Barrier Peaks Designer’s Notebook, Entry #2: All the Androids Were Karate Fighting (and Fencing and Boxing too)!

The excitement for OAR #3: Expedition to Barrier Peaks continues to grow, and everyone here at Goodman Games is excited about the book and sharing it with fans. We already shared Michael Curtis’ first Designer’s Notebook entry, and now we continue with the second part, talking about some of the combative moments in the adventure. And don’t forget, you can now pre-order OAR #3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks in our online store!

OAR #3: The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks Essay #2

All the Androids Were Karate Fighting (and Fencing and Boxing too)!

by Michael Curtis

Potential players of OAR #3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks should avert their eyes from the following because it contains a spoiler about the original adventure. If you’ve already delved into that mysterious cave high in the Barrier Peaks or have run the adventure for your players, stick around though. I’m about to discuss my favorite encounter in the adventure.

And no, there aren’t any bunnies involved, but that’s a good one too.

With that warning out of the way, let’s speak freely about a certain trio of androids found on the lowest level (so far) of the dungeon—the physical training androids. You might remember them as the guys who beat the stuffing out of you if you explored the spaceship as a player or the trio who whomped the tar out of the PCs if you were the DM. Masters of boxing, wrestling, fencing, and karate, the three artificial lifeforms are lethal combatants, in some cases capable of killing an opponent with a single blow. Even a blaster pistol won’t make much difference once the trainer androids get into melee range. However, it’s not their lethality that makes these guys my favorite encounter in the adventure. It’s how Gary Gygax presents them in the text for the DM, hinting at role-playing opportunities by which to make the encounter more than another slugfest.

In the original adventure, Gary writes “As soon as the party enters, the three will approach and speak, telling the party to prepare for training. Even if no translation spell or device is employed, the trio will select opponents and commence ‘training’ exercises.” What follows is a description of their combat tactics and stats. Yet despite this paltry amount of information, the opportunities a clever DM has at their disposal in portraying the androids is immense and I’ve always enjoyed spicing this encounter up with a little of my own eclectic role-playing methods.

Since the androids interact with the PCs before things get rolling, this is the perfect opportunity to imbue them with memorable personality quirks or distinctive vocal traits. They are as blank a canvas as their featureless android faces, allowing the DM to portray them in a number of ways. In a more drama-heavy role-playing game, I might feel obliged to dwell upon their artificial lives, but since this adventure is a dungeon crawl with laser pistols, there’s no need to delve to deeply into backstory. Instead, I’m going for high camp and memorable interactions the players will remember long after the dice are back in the bag.

Clearly, the karate master offers a lot of potential and there’s a ton on inspirational material to draw from. And, really, who says it has to be karate master anyway? Its attacks can easily be described as a form of kung-fu, judo, Krav Maga, taekwondo, or other fighting art forms. The laziest way to role-play this android would be to portray it as a knock-off Mr. Miyagi or a kung-fu master straight out of the wuxia genre. This can be effective if done with care, but can all too-easily swerve into cultural insensitivity and stereotyping. Gary probably had the Sunday afternoon “chopsocky” films of the 1960s and 1970s in mind when he introduced this character, but we can do better.

Rather than a bad martial arts film trope, let’s use inspiration from other sources. Imagine it as Morpheus from The Matrix films, especially the kung-fu training scene between him and Neo, or a flamboyant MMA fighter rather than the koan-dispensing figures of the past. If you want to get really esoteric, play it as Count Dante, the Deadliest Man Alive, instead.

There are plenty of Hollywood clichés or impersonations to use when portraying the boxing trainer. It can be a Rocky clone knocking the PCs’ blocks off while occasionally shouting “ADRIAN!” or a Burgess Meredith wannabe calling them “bums” during the fight. Maybe it reminds the PCs that it’s the greatest and floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Perhaps it has an unusually soft voice for a boxer and occasionally breaks into air drums as Phil Collins suddenly cues up on the soundtrack? Whatever your desire, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is already pretty weird romp and a few more anachronisms isn’t going to break the adventure. If your players will get a laugh out of it, go for it.

And if boxing isn’t your forte, remember the android is also the wresting trainer. You’ve already probably guessed what my suggestions for roleplaying it that way are going to be. Although the android is trained in Olympic style wrestling, are we really going to let that stop us from mining the WWE for inspirational role models? From Ric Flair to the Rock to Stone Cold to the Hulkster (or my personal favorite from back in the day, George “The Animal” Steele), there’s no lack of colorful wrestling personas to steal from when portraying the android.

We might not have as many iconic personas to draw up with the fencing master, but if you throw in a couple of “You are using Bonetti’s Defense against me, ah?” or “This is the water dance, it is swift and sudden. All men are made of water, do you know this? If you pierce them, the water leaks out and they die” quotes and you’ve got yourself a memorable sword fight.

Bad impersonations aside, the other reason I love the three android trainers is because as dangerous as they are, the encounter has an Achilles’ heel for the players to figure out. There’s a way to get the trainers fighting among themselves, allowing the party to bypass them and loot the room, and/or even just gang up on one of the androids while the other two fight it out. This method of short-circuiting the encounter isn’t obvious, but Gary was devious enough to slip it in there, rewarding players who use their brains as much as their characters’ brawn to resolve problems. I’ve yet to have such players at the table, myself, but I remain forever optimistic.

DMs should take a lesson from this encounter and remember that any written adventure is never complete until they run it for others. A poor DM reads the adventure rote as presented; an amazing game master makes it their own, personalizing it with flourishes and embellishments that the designer(s) would have never thought of and that only the players would truly enjoy. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is a wonderful adventure, but it’s up to you to make it unforgettable. Hopefully, OAR #3 gives you the tools you need to do so.

Original Adventures Reincarnated #3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks is now available for pre-order! We will keep you updated with more information soon!

Author: pandabrett

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