The Edge of Power
This was the featured article in the March/April 2016 issue.
This a Traveller adventure for 6-8 people using the Orbital setting by Paul Elliott (Zozer, 2013). The six PCs represent a Centennial team from the Luna outpost called Little Tyko who are drilling into the frozen nitrogen surface above one of the anomalous heat sources.
The core rulebook Orbital gives two UWPs for Triton: E210311-9 (page 189) and E210370-9 (page 190 and 120). It is just barely possible to read the descriptive text as somehow not including a lot of families or support staff that would make up the 1000s, but this adventure has assumed that the population digit of ‘3’ is a typo and that ‘2’ was intended as the descriptive text would imply. 60 Luna scientists, 50 ESDA scientists and two squads of eight IAU police for a total of 126.
The remainder of the UWP is assumed to have changed between the beginning of the year when it was just the Luna colony and a limited law level that was fairly irrelevant but ‘company policy’, and the situation now with a balkanized government and no law level. The Eckard Tactical Management troops under the auspices of the International Astronomical Union have only just arrived and are setting up their own habitat.
Page numbers given are from the Orbital setting book. The usual layout of situation, complications, agendas and resolution has been used.
Triton is about as far out as mankind has ventured. Proteus is just a rockball, Nereid is struggling (see ‘The Edge of Humanity’, Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society (SJGames, online) July 16, 2013) and much further out the Kuiper Belt has yet to have any real presence. Triton is interesting for any number of reasons, such as its retrograde orbit, still being geologically active, and probably being a captured Kuiper Belt Object, but one feature has caught the attention of the science community throughout the solar system. Researchers, armchair astronomers and the media are abuzz with rumours that the Luna scientists have found something odd under the frozen surface of this tiny outpost on the largest moon of a distant world. There are few humans out as far as Neptune so at the moment almost any theory has some credibility. There are those who think it is some outlying Cydonian base, others who attribute it to other extra-terrestrials, some who’ve come up with ingenious natural explanations as to what they might be, and of course crackpot ideas along environmental, religious, or inter-dimensional lines.
The sixty Lunars already on Triton are determined to explore the nature of the hot spots and determined to beat the newly arrived Earth Space Development Agency scientists to the punch. However, they are very wary of ESDA who they believe have already attacked their first two survey missions. The scientists over at Lassell Base are still denying any involvement with either incident. Now that the ETM troops are here, a third attempt is being made but with beefed up security and the expectation that the IAU police will step in at the first sign of trouble. The well-established habitat at Little Tyko has opened communications with the ETM squads and already invited them for a meal when duties allow. Any communications with the ETM base show a very spartan habitat with little sign of the comforts of home; any communications with the ESDA base will show a fairly typical science station in the process of being set up but with at least one portrait of William Lassell prominently displayed as a reminder to the Lunars of who discovered the moon they’re on. The Lunar base is located in a hemisphere where Neptune is permanently visible above the horizon, a pale blue in a black sky some four times the size of the Earth from the Moon; its mesmerising vertical cloud bands often catching newcomers by surprise. The ESDA habitat is on the other side of Triton where Neptune is not visible at all. Some commentators have suggested both sites have been deliberately chosen to remind their inhabitants in the first case of home, and in the second case of a neighbour, Luna, which they’d rather forget!
The third survey mission comprises:
- Jem Halfby
- 868B99 Age 38 Rank 4
Lead scientist and survey leader
STR 8 (+0), DEX 6 (+0), END 8 (+0), INT 11 (+1), EDU 10 (+1), SOC 9 (+1)
Skills: Science (glaciology) 3, Investigate 2, Navigation 2, Science (biology) 2, Vacc Suit 2, Computers 1, Engineer (power) 1, Navigation 1, Comms 0, Flyer 0, Science (astronomy) 0, Trade (biotechnology) 0, Vacc Suit 0
Equipment: Cr50,000, Contact×2, Enemy
- Ocean N’Tros
- B57A75 Age 46 Rank 3
Drilling rig specialist, belt miner, and electronics
STR 11 (+1), DEX 5 (-1), END 7 (+0), INT 10 (+1), EDU 8 (+0), SOC 5 (-1)
Skills: Engineer (electronics) 2, Investigate 2, Vacc Suit 2, Computers 1, Engineer (life support) 1, Jack of All Trades 1, Mechanic 1, Medic 1, Navigation 1, Sensors 1, Comms 0, Drive 0, Science (petrology) 0, Science (stratigraphy) 0, Trade (construction) 0
Equipment: Cr30,000, Contact (becomes a Rival), Rival, Enemy
- Sooz Berdensten
- 45BA67 Age 38 Rank 2
Background: Orbital Colony
Assistant Project Manager
Geophysics and life support
STR 4 (-1), DEX 5 (-1), END 11 (+1), INT 11 (+1), EDU 6 (+0), SOC 7 (+0)
Skills: Engineer (life support) 2, Art (imaging) 1, Comms 1, Gun Combat (slug pistol) 1, Jack of All Trades 1, Mechanic 1, Medic 1, Science (biology) 1, Vacc Suit 1, Computers 0, Flyer 0, Investigate 0, Science (any) 0, Trade (hydroponics) 0
Equipment: Cr 50,000, Ally, Contact
- Yanto Amakuzi
- 6869B4 Age 30 Rank 2
Background: All Other Stations etc.
Assistant Project Manager
Petrology and surface operator
STR 6 (+0), DEX 8 (+0), END 6 (+0), INT 9 (+1), EDU 11 (+1), SOC 4 (-1)
Skills: Remote Operation 2, Science (petrology) 2, Recon 1, Survival 1, Comms 0, Computers 0, Investigate 0, Medic 0, Science (glaciology) 0, Science (stratigraphy) 0, Vacc Suit 0
Equipment: Cr5000, Scientific Equipment
- Allas Coleton
- 6B5C97 Age 38 Rank 4
Surface operator and security
STR 6 (+0), DEX 11 (+1), END 5 (-1), INT 12 (+2), EDU 9 (+1), SOC 7 (+0)
Skills: Recon 2, Survival (caving) 2, Computers 1, Investigate 1, Jack of All Trades 1, Language (Arabic) 1, Remote Operation 1, Vacc Suit 1, Carouse 0, Comms 0, Drive 0, Investigate 0, Science (meteorology) 0, Trade (materials technology) 0
Equipment: Cr20,000, Enemy x 2, Rival
- Shaybring Tomasoa
- 877976 Age 34 Rank 2
Lead Patrol Agent
STR 8 (+0), DEX 7 (+0), END 7 (+0), INT 9 (+1), EDU 7 (+0), SOC 6 (+0)
Skills: Gun Combat (energy rifle) 2, Advocate 1, Athletics (Co-ordination) 1, Comms 1, Streetwise 1, Science (geophysics) 1, Computers 0, Drive 0, Gun Combat (energy pistol) 0, Investigate 0, Recon 0, Science (archaeology) 0, Trade (hydroponics) 0, Vacc Suit 0
Equipment: Cr51,000, Scientific Equipment, Enemy, Contact
None of the Enemies or Rivals listed above have been detailed but Referees may wish to do so to add further complications and interrelationships.
(If more PCs are required there could be additional security or geophysicists—or possibly an archaeologist or alien specialist.)
The survey team are departing Little Tyko at the same time as a changeover of personnel is occurring on the base. Changeover is a big event in the life of such stations. Ten scientists are arriving from Luna on a Reiner-Gamma DCV Nova, with the same number departing as the DCV returns. The two modules it has carried out to Triton are also being landed to extend the base. Once they’ve finished their immediate duties the Nova crew of ten—probably not all at the same time—will be looking for a break from their ship even though facilities at Centennial base are extremely limited. There is a lot of commotion from people and gear everywhere and most of it out of place; there may be tears over departing friends or wariness over new arrivals—the latter needing guidance on where to be and where to find things. Two of the PC survey team, Coleton and Amakuzi, have each been assigned a newcomer to show around and introduce to those on-station; they are trying to meet this obligation at the same time as getting their own gear ready for departure.
Rip “Dobbo” Dobson (688735) is a 26 year old lab assistant who has never been to the outer reaches of the solar system before and is extremely nervous about everything. From her physical surroundings through protocols to how she’ll fit in socially she has fears about just about anything she can think of. She’ll want to be shown everything. Twice, most likely. Get her talking about any of her competencies or hobbies however and she’ll transform into an articulate woman of some enthusiasm.
Arkansas Terrsman (5A6B87), on the other hand is a mature 48 year old who has knocked around research labs and habitats all around the system and will be friendly enough with whichever of the PCs is assigned to show him around, but it is clear that all he really needs to be shown is the peculiar workings of Centennial. As he’s shown around he will ask very pertinent questions about the hierarchy and pecking order on the base—i.e., who has the power—whether it is formal or informal.
The Referee can make as much or as little of this commotion as desired but tempers may start to fray as Halfby puts demands on Coleton or Amakuzi who are both trying to be in two (or three) places at once; as other team members have to pick up extra chores, or as the two ‘guides’ get stressed by attempting to be helpful to the newcomers but are aware of other duties they’re needed for or might prefer to be doing.
Once the PCs are ready are to go, it takes an hour for a Palomino Heavy Lander and its two crew—Barklet (7A6637) and Somsin (A45968)—to get them to the survey and drilling site. Previous teams have made good progress on the drill hole which is some half a kilometre from the hot spot that’s been detected at this location. The crew of the Palomino have been ordered to stay on site ready for departure should there be trouble. The survey team are not to risk their lives in the face of any serious threat from ESDA. Already in situ are a hab module, science module and ORVIN module for the use of the team. It takes two hours to set up all their gear and the specialised drilling equipment they’ve brought for the final kilometres of frozen surface. The rig is capable of drilling a hole large enough for a human sized capsule to be dropped through the frozen nitrogen. The usual Orbital advice on vacc suits and working in a (near) vacuum should be noted (pages 104-111).
Everything goes well for some three hours when there’s a breakdown in the ORVIN providing power and life support to the team. The drone has stopped operating and this will require repair as an immediate priority. Whether it is a mechanical, electrical or software malfunction will need to be determined by the PCs and the Referee should arrange matters to suit the skills of the characters so repair is possible.
To repair the ORVIN module:
Difficult (-2), Engineer (electronics or life support or power) or Mechanic, Intelligence, 1-6 hours.
Once power is restored the team can get back to work. But they hit another snag. Literally. The drilling rig appears to have hit a large meteorite buried in the frozen nitrogen; it breaks the drill bit they’re using—although there are spares—and will need a heavier duty bit to go through the rock. 1D6 additional hours to replace the bit and drill through the rock. Or, alternatively, 1D6+2 hours to start again.
A geyser erupts near where the team are working, perhaps a kilometer or so away. There is no immediate danger but it is a reminder that the surface is active. A light rain of nitrogen snow reduces visibility and hampers work for 2D×5 minutes.
Thirty minutes after the breakdown of the ORVIN module, Little Tyko report the launch of a Palomino Heavy Lander from Lassell Base which is heading in their direction. It can carry up to eight people, and given the past two incidents caution is recommended. ETM has been informed. When the ESDA vehicle arrives after 1D6 hours, it will have its usual crew as well as two engineering specialists with tools and parts sent to help out with the ORVIN which they understand is having problems. They don’t appear to be armed. It will be clear, unless the PCs have specifically asked for help, that ESDA are monitoring their communications or perhaps even have a mole within Little Tyko.
How the PCs handle the Earthers is up to them but if they’re particularly rude then things could turn ugly. There are weapons aboard the newly arrived Lander and although the engineers have genuinely come to help out—and can reduce the repair time by half and the difficulty to Average if allowed to assist—they and the crew will fight back if attacked. Fifteen minutes after they turn up, a squad of ETM troops will arrive to keep the peace. If any weapons are out in the open, they will insist on confiscating them. If relations are anything but peaceable they will order the ESDA people to return to their base but may find the crew intransigent in the face of their insistence that they have every legal right to be there and are only trying to help a clearly struggling survey team. They’ll refer the police to their superiors back at Lassell Base and stall for time as much as possible in order to keep an eye on the Lunars until the last possible moment.
Halfby is a member of the Infinite Circle (page 148) and the association has pulled strings to ensure that the scientist is leading the survey mission. Other scientists amongst the PCs might be aware their seniority has been rather marginalised in favour of someone with less experience and reputation. They may question why. Halfby on the other hand won’t overly care and as well as the scientific objectives of the survey will be keen to establish whether the anomaly is indeed of Cydonian origins or not and to limit how much information is put out if so.
N’Tros—often nicknamed Mare—is nearing retirement and looking for an easy life. She didn’t volunteer for this mission but her skills are in short supply out here in Neptune orbit so she’s been promised a month off her final rotation in return for this trip. She’s deeply pessimistic about the mission given the two previous incidents and is convinced they’re on a wild goose chase in any case.
Berdensten is actually a long-time ESDA agent—although possibly not the only one on Triton—and whilst she will want to maintain her cover if at all possible, she will also want to ensure that any viable, useful alien technology doesn’t fall into the hands of the Lunars. Just how far she’s willing to go in order to ensure this is something she’s not had to face yet. [If there is likely to be player-on-player action contrary to the advice in Orbital (page 198), perhaps in a convention setting, there should be fair warnings at the start of the adventure and it should be regarded as a requirement that it should only take place towards the end of the session.]
Amakuzi has long had sympathies with the Cydonian Society (page 25) but has recently converted to a more religious point of view rather than purely scientific. He is looking for further evidence of the Martians and their technology or structures and if he finds them will be in awe and wonder and want to both share the faith with his team and announce what they’ve found to the public at large. In this latter respect, his agenda will be diametrically opposed to that of Halfby.
Coleton is bright, but completely naive about any larger political ramifications of what might be found. He’ll be far too enthusiastic about any safety concerns and put his own life at risk, if not those of his team, in exploring just a step too far or too hastily with little regard for caution. He’s likely to side with Amakuzi in announcing any findings publicly.
Tomasoa has been instructed by the commanding scientist of Little Tyko to ensure the survival of this mission at any cost. They can’t afford another incident like the first two in terms of both personnel and the political ramifications (Luna seen as being weak, the base not being capable, the scientists not being skilled enough and so on.) With regard to ESDA on the scene, Tomasoa might be rather trigger happy; with regard to exploring beneath the ice, utter caution will be the order of the day.
The Referee can resolve this in a number of ways depending on the requirements of any ongoing adventure or the actions of the players. A decision will need to be made along those lines about where the setting is being taken as regards aliens and so on. One possible option is given below. The two factions on Triton are vying for power and both believe they can control this distant outpost and be the first to make any major discovery. The ETM police are caught in the middle. The Referee may wish to play up the vying for power that the heads of the respective bases get into as well as the jockeying of the teams on the ground.
The PCs will eventually drill through the frozen surface of Triton to what lies beneath. In this location, they eventually hit rock. If there is an under-ice ocean on Triton, it’s not at this location. The first PC to venture down in the capsule will be able to take tools—essentially a cylindrical laser heater that’s about half a metre wide and a little over a metre tall—to melt the nitrogen and create a small chamber to work and move in. The pressure of the ice above constantly creates eerie noises that range from high pitched screeches to deep bass grinding. Helmet, or other, lights will cast eerie shadows as it bounces off the varicoloured surfaces. While the rocky surface is relatively even there are occasional pockets in the ice above that make even this melting work unnecessary as small ‘chambers’ are encountered. In the direction of the hotspot they are already getting raised temperature readings above the ambient temperature which is of course already considerably warmer than the surface above.
Approaching the anomaly, which will take a little bit of time as the frozen nitrogen is melted to clear a path, the ice will become less and less frozen until there’s a large natural ‘cavern’ that is circular in shape, about 100m across and perhaps 50m high. There is a slightly raised area of rock near the centre of this and here there is a shaft through the rock leading downwards at a gentle angle and then switching back to continue descending to a point some 50m below the cavern. If the shaft is traversed the PCs will emerge into a cave in the rock below. It is a space that’s about 50m across and 25-30m high. Temperatures here are high although vacc suits won’t have difficulty dealing with the heat. The cave looks anything but natural. It’s evenly shaped and has smooth surfaces. In a circular formation around the floor are 23 units that are like very tall pyramids about as tall as a human and a couple of feet on either side at the base. They’re not made of any known material. About halfway up each pyramid is a lightbar which appears to have an internal series of lights that intermittently change pattern. The lights are on the inward facing sides of the units; not all of them appear to functioning. Whether this means just the lights have failed or the units are non-operational (turned off or broken) can be established to some extent by the fact that those with no lights are emitting no heat.
The PCs won’t be able to affect the status of the units as they have no controls for them, but with sufficient lifting gear they can be moved and with larger shafts drilled from the surface could be extracted for further study or for use in power generation. The PCs won’t be able to determine with the instruments they have what purpose the units serve, save that they are putting out a fair amount of heat. The Referee can have them as part of the power engineering research of the Cydonians. Perhaps they were testing out ‘field’ units, or possibly even looking at the feasibility of melting Neptune’s entire frozen surface for some purpose. Or they may have been part of the Makers’ attempts to communicate with home or transport themselves there. Alternatively, and just to really complicate the solar system’s anomalous items, they may be nothing to do with the Cydonians and could be an alternate unknown alien race or some hi-tech, secret human research. In either case, the Referee would need to determine why there’s apparently no one around. Whatever the ‘ultimate’ explanation for the cave and its contents is deemed to be, the Referee will need to consider any ongoing adventure or campaign needs and how the find will affect human knowledge about the nature of the universe and possible technologies which might be exploited.
Halfby will most likely be convinced that the find is of Cydonian origin. He can point to its apparent antiquity and the unknown material as well as the pyramidal shapes of the units which hark back to the pyramid on Mars. He will want to preserve the area intact for further study.
N’Tros will be deeply cynical and convinced it’s some ESDA project that’s going to get them killed. She’ll be curious to see if she can do anything with the units (any control handsets have long since gone) and try sending various signals to them However, she’ll also be keen not to linger, suspecting that ESDA agents may be close behind them.
Berdensten will need to decide whether she’s going to keep her mission secret and play along with the others hoping to inform ESDA subsequently; or whether this is her opportunity to ensure that none of the Lunars who know about the find survives to tell the tale.
Amakuzi will naturally be over the moon (literally?) about the find and will hugely revere what they’ve found as evidence that the Cydonians are still around and perhaps can be found in a nearby chamber or called using the pyramids somehow. He’ll be determined to exhaust every avenue he can think of.
Coleton will support Amakuzi in delving (literally!) further. He will be convinced there is more to discover; however much further investigation suggests there isn’t anything there.
Any hint from Berdensten about her aims will probably have Tomasoa incapacitating her, if not killing her immediately. Tomasoa may, indeed, already have suspicions about the agent and therefore be ready and watching if she makes a move against the Lunars. Tomasoa won’t be too concerned about the find itself—although naturally interested—but more fussed about getting everyone back to the surface safely and reporting the find to the authorities.
Subsequent events could deal with interactions between the PCs, the PC’s attempts to remove one or more of the units from the cave, or the arrival of the ESDA team. This latter could involve roleplaying tense negotiations or the meeting could quickly descend into a firefight with the Earthers aiming to keep the find to themselves and not wanting any survivors—including Berdensten who they will regard as a liability. In short, whether it’s for their research potential or their ‘free energy’ applications, this find may well give the edge to any faction that take control of them and perhaps tip the balance of power on Triton at least. urther actions and events are left to the PCs and the Referee.
My thanks to Tim <firstname.lastname@example.org> of the Traveller Mailing List for some great pointers on Triton and its environment. Any subsequent errors or artistic licence are of course my own.