This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue.
The PCs are recently-mustered-out Imperial service members, who all happen to be drinking together in the same bar at the non-Imperial starport of a very minor border world. When their conversation naturally turns to mutual future plans, their server speaks up: “You folks are Imperials, aren’t you? Your consul here could use a bit of help.”
The server nods toward the shadows at the back of the bar, where the PCs observe a man in formal Imperial Navy mess dress, half-slumped in his seat, an empty wine bottle cradled in his arms. Upon closer examination, said uniform is very worn and at least two decades out of date. When the PCs manage to wake/sober this worthy individual sufficiently to engage him in more-or-less intelligible conversation, they discover that his problem is that it is some four weeks past time for his bi-monthly diplomatic dispatches to be picked up, yet the dispatch boat has failed to arrive. He has the authority to commission a civilian ship as a replacement courier (e.g. making it into a consular vessel and thus technically sacroscant against local interference by anyone), but no cash with which to pay for this. If the PCs can convince the captain of a certain Free Trader currently docked at the starport to take on this task, he will issue them a credit voucher redeemable for cash—to pay both the ship owner and the PCs themselves—at his dispatchess destination. The GM should make sure the players understand that offer’s true reward lies not with the rather small monetary payment, but rather with than the good reputation to be gained with the local Imperial authorities … as well as the not-so-minor fact that the ship will be immune to customs inspections by anyone (even the Imperial Customs Service) all along its route.
Of course, the regular courier isn’t accidentally late. It’s been deliberately held at its preceding ports by various strategems, in the confident expectation that this particular Imperial Consul (who was assigned to his current hellhole for thinking too independently for his superiors’ comfort) would send in his dispatches as per above. His superiors were even able to predict which ship he would pick… since they sent an agent in ahead of time to make sure that only one possibility would appear serviceable. They can thus have their diplomatic incident without expending any Imperial assets. At least, that’s the plan. PCs being PCs, the ship might actually make it to the destination, to the consternation and embarrassment of the higher-ups… particularly if the PCs tumble to what’s going on and manage to secure evidence that their route has been leaked to the hostiles and/or sabotage done to the ship to insure it’s demise.
If the PCs are industrious in seeking information, they may discover…
- The Free Trader in question is the only one actually serviceable out of all of the other (limited) possibilities.
- The Imperial consul—while now a drunkard—used to be counted as a rising star, until his brilliance embarrassed his superiors enough to secure him his current munificient post.
- The chief engineer of the Free Trader was just hired on from the crew of one of the unserviceable ships, after the Free Trader's own engineer suddenly fell deathly ill.
- This same chief engineer only joined his previous ship’s company at the next-most-recent port of call, after that ship’s engineer also suddenly fell deathly ill.
Do the PCs expose what is going on? Or do they—as loyal Imperials—allow the intended war to go ahead and start?
Note: Ideally, the PCs should end up in possession of a ship, either the initial Free Trader or possibly a pirate/enemy vessel they manage to seize along the way.
[Author’s note: Yes—the “sick engineers” bit is a direct steal from The Traveller Adventure … ]