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Banking the Break

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of the downloadable PDF magazine, and was reprinted in the May/June 2023 issue.

The PCs have a free trader with over fifteen years left on the mortgage. Unfortunately, they’ve been getting the butt end of the stick when it comes to trade in the Spinward Marches. They’ve busted their butts trying to make an honest credit, but for the last seven months, they’ve only been able to send half of what they owe the bank each month. They’ve been rushing along off the beaten path trying to avoid paying the piper, but one fine day, a business dressed man with a large briefcase approaches the PCs’ table in a startown café, and identifies himself as Agent Krueger of the First Imperial Bank of Mora. He’s here to discuss the state of their mortgage.

He immediately explains that he is not trying to take the ship back; “We already have twelve ships just like yours rotting in a parking orbit, putting another up there isn’t going to turn any red ink black.” He wants to keep the ship operating, but he is going to have to review the captain’s logbook and account ledger. As the agent has legal authority to repossess the ship, the captain has little choice but to comply.

After asking a few sharp questions about some investments that failed, the agent agrees that times have been tough and commends the captain for dealing as fair as circumstances have allowed. Then he offers the captain a deal:

  1. Bring the ship in to Mora and have that overdue maintenance taken care of... on the bank.
  2. Several operational changes will be necessary, like either making that gunner start helping with the passengers and cargo, or firing him.
  3. The ship will be running jobs for the bank for the next year. The bank will waive payments for that year and forgive the past due, and the crew will keep all incidental profits.
  4. One stateroom will be available for bank agents at all times, free of charge.

If the PCs accept—as they likely would—they should suspect the bank of putting recorders and bugs throughout the ship. The bank can hang a lampshade on it by making it a big, obvious recorder painted orange on the bridge with a clause in the contract that prohibits the crew from intentionally damaging “upgrades” made during the overhaul.

Possible “Requests” from the Bank

  1. Looking for other defaulting/“skipping” ships and at least reporting their whereabouts and doings, but this is distasteful work for a free trader. But the bank has investments other than in free traders. The bank loans to planets, schools, nobles, it even loans to subsectors. These investments require travel and cargo room, and sometimes they require adventure.
  2. Transporting sizeable amounts of “hard” money, along with security and bank agents double stacked in every stateroom, and with an armed escort ship keeping very closely stationed near the party’s ship at all times.
  3. Baiting a corsair that has been preying on the other traders financed by the bank, hoping that the “escort” that will spring the trap shows up before the party’s ship—and crew—becomes a casualty.
  4. Transporting a group of people, at the bank’s request, to a backwater world. There’s something about the group, though, that leaves the PCs wary of them...
  5. Bringing a branch office module to an asteroid system, arriving after a collision smashes two big asteroids into a gravelstorm.

Editor’s Note: When originally posted to Citizens of the Imperium, this adventure seed generated a fair number of ideas from the community. Those ideas are presented below, otherwise unattributed.

  1. Delivering repossessed or recovered (from being stolen) cargo to its proper owner, possibly in the face of opposition from the thief or defaulter.
  2. Government-subsidized (agricultural or technical aid) shipments to colonies. This can be normal colony-building, or recovery from sabotage or a disaster. If the colony was sabotaged, will this shipment be targeted?
  3. The bank decides to use this ship as transport for executive junkets.
  4. The “bank representative” is not who he seems. An underworld group has bought the loan from the bank, and now intends to use the ship—and crew—to launder ill gotten gains...
  5. The “bank representative” is not who he seems. A Megacorporation agent invoved in shady dealings with the underworld has used corporate funds to purchase the loan, and now intends to use your ship for some shady dealing with the underworld. Naturally, his tracks are well-covered, and if the dealings come to light, it won’t be the agent who gets burned...
  6. A Government agency plants recording devices in the ship for use in a “sting” operation. It’s not clear who the target of the “sting” is...
  7. The ship gets used as a breakable toy, to train up young executives. The PCs are saddled with a succession of ambitious, inexperienced, but not necessarily stupid owners-aboard. Each of them uses the opportunity to show what they can do. Being inexperienced, they will make mistakes for the PCs to clean up…somehow.
  8. The bank—or rather, a group within the bank (might as well call them a “cabal”)— have long-term plans to set up their own fledgling line to take over a number of free-trader routes. They have been active in undercutting the free-traders locally, which is why the PCs’ own ship got into difficulty in the first place. Now the PCs will be used to do this to other free-traders.
  9. The banker is actually trying very hard to avoid repossessing the ship, since that would reveal to his bosses that he has made a multi-million-credit loan to someone with no collateral and a business plan centered on incidental, ad-hoc charters and cargo speculation.
  10. Whether they like it or not, the ship and crew are used to not only spot skipping ships, but to act as a covert platform and agents to facilitate the repo. The bank hopes to make this more palatable to the PCs by offering them credit toward their own mortgage for any ship that sells for more than its remaining loan balance.
  11. As 10, but one ship’s original owner bears a “blood grudge” over the loss of his somewhat tarnished dream to “turncoat” free traders, and will use every opportunity to track them down and give them their “just desserts”. Being without assets, this ends up as a many month hopscotch of working passages for the no-longer-owner to catch up with the characters and their “bargain.” The bank will do nothing as long as the ship isn’t damaged.