raising my chances of survival. This is not without its risks, though; sometimes you’ll get no event for multiple turns, and there’s always the chance that the Rebels will catch up before you can refuel.

Fingers crossed for some good luck…

The Kestrel switches to short-range FTL mode and a few moments later jumps to the nearest available nav beacon.

Once we drop from FTL speed, we encounter a rebel ship, scanning for Federation stragglers within the nebula. Thankfully, our Halberd beam is more than a match for its shields and a few minutes later, we emerge victorious. We manage to extract a Defense II drone schematic and, even better, a fuel rod from the wreckage of our foes – it might not be much, but it will do… for now.

A Defense II drone is incredibly useful but, as I don’t currently have the power to actually use it, I am postponing the explanation to a later encounter within the sector. Patience, as they say, is a virtue…

The next few jumps are uneventful, until Downs notices a faint signal coming from our short-range scanners. While the interference makes it hard to tell, our experienced pilot is almost certain that someone is following us – or rather, shadowing us in an attempt to avoid contact.

Special dialogue options are a safe bet to victory.

After some deliberation, the crew decides to investigate the signal; if it’s a friendly ship we might be able to bargain for some fuel, if it’s hostile we’ll at least be getting the first strike in.

The minutes pass agonizingly slow while the Kestrel slowly drifts around to face the source of the signal. We have killed all but our emergency thrusters, so as to minimize our chances of detection, so they are unaware of us until we enter their visual range.

Slowly, we approach the mysterious ship. One minute to visual, then thirty seconds, then ten… And finally, we can see our stalker with our own eyes; by the looks of it, a pirate ship – it’s markings matching a few of the less combat-oriented gangs of the area, according to young Robert. In other words, they are most likely smugglers, trying to avoid detection while delivering their illicit cargo.

The crew of the smugglers’ corvette realizes they’ve been caught but it is too late; we are nearly upon them. Kusy begins charging our Halberd beam in a bid to gain the initiative when suddenly static bursts through our ship comms. Before we have a chance to recover from the surprise, it is replaced by a gruff voice, which begins:

“It’s a fair cop, guv’nor”, it states with a weird accent,” but how about you don’t do something we’ll both regret, eh?”.

Downs responds immediately, demanding that the owner of the  voice identifies himself.

“Me name’s McLean, and smugglin’ is me trade”, the voice replies.

“I would be much obliged if ye stopped chargin’ those beam weapons that me sensors tell me yer havin'”, it continues, “and by my word, I’ll be sure to repay the courtesy most handsomely.”

Bribes are also good, though.

The crew debates this hotly over the intercom for the next few minutes; Kadreal explains that this McLean character is well-known around the local systems. Apparently, he’s gained quite the reputation for being honorable in his dealings which, in his line of work, is both unusual and shrewd as a business tactic. He further advocates that we should trust him, as McLean is sure to pay dearly for his ship’s safety.

Downs does not agree with this, though – and not without reason. Trust was the reason we lost two of our own not long ago – a trap sprung by pirates not unlike these had robbed us of Fenn and Cubbin in the blink of an eye. Her grief quickly gets the better of her; she refuses to assent to parley and, before long, the intercom meeting devolves into a shouting match.

Vital time passes, with each insult, each shout bringing us closer and closer to a new crisis, perhaps giving McLean time to flee or, even worse, retaliate while we sit undefended. It is Kusy that finally defuses the situation. He has managed to make his way to the piloting module during the argument, where he attempts to reason with Downs.

There is a hitherto-unnoticed hint of… familiarity in their voices, a kind of mutual understanding – even, perhaps, a sort of affection borne of adversity. Kusy keeps talking in a soothing voice, giving confident assurances to Downs, explaining how we need to do this, for Fenn and Cubbins’ sake. Surely, he reasons, they would not want their deaths t to have been in vain? Failing our mission so close to its conclusion would dishonor their memory, he adds.

Slowly, Downs manages to regain her composure. She nods at Kusy, takes a deep breath and…

With the crew now in agreement, we accept McLean’s proposal. To our astonishment, he keeps his word to the letter. A few moments later, a cargo bot docks with the Kestrel, unloading a few fuel cells and a large chunk of scrap, our bribe for letting the smuggler go.

While Downs is still not quite happy with the idea of letting the smuggler live, there is no doubt that this act of benevolence has bought us some time, a few more jumps in which to complete our mission.

While we’re still hitting a lot more empty nodes than I would like, this event is a godsend – with sufficiently advanced weaponry (in this case, the Halberd beam) you can get a special dialogue option (appearing in blue text) to intimidate the smuggler into submission, which nets you some freebie rewards.

In this case, we have now gained a good deal of scrap and, more importantly, another two units of fuel. While not nearly enough to see us through, it will extend our reach by a couple jumps – which, hopefully, will be enough in the long run.

Amusingly enough, I got another of the same smuggler event in the very next jump, which has given me another four units of fuel, for a grand total of six! I’ve condensed both encounters into one single vignette, but this might just be the break we needed to survive the sector.

The Kestrel jumps once again with renewed purpose, our fuel levels finally above critical thresholds. A chance encounter with a Rock Fighter almost ends in disaster, but our eventual victory furnishes us further with another four fuel cells – we now have enough to see us through the sector and further.

Our surplus of scrap now allows us to further modify our shields to produce even stronger force fields; a similar treatment goes towards our reactor as young Robert reports that we have achieved even higher power output thanks to his modifications. This extra output, in turn, will be very useful in powering the defensive drone we received in one of our previous entanglements.

Defense Drone II Get!

However, a new problem arises: we have yet to locate any traders in this area. The Kestrel is starting to show signs of adversity across her hull – we must find a repair depot, and soon.

Dramatic exaggeration aside, despite the beating we took  – a problem that is only getting worse with our weird luck in shop placements – we are more or less doing OK.

Over the course of this session, we have finally hit our goal of getting to three shield points. We have also upgraded our other systems enough that we can power the Halberd and two of our three other weapons at the same time, as well as enough energy and drone bay levels to field that Defense II drone we looted earlier.

This is a major upgrade for us, as the Def. II drone will shoot down incoming missiles and laser shots, which will help immensely with our survivability. On top of that, with a few more strategic upgrades to our engine (and owing to our Mantis crew member already being adept at handling them), we are now at around 50% evade rate, yet another important element of our continued survival.

Spurred by this new emergency, we jump once more into the unknown. The next few jumps only serve to exacerbate our problem; we encounter a few automated patrols that the Rebels had deployed in the nebula previously. Though we emerge victorious, we have not managed to do so without our hull taking a beating.

It is not for lack of trying though; our crew has, through constant adversity, honed their skills to the point where the Kestrel can dodge and weave between shots as if she were a skiff, such is Downs’ ability to pilot her, with Robert squeezing every little bit of power from the engines to facilitate such speeds.

One jump later, we find ourselves facing yet another automated Rebel drone – fighting these has become more a chore than a true crisis at this point. We collect our just rewards, tend to any damaged systems, then jump once more – this time, bringing the Kestrel to the exit node.

Pretty decent upgrades for such a “dry” run.

No time to waste – one last sector remains between us and our destination. Without hesitation, Downs sets our course for the nearby Engi system. The FTL drive reaches full capacity and discharges, propelling the Kestrel towards its penultimate challenge….

While not quite the run I was hoping for, this sector went pretty decently, overall. Between the upgrades, the new defense drone and all the scrap we’ve accumulated, we just need one more average-to-good session in the next sector to be able to hold our own during the last stand in Sector 8.

Our fuel levels are decidedly better than when we entered this sector; our missiles and drone parts have also accumulated quite nicely throughout this system, giving us a lot of offensive capability in Sector 7. In fact, with such an abundance of missile ammunition, it might be  prudent to start thinking about investing in a better missile launcher – that is, assuming that we actually encounter a store.

For the next sector, I’m aiming to get as many offensive options as possible. Upgrading our Ion Cannon and Artemis Missile Launcher are priority number one, while getting something along the lines of the Automated Re-Loader augment (-10% weapon charge rate) would also help immensely.

Defensively, I’m now also looking to get an anti-personnel drone if I can; boarding parties are a constant threat during the Rebel Flagship fight(s) and this will help deal with invaders in a more efficient manner. Dodge rates are pretty decent for the time being, so the Stealth Drive is no longer a priority.  

On an unrelated note, you’ll also notice that this post is slightly more sparse than the previous ones – as feared, I owe this to a higher-than-normal appearance rate of empty nodes. Unfortunately, short of having a Long-Range Scanner augmentation (which would give me a general idea of what to expect in each node before visiting it), we can’t really do much except hope for better spawn distribution in the next system.

Next time: The Seventh System – LV-4A15, Engi Fringe System

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